You have read analysis from me and others about SapphireNow. I wanted to get a post-conference perspective from a SAP executive and I caught up with Nick Tzitzon, Executive Vice President, Marketing and Communications
It can be tempting to look at so many different things and slice and dice the success of an event like Sapphire. I think we have to constantly come back to what should be the only true measure, and that’s what did our customers who actually participated in the event say about what they experienced?
On this measure I feel like SAP can be really proud of this Sapphire. Our customers said generally very positive things about the presentation we put forward. In past years, I felt like they knew we had the right pieces but they weren’t always seeing the full picture. This year, I honestly felt like the light bulb went off and customers saw from SAP not just a completeness of vision, but a completeness of solution. And those that really wanted a confidence inspiring plan to cement their belief in SAP for the next decade, I think those customers came away believing that we delivered it. In many people’s view, this was the strongest Sapphire we’ve put forward … if not all time, certainly in the last several years.
We’re getting close to 400,000 customers now … the temptation can be to think of our customers as one audience. But in reality, they’re coming at this from so many different perspectives. You have the customers that have been relying on SAP ERP for decades who, in many cases are the largest, most sophisticated companies in the world. You would have a hard time, hopefully, coming out of Sapphire not believing that SAP is prepared to deliver you a complete solution tailored to your industry. Alternatively, if you came to Sapphire because you are running one of our LoB solutions, say SAP Ariba or SAP Fieldglass, and you are looking for more of an introduction to the broader universe of what SAP can offer, I also feel very good about the presentation that we put forward.
International attendance at Sapphire is always an interesting thing. SAP is the most global company in the space. That makes our customer base particularly interesting. We always struggle in a North America event with certain constituencies. They don’t like the big show stopping approach in some cases as it doesn’t keep with their cultural norms. I think we’ve done a better job in the last few years being able to tailor the experience to those customers in a way that makes them feel more comfortable. But that’s also the benefit of SAP doing events around the world. Increasingly, we take advantage of the fact that we can deliver a Sapphire-like experience on nearly every continent, so every customer or prospect can experience the vision and the strategy of the company in a way that relates to them. If it’s not in their natural language, at the very least in a style that’s more accessible to them. SuccessConnect in Berlin this week is a great example of this approach.
I think people really liked having a second major keynote theater. So we have the main stage for the big keynotes and then we have a 500 seat theater where you can go for additional content that’s much more focused on specific topics.
We face this pressure when you do an event like Sapphire. Are we focused on just the three-and-a-half days where people are physically in Orlando? Or are we focused on an experience that lets people participate in Sapphire off site, at their leisure, in their location? And increasingly, if you look at the facts, we have big numbers in terms of who shows up. We have huge numbers in terms of who participates virtually. So it’s important that people be able to feel the excitement of Sapphire sitting in their office, sitting at their desk, sitting in their living room.
His favorite moments from the event
You always have to feel proud when the founder of your company takes the stage. We shouldn’t miss any opportunity to acknowledge that Hasso is a titan in this industry….one of the founding fathers of this industry. When he gets up there and he does what he does, there’s an amount of gravitas that I think is hard to find in many other tech conferences, if any other conference. If I’m reliving Hasso keynotes from years past, I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for the in-memory revolution. I can remember having so many conversations with analysts and others who would say, “HANA, HANA, HANA. Customers have heard enough of that.” It turns out they hadn’t and Hasso has been proven right again and again. How do you build a business that’s capable of operating as an intelligent enterprise if you don’t have an architecture that can help you manage data without indexes and aggregates? Data from any source? Structured and unstructured? Transactions and analytics on a single platform? Everyone loves the data sound bites – new oil, new gold, new oxygen. Pick your favorite. But only one person was making this intellectual argument before it was fashionable.
Then there was the big announcement – introducing C/4HANA. The presentation Alex Atzberger (starting 19:30 here) delivered was confidence inspiring. I think if you were watching that … and the bar was set “Do I believe SAP has a credible argument that would force me to rethink how I rely on technology to transform my customer experience?” I think Alex not only cleared that bar, but I think he cleared it by a wide margin. And I think there’s a lot of interest, a lot of excitement around C/4HANA in the marketplace right now.
For people who really know SAP, who really watch SAP, there’s the question, “Okay, are they singing from the same sheet of music if you go off and talk to a development leader who is driving the agenda at an acquired company like a Concur or an Ariba, versus what you would get from SAP’s development team?” Seeing Bernd Leukert and Rob Enslin (starting 38:15 here ) together in one conversation with a lot of passion, share the same vision for how we’re integrating the portfolio of assets that SAP has assembled and create true end-to-end process capabilities regardless of the app you’re using – that’s a huge headline for us. At the end of the day, if you’re a customer and you’re thinking, “When I bought SAP 20 years ago, they gave me every functionality I wanted in one box. And I’m not necessarily saying I want it all in one box, I just want to believe that they have a vision to be able to cover all of the capabilities that my company needs.” Rob and Bernd gave them that confidence.
SAP’s increased openness
Kudos to Nicola Leske and her team who obviously focused on you as their customer. So in that way, we do look at you as a customer. But second, I think SAP, and I give credit to Bill McDermott and the executive board for this, has undergone a sea change in terms of how SAP views the analyst community more broadly. We view the analyst community as a gateway to our customers because customers are trying to sort through so much. Increasingly they look to you and to your peers to help distill it all down. If we don’t help you have a complete and well-rounded view of SAP, not only from our perspective, but from the perspective of our reference customers, we’re letting all of our customers down by extension. So that’s an intentional part of our strategy, and I’m glad you feel it. I’d also say the same thing about Geoff Scott and the user group. It shouldn’t go unmentioned that they are the co-host of SAPPHIRE. We embrace anyone who gets the company closer to its users.
Bill always says that SAP is at its best when SAP is at its hungriest. The company culture right now, and I think you felt it at Sapphire and in the lead-up, we are very motivated because we feel so strongly about the story we have to tell. We’re very much in a “don’t take anything for granted” phase. I love that scene from the movie Any Given Sunday with Al Pacino. The locker room scene where he says, “You go the extra mile for that inch, to gain every inch. It’s the difference between winning and losing.” We’re in a mode now where SAP is going to go the extra mile for every inch. And there should not be any situation where you’re asking us to help you cover SAP where we’re not able to come through.
His session with Jon Bon Jovi and Bill McDermott
I thought Jon Bon Jovi was remarkably candid. I thought Bill was too, but I know Bill and I know he is usually candid. I thought Jon’s admission about facing down dark times was profound. Just imagine if one of the most successful touring rock stars of all time who can walk into a stadium of 90,000 people and get roaring applause without even singing a note. If he can feel the dark pressure of negativity in his own life, I think those of us who are working away every day trying to make these businesses run well, which at many times is not a necessarily popular thing to be doing, it’s ok for us to be honest about our own challenges. I just thought it was refreshingly human in terms of the context.
Some of the human dimensions of technology in the enterprise, I think those are underplayed. I think these are inherently human conversations. Change management is a human conversation. Introducing new concepts and new ideas and asking people to have an open mind and try new things, these are human conversations.
We do sort of the instant pulse checks on audience sentiment. The reactions to that conversation were overwhelmingly positive. And if you think about the benefits of an event like Sapphire where you bring so many people together, I think the burden on any vendor is, what can you give attendees that is a unique experience that they’re not likely to be able to recreate anywhere else? If I were an attendee, I would want that standard to be met. And I don’t think you could have watched what Jon and Bill talked about and not feel like you were participating in something that was pretty unique
The fact that we balanced it, by the way, with what Adaire Fox-Martin did with Adidas (here) and Jennifer Morgan did with Costco (here) earlier on that morning, I thought was really important. Because I think if we hadn’t done that, I do think it would have been a missed opportunity. I thought those conversations were outstanding.
I believe that they see our definition of the Intelligent Enterprise as a new frontier where they’re going to have a lot of unique opportunities to help our customers extract value. I also think, to the point of your recent blog post, they recognize that there’s a new bar, there’s a new standard. Speed, efficiency, automating what can be automated, and ultimately delivering value in new ways….that’s the pressure we all feel. If I were a partner of SAP and I sat through Sapphire, I would see a new wave of opportunity. I would want my SAP practice to be excited and motivated to focus on Intelligent Enterprise. But we also have to be really clear about what customer expectations are in this new world. I think we’ve made a lot of progress in the last several years. I think we’re going to make even more progress in the next several.
I’m the oldest young man you’ll ever meet. I find the concerts too loud in general, so I just stuff earplugs in. So I’m perhaps a lousy person to ask. But the people who I surveyed thought Justin Timberlake put on a fantastic show. My daughters were extremely jealous that we had him there, and that they didn’t get to participate. I told them they should buy some software
(Cross-posted @ Deal Architect)