SAP: Disruptive Tech Shouldn’t Disrupt Those Using It

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SAP: Disruptive Tech Shouldn’t Disrupt Those Using It

By Joe Skorupa - 06/12/2017

Twelve months and an economic cycle ago, CEO Bill McDermott of SAP emphasized the importance of “empathy” at the 2016 Sapphire Now user’s conference. But that was then. What about 2017?

Empathy, at least for retailers, assumes a deeper meaning in the current economic climate. In the headlines today, for example, a major retailer declared bankruptcy (Gymboree) and another announced it would close 650 stores (Ascena Retail Group). Stories like these appear all too frequently as the retail bubble bursts for many iconic brands.

However, empathy for struggling retailers is not what McDermott had in mind when he spoke at Sapphire last year. McDermott told a story about how he explained to the SAP organization that “everything has to start with empathy for the end user and the experience they are getting from your company.”

He added, “We are in this thing together. We truly have to understand that every encounter we have with our customers means we have to understand their customers. We have to care about all of the customers you care about.”

Many of SAP’s customers are retailers, of course, and it is reassuring to hear McDermott’s message in tough times, especially since the message comes from the provider of one of the world’s most essential software platforms.

But that was last year. How did the message evolve in 2017?

Doubling Down on Empathy

Cycles of rebalancing are signature events in capitalism. When the supply and demand scales become out of sync, a normal rebalancing phase occurs to restore equilibrium. To be perfectly blunt: retailers today are facing headwinds.

So, the question is if retailers are seeking answers in a time of uncertainty will they get them from SAP? Does SAP still feel like we are “in this thing together” even with retailers sailing into the wind? Can you walk back such a public statement like this?

McDermott didn’t try. Instead, he doubled down on the theme in his 2017 opening keynote presentation and said, “Empathy to action is a race without a finish line.”

McDermott is the architect of the three-year-old “Run Simple” campaign and the more recent “empathy” message can be viewed as a related step. While “Run Simple” refers to technology that reduces business complexity, “empathy” refers to a corporate approach that reduces customer frustration. Both goals are aspirational, difficult to achieve, and, interestingly, as focused on SAP's corporate culture as they are on technology and customers.   

I went to a press briefing with SAP’s legendary founder, Hasso Plattner, where he was asked by a German-speaking journalist about McDermott’s role in developing "Run Simple" and the "empathy" themes. Is it significant, asked the journalist, that these missions come from a “salesman?”

Plattner replied that salesmanship has nothing to do with it and McDermott gets credit for refocusing SAP in a much-needed direction. Plattner noted the company’s years of developing and rolling out S/4 Hanna are essentially over. Customers are rapidly deploying the super-fast, in-memory analytics technology and it is becoming firmly established in the marketplace.

With this phase over, SAP can shift gears and ensure its disruptive technology does not disrupt the businesses that use it, i.e. run simple, operate with empathy.

SAP Launches Leonardo

More than 20,000 attendees gathered in the Orlando Convention Center to learn about leading edge technologies in a wide-open layout with many stages without walls or ceilings. Even the main keynote stage was open to the exhibitor floor.

The biggest takeway from the event was the announcement that SAP Leonardo is the new brand name for the former SAP Internet of Things (IoT) portfolio. SAP views this as a digital innovation system that combines machine learning, blockchain, big data, IoT, data intelligence, and analytics in the cloud.

Leonardo is a portfolio of solutions, products and services structured into six categories: connected products, assets, fleet, infrastructure, markets and people. The Leonardo Foundation manages data, connectivity and security. The Leonardo Bridge is the user environment.

Did I mention there is also something called Leonardo Edge Computing and “bundles” and trials taking place all over the world and a Leonardo Start Up program? Also, did I mention I am confused about Leonardo and hope to get some clarity soon.

One thing, however, is certain: you can expect to hear a lot more about Leonardo in coming months. Actor Clive Owen has been hired as Leonardo’s spokesman and the impression I got at  Sapphire is that his contract is not for a short-term gig.

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