This year, SAP reached a significant milestone, appointing Nanette Lazina as its first Chief Partner Officer (CPO) for SAP North America, its largest market. With 16 years of experience at SAP, Lazina was chosen for this role, having previously served as the vice president of midmarket channels in North America.

SAP has a vast network of partners worldwide, totaling more than 25,000. These partners play various roles, from developing new solutions to advising customers on complex digital transformation projects, including the integrated implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud strategies.

In this role, Lazina is responsible for enhancing the experience of customers and partners by promoting better teamwork across the value chain and bringing together different members of the SAP community to solve problems and improve outcomes.

ASUG sat down with Lazina to discuss the SAP North America partner ecosystem as well as the priorities and goals for her team.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

ASUG: First, congratulations on your new position as Chief Partner Officer for SAP North America. Looking to the rest of 2024, what are your priorities and aspirations for SAP's US-based partners and customers?

Lazina: As the Chief Partner Officer for North America, my primary responsibility is to foster partnerships across all segments. Success in this role hinges on dismantling silos that exist among the various partner types within SAP and across all supported segments.

Historically, our resale business has focused primarily on the midmarket space. However, we are now expanding our scope beyond the midmarket and exploring opportunities across the board.

In terms of SAP Solutions Extensions [third-party solutions which integrate with and expand upon the SAP portfolio] and SAP Endorsed Apps, there is an opportunity to leverage assets across the entire market. Similarly, we have an opportunity to integrate our strategic partner space—including global strategic service partners, hyperscalers, and advisory firms—into every facet of our business.

I look forward to collaborating with our partners and ensuring they invest in the right places to help customers across industries transform their businesses in the cloud while harnessing the full potential of AI.

ASUG: Looking at the North American market, what trends are you seeing among the partners?

Lazina: Within this market segment, most of our partners have progressed with us in our continued journey into the cloud. As that process matures, we are integrating the journey to AI. Our partners are at varying points along this trajectory. Some are just beginning to explore AI, while others have already built AI into their DNA, building intelligent solutions for our customers. Additionally, we are working with partners like NVIDIA to bring new offerings to our joint customers.

In the meantime, we have strengthened efforts to migrate our installed base customers to the cloud. Our portfolio of solutions to support this migration is vast. Moving to the cloud will be critical for organizations that want to secure the benefits of AI. This is because anything AI-related is inherently linked to cloud infrastructure. Anything AI is going to be made in the cloud.

In today's business environment, embracing AI is critical to most organizations' ability to be agile and responsive to constantly changing market trends.

What I hear from our customers is that they need to be nimble. When you consider our customers' need for agility to establish a competitive edge within their industries, rigid legacy systems no longer suffice. While these systems served us well for an extended period, ensuring that all our customers have a clean core is imperative. By leveraging SAP's ecosystem of solutions and partners, we are working to develop intellectual property by, for instance, utilizing BTP for extensibility across business functions. At the same time, we have to be mindful not to create custom systems, because that approach does not allow our customers or ourselves to be as nimble as we need to be.

ASUG: Partner selection is an ongoing challenge for SAP customers. Are there any initiatives from SAP to help customers better understand which partners are qualified to support specific customer adoption and modernization efforts for their SAP portfolio?

Lazina: Absolutely. We are transitioning from the traditional gold, silver, and bronze approach to a more focused emphasis on partner competencies. This shift extends beyond our internal operations. It is also outward-facing, providing our customers with a front row seat to the actual competencies and experiences of our partners. Taking this approach will help us identify the right partners for specific customers from multiple points of view, including industry, solution, and regional perspectives.

Throughout the transition, customers will still be able to use the SAP Partner Finder tool, which has been a trusted resource for customers to discover suitable partners.

ASUG: You spent four years as VP of midmarket channels. How have your experiences there translated into what you are doing now, and how will these experiences help you be successful in your new position?

Lazina: When I look back at my time in the midmarket, the success we experienced simply boils down to trust. We built trust with our partners, their leadership, and our sales organization.

In my current role, the number one priority is to ensure—and further build—trust with the diverse set of partners across internal and external boundaries. It is about leaning in and ensuring that we are holding each other accountable. Mutual accountability and measurement are key for me, and I look to implement these guiding principles in every facet of the business.

ASUG: And I am sure that extends to the GROW with SAP and SAP S/4HANA Cloud initiatives.

Lanzina: Wholeheartedly. We expect the public cloud segment of our business to be partner-driven. We will be led exclusively by partners, building trust and ensuring a diverse ecosystem as our foundation.

This is important because it also means that we will expand the ecosystem. In previous years, a majority of our regional business came from a limited number of partners. This approach is no longer viable and does not constitute a strong ecosystem.

Today, that is not the case. We have developed a much more diverse ecosystem across the board, including value-added resellers, systems integrators, and other partners investing in intellectual property. It is also about building out the SAP Solutions Extensions and SAP Endorsed Apps business, including hyperscalers.

ASUG: What are the benefits to your customers of expanding to a larger partner ecosystem? 

Lazina: The strategy provides customers access to a much wider array of resources. This is paramount because, without a diverse pool of potential partners, customers may encounter bottlenecks in resource availability.

Equally important is industry expertise and having local professionals who understand your business. It is not just about providing a solution; it is about understanding the nuances of your industry. This understanding provides the bedrock for project success.

These are partners who can not only leverage solutions to address today's challenges but also truly grasp the intricacies of businesses, anticipate challenges, and foresee future trends. Customers who invest in transformation today are the growth companies of the future. If we do not offer the foresight to navigate challenges—and remain nimble—through constantly changing business landscapes, we are doing them a disservice.

ASUG: As part of the recently announced RISE with SAP Migration and Modernization program, SAP has established a defined RISE with SAP Methodology that trains, upskills, and certifies partners. What have been your experiences rolling this out to partners?

Lazina: I often emphasize the concept of partner parity. By this, I mean treating our partners as integral extensions of our own team. Our partners must have access to the same resources and content as our internal SAP family.

As we extend these resources to our partners, they are leaning into them because they too are committed to delivering the same level of experience to our mutual customers.

A key initiative we are piloting is a validation process in our partner methodology. Stay tuned as we plan to formally announce this at SAP Sapphire in June. We recently announced the criteria for partners to apply.

The program is similar to what we did with GROW with SAP. We are also doing something similar with RISE with SAP.

ASUG: Going back to AI, how else are you integrating this technology into joint customer engagements with partners?

Lazina: When I look at our relationships with Microsoft and companies like NVIDIA, we see great benefits for our overall roadmap. Today, more than 26,000 SAP cloud customers have access to business AI across multiple scenarios and partner solutions. Partners will only help us accelerate those roadmaps through our AI-native or AI-powered software partner portfolios.

I truly believe in account planning and presenting a single message to our customers. Account planning is how we can help identify the right offering for each customer. By working with the SAP team, SAP partners, and advisory firms like BCG and McKinsey as well as our hyperscaler partners, we can provide the best overall experience to our customers.

ASUG:  With the rapid pace of technological innovation, how does SAP North America leverage partner feedback and insights to inform product development and enhance customer experiences?

Lazina: Partner feedback in general is important. We constantly engage with real-time feedback from partners, especially companies with which we are co-developing intellectual property.

We want to make sure that our entire ecosystem has a way to provide us feedback. We have two waves each year where we send out a partner experience survey, which formally measures ecosystem sentiment and satisfaction with their relationship with SAP.

This regular feedback loop gives partners an opportunity to share with us not only areas they think we can improve, but also opportunities where we can invest and develop.

ASUG:  In closing, what is SAP's differentiator and competitive advantage in terms of the partner ecosystem?

Lazina: We are doing several things to distinguish our partner ecosystem. We are leveraging multiple strategies to cultivate a diverse network of specialized partners tailored to specific industries. By collaborating closely with these partners, we are establishing a robust infrastructure for innovation.

We are enhancing specialization and training initiatives, empowering our partners with comprehensive expertise across their businesses.

Also, we recognize that expecting one partner to possess all the skills and end-to-end knowledge to address all challenges is impractical and unscalable. To further support our partners, we are fostering partner-to-partner relationships, making it possible for multiple partners to contribute to our customers' success, whether within a single offering or at different stages of customer engagement.

For instance, one partner may assist in pre-sales and initial selling efforts, while another assumes responsibility for ongoing customer relationships and future transformations.

A few years back, we introduced our SAP’s Cloud Choice profit option program, which has evolved into Cloud Choice flex. This transition was driven by the observation that customers frequently engage with multiple partners simultaneously. The Cloud Choice flex model accommodates the dynamic nature of customer engagements.

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