Last week was intense for technology focused conferences related to supply chain management business process support. It seemed that many technology providers circled the week as prime time.  They included Kinaxis’s Planning for the New Normal and Llamasoft’s Llamacon Customer Conferences. This week the Supply Chain Matters blog will share our highlights and perspectives on these conferences.

We begin with SAP SE’s annual Sapphire Now customer conference which this year was delivered in an online live streaming format. The likely first impression headline for the conference was either that of a huge embarrassment or empathy, in that a good many signed-up attendees could not view the sessions in real-time because SAP’s site was literally overrun by online attendee volumes.SAP SE

We, like many viewers, literally had to give-up in trying to view the opening SAP CEO keynote and other first morning sessions since servers did not respond. SAP’s IT support teams were able to make some adjustments as the first day wore on and subsequently load pre-recorded sessions to other external platforms such as You Tube, Twitter and Facebook for viewing.

This was a scalability challenge and the optics are any Cloud Based tech provider’s worst nightmare for an online conference.

We assume there has been a lot of soul searching in the corridors and meeting rooms of the Walldorf Germany and other campus’s regarding what actually occurred, and why it occurred.

To make matters a bit more frustrating, SAP’s cadre of social media influencers were very active tweeting about how interesting and insightful certain speakers and sessions were for audiences, not likely aware that a good many viewers were frustrated by lack of access, turning such feelings into tweet storms.

Note to tech provider public relations or solutions marketing teams- communicate with your influencers in real-time when a significant technical glitch has occurred.  Otherwise, an embarrassing situation magnifies even more since frustrated online customer or prospect attendees might assume that influencers were given special access. Alas, first impressions not so good for the SAP universe.


Some Initial Impressions

Since this Editor has as yet only had the opportunity to view a few of the available sessions, we will address further highlights in a later blog. Further, industry analysts, such as this author, were told by SAP to not expect any analyst specific updates until special sessions are scheduled in July.

Having viewed post live streaming Executive Updates from SAP CEO Christian Klein, Customer Success Manager Adaire Fox Martin, and Engineering Manager Thomas Sauerssig, I can share with our readers some of this author’s initial impressions after observing and writing about this tech provider for over 20 years. Disclosure, I am also an ex-employee, having served a three-year stint as global product marketing director for supply chain management applications some years ago.

The tone and communications from this year’s Sapphire Now, unlike many over the past several years, reflects what I term as the SAP of old, one that is grounded more in customer and industry value vs. that of the latest marketing buzz and endless new development promises. This was the tone that I came to appreciate and feared was lost by prior senior leadership. Missing however, was the voice of co-founder and SAP Supervisory Board Chairperson Hasso Plattner. From our lens, a Sapphire is not complete without the voice and pure candor of SAP’s most influential executive.

In his keynote, CEO Christian Kline came across rather sincere and down to earth. He stressed themes for customer needs in areas of business resiliency, profitability and sustainability. An accompanying customer video featuring German luxury auto maker Porsche might have been tone deaf to the ongoing and very challenging economic crisis that surrounds many businesses large and small.

The new SAP executive leadership seemed to come across much more attuned and grounded to growing customer frustrations related to confusing product announcements, overly complex and onerous customer contracts and the general frustrations focused on how challenging it is for existing customer to upgrade to SAP’s flagship S/4 HANA ERP business applications or supply chain management specific technology suites.

Regarding questioning as to why there was less emphasis on SAP’s thrust into all forms of Experience Management to literally own this category, the response was that this category will remain a focus for SAP, but rather in integrating Qualtrics technology across SAP’s product stack where it makes sense for customer needs. The strategy was described as one of augmenting needs for added business intelligence with Experience Management. That includes areas of supply chain management business processes.

That stated, we sense that this enterprise technology provider still has too much reliance and lack of firm control on its vast network of large systems integrators and partners. We sensed hints from Adaire Fox Martin’s and Thomas Saueressig’s responses in the Q&A session that more attention will be paid to consistency in partner strategies, making it easier to work with SAP, and exposing specific opportunities where partners will be able to augment and extend SAP’s offerings. A rather revealing statement made was that partnering begins in product engineering. That is obviously different from the Field organization’s dominant control of partners over the past several years. If this turns out to be true, SAP customers can take comfort that development teams are taking over more influence. By our lens, this was an area where SAP lost control of the customer voice.

Pleasant surprises were slips of the tongue naming the SAP Ariba Cloud platform as the largest existing B2B supply chain network in the world. Bragging for sure, but perhaps an indicator for what plans are underway for future direction, including open, network to network hybrid cloud platform integration.

Another impression to share was the existence of a lot of studio based high powered graphics, videos, celebrity anchors  and candidly annoying music accompanying many of the keynote level presentations. We surmise the objective was to attract the new younger leaders of IT and business functions who are impressed with such flash.

Note to SAP, drop the flash and accompanying impression that a lot of money was invested in flash vs. substance. Talk sincere and straight to customers. Endless videos of customer testimonials are hollow in this new normal of having to work from home and deal with a lot of significant business challenges. The largest technology concern we hear about are needs for proven and accelerated time-to-value.  Better to have customers speaking in interactive online formats which we witnessed from other tech providers last week.

More of these and other impressions will be explored in our subsequent updates.



Bob Ferrari

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