Global CIO: SAP's Sweeping Turnaround: Exclusive Co-CEO Interview
Vowing to create "people-centric software," SAP's retooling for greatly accelerated development, deployments, and time to value, says Jim Hagemann Snabe.
"As we spend more time with our customers and users, we notice that while competitiveness of products used to be all about features and functions, it is now focused very much on consumability, consistency, and usability," said Snabe in one of his first interviews since taking the co-CEO job in February.
"We had become too bureaucratic, with too many boundary conditions—now, instead of trying to force all of our work through central planning, we are allocating people to strategic issues, which yields iteration and speed of innovation that's significantly different: our developers can now spend more time doing rather than planning."
That sort of approach was wildly out of sync with the new mindset among customers—noted in the set of short comments from Snabe at the top of this column—that has taken hold since the onset in late 2008 of the global economic downturn: "Large enterprises have begun to prefer simplicity to perfection."
It also mirrors many of the new design initiatives Oracle is undertaking with its new Fusion applications, slated to become available on a phased-in rollout throughout 2011: a focus on modern interfaces and social capabilities, a mandate to mask complexity behind ease of use, and a realization that software written with technical specialists in mind is doomed to fail in the information-rich and deeply collaborative business world of today and beyond.
Big global companies—as well as mid-size enterprises—simply no longer have the time and staffs to wallow through a multiyear SAP project jammed with endless analyses of every possible combination and permutation and feature and sub-feature and option. So today, instead of looking for SAP to help them boil the ocean, Snabe said, CIOs are now looking for rapid but high-impact improvements in driving revenue, creating products, and squeezing out unnecessary costs.
"For us to truly become relevant to customers, we need to turn that around and understand their business first and then offer solutions that solve business problems," Snabe said. . . . . With 107,000 customers and all that knowledge, how can we bring to the discussion best practices that put our customers at the level of the best in class by using our software in a particular way? Instead of relying on consultants, we should come in the door with that type of knowledge."
Two moves the company is making today to convert those plans into reality include an organizational shift that elevates the SAP executive in charge of its value-engineering efforts to head of corporate strategy, and also a product rollout that typifies the accelerated and more-flexible profile SAP wants to adopt.
On the management side, SAP has promotes senior vice president Chakib Bouhdary to corporate head of strategy, removing the "interim" qualifier that had been part of his title for a while. As leader of SAP's value-engineering program, Bouhdary has been heading up an extremely valuable asset within SAP that I, over the past year, have said can become a source of huge customer value and competitive advantage for SAP.
And here's an example from the product side: with its on-demand products gaining some traction in the market, SAP is announcing today that its Business ByDesign on-demand products will become the foundation that large enterprises can use for blending on-demand line-of-business extensions into existing on-premise enterprises, and that partners can use to create industry-specific solutions.
Slated to become available sometime next year, these extensions will help SAP "focus on fulfilling the varying business demands of customers of all sizes," a press release says. One of those on-demand line-of-business solutions for large enterprises is SAP Sales OnDemand, which will be rolled out today and helps large enterprises in "managing their customer relationships and sales cycles on-demand, with seamless integration with their on-premise ERP core," the company said.
Those two examples of SAP's new focus, Hagemann Snabe said, reflect the company's commitment to offering great technology as table stakes while also significantly raising its bet that it can also "take responsibility for business outcomes with the customer."
Tell me now—does that sound the SAP you grew up with?