SAP lays out back-to-work plans

12 Jun 20

by John Davidson

The government needs to adopt a data-based, agile approach to policy development, similar to the way software is developed, if Australia is to navigate its way out of the coronavirus crisis, says software maker SAP.

Answering the Morrison government's "call to action" for new policy ideas to help Australia out of the economic crisis, SAP has released a Public Policy Paper, laying out new ways technology could be used, not just to help Australians quickly transition to working from home, but also in the transition to a "new normal" economy.

That new normal, said SAP Australia president and managing director Damien Bueno, should borrow techniques from the software world, where products are released early and then quickly "iterated" upon as flaws and insufficiencies appear.

Rather than "contemplating things from a policy perspective for months or years", politicians and public servants should act fast, and then quickly fine-tune their policy.

The new normal should insist that small business, which accounts for 35 per cent of Australia’s GDP and employs 44 per cent of the workforce, be better digitised, using tools such as e-invoicing and e-procurement to improve productivity and to help avoid the supply chain issues that paralysed many businesses during the height of the pandemic.

And the new normal should also use data to inform policy in ways that it was rarely used before the crisis, Mr Bueno told The Australian Financial Review.

Tackling the high unemployment rates, for instance, should be a data-driven exercise, the policy paper said.

Using the JobKeeper scheme as the context, SAP says government should collect new data about people who have been put out of work, including their readiness to work remotely and what reskilling they might need for future-economy jobs, and then use that data in conjunction with private enterprise to match workers with jobs.

"Someone who's in Melbourne who has the right skills could now do a job that's based in Queensland, because the appetite to do things virtually now exists," Mr Bueno said.

"Such insights could inform life-changing decisions at every level of the Australian economy and support government programs such as the federal government’s Australian Apprenticeships National Skills Needs List to identify what skills are required in the Australian economy," SAP said in its policy paper.

The rising tide lifts all boats.

— Damien Bueno

The coronavirus crisis had not just "proved out the case for running the economy off a digital platform", it had also proved that technology was far more capable than even the technology companies thought it was, Mr Bueno said.

Having been forced to use remote access for software deployments at some of its clients during the lockdown, Mr Bueno said SAP realised remote access was actually a better tool than expected, and that it would be offering it as an option more often in the future.

Of course, being a technology company, SAP would directly benefit from a greater use of technology in business and government. With "77 per cent of the world’s transaction revenue touch[ing] an SAP system", the company said it was already well placed to be the sort of technology provider Australia needed on the road to recovery.

"The scale of SAP’s business and national reach means that SAP can partner across the public and private sectors to provide insights into the functioning of the employment market," the policy paper said.

But that wasn't the company's only motivation, Mr Bueno said. Helping Australia out of the economic crisis would benefit SAP indirectly, even if it did not win any of the work it was proposing be done to fully digitise Australia's economy, because "the rising tide lifts all boats".

Article appeared first in the Australia Financial Review.