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Technology Is the Heart of Everything

You have to talk to the right people to experience how exciting and creative the tech industry is. Meet Farah Zahzah, a passionate out of the box thinker and skilful problem solver. The Global Senior director at the CX technology office and chapter lead of Business Women’s Network at SAP in Montreal talks about her enthusiasm and the future of tech

Women in Tech from around the world. This time we have Farah Zahzah from Montréal, Canada

You’re talking a lot about your enthusiasm for tech, you also studied mathematics and computer science. Where did this passion come from?

When I had my mathematical bachelor (French high school exam), I was hesitating between choosing computer science and architecture. I ended up opting for the latter, because I thought it is a more creative profession. I learned to look at problems from many different angles, to think out of the box and to create new designs and building. Back then, I did not think of technology as a field for creativity. Later, when I moved to the United States in mid-90s, a combination of multiple factors, mainly due to my new environment, triggered my interest in technology. In those times, the Internet commercialization has just started in the United States. I was very impressed and thrilled to learn more about this new medium of communication. It was exciting! My husband was preparing his PhD in computer science and working on some interesting projects, so I was literally surrounded by tech books and magazines at home. Back then, the media headlines were all about the millennium bug and the foreseeable shortage of IT skilled human resources. I realized that technology will be a fast-moving and creative domain in the future, and I wanted to be part of it as I like everything that is new and innovative. At that time, I was planning to start my MA degree in architecture, but then I completely changed my mind and started to look for bachelor course in computer science and have made the decision to move to Canada.

And why did you choose Canada? Is it as open-minded as we perceive it?

Yes, definitely. In addition to being a multicultural country, Canada is well known for its diversity and inclusivity. Beyond its chart of human rights, women also have a strong voice and can manage a good work-life balance. University studies are also much more affordable in Canada, compared to the US. Moreover, it’s worth mentioning the access to a universal healthcare system. When I came for the first time, I really admired it and I felt like at home since day one. That’s one of the reasons why we decided to stay.

Do you see a link between this open-minded and multicultural approach and the development of new technologies and joy for innovation? Is that an advantage?

Absolutely. To feed the need of a flourishing tech industry, Canada has always made sustained efforts in their immigration policy to attract talents and expertise from all around the world. The Government of Canada is also offering a strong support to the entrepreneurial ecosystem through incentives and access to venture capital. Moreover —Education pattern is very flexible in Canada, anyone has the possibility to start a new career path to gain and learn additional knowledge and skills. There are programs during evenings courses on a part time or full-time basis. It’s common that people change their career after an initial one. This model is very beneficial for women as some of them would prefer to stay home to raise their children. Later, they are given the opportunity to launch a new professional career.

You’ve always worked in rather male-dominated fields. How was your experience with this as a woman?

Honestly, at the beginning of my career, I did not pay a lot of attention to it. Maybe because from as long as I can remember, I have always evolved in a male environment, starting from the university. When I was studying architecture, women were about less than 10% in the program and it was just the same in computer science and when I started my professional career. Later, I realized that we were even fewer in senior positions. In some of my previous jobs, we were only one or two women in the architecture team. The situation is very similar on the customer side. In my global role, I often lead workshops with our customers across the world, and I was most of the time the only tech woman in the room. I think being in this situation urged me to subconsciously put myself under pressure, but in a positive way, to always go beyond what is expected from me, especially in traditionally male industry like manufacturing. I would always ensure that I understand every single detail of their business and what would be a typical working journey for this male-dominated environment, what their challenges and pain points are. Only then, I could gain their trust and confidence that I can help them to run the business more efficiently by providing the right solution to challenges.

What can we learn for the future?

Technology is at the heart of everything we do in our personal and professional life, the pandemic crisis has even created a sense of urgency for technology change that we have not foreseen. I think it is important for us as women to be part of this digital transformation as it will continue to impact all aspects of our lives. It is important for us to bring our perspective and view to problem resolution. This is what girls need to understand, technology is not about just coding, that’s only a small part of it. Technology is more about resolving problems and challenges that our evolving world is facing and will in the future. It is about how we would teach our children, how we would ensure that people living far away from hospitals can have access to healthcare. It is about how we can preserve better our environment; it is about how we can avoid, or at least reduce equipment (medical, transportations, etc.) downtime. It is about how we would drive autonomous vehicles, how we would provide a better customer experience. Technology is a key enabler for it all. However, there are a lot of organizations which tackle those problems. At SAP, gender equality is a core company value and a priority for becoming the most inclusive software company. We hit our objective to have 25 percent women in C-level positions in 2017 and working on the 50 percent objective by 2030. With initiatives such as WiT (Women in Tech) and BWN (Business Women Network), we help women to develop their skills and advancing in their careers by building strong relationships and seizing career opportunities to drive SAP’s success.

Women are said to be more intuitive and empathetic. Is this an advantage, in terms of understanding customers’ needs better and designing the customer experience?

I don’t know if it is more intuitive and empathetic, but it definitely brings diversity and increases productivity and creativity. It helps to analyze and resolve problems from various angles, brings more solutions and perspectives. In customer experience, it’s all about how the customer is impressed by the brand and how we engage with them. A diverse team is better equipped to connect customers to brands.

Years ago, we didn’t talk about customer centricity. Why did we underestimate it for such a long time?

I’m not sure if we underestimated it or it is more of a business strategy shift. Companies moved from being product-centric to customer-centric. Customer is at the core of each business to provide a positive experience and to build long-term relationships with brands to ensure their loyalty. This can only be achieved by stepping away from siloed solutions that were enabling customer relation in the past to customer-centric consolidated solutions. It is also about employee centricity.

This is a new perspective.

Definitely. I think that a deeply involved employee in customer experience also enriches the process, because if the employee feels that they are important and are at the center of this, the customer would definitely be better served.

The next big tech-trends:

Consumer experience for B2B customers. In this competitive, changing world and with the pandemic context, businesses will become more customer centric, including traditional industries. B2B customers will look for a more tailored and personalized customer experience just like the consumer/B2C experience. B2B space has been behind the curve but companies are realizing more and more the importance of it.

Artificial intelligence. As customer expectations increase, businesses will need to keep up by using machine learning and AI to offer a tailored experience beyond the first impression by empowering service agents.

Omnichannel experience. In a customer-centric strategy, customers are looking for a consistent experience through all channels, including gaming platforms, which I consider as an important channel in the future.

New business models.
It is important to support new business models, such as the subscription model, revenue-driven models and so forth.

Blockchain as a new payment method

Embedded 3D visualization
and augmented reality. I am talking here about virtual fitting room.

Data privacy and security to avoid any security breaches will help to build trust in businesses and their brands

Information data is the powerhouse of our time. Do you have advice on how to deal with the overwhelming amount of data and filter out relevant information?

This can be achieved only if data is classified and filtered to deliver the right information at the right time and in the right context. Since multiple decades, technology augmented the human capabilities to filter out relevant information to attain those objectives. Artificial intelligence is even taking it to the next level.

Therefore, it is very important to select the right technology/solution. It is beyond the traditional data classification, indexation, and all features to retrieve and filter out data and information. Nowadays, it is also about providing a customized information to offer a customized experience and smart services. This will help companies get one step ahead of customers’ rising expectations.

You work for a German company (by the way, the only world-class tech company). What is your view on Germany?

I widely admire how Germany’s successful reunification has overcome all identity and political divergences, and how they have been converted into economic models. Germany made of both diversity and inclusion a major catalyst for a highly positive change and a great democracy model. I don’t know if this was also the trigger of the gender role reconfiguration.  A woman holding the reins of power also created this role model for women not only in Germany, but worldwide.

 

This article is part of a content cooperation between FemaleOneZero (F10) and SAP SE. In the newly established “Tech Agenda” category on #F10, we aim to present interesting women from SAP Labs worldwide, publish major interviews with thought leaders and background stories on digitization and innovation.

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