As has become something of a custom, I watched SAP CEO Bill McDermott's SAPPHIRENow 2019 keynote from the cheap seats. It's a good vantage point from which to see how well a presentation comes together. It's not so good for gauging audience reaction.
If today's keynote is an indication of how the company wants to present itself then it bodes well for the future and SAP customers. McDermott stopped short of a few things I wanted to hear - not least a direct reference to how Indirect Access is evolving - but in a subtle way, I think that McDermott showed that it can be on the side of the customer.
Unlike past keynotes, where the company has tried faux interviews with well-known newsreaders on deck, SAP used some of its board members on accompanied by customers. This to me demonstrated two things:
- SAP is determined to show the world that despite recent high profile board level departures, it has got depth and strength. All performed as required but it was Ryan Smith, CEO Qualtrics who shone with anecdotes about Uber and Starbucks that hit the CX button hard.
- SAP has (finally) got big brand customers who have made or are making the S4/HANA journey and are achieving demonstrable results. It's worth calling out Royal Dutch Shell with which SAP has a 40-year relationship. Retailer Tapestry hit the 'we're cool' note, while Under Armor flagged up modernity in the CX context.
But to mine and pretty much everyone else's surprise, the biggest cheer was for Tim Cook, CEO Apple. It's widely known that Apple has been an SAP customer for many years. But it has never spoken publicly about that engagement. I have been fortunate to meet people from Apple who work on SAP systems but it has always been under strict NDA with precious little detail so hearing Cook speak was both interesting and illuminating. During his section, Cook referred to the difficult 1997-98 period lauding SAP:
When we were at our lowest in 1997-98 Apple turned ot SAP for our infrastructure and it was a key catalyst in turning us around. SAP was there for us.
That's a strong start. Moving on., Cook demonstrated Apple's enterprise smarts by referring to the way customers can use a combination of SAP and Apple technology to dispense with paper processes and run preventative maintenance among other things. That's the first time I've heard Apple talk in those terms. Then Cook played the privacy and security cards, melding what both Apple and SAP talk about. Cook said:
We've stood up on this at times when it's been very uncomfortable.
Yes, they have but the big question is can Apple and SAP deliver AND in the public cloud. That's something Apple has eschewed for a long time.
Early on in the keynote, SAP brought on Christian Klein who is SAP's Chief Operating Officer and a Member of the Executive Board. He talked about the 'intelligent enterprise' as you'd expect but as if to ram home the customer first message he said:
— ⒹⒺⓃ•Ⓗ ㋡ (@dahowlett) May 7, 2019
He made a clear commitment to integration and a unified data model for delivery by the end of 2019. If that happens then plenty of folks will be surprised but as always with SAP, the devil is in the detail and you can be sure that our onsite team will be digging into those issues.
I've characterized McDermott as a glass and a half full person but this keynote was surprisingly short on hubris. To some extent that's understandable given that SAP didn't announce any new product blockbusters and the more recent concerns about what Elliott Management might do as activist shareholders.
The company made a good effort at ensuring the audience believes that SAP really does want to put customers at the heart of everything it does. Having global brands on deck and especially those that are trusted by many people helps considerably and I look forward to hearing more of the same. However, there is no getting away from the fact that SAP really does have to bury Indirect Access if it is to be taken seriously but it also has to deliver on the promises McDermott and others made around what is a sprawling portfolio of solutions that are not always seen as representing a coherent whole.