SAP Ariba: The ERP giant's startup-like testbed

With over 85,200 employees in more than 130 countries, SAP is treating its Ariba business like a startup within the greater beast.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

When Alexander Atzberger took on the role of president of SAP Ariba about two years ago, he told SAP CEO Bill McDermott he wanted to make Ariba a role model for the rest of the company.

At Sapphire Now in Orlando this month, the enterprise software giant launched SAP Leonardo, a digital innovation system that combines software capabilities in machine learning, the Internet of Things, big data, analytics, and blockchain.

"This partnership is focused on Ariba today, but when it's successful and when we show what we can do for our customers, it can absolutely also become a template or role model for other parts of the business," Atzberger told ZDNet.

"Hopefully at the next Sapphire we can say these things were successful and now we can do them in other parts of the business."

While Ariba is a part of the greater SAP company, it is seen as its own business with a remit that differs to the rest of the organisation.

"I manage SAP Ariba as a startup inside the larger SAP and then obviously I also want people to know we're not just 4,500 people at Ariba, were actually part of 85,000 people to serve the customer better," he explained.

"For the customer, it's important to see that you are just as urgent and as focused on their needs as a startup."

He likened his passion to the ownership mentality present within a startup.

"I always tell my team, we need to win the customer's heart even without SAP," Atzberger said. "We also have the ability to work with customers of massive size that we would otherwise not have the ability to do."

ERP in the cloud: The 'Holy Grail'

SAP also announced the expansion of its Cloud Platform at Sapphire Now to offer a multicloud environment, integrating with Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud.

When discussing the new partnerships and additions to its S4/HANA cloud offering, SAP CTO Bjorn Goerke said the announcements were made in response to the notion that we are currently living in a time of accelerated change; a time where software is eating the world and everything will be digitised.

"Every company -- large and small -- needs to constantly adapt and reinvent itself to stay competitive. Embracing constant change and the willingness for continuous learning are the new norm for the 21st century workforce," he said.

"Business agility and speed become imperatives for success, and customers are looking for ways to accelerate the delivery of innovative solutions that provide an engaging and seamless customer experience, all without disrupting their core business processes."

Speaking with ZDNet, Sebastian Moore, CEO of Plaut IT, a Sydney-based SAP services partner, said a lot of companies in Australia are making decisions around a cloud-first approach, pointing to the adoption of SAP's S4/HANA cloud in the Australia and New Zealand region, particularly in the area of manufacturing.

"The holy grail has been ERP in the cloud," he said. "ERP is a product that is ready to be run in the cloud."

He said it's not a trend specific to Australia, rather it is unique to markets like Australia.

"We're seeing a much greater appetite to adopt cloud in general in Australia than what we're seeing in many other markets," ‎SAP S/4HANA Cloud president Darren Roos added, noting he is witnessing a much quicker shift from on-premises to the cloud in Australia driven by line of business applications, and the desire for local companies to go global.

"It is really impossible for companies to compete with on-premise technology in a cloud world -- it just won't work."

Roos explained that Australia is a very important market to the German giant, and said SAP has a record of being successful in the country.

"We're a €20-something billion company and letting a market the size of ANZ go is not an option, so we continue to invest heavily into that market from an S4/HANA cloud perspective," he said.

Disclosure: Asha Barbaschow travelled to Sapphire Now as a guest of SAP.

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