digital transformation at SAP Sapphire

Digital transformation

Why the Intelligent Enterprise Requires More than SAP

SAP Sapphire wrapped up last week, leaving 20,000+ attendees with plenty to ponder upon returning to the modernization and transformation initiatives they and their products are currently in the middle of. While Sapphire’s keynote stages and 2000+(!) sessions are always largely dedicated to showcasing the latest SAP advancements, another theme ran throughout the event that I think went less noticed.

And I don’t mean the “intelligent enterprise.”

Some who quickly summarized their time at Sapphire focused on SAP’s consistent mentions of “the intelligent enterprise,” but I think they miss a bigger point by focusing only on new product feature technology. SAP obviously wants to be—and provide the products that help others also be—an intelligent enterprise, but products alone won’t make that happen. When we think about “digital transformation,” we have to think about the tools, integrations, automation, and platforms that make achieving that possible. But it’s arguably even more important to understand why you’re transforming your business in such a dramatic fashion.

SAP definitely spent a great deal of time at Sapphire selling the products required for becoming an intelligent enterprise, and the easy thing to do would’ve been to report on the technologies that support that transformation. But as Avoa CIO Tim Crawford put it while listening to SAP CEO Bill McDermott give his Day 1 keynote:

In regards to the “extreme emphasis” on the intelligent enterprise, Scharon Harding at Channelnomics writes:

The term was thrown around a lot during the show, making it clear that SAP is banking on businesses continuing to evolve and digitally transform, and the vendor aims to be an enabler of the new-look business technology world.

Where Harding really gets it right is by picking up on the message that SAP CEO Bill McDermott and other SAP execs continuously delivered: nothing is more important than understanding customer needs and delivering the best customer experience in every line of business. Harding writes:

He (McDermott) emphasized a number of what he said are universal questions among business leaders, such as “Do we have a single view of the customer? Do we really know them?” and, “How will we know if customers are really happy?”…

He called in Alex Atzberger, president of SAP Hybris, to back him up, who pointed to a CRM “customer revolution” and the emergence – and importance – of customers viewing the industry as neither B2B nor B2C but Me2B.

The concept of “Me2B”  isn’t new, and it’s somewhat disheartening that it’s still so rarely performed by many businesses. A Ctrl-Shift blog from all the way back in 2014 describes the shift to a Me2B mindset like so: “In B2C, the key words are ‘about’, ‘to’ and ‘at’ the customer. With Me2B they’re ‘with’ and ‘for’.” While it’s difficult to get early buy-in for any organization-wide change, one that embraces working with and for your customers, rather than simply throwing products and features to or at them, should be easy for teams to rally behind.

Sapphire showed me, in multiple ways, that SAPs level of “customer obsession” is not something to be admired or even emulated. Your goal is to surpass it.

ComputerWorld UK’s Scott Carey also attended SAP Sapphire, and his #1 takeaway was “SAP is going big on CRM, and he describes the massive investment made in SAP’s 5x cloud CRM portfolio, C/4HANA. A shortsighted view would chalk up the C/4HANA keynote mentions, stage time, and booth presentations as “Well, clearly they’ve got a product to sell.” But Carey goes deeper than this when he quotes CallidusCloud Chief Product Officer, Giles House. Says House, “Customers are not opportunities, or leads, or accounts. They are people.” Whether you’re talking about the next-generation CRM, or in Tricentis’ case, the next-generation continuous testing platform, it’s the extent that you value your customers that will ultimately lead to the extent they value you.

I got the opportunity to chat briefly with SAP’s Global VP of Strategic Marketing for Customer Experience, Johann Wrede, who echoed this sentiment. Wrede told a story I hope to have him share at greater length in an upcoming interview around the difference between businesses who can deliver “individualization” and those limited to “personalization.”

In the not-too-distant past, personalization was viewed as a remarkable achievement, as this meant a customer experience had been carefully tailored to a recognizable personality type. But no business delivers their products or services to a single personality type. Because if they did, they would seriously under-serve their industry and quickly lose out to competitors who went the extra mile to individualize their customer experiences. As McDermott pleaded with the audience to ask themselves earlier in the week, “Do we really know our customers?” and “How will we know if customers are really happy?” Asking these questions only once, or too infrequently is a fatal mistake in today’s business world.

Wrede explained to me that these questions have to be asked, answered, and acted upon continuously to deliver an uninterrupted and unmatched customer experience. Fail to do so, and you could quickly lose market share to someone who has the technology in place to support the mindset that true customer obsession requires.

In closing, SAP Sapphire will always heavily promote their tools and products as enablers of buzzword phrases like intelligent enterprise, agility, and digital transformation. While understanding the ins and outs of each additional cloud integration, licensing model, or functionality may very well aid your business, those who understand their customers even more so will always come out on top.

SAP did their best to convey that message for their audience, not just to them.