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SAP has not listened to users, says CEO, as he renews focus on customers

Bill McDermott gives out email for unhappy customers and commits to sharing roadmaps

SAP has failed to listen to its customers for too long, according to its CEO, who has committed "heart and soul" to hearing what they have to say.

Bill McDermott offered his email address for unhappy users to contact him after using the company's annual conference in Orlando, SAP Sapphire Now, to admit it has not done a good enough job of addressing customer needs.

Speaking about a recent meeting with CIOs, McDermott said: "They told me basically we weren't empathetic enough, we just weren't listening, we weren't hearing their problems in their terms on a consistent enough basis."

He pledged to put things right starting at the conference, sharing roadmaps for key products and learning more about customers' own IT journeys.

"We have to know more about your business, we have to care more about your business," McDermott said. "Everything is an imperfect situation but if the heart and the soul is totally committed to the customer and the customer's customer, you know we'll get it right."

The CEO concluded by giving out his email for dissatisfied customers to share their grievances with him, saying: "If you're not feeling the love, and what happens in Sapphire doesn't happen back at your city, your country, your location with your business,, I want to hear from you."

Customers welcomed the belated admission, though organisations like the UK & Ireland SAP User Group have maintained for years that SAP must do more to work with customers.

Chairman Philip Adams told IT Pro: "It is encouraging to hear that SAP has acknowledged that it hasn't listened well enough to its customers.

"We have said for a quite a while, that if customers are to fully realise the benefits of SAP's product portfolio they need to understand the company's roadmap and strategy. Without this clarity, it is difficult for organisations to build an attractive business case to adopt SAP's latest innovations."

A study this month from the user group found that customers are confused about SAP's cloud strategy, with one-third of 100 respondents saying they did not know what the HANA Cloud Platform is.

Meanwhile, 60 per cent accused SAP of not communicating the benefits of its cloud products well enough, while nearly half said they did not understand how SAP's line-of-business cloud acquisitions, like SuccessFactors, Ariba, Fieldglass and Concur, fit into its strategy.

The user group's vice-chairman, Paul Cooper, said: "The thing for me is as a customer is yes I want to hear the vendor talking about it and where it's going and what it will do for me, but then I also want to hear from the user about the difficulties and the good points and when they realise the benefits. It's the customer journey that people want to hear about."

McDermott made it clear that he understood these concerns on stage this week, saying: "That big picture vision [of SAP's strategy] is powerful but it only becomes really when we make it real for you."

Under his leadership, SAP is beginning to address this by opening up the roadmap for a key product, S/4 HANA, its ERP software suite.

The on-premise and cloud product has proved very successful since its launch last year, collecting 3,200 customers, but McDermott admitted it had shot "a little fast out of the gates" before SAP had fully outlined its development roadmap.

As a result, SAP launched a Value Assurance Guarantee for S/4 yesterday, designed to help companies implement S/4 by giving them a roadmap for software and data migration.

In addition, SAP will assign a technical account manager to guide people through the implementation, while SAP partners like Wipro, Accenture, Ernst & Young and Deloitte are also signed up to the value assurance agreement.

McDermott told IT Pro in a separate discussion: "I don't think we were simple enough in the way we reported the roadmap and actually took people through a Lego approach you know, level one, two, three, and four to get to the finish line. We were talking like an engineering company and we were moving fast."

Ray Wang, analyst and founder of Constellation Research, told IT Pro the renewed focus on customers' concerns was part of SAP's plans to move more towards adopting its HANA Cloud Platform and other cloud products.

"SAP is trying to do a better job of listening," he said. "It's trying to move its customer base into the digital age and part one is to move them to the cloud. Part two is HANA Cloud Platform."

The platform lets users extend SAP applications into the cloud by working with partners to develop them to suit their specific needs.

For instance, users can now use the platform to extend S/4, working with partners to add functionality and deliver it to tablets and smartphones.

HCM tool SuccessFactors also got an extension package in HANA Cloud Platform this week, speeding up the process of integrating it with other business processes and apps built on the platform.

A new service on the platform dubbed SAP API Business Hub, currently in beta, helps businesses with that process of integrating various applications by letting users search for available business services and publish new business services, providing APIs for them all.

Once more customers have gone through the process of digital transformation, McDermott wants to offer more cutting-edge services to them in the next decade, such as AI and machine learning.

"Machine learning, AI, augmented reality. That's our wheelhouse because intelligent applications will fundamentally change the way you do work in the enterprise and the way you collaborate with your training partners outside the enterprise," he said.

For an example of how that works now, COO Christian Klein demonstrated a product called the Digital Boardroom to show how big data can create insights that inform decisions.

Taking data from the S/4 platform, it also pulls in data from external sources, such as analyst predictions and stock market information, crunching it all in SAP's Cloud for Analytics.

Constellation Research's Wang said such innovations will help customers get on board with SAP's digital agenda, saying: "Customers need to see SAP as innovative and the digital boardroom demo helped."

The UK and Ireland User Group encouraged members to try and influence SAP's roadmap by joining the company's Customer Connection Program. 

"With SAP's product portfolio constantly evolving it is important that customers provide input to ensure their business requirements are being met," said chairman Adams.

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