Historically, one of SAP's biggest weaknesses is the friction smaller, upstart partners encounter trying to get their solutions to customers.
At Sapphire Now Reimagined 2020, SAP CEO Christian Klein said he is determined to change that:
We've made some great progress on the App Store. But still, there's always some room for improvement even inside SAP. I will not stop pushing the transformation of SAP until the day a partner can put a solution into our web store; we can sell it digitally.
In the next moment, it's provided on our platform, it's seamlessly integrated, this partner solution, with the rest of our solutions to really give our customers a seamless experience.
SAP's partner stakes are high:
- You're not getting the true impact of SaaS without partners easily extending on your platform.
- Smaller partners and startups often build the most imaginative/differentiating apps - and they do it quickly. These are the kind of jump-start apps customers want right now, with bigger overhauls losing favor.
- SAP cannot possibly claim to cover 25 ERP "industry clouds" without app-building partners.
Again at Sapphire Now, Klein addressed this point:
At SAP press Q/A, good to see that CEO @ChrstnKlein isn't making the same typical SAP lofty promises about covering "25 industries." Klein advocates partners playing a key role in that industry coverage - "let's conquer the market together." #sapphirenow #asug
— Jon Reed (@jonerp) June 16, 2020
In Sapphire Now 2020 - how do we make sense of the SAP S/4HANA, ByDesign, and Business One mix? I hit on SAP's push to transform app deployment (and UX) via the SAP Cloud Platform. But this is better judged through a partner story.
Not all EHS software is created equal
In the leadup to Sapphire Now, I picked up a dandy via Sodales Solutions, and their success helping companies manage COVID-19 era workforces. How? Via their heath and safety solutions. In my 2019 piece on Sodales, How Sodales Solutions builds labor relations HCM solutions on the SAP Cloud Platform, their Enterprise Health, Safety & Environment Management (EHSEM) software took an editorial back seat.
Well, not anymore - not with the workforce challenges of a pandemic. So how Sodales Solutions find itself in the midst of supporting essential workers? Sana Salam, Sodales Founder and President, told me I needed to take a step back first, and understand how their EHSEM solution is different. After all, EH&S is a crowded software field. As Salam said:
There's a lot of software out there for health and safety. The main difference is that they don't talk to end-to-end processes. So it could be a process around customer service, or it could be any HR learning or performance-related processes. Even if companies have EHS software, that software would work in a silo and as a separate thing. You would need highly specialized safety professionals.
That's not a good setup for COVID times. Salam:
All of that is okay, as long as there is no pandemic. What happens is that even in a large corporation, the maximum number of safety professionals would be less than five... They would have all the knowledge in their brain.
Now look at all the field operations, the customer service team, production team, HR teams, all these other teams - they're not experts. So they rely on the knowledge and expertise of the health and safety leaders. And then they have to constantly scramble through every single document, every single thing that is being pushed out to them throughout the day, which is overwhelming.
That's why those systems are actually highly ineffective. They do allow you to record transactions, but they don't prevent anything. So this is a very important thing that I want to mention because with the pandemic, this situation has to change.
What's the biggest change?
Now everybody in the company and in their ecosystem, even if they're contractors, or partners or vendors, they're all responsible for health and safety - because that's the way you will do business now.
Woodbridge - needed a global view of the risk factors at their plants
Enter Sodales customer Woodbridge. Prior to Coronavirus, Woodbridge built foam solutions. Or as they put it: "We're a global systems solution provider, specializing in fully-integrated foam solutions... designed to meet the needs of automotive and non-automotive markets."
But when Coronavirus broke out, Woodbridge quickly retooled their manufacturing facilities, in order to make PPEs and other crucial medical supplies. Yes - but how do you ensure employee health and safety? That's where Sodales comes in:
When the pandemic started, Woodbridge purchased our application, and they went live very, very quickly. They wanted to have a global overview of all of their plants, which includes plants in China and Europe, to see what are the risk factors are that need to be addressed right away - and what are the places that are safe to stay open.
Why was the Sodales health and safety app a fit?
This is another gap in the market. There's a lot of policy integration that's needed in the context of the process. So don't just push out policies - make sure those policies are in the context of a particular process and a particular action that needs to be taken. Then it's easier for people who are out there not experts to follow it.
SAP-savvy readers are forgiven if they assume that "very quickly" means going live in months. No - Sodales apps go-live in weeks. Want more proof points? Salam:
AMTRAK and Coca Cola purchased the product on the SAP App Center during the pandemic, and deployed it within three weeks across all sites.
Because the app is built on the SAP Cloud Platform, it's easily integrated with SAP SuccessFactors, etc. - though you don't have to be an SAP customer to run Sodales' EHSEM solution.
It's on the App Center - but can customers find it?
But I need a full stop here: historically, I've run into many great SAP apps that simply didn't get in front of customers. Either SAP sales reps weren't pushing it, or the app languished in one of countless SAP app stores (which have finally been consolidated). So how did Woodbridge find the app? Salam:
It was a hundred percent via the App Center. They had an existing relationship with a person who was devising solutions to them, and the overall HR landscape - and creating their solution architecture for future.
Now we hit on a huge lesson: yes, you want an integrated app to go-live quickly, but it must be compatible with the future platform/goals.
At that time, their vision was to become a pioneer in the Industry 4.0 era, where there's a lot of engagement and technology capabilities. And that was their vision. This person identified our solution from the App Center.
Why? The main reason was that in this company, the health and safety team actually sat on the board that decides all the future technology and their influencers, to drive any future digital transformation.
Another huge lesson: empower the vertical experts in these decisions.
This is actually a very important element. What we noticed is that the companies that will succeed in this space during COVID are the ones who actually had health and safety leaders as part of the overall decision board official transformation.
So because of that, they made it a criteria, "Oh, you need to have something on safety in there." And so the person found us on the App Center. We had less than 24 hours to be present at their space where we were demoing it to them. They decided to go-live with this first - before even their own full core HR.
Salam and I had a good debate on how much of a difference-maker the push for digital transformation is during pandemic-times. I feel we have to be careful to award prizes. Example: Starbucks was widely-hailed as an omni-pioneer, yet their business model has taken it on the Corona-chin. But Salam has plenty of firsthand examples on the payoffs for companies that push to get data/platforms/change/people all on the same forward plan. Perhaps that's an article for another time.
For now, this story shows how an SAP partner can bootstrap into the SAP field and have real impact (bonus: Salam shared her SCP app-building success tips with diginomica readers). It's the kind of story SAP definitely wants more of - especially this week, in this midst of a problematic virtual Sapphire Now, marred by tech issues and over-produced keynotes.
That said, I was encouraged to hear Salam's stories about working together with SAP account execs to help customers. I never used to hear those stories. Consider her quote above:
They decided to go-live with this first - before even their own full core HR.
That's been my bone of contention with SAP for years: why don't you get your partners in front of customers first, and get traction with intuitive digital apps? Build momentum from there. Still, when I hear about big-name customers finding and purchasing third party apps from the SAP App Center - that's definite progress from even a couple of years ago.
So far, our diginomica Sapphire Now coverage hasn't had the typical use cases you would see from us. That's in the works. SAP has several customers for us to talk to as we go - and ASUG's first virtual annual user conference, ASUGForward, is on deck for next week. Stay tuned.