During SAPPHIRE NOW 2021 last month, SAP highlighted its SAP Business Network and how it can connect its customers. ASUG recently caught up with John Wookey, president of SAP Business Network and Intelligent Spend, to discuss how this solution was developed and where it fits into the larger SAP strategy.

ASUG: John, there was a lot of news surrounding the SAP Business Network that came out of SAPPHIRE NOW 2021. Why don’t you start off by telling us about the SAP Business Network and what is new?

John: Hopefully, you had a chance to watch the keynote. SAP CEO Christian Klein and Julia White, SAP board member and chief marketing and solutions officer, did a great job with all the announcements. When I first started talking to Christian about this concept of the network, we thought was very, very important as the next big evolution when we think about enterprise applications.

I was excited that SAP Business Network became one of the key announcements at the conference this year. The basic idea is pretty simple: if you think about what SAP has always been very good at—which is this idea of building comprehensive business process models within our enterprise applications—it was one of the foundation pieces for all of the applications we've delivered, including now SAP S/4HANA. I think it's an integral part of how companies have been able to improve their operating models and the performance of their businesses. But as with all enterprise applications, the models were very much built within the concept of an organizational structure. When you think about it, the reality of the world is that companies spend significant time building connections to trading partners outside the four walls of their own business, particularly with their supplier community, shippers, and logistics providers.

It's a logical extension for SAP to take our expertise in business processes and apply that to the network of relationships that an organization has. That's the fundamental idea behind the SAP Business Network. This idea that we're providing—from pure technology platform capabilities—the ability for trading partners to come together to improve how they interoperate and to be able to work together more effectively to their mutual benefit.

One of the foundation pieces that we're very excited to highlight was this idea of the unified trading partner portal, which is a single place where trading partners can come together and define the way they're going to work together.

For example, a supplier using the SAP Business Network can see all the customers that they’re working with, and the state of the work that they were doing with a customer. Additionally, they can see outstanding orders, invoices, and shipments—the things that are fundamental to the way they’re managing the relationship with all of their customers.

Defining this trading partner portal has been a key part of building the platform for the SAP Business Network. There are a few key principles to it. One is the idea that we want to be insight-driven. The other piece which we think is equally critical (because every business operates somewhat differently) is the idea of being both extensible and customizable. This means that you can tailor the experience within that portal, because the person who may be running the overall purchasing organization may have different expectations and priorities compared with someone who is managing the sourcing process. Within the portal, you have the ability to tailor not only to an individual trading partner organization but to an individual user within that organization. They're simple drag-and-drop tools, all of which are leveraging the SAP Business Technology Platform. Existing assets that we have in place—such as the Ariba Network, which is still the largest trading partner network in the world, is growing very well for us and has always been a good business.

Part of this process is broadening the reach of those solutions. Later this year, we'll be integrating the SAP Logistics Business Network into the trading partner portal of the SAP Business Network. People can not only see the relationships between the buyers and the sellers, but now they'll be able to bring in their shippers and carriers. Then next year we'll be adding in the SAP Asset Intelligence Network, which we think is a hidden gem that, frankly, we need to do a better job of talking to the market about. In a world where people are trying to find ways to collaborate with their suppliers, this is a unique technology because it provides a common place in which people can share intellectual properties and designs, and collaborate as they work.

As an example, one of the things that Christian Klein talked about during the keynote was the way we see business networks over time evolving to support industry-specific requirements. One of the groups we've been working with is called Catena-X, which is an automotive alliance. Of course, that's an industry that is going through pretty radical transformations, moving from basically fossil-fuel-based propulsion systems to battery-based, all while becoming more and more autonomous. Everyone is going through a huge acceleration in their need to innovate in that area to meet a shifting demand in how people think about transportation requirements. We think the Asset Intelligence Network is going to become a unique part of the SAP Business Network because it will allow folks to collaborate more effectively on innovation.

We're excited about bringing these different capabilities together. Fundamentally, we don’t see this as just a new product offering. We see this as a shift in how we’re thinking about how we support all business processes.

One last note before we move on to your other questions. At SAP, we want to make sure we are bringing all of our customers with us on this journey. We introduced RISE with SAP earlier this year, which is targeted at our very large installed base of on-premise customers by helping them move to the cloud. Part of that is helping them get access to and leverage the SAP Business Network with the SAP Business Network Starter Pack. There's a huge opportunity for customers to improve the way they work with their supplier communities as they go through this digital transformation. In the announcement during the SAPPHIRE NOW keynote, we talked about the fact that we're working with customers and providing an opportunity for them to fast-track the onboarding of their suppliers as part of the process. SAP is committing to bringing their top 100 suppliers on within 90 days of them deploying the SAP Business Network.

ASUG: During the demonstration of the SAP Business Network that we saw during the SAPPHIRE NOW keynote, one of the things that stuck out to me specifically with the trading partner portal was that this felt a lot like a social media platform for connecting businesses. Is that something that you all were cognizant of or trying to emulate?

John: We are always trying to adopt best practices in terms of the user experience we're offering. As enterprise software providers, we've been through an interesting transformation in the decades I've been involved, where we've gone from having to teach people how to use the systems to where we are now. People come into the workforce with expectations of an experience that's based on their iPhones and social media apps. So yes, we most definitely are trying to embrace best practices from all disciplines.

We brought in a gentleman named Benedikt Lehnert from Microsoft to be the SAP chief design officer. He has worked with a number of consumer-focused companies, and he's leading our overall design strategy across the organization. It works in a federated model. He has built a central team and each of us has an experience team within our areas. We are all focused on how we can continually advance the user experience for the broad and diverse set of user communities that we now have accessing the systems. You can see this in all the areas that we're building applications. Now we have to build for very different personas—from people who are managing and purchasing for the organization as their core job, to the people who may touch an application once a year. We're having to build applications with that construct in mind.

Don’t miss out on the newest research ASUG conducted in collaboration with German SAP user group DSAG, which is focused on cloud solutions and RISE with SAP. Hear both ASUG and DSAG break down key findings on Aug. 2 at 10 a.m. ET/9 a.m. CT. Register now.