Bill McDermott commits to SAP Community – it’s a BFD. MSCNGA?

SUMMARY:

The SAP Community has been rusting away for a while now. Resentment and a drifting away from core values have taken their toll. McDermott wants to fix that.

Bill McDermott, CEO SAP – rebooting SCN

Last evening I saw a post by Bill McDermott, CEO SAP on the SAP Community and his commitment to getting it back to its former glory. This is a BFD for SAP and long overdue.

The SAP Community Network (SCN) has been moldering for years. A litany of technical problems stretching back to 2011, a loss of community leadership, a drifting away of some of the brightest people in the SAP universe and an SAP Mentor program that needs a reboot, have all contributed to a diminution in the perceived value of SCN. It’s not something SAP can afford.

What’s changed

To his credit, McDermott acknowledges most of the top of mind business issues in his post.

Recently I put myself on the line that SAP would restore SAP Community to a position of strength. After a steady stream of feedback that the community’s voice had been diminished, it was clear that we needed to act.

We asked some of the company’s up-and-coming leaders to come together and do whatever it takes. A true ONE SAP effort to once again earn the full trust and engagement from our community. Here is what they told me:
1.We made a series of changes to the SAP Community experience over the years that frustrated our community and eroded some of the participation.
2.We let the impression linger that SAP was using our community simply as another channel to promote our corporate messages.
3.We drifted from what made SAP Community such a critical success in its early days – a place for users of SAP to come together, post content and share experiences.

As I hope most would agree, these were honest mistakes made with good intentions. Especially as of late, I believe the SAP team has made substantial process to get us back on the right path for SAP Community. The many dedicated colleagues who work on this are the loudest advocates for community in the company. I’m grateful for their efforts.

This is an impressive acknowledgment by a tech company CEO, and I agree with the sentiment that good intentions were fouled by errors.

Where I take issue is that after so many years, if the SCN dev team can’t get their technology right then how will it reward the trust and loyalty that its most senior contributors deserve? McDermott has the start of an answer:

SAP Community is not a marketing platform. It is a place for our community, especially our developer community, to come together. Accordingly, the team behind SAP Community will now report to our Chief Technology Officer, Bjoern Goerke and Thomas Grassl.

Our fearless SAP Mentors will also be supported by this new model. I have enormous respect for the Mentors, especially when they push SAP to make changes that are in the best interests of our customers and users.

This is genuinely good news. Like all great companies, SAP has cultivated a bench of high-quality leaders who grok their community. Hasso Plattner, co-founder is still revered by the community. In his time, Vishal Sikka, CTO was much loved. After something of a hiatus, SAP has Bjoern Goerke is turning out to be another of those much-loved leaders. His performances at last year’s TechEds were very well received.

Thomas Grassl has long championed the innovators among the SAP developers, both inside and outside the company. He also is much-loved and respected in SCN.

It is telling that McDermott closes out with this:

Bjoern, Thomas, Nick Tzitzon, Alicia Tillman, and many others deserve credit for reaching this conclusion collaboratively, without any of the normal “turf talk” that hurts companies. This is best for our team, best for our Mentors and best for SAP Community.

Tzitzon and Tillman sit on the marketing side of the SAP team so the fact they ‘get’ what needs to happen is excellent news.

Where to next?

No-one’s going to wave flags of congratulation in SAP’s direction just yet. There’s a lot of work to be undertaken. There are also fresh challenges which have emerged with the passage of time.

In response to McDermott’s post, I responded this way and got this response:

There is plenty of work to be done in the SAP customer base that reflects SAP’s product heritage. But the recent pivot towards a digital core surrounded by applications that address modern-day challenges requires a different approach and a different kind of community. Buzzworkd bingo afflicts all tech companies and SAP is no different. But in the enterprise, there are so many potential business avenues to explore that SAP needs to get much closer to the business, in partnership with IT, rather than restricting SCN to developers.

One example I’ve seen that gets little attention is the hybris Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce property. It is mostly marketing driven but I derive value from the informative pieces that ask questions or surface real-world issues. If this sounds like it flies in the face of McDermott’s team sentiments then that would be to ignore the business value element that developers rarely get alongside. Right now business needs that help because as many of my peers are starting to understand, there’s a lot of questions to be asked BEFORE business cases can be developed for next-gen apps.

Elsewhere, there is a more pressing issue from SAP’s perspective. In response to McDermott’s post, Jarret Pazahanick, who leads the 37K strong SuccessFactors group on LinkedIn said:

Getting people back will be the challenge as if you cross post this on Linkedin for example I bet you will get 20X the views and 50-100X the engagement (comments/likes).  Due to that I will be cross posting and watching before I consider coming back but wish this initiative all the best as [I] think a strong community is great for SAP and Customers.

Pazahanick is right to a degree. Conversations go where they want to and absent a quality home elsewhere, LinkedIn has become the natural successor to some communities. However, that’s not to say LinkedIn will remain that place. Neither is it a given that Pazahanick’s group is the right place to be in the scenarios I am describing.

Commercially, Salesforce has put a massive stake in the ground with its Trailblazers initiative. The leadership there is fired up and convinced it can build a sizeable community. They too have a top class team and where once SAP stood alone with SCN, that’s no longer the case. Oracle will have to follow suit, while Workday works closely with its closed group of customer advocates. That will change as Workday’s PaaS comes into sharper focus.

My take

These are not easy times for SAP. It talks about being cool but by and large, it’s not considered cool. Attracting the very best in the new disciplines of machine/deep learning, neural networks, voice and so on is tough for everyone. Community matters and can serve as a showcase for innovation but there needs to be purpose around that/ Simply rebooting SCN to cater for R/3 and beyond is a dead end.

In my mind, the re-org McDermott announced, combined with the open acknowledgment of pain points paves the way for making a genuine difference but I also see it as an opportunity to do something ‘other’ that is relevant to the 21st-century business. Whether the team understands and can do that is another matter. At the same time though, I believe the SAP Mentor program needs an overhaul. There are some great people there but that program could be used as a way of making connections with the business that are meaningful. That doesn’t exist today.

Regardless of my critique, it’s probably the best thing I’ve heard about SAP and its community in….years.

Anyone for baseball caps with MSCNGA?

Image credit - the author

Disclosure - SAP, Oracle, Workday, and Salesforce are premier partners at the time of writing. At one time both Jon Reed and I were SAP Mentors.

    1. Dennis,

      A good summary of the challenges ahead for SAP. If I could highlight one of the biggest issues that SAP face right now as I see it is that there has been a steady erosion of customer facing activity on any front other than marketing – buzz words abound and lots of motherhood articles that point to an underlying “buy SAP technology “x”” message that look like a more sophisticated layer of click bait.

      i try to read as much as I can when these documents and articles are released in the hope that the change may come but it gets a little hard to digest – The Digitalist e-magazine is a great example of this IMHO.

      Customers need concrete guidance on how to use these technologies and when they have invested they need to be able to get help from the vendor via channels such as the SCN…there are a number of great examples of how SAP are trying to do this by redesigning areas like help.sap.com but SCN needs this attention urgently.

      Jarret Pazahanick made this point very succinctly in a thread on the SCN a while back – I am hopeful that the Community can be restored to its former (useful) glory….

      1. says:

        Fair points – I see wider issues such as – what does SCN stand for? what problem is it trying to solve? who cares?

    2. John Appleby says:

      Den I think this analysis is spot on. Bjoern has a great understanding of the developer and community psyche and the energy to reboot SCN.

      I’m not sure that the reporting line matters, but a renewed focus may just work.

      The real question is what should a community look like in 2018? This was the discussion I had last year with the SCN team, and to your points, I think it needs real thought and consideration. We are in a post-Twitter, post-Jive, Snapchat and LinkedIn apocalypse, and the conversation happens differently to how it did when SCN was introduced 15 years ago.

      But that’s the sort of challenge I know Bjoern enjoys.

    3. greg misiorek says:

      Hi Den,

      While i have no idea what BFD is, i like your ‘call to arms’ in MS(CN)GA where G is not for Google and A is not for Amazon. i have already suggested it in my comment to Jarret’s post on SCN, but i would like to see more educational content coming from openSAP or even openHPI, and for it to become more visible in SCN. AI, ML, and last but not least HANA technologies are taught and made available there, before they become MVPs.

      i realize this is a tall order, but i can see a few recent additions to the community, coming from Bluefin solutions, that have replenshied the ranks that have been lost, and they both come with deep community roots. this reenergized and to-be-made-great-again SCN, looks like a great hill to scale in 2018.

      thx, greg

      1. says:

        Once SAP knows what it wants to do – everything falls into place..it’s the asking the question that’s hard.

    4. says:

      I can guess what BFD stands for (big flippin’ deal) but have no idea what MSCNGA could mean. Nevertheless I thought John’s comment combines with your core points very well.

      Perhaps one indirect but significant challenge is that no-one knows what a community should look like today. We’ve always been making it up as we go along, but back in the day, the technologies available influenced the paths and decisions we took (when I formed the “merlin” mailing list for SAP techies in 1995 there wasn’t much else available other than LISTSERV style mechanisms).

      Now we have the opposite problem. An all pervasive and always-on platform (the interwebs) and different communities and types of communities vying for content and attention.

    5. says:

      Hi DJ – MSCNGA = Make SCN Great Again – it’s a play on MAGA….

      Here is the rub – asking the right questions rather than worrying about the technology. I think it is an illusion that the always-on internet is an issue. Rather, there’ are far too many MARKETING solutions out there.

      But this I know – Facebook isn’t your answer, neither is Twitter nor LinkedIn. They might be useful additions at some point.

      SAP must decide the following:

      What problem is SCN solving?
      Who does it need to address?
      Why would the community care?
      What are the desired outcomes?

      Putting the tech first has been a massive mistake in the past.

    6. PR says:

      It’s not the the SCN that has eroded, it’s the community itself, because of confusion around collapse of platform and SAP frequently changing tech roadmap, no one , not even ABAPERs feel safe. Java guys have left long ago, JS guys don’t come there

    7. TD says:

      The key question is if someone asks you today which technology platform/company to focus on would you recommend SAP, Google, Apple or Amazon? These companies are competing for the same experts in Artificial Intelligence and advanced computing. If someone asks me that question I am not sure I would recommend SAP.

    8. Shaun Snapp says:

      Bill McDermott is not a reliable source of information on SAP. I have charted Bill McDermott’s statements historically, and most of what Bill McDermott says does not come to pass.

      The problem being discussed is one of community breakdown. SAP has entered a phase of extraction focus. This is demonstrated by the decline in SAP’s support, which due to disinvestment, while correspondingly increasing the price charged for that support. SCN is one example of the erosion of trust, but there are many others. For example, the education partnership with SAP has devolved into nothing more than SAP pushing short-term revenue objectives. Other partnerships that SAP maintains suffer from the same issue. People and companies complain to me about this, or that SAP is doing to them all the time. But none dare speak or write about it publicly, as they fear reprisals from SAP.

      This is all driven by greed. Many of the comments on this thread seem to be dancing around this issue.

      As a lifelong salesman, Bill McDermott comes from a place of short-term profit maximization, and he is incapable of longer-term thinking. Although, it’s not all his fault, as I see McDermott as more of a figurehead/PR person in any case. He is fed lines by the real decision makers, Hasso being the primary.

      There is no historical reason to pay attention to what Bill McDermott says, and for those interested, I have the research to support that statement.

      1. says:

        I would have said this is interesting if it wasn’t for the fact that I know all the players involved in this topic and have done for many years. Also, there’s nothing new in the assertions made. Widely discussed.

        My personal optimism comes from the fact McDermott has gone public in a way that no other SAP CEO has done in the past. That community doesn’t forget and will not easily forgive of Goerke, Adams, Grassl and Co don’t deliver on what amounts to McDermott’s blessing for something that everyone knows has been withering for years.

        Ergo – McDermott doesn’t have to deliver, he just needs to fund and then prepare to be asked how it’s going.

        And FWIW – I was told today that team is already hosting sessions, taking names etc and has taken a ton of feedback from interested parties. It will take time for them to synthesize that but those of us who have direct access to the players will be doing our bit to keep them on their toes.

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