SAP Sapphire: Facing 'consumer revolution,' McDermott tacks toward innovation

At the closing keynote presentation of Day 1 of SAP's Sapphire Now confab in Orlando, co-CEO Bill McDermott repositions the company as a partner for business innovation.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor on

ORLANDO, Fla. -- At the closing keynote for day one of SAP's Sapphire Now conference here, co-CEO Bill McDermott stepped out into the inky darkness of the sprawling stage, looked into a sea of 10,000 faces staring back at him, and began proselytizing.

"A revolution is underway," he said. "It's a consumer revolution that's remaking the entire landscape."

He stopped. Took a step to his right. Peered into more inky darkness.

"It's a revolution led by billions of individuals and business consumers everywhere, from the world's established to just-emerging purchasing and earning classes."


"Right now more people own mobile phones than toothbrushes."


"If you're 18 to 24, you're far more likely to have a smartphone than a job."


"Three quarters of all companies have a bring your own device policy."


"There are already 3 billion social media profiles online, soon to surpass e-mail accounts."


"In the U.S. alone, companies store enough data each year to store 10,000 Libraries of Congress."


"Cycles of innovation are telescoping. For every five years, we now have a 15-month cycle. It's gone down that much."

The trends of mobility and consumerization have hit enterprises hard and fast, McDermott said. Executives have to reinvent their business models and rethink their consumer experiences. Inspired enterprises can "move and use technology for the greater speed of the future," he said. "In these times of seismic change, there is a seismic opportunity for us all: the opportunity to power the economy while empowering [society]."

"Business has a chance to spur widespread productivity and growth," far beyond enterprise borders, he said. "We can take the consumer, customer experience to a remarkable next level."

Another step.

"We believe SAP is a platform destination for partnering and collaborating, so together we can innovate in this new consumer revolution," he said. "We can lead the intelligent economy."


The keynote presentation had three distinct sections: first, McDermott's address to his constituents; second, a fireside chat between him and MSNBC "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski; and a roundtable discussion with customers.

During his address, McDermott sought to reaffirm the company's position as a partner for business innovation. But during his interview with Brzezinski, McDermott sought to connect that high-flying mission with its actions on the ground.

Their talk was chatty, wide-ranging, nonlinear and occasionally amusing -- a bubbly Brzezinski professed such attraction to McDermott's hair that she eventually stood up to touch it -- but McDermott did say a few things of interest.

The highlights:

  • "We felt it was really important to connect to this consumer revolution." The consumer wants speed, simplicity, personalization.
  • "You have to dream, but you also have to eat." That dream was to double the company by 2015.
  • SAP has 196,000 customers in 24 different industries, all over world.
  • "Our goals are completely reliant on the customer achieving their goals. It's all about business outcome."
  • Technology is like cholesterol -- there's a good kind and a bad kind. It's not always good to load up on tech unnecessarily.
  • Citing work done to customer Harley-Davidson's plant in York, PA: "They export freedom. That's their vision."
  • Citing luxury apparel company Burberry, also a customer: "They want to create a digital experience for their consumer that's unlike any other." When you walk into a store, it should know who you are, your purchasing behavior, et cetera. "If I know you, really know you, then I can take care of you in a way that no one else can."
  • SAP is all about "keeping the trains running on time."
  • On policy: "Politicians need to get out of the way to get better tax policies in place…so the cash comes off the sidelines."
  • On technology: "We're going to expand the HANA workforce globally at tremendous rates."
  • On jobs and the economy: "If you innovate, you'll run into new markets and consumers to serve."
  • "I sit in boardrooms all the time where CEOs said, 'Gee, I've been buying things from that supplier for a long time. I never thought we could partner with them [in a different way].' "
  • "The world is going to want to consume everything on a mobile device, whether you like it or not."


Interested in the final part of the presentation? It was too much to put here, so we moved it to another post. Read on!

Photo: Tom Raftery

Editorial standards