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Customers Are the Highlights Customer panels are always a highlight at any event – this is when true life meets business strategies, and when market predictions and statistics get a shot of real blood and come alive.

The customer panel at the recent SAP SME Summit in Frankfurt on Friday 23rd October, followed just that rule. Undeniably this is why it was heavily tweeted, picking up the words of the representatives of various segments of SME business. It was quite revealing to me, so here are a few of the highlights from the panel and the lively debate. John Higgins, one of the panelists, director of digital Europe, matched his bright eloquent British humour with bright yellow socks! And terrific insights into Europe going online, throwing comments about digital transformation, trends, European statistics, small business technology uptake, etc. Another panelist represented a State owned company, a joint venture formed by Berlin hospitals, Labor Berlin.  The company is doing medical professional services for all associated hospitals, like laboratory and pathology tests, patients care, etc. All the hospitals need the same high  quality, specialized  service, but struggle to keep it all in house, from financial and technology investment side. Therefore the hospitals decided to join forces and outsource into a company which they founded. Smart, no? The third interesting panelist onstage represented the social impact, a long standing social business incubating company, Social Impact.

In a lively discussion we heard interesting comments coming off the stage: like the city of Dublin supporting a smart city idea by arranging ‘business meets technology’ meetings where decision makers meet with representatives of technology companies who suggest how smart new ideas can modernize various aspects of city life. Another panel discusssion point hit a  challenge that social initiatives face – in general,  majority of investors are quite conservative and want to see a fast return on funds invested, they are not willing to put money on the table for social ideas – hence social media companies struggle with their financial support. This business model is focused on impact first and profit comes much later, at least at the start. Building a proof of concept can take easily up to 200k Euros, which makes it hard to find that kind of money coming easily from the investors.

Quite eye opening was a topic on the job situation. The European Union predicts, that there will be some significant shortages in the high skilled jobs on the market, as the current education system does not produce enough specialists, like data scientists specialized in the field of classical education such as:, art, culture, literature, medicine, linguistics, etc. The digitazation goes into these areas and requires skilled data specialists. Furthermore with IOT revolution the job market is going to flip over. 430 000 jobs will be created, but 490 000 low skilled jobs will disappear. Interesting, no?

Another good insight which sparked our interest followed an observation that nowadays the leaders of SME companies need to jump on top of the wave of change themselves. Many of them have little HR support, or HR programs  in house. So it comes down to the SME leaders to drive and implement the changes in their companies. They need to become the ambassadors of the new, by driving the technology and cultural changes to their employees, monitor the adoption curve, and be the one to figure out what to do if the staff struggles with the new technologies. The following spicy statistics illustrate how hard it could be: 40% of the SMEs in the EU currently do absolutely nothing with 2nd wave of technology, like social media, IOT, internet commerce, etc. Being somewhat frightening, it shows the great opportunity for all market players active in digitization space. That for companies like SAP alone is over 244 000 customers worldwide.

Cathy Daum, SAP GPO Head of EMEA closed the Summit, by highlighting how relevant digitization is for SAP. The SAP Run Simple strategy is at the heart of digitization revolution in Europe. There’s never been a better time for leaders of SMEs to think about business simplification. The pace of the digitazation is fast. So the message to our customers becomes clear: Run simple with SAP, and you can avoid this costly, frustrating scenario entirely – and keep the doors of innovation and growth open now and in the future.

Listening to the real life experiences of SME players was truly fascinating. What I found particularly revealing was that the need for digitization is there, there is no need to convince the market players about it. As every big change it triggers a chain of transformation. This time we are up to a massive one, redefining the education systems, the job market, and the entire business environment –  when technology touches life it gets really powerful.

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