The SAP CRM Story: 18 Years In The Making – Is It Finally Right?

Earlier today, at SAPPHIRE (their annual show for and with customers), SAP released C4/HANA, their final attempt at getting the CRM story right.

In short, if they would’ve used this storyline back in the mid-2000s, SAP would’ve likely become a key player and potentially even the leader after the acquisition of Siebel + PeopleSoft.  Today? Too late, sorry.  The idea that experiences must be designed and managed by the company, the concept of the cloud being optional, their lack of understanding of IoT, BlockChain, and AI other than to call them cool technologies, but more importantly – their outright dismissal of the job the CIO needs to do over the next 2-5 years as they prep the enterprise platform – all these lead me to say, nope.  Not ready yet.

There were some good points made, and some good improvements to the story they will tell – and some of those points can even mean adoption from their customer base for SAP C4/HANA.  Even then, their story is dated and not really focused well.  They are missing the mark as to what the market wants today and what CIOs have been put in charge of building over the next decade.  Maybe the message resonates with their customers – and that’s great, just like with Oracle and their growth in installed implementations – but it does not resonate with what is being sought by the majority of the market.

Things  I liked:

  • C4/HANA as a separate platform covering front office (decoupling them means they can improve them separately)
  • The concepts of Demand Chain and Supply Chain and how they come together (end-to-end experiences, finally)
  • The idea, not the implementation, behind the Intelligent Suite (it’s all about the data, not the technology used)
  • Their understanding, finally, of end-to-end experiences
  • Their understanding of data privacy (on paper, but will see how it goes – I am sure GDPR helped)
  • The concept of ME2B (if marketing wants to take a concept for a discussion and a spin, this is the one)
  • The fresh approach to their tech stack (still missing pieces, but finally structured as separate offerings)
    • AI (Leonardo)
    • Apps (Total Workforce, E2E)
    • SCM (S4/HANA)
    • CRM (C4/HANA)
    • Platform (HANA + SAP Cloud)
    • DB (HANA)

Things I cringed at:

  • Data sharing, not exchange (I — no, can’t even)
  • Managed experiences under the control of the enterprise (customers manage their own experiences, based on infrastructure the enterprise provides them)
  • eCommerce as part of the core CRM Suite (it’s a commoditized platform function, not an application for crying out loud)
  • Leonardo going from an AI “solution” to a catch-all of new technologies (I — no, can’t even)
  • The very, very poor adoption rates for S4/HANA and HANA overall (they gave numbers, incredibly low after the time they spent building that… wow)
  • Their insistence of “running in the cloud” where the vast majority of their clients don’t or can’t (I — no, can’t even)
  • Ariba (I mean, have you ever used it????)
  • No Code / Low Code – not in their storyline, only SAP or partners can build applications (I am sure that’s not 100% true, but it was presented like that)

To cap it off, there were many other people who have done a more superb job at covering this event – I’d refer you to Diginomica for sure to get an excellent coverage of it, I will say that I really liked something Rob Enslin said on stage:

People who care about intelligence build their own platform and build apps on top of that platform.

That, that — that shows he (SAP?) gets the idea of what a platform can and should do.  If they could just align their products better behind that spirit.

Disclosure: I have been working with SAP and their CRM solution since 2001-2002 or so, very often at a high level of frustration since we vehemently disagree on what CRM was, should be, and customers wanted.  Their CRM story had, from the beginning, been very aligned with their customers’ needs and their ability to maintain SAP R/3 and the rest of the ERP functioning efficiently.  Needless to say, a heavy focus on the back office does not equate a good solution for the front office (and SAP was not along in that world until they acquired Siebel + PeopleSoft, Oracle was as lagging as SAP was – but with different challenges).

Mind you, SAP had some very interesting technologies at play (I wrote about it when I wrote about the SAP Dichotomy), but no ability to tell a good story for CRM.  For them, it was simply functionality and they had it – how come I didn’t see that?  Their functionality may have been there in basic form, but the product was not good.  And I told them, many times – sometimes in not very polite terms (mea culpa).

Now you know where I come from.  I never expected, still don’t for the most part, SAP to understand the differences between running front office and back office software efficiently.

At different points, Oracle and SAP were customers and we had several disagreements.  PeopleSoft and Siebel were customers, and we had strongly worded disagreements as well, while I was at Gartner.  I also have many other customers, some are competitors to SAP, some are not – but none of that matters.  My opinions are mine and mine alone and will stand behind them and in front them at any time.  They are not commissioned or requested or paid off by anyone.  I and I alone think what I wrote above.

I don’t expect to become friends with SAP again anytime soon, nor Oracle.

4 thoughts on “The SAP CRM Story: 18 Years In The Making – Is It Finally Right?

  1. Nice post, Esteban. I had a few similar thoughts, but you’ve got much more history with SAP (and CRM generally) than I do. I’ll send you my post separately, so I don’t look like I’m peeing on your post. 😉

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