Having worked with SAP for the last 20 years I’ve watched with interest how the product has developed and having been an SD consultant in the past I’ve particularly been interested in the way the product has progressed in its interaction with the end consumer. It’s fair to say that whilst SAP has been the market leader in how customer facing processes should work in a Business to Business environment the ability to support the consumer has been less advanced and always a step behind many of the competitors.

If we look at the reasons for this then I think it boils down to a few areas:

  • Multi-channel Support – Over the years SAP has had a number of attempts at delivering sales support in a multi-channel environment. For on-line, starting with On-line Store, the solutions have been functional but not inspiring. For the mobile space the focus has primarily been on the B2B interaction but initial products, such as Mobile Infrastructure, have not been able to support the challenges of the consumer.
  • Usability – This old chestnut! Even before the term “consumerisation of IT” was coined the ability of the consumer to change suppliers at the click of a mouse was a driver for software companies, and IT-literate Design Agencies, to focus on highly usable web-sites. SAP’s own corporate view of usability was somewhat unique and didn’t really gain acceptance.
  • Volume – SAP set the standard for integration across customer facing process. Integrated stock checking, customer pricing, credit management, delivery scheduling, etc.  all puts pressure on the system which, when potentially 10’s of thousands of clients are hitting the system, can start to cause a degradation of services.

But the world has moved on in a number of ways. Firstly the problem has got worst, the power of the consumer has increased with the advent of the Social Media age. Also, it is reported that the balance of power for procurement of software has moved back again into the business. In this context the power of the CMO is on the up and this changes the whole dynamic of how SAP gets to the consumer.

But it is still the case that in the majority of Consumer Products companies SAP holds the power in the back-office and that includes the Order to Cash processes. But, it now looks like their ability to get closer to the consumer could finally be here. Why do I say this? Let’s consider the 3 areas:

  • Multi-channel support – Part of this is about integration, part about products. SAP’s product suite is now more open than ever before. The ability to integrate with 3rd party software from the web or social media platforms is proven, take a look at the situation with Social Media Monitoring via Netbase. This enables on-going innovation to occur outside the SAP product but still integrated with the best practice processes within. Also SAP’s products have improved considerably. With SAP CRM there is now a product that is market leading with a broad range of channel support including Web Content Management and e-Commerce support. Also, with the acquisition and integration of Sybase SAP has a mobile platform that is second to none. Another example would be, BCM. This is now a market leading telephony tool that delivers true multi-channel call centre capabilities.
  • Usability – SAP reviewed this situation with the consumer in mind and has addressed this from two perspectives. Firstly there is an acceptance that SAP developed UIs are not the only way to access SAP systems. SAP’s Gateway solution, or the Sybase Unwired Platform, support the ability to create new and innovative front-ends utilising development tools that are more aligned to the end application. In addition, for its own application, more attention has been paid to usability. SAP CRM is now available as a flexible Web UI, the new Web Content Management capabilities support the creation of better web-site and, finally, Screen Personas show that usability is now understood and has been put high on the agenda.
  • Volume – The Achilles heel has finally been addressed with the release of Business Suite on HANA. Large volumes of consumer data can be analysed in real-time across multiple dimensions. Previously invisible insight is immediately available. Also, highly integrated business processes can be supported for large volumes of customers. The latency introduced through highly developed best of breed applications is removed and the opportunity to develop new and innovative applications is here.

So it is now time for SAP to start to court the consumer. The relationship is only just starting because the tools are only just becoming available. But, through the work that Capgemini has already done around Digital Transformation, it looks like the future is bright.