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Bob Evans
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Global CIO: SAP's Last Chance: It's The Customers, Stupid!

SAP will fix its technology, but its entire future depends on whether it can fix how it views and treats its customers.

UPDATE: Since you're interested in SAP, you might want to check out our newest column, "An Open Letter To SAP Chairman Hasso Plattner".

So Sunday SAP ousted its CEO, replaced him with two co-CEOs, revitalized the role of cofounder and chairman Hasso Plattner, promoted their CTO to their Executive Board, vowed to take full advantage of imminent and radical changes in enterprise-computing technology, promised to make its employees happy once again, and pledged to rebuild trust with customers.

And it all won't be worth a hill of beans unless SAP can make that last part come true: regain the trust of customers who feel SAP has become aloof, arrogant, fat, slow, overpriced, behind the times, and incapable of delivering breakthrough ideas and transformative technologies.

So it was that over the past couple of months, co-founder and chairman Plattner reinserted himself into the company's top-level operations and came to several conclusions:

--SAP has failed to focus with sufficient intensity on fresh technologies such as cloud computing.

--SAP has failed to look into or understand the mindset of any but their top 100 customers

--SAP has failed to develop and execute rapidly on a strategy for the next decade

--SAP has failed to organize and inspire its employee base toward common objectives, goals, and purposes.

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Did Plattner use those exact words? He certainly did not—in fact, I'm pretty sure he didn't say "failed" even once. But let's be very clear about the magnitude of these changes: Plattner didn't orchestrate the ouster of CEO Leo Apotheker and all the other executive moves because he was bored, and he opened his comments to analysts and media by recalling how long it had been since he was in such a hands-on capacity at the company: "Long time no see—the last time was exactly seven years ago that I was sitting in this room for a telephone conference with you."

No, Plattner jumped back into the fire because he more than anyone else sees how badly SAP has lost its way in the market, has lost its ability to clearly and credibly communicate its strategic intent to the market, has lost the goodwill of many of its customers, and has lost the vibrant internal spirit so essential to a world-leading global company that expects to be able to succeed in one of the most challenging and demanding markets on the planet.

I'll get to some of Plattner's most-important comments in just a moment—and I'd encourage you all to read my colleague Doug Henschen's excellent analysis of the SAP announcements—but first let me offer a few thoughts on what Plattner should focus on with immense intensity. And these have to do not with SAP's development processes or its new-product features but rather its customers, and their expectations of SAP, and their sense of SAP's commitment to them:

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