SAP Mentor Spotlight Interview: Simon To
|The SAP Mentor Spotlight Interview Series highlights key strategic topics, such as emerging technologies, learning, and other topics, and provides insights from Mentors and SAP leaders on turning ideas into innovative approaches that impact people, process, and technology.|
Volunteering time to support a community is enriching both professionally and personally. Connecting to people, ideas, and perspectives helps us grow and build our skills and expertise.
When an individual contributes to a community, they can gain a unique sense of purpose by supporting those around them. One activity in an area can often manifest in other areas of one’s life, such as discovering a new passion or interest.
When I caught up with Simon To, SAP Mentor and Senior Business Intelligence Systems Analyst at Flowserve, he shared his professional interests around business analytics, intelligent technologies (e.g., Artificial Intelligence) as well as how he has prioritized his volunteer time with groups such as the Boy Scouts and as an Emergency Responder.
His energy and passion related to learning and helping others is very inspiring.
Allie Trzaska (AT): When you started at the University of Texas at Arlington you were interested in accounting, and then you pivoted into business intelligence which led you into a variety of industries (insurance, telecom, automotive, retail/fashion), and now with Flowserve, a market leading mechanical / industrial engineering organization. Throughout your professional journey, what guided you to become a Business Intelligence (BI) expert?
Simon To (ST): My first job after college was as a staff accountant and I did it for about six years. Then, I went back to school for my master’s degree. At that time, I did not know if I should stay with accounting or pursue something else. So, I sat down and discussed it with my manager who helped point me in the right direction. He told me that he noticed I had excellent aptitude on computer technology and that I was great at automating all of my monthly closing routines. He also added that people with both business knowledge and computer knowledge were highly sought after. With his great advice, I went back to school for an MBA Degree with a concentration on Information Systems. And the rest is history.
AT: While you have many professional accomplishments, you always find time to support the community with the Boy Scouts and as an Emergency Responder. What has motivated you to give back in support of youth and adult programs, leadership, and saving lives?
ST: Well, for starters, one of the Boy Scout principles is to give back to our communities and I believe in that. When you see the young boys starting as Cub Scouts, they are shy and do not know much. Then, through the scouting program, they learn the important skills on how to take care of themselves, how to build self-confidence, how to be a good leader, and so on. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing them all grow up to be productive citizens.
AT: What inspired you to be an SAP Mentor? What has the experience been like for you?
ST: I have been in the SAP BI realm for about 20 years. Throughout these years, I have always been active in the user community. I enjoy working at the grass root level and helping other SAP users/customers resolve their technical issues, as well as to further expand the possibilities related to their existing investment in SAP products.
As an SAP Mentor, I can be the voice of the user community and I can funnel up their issues and pain points to SAP Product teams and decision makers. It is so great that a technology giant as big as SAP is willing to listen to the customers.
AT: The importance of business intelligence for customer engagement is critical to all organizations especially during this era of digital transformation. What are a few examples of ways that you help users get deeper, more actionable insights with SAP and related business analytics?
ST: I have organized roundtables with the SAP customers to discuss their issues and pain points. People tend to participate more in the discussion when they are in a face-to-face meeting. Although online conference calls can cover more people from different geographical locations, the downside is that it tends to be one or two people doing all the talking. I have also organized workshops at the local grass root level to advance the latest SAP technologies to the user community and to get them engaged.
AT: Advanced analytics, including AI (Artificial Intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning), have become a staple in analytic processes. Are you seeing increased use of AI / ML to help analyze data? What are one or two interesting examples?
ST: No doubt that AI is the future. It has been used extensively in online shopping like Amazon, in social media like YouTube and Facebook, and also in many mobile apps. However, I am not sure it is matured enough for most businesses at this time. Most businesses are interested in AI and probably have done some exploration into this technology, but very few are actually using it exclusively in production or mission critical processes. With that being said, I have seen many people implementing some sort of predictive analytics into their business processes. I think this area is where SAP should consider expanding.
AT: From a career perspective, organizational change will remain a constant, which means there will be many new BI related career opportunities. At the same time, with automation, the business intelligence job market will change. What advice can you give students and recent graduates who want to get an excellent job now, but not be displaced from automation?
ST: I have always advised new graduates to focus on or to develop quality problem-solving skills. That is the most sought-after skillset. Anyone can pick up business knowledge and anyone can pick up technical knowledge, but the problem-solving mindset is not something that can be picked up easily, and it is definitely not something that can be replaced by automation. The CEO of one of my previous employers has told us this: “Hire for Attitude and Train for Skill”. That is so true.
Simon is also super active with ASUG and has been for several years now.
I agree with you on the topic of AI. It's a big buzz-word right now, but not many companies have the processes in place around data governance and quality to be successful. And also, because of it's buzz-word status, too many people (business and technical) don't understand how and where it can be used successfully.