Just as my fellow Irregulars are getting ready to tackle SAP executives at the company's 'Influencers' Summit' in Boston comes a mea culpa from Steve Rogers, SAP UK's managing director. According to a report from Stuart Lauchlan, Rogers said at the company's recent UK user conference:
"When I joined, I was surprised at how remote SAP felt from its customers. It didn't have the customer at the centre of its universe. What had happened was that there was a little complacency in the way it managed its relationships with its customers," he said. "That is absolutely out of order so we have focused hard on [addressing that] over the last year. We have not arrived at the place we need to be, but we are making progress.
“Customers are seeing more of SAP and SAP is trying to be more proactive in how we support customers and helping leverage the assets you have. We have seen customer satisfaction scores trending in the right direction. They are nowhere near best in class [but] we have set the objective in the UK of [getting up to] best in class, against other SAP subsidiaries and other comparable organizations.
Where have I heard that before? This is an ongoing theme that stretches back to 1993 when I first started commenting on SAP and which periodically rears its ugly head. Contrast this Prashanth Rai's report from TechEd Bangalore:
When Mike, Mark, Craig, Marylyn etc are here in India for the community day they bring the much required enthusiasm and interest, but I would think this personal connection needs to be ongoing and in fact it should be on a "reach out" mode also.
SAP has done a good job engaging the developer community - it's SDN counts some 950,000 members and its TechEd events are enthusiastically supported. It is doing less well with the business process people. My sense is that SAP struggles to get business acceptance of its value proposition. In part that's because it doesn't do a great job of communicating business value. As Stuart notes, there is a level of dissonance between what SAP markets and what its customers understand. Quoting Rogers:
"I find it frustrating that the majority of you (customers) only seem to be using a modest slice of the software you have acquired. If there really is no business value to you from an upgrade and you have to spend money from a licensing perspective, let’s have a conversation... If you are not leveraging the Business Process Platform or NetWeaver as a starting point I feel you are missing something. It is essential to leverage it."
Frustration works both ways. It's up to SAP to get up close and personal - not for customers to second guess. At a deeper level, SAP has to convince its customers that upgrading brings innovation that adds value. Simply repeating that technical innovation is a good thing may keep developers happy but it's a hard sell in the boardroom - where the checks get authorized.