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5/12/2009
07:51 PM
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SAP CEO Seeking 'Clarity' With Customers

Leo Apotheker is intent on balancing the demand for lower prices and more value on one side, and shareholders anxious over declining profits and revenue on the other.

Next week, Leo Apotheker becomes the sole CEO at SAP during one of the most difficult times in the software company's history.

SAP sits in the middle of a recessionary tug-of-war, with customers demanding lower prices and more value on one side, and shareholders anxious over declining profits and revenue on the other.

So who will win? Apotheker, in a sit-down interview with InformationWeek on Tuesday during the company's annual Sapphire Conference, said he's intent on balancing the needs of his constituents. He spoke about the need to evolve SAP's culture to get closer to customers, which stems from his nontechnical background in marketing and sales.

He'll also apply at SAP a best practice known as lean software development, which is intended to make the company operate more efficiently and get employees working closer with customers.

"What we're trying to do is make sure SAP goes to the next level of its evolution," Apotheker said. "If you look back in time, we started out in automating back-office functions. I think SAP today is all about enabling clarity and enabling transformation of business, which takes us into a whole different category of applications."

On that word "clarity," Apotheker was following script. Clarity is central to a new marketing slogan at SAP that goes something like this: Customers that use SAP technologies get clarity about what's happening in their businesses.

On the product side, clarity translates into a new offering for enterprise search and business intelligence that SAP announced Tuesday, called SAP Business Objects Explorer. It's designed to let nontechnical employees search large amounts of data within their organizations using natural-language questions and keywords, and get results back within a few seconds. They can then view that data, and compare it with other rapidly retrieved data, using bar graphs and pie charts.

The product is a combination of the Polestar user interface developed by SAP's Business Objects business; SAP's in-memory database, BW Accelerator; and the SAP-developed T-Rex search engine.

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