Making innovation real

SAP Africa, the African cluster of SAP SE, is helping companies to transform and grow through digital technologies that are easy to consume and are able to drive real business value


“As SAP, we believe that the intelligent enterprise is a powerful concept that can truly help transform the business of our customers, so they can serve their customers better. Our ambition is to provide our customers with a fully integrated suite of business applications, infused with intelligent technologies everywhere, and powered by our unrivalled data platform.

“We will double-down on our longstanding advantage in deep industry and line-of-business expertise. Seventy-six per cent of the world’s transaction revenue touches an SAP system, and industry-leading customers all rely on SAP to help them optimise their business of today in addition to re-imagining their business of tomorrow,” explains Rudeon Snell, SAP’s Leonardo Leader for Africa.

Their partner ecosystem is world class, with thousands of partners who can assist in bringing intelligent solutions to their customers that help them move their business forward.

Then, there’s their global reach, with over 350 000 customers in 180 different countries.

“We see how things work across different countries; they work differently in Japan versus the US versus China versus Brazil versus South Africa. Those differences matter, that experience we bring to our customers, matters.

“Every day, we hear from customers that the intelligent enterprise is most relevant for them in a context that is specific and true to their unique aspirations, their key strategic goals and objectives and their particular challenges across both industry and line-of-business dimensions. As such, we will bring the intelligent enterprise to life by building solutions that bring together the best of SAP and providing those solutions to our customers, to help them achieve more,” he says.

SAP Leonardo

Inspired by arguably the greatest thinker of our time, Leonardo Da Vinci, at its heart, SAP Leonardo centres around how SAP makes innovation real.

“When you think about design thinking as a means of eliciting business outcomes or envisaging the art of what is possible, and you consider how you use exponential technologies such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of things, big data, advanced analytics and blockchain to realise those outcomes, all powered by the cloud; that’s the essence of SAP Leonardo.

“It allows organisations to innovate faster with less risk, accelerating the delivery of business value and providing a frame of reference for organisations wanting to get started with exponential technologies, but are not sure how to,” Snell says.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution and artificial intelligence (AI)

We are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and there are great fears that robotics and AI will take away many jobs, especially within developing economies.

Snell says that job displacement in the short term, as a result of technological advancement, is inevitable.

“History has clearly showcased this, whether it’s the displacement of farmers when the tractor was invented or the displacement of telephone switchboard operators to name but a few. More recently, we are seeing toll collectors, cashiers and train-ticket sellers and long haul truck drivers all coming under threat from technology. This is just the beginning,” he says.

He adds that if this situation is not proactively addressed, we will see an increase in the gap between the haves and have nots and quite possibly one of the biggest socio-economic disasters ever created, especially in developing countries where 70% – 80% of the economy is still predominantly supported by blue-collar jobs.

“The government and industry must get together to address this through structured programmes and individuals need to rethink their own value proposition, skills and expertise to ensure their value-add and marketability in an AI-first world. This is where SAP took the lead by becoming the first European tech company to create an ethics advisory panel for AI. This panel would allow SAP to ensure the creation of ethical AI, which serves humanity and benefits society,” says Snell.

Considering the AI influence, Snell believes that the children and students of today require a different education in order to keep up with the times. “Our current education system is broken and is simply not equipped nor prepared for the coming wave of technological change. It was primarily designed and geared for developing skills that are relevant in the industrial age. Skills that are still focused on today as a result of this system aims to improve primarily on reading, writing and arithmetic, which were all critical in the Industrial Age, but which are being more easily replaced by AI today,” he explains.

Snell believes the quality of education is simply not evolving at the same pace as technology is. As such, there is a deep need to revamp and re-imagine our current educational system, otherwise we quite possibly run the risk of creating a permanent underclass with irrelevant educational skills—something that, it could be argued, is already happening to a certain degree, given the inequalities of public and private education funding in developing countries.

“Educational institutions will need to focus on teaching students more relevant, dated skills to improve employability, especially skills related to working with robotics, AI, the Internet of Things (IoT) and other exponential technologies.

“Today, those who have conquered computers have given themselves a much greater chance of employability. Tomorrow, the same can very well be true as it pertains to exponential technologies,” he explains.

With AI coming in at some speed, necessity will force employees to adapt.

“One thing we are good at as a species is adapting to change. It will require a reinvention of people and their value-add in the age of AI. Employees will have to reconsider their skills, expertise and value proposition in order to remain relevant and dated,” Snell says.

With regard to the biggest digital enhancements, he says they are very excited about those we are seeing in terms of the exponential technologies synergising in industries, such as healthcare, retail and consumer goods, transportation, manufacturing, financial services and agriculture, which are completely transforming business models and accelerating business value creation.

“Companies that are able to leverage the convergence of these exponential technologies successfully will be the ones that are ideally positioned to carve out new markets and new spaces of value as they reinvent themselves. By reimagining customer experiences, transforming products and services, optimising their operations and redefining employee productivity, these companies are the ones that will have the power to shape and change the world,” he says.

The Leonardo Leader

Originally from Cape Town, Rudeon Snell made a career move to Johannesburg in 2010. He planned on staying, for only two years—that was nine years ago.

“I love the cosmopolitan nature of Johannesburg, the cultural diversity, the energy and the pace. Jozi really has become home for us as a family,” he says.

Snell holds a Master’s degree in IT as well as an MBA specialising in strategy and is currently completing a doctorate specialising in AI.

“I’ve always had a love and passion for technology and the way it can act as a resource-liberating mechanism, especially for developing countries. I believe technology is the key vehicle for driving positive, transformational change, equipping us with the necessary tools to tackle humanity’s grand challenges,” he says.

Snell says that some of the most crucial leadership lessons he has learnt during the course of his career are that authenticity matters, it’s important to be clear and consistent, learning beats knowing, always put people before money and hunt as a pack.

In terms of leadership, Snell believes it is not about rank or power, nor is it about being in charge. “Having authority doesn’t make you a leader. There are people with no authority who are exceptional leaders.

“Leadership is ultimately about taking care of those in your charge. Great leaders create circles of safety for their teams so that they are inspired to come to work every morning, do deeply meaningful work that matters and leave the office feeling fulfilled as they go home to their families.

“As a leader, your focus should be on ensuring crystal clarity on the direction you have set, allowing your teams to figure out how to get there, generating the energy that inspires optimism, creativity, and growth and delivering success that leaves the organisation stronger tomorrow than today,” he concludes.

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