This year’s SAP Sapphire and ASUG Annual Conference didn’t just prove unequivocally the importance of in-person events for creating community and sharing knowledge. The juxtaposition of the two events also showcased an important way that ASUG members’ on-the-ground requirements can provide an important reality check on SAP’s keynote ambitions.

The focus from the keynote stage on artificial intelligence and ChatGPT was a perfect case in point. SAP felt compelled to use CEO Christian Klein’s keynote address to answer the frenzy of announcements by partners and competitors jumping on the AI bandwagon by planting SAP’s own AI stake in the ground. To SAP’s credit, the company emphasized its long track record in delivering AI that solves real business problems in areas such as supplier management, invoice reconciliation, and others. But it couldn’t help joining the hype cycle bandwagon with a demonstration of the use of ChatGPT, which in this case was used to generate a job description for an open position in a fictitious company.

While the demo was apparently well-received among users in the SAP SuccessFactors community, a show of hands at ASUG’s Executive Exchange event highlighted the low priority of AI-related innovation relative to more pressing needs. As highlighted in the ASUG 2023 Pulse of the SAP Customer survey results, and reinforced at the Executive Exchange, those needs include:

  • Improving application integration.
  • Finding the right combination of internal resources and partner talent to affect business change.
  • Mastering technical migrations required in the move from ECC to S/4HANA and other SAP cloud properties.

Pinpointing Cloud ALM and Project Success

Interestingly, a combination of innovations in the perhaps less trendy product area of Cloud ALM (CALM) and project success, more directly relevant to SAP customers’ key requirement, saw the light of day at SAP Sapphire, albeit far from the keynote stage. New additions to CALM promise to solve the twin problems of integration and the skills gap via new, automated functionality that can address these pressing problems. SAP’s CALM – the much-improved cloud-based successor to SAP Solution Manager – can support the lifecycle of a project that includes managing the integration of SAP and non-SAP cloud assets, such as Salesforce and Workday, as part of an S/4HANA implementation or migration. CALM is also being actively integrated with SAP’s Signavio process mining and management tool, which will help further automate the problems of both application integration and process renewal and help de-risk the critical migration path from SAP ERP Central Component (SAP ECC) to SAP S/4HANA.

The combination of these two capabilities, which will be part of a set of major enhancements to SAP’s Business Transformation Center toolset in the next year, will leverage the SAP Business Technology Platform and the new DataSphere data management solution to provide the kind of streamlined support for integration that can also help ensure project success by automating key parts of the overall migration and implementation process. That automation, in turn, will go a long way towards alleviating the skills gap and personnel problems ASUG members, and other SAP customers, struggle with today.

Considering the large number of SAP customers, in ASUG and its sister user groups such as DSAG, that are still hesitant to pull the plug on their ECC systems and make the move to S/4HANA, these enhancements focused on project success stand to have a much more significant impact on SAP customers than the latest ChatGPT demo.

Observations from the Show Floor

The keynote stage wasn’t only for keeping SAP buzz-word compliant, however. SAP also used keynotes by CEO Christian Klein and other board members to focus on two concepts – sustainability and business networks – that also promise to deliver business value to SAP customers. The sustainability story SAP told in Orlando was the continuation of the company’s long-term commitment to supporting its customers in the face of a growing body of regulations and consumer demand for solutions that help limit the impact of the increasingly dire climate crisis.

The show floor at Sapphire was home to a demonstration of a farm-to-table connected supply chain intended to synchronize customer demand and consumption with the full farm-to-table lifecycle, from sustainable harvest and production to delivery. SAP’s support for sustainability concepts like the green ledger also informed announcements such as the availability of the SAP Sustainability Data Exchange, which supports the exchange of compliance and related sustainability data between trading partners, an enhancement that also adds value to suppliers’ participation in SAP’s Business Network. SAP also announced enhancements to its Sustainability Footprint Management, which gives customers visibility into the carbon footprints of their internal and partner-facing activities – another sustainability function that dovetails with SAP’s Business Network initiative.

The enhancements centered around CALM and the Business Transformation Center, as well as SAP’s sustainability messaging, made SAP Business Network newly visible, helping to highlight the central role that business networks will play for SAP in the coming years. 

Customers such as Pfizer touted the importance of SAP Business Network functionality from the keynote stage, and myriad customers spoke from show floor stages and in analyst one-on-ones about significant improvements in supply chain resilience, supplier and logistics management, compliance, order accuracy, on-time payment rates, and other key business metrics now being realized by a growing body of SAP Business Network customers.

The other major development in business networks was the announcement of specific business networks for four key industries: life sciences, high tech, CPG, and industrial manufacturing. These industry-specific efforts are being augmented by network industry advisory boards as well as integration with SAP’s CX industry-specific efforts.

The evolution of SAP’s Business Network and the overall success of Sapphire and Annual Conference efforts highlight the importance of collaboration and community in customer success. Taken in the context of the first large-scale in-person SAP event since quarantine, the online interactions highlighted by SAP Business Network customers are an important mirror to the in-person interactions that took place at the SAP Sapphire and ASUG Annual Conference.

A business partnership in an SAP Business Network, according to Business Network customers, isn’t just defined by the transactions it enables. These partnerships are also defined by the creation of relationships between suppliers and buyers that are both collaborative and mutually beneficial. Seeing ASUG members and other SAP customers – erstwhile competitors as well as long-term collaborators – exchange ideas and build similar bridges in person – bridges that in turn can augment virtual collaboration – may be the biggest story to be told about the success of the SAP Sapphire and Annual Conference in 2023.

Josh Greenbaum is the Principal at Enterprise Application Consulting.

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