iTelligence UK, which boasts the largest number of UK SAP customers under its management, hosted a packed house at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre for its annual customer event this week. It's one of my 'must attend' events since the customer stories are always unfiltered.
Going under the moniker of Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, the opening keynote was a tad underwhelming with the company choosing to talk about how big, wide, deep (choose two from three) it was/is/will be and with Norbert Rotter, CEO iTelligence AG making the comment that:
Aside from our shareholder (NTT Data), SAP is our most important partner.
However well-meaning, it's not the sort of thing that a customer-focused audience, with all the issues around indirect access, management changes at SAP and the lack of detailed roadmaps at the most recent Sapphire Now event wants to hear. Regardless, attendees were left in no doubt that iTelligence's entire reason for being comes nailed to SAP's mast.
Timo Elliott, the ever-entertaining and perennial fixture at the iTelligence event treated us to a dazzling blitzkrieg of interesting customer vignettes that touched all the right buzzwords. Everything from IIoT, new business models, the mobile experience, analytics and predictive to blockchain got an airing.
My personal favorite was the story about tracking the provenance of fish using blockchain:
— ⒹⒺⓃ•Ⓗ ㋡ (@dahowlett) May 15, 2019
Did you know there is such a thing as #fakefish? Apparently so, and this example is one where SAP is using technology to help NGOs. What's not to like about that?
More important, Elliott showcased something of the variety of what's possible once SAP customers are passed the transition to S/4HANA. In those terms, he talked about firms that are in Kickstarter mode using Qualtrics at one end of the spectrum for product development all the way up to support for farmers groups in Argentina using satellite imaging coupled to analytics for better crop management.
S/4 adoption, integration, and rationalization
Later, in a session with Andy Steer, CTO and Justin Brading, UK MD iTelligence, I got to some of my 'want to know' points. Top of mind for me is understanding the state of readiness for S/4HANA adoption. Last year, for instance, Steer said that 15-20% of customers were on the S/4 journey, Today he pegged that same interest group at 50%, That's quite the jump.
Let's be clear - that 50% are somewhere on that journey and across seven iTelligence defined buckets...I think SAP helped itself significantly with clarity around indirect access for new customers but for those who contracted with SAP many years ago, there is some way to travel before they are as comfortable but it is getting there. We're doing our level best to help customers understand what they need to be thinking about.
This is a consistent view I see among both customers and SAP user group representatives. Brading added that:
There has been a change in attitude and a recognition that taking a heavy-handed approach isn't going to help. There has been a shift in the application of logic, I think in part because customers are trying to bundle licenses in a forward-looking way to move to S/4 so if they have a legacy question then they're trying to mop that up at the same time.
Perhaps the more important point is that customers are finding it easier to make the business case, especially where there is a recognition that sticking with ECC or earlier releases will not support future ambitions. That was certainly the case with IESA, a stores management solution provider, about which more later.
On other topics, iTelligence sees upside from the holding taken by the activist investor, Elliott Management. Brading again:
If you look at the businesses SAP acquired after BusinessObjects, they've been very slow to absorb them, often leaving them as standalone entities. There are clearly substantial efficiencies to be gained from bringing them together which should in turn make it simpler to do business with SAP.
On the hoary topic of integration, Steer added:
It's obvious to everybody, that the integration between the products that fit in the stable, the most important primary and number one integration point should not be 'How's our Salesforce integration coming along?' The rationalization at the board level looks like a good move to help with that but I also think there needs to be a strong public statement (and commitment) to integration.
That is bound to draw howls of derision from seasoned SAP consultants who have heard this all before. But the logic today is profound and compelling, given that the vast portfolio of solutions currently positions SAP in a peculiar spot. SAP is the one enterp[rise software vendor that can offer the equivalent of a best of breed portfolio across a vast array of functionality. But as Steer says, it needs integrating, a topic on which Christian Klein, SAP COO made some bold commitments at Sapphire.
Last year there was some question mark in my mind over whether iTelligence would step away from data center management. This year, nothing could be further from their thinking.
According to Brading, the company is managing some data center facilities for the hyperscalers - think Google, AWS, and Azure. That means they now have a coherent multi- hybrid cloud positioning that allows customers to run the way they want in production (own DC, iTelligence managed services, public cloud) while also having the flexibility to operate test and dev in (mostly) public cloud infrastructures with all the cost benefits that accrue from hourly billing. Some in the SAP ecosystem have been doing this successfully with AWS so it is good to see a larger scale provider stepping up in this way.
Given the timing of this year's event, which closely followed Sapphire Now, I wasn't surprised at the relative lack of substance in the keynote. And while there was`an entire keynote session devoted to The Open University's greenfield SAP implementation as a net new customer, I would have liked to hear more about customer success in the main keynote. Having said that, iTelligence devoted 10 out of 40 available sessions to customer stories. That's a very good batting average as my cricketing colleagues might say.
I was especially pleased that iTelligence avoided an overuse of the X and O meme, much aired at Sapphire although iTelligence's acquisition of a majority stake in weavability is a clear statement of mirroring SAP's general direction with an emphasis on experience management. My sense though from customers is that this year, it's all about S/4.
Finally, I was left wondering whether the event has outgrown a single day. There was too much for any single company rep to take in and while iTelligence did a good job in attempting to cover all the bases, I found myself conflicted over the topics to which I should pay attention. As a long time observer of all things SAP, that tells you something about the broad scale at which SAP is offering solutions.