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3/2/2010
08:04 AM
Bob Evans
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Global CIO: SAP's Weakness Is Customer Execution, Exec Says

But that view's different from Chairman Plattner's, who recently said innovation's been lacking. What's the real issue for SAP?

Telling a roomful of investors that SAP has stumbled in driving its technology innovations "through to completion into the market with satisfied and successful end users," executive vice-president Doug Merritt said SAP is brimming with innovative and visionary people but has been unable to fully exploit that innovation at the customer level.

In these days of deep SAP introspection that have led to the CEO losing his job, the co-founder and chairman reasserting considerable control and promising to make employees happy once again, and the naming of two new co-CEOs, Merritt's analysis of SAP's doldrums did not exactly square with with that offered last month by chairman Hasso Plattner.

That's perhaps neither here nor there, as all big global companies are certainly made up of strong-willed leaders who think independently, but it's an ongoing indication that what SAP might need rather urgently is version of a remedy it regularly offers to its biggest clients: a single version of the truth.

As SAP battles to return to the type of vigorous growth that has marked almost all of its 34 years, the company's top executives need to settle on what ails the company and what steps they are taking to restore it to full health. It's hardly inspiring to customers evaluating multimillion-dollar and decade-long commitments to see different executives describe the company in significantly different ways.

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A few weeks ago, chairman Plattner fingered a lack of innovation—or, at least the need to deliver simultaneously both innovation and profits—as SAP's primary problem. In response to a question about balancing innovation and profits, Plattner said this:

"We cannot say we let it go on the margin side, despite some German politicians who are quite fancy to tell us we, uh, don't have to be in this race of the U.S.-style capitalism. We have to!" Plattner said.

"We cannot say we will push back innovation for a year or two—that could kill the company. So we have to do it simultaneously and this is the objective not only for the management but the objective for the whole company: to be totally aligned behind this strategy."

But Merritt, in a Q&A sessison at last week's Goldman Sachs tech-investors' conference, said that the only problem SAP might have with regard to innovation is that it might have too many blue-water thinkers:

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