During the first quarter of 2018, SAP appointed DJ Paoni as the President of SAP North America, tasked with overseeing all strategy, day-to-day operations, and overall customer success across the US and Canada. Throughout his two decades-long career, Paoni has been uniquely positioned with a front row seat to the company’s evolution from a traditional applications enterprise to a cloud company that today offers over 100 solutions in its cloud portfolio for more than 156 million subscribers.
These changes to SAP’s portfolio and business were made to ensure the company was prepared to support its customers into a future that is based on fast-paced innovation and hyperconnectivity, where new systems of intelligence — such as 3D printing, robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT) — are connecting everyone and everything. As a result, there’s an ever-expanding amount of data available to businesses, provided directly from mobile devices, TVs, social media, even light bulbs. These intelligent technologies are forcing business leaders to rethink how they better service customers and how they can engage their workforce to grow their business.
In this interview, Paoni shares with SAPinsider readers how SAP is reinventing its own people and product strategies with a more purpose-driven culture and customer-first mindset. He provides insight into what drives conversations with SAP customers, how today’s technology helps them harness new opportunities, and how SAP’s future strategy will leverage the SAP S/4HANA foundation to enter into the new era of intelligent enterprise — where businesses can automate manual, routine tasks with machine intelligence and free up employees to drive more value for their end customers.
Q: What are the biggest trends that are top of mind today for SAP customers?
A: When I walk into boardrooms and meet with CEOs, they consistently tell me the next few years will be more critical for their business than the last several decades. Innovation is happening at the fastest rate we’ve ever seen, and it will never be this slow again.
The pace of technology leads to several common discussions around key market trends — regardless of your industry. One of those common focal points is the future of work — or more specifically, the paradigm shift in the way we work. The age of robotics and AI are making it possible to automate processes and eliminate tasks, enabling people to be much more productive. Organizations want to understand how to keep up with this accelerated pace of innovation and retrain and reskill employees — both coming in and being displaced — to thrive in the workforce of the future.
Another universal movement across industries is aimed toward improving the customer experience. It’s a customer-driven market. The competition between businesses is fierce, and people can choose from more options than ever. Consumers want a consistent experience — regardless of the channel — and our customers want to better leverage their data to offer a more personalized experience.
Cybersecurity is also a major topic in almost every boardroom today — how to manage risk in an uncertain world. We’re seeing a broader conversation happening across the world about data privacy and protection; being a good steward of customer data is not an expectation, it’s a requirement.
Q: How are you helping customers navigate new-age technologies — such as machine learning, analytics, and IoT — to move their businesses forward?
A: The benefits of these technologies can be tremendous, and as they become ripe for enterprise use, businesses have two paths — they can work to optimize their existing operations, and they can work to transform by creating new business models only now imaginable. This is the next step of digital transformation, the era of the intelligent enterprise. An intelligent enterprise can deliver much deeper insights thanks to the greater variety of data sources we can tap into, and automation can be delivered far more cost-effectively than in previous years.
SAP is uniquely positioned to support this next era of the intelligent enterprise. Already a leader in enterprise applications, we have now created SAP Leonardo that integrates today’s transformational technologies. We work very closely with our customers to enable them to drive faster innovation with less risk by combining these promising new technologies with our proven design thinking methodology and industry accelerators. Customers can automate and augment existing processes, develop new applications, make existing SAP and third-party applications more intelligent, and power new business models — and they can do it faster than ever, with confidence they’ll be able to scale the benefits.
In the future, the measure of success for next-generation technologies will reflect the societal innovations, breakthrough discoveries and reimagined opportunities they enabled digital-first enterprises to bring to the world. SAP Leonardo is a great example of how we’re infusing a customer-first, customer-driven mindset that prioritizes long-term outcomes into our company’s lifeblood. This mindset is ultimately what will allow us to continue making a long-lasting impact that puts our customers ahead for years to come.
Q: Amid pervasive digital disruption and the necessity for organizations to evolve to survive, how is SAP engaging its own workforce and customers to grow its business?
A: Our employees and our customers are the chief driving forces behind our evolution as a company. If you look at the most successful companies in the world, you’ll find that the vast majority have an engaged, motivated workforce. Their employees have bought in to their company’s strategy, feel well-compensated, supported, and empowered to be themselves, and have access to senior leaders, mentors, and resources for professional development, health, and wellness.
We are heavily focused on fostering a culture that is both inclusive and innovative, which is why SAP North America is listed in the Top 30 of Fortune’s 2018 list of “Best Companies to Work For.” 1 SAP has incredibly intelligent, passionate, and highly collaborative people from all walks of life. Our people have a voice beyond the business — we have a shared purpose that mobilizes our culture in ways that a paycheck cannot. We are all united in helping our customers succeed in the digital economy, and we’ve collectively created an environment of trust and transparency, which we feel is key to embracing disruption in our industry.
Our commitment to create an engaged, motivated, and innovative workforce is directly centered on our focus on supporting our customers. When you have a happy and engaged workforce, you have happy and successful customers. This is nothing new, mind you. Throughout everything SAP has done over the past 46 years, one thing that remains a constant is our relentless focus on our customers; that is the fuel that drives our success. In North America, and globally, everything we do is focused on building and nurturing relationships with our customers to ensure they are successful for the long haul. We take nothing for granted, and we need to continue to win our customers over day after day. This is something we’re leaning into, and we’re really excited about this being part of our growth in North America.
Our employees and customers are the chief driving forces behind our evolution as a company.”
DJ Paoni, President, SAP North America
Q: As the person responsible for customers’ success in North America, what is your approach to systematically identify and address your customers’ needs?
A: It comes down to customer empathy. We truly listen to our customers, understand their needs, and think about how we can help them overcome any problems preventing them from achieving their definition of success. My own journey at SAP has afforded me the opportunity to work with many of the world’s best-run companies that have gone through digital transformations.
Understanding the rigor, resources, and tools it takes to enable a successful transformation is where empathy starts. We’re putting ourselves in the shoes of our customers, rallying our entire organization to make sure we’re working together to earn the right to innovate with our customers. They want a partner that’s easy to work with, focused on driving their business outcomes, and one that has the expertise and technology to enable their vision for innovation. We want to create a unified experience for our customers to guide their transformations across our end-to-end portfolio, and we’re constantly searching for new and better ways to accelerate value on their behalf.
Q: Why is adopting SAP S/4HANA critical for customers to address macrotrends we are seeing today and enable innovation?
A: As the digital core that connects enterprises with people, business networks, and big data, SAP S/4HANA provides instant value across all lines of business — and consequently it is the fastest-growing product in SAP history. It empowers businesses to act in the moment because they now have immediate access to information at the most granular level to help them make better, more informed decisions.
SAP S/4HANA enables customers to focus their entire enterprise — and entire value chain — on one thing: delivering customer value. Take MOD Pizza, for example, one of the fastest growing fast-casual restaurant franchises, which implemented SAP S/4HANA Cloud to support its core financials, inventory, project management, recruitment, and employee data processes. Its technology transformation has enabled the company to grow at a rapid pace and expand internationally.
Q: How do you see the cloud supporting your customers’ journeys?
A: Cloud technology is what really enables companies to deliver intelligence at scale. Over the last several years, SAP has created a cloud portfolio that helps organizations truly achieve end-to-end management of their business — whether it’s building deeper customer relationships, creating more empowered employees, developing streamlined operations, or quickly launching and assessing new business models. With our broad set of cloud solutions, our customers can get an end-to-end view of their business in a way that is simplified, integrated, and completely flexible to their needs.
Beyond streamlining and simplifying, we know customers need to innovate to stay ahead, and cloud enables us to deliver that required innovation at speed and at scale. With SAP Cloud Platform, for example, companies have a foundation that allows them to integrate new technologies like machine learning, blockchain, analytics, big data, and IoT to rapidly scale new business models and out-innovate their competitors.