Rendezvous with Sindhu Gangadharan, SVP & Managing Director, SAP Labs India on Business Challenges and How Technology will Shape the Workplace in 2021
Sindhu Gangadharan holds dual responsibilities at SAP. As a Senior Vice President, she leads the SAP User Enablement unit that provides a seamless, integrated end-user platform for all SAP’s products. She is also the Managing Director of SAP Labs in India, responsible for product development and innovation at SAP’s Research & Development facilities in Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Gurgaon.
In January 2021, Sindhu was appointed to the Board of Directors at Utah-based Qualtrics International Inc, the global pioneer of the Experience Management software category. She also serves on the Board of Titan Company Ltd as an Independent Director with a focus on technology.
Sindhu is a member of the NASSCOM Executive Council – the apex industry body for the IT/IT enabled services in India. She is also a member of the Steering committee of the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce, an industry body driving the Bilateral trade and deliberations.
As a respected thought leader, Sindhu is a regular speaker at domestic and global conferences. She is a passionate advocate of using technology to benefit customers and society, workplace diversity, and inclusion.
Q-What are the key challenges that you’re facing as a Business Head?
In my experience thus far, I say that no two workdays are alike. Each day brings with it a new set of demands and expectations. Often, I view challenges as a fascinating must-have, as without them, life can become dull and routine. When the pandemic forced us to shift our work to our homes abruptly, it threw up several challenges. Top among them being the wellbeing and safety of our diverse and dispersed workforce, enabling them to work effectively from their homes and assuring our customers of business continuity.
Our workforce operates from Bangalore, Gurgaon, Hyderabad, Pune, and Mumbai and their physical and mental wellbeing had to be ensured. SAP solutions and software are the critical engines that our customers depend on to run their business. So, we had to make sure that our employee productivity does not dip.
My preference is to replace the word challenge with achievement. Hence, I have a list of tasks to achieve, and I need to complete them tackling in the process, any obstacles that come in the way. Let me broadly classify them under two areas – customers and employees.
Towards the end of 2019, when I took charge as the MD of SAP Labs India, I set a goal to make the Labs India location the most innovative place in the SAP Universe, focused on customer centricity; where thought leadership flourishes and colleagues work in a highly diverse and inclusive environment. Executing this vision is possible when processes, policies, and initiatives are created to reach the goal.
For example, to make SAP Labs India, the most innovative place, we need to bring out products and solutions that delight our customers and help them succeed. To achieve this, we need to motivate employees to innovate by creating an environment where ideas flourish, collaboration is seamless, and colleagues push the boundaries and enjoy doing so. A culture that seeds and nourishes innovation is needed to help employees develop an innovative mindset and look at innovation not as a task but as a significant contributor to customers success.
IT is a people-intensive business, and so, unless employees are excited to bring their best selves to work every day, ideas will not flourish, and morale will dip. It is, therefore, essential for a leader to not let that happen. Likewise, silos form quickly, impeding productivity and collaboration. They need to be bridged, and the leader must keep a watch to ensure a smooth flow of communication and knowledge sharing between teams across the organisation.
Q-How do you see the role of technology in the post-pandemic world?
COVID-19 shook the world up, leading a global-scale tragedy and disruption. It was a wake-up call for several organisations to be ready to deal with unexpected events that can seriously impact business continuity. While many companies were trying to understand the implications and need to go digital, the pandemic accelerated their action, and the adoption of digital technologies increased.
Technology has been an enabler and a saviour in these challenging times, by successfully connecting people across the globe and allowing execution of complex projects from the comfort of homes. In a post-COVID world, technology will play a prominent role in all sectors. Digital adoption will speed up, and companies will equip themselves to be intelligent enterprises. The positive impact of technology on society will be more felt.
Technology will also make enterprises resilient to large-scale disruptions and prepare them to tackle any challenges and create new opportunities. We will see digital innovation in emerging technologies such as the Cloud, artificial intelligence, machine learning, analytics, and big data. Technology will be used to upskill, reskill and empower the workforce for the future to adapt to the new realities of the world and the industries which they represent. Lastly, technology will drive inclusive and sustainable growth by creating stable employment opportunities, encouraging entrepreneurship, building growth models, and achieving sustainability goals.
Q-What are the major tech innovations that we can expect to see at the workplace in 2021 and the coming years?
We have recently been experiencing a significant change in the workplace, from workforce to the work style. This transformation will accelerate in 2021, with technology being a great enabler in delivering a smooth working experience. With offices in India opening slowly, leaders will rely more on automation and touch-less technologies, enhanced cleaning and sanitisation techniques, greater distancing.
Technology will play a vital role in ensuring safety and hygiene in the workplace. We will witness facial recognition technologies and floor disinfecting robots that sanitise the floor, contactless sanitiser dispenser for hand-free sanitisation among many others. While existing collaborative platforms are working well, we will also witness more innovation that drives productivity and increase employee engagement.
Virtual interviews are here to stay, and we will even see the adoption of newer technologies to assess the emotional quotient. Technology adoption will accelerate as more employers start realising the work-from-home model’s value and create engaging workplaces for employees.
Q-How do you see the impact of COVID-19 on diversity in the workplace and equal opportunities?
As we continue to navigate the new normal, it is essential to understand that multiple factors have led to the emergence of various diversity and inclusion changes. These can have potential and long-lasting impacts on any organisation. Be it adapting quickly to a state of complete lockdown, physical distancing, dealing with school closures, handling kids at home, taking care of the elderly, and ensuring the continuity of work through virtual platforms.
Today, diversity and inclusion have a new dimension because everyone has their own experience and challenges during the pandemic. Hence, paying extra attention and continuous engagement will enable the workforce to sustain its culture in the next era of work.
It is about making every colleague feel that they are an equal part of the team, even though you cannot see them. Diversity and inclusion are not merely goals to strive for; they are strategic imperatives that contribute to improved productivity, customer and employee engagement, and innovation. Leaders need to make decisions that involve proactive thinking, bold actions, and faster implementation. Creating a flexible work environment by fostering inclusive mindsets enables leaders to take a fresh look at every challenge and create a resilient workforce.
At SAP, we have always celebrated a diverse culture to drive an innovative workspace. We nurture a diverse set of employees that offer various perspectives from their varied life experiences, and these opinions are valuable for our growth. Even in this new normal, our agenda remains the same – to foster a workplace with equal opportunities where people can bring their authentic selves to work. Our culture of inclusion and focus on health and wellbeing helps ensure that everyone – regardless of background – feels included and can run at their best. When we collaborate with others who have different points of view, it creates a more splendid mix of ideas and spurs innovation.
Q-What are your expectations from HR to focus on in 2021?
The new norm of working that the pandemic created has made companies review their HR policies and processes. In my view, in 2021 and beyond, companies must redesign their HR to meet the workplace’s needs. For instance, companies need to consider how to accommodate dual careers and manage talent mobility and agility.
The way the job roles and talent profile are managed need to be relooked. What role should continue full-time and what can be freelanced has to be weighed in carefully. Future demands need to be anticipated, and organisations must prepare their workforce to meet them. Personalised experience will become common. Employees will want benefits crafted to their unique needs and not one that is common for all.
Thank you, Sindhu!