SAP Chief Marketing and Solutions Officer Julia White met with the ASUG Board of Directors and with ASUG Editorial during the recent SAP Sapphire and ASUG Accelerate event in Orlando. In this interview, White discussed the importance of the ASUG community, SAP’s product and strategy challenges and opportunities, and the organization’s forthcoming brand strategy shift.

The following is an edited version of ASUG’s interview with White

Q: How should SAP and ASUG work together better, to serve our audiences?

A: I think the most valuable thing any company can have is a robust community. I’ve worked with products before that didn’t have that – and now, being at SAP with such a rich community, I can tell you: It makes all the difference.

But to get the most value out of that community, ASUG needs to have the right information. I’d like no information impediments between the organizations: You should know what our strategy is, what our direction is, where our investments are going. If we’re changing, then you know, without any telephone game.

And we need the same from you! Particularly at this moment of change and growth for us as a company: There are great, rich insights that you hear from the community that don’t always make their way back. Getting that seamless information flow is a great first step.

Q: One of the benefits of being in person at Sapphire are the insightful side conversations you have. What have you heard onsite? What’s been bubbling up?

A: Interacting with so many customers in the same place is such a clear reminder that we’re not just in the business of technology - we’re in the business of enabling companies, the business of enabling people.

Let me give you an example. I did a roundtable with customers here on cloud mindset and it was so interesting to hear the range of perspectives and experiences. You hear one customer saying, “we live this, we breathe this, we’ve got best practices, we’ve embraced it, we’re innovating.” And then another customer sharing that they’re having problems even getting people to have a conversation about cloud.

It’s in those more vulnerable moments, when someone is saying “it’s way harder than we thought,” that you have to come to terms with the reality that human change and business process change is what can slow down a transformation. Tech is about change management.

Q: One of the observations we’ve heard here, and even coming in here, is SAP can do a better job of knitting it together, knitting the portfolio together. What is your answer to that—would you agree? And how would you do that?

A: One of my top priorities is getting people to see SAP as a portfolio company, rather than just the ERP company – and integration is a key part of that. It’s also a key focus for the engineering team: Anytime you’ve acquired a lot of your portfolio, you have a lot of architecture integration work to do.

But I think we’ve made wonderful strides. Something I give Thomas Saueressig [SAP’s Executive Board member responsible for Product Engineering] a lot of credit for are the five big portfolio priorities that he issued at the start of our fiscal year. These address security, reliability – the real foundational stuff, across every line of business. That is the platform for all development and integration.

Another key point here is design, having that consistency across the portfolio. How are people going to know we’ve done this great integration if they don’t see it in a great user experience? That mindset shift internally is how we’re going to get more of that cohesion across the portfolio.

Q: In terms of growing the customer base and audiences together, are there sectors in the North American-Canadian region that you are particularly focused on?

A: I think our biggest growth opportunity is that mid-sized enterprise, particularly in the North American market. It’s a vibrant, big segment. I think oftentimes we’re not even in the consideration set for some of those mid-sized enterprises because they think of us as this big, complex brand. So one of my big objectives is to become known and trusted and considered for that mid-sized enterprise. And part of that is also building up a partner ecosystem that really addresses that segment.

Q: How do you view Industry Cloud as a growth opportunity?

A: I see Industry Cloud as the incredibly strategic and important way that we are going to shift our ERP installed base to a true cloud model. I think that’s its biggest purpose in life.

And Industry Cloud is largely deployed via our partner ecosystem – not just SAP-built industry solutions. Think about it: Organizations have built up all these industry-specific customizations. Now they want to move to a cloud model, with updates and innovations on a very regular basis – but they still need all those industry tailorings. Cloud solutions are the way we are going to do that. You’re going to write to a cloud-managed API to extend what you need to do, and customize that important business process, without changing how we operate the cloud base.

The thing about that is, once you have an API-based approach, then you can have all the tailoring you want. You can have industry-specific solutions without massive cost. It’s quicker to build and quicker for the customers to get exactly what they want. That’s the second wave of growth.

Q: When do businesses know that they are “business transformed,” that we’re done, that we’ve hit an inflection point?

A: We’re never done!

But honestly, the SAP Signavio technology actually gives you data and insight on that. It gives you data, for instance, on when you can see an opportunity on your invoicing; a customer may have no idea that their order-to-cash is underperforming against a benchmark. The technology helps you knock off the low-hanging fruit and get more refined. And it’s also going to help you identify which business process is really giving you differentiation. You may begin below benchmark, then get to where you are way ahead of the benchmark – and then start to look at: How do I do more? How do I take it farther?

Q: Do you believe it’s well understood that SAP Signavio includes benchmarking?

A: I don’t think most people even know we have SAP Signavio. The first opportunity is to let people know we have it, then for them to use it, then for them to realize all of its capabilities, like benchmarking. I’m sure you noticed, that was the first thing Christian [Klein] talked about at Sapphire — SAP Signavio. That was an important signal.

Q: In terms of positioning and perspective, from a customer point of view, what are you retaining and what are you changing?

A: Let’s start at the highest level - our purpose. That is what it all anchors to. Our purpose is to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. And if you look at our brand strategy, until now it’s really been focused on that first part — help the world run better, “best run.” But now is our time and our opportunity to shift to the improving people’s lives part of our purpose. The most important part of our lives right now is around sustainability. SAP happens to be sitting in a pole position in that area: People are counting on us, asking us, demanding us to help them on that front.

So, to me, it’s an opportunity to shift. People know we run best. People know our stuff works. But are we improving people’s lives and how are we making that true? That to me is an opportunity to have people understand and think differently. And I think it’s authentic.

Q: So, if people don’t know that about SAP, and you do improve people’s lives, how do you deliver on that?

A: That’s actually a big focus for our brand strategy work, which is being done in concert with our design team. How do you get people to know that? Every single touchpoint has to reflect it. And that takes time – especially in B2B, where we’re not top of mind every day. We have a few key moments over the year to really influence people. So, you have to do it across multiple years. It’s about staying the course.

Here, for example: You’re seeing our ECO-nomics messaging on the floor, which is about planet, profitability, and sustainability. When customers come to our website, they can feel it, when they come to Sapphire, they can feel it. When they use our product, they need to feel that. When they interact with our sales team, they need to feel it. The brand promise has to transcend everything - every customer interaction touchpoint, over time. It can’t just be for one year. We’re signing up for the next five- or eight-year journey on this one.

Q: When are the customers going to see and feel the new brand, and what new perception do you want?

A: The perception that I want is that people see SAP improving people’s lives.

Q: Let’s get back to sustainability. What are the proof points that you anticipate customers and ASUG members will relate to in terms of SAP, sustainability, improving people’s lives—not just SAP doing so internally but in given customers’ solutions?

A: At a functional level, sustainability is a data challenge. How do you surface that data, actually understand it, see it, and make decisions around it?

We have our three areas of focus. First, around carbon and reducing emissions - things like getting the carbon ledger truly built out and robust. The green line is one of our single biggest opportunities. And with things like Control Tower, we’re on the way.

On the waste front, that’s about enabling the circular economy. There’s so much opportunity for us to touch each element of that, from product design to manufacturing, to supply chain.

And then inclusion: That’s where we tap into things like SuccessFactors, and our focus on hiring the diversity you want, are you retaining, are you paying people equally, are your people feeling included in the organization, are you tapping into the talent you have. There are layers of diversity and inclusion experience metrics supported by several of our solutions.

Q: It’s almost as if sustainability is a portfolio unto itself?

A: One hundred percent. We’ve picked those three categories. But if you look at the overall U.N. description of sustainability, it’s even broader. We know in these three areas, we have a very direct way to help. You can’t solve everything, but we can help solve these.

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