SAPPHIRE NOW 2012 Madrid: A Review of SAP Executive Keynote

Written by Asad Mahmood, Head of Database and Technology Consulting, itelligence UK

Following our arrival (itelligence UK and specifically Andy Steer, Andrew Fox, Stephen Jerram and Jon Ward at some point during the week) into Madrid and an extensive tour of the airport whilst making our way to the exit through what must be the largest terminal building I have ever experienced, I have this morning enjoyed a “fascinating” keynote delivery from the Co-CEO’s at SAP, Bill McDermott and Jim Hagemann Snabe. More on the “fascination” shortly.

With just 20 minutes before my next session let me provide you with the key take-away’s and try to evolve this with some of my own humble experiences and knowledge through working with our customer base. Starting with the relevance first and especially after my bout with a kilo of Tuna last night for dinner, did you know that SAP’s customers are responsible for distributing more than 71% of the world’s food? They are. Perhaps I will revert to this or the similarly impressive stats for Health and Beauty when I am next asked about what I do for a living…

Bill started by reminding us of a very basic but fundamental business lesson he learnt whilst running his very first business as a Deli and this was to focus on the customer as without the customer there is no business. A stark reality but one many businesses have had to be reminded in less than favourable circumstances lately. It may seem abundantly clear and clichéd but I know from my own experiences that the temptation to fade this into the background can be very inviting when in the company of IT departments and blinkered by a fixation on internal processes and procedures. Of course these can ultimately bring about the improvements required in order to recognise the importance of the customer but cannot achieve this in isolation. Bill went further by asking himself the question on whether the existence of his business mattered; would customers feel any different if the business disappeared? Clearly a profound set of questions which bear out the essence of a given business. Design Thinking has also been touted as an approach to properly understand and delve deeper into organisational drivers and then embody these principles in any technological manifestations.

In response to describing the consumer of the current age, Bill vividly described a savvy consumer who demands a digital experience and went on to explain how this has necessitated an unparalleled focus on individual customers, the segment of one. We have seen in the UK much like many other markets, competition is increasing and consumer expectations continue to soar, this has led to commoditisation taking place at unprecedented rates and hence the need to continuously evolve, innovate and delight the consumer. Bill described how success is being achieved through moving away from individual products to experiences and as a result attaining greater levels of loyalty. To this point, we have noticed a real shift in customer sentiments where efficiency is being trumped by the need for effectiveness. Organisations are keen to innovate, grow and back this with technological investment. We continue to work with new and existing clients to help discover ways in which we can collectively bring about business transformation through the application of information. In practical terms this has meant equipping sales staff with mobile information allowing them to have more engaging and ultimately successful conversations with clients and in other instances allowing customers to share premium grade analysis with their customers in order to enhance their levels of service and attain greater levels of satisfaction and loyalty.

Unsurprisingly, adoption of mobile technology continues to soar with today’s illustration coming from Kenya where people are skipping meals in order to maintain the cost of their mobile devices. Not necessarily a practice I commend or recommend but certainly illustrates the pivotal role the technology is playing in our lives. On a more positive note, there was an example of how Mobile technology has allowed penetration of banking services into a huge dormant market in South Africa where previously consumers were reluctant to engage in banking services. The advent of mobility has made this easier and more enticing for this set of consumers.

The SAP 360 Customer program has been announced which I expect to gain further clarification on but appears to be the amalgamation of SAP CRM on HANA and the associated Mobile Apps to enable a real-time sales enterprise. The need to get closer to customers has been borne out of a recent survey which suggests that the average consumer is 40% more likely to make a purchasing decision if they have been conditioned through social media. This along with the paramount importance of customer experiences, makes this an interesting development and certainly one to explore further.

Amongst other announcements, Jim commissioned a new learning and development programme targeted at the unemployed youth to help them acquire new technical skills and it starts immediately and from Madrid. There was also a brief reminder of Ariba which has been unescapable walking around the show floor and an announcement relating to several RDS offerings which are now available. We can expect much tighter integration between SAP and Ariba to mutually benefit both customer bases over the coming months.

Finally, “fascination” was a euphemism for what many may substitute with an expletive of their choice. The suggestion from Jim was to look for opportunities in the face of adversity and it is the collective responsibility of business leadership to help the economic recovery we find ourselves entrapped within. Perhaps a fitting end to my piece given the protests planned for tomorrow.

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