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Former Member

Editor's note: In this interview, Sameer Patel, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Enterprise Social Collaborative Software at SAP, talks about how you should always think about the strategic importance of your existing knowledge as it relates to end users and business processes, regardless of what technology you’re talking about.

How is SAP’s transition to the cloud changing the jobs that exist within SAP?

Instead of focusing on particular jobs, I think it’s more important to consider what employees need to do to stay strategic. The cloud changes the way you need to think about technology, and that’s because it has two primary characteristics.

First, the cloud is about velocity. The cloud is the vehicle that allows you to respond to the velocity at which your business is evolving, your customers are changing, and your customers’ expectations of business are changing. The cloud gives you the ability to access people, data, and processes in a way that lets you outsmart your competitors faster than ever before.

Second, the cloud is about knowledge. To adapt fast and to adapt well, you need to understand who’s doing what and how people are reacting – so you can then make changes to respond to the trends you’re seeing.

In the old way of doing things, where customers installed software on-site, it was difficult to understand – at scale – what changes were happening in your market across different applications.

Now, if your customers are consuming your applications in the cloud – let’s say, for customer relationship management or sales force automation – you can look across hundreds of thousands or even millions of end users to see what the trends are. You can see how they’re using the applications, engaging with their own customers, and supporting those customers.

"Move beyond just thinking about the transactions that technology facilitates"

With talent management applications in the cloud, you can understand how people spend their time learning, how to train them and retrain them, and how performance is being measured in a certain industry or across the 50 largest organizations.

That’s the kind of insight and analytics you can get with the cloud – helping you understand and react to trends – that you can’t get when you break data up across multiple data centers.

So as an employee working for a company that’s moving to the cloud, you need to move beyond just thinking about the transactions that technology facilitates. You need to think about getting insight across a much larger user set and then setting benchmarks against that larger pool of data.

As an employee, that’s how you’ll stay strategic. As a company, that’s how you’ll ultimately bring value to your end customers.

What are the top industries or lines of business being impacted by cloud computing?

Historically, customer relationship management and human capital management are the lines of business that have had the most cloud noise around them. And in terms of industries, certainly high-tech has been embracing cloud all along. But I think that’s a bit misleading, because the cloud has just as much of an impact in the most regulated industries that you can imagine.

To understand why, it’s best to step back and look at things from the point of view of the end user.

In healthcare, the end user is the patient. In manufacturing, it might be the factory worker – the person actually on the field using your product. Those are the people whose lives you’re trying to impact with your product or service, and they don’t sit inside your organization. These end users are remote, and you need to serve them on their terms and using the right technology – whether on premise or in the cloud – to reach them and to connect them to each other.

"You can’t hide behind your distributors and retailers any more"

Sometimes, you might still need to store sensitive data on premise, if your industry requires that. But it’s not a binary choice – cloud or no cloud. Rather, think about breaking up certain parts of a process – some of those parts will be very ripe for the cloud and can be executed more effectively by cloud technology.

In almost all industries, the lines are flattening between the B2B and B2C worlds. Traditional B2B organizations are starting to realize that they have to behave like a B2B2C organization – one that understands what their end consumers are thinking about so that they can influence how they think about their products and services.

And guess what? Those end consumers are in the public cloud. That means if you’re a traditional B2B organization, you can’t hide behind your distributors and retailers any more. You need to have access to real-time data on the sentiments and preferences of your customers, wherever they might be.

Where do you see new job opportunities being created or older jobs falling away?

I’d rather look at it a little differently. When we’re talking about the cloud, we sometimes forget about the wealth of knowledge that employees have if they’ve been working in an industry for a long time. They might have 10, 15, or 20 years of deep, deep experience in their domain – and to discount that would be short-sighted.

"We sometimes forget about the wealth of knowledge that employees have if they’ve been working in an industry for a long time"

I believe there’s a huge opportunity for folks like that to leverage their experience if they believe that the cloud is the future. They already have invaluable insights on how their industry works, how customers buy, and how customers actually want to consume their products. So in a very important sense, those employees are standing at the forefront of the transformation that will occur when their industry moves to the cloud.

The most effective cloud companies today don’t just offer vanilla software as a service. They allow customers to drive competitive advantage by customizing and extending cloud solutions to fit an industry need. Employees who have a deep understanding of their industry domain will also have a wealth of insight on how to optimize cloud-based applications to serve their customers.

As an employee, what do you need to do to educate yourself on the cloud?

My advice is to first understand the specific industry that you serve before you can understand how the cloud will impact it. That will allow you to have a frank, objective discussion on whether a hybrid model is appropriate – where the cloud works best, and whether certain core applications and processes are better served on-premise.

What you can then start to do is build a strong point of view on how the cloud can help transform your organization and what processes are ripe for cloud innovation. You can be the one to drive the story if you understand the nuances of where the cloud can actually make a difference and transform your business.

How does understanding social collaboration help you stay relevant?

That’s a great question, but where I would start is actually not with social collaboration. I would start by asking what the white spaces are in terms of how people work today. When you think about typical transactional systems of record, what are the white spaces that they’ve never catered to?

"The lines between transactions and collaboration have been flattened forever"

What are the gaps left behind by those systems – in terms of how people sell, how people provide service, and how people build products? How can a network of experts wrap around these problems and opportunities?

If you can answer that, you’ll be able to tell your organization how social collaboration can bring better insights, faster turnarounds, and better service for your end customer. The lines between transactions and collaboration have been flattened forever.

Follow SAP Social Software on Twitter: @SAPSocial

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Read more opinions on how cloud computing may affect your industry or line of business – and thus your career.