Transforming tomorrow today: SAP executive talks about creating a sustainable future in Southeast Asia

Published August 7, 2022, 3:18 PM

by Lionell Macahilig

One of the most diverse regions in the world, Southeast Asia, where the Philippines is located, is a melting pot of different cultures. Diversity is what makes the region special and it is also a key focus for SAP as part of its vision of creating a sustainable future.

Verena Siow, President and Managing Director for SAP South East Asia

“Sustainability includes social sustainability,” said Verena Siow, President and Managing Director for SAP South East Asia, during an exclusive interview with the Manila Bulletin. “Diversity inclusion should be across the board and it needs to be holistic. It is one of the most important indexes to measure sustainability in all companies or even among individuals.”

Reduced inequality is among the 17 sustainable development goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, which are intended to be achieved by 2030. Aligned to reduce inequality and fulfill other SDGs, SAP has launched Chasing Zero, a campaign that highlights best practices from the company’s global ecosystem of leading thinkers and academics, as well as customers and partners. SAP sees sustainability as a pressing business challenge in today’s generation. Many companies working with SAP also discuss how they can build a more sustainable future together by taking advantage of today’s technologies.

“I’m very happy to share that in Southeast Asia, 51% of our employee base consists of women. Female statistics in the Philippines are even better at 56% or about 2,500 employees because we also run chat services here. This inclusion aspect helps in addressing the problem of talent shortage in technology companies around the world. We have made a lot of progress in the last 20 years versus when I started my career. Today, we get a lot more empowerment, respect, and credibility,” said Siow, talking about the growing presence of women in the technology space.

Despite the positive changes that took place in the area of diversity inclusion, particularly the growing presence of women in the technology scene, Siow, a mother of two daughters, noted that women are still getting questions with a sense of bias. “I had interviewers in the past who blatantly asked ‘who takes care of your children when you are traveling?’ Those interviewers would never ask a man such a question. Previously, I used to be a little bit more defensive and would throw back the question,” she said. Recognizing the issue of unconscious bias, Siow noted that SAP has solutions that help in reducing unconscious bias and promoting diversity. She emphasized that technology can be used to make questions in interviews gender neutral.

“When we talk about diversity, it is not only about gender but also minorities. The last time I counted, we have 49 nationalities in Southeast Asia,” she continued. With the region having a youthful population, SAP is also empowering the youth across many universities by allowing them to leverage SAP Analytics Cloud to come up with new solutions to some of the world’s challenges through competition.

“We have many fantastic stories in which students, due to their exposure to analytics during the competitions, have decided to pursue a career that they might not have considered before. It’s really about giving visibility and access,” she added.

Helping SMEs become future-ready

Apart from having diverse cultures, Southeast Asia also has a huge number of small and medium-sized enterprises. In the Philippines alone, 99.5% of its economy consists of SMEs. Considering this percentage, SAP has a dedicated team that works and supports SME customers not only in the country but also in the entire region.

“Out of the approximately 2,800 customers that we have in the Philippines, 1,500 are SMEs. We support them to become future-ready through digitalization. It is important for us to support SMEs because they could become the enterprises of the future 20 years down the road,” said Siow.

“Today, not only big businesses acknowledge the importance of digitalization. Technology has become relevant to companies to continue their businesses and be resilient. Digital transformation has picked up, which we call hyper-growth, during the last two years,” said Siow, noting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses. She added that digital transformation is also driven by cloud technologies because that is the only way companies can become more agile during the pandemic.

“Building and getting intelligence and insights into business operations is very important. Once you leverage technology to operationalize your business, the next stage will be what you do to the data and how you gain insights and make decisions. We work closely with companies to help them leverage our data intelligence solutions to gain more insights,” she continued.

“We are tracking very well our initiatives and we aim to reach net zero in our operations by 2025. By 2030, we plan to achieve net zero across our supply chains. We practice what we talk about. We have launched solutions to help companies become more sustainable. How do you become more sustainable is by getting insights and data, making assessments, and seeing how to make improvements to achieve sustainable goals,” she added.

“We have to transform tomorrow today to be future-ready. It takes time to transform and it is a journey so we should not postpone actions. We must start transformation today to get ready for the future. Getting intelligent insights to make better decisions stands for sustainability. Embedding sustainability is the most pressing challenge we have today and it will become even more difficult in the future,” Siow concluded.