In this Supply Chain Matters technology market perspective commentary we focus on the Hannover Messe technology conference and the presence of two rivals with differing messaging and go-to-market strategies.
Hannover Messe is one of the world’s largest trade fairs. It is an event where industry thought leaders and technology companies present their ideas for the factories, energy systems and supply chains of the future. Of late this event has further been a venue for the latest notions of Manufacturing 4.0 and digitally enabled logistics and supply chain transformation.
Such an event, as one could imagine, is often a must for many European based technology providers both large and small. In essence, this event serves as the basis of recognition and company awareness among European and other manufacturing and supply chain management teams. As a supply chain technology analyst and influencer, I came to understand the significance of having both a presence, a thought leadership perspective, and a cohesive product marketing story to tell each and every year of Hannover.
In normal times, the event is held on the Hanover Fairground in Hanover, Germany, and typically this event can draw up to half a million visitors. Of course, with the COVID-19 pandemic, these are not normal times, and thus, like other major trade shows, this year’s event was held in a virtual format.
Virtual events, while not providing a physical presence to meet or socialize with attendees, do provide opportunities for other firms to participate in an event that would likely involve international travel expenses for product marketing attendees.
The Hannover event would not normally draw a presence from U.S. companies, especially very-large, enterprise class tech vendors that directly compete, or have been, an arch-rival of SAP.
Again, these are not normal times.
Indeed, Oracle provided its presence in a series of presentations that addressed topics in areas of smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0, how manufacturers are digitizing their operations, intelligent applications for manufacturing and supply chain along with building sustainable supply chain and product service management operations.
What caught this analyst’s eye was consistent messaging related to either Artificial Intelligence/Machine-Learning (AI/ML), Internet of Things (IoT) or blockchain, each being purpose-built to support specific business process needs and pre-integrated with other needed process workflow applications. There was consistent emphasis made of a single data model across the platform along with applications developed natively for Cloud based architectures. Applications enabled with modern user interfaces such as Oracle’s new Redwood interface that integrates across the applications stack for both desktop, mobile and interactive conversational use was a further emphasis. The ability to leverage Web services that can leverage Rest APIs for business process integration was an added consistent theme.
There was a spiffy demo addressing pre-integrated connected logistics, emulating a fleet of trucks carrying various critical vaccines, enabled by IoT sensors and real-time data integration to Oracle’s advanced analytical applications.
Presenter’s provided specific customer implementation and use case examples from Broadcom, Cisco, Cohu, Juniper Networks, Noble Plastics, Titan Wheel, Western Digital and others. Customer videos featured executives stressing a desire to be able to directly partner with a technology provider in supply chain or manufacturing digital transformation in phased implementation cycles.
Each customer had specific needs ranging from more enhanced integrated business planning, a single platform for business process analytics to connect islands of information, or in the case of Western Digital, consolidating in excess of 3000 applications among three different companies. In the case of Juniper Networks, it was a partnership in implementing a more responsive integrated planning process that could interface with an SAP applications back-end.
As for the presenters, there was no direct mention of superiority over SAP technology or any other technology provider. I was especially impressed with the personas of the various presenters each from different diverse nationalities. This was not just a U.S. based company featuring a dominance of U.S. presenters, but the presence of a global company made up of global based employees and technology experts. It was fitting for a Hannover event.
For readers who have SAP technology supporting their business needs, I share the above perceptions and insights because they portray a maturity. Oracle was once an ERP and supply chain focused technology provider that lacked cohesiveness in communicating a consistent product strategy and direction. There was once a sense that this provider lacked a direct contact and relationship with its customers. That has all changed.
SAP has always provided a professional presence in conferences such as Sapphire and Hannover Messe. The vision is always spot on, but the delivery of technology solutions in manufacturing and supply chain tends to be frequently changing in concept and in timetable. There is inconsistent messaging and depending on which product manager a customer might have spoken with; one would garner a different functionality and roadmap perspective.
Understanding of customer business process needs has been handed over to systems integrators, industry consulting partner firms or customer user forums, who each have their own approaches and methods to make SAP technology work the way a customer desires it to work. It is no wonder that during these particularly challenging times among various industry and supply chain settings, that SAP customers are seeking different approaches.
From our lens, SAP has handed over its direct relationship with the pulse of customers, and CEO Christian Klein has acknowledged that concern. The recently introduced ‘RISE with SAP’ program is an effort to better assist customers in making their transitions to digital transformation, but again, SAP is in most cases, not the direct partner. There is no one single point of contact or direct customer success manager providing oversight.
The above is why customers, not only those with SAP but with other technology providers, with time-sensitive automation needs are becoming more demanding. With continued change and overall uncertainty occurring among multiple industry settings, the need for a time-phased supply chain or manufacturing transformation plan is obvious, one that can be pre-integrated as much as possible.
Businesses cannot afford to risk a major disruption to the mission critical processes that supply chain or enterprise backbone applications often involve. With continued global economic uncertainty and so much dependent on the availability and administration of vaccines to vast populations, C-Suite executives remain prudently cautious. But at the same time, new, digitally based business models provide new opportunities for faster growth.
Business leaders therefore seek an overall plan of transformation that can be prioritized towards specific capabilities to support needed business or profitability growth, define specific objectives and required business outcomes expected by investors. They further expect accountability and consistency in digital transformation initiatives.
In conferences such as Hannover Messe, it is no longer the videos and spiffy PowerPoint, but rather the substance, timeliness and cost benefit of your technology offering. That includes the willingness of the technology provider to be accountable for its success, and to engage technology providers as a partner in transformation. This applies to Oracle, SAP along with other specialty providers including start-ups.
Customers seek a partnership, a commitment and a phased journey toward time-sensitive digital transformation needs without jeopardizing needs for business growth and profitability needs.
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