Key takeaways from SAPPHIRE NOW 2019 – and what I learned from Lady Gaga

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This year’s Sapphire was bigger, better and more interesting than last years’, even when SAP did not make any major new announcements. Key themes were experience management, S/4HANA becoming mainstream, and prevalence of cloud. Read on to learn more.

SAPPHIRE NOW is SAP’s main yearly event, taking place in Orlando typically in May-June, and aimed at SAP customers, partners and users to hear SAP share their strategy and direction, to experience the latest developments in SAP products and services, to learn from experiences of others. And of course, to network, get inspired, and have a bit of fun.

This year’s Sapphire was large, with 30,000+ visitors, yet extremely well organized. With some re-arrangement compared to last year, the space seemed wider and more logical, and it was easy to navigate between the large and small presentation theaters, the SAP product and expert corners, the SAP partner exhibitions, and the different meeting areas. I’ve also never seen such a large crowd fed so efficiently!

When last year’s Sapphire was characterized by the launch of the Intelligent Enterprise and the C/4HANA Suite, this year did not really provide any news on comparable scale. Except of course the focus on Experience Management and Experience Economy, following the recent acquisition of Qualtrics. Both Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP, and Hasso Plattner, co-founder and chairman of the supervisory board, spent considerable parts of their keynotes focusing on experience management and the combination of experience data with operational data (X and O data, respectively), sharing the stage with Ryan and Jared Smith, co-founders of Qualtrics.

While Bill’s keynote revolved around SAP’s business and strategy (“where we are now, where we are headed, and how we will get there”) and was much more marketing-oriented as expected, Hasso did not let us down but delivered a strong technology-oriented lecture on the history and breakthrough of S/4HANA (with 11k+ customers already) and the exponentially growing datasphere (measuring at 2,000 exabytes in 2010, 40,000 exabytes today, and projected at 175,000 by 2025). It is no wonder that SAP’s development efforts revolve around data, as evidenced by the launch of SAP Data Warehouse Cloud and SAP HANA Cloud Services, and the impressive 325 releases published for SAP Analytics Cloud in 2018.

Sapphire is not only about SAP, but there is plenty of inspiration as well, this year delivered by people such as Sandra Bullock, Karlie Kloss, Bear Grylls – and the magnificent Lady Gaga, who on the evening of the last day impressed us all with her astounding performance and her explanation of SAP. Without a doubt, many found a little monster inside of us.

My key takeaways:

1. Experience economy and experience management.
The ability to combine X and O data (experience data and operational data) and to use this data in continuous feedback loops for the planning and execution of business operations will determine the success of most companies in the future. And do not be fooled to think experience data is (only) the collection of “happy or not” information at the end of the customer journey. It is so much more, spanning across customer experience, product experience, employee experience and brand experience. If you do not have plans, processes and tools in place to operate and thrive in the experience economy, you need to act now.

2. S/4HANA is fully mainstream
This might not be news for us working in the SAP services industry. But if some SAP’s customers were in doubt earlier, they should not be anymore. I already quoted Hasso on the 11,000+ S/4HANA customers SAP has. But even more impressive was the 30,000 people in Sapphire – even if not all of them were focused on S/4HANA only, I will go on record saying literally all of them were interested in S/4HANA. And not just interested as a curiosity one wants to learn more about but interested as in “what are the concrete next steps that my organization should take to move to S/4”. Which could be a technical assessment, a business case, launch of implementation project – or expansion of an on-going project. If you do not yet have your S/4HANA plan in place, I’d be happy to help you get started.

3. Prevalence of Cloud
SAP’s focus on cloud has been clear for many years, realizing strongly via the past acquisitions of SuccessFactors, Ariba, Hybris etc., more recently via the S/4HANA deployment and development strategy (cloud-first, with S/4HANA Cloud (SaaS) multi-tenant and single-tenant spearheading the release of new functionalities and soon reaching full maturity in terms of industry and functional coverage), and most recently via the focus of new product development on SaaS products (SAP Data Warehouse Cloud which was just released, SAP Analytics Cloud etc.) and in general on the SAP Cloud Platform. And even when most of SAP’s ERP customers implementing S/4 are not yet choosing the SaaS versions, they are keeping future path to SaaS in mind, and most are at least considering if not implementing public cloud IaaS (Azure, AWS, GCP), which can nowadays host basically any HANA instance. If SAP Cloud is not on your agenda, you should critically ask yourself why not.

All in all, it was great week in Orlando, with insightful keynotes and inspiring speakers, thought-provoking discussions with our customers, and plenty of fun and friends. If you were in Sapphire and met with Capgemini, I hope you got what you were looking for. If you want to hear more about my thoughts and hear how Capgemini can help you on your way towards S/4HANA, into Cloud, and into Experience Economy, please do not hesitate to contact me.

I hope to see you in Orlando next year, May 12-14!

Olli Sihvonen leads the SAP Center of Excellence for Capgemini’s Europe Cluster Business Unit, responsible for bringing the full breadth of Capgemini SAP offering portfolio to the benefit of it’s customers, with special focus on SAP S/4HANA.

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