Executive-level technology leaders gathered at SAP Sapphire and ASUG Annual Conference in Orlando for a half-day session to discuss everything from artificial intelligence to cloud migration and SAP reskilling. As part of ASUG’s Executive Exchange (EE) program, exclusive meetings are hosted year-round for senior-level executives of ASUG Member companies, so that these leaders can share experiences and learn from their peers in small-group settings.  

“EE is about bringing together senior leaders from our member companies to share with and learn from each other how they are solving business and technology challenges,” said David Wascom, SVP of Executive Programs for ASUG. “Our EE program in Orlando was a perfect example of how we bring together senior leaders from our member companies to learn from thought leaders and experts in the SAP ecosystem and share stories on how our members are solving business and technology challenges by leveraging SAP technology.” 

First on the agenda in Orlando was a conversation between ASUG CEO & Chief Community Champion Geoff Scott and Matt Schwartz, Global Head of AWS SAP Alliance and Partner Network for Amazon Web Services (AWS), who discussed innovation and customer focus; one of the standout issues, however, was how to best transition to the cloud.  

While many SAP customer executives are still deciding on which path to cloud they will follow, many of their organizations are challenged with maintaining existing platforms; this remains a time- and resource-intensive endeavor. Schwartz noted many conversations he has had with customers in which they’ve expressed a desire to modernize and upgrade SAP implementations but reported that they often have multiple ongoing projects, and many of them involve keeping the lights on. 

Still, most agreed that enterprises need to prepare for what’s coming. And time is of the essence. Successfully transitioning to S/4HANA in the cloud, for example, involves significant time, complexity, and transformation. Organizations must carefully consider current and emerging business requirements against new SAP technical architectures and then assess the pros and cons of their options – to pursue a one-step approach from on-prem to the cloud with RISE resources, or to take a two-step approach by first lifting-and-shifting current workloads to the cloud. While there are risks associated with the two-part approach – such as getting stuck if your environment changes or no longer supports the transition to SAP S/4HANA as planned– there are also challenges related to moving with RISE, in terms of identifying and allocating resources, developing effective integration strategies, ensuring data security and authorized access, and managing disruptions to business operations and processes. 

Analysis suggests the one-step approach may be more beneficial, according to Schwartz. While this is not a trivial undertaking because the process of creating a compelling business case for change is a prerequisite for success, the chances of achieving positive outcomes are significantly enhanced by picking the right partner to build the technological foundation that will support business transformation objectives. Schwartz also encouraged executives to fully understand the range of incentives SAP is offering to support modernization and upgrade strategies that can be accommodated in the design of SAP’s upgrade contracts. 

Jared Coyle, Head of AI for SAP North America, discussed the importance of understanding the context of AI and how it can be used to improve business processes. He highlighted the need for clear definitions and understanding of AI to avoid confusion and misinterpretation.  

Coyle highlighted three areas which enterprises should focus on when thinking about AI adoption within their organizations: embedded capabilities that turn on AI within existing systems, bolt-on AI tools and services from external providers, and custom-built AI solutions such as creating retrieval augmented generation (RAG) models for specific business needs.  

For its part, SAP is committed to investing in AI and driving the next generation of AI-centric use cases for business, he noted. SAP’s focus is to make AI more natural and user-friendly, and to deliver customized capabilities and improve how LLMs use tabular data – a capability that will transform use cases for enterprises. 

Longtime ERP analysts Jon Reed, co-founder of Diginomica, and Joshua Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting, shared their advice that, as many SAP customers continue to sort out their plans for transitioning to SAP S/4HANA and adopting some of SAP’s new products and services, they should actively engage with SAP, voice their concerns, and push back when necessary, to make informed decisions that best suit their unique business requirements. 

Reed and Greenbaum pointed to the potential benefits of recent SAP investments in business process management, including the combination of SAP Cloud Application Lifecycle Management (CALM), SAP Signavio for process management, and LeanIX for architecture management. (SAP’s announcement of its intention to acquire WalkMe, a digital adoption platform provider, promises to further augment this portfolio by enhancing user experience.) ​But to fully capitalize on these solutions, customers will need to take an active role in enterprise-wide data governance and not solely rely on SAP for solutions. 

ASUG’s Executive Exchange Community fosters connections among executives and senior SAP customers to influence organizational strategy and drive growth. If you aren’t part of the ASUG Executive Exchange, learn more here

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