There's a lot riding on SAPPHIRENow 2020 Reimagined. Here's what we want to see and some background context.
In the run-up to SAPPHIRENow 2020 Reimagined, Jon Reed and I attended multiple SAP briefing calls with Christian Klein CEO, Alicia Tilman CMO, and Thomas Sauressig EVP and exec board member product engineering. All those sessions were under NDA so we cannot talk to the specifics of what was discussed. What we can do though is provide the feedback we gave the company in anticipation of those calls and a general sense of SAP's response.
One advantage of NDA briefings is that you can enjoy a robust discussion. Another advantage is that these briefings allow us to make assessments beyond the marketing which layers over everything that tech companies do. In this case, we also built on the relationships we have been developing with SAP's board following the recent change in leadership. Finally, we are not the only ones being briefed and it is clear from what we hear in the ecosystem that's paying off for SAP.
Informal conversations only get you so far. Events require delivery and it would not be an SAP event if it didn't have an expansive vision. This presents risks for SAP because there is a level of polish associated with the company it cannot avoid. We talked about this in some depth and the advice we gave was simple - aim for perfection but anticipate things going wrong and don't worry if anything untoward happens. We're talking technology and it does go pear-shaped from time to time.
The event is split into many sections and on this occasion, SAP has been smart in recognizing that not everyone wants to be awake at stupid o'clock so has split some sessions across timezones. They've also done the same for region-specific content. Again, smart when you're trying to cover as much as SAP is aiming for.
We were asked to provide some indication of the topics we expected to see covered. We saw this as a reasonable request and little different to the kind of pre-event planning we normally undertake when negotiating access to execs and certain sessions. It also allowed Reed and I to reach into our network of customers, user groups, partners, and developers for feedback. They were not short of suggestions. Again, we normally do this either on the ground at an event or beforehand if we know of specifics that need covering. These we can enumerate as follows. All are anonymized for obvious reasons.
These are not in any particular order.
- Talk about the phases of COVID-19 (HfS and Dion Hinchcliffe have interesting takes on how this pans out in broad terms) and speak to the offerings SAP has/will have to assist managing as each phase unfolds. Don't simply focus on the crisis but what comes later.
- Be pragmatic. Don't try to sell me. Keep the marketing rhetoric to a minimum.
- As a business leader stuff is melting down around me so how can SAP software help me to stay ahead? I spent all this money. This is this time that it needs to pay back. How?
- My team and I are super busy. Keep each of the virtual events focused, short, and relevant.
- Do a better job partnering with your user groups who candidly have a better pulse on the customer than SAP.
- SAP plus UGs should result in a far better and differentiated product being put into the market than either can do on their own.
- The SAP silos will confuse and distance customers from SAP. Speak as one SAP not X number of Board Areas vying for time, attention, and position.
- Provide real timelines on integration across the "Intelligent Enterprise." It was announced in 2019 - where are we at, what can I consume now and when do I get to consume what's coming? (This might tie to the COVID-19 phases mentioned above.)
- Provide detail behind comments about the hyperscalers. Is SAP backing away from them or changing the relationships somehow?
- Provide detail about the security announcement - right now that message is vague and potentially confusing.
- Tell customers you are helping them micro transform the core by industry and LoB. Make it easy. And yes - you charge for it.
- Customers need to improve the supply chain because of (for ex: frequent stock-outs.) Build and/or show a set of cloud libraries for this that plug into existing SCM. Tell the world this is happening and on what timeline.
- Announce (if possible) the person who will lead in the Americas. Right now SAP "looks" like a regional firm that's rudderless in that region.
- Announce (if possible - this may be more for Thomas S) that SAP is focusing/doubling down on the microservices architecture and especially as it relates to the acquired products - what Holger calls the Six Sisters. That should be SAP's SCP play.
- Stop talking about HANA. That ship sailed a long time ago. Nobody cares.
- Don't announce a re-platforming of acquired products to HANA - that's a death wish in the making.
- Do not attempt to be buzzword compliant. Expressions like 'digital transformation' and 'the new normal' are meaningless to many customers.
- Outside speakers and "thought leaders" are not super relevant.
- Avoid reference to Qualtrics unless there are clear cases on hand that show uber-value.
To their credit, the SAP executives with whom we spoke understood where we are coming from and in some cases were in violent agreement. Now comes the delivery. Sustainability coupled to resilience is one message Klein is especially passionate about. Is the timing right for that?
We know SAP is anxious to build trust, a commodity that's at a premium in these difficult times. The extent to which it achieves that goal will become clear as the event and its content unfolds. It must show a listening ear and get customers to validate that new posture.
However, action in the field is still needed. We know for example that AEs are selling against partners who are not on SolEx. We hinted at that in Owen Pettifod's recent piece. We also know there is a disconnect between the way SAP views the supply chain going forward and the necessity to think differently on that topic. I'll have more to say later. A few of the customer vignettes we've seen send entirely the wrong message. On the flip side, long time observers in the SAP ecosystem report good engagement and a different tone with which they feel comfortable.
Personally, I'd like to see the 'intelligent enterprise' mantra coupled to the infinity loop put out to grass. In using that expression the implication is that those who don't buy into SAP's marketing are somehow unintelligent. That doesn't go down well.
We will have a ringside seat for this event. Be sure to check in with what we see and discover.