As members of the ASUG community know all too well, digital transformation—including, for many SAP customers, migration from on-premises environments to the cloud—is no simple task. Progress toward technology modernization initiatives requires careful planning, dedicated resources, and expertise in orchestrating complex solutions to achieve mission-critical objectives.
It's with this knowledge that SAP launched its RISE with SAP program in early 2021, designed to help customers transition their on-premises ERP software, including SAP ERP Central Component (ECC) and SAP S/4HANA, to the cloud at their own pace by leveraging a set of cloud solutions, best practices, and services. Since its debut, RISE has been adopted by nearly 5,000 SAP customers.
To learn more about how the RISE program has evolved since its inception and to gain insights into its trajectory, ASUG sat down with David Robinson, who was appointed president of RISE in July of 2023. Prior to his current global position, Robinson spent nearly 20 years at SAP in various roles, including in leadership capacities for the organization’s public service and customer success areas.
In this first half of our conversation, Robinson discussed the current state of the RISE program, the necessary disruption of technology modernization, and the importance of continuity of system availability.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
ASUG: Congratulations on your new position. Let's start by looking at the current state of RISE and progress made since the program was launched in 2021. You just returned from meeting with your executive advisory board. What were the big takeaways?
David Robinson: Thank you. Let me first mention that any time I get a chance to spend close time with a concentration of customers, it accelerates insight. Doing so helps us understand what’s priority and what’s taking shape in our customers' landscapes, as well as where they’re consuming and finding value in our RISE model. In many cases, we’re helping customers maximize the real benefits that cloud—and cloud ERP in particular—can deliver to their business and IT organizations.
Once a week, I look at all our dashboards to make sure that I see adoption numbers all moving in a positive direction. Regarding the current state of the RISE program, we’re seeing our customer base continue to expand and grow.
We're seeing that first tranche—that first population of early adopters of RISE—starting to generate value, and we’re moving into renewal cycles. All of this has been exciting to watch because we’re three years into something that’s changing the shape of our market and customer base.
ASUG: What are some of the lessons you've learned?
Robinson: Over the last two years, we’ve learned a lot. Sometimes, the lessons were based on things that didn't go as expected. But as the adage goes, if you’re not succeeding, you're learning,
There are a couple of things we've incorporated into RISE today—areas that look different from how they did in 2021. The first is our ecosystem partners, primarily our global strategic service partners (GSSPs), our systems integrator partners. They’ve pivoted and turned a corner in their adoption and incorporation of RISE into their own business strategy, planning cycles, and resourcing strategies.
When RISE was launched, they saw this as just another offering from SAP that they would have to understand. They didn’t think it would necessarily affect everything they had already established or had in flight. Well, what we know now, truly, is that RISE is very disruptive, because we operate in a disrupted business environment.
At SAP, we’re being disrupted. Our customers are being disrupted, and the GSSPs are being disrupted, because of the rate and nature of change that cloud enabled. What we've done with RISE is to refactor and unify all the different inputs for a customer's transformation, including their business and IT operating models.
A lot of that also requires alignment with our GSSP partners who traditionally advise, implement, configure, and do many things for our mutual customers. Those offerings have evolved and adapted. That’s probably been one of the greatest changes for the better.
We've learned to provide capabilities that make that journey relevant for a wider profile of customers. An unexpected early learning from RISE was how quickly net-new customers gravitated toward RISE, and how well net-new and mid-market customers could quickly identify opportunities, run business cases, make decisions, and move forward.
We've done a lot of analysis, and what we've learned is that we have to focus on what I like to call the “three constraints,” or three different barriers to transformation. Some are technical because many legacy systems have extensive application customization. As a result, customers have issues in their current environments that they don't know how to address as they transition from an ERP environment based on a legacy on-premises operating model to one in which ERP is delivered as a cloud service.
Then, there are functional challenges. Customers increasingly realize that the move to RISE is not just about achieving parity with what they have in place; they're getting parity plus tremendous value. As they go through their business case, and as they get their business users on board, they can measure the incremental benefit and continue to do that along the way.
As a result, a significant number of functional assessments must take place. Key questions revolve around the state of customizations and modifications currently in place, processes that are now included in the standard S/4, and how to manage critical industry-specific business processes that may not yet be standard but need to be realized—say, through SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP).
We've started building methodologies, and we’re providing tooling, automation, and best practices to accelerate that insight.
Every customer has a different combination of realities within their current operating model. They have different starting points. They may be on ECC; they may be on ECC on HANA; they may be on S/4. They may have a combination of all of the above and have different investments in hardware and infrastructure, in data centers. They may be trying to decommission a data center and get out of that data center by a certain date. They may have made commitments to a hyperscaler, and they’re one year into a three-year commitment.
We have to understand all of that and help customers transition to a future-state IT operating model—one based on cloud ERP. I like to call this S/4 delivered as a cloud service.
Those are unique conversations that take place on a customer-by-customer basis. We're investing a lot of time in this area. But each conversation is critical to support economically sound transitions to future-state operating models.
ASUG: You mentioned your partner ecosystem earlier. Are these partners working alongside you and your customers to address these constraints?
Robinson: They are. Our partners are helping us tremendously. They're helping us because—in many cases—they introduced modifications and customizations to customers. As a result, they understand the business process changes that must take place.
We often find that we're not talking about getting rid of anything. We're just talking about how we can refactor key requirements that customers rely on. System integrators are crucial in providing access to the right solutions, leveraging standards, and innovation.
ASUG: When you discussed the barriers to transformation earlier in our conversation, I thought one of them would be culture and the challenge of change management. What are you hearing from customers on this subject?
Robinson: Culture is definitely an issue. I'm interpreting culture as customers saying, “Hey, everything’s working just fine right now. Why are you touching it?” Or, “Hey, my entire job is forecasting more infrastructure capacity. What do I do if we don't require infrastructure management anymore, because we're consuming ERP as a cloud service?”
We run into these questions a lot. We are helping our IT leaders—CIOs and CTOs—make the case for productive change.
What I’m experiencing is that leadership gets it, but they need our help by providing examples, proof points, and references of projects that have been well-executed and produced positive outcomes.
We can show organizations that we’re not necessarily eliminating certain resources and roles; we’re just refactoring where those roles should focus. We can demonstrate that if you invest a dollar in an SAP program, you’ll get a better return on that dollar, based on BTP and access to innovation services. It’s a better deal than keeping the lights on.
This is one kind of cultural reality. There’s something else that’s similar, if not quite the same. Some customers will say, “I already have a world-class IT organization, and I have best practices to operate my IT landscapes. My SAP systems are performing better than ever. I really don’t see any incremental benefit. You’re not doing it any better than I already have it today.”
What we’re saying to these customers is that we provide insurance that they'll have the continuity of system availability they require. What we’re giving customers is a tremendous amount of return on innovation investment that they may not have today, because those resources are tied up in delivering system availability and therefore not necessarily focused on extensibility and innovation.
One of the biggest learnings from the 5,000 or so early RISE adopters is they’re getting a better ROI in terms of that rate of innovation. And they're more focused on their resources, delivering better or closer proximity to the business, rather than just closer proximity to the infrastructure.