The following guest perspective was authored by Joshua Greenbaum, Principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting.

As I recently reflected in a story for Diginomica, I’ve been on the SAP conference circuit perhaps a little too much this year—but was looking forward to attending three days of ASUG Tech Connect in New Orleans all the same. As tired as I was, the event looked promising enough to forego another few nights at home. I’m happy to say that the bet paid off.

Though I’ll share plenty of highlights from ASUG’s first edition of this conference, it’s worth starting at the very beginning. On day one, 20 minutes before the event’s opening keynote was to begin, I sat down with a cup of tea at one of the tables outside the main keynote stage and quickly found myself in conversation with a customer who was new to SAP—and new to ASUG. His company was starting a long journey toward SAP S/4HANA from a legacy ERP running on an IBM AS/400. Needless to say, he had a lot of questions. It was also, needless to say, a fascinating discussion.

Fifteen minutes later, I was standing in the keynote theater, clapping along to a local gospel choir’s rendition of Pharrell Williams’ 2014 hit “Happy,” along with 700 or so of my new best friends. Another 15 minutes passed, and a representative from a major ASUG member based in Redmond, WA was on stage with ASUG CEO Geoff Scott and Juergen Mueller, Chief Technology Officer for SAP, discussing how his company uses essentially one of everything from SAP—from SAP S/4HANA and SAP Integrated Business Planning to SAP SuccessFactors—to run their operations.

And with that, ASUG Tech Connect was under way.

That ASUG member, of course, was Microsoft, and on stage was none other than Scott Guthrie, Executive Vice President of Cloud and AI. While these three held the audience’s attention discussing AI innovations such as SAP’s vector database engine and its generative AI assistant Joule, and Microsoft’s plans to build out its GPU processing capacity in Azure, what struck me most in retrospect was that, while AI was a hot topic that showed up in plenty of sessions, it was far from the only subject on the minds of attendees.

ASUG Tech Connect attracted an audience that came to learn about the practicalities of implementing SAP S/4HANA, SAP Business Technology Platform, and other SAP technologies—to learn how to leverage these technologies in the real world, where not every customer is running wall-to-wall SAP, diligently keeping systems up to date with the latest releases, and eager to jump full-bore into a RISE contract as soon as possible.

In fact, while AI was a topic of discussion throughout the conference, I found via a show of hands at “Decoding SAP”—my interactive session with Jon Reed, Co-Founder of Diginomica—that SAP S/4HANA was a much more important topic to the majority of attendees, at least those at our session, than anything AI-related.

The complexity of what SAP customers are up against in planning their moves to the cloud was evident in how attendees at ASUG Tech Connect focused on those details that don’t always get discussed from the keynote stage at SAP Sapphire or TechEd. This was particularly clear from how frequently we heard questions about the availability of specific features.

How well, for example, does SAP BTP function in a high-availability environment? Not well enough, according to one customer who presented to a standing-room-only audience, as everyone leaned in. Even as this customer noted he’d been assured by SAP that improvements are expected soon, it was clear that everyone in the audience for whom this topic resonated knew to ask about it the next time they talked to their SAP representatives.

Is SAP Datasphere ready for prime time? Another customer—a business intelligence (BI) expert and SAP newcomer—told me that he came to ASUG Tech Connect to see whether a specific BI use case could be handled by Datasphere, which he’d heard described as a panacea for all things data. While it turned out that the features he needed were “in the roadmap” and not yet generally available, he explained that the expected release date for these features would likely work, considering his project’s timetable. As such, he was happy he’d made the trek to New Orleans and went off to kick the tires on another session and get some of his other SAP-related questions answered.

Some other highlights: I heard a lot from customers running SAP S/4HANA in either managed private cloud or on-premises systems about the problems they’re having with staying up to date on SAP S/4HANA release cycles, and even more about what a pain it is for SAP to support them. It was no surprise that attendees listened closely to one customer’s presentation about the significant ROI he’d realized by cleaning up his messy SAP S/4HANA private cloud instance. Faster throughput, improved usability, and significant savings in hyperscaler fees, plus the ability to upgrade SAP S/4HANA on a yearly basis, are the kinds of results that get a lot of people’s attention.

It wasn’t lost on me, nor on many in the audience, that the customer sharing his story was echoing what any good consultant or SAP marketing professional could have told them. But that wasn’t the point. One of the attendees I connected with afterward explained that she had been sitting next to a colleague who had been skeptical of the value of devoting scarce resources to the upgrade problem. Having heard a concrete, well-documented example of ROI from a real customer, the two planned to present a similar project to their CIO once back at headquarters.

All three days of ASUG Tech Connect followed along these lines. The event featured presentations on the specifics of SAP’s strategic and product roadmaps, as well as customer stories, followed by plenty of questions and interactions between attendees during the networking breaks. Even those partners in attendance—a tough crowd to please, in general—told me they felt their investment in showing up had been well-spent, and most expected to be back next year.

As for that customer moving from IBM AS/400 to SAP S/4HANA? Not surprisingly, he showed up at my Decoding SAP session, just as another customer was waxing eloquently about her company’s journey from AS/400 to S/4HANA. Imagine that: two A/S400 customers at the same SAP conference?

There was nothing left to do but introduce them and watch the magic of an in-person event at its best. See you all at ASUG Tech Connect in 2024.

Joshua Greenbaum is Principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting.

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