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Author's profile photo Richard Hirsch

More than Mojo: Personal Impressions from the SapphireNow Conference

If you examine the resulting blogs or look back at the Twitter chatter about the recently concluded SapphireNow, you will often find titles and quotes that contain the word mojo – for example:

What is Mojo:

1. Self-confidence, Self-assuredness. As in basis for belief in ones self in a situation. Esp. In context of contest or display of skill such as sexual advances or going into battle.
2. Good luck fetish / charm to bolster confidence.
3. ability to bounce back from a debilitating trauma and negative attitude
He lost his mojo when she dumped him…
He got his mojo back now.

When I think of the word mojo, I imagine an arrogant rooster strutting around the barnyard.  This self-assuredness was definitely present in SAP’s performance at the SapphireNow but there were also undertones of more fundamental changes that were eloquently captured in Paul Greenberg’s excellent blog “SAP: The Culture Leads the Products” where he describes the new type of relationship between SAP and its customers that was evident at the SapphireNow:

What was noticeable was that SAP at that time, recognized that their traditional way of doing business was no longer going to be appropriate for a new world which at one level demanded increased customer engagement and at another level involved considerable input from customers on what they actually wanted from the companies that they were dealing with or what they would like to see.  It was no longer a “build it and they will come” enterprise software world.

Although a large company (such as SAP) may recognize the necessity of change, it is often difficult to steer the behemoth into new waters in a timely fashion –  a revolutionary cultural change might take years before it “infects” an entire organization. As a SAPMentor, who is very active in SAP Ecosystem, I’ve always appreciated openness in the collaborative efforts in this part of the SAP organization (see the recent Mark Yolton blog about the fundamental changes and potential brought about following “Open Leadership” principles).  At the SapphireNow, however, I was looking for proof of this change in other corporate units beyond the Ecosystem.

Here are the few examples I personally experienced / noticed that reflect this change:

  • The structure of SapphireNow conference itself changed to reflect the importance of talking to customers rather than just presenting information. The number of slides was restricted to less than 10, the duration of presentations was limited, and presentations were often followed by a discussion group to allow greater interaction with conference attendees.
  • This year, the SapphireNow was split between Orlando and Frankfurt which meant that many of the “usual suspects” who usually talked to influencers were often unavailable for personal 1:1 interaction in Frankfurt – no one expected SAP to jet all those managers back and forth between the continents – think of the carbon footprint. Although some might have seen their absence as a shortcoming,  it turned out that the separate locations were an advantage in that influencers had the opportunity to interact with a different / new group of SAP spokespeople. The same cultural change / openness that was obvious in the very top management – as seen in keynotes, streamed panel discussions, etc –  was also present in this new group of spokespeople. For me, this was proof that these cultural changes are being embraced by diverse levels of the SAP hierarchy.
  • I had long conversations with Craig Cmehil about Innojagd – SAP’s attempt to research, catalog and analyze internal and external innovations. The important role of the customer in this endeavor and openness with which SAP is promoting this effort is evidence that it has realized that innovation without early involvement of customers is problematic. I’ll be watching this project to see if customers are provided access to the research results that identify those trends that will influence future directions in SAP products. 
  • The availability of SapphireNow content to the public without charge was a another sign of the change. In the past, much of content produced at such events with hidden away or only available for a fee.  The SapphireNow site provides much of this content in excellent quality.  TechEd organizers please take note….
  • Some of this cultural change originates from the new Co-CEOs. The SAPMentors met the former CEO Leo Apotheker at a past Sapphire in Orlando at the GC Reception – the conversation (if you could call that..) was very short and one-sided. In Frankfurt, we met Co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe and he started our interaction by asking us for our opinion about StreamWork.  Although the very different experiences with the two CEOs might just reflect the personalities of the two men involved,  in my opinion, the contrast was telling and a sign of the emphasis that SAP now places on listening rather than telling.

Conclusion: A Shift from Push to Pull

We are seeing a change in how SAP views itself and how it views its customers / ecosystem – a shift from push to pull and SapphireNow was an excellent example of this shift.  In a recent blog, Oliver Marks describes the new book ‘The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion‘ in which “Pull in [the authors’] context is collaboration, modularity, bottom up, flexibility…and a world where it is possible to invoke people and resources you didn’t even know were out there to achieve more in life and business  within less time.”  

A conference like a SapphireNow is focused more on communication than on actual collaboration – I’ll be curious to see how SAP intends to continue the spirit of SapphireNow in non-conference settings. For me, this change is the real challenge and depends not only on SAP’s desire to change but also on the willingness of its customers to hop on the same bus for what will probably be an occasionally bumpy but definitely exciting ride.

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