This is the most important SAPPHIRENow conference for SAP in years. You can expect a heavy dose of analysis from diginomica in the coming days, as well as plenty of customer use cases.
But what do SAP community leaders think? Immediately prior to the show, I asked a handful of SAP's most respected - and sometimes outspoken - voices for their take. The central question? What SAP must to do to achieve a successful Sapphire Now.
The voices you will read are a mix of SAP partner employees, independents, and customers. Many of them served as SAP Mentors or ASUG volunteers over the years, and some still do.
Tammy Powlas - SAP customers are facing transformation questions
Tammy Powlas, long-time SAP Mentor, ASUG Volunteer, and CPA/PMP, cut to the heart of it:
SAP Customers are faced with the question of how to undergo a digital transformation, move to a new ERP system like SAP S/4HANA, adopt emerging technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, new user experience, “experience data” (Qualtrics), and still keep the lights on. “ASUG provides strategies for the future and solutions for the present,” notes former ASUG Volunteer, Joe Larocque. I am looking for both – strategies for the future, solutions for the present.
The balancing act is tricky, and that's where info and guidance is needed. Powlas:
We’ve invested in SAP and the future, how can we now execute the digital transformation, meanwhile keeping the “lights on” with our existing SAP “legacy” infrastructure? I am hoping both ASUG Annual Conference and SAPPHIRENOW can answer both.
Ethan Jewett - SAP needs to clear up product strategy after restructuring
Ethan Jewett, Manager of DevOps and Senior SAP Architect at Mindset Consulting, and a long-time advocate for SAP developers, honed in on the impact of this spring's restructuring moves and leadership changes:
Primarily, I think SAP needs to clear up confusion around its product strategy that resulted from the round of layoff and executive restructuring over the last 6 months.
Jewett thinks SAP should continue to share more about its own transformation:
One thing I think SAP has improved on in the last year is sharing its own internal journey to a modern business platform. I’m especially interested in the development transformation that SAP is going through internally, moving to more cloud-centric development and beginning to implement industry standard practices even in the ABAP development organization.
I’m really encouraged that SAP is striving to incorporate learnings from the rest of the industry rather than just going its own way as it has done so often in the past, and I think that SAP sharing this journey and working even more openly and collaboratively could be really helpful in getting customers going along the same path.
John Appleby - SAP needs to tell a cohesive cloud story
John Appleby, community fixture after years with the SAP Mentors and stints at Bluefin Solutions and then SAP, sees two keys for Sapphire Now success: customer stories and a cohesive cloud strategy.
1) Customer stories where there was a solid dollar business case and they tied together the various assets: S/4, Cloud Apps, Platform etc into a cohesive story for the Intelligent Enterprise.
2) Telling a cohesive strategy for customers that turns the cloud apps into more than just a loosely connected set of acquisitions. Why is buying SAP’s cloud apps better than various best of breed apps?
Appleby's cited two topics he'll be watching closely:
1) The Microsoft/Adobe announcement for OpenData initiative was interesting. How is this playing out and has SAP now built a data model for the Intelligent Enterprise?
2) What is the new platform strategy? Will SAP announce a big reveal, like outsourcing all its IAAS assets: HEC, and cloud apps, to Google?
Graham Robinson - looking for a state of the community check and clarification of SAP priorities
Graham Robinson, Australian SAP Mentor and long-time SAP developer made the long haul flight and passed his goals along. He's looking for gut checks and explanations on priorities:
On the Community specifically I am looking for Craig Cmehil, Grassl and maybe Schaffner to explain their strategy to me again and map that against progress from last year. A sort of a state of the community check.
On a broader level I am interested in some indication from the new technology leadership people Schaffner, Mueller, etc. about what they see as their priorities and what they have had to de-prioritorise to accomodate them.
And - not expecting to learn anything major here - but really interested in probing how the Elliot Management thing will effect R&D resourcing going forward.
Jarret Pazahanick - Qualtrics talk is inevitable, but customers want to hear more
Jarret Pazahanick, SAP and SuccessFactors Consultant and customer advocate, thinks this is a key show for repairing trust:
This will be a very interesting and important Sapphire for SAP as have found with their over the top marketing and claims, they have lost a lot of trust with customers, as delivery has fallen by the way side on many big promises. That combined with strong SaaS competitors in many lines of business is definitely impacting sales within their existing customer base.
Expect to hear a lot about Qualtrics as that is the shining new “Game Changer” per SAP, and would expect to hear claims of integration with SuccessFactors, although will be vaporware. That said, how can SAP talk about customer experience when all too often they themselves is clearly are not listening to their own customers on many topics such as licensing simplicity, audits, service, support and end of life in 2025 for ECC.
I do want to commend SAP for always doing an excellent job sharing the major keynotes, sessions and analyst/investors Q/A virtually so that those of us not attending in person can still follow along.
Simha Magal - University Alliance needs to step up for students pursing cloud and S/4HANA
Simha Magal, long time ERP professor and participant in SAP's University Alliance program, echoed Appleby's views about a cohesive cloud message. He emphasizes that a unified user experience is a big part of this story. He believes SAP's transformation and next-gen tech calls for a return to the roots of the University Alliance program - something which has been lost in recent years. Magal:
Personally, I want to continue my quest to get access to cloud applications for students. It is not sufficient to say, “use the trial versions,” as these versions have too many limitations to work effectively in an academic environment. One of the reasons SAP created the University Alliances Program was a shortage of skilled professions when SAP R/3 was released; this led to companies not buying R/3! It worked well for a couple of decades, producing tens of thousands of highly skilled graduates (and lots of sales!). SAP is facing a similar shortage of professionals skilled in SAP S/4 HANA implementation as well as in the new, cloud-based, transformational technologies. The University Alliances program has not kept up in providing access, training, and education materials to universities.
He likes where ASUG fits in here:
ASUG has a new initiative, ASUG University, aimed at educating the end-users so that the company can realize the benefits of SAP technologies. SAP and ASUG should work closely to empower end-users to effectively utilize technologies.
Jelena Perfiljeva - SAP leadership needs to show their strength and commitment to strategy
Jelena Perfiljeva, SAP Mentor Alumna, always keeps it real:
Recent executive shake-up and investor reveals, as well as poorly managed resource actions at SAP have raised a lot of eyebrows. SAP leadership would be wise to use this event to show their strength and commitment to strategy. Making clear what that strategy is exactly would be a nice bonus.
She called on ASUG to speak out more also:
Since SAPPHIRE is also ASUG annual conference, it is a good opportunity for the ASUG members to take a closer look at the value that ASUG membership offers or doesn’t offer. Other SAP groups have been more vocal in their customer advocacy efforts leaving one to wonder about the ASUG priorities.
Chris Kernaghan - partners must play a key role in a changing customer landscape
Chris Kernaghan, Global Head of SAP Database and Cloud at Mindtree, is also looking forward to an ASUG University update:
I am looking forward to seeing how the ASUG University is coming along and their evolution over the last year, this is an amazing endeavour - I remember being very excited when Jeff (Word) told me about it.
Kernaghan honed in on the nuts and bolts of the Qualtrics impact:
Sapphire this year is going to be interesting because SAP are bringing the customer value story of Qualtrics to their business users. This is where they have to define how User experience data relates to Transactional data and if they see that there is a hierarchy of data associated with that, I don't think this is going to be a hard thing to sell to this audience though in terms of narrative.
Partners must be equipped with the know-how to help customers with that transition:
What will be a harder sell is how to create that exceptional moment in a customer experience against the backdrop of competing change in customers' landscapes - this where customers on stage help and where good partners are needed.
Chris Paine - SAP needs to avoid "add-on" pricing and delight customers instead
Chris Paine, SAP Mentor and SAP technical specialist, believes that the pricing of new solutions is critical for customer:
To make this event successful, I think SAP needs to clearly communicate how the products and interaction between those products leads to a coherent and valuable return on investment for their customers. Whilst the recent Qualtrics purchase may make a lot of sense in that it was a gap in the product offerings, the last thing current customers want to hear is that they will need to pay an additional subscription fee to use some of this value.
Paine cited SuccessFactors examples like embedding the SAP Analytics Cloud (at no extra license cost) as the way forward:
In some recent areas, SAP has not taken the "add-on" approach, like the upcoming release of embedded SAP Analytics Cloud into SuccessFactors, replacing the existing (and rather dated) reporting capabilities of the suite.
My thoughts are that the prioritisation of solution is being driven by desire to get new customers rather than delivering value to existing customers. It would be great to see something that make SAP and SuccessFactors customers gasp and say "You're planning to deliver that sort of cool integration and functionality and it isn't going to cost me a cent more than my current subscription?! That's amazing, love you SAP!" I can live in hope!
That's a good note to end on, and plenty for us to watch as the show unfolds. Though these leaders have different priorities, their views are tied by common threads of transparency in pricing and communications, delighting customers and providing guidance through difficult transformations.
It's important to note that they perceive a potential conflict between Wall Street/shareholder/marketing/pricing priorities and what customers need. It's up to SAP to resolve that perception of conflict; we'll see how that goes this week.