SAP Run Better Tour Toronto

SAP is holding a Run Better Tour to highlight some of their new releases and customer success stories, and today it’s in Toronto which allows me to check it out without having to get on an airplane. I attended the Women’s Leadership Forum breakfast this morning, featuring Amanda Lang of CBC News, and she’s speaking again in the general keynote, along with Mark Aboud, Managing Director of SAP Canada.

To go off on a tangent for a moment, Lang had an interesting anecdote at breakfast from an interview that she did with the ambassador from Norway. Apparently, Norway mandated that there be equal representation of women in senior government and corporate board positions; all of the cries of “but there are no women to take these roles” turned out to be completely untrue once they were actually required to look for them. Very reminiscent of the brouhaha around women speakers at tech conferences that inevitably arises several times per year.

In her general keynote, Lang focused on the economy and market forces (after making a quick joke about economists getting laid), and the factors that could impact a return to prosperity: world instability, a repeat of the financial crisis due to mismanagement, and a decrease in productivity. In the relatively small Canadian market, we have no control over the first two of these – a financial crisis that impacts us is unlikely to come from our conservatively-run banks, but from US or European financial institutions – but we can be more productive. However, our productivity has declined in the past 20-30 years, and we are at risk of leaving our children worse off than we are. This started when our currency was so cheap, and our exports were selling at $0.60 on the dollar: no need to increase productivity when you can keep doing the same old thing and still make money at it. However, the past 8 years or so have seen an exchange increase such that our dollar sits near par with the US, which makes our exports much less competitive. Since we haven’t increased productivity, we don’t have better widgets to sell for less in spite of the exchange leveling. Productivity and innovation, although not identical, are highly correlated: we need to have more people inside organizations who challenge the status quo and bring forward better ideas for how to do things.

Mark Aboud started his presentation with the idea that you can’t just get better, you have to get better faster than your competition. Some of this is based on taming the explosion of data that is resulting from the digitalization of human culture: all that needs to be gathering and analyzed, then made available to a variety of constituents via a number of different channels. Another contributor is social media, both in terms of the power that it has a platform, but also in raising the expectations for user experience: the consumer experience is very powerful, but the typical employee experience is pretty lame. He moved on to talk about SAP, and particularly SAP Canada, where only 40% of their business is based on ERP: much of the rest is business analytics. This stress on analytics became obvious as he talked about one of their customers, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, and how they’re using a graphical real-time dashboard as their key interface in the emergency department to indicate how well they’re operating, and highlighting problem areas: a great analytics-in-action example, although it’s not clear where the underlying data is coming from. He also talked about CN Railways, and how they’re using Business Objects analytics to reduce their fuel costs.

Last up in the keynote was someone from Maple Leaf Foods (missed the name) talking about their ERP implementation, and how they use it to manage a company that has grown by acquisition and has very different types of operations in different regions, with 200 different systems and islands of data. They are trying to standardize their business processes across these units at some level, and started rolling out SAP in all of the business units early in 2011, with a planned completion date of early 2013. They’ve done 35 go-lives already, which necessitates a minimum of customization and, sometimes, changing their business processes to match out-of-the-box SAP rather than spending the time to customize SAP.

Good balance of keynotes; I’m now off to a bloggers’ briefing with Mark Aboud.

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