In the wake of SAP's Quatrics acquisition earlier this year, experience management (XM) is one of the hot new buzzwords at this year's Sapphire Now conference — and that in turn has put the spotlight on the SAP partner ecosystem, which plays a big part in the experience delivered to SAP customers.
This has led to "some fundamental changes in our thinking and approach" on partners, as SAP board member Adaire Fox-Martin explained in the opening keynote of yesterday's Global Partner Summit, taking place alongside the main conference. She outlined three core principles of the "Next-Gen Partner" ecosystem SAP aims to create:
- Improving the partner experience — SAP knows that there are ways in which it can improve the experience of partners when dealing with the company, she said, and will be making use of Qualtrics to gather feedback and "address areas of friction in the ecosystem." One immediate change is that partners will have more flexibility to cut across different roles within the ecosystem, she said.
- Evolving the partner economy — quoting estimates that the value of the partner economy will double in size to $200 billion by 2023, she said that SAP expects to offer its partners "new commercial models, new programs and new engagement models."
- Delivering the intelligent enterprise — SAP will support partners to ensure customers can access the innovation they need to become intelligent enterprises, she said. That means creating "a frictionless development journey" for partners to add their own intellectual property and benchmarks alongside SAP technology.
What partners must do to succeed
The quid-pro-quo for this improved experience is that partners will have to up their game, too. Her advice to partners who want to succeed in this next-gen world is to focus on three key characteristics, she said later:
A next-gen partner needs to be a partner that puts the customer first and foremost. The second thing for me is a partner that's innovating. That doesn't necessarily mean technical innovation. It can be innovating around how we engage, what business model can we deliver, et cetera, the services that we deliver. And then the third is really helping customers move to next-generation environments in the cloud. So for me it's three things — it's about innovating, in the context of customer first, and moving to the latest consumption models of software.
Changing the partner experience
There were some crowd-pleasing announcements to accompany the strategy. Partners will now be able to have 12 months' free access to test and demo systems of its flagship S/4HANA Cloud business system and C/4 HANA customer experience suite.
There's also a new integration option that allows partners to connect their own solutions and data stores into SAP environment and market those offerings on the SAP App Center, the vendor's partner application marketplace.
In addition to tracking how partners experience SAP, Qualtrics will also play a role in monitoring how customers experience its partners. SAP will be putting new KPIs in place to monitor metrics such as renewals, adoption, time to go-live and customer satisfaction, said executives.
SAP is also encouraging partners to develop new solutions with emerging technologies such as IoT, analytics and blockchain. As an example of how such partner innovation can extend SAP's digital core applications, startup Dust Identity gave a demonstration of a supply-chain solution that uses unique micrograins of diamond to identify physical products and link them to their digital identity, optionally using blockchain, as a guard against counterfeiting.
The partner ecosystem portrayed on stage was a world away from the image of the traditional SAP partner with decades of experience implementing on-premise ERP solutions. SAP's next-gen partner ecosystem is designed for the new world of digital engagement, continuous innovation and responsive customer experience.
It is to SAP's credit that it has realized that, if it is going to preach the gospel of experience management to its customers, then it must take responsibility for the experience they receive from its own partner ecosystem. It's also creditable that it is approaching this task in a spirit of collaboration, recognizing that delivering a good partner experience is the first step towards the ecosystem delivering a good customer experience.
But as Fox-Martin noted, this is just the start of the journey. And while many of the partners attending the keynote have already signed up to the vision, most of the masses beyond still need to be converted. Getting the message out to them, and fine-tuning it so that it succeeds in bringing them on board, is a much bigger challenge.