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Critical thinking goes better with coffee - why user events like ASUG Tech Connect matter

Joshua Greenbaum Profile picture for user Joshua Greenbaum October 19, 2023
Joshua Greenbaum has had enough of 'shut up and listen' events. He explains why we need more events like the upcoming ASUG Tech Connect - events that foster open conversations, and help customers make sense of rapidly evolving roadmaps.

Brain with coffee cup © bgton -
( © bgton -

I write this after a two-week, four conference marathon that has taken me to three cities on two continents. This is what I get for pushing harder than some would like on the notion that one of the primary lessons of 2+ years of quarantine and work-from-home mandates is that we as an industry collectively crave high quality, in-person experiences. I admit I’m a little tired, but the payback has been an absolutely invigorating, and highly informative set of in-person, largely ad hoc interactions that have reinforced my newfound mantra that Content is the Printer, Experience is the Ink.

These interactions have been the antithesis – better yet, antidote – to what is an increasingly endless set of “shut up and take dictation” sensory deprivation webinars. This particular brand of webinar all too often exists not to engage, but to indoctrinate the “participant” about the strategic sound-bite, product, or marketing hype du jour. And frankly, I’ve had it.

Indoctrination may sound harsh, but central to that word’s definition is the concept of “uncritical” acceptance of the message being transmitted. That’s where I draw the line: a little critical thinking goes a long way in this world of complex business decisions and the even more complex job of applying technological solutions to support those decisions. We hope our vendors aren’t lying when they make promises from the keynote stage, but we also should assume that there’s always a fuller, more complex picture that can only obtain from fuller, more complex – and nuanced – conversations than what can be communicated in a 60 or 90-minute keynote, live or on-screen.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about my 30-plus years in the SAP ecosystem is the ability—and willingness – of its user community and the partner community, as well as many SAP executives themselves, to engage in those more nuanced, complex, and ultimately useful conversations. When given the chance. That is why, as I enter week three and country number five of my road trip, I’m honestly looking forward to the next opportunity to cut through the complexity of SAP’s strategy and engage in some critical thinking and conversation. For me and the North American SAP community, that next event is November’s very live and in-person ASUG Tech Connect conference.

Tech Connect, which is new this year to the SAP ecosystem, was born from the realization by ASUG leadership, pundits like me and Jon Reed of Dignomica, as well as some right-thinking SAP leaders, that there’s a desperate need to continue to have an in-person destination event that can act as a forum for a wide range of topics engaging and bedeviling SAP users. With TechEd 2023 exiled to Bangalore, the prospect of living out this last, critical quarter for laying down technology decisions for 2024 and beyond without some of that critical thinking that can only happen at an in-person event was just untenable.

This is in part because SAP’s pronouncements on key issues such as RISE, innovation, AI, industry functionality, development technologies, integration, business process – and on and on – continue to need a lot of decoding and analysis if customers are going to make the intelligent decisions they need. Left unencumbered by careful analysis, SAP’s strategy appears all too often to directly serve SAP’s interests, or those of its largest partners, more than they necessarily serve the interests of customers.

That’s why, as a wild 2023 heads to the closing bell, the critical thinking and analysis that can come from attending ASUG Tech Connect will be a hugely valuable investment in any company’s future.

Being a successful SAP customer means unlocking the extensive tribal knowledge about the successful deployment of SAP technology in order to pick the right path forward for each customer’s special version of success. There’s never been so much opportunity in the SAP ecosystem to transform business using technology, never as many compelling reasons to do so, and never as much technology to deploy in the service of those goals. And it’s never been harder. The current business and technology landscape for most customers – the “before” landscape that must be transformed to support these new opportunities – is often a complex mix of SAP and non-SAP systems, some cloud-based and some still on-premise, where older user, customer, and employee experiences are the norm.

The end state that every company is striving for – one where modern experiences drive new business success while navigating ever more complex business and regulatory challenges – entails making a seemingly endless set of complex decisions about technology, data, architecture, applications, process excellence, best practices, tools, and the like. Just hearing the marketing side of the decision-making process isn’t enough: The best way to make intelligent decisions is to go to an event like Tech Connect, listen to the “official” story, and then listen or talk to a peer who’s already made some of the tough calls and can raise the signal to noise ratio and help put a customer’s transformation on the right path.

For me personally, it’s the customer sessions that are the most valuable. And, perhaps even more importantly, the conversations that take place right afterwards in the hall and over coffee. Those conversations may get overlooked by marketers’ event KPIs, but make no mistake, that’s where the finest gold is mined. This why I don’t mind coming home from this trip and heading to New Orleans shortly after I’ve finally made it home. It may be possible to watch a great presentation in a virtual conference, and, if the conference is done right, maybe even have some ad hoc interactions via chat, but the “tribal knowledge” that can help a customer fix a problem or grasp a new opportunity all too often can only come from those ad hoc encounters that come with an in-person event.

This is why I think Tech Connect is slated to be an important event for the SAP community. The beauty of what looks like a daunting number of sessions, over 130, is that there should an abundance of sessions to meet most customers’ need. And once you’ve attended the sessions, you get to hang out with an army of peers and experts who, like you, came for the sessions but are staying for the all-important one-on-one action. If you end up attending, I’ll be there. I may look a little tired, but feel free to pull me aside and ask me a question or tell me your story. Just let me grab another cup of coffee first.

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