SAP helped a client secure 500 hospital beds in just 30 minutes — and it shows the power of digital transformations in helping companies respond to the coronavirus pandemic


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  • At 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday, SAP Vice President Richard Primm got a text from a client asking him for help with finding 500 hospital beds. 
  • Primm used SAP’s Ariba marketplace to connect the company with a vendor within just 30 minutes, a startlingly fast timeline for such an in-demand product. 
  • It’s just one example of how digital upgrades are drastically changing how companies can respond to crises like the coronavirus pandemic.
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At 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Richard Primm, a vice president at the German software giant SAP, received a text message requesting the seemingly impossible.  

Heath Layfield, the chief digital officer of Ram Tool and Supply, was seeking 500 beds for a temporary hospital that the Alabama-based construction company was helping build outside New York City to treat patients with the coronavirus. 

At first, Primm told Business Insider, he doubted it was even possible, given the rush across the US to find such products. “My initial thought was: There’s absolutely no way if you gave me three months that I would be able to find this,” he said. 

Then he turned to Ariba Discovery — SAP’s global, cloud-based marketplace that’s available for free to both buyers and sellers during the crisis. 

He started with a simple search term: hospital beds. And surprisingly, up popped Joerns Healthcare, a medical-equipment supplier and a client of Primm’s. It was one of the few vendors nationally that had the capacity to help out. 

Within the next 30 minutes, Primm had executives from the two companies connected. Ram Tool and Supply ordered the beds that night, and they are expected to arrive on Monday — a startlingly fast timeline for such an in-demand product.

“Completely improbable. It just was jaw-dropping to me that this happened,” Primm said. 

Digital platforms are powering the pandemic response 

That’s just one example of how new digital platforms are changing the way companies are able to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. 

There are many obvious cases, like more corporations pivoting to online chat tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams — as well as broader use of videoconferencing platforms like Zoom.

But some are less clear to the public eye. 

Cloud-based platforms provided by firms including SAP now allow businesses to get a holistic view into different aspects of the enterprise — like human resources and regulatory compliance. For many, it’s the first time they’ve ever had such visibility. 

Others, like systems offered by Honeywell, let companies increase the efficiency of their products. One of the industrial-software giant’s systems, for example, autonomously controls energy consumption in buildings, based on factors like the time of the day and the weather. 

Such insights can help lead to significant cost savings. And it’s one reason why the pace of adoption could quicken as a result of the outbreak. 

“When times are good there are always many things you can do. When times are tough, you have to extract that extra value,” Que Dallara, the president and CEO of Honeywell Connected Enterprise, said. 

Digital tools could also be a major differentiator between the companies that come out of this pandemic on solid footing and those that will struggle to sustain operations amid the expected economic downturn. 

New technology helps organizations “create an edge over the digital laggards. And that wedge is going to be driven further as companies struggle to meet the new efficiency thresholds that [others] who are successfully deploying technology have been able to meet,” Jonathan Lang, an analyst with global research firm IDC, said. 

Better supply-chain management powered by tech

In the past, many companies had a fragmented view into their supply-chain operations.

That made replacing partners or bringing in new ones a time-intensive process that required humans to do much of the grunt work. 

Now corporations can employ platforms like enterprise-resource planning (ERP) systems to get an end-to-end view of their suppliers. And machine learning is helping to automate many of the tasks that employees once had to manage. 

For example, if a business needed to quickly source new providers or replace those that may have shuttered amid the outbreak, software from SAP, Oracle, and others could automatically suggest vendors that fit certain criteria, including those that are close to existing partners. 

Take Bumble Bee Foods, a San Diego-based provider of tuna, salmon, and other products that is expecting a surge in demand over the coming months as consumers remain quarantined at home amid the pandemic.

Managing those fluctuations is much easier with new digital supply-chain tools, according to Bumble Bee Chief Information Officer Tony Costa. “We can adjust production to minimize supply chain constraints,” he said in an emailed statement.

Also, digital investments from Campbell Soup have helped that company better manage inventory and oversee the supply chain during a time of unprecedented demand for its products.

And many pharmaceutical giants and medical-device firms already use ERP platforms to manage operations. Those systems can support efforts by manufacturers to quickly ramp up production of a coronavirus vaccine once it receives federal approval. 

Crises like the pandemic have “a catastrophic impact on a company’s plan, their business plan, their supply chain,” Jeff Harvey, a chief customer officer at SAP, told Business Insider. “To be able to react in 24 hours, or in a matter of hours … that’s the capability that exists now with these platforms.” 

SEE ALSO: A software CEO who helped CIOs weather the Great Recession shares 4 steps tech chiefs need to take right now to manage through the coronavirus pandemic

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