When I started writing this, I'm was sitting ensconced in a chair at the Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Studios in Orlando FL. I was at Universal Studios once while at a Lotus Notes conference. Lotus "bought" the night and opened the amusement park up for free rides for all attendees. I took the one that they flip you high in the air and then let it free fall roughly 10 zillion feet.
I was much safer where I was - in my hotel room at 5:AM writing this, bleary, dull brained, legs moving under me somewhat restlessly, but anxious to pen this entry because of what I'm doing here.
Now I'm home but at the time I was at the 2007 SAP CRM conference along with roughly 900 others - 150 SAP and 750 customers and prospects.
I gotta hand it to SAP. These really are customers, not the usual big contingent of consultants looking for work or overzealous IT guys looking for deep SOA knowledge - though there are a LOT of IT guys here. But what makes the makeup interesting is that they really are from SAP customers - not IT project dudes or dudesses who are hoping to latch on to something....SAPish....as they do "networking."
SAP hired me to meet with their key VIP clients - I met with 11 all told, plus I was co-host at a delightful event that was held at Don Shula's in Orlando on Monday night with SAP and its key clients - about 40 of 'em. They did it right. Up to an including giving out a small token of appreciation - actually two of them - my book, CRM at the Speed of Light and a this thing from Mont Blanc that while I'm not sure what it was exactly, it was silver and said Mont Blanc and was pretty. Maybe a money clip? Update: turns out to be a bookmark. Still pretty.
Doesn't matter. I won't be using either of them - I read my book already and don't need to mark pages of anything I can think of. But the gesture was baby grand.
In any case, these are just a little color for what I really want to say.
SAP is doing some remarkable things.
No one knows about them.
Ergo, they aren't doing these remarkable things as far as most of the world is concerned.
In fact, as far as the business world is concerned, SAP is an 800 pound gorilla.
As far as I'm concerned, they are this:
Yes, secretly, they are THAT nimble and smart. But only their labs (literally) know this.
Here's a great examples
The keynotes Monday were given by Michael De La Cruz, SVP and Eric Rantal, the new, charismatic as in friendly charismatic VP of North American Sales, etc. for SAP. While they both are highly articulate men and present well, unfortunately, the messaging they were told to present was about a hundred years old.
Here it is:
CRM is not a technology. Its all about the customer.
Yikes. Groan. That's so EIGHT years ago.
The irony is that the keynote presenters are young, experienced, hip guys who do "get it." But they're constrained by what "corporate" tells them to present. It ain't their call, which is too bad, because my conversations with Eric Ranta tell me that SAP picked the right guy to replace Cathy Rheiner there.
I wasn't alone in my thinking about the theme.
The consistent refrain that I heard from customers, partners, and SAP personnel was that the theme of "all about the customer" wasn't something they wanted to say or hear. Not a technology they know already too. They were looking for something fresh and new - something that told them that SAP was a "happn'in' organization." They didn't hear that but they still respected SAP as well they should. SAP needs to be respected for being the old gentleman it is.
The funny thing is that that the presentations, while tactical and mostly technical were excellent by and large. It was a good conference, actually, thanks to the drivers on the CRM side like Mary Cauwels, one of SAP's unsung heroes in marketing. I attended one done by Kelly Morris of the Defense Logistics Agency, a CRM program I've had some involvement with and she did a great job on how far that program had come. Gerhard Friedrich of RWD did an excellent job looking at performance management techniques to be used in the implementation of CRM programs.
These were good presentations.
But the problem is that the whole conference was entirely tactical and it WAS about technology.
That's the SAP Insider influence.
Yet SAP is a leading innovator and spends zillions of research dollars on innovation. You just don't know it.
They are so timid about their innovation, this is the extent of the recent public record - an article in Information Week on Feb 26.
Hard to dull up an exciting thing that they're doing but they did it with that announcement.
Lets take a quick peek at how innovative they really are:
Behind the Music
First, take a look at this article in CRM Buyer in January 2007 on what SAP is doing. There are two salient points. SAP is opening up much of its code to its partners and developers and even some to "the community" so that they can innovate with their products. Also, they have developed a "smart" search engine technology that understands the semantic web a helluva lot better than Google does. So if you type in Paul Greenberg, CRM, it won't just find "Paul" and "Greenberg" and "CRM" and then weigh relative value of the connectivity, it will treat the three terms as a semantic phrase and look for the structured and unstructured data about the CRM guy, Paul Greenberg . So its non-linear and semantic, not linear and filled with Google sand for weight. And they are finally pulling it out from behind their strictly internal firewall and letting it be sold. Smart move.
Second, check this out. They have been talking with a number of Web 2.0 companies as potential strategic partners and have been in collaboration with some of them at least as demonstrators of integration between SAP and the company. So for example, here's a report of a demo that was given by Zoho, one of my Steppin' Out finalists, in what looks to be Bangalore on Zoho/SAP integration. That hasn't stopped with Zoho. They are actively seeking out other core partners in the 2.0 space because they understand that finding and offering tools for customer collaboration is the mission-critical mission (critically) for CRM companies and enterprise applications leaders in 2007.
Which is more than I can say for the rest of the industry at this point. With a few exceptions that you'll read about in these pages in weeks to come. The ones that are doing that are the objects of my lust. The ones that aren't are the objects of my scorn.
But you wouldn't know even these little tidbits about SAP would you? Because they don't do the branding that moves them from sounding highly competent, useful and tired to energetic, exciting and highly competent and useful.
SAP, consider this tough love. Get out there and do what I tell you.