SAP's wasted passion

The passion surrounding SAP never fails to amaze me. Call them stodgy, old fashioned and all the other un-cool, un-hip expressions that would be eschewed by those bestowing glory on new market entrants but passion is one thing you cannot take away from SAP.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

The passion surrounding SAP never fails to amaze me. Call them stodgy, old fashioned and all the other un-cool, un-hip expressions that would be eschewed by those bestowing glory on new market entrants but passion is one thing you cannot take away from SAP. I would argue that SAP passion is unique in the apps market. How do I know this?

In the last year I've lost count the number of ex-SAP employees who express anger, bitterness and frustration at what they see as a great company sliding into decay. Those kinds of expression (along with details of the cure) do not come from people who could care less. It comes  from the kind of commitment that is only possible when you're really passionate about something. I don't see that at any other software vendor. Or at least I don't see the depth and breadth that I do at SAP.

Inside SAP related discussion groups, topics of interest draw deep thinking and analysis. Inside the partner ecosystem, inventiveness of the kind that otherwise languishes inside SAP Labs is being iterated day by day. Why would you expend the energy unless you have a passion for something?

Internal to the company's ecosystem there are many examples of people who are insanely passionate about SAP. If that wasn't the case then it's hard to see how the company would be able to tap into an army of volunteers that day in and day out answer great, complex, simple and dumb ass questions on the SAP Community Network. That army now total 2 million registered on the SAP Community Network. They get almost zero financial reward  - unless they get a promotion as a result of their contributions to SCN - yet they continue to plug away, solving problems from which SAP benefits. Examples include:

  • reduced support cost,
  • ideation and
  • contributions, however small to product and market development.

They are SAP's unsung (and largely unappreciated in my opinion) heroes.

It is rare for one of that group to speak publicly. Most often they go off and do something different. I know of several that are cooking away in the background. An exception is Caroline Olsen who has chosen to speak out. She's been speaking out for some years, acting as what she sees as 'Leo's Conscience.' For those not familiar, that would be Leo Apotheker, former CEO who decided that re-sharing the CEO role was one piece of oversight too far.

Caroline's blog is mostly in French which for me adds spice to her writing. Language is a beautiful thing and French makes even the most mundane sound interesting. But it is her passion of having been in and around the SAP ecosystem since 1994 that comes through loud and clear. The image at the top of this post is illustrative of her wit. The post from which it comes makes these scything points:

During the last 3 years, I have spent most of my time and energy trying to make the SAP corporate strategy focused on the customer.

This has been an impossible mission, because at SAP, the meaning of customer relationship is completely misunderstood.

On the other hand, most SAP customers no longer care about their relationship with SAP… It’s not about the software, it’s all about the people.

Is this true? Maybe. Here are three small and recent examples from my own dealings with SAP:

  1. The company is snail like in its ability to move forward. Decisions related to things that some of us think would benefit SAP's ecosystem and customers take forever, if they get made at all.
  2. Global marketing has little understanding about customers, instead continuing at attempts to control its message. Authenticity? Well yes. But only when it happens outside of marketing's direct control or by accident.
  3. Ham handed attempts to 'influence' people without doing basic research. That has to come from poor training inside the company or a continuation in the belief that SAP owns opinion about itself.

Of themselves these are relatively small things but they irritate and grate. The worst thing is that in dealing with the company, you just know that everything is going to take far longer than necessary. That means cost...which customers end up funding. It is a significant contributor to the broad belief that SAP is expensive.

Co-CEO's Jim Snabe and Bill MeDermott are promising a new SAP. They're promising a new relationship with customers and employees. Nothing much said about partners....hmmm. Internally the inevitable blood letting that occurs following the departure of a CEO is ongoing. People are hunkering down and in some parts of the business that means a reinforcement of 'jobsworth' attitudes. Among the dross, a few fine people I know have been let go. Not a good sign but inevitable in a large company. Everyone I know who has any length of a relationship with SAP has an opinion on what should happen next. Many of those opinions are well thought out and cut to the heart of SAP's malaise.

What they're all missing is a discussion around how SAP harnesses the passion of the Caroline's of this world. Work on that and things could change dramatically.

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