Technology and Cultural Shifts at SAP

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Technology and Cultural Shifts at SAP

By Joe Skorupa - 10/19/2010
By Joe Skorupa

Two themes emerged from the recent SAP Retail Forum: mobility and cross-channel retailing. Newly launched technologies are designed to put SAP in a leading role in these critical areas. Equally interesting is that a little below the surface are signs of a cultural shift that allows software to become decoupled and a willingness to focus on the customers of SAP’s customers.
Last week about 100 retailers with SAP software in their tech stacks gathered in Las Vegas for the fourth annual retail user’s conference. On the agenda were no celebrities or famous authors or motivational speakers. Instead sessions were devoted to demonstrating a shift of focus by SAP to “Mobilizing Your Business.”
“SAP is on a mission to bring mobile apps to retailing in retail relevant ways,” said Robert McFarland, senior vice president and general manager of SAP Retail.
It is a timely message, and a departure from previous stances that tended to reinforce SAP’s famous ERP platform approach, such as an emphasis on elements of middleware, application integration, SOA and infrastructure.
Instant Access in Hand
Examples of instant access to information, which plays a central role in SAP’s new game plan, were demonstrated on iPads and mobile phones to emphasize sales analysis tools that are form-factor friendly. These tools come with a host of pre-built KPIs for such things as total sales, gross margin, transaction volume, average basket size, out of stock rate and more.
The mobile tools feature alerts, color coding to show performance relative to plan, and the ability to drill down to such lower data levels as region, district, product categories, cities and stores.
The cross-channel theme was explained by Mark Ledbetter, national vice president for SAP Retail. “Multi-channel retailing, Web and mobile technology use is exploding,” he said. “And multi-channel shoppers spend 30 percent more than single channel shoppers. Retailers need the tools to enable them to have unified customer interaction, distributed order and returns management across channels, seamless internal and external systems, and everything fully integrated and tied to loyalty.”
The third major presentation at the event was by Kevin Nix, senior vice president of Enterprise Mobility, whose background includes more than 20 years of experience in the mobility space. Nix pointed out that SAP is building a “complete enterprise mobility stack comprised of business processes, a mobile platform and
tools and applications, whether employee facing or consumer facing.”
Ledbetter effectively summed up all the major presentations by noting that “everything in retail has to be multi-channel and mobile enabled.”
Retail Forum Takeaways
It seems clear now that SAP’s acquisition of Sybase earlier this year was a transforming event. Beyond its focus on mobility, Sybase comes with a vendor-agnostic approach that, apparently, SAP is adopting.
This is a welcome development because it enables SAP to play nice with non-SAP data sources and applications, something SAP had difficulty with in the past both from a technological and cultural standpoint.
The benefits of this shift are also having a positive effect on SAP’s Business Objects acquisition of several years ago. Business Objects, like Sybase, was built to be vendor-agnostic, but this attribute was not effectively exploited by SAP. Until now.
By applying the vendor-agnostic Sybase and Business Objects approach to other applications in its portfolio SAP opens them up to retailers that do not currently have SAP platforms. This effectively decouples them from a big-bang deployment and frees them to become viable options for retailers pursuing a best-of-breed approach.
SAP’s newfound emphasis on cross-channel retailing and mobility places a premium on predictive analytics and BI insights, which is a key capability of Business Objects, whether the analytics are based on data from labor, store performance, direct sales or if they are mobile enabled.  
SAP was always considered the poster child for on-premises, big-bang software, but this event showed clear signs the big ship is changing course and adding on-demand and on device to its manifest of capabilities. It will be worth watching to see where it docks next.

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