During a recent interview, Manik Narayan Saha, CIO for Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ) at SAP, spoke to sister publication CIO Asia about his role at the software giant and how it is driving digital transformation in the region.
In this second part, Saha talks about the technology challenges facing ASEAN countries, why SAP has just opened a Leonardo Centre in Singapore and the impact of emerging technologies as a consequence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
What are the biggest technology challenges in Southeast Asia?
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has a robust economy, generating an overall GDP of $2.5 trillion and growing at six per cent per year.
It also has a rapidly growing smartphone penetration, currently at around 35%, and a well-developed information and communications technology (ICT) cluster with a track record of innovation and investment in new technology.
All of these factors give ASEAN as a bloc great potential to jump at the forefront of the fast-moving global digital economy. However, each of the countries of the association is developing at a different pace and faces specific challenges - challenges which Saha acknowledges.
“The ASEAN region is peculiar because of the geographical diversity, as well as the technological maturity between the different countries in the region," Saha told CIO Asia.
"The big opportunity for ASEAN is to learn from the more advanced countries and leapfrog their technology capabilities into a more future state."
To ensure development within the digital economy, transition to the cloud is key. In this respect, SAP has the ambition of becoming the cloud leader in the APAC region by 2020.
“Our customers are increasingly recognising the value of cloud technologies and making the shift to the cloud to win in the digital economy”, said Saha.
"Innovation and the success of our customers continue to be the focus of everything we do in our push to be cloud leader in APAC by 2020. We will continue to invest technology that enables businesses to become intelligent enterprises."
Despite the deadline being just two years away, the goal doesn't seem far-fetched.
According to the CIO, SAP Cloud Platform is today the application platform of choice for more than 10,000 enterprise customers.
It is also the foundation of an intelligent enterprise, providing an open and agile platform that helps deliver innovations by seamlessly integrating applications and unlocking the value of data through application program interfaces (APIs) to a broader ecosystem of creative developers.
New SAP Leonardo Centre in Singapore
It is difficult to talk about Southeast Asia and technology without mentioning Singapore. SAP, like other multinational software corporations, has a strong presence in the city-state - the third most competitive economy in the world according to figures by the World Economic Forum.
This year Singapore became the fifth country to join the global network of SAP Leonardo Centres, which are customised spaces where businesses, startups, SMEs, and academic institutions can collaborate and explore the digital future in collaboration.
In Saha’s words, “SAP Leonardo brings together IoT, machine learning, blockchain, big data, analytics and data intelligence on SAP Cloud Platform with SAP’s experience, deep process and industry knowledge, and advanced design thinking methodology to deliver the Intelligent Enterprise for every customer so they can be a best run business in a soaring Asia.”
The SAP Leonardo Centre in Singapore also serves as a hub for SAP’s broader digital technology ecosystem, which includes universities, startups, tech communities and accelerators.
Through the SAP University Alliances programme, SAP APJ will expose 1.7 million students in educational institutions across the region to innovative technologies.
The impact of emerging technologies
Disruptive and emerging tech are also words which often feature on the Southeast Asian tech scene.
The most prominent technologies emerging in the region as a consequence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) are blockchain, AI and the Internet of Things.
SAP, as a modern software company, works closely with internal product development teams to produce the latest technology in the market and to be the first to implement it.
“The collaboration [between the teams] encompasses a wide range of technologies under the SAP Leonardo portfolio, including machine intelligence, blockchain, IoT, analytics, etc., which are used to further enhance existing business processes, and in some cases completely change the way we work", Saha said.
In 2017 his team started a project using SAP Cash Application (built with SAP Leonardo Machine Intelligence) to streamline and automate a critical financial process.
With the new technology they were able to achieve an additional 65 per cent automation rate on top of the existing automation – a benchmark, which according to Saha, was unfathomable three or five years ago.
This year they are looking into several applications of SAP Leonardo Machine Learning in the fields of sales, marketing, operations and support, where he thinks new technologies could have a huge impact.
“While machine learning has the potential to massively disrupt the enterprise world, it will be the business applications that efficiently use machine learning to augment humans that will have the most enduring impact.”