From the keynote stage at SAP Sapphire & ASUG Annual Conference, ASUG executives and board members spoke directly to the importance of customer engagement and community building as multi-faceted business imperatives for the intelligent enterprise.
During their Wednesday morning keynote, “Customer to Customer: Delivering Better Business Outcomes Together,” speakers emphasized ASUG’s core mission of helping people and organizations get the most value out of SAP technology investments, even as they articulated the different ways that value can be unlocked, from mentorship opportunities to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and Chapter events.
Following opening remarks by Geoff Scott, ASUG CEO & Chief Community Champion, and Carolyn Dolezal, ASUG Chief Operating Officer, three members of the ASUG Board of Directors – James Johnson, Chief Information Officer at James Hardie Technology; Tara Gambill, Senior Director of Enterprise Systems at MOD Pizza LLC; and Tony Caesar, Senior Vice President of IT at Cradlepoint – shared their journeys through the SAP ecosystem and participated in a wide-ranging panel discussion about enterprise architecture, artificial intelligence, and the importance of having one’s voice heard.
‘A Valuable Force Multiplier’
As a member of the ASUG community for more than 10 years, Johnson assessed that “technologists bring value to the room” as the most knowledgeable resources within an organization with respect to business processes, integrations, and the systems that enable them.
“We are more than just technology experts,” he said. “That interconnectivity we have in understanding business processes is our superpower. I encourage you to put on your capes, go into your organizations, speak up, be heard, and own your expertise.”
Speaking to the growing importance of involving IT departments in business decisions during his address, Johnson told attendees that “data is the lifeblood of any business enterprise,” driving growth and providing mission-critical business process insights. “The paradigm that technology is separate from business must shift,” he said. “Starting with leadership, we need to understand that the function of IT is to be a business partner first, to bring value to the company.”
Johnson reflected on the opportunity ASUG provides for him to share best practices with industry peers, and how that has empowered him to accelerate business outcomes at various companies. “Coming together to share experiences, both good and bad, is a valuable force multiplier,” he said.
Networking with like-minded individuals at ASUG Chapter and Board meetings, meeting and partnering with other CIOs, and participating in a peer-to-peer breakout session with then-incoming SAP CEO Christian Klein, Johnson described how ASUG membership has allowed him to better understand SAP leadership, share business challenges, and make himself heard.
Johnson shared that, at this stage in his career, he is inspired by “paying it forward” to the next generation. “I feel an obligation to both do well and do good, and I believe that’s truly possible,” he said. Sharing that mentors have guided him on his path throughout his career, Johnson added that he sees ASUG as a critical resource in reaching the next generation of technologists. “I strongly, strongly believe in the power of connection to accelerate change as a key differentiator,” he said.
‘Voice and Value’
Furthering Johnson’s theme of enterprise architecture, Gambill reflected on the relevance of IT professionals to advancing the restaurant industry forward in an era of digital transformation.
At MOD, a cloud-first and exclusively SaaS organization, Gambill helped the company become one of the first to implement SAP S/4HANA Cloud, enterprise edition. Without ASUG, such an achievement would have been unimaginable. “ASUG gives the SAP user community voice and value,” she said.
Gambill first attended an ASUG event in 2011, seeking assistance with understanding SAP ERP Central Component (SAP ECC). “What I found were so many amazing people with knowledge and experience and a passion for SAP that they were willing to share,” she said. “It’s within this community that we know we are all being built up, so that we can tackle whatever comes our way, especially in these quickly changing times.”
These days, Gambill is still invested in solving day-to-day problems, but she is also focused on facilitating larger-scale conversations through ASUG, collaborating with various industries as a Board member. “Companies have never needed technology more than they need it now,” she said. “But we don’t use it alone. It takes a village. We’re in this together. Community will bring value to your careers, your companies, and your lives.”
‘You Can Make a Difference’
Caesar was first introduced to ASUG by two former Dallas Chapter leaders, who sold him on the organization’s appeal by simply telling him, “Tony, you can make a difference.”
A member of the ASUG Board of Directors for the past six years, Caesar reflected during the keynote that his long career of leadership, much of which has involved heading SAP-centric teams, has been defined by the desire to make a difference. “The great leaders continually work to improve their skills,” he said. “They learn from the mistakes they make and become better leaders. They recognize they don’t know everything and are smart enough to surround themselves with smart people.”
Through ASUG, Caesar found another way to lead. Joining fellow ASUG Board members on an annual trip to SAP headquarters in Walldorf, Germany, he met directly with SAP leadership to make his voice heard and ensure ASUG members can maximize the value of their SAP investments. “The great part is, after these meetings, they always look forward to us returning to continue building a department, to improve what our SAP members value.”
Caesar has learned the power of influence throughout his career, and he’s more recently felt empowered to “be the voice of an underrepresented group” at work. “When I was younger, I was hoping to climb the ladder, and I didn’t want to rock the boat,” he said. “In truth, I wasn’t being my authentic self.”
In his past role at Ericsson, when he became an ASUG Board member, Caesar became a DEI champion within the company’s African American resource group. “My life took on a new meaning,” he said. “I realized that I had a responsibility to younger people coming up behind me; I knew I had to give them a voice.”
ASUG has amplified Caesar’s voice across various industries and communities. As he winds down his tenure as a Board member, Caesar left attendees with words of encouragement. “Let us work together to make a difference,” he told attendees. “I know it’s not easy, but the results will certainly be rewarding. In the end, it’s about people, connectivity, and community, all moving this world forward to drive us to a better place.”
Guiding the SAP Customer Journey
In introducing the keynote session, ASUG CEO & Chief Community Champion Geoff Scott spoke briefly with Kevin Hester, Chief Customer Officer, SAP North America, about the value he sees customers unlock through ASUG membership.
“Everyone’s on a journey,” said Hester, discussing the undeniable relevance of customer engagement to conference attendees. “Everyone’s got a mission they are trying to get done. And the more they talk to customers, the better chance they have of achieving the outcomes, which I think is exactly what [ASUG] is about.”
In her keynote speech, Dolezal first shared her experiences attending recent SAP-ASUG conferences, like SAP for Utilities Presented by ASUG in San Diego, and seeing firsthand what value can be achieved by bringing together partner communities, ASUG members, and SAP executives.
“What really struck me was this free exchange of information, a willingness to help,” Dolezal said. “People would go out of their way to meet up with each other, with a recognition that everyone is on a journey. Some are further ahead than others, but everyone’s in motion all the time, and everyone has something to learn from somebody else, if they only could find that person. If you can find and connect with peers who have the same challenges, wonderful things can happen. At ASUG, we get more business value done together.”
Outside of hosting conferences, ASUG provides its members with community-focused webcasts, alliance meetings, information industry councils, research surveys, editorial content, and regional Chapter meetings. “Our ASUG Volunteers decide, plan, and put on what happens at an ASUG Chapter meeting,” remarked Dolezal. “They drive the agenda, the topics of interest; and as SAP users themselves, they take on leadership roles with the goal of generating knowledge and sharing it with the community. You don’t find that generosity of spirit everywhere in business, but we do find it at ASUG. It is what fuels us, and it is indicative of our members' success."
Calling ASUG’s work in inspiring and educating the rising workforce “a proud moment,” Dolezal shared her memories of attending ERPsim, a recent event in which ASUG Michigan Chapter volunteers partnered with Central Michigan University to mentor and coach students through simulations designed to reflect business challenges. “I witnessed collaboration between the university, SAP, ASUG, and the next generation of leaders,” she said. “It was really powerful and profound, what collaboration can achieve, and what remarkable things people can do when they’re aligned on a mission.”
ASUG’s keynote session concluded with a panel discussion between Scott, Dolezal, Johnson, Gambill, and Caesar, with the ASUG executives joining Board members in evaluating key topics from SAP Sapphire & ASUG Annual Conference.
Discussing artificial intelligence, Scott acknowledged the opportunity presented by generative AI, even as he noted how technologies like ChatGPT have become a top topic. “It has significant greatness and significant consequences,” he said. “We, as technology professionals, are responsible for figuring out how to make it work in the enterprise and to come up with a coherent answer before others do it for us.”
Added Caesar: “As a CIO, what I’m nervous about are dangers to my organization. One person recently told me that someone in their organization took customer data and put it all into ChatGPT to create a proposal. That concept sounds cool, but now all that customer’s data and pricing information is in ChatGPT. I don’t want data leaks, so we’re going to have to figure out how to control it. Because, if not, it’s going to control us.”
SAP recently announced role-based certification for enterprise architects, within customer and partner communities. Looking back to 2020, to the first SAP-ASUG EA Summit in Newtown Square, Gambill notes that event’s attendance and customer engagement gave compelling evidence of the need for a framework, tool set, and guidance for EA professionals. “Today, we have an explosion of choices,” Gambill said. “Tool offerings are exponentially coming to market in a more modular fashion, but we still need to make faster decisions to get to business outcomes, to find what paths to innovate on.”
Gambill feels that enterprise architecture is in the spotlight more than ever before. “Foundational principles will need to be revisited and revised,” she said. “It’s not just about enabling that capability; it’s about creating another community that's going to be able to learn and evolve together.”
Added Johnson: “The unique purview that the EA has across an organization truly makes them a superhero. From a career-path perspective, they have the best view of an organization and the largest opportunity to affect change.”