Editor’s note: This article appeared in the Oct-Nov-Dec 2014 issue of insiderPROFILES (insiderPROFILESonline.com) and appears here with permission from WIS PUBLISHING.
Sameer Patel serves as Senior Vice President for SAP’s Enterprise Social and Collaborative Software business at SAP Cloud/SuccessFactors. With SAP Jam, he oversees products and go to market for one of the fastest-growing cloud products in SAP’s portfolio, now with more than 15 million subscribers. Patel, who joined SAP in early 2012, has more than 15 years of technology product leadership experience and has worked on collaboration and application technology with some of the largest organizations in the world.
Enterprise collaboration is at a crossroads today. Customers are well aware of the adoption challenges with new social tools in the enterprise and so, the bar has been raised: for any collaboration technology to be considered a critical part of an organization’s business execution machinery, it must directly solve real business problems. Given what I’ve worked on throughout my career and what SAP has set out to do as it re-entered this category in 2012, this evolution in thinking about the value of collaboration makes it an especially exciting time for me. Looking back to when I researched the promise of collaboration and knowledge management for my master’s thesis, the expectation for collaboration was largely limited to moving files around between aging experts and new recruits as a way to retain organizational knowledge. Many of the theories were extremely uninspiring to me, and starting back then, I began to advocate that networks or clustering of experts would ultimately be much more powerful than features in a file-sharing application. And I’ve continued to do so today as you can see on my blog.
Thanks to consumer social media, today, organization leaders now see that collaboration is not about moving files around. Rather, they innately understand the power of network effects that come when human beings are connected around a topic or purpose, and are looking to understand how this applies to their employees, customers, and partners.
“Collaboration technology is finally headed swiftly toward solving for very purpose-built outcomes by bringing networks of experts, data, processes, and content together.”
I feel that my 15 years of work in this area is coming full circle. As far as product strategy goes, if I sum up the primary role I’ve played over the last decade, it’s been to help organizational leaders strip out the complexity in how their employees, partners, and customers connect. Horizontal platforms such as collaboration and messaging are a white canvas. That’s mostly good because you can imagine your own use cases, but it also gives organizations the license to run amok and waste money building capabilities that don’t get used or require significant behavioral changes. My career, spent mostly with line-of-business leaders in the areas of sales, marketing, service, and the supply chain, as well as some very forward-thinking CIOs, trained me very early on to stay focused on operational trends and transformation opportunities versus trying to find problems to solve with shiny new technologies.
Collaboration technology is finally headed swiftly toward solving for very purpose-built outcomes by bringing networks of experts, data, processes, and content together. At SAP, we saw this over two years ago and have built for it, with SAP Jam. Today, we are lucky to be trusted by hundreds of customers and have a substantial offering that’s globally subscribed to by 15 million users.
Successful horizontal products and platforms will demand such business proficiency, and I am proud to say that we, as a team, live by this ethos. I’m also truly fortunate that the leadership at SAP, starting with our CEO, has been extremely supportive from the get-go. And other leaders, such as our CTO and founder of SuccessFactors, have played a big role in shaping this culture.
Q: How does innovation in collaboration technology relate to the big market trends that are on the minds of leaders today?
As far as market trends, the last few years have brought about rapid innovation in how organizations are using social and mobile technologies to build out networks of buyers and sellers in very unconventional ways. A CEO of a large global bank told me that his worry isn’t another global bank, but rather, he is concerned that new competitors will capture the mindshare and mobile screentime of millions of customers, such as Alibaba in China, which controls a majority of ecommerce transactions, or even Apple, which owns 40% of the world’s smartphone users.
Companies such as these have very agile methods to connect with their customers and create powerful networks amongst them. And just as importantly, employees of these organizations are highly networked internally so that they can keep up with their customers.
“Building well-networked organizations is at the center of this new way of doing business.”
The potential and threat are well understood by incumbent businesses, but the technical barrier has been high-latency IT systems that were never designed to meet this need for networked capability and collaboration or easy exchange of information about products, solutions, and services. Today’s customers are informed consumers, often with fickle tastes. Organizations must deliver information about what they build or sell with the same speed and agility that customers have come to expect in the public realm. This means collaborating with customers with much more context, having the agility to learn and adjust business strategies as market conditions change, and being able to act and make decisions as fast as your customers and faster than your competitors.
This is the challenge and opportunity in front of our customers, and building well-networked organizations is at the center of this new way of doing business. I couldn’t be more excited and privileged to have this opportunity to help our customers, and we have everything in place here at SAP to help our customers win in this new economy.
Q: How do you see SAP advancing the enterprise collaboration space in the months ahead?
The market has moved beyond trying to build a social enterprise; that’s not the business SAP is in and frankly not what is keeping customers up at night. Now, we are looking at holistic digital transformation as the next wave that organizations are embracing. If one looks at the dotcom era as internet commerce changing the way we purchased goods and services, digital transformation extends this to actually transforming the very definition of a product and ultimately an industry, much like Uber fundamentally changed the idea of a taxi, and Airbnb changed the idea of a hotel room. These new upstarts are leveraging analytics to optimize the product and network effects to connect employees, buyers, and suppliers. Suddenly, social collaboration and networking with your customers and partners at every touch point must become an integral part of this transformation that you undertake in order to compete.
And so customers will expect that collaboration will be woven into the very fabric of their work canvas — their applications, networks, and devices. And given that SAP has the broadest set of business applications — and with Ariba, SAP Jam, and FieldGlass, three extremely high velocity networks — we are uniquely positioned to deliver a platform that drives transformation for our customers.
This is precisely why we developed and launched work patterns by SAP Jam that create personalized work experiences that bring the best of applications data, process, content, and people together in one contextual workspace. The idea is to help organizations adapt to this digital transformation with three fundamental types of capabilities:
- Operational transformation work patterns to drive efficiency between employees
- Ecosystem transformation work patterns to create new ways to connect with partners, customers, and suppliers
- Industry transformation work patterns to differentiate and drive competitive advantage
Q: Can you provide an example of an organization you have worked with that is breaking out of the transactional mindset and beginning this transformation?
Let’s look at an example of operational transformation: One SAP customer is moving from selling air compression systems to selling compressed air to drive margins. Think about what needs to happen in order to transition from selling a machine to becoming a service provider where renewals and customer satisfaction are now more important than ever. Work patterns by SAP Jam enable the agility to do this by giving everyone who engages with the customer — sales, service, and marketing — a holistic view of all customer activity. So all of the sales data, customer information, service tickets, active marketing campaigns, and your network of experts, etc., it’s all consumed from your collaboration environment, instead of sitting in different siloes.
The work experience centers on truly satisfying and delighting the customer in every interaction as opposed to closing out transactions. This is a clear example of digitally transforming how sales, service, and marketing collaborate with each other and with the customer, but with minimal disruption to the existing technology landscape.
We have similar examples of customers looking at ecosystem transformation where most of their distributors or suppliers are not full-time employees, but they know more about the end customers or each component of the product than the customer. Our ecosystem transformation work patterns can be applied to more cohesively involve outsourced talent pools as if they were full-time employees, thereby significantly broadening the expertise base of the customer.
Q: What is the competitive differentiator in creating a contextual work experience?
“The domain expertise that customers bring to the table should not have to take a back seat just because they adopted cloud.”
That question brings us to work patterns for industry transformation in SAP Jam, which is the biggest thing we’ve done since launching SAP Jam two years ago. The central idea here is that for an application to be transformative, a customer must be able to derive truly differentiated competitive advantage from it. Everyone understands the benefits of the cloud, but one of the central truths is that when all technology is deployed in the cloud, there will be little that differentiates one organization from another. SAP Jam, along with SAP HANA Cloud Platform, now allows customers to extend what we have done out of the box or to completely re-design their own work pattern to reflect either a unique way in which they work or to represent the process transformation they seek. Also, live data from any application, SAP or third-party, can now come into SAP Jam for a true 360-degree view of everything that an employee, customer, or partner needs to know.
The domain expertise that customers bring to the table should not have to take a back seat just because they adopted cloud. You can now have it both ways — benefit from cloud consumption but still apply your secret sauce that will let you win in your markets.
Q: What will the enterprise collaboration environment look like in the future?
One of the transformations on the horizon will likely be the very nature of business applications themselves. Applications will be network-first, and they will be about finding the right use case to engage your network, with processes or transactions serving to bolster this relationship as needed.
We’re already seeing this in consumer applications. If you look at Amazon, the catalog, the reviewer network, and the marketplace are what is front and center. The shopping cart button is hidden in a corner of the website. Our Ariba network powers many transactional capabilities, and SAP Jam along with SAP learning management systems bring the best of network-based peer-to-peer learning combined with formal training.
We will continue to look at the usefulness of business applications to complete transactions, but the network where your employees work, your customers engage, and you collaborate with suppliers will become the primary canvas where work gets done.
Q: Can you draw any parallels between your personal and professional interests?
I have been cooking for 18 years, ever since I left Mumbai. My time in the kitchen and on my workbench complement each other. To me, cooking, much like the pursuit of building and selling products that drive organizational performance, is more of a craft than an art. You always look for patterns, but no canned recipe ever produces the same results twice. No two ounces of coriander or legs of lamb are the same. Likewise, no two customer environments, opportunities, and appetites for transformation are the same.
On one hand, our customers need to embrace and feed off of inbuilt characteristics of good ingredients and so we ensure that our products are simple yet sophisticated and fast to deploy. And on the other hand, they need to know how to use additional flavors to enhance the experience to outdo the competition, and that’s where our platform lets them make the solution their own.