SAP Mentors educate APJ customers about leading-edge technologies in China, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and beyond
SAP Mentors are a super-smart, engaged, global cohort of nearly 140 experts in all things SAP. They come from the ranks of customers, partners, employees, bloggers, consultants, business people and technical wizards and are nominated by peers in the SAP Community Network (SCN), and selected by SAP.
Kurt Bilafer, Regional Vice President, Analytics for Asia-Pacific Japan is an enthusiastic fan of SAP mentors and an honorary mentor himself. Kurt runs the sales organization for a solutions portfolio that includes business intelligence (BI), enterprise performance management (EPM), finance solutions and governance, risk & compliance (GRC) offerings. We spoke with him and Mentors Corey Adams and Gary Hooker about the value Mentors are bringing to APJ, one of the most promising and challenging markets for SAP.
The first challenge is breadth of the region. “We’re in Pakistan, China, Japan and New Zealand and everywhere in-between,” says Bilafer, “so we’ve got a very diverse market, with numerous languages and cultures.”
Bilafer notes that the main emphasis of SAP’s APJ customers is traditional technology, such as ERP and SRM. SAP has longest most tenure in Australia, so it’s no surprise most of APJ’s SAP Mentors are there.
Bilafer wants to spread the benefits of SAP Mentors’ knowledge and enthusiasm throughout the entire region. The big idea is to harness Mentors to help SAP’s APJ customers see more possibilities in the core SAP functions, and also in recent innovations such as HANA, Analytics & Mobility.
Championing the ecosystem
Bilafer discovered the SAP Mentor program in an earlier role at SAP. “Before landing in APJ, I was a leading ecosystem champion for Analytics, HANA, middleware and more,” he says. “While I was helping launch HANA into the SAP ecosystem, I ran into some SAP Mentors at TechEd and was amazed at how knowledgeable they were and how much the senior leadership team at SAP respected them.”
At one event, Bilafer recalls meeting with former SAP executive Sanjay Poonen, SAP CTO Vishal Sikka and four or five mentors. “The Mentors provided great feedback. They seemed comfortable pushing back against our messaging, processes and leadership while being influential and helping to move markets and effectively communicate our customers’ viewpoint.”
When he moved to APJ, Bilafer set out to recruit more mentors to encourage customer engagement and innovation there. He had no specific budget and a rapidly emerging marketplace to contend with. So he took matters into his own hands.
SAP Mentors: “What??!!”
“One of the challenges in APJ is that most people didn’t know who the Mentors were,” he says. “We identified six or seven mentors from a variety of places, including China, India and Singapore. Then we worked with the Eventful Group and others to expand their “Mastering SAP” series to include additional SAP Mentors in their events, as well as to showcase SAP’s recent innovations more prominently.
Bilafer also worked with the Mentors to participate in a whole series of events—webinars, hands-on workshops in Kuala Lumpur, speaking at SAP Insider events, social media and more. This work paid off in September of this year, at SAP Insider in Singapore.
Six hundred people from all over the region attended the event. “I had an opportunity to keynote and talk about the importance of the Mentors. There was a social media lounge, with lots of attendee participation and great presenters. Most importantly we had 10 mentors at the event – wearing their shirts,” says Bilafer.
“Corey Adams, a Mentor from New Zealand was there. In the past he’s acted as a customer advocate, bringing some independent insight to customer decision making.”
Caption: Corey Adams interviewed by Kurt Bilafer in December 2013.
Adams gives an example of the power of the Mentors to help guide the customer journey. “Earlier this year at Eventful Group’s ‘Mastering SAP Technologies Conference,’ I was introduced to a couple of people from a branch of the Australian Federal Police,” says Adams. “They were weighing up the pros and cons of self-service BI versus center-based BI and were looking for some hands-on learning.”
Adams shared his experience implementing both models and suggested considering a hybrid approach, which they are now putting into place.
“As we parted company,” recounts Adams, “They said, ‘That alone has made the investment worthwhile,’ referring to conference fee. I think that speaks highly of the kind of contribution and value that Mentors provide to the SAP Ecosystem down under.”
“Corey engages around solutions and where products can add value,” says Roberts. “He owns up when he doesn’t know, comes back with answers and uses his deep connections with top SAP people to make sure that SAP customers in New Zealand can raise any questions and obtain swift and positive resolutions.”
Key problem solvers
According to Bilafer, Mentors like Adams have been instrumental in solving problems at SAP customers such as Cub Foods, SAB Miller and Foster’s, providing insight into architectural issues and other challenges at no charge.
“The SAP Mentor Initiative is a really unique effort,” says Bilafer. “The Mentors write some of the most challenging blog posts, hold SAP accountable, tell you the good and the bad. They don’t say anything that our customers aren’t saying.”
Paying it forward
Bilafer believes that, as volunteers, the SAP Mentors are “paying it forward,” doing good to help the 2.8 million users who make up the SAP Community Network.
He cites the contributions of Gary Hooker, an Australia-based Mentor who spoke at a couple of conferences last year, as someone customers in APJ should know about. Hooker works for the Australian government running one of the largest SAP deployments in the country. He describes his Mentor experience this way: “The SAP product suite is like a gigantic Meccano® set which you can use to build anything. All I have done is shared my ‘warts and all’ BI journey with other public sector customers as well as with the broader SAP community, as a volunteer with the SAP Australian User Group (SAUG) and through speaking at lots of Mastering SAP conferences.
“We are all on similar SAP journeys and I think BI is the mechanism which brings the technology and business together,” he says.
Huge difference in APJ
Bilafer believes having more Mentors like Hooker and Adams has the potential to make a huge difference in addressing the skills gap, which he sees as the biggest challenge to technology innovation in APJ. To continue innovating with SAP, customers there need well-trained data scientists and technology experts who can capture, connect and make sense of data.
“Given the demands for top-notch computing experts in Malaysia and the Philippines,” he says, “there is a risk that there won’t be enough skilled people to meet the growing need for sophisticated IT solutions.
“SAP Mentors are really important for helping us to speed up knowledge transfer,” says Bilafer, “as well as helping customers explore opportunities to adopt new technologies.”
Keen about SAP Mentors
There’s another reason Bilafer is so keen on SAP Mentors.
“It is simply cost-prohibitive for Americans and Europeans to implement leading-edge SAP technologies across all of Asia given the sheer number of multinational companies in the region,” he says. “What the Mentors can do is help local talent to explore the technologies themselves.”
“We need local talent from rapidly emerging markets to develop their own voice, their own content, blogs and social media, so that local IT professionals can answer customer questions such as, ‘Should I upgrade?” And: “If so, how do I do it?”
To that end, Bilafer is working on a new challenge. “We have to make Mentors in APJ easier to find and connect with. My next challenge is to get one million people in Asia using SCN. We were at 750K in June 2013 and I want us to hit one million. The SAP Mentors are helping me engage to reach that goal.”