To stay competitive and relevant in today’s marketplace, a business must consider its customers’ end-to-end journey. That’s everything from the point of interest to the point of transaction and beyond. Although there is plenty technology that will help you track, measure, and predict these experiences, we still need human empathy to drive innovation.

Eric Stine, chief innovation officer at SAP North America, is responsible for delivering a seamless, integrated experience across the centers of excellence focused on industry and domain expertise, solution engineering, and advisory services dedicated to enterprise data, cybersecurity, and business value realization.

Simply put, he and his team aim to deliver a seamless customer experience for SAP customers built on trust, empathy, expertise, and business value. He sat down with ASUG News to discuss how his team accomplishes this and what it means for the future of business.

Eric Stine, Chief Innovation Officer, SAP North America

ASUG News: Tell us about your role at SAP and what you’ve been focusing on for the last year.

Eric: I’m responsible for driving the go-to-market strategy for North America. My team sits between the awareness and demand generation done by marketing and the sales execution of our market units. 

We provide advisory services in all 28 industries where SAP goes to market. We facilitate the opportunity for former industry executives to sit across from our current customers as peers. 

My team offers engineering resources that work with our customers to understand the strategy they are trying to drive as a corporation. We help them understand how their digital transformation aligns to that strategy and what outcomes will advance that strategy. That’s a necessary first step to getting to the last major piece of what my organization delivers, which is solution engineering.

We provide product and technology experts, enterprise architects, and business experts in a variety of spaces from finance to supply chains, to human resources, sales, and analytics. We look at the context of the customer strategy, the outcomes that they are looking to produce, and the capabilities and experiences that will deliver those outcomes. And then, we help them design a solution to deliver those capabilities and experiences.

We have a truly orchestrated market process that starts with the context of the customer’s industry, quantifies the outcomes that they’re looking for, views them through the lens of experience and capabilities, and then puts a solution behind it.

We want to make sure that we have a solution for three buying personas—the functional owner, the CIO who will be held accountable to the delivery, and the CFO who’s looking to manage both the cost and more importantly the business value that comes out of the investment.

ASUG News: Your team focuses on the connections of trust and empathy that SAP builds with customers. What do you see as the most critical ways to earn this?

Eric: It starts with listening to the challenges that our customers are facing. As a result, we recognize patterns that help our customers understand why their peers are moving from linear supply chains to agile supply networks or how automation is transforming finance. 

So, it must start with listening and looking for those patterns so that we can understand what’s going on in the market. I believe we are the front line that helps product development understand what our customers are looking for. And of course, the last part is to act on that understanding by putting together a solution that addresses the business value.

ASUG News: What is your team’s role, if any, in SAP’s new customer-first initiative?

Eric: Marty Mrugal, SAP’s global head of Customer First, and I have a very close partnership. We both believe that a world where we call things pre-sales and post-sales no longer exists. With more than 70% of our revenue now recurring and the importance of the cloud business, I believe that we must earn our customers’ trust every single day. Switching costs are lower, brand loyalty in every industry has changed, and the rigid lines that separate industries have changed, too. Many of our customers are themselves in the technology business and understand what it means exceed service level expectations and to innovate for their customers.

And so, I see my team’s responsibility with the customer-first initiative as education. We need to educate our colleagues about why the customer is transforming, and what the expected outcomes are, so we can help them realize the value that they're trying to create for their customer. Marty’s team is about adoption and value realization. So, if we’re talking about identifying the value of undertaking an SAP transformation, Marty’s team is about making sure you receive that value through best practices, business value realization, and employee and customer adoption.

ASUG News: Through our State of the Community study, we’ve discovered that innovation can be a pain point for a lot of customers. Many customers struggle to find enough time to innovate when they are spending so much effort to maintain legacy systems. What is SAP actively doing to help this segment of customers?

Eric: I would say two things. First, let’s redefine innovation. And second, listen more than you talk.

People come to events like SAPPHIRE NOW and ASUG Annual Conference. They see all the opportunities and potential for the future, but the pace at which most organizations can consume change is exceeded by the vast options that they have to innovate. I think that’s the reason why organizations need to start by defining their business strategy, outcomes that can advance that strategy, and then the capabilities that would be the most meaningful. From there, they can determine where and how to innovate.

Let me explain more what I mean by redefining innovation. I believe the most innovative invention—process innovation, not product—of the 20th century was the creation of the assembly line. Without the assembly line there wouldn’t be cars for the middle class, which means no roads, no interstate highway systems, no suburbs, no fast food restaurants, no music culture, and no drive-in movies. All of a sudden, American culture would look completely different through that lens.

I always tell our customers to start with the process. Just a single process can change the way you do business. If you’re looking for a product as a reason to innovate, you might be looking in the wrong place. Start innovating by changing the way people behave, because to me, that is the most powerful way to do it.

Many of our customers from the late 90s and early 2000s have heavily customized environments where they feel a strong sense of ownership over how they did things. That’s now shifting toward a greater willingness to get to fit-to-standard processes. Part of the innovation partnership is being open to different ways of doing things that produce the same or better results.

Now for the second thing: Listen more than you talk. Listening is a bidirectional activity.Listening is SAP’s responsibility as well. Through the course of our relationship with Nike, Southern California Edison, and Lockheed Martin, we have coinnovated solutions for the agile supply chain, consumer industries, projects and programs and utilities, and several other areas. There are always opportunities to innovate if we listen to each other and we both express our willingness to learn. For SAP, it’s about identifying emerging industry trends, and for our customers, it’s about understanding how to move the needle and innovate.

Finally, the traditional lines between industry are blurring. Everybody is in the experience business, everybody is a consumer company, and everybody is an employer. If we look at those universal truths and start having the conversation from that perspective, we get a much greater willingness to redefine innovation and to listen to each other. 

ASUG News: In your opinion, what innovations do you think are poised to change the business world the most in the next one to two years?

Eric: Embedded intelligence will completely change the workforce. Facial recognition software will eliminate 1.8 million jobs, natural language processing will eliminate 3 million call center jobs, self-checkout will eliminate 3.4 million cashier jobs, autonomous driving will eliminate 3.5 commercial driving jobs. But we are creating 58 million jobs over the next five and a half years in categories that don’t even exist today. Workforce development is the climate change problem of the workforce, and it’s something that everybody is focused on solving because embedding intelligence into the business will completely change how we hire, who we hire, and what they do. It also will change economic structures because the value of different jobs will change as well. I’ve got three-year-old twins, so I think about this daily for very personal reasons.

ASUG News: You have the background of a Renaissance man. You have a law degree, you’ve studied political science, history, communications, and even theater. How does your varied background help you in your current role?

Eric: The thing that gives me perspective is that my parents were teachers. They taught me the value of hard work and that hard work makes a difference. They taught me the value of empathy because to them it meant two things: the importance of forgiveness and the ability to see the world through somebody else’s eyes.

If I can credit my personal success to anything, it would be to empathy and that’s why it’s a core value for my team.

Join us at one of our regional ASUG Executive Exchange events in 2019 to network with other executives looking to get more value from their SAP systems.