The latest SAP marketing implores us to recognize that the future of business is feelings. With that in mind, over the last few weeks, I have been connecting with some of SAP's customers through a series of workshops and at the SAP Australia User Group (SAUG) Summit in Sydney.
These are great opportunities to touch base with a good number of SAP customers across a range of SAP industries and portfolios. Because these are annual events it also gives me the opportunity to do a gut check on customer sentiment from one year to the next.
I have to say that this year the signs are not good for SAP.
Customers always have complaints about their vendors - and SAP is no exception. Usually these complaints are quite visible as the more outspoken customers publicly express their frustrations with a particular problem, such as licensing or support. Sometimes groups of customers get together to provide a united front to challenge SAP around a common issue.
But this year I found them quietly disconnected in a way I have not seen before. There was no big blow-up moment or a common issue across the customer base. It was more along the lines of a shared frustration, resignation and cynicism that didn’t need to be openly expressed. It was almost like there was a side-conversation happening in sign language.
I noticed it in offhanded comments that essentially dismissed the SAP view of the world where previously it would be carefully considered. Notably others in the conversation accepted those dismissals without argument.
I also detected it through some eye-rolling at the SAUG Summit keynote presentation.
To be fair the SAP presenter was a last-minute replacement - but when Bill McDermott's 2016 SAPPHIRENOW keynote focus on "Empathy" with the customer was referred to the eyes rolling started. Empathy was then positioned as an SAP mantra - queue more eye rolling. And mention of the Qualtrics acquisition and Experience Management really got those eyes going.
One customer’s immediate response:
I don’t believe anything SAP Marketing says anymore. Why can’t they just show me their customer success stories?
The biggest disconnect between SAP and the customer I noticed was around the move to S/4HANA. I sense there are fewer SAP Customers planning to go to S/4HANA this year than there was last year. The most commonly cited reason for moving to S/4HANA was the 2025 end of maintenance deadline. To get there many customers said that they were considering doing a technical upgrade.
A technical upgrade is shorthand for getting to a supported release as quickly as possible without enabling any new functionality.
This thinking - and even the mention of the term "technical upgrade" - is diametrically opposed to everything SAP have been saying about what S/4HANA offers and how to get there. Either SAP have blown the messaging or these customers are not listening - perhaps they have stopped listening.
My observations coincided with – and were reinforced by - Den’s IDC's SAP S/4 adoption survey sparks wide ranging concerns post from last week and subsequent And the beat goes on - the SAP S/4HANA upgrade debate post.
I’ve followed up with a few customers in the past day or so and some of their comments are pretty damning. Three quotes should suffice. They make depressing readinig.
- We can’t see a clear target state…
There seems to be a loss of direction – or too many directions.
No one has a business case other than the 2025 maintenance deadline. What we have got actually works. Moving to S/4 would be a step backwards.
I saw nothing to indicate that SAP has detected that this disconnect exists. Perhaps they have and are already working to correct it? Perhaps I am misreading the mood of the meeting?
Or, to quote yet another customer,
Maybe they just don’t care?
If I was SAP I would care – and I would be concerned.
Editor's note: Graham Robinson is one of the most experienced and well connected developers in the SAP ecosystem. If he's findinig it tough to meet with happy customers then it's serious.