I have always had a soft spot for centaurs, the half human, half horse creatures in Greek Mythology because they successfully straddled two worlds – the wild and the intellectual.
Big corporate technology conferences like SAP’s SapphireNow running this week in Orlando, Florida exhibits some of the same dichotomous elements – part pep talk and sales jamboree, part education and learning experience.
During the opening day of Sapphire yesterday, I moved backwards and forwards between these two worlds experiencing the excitement of a show attended by about 20,000 people, but learning a lot too.
I heard SAP CEO Bill McDermott talk with passion about the importance of having empathy for the customer, consumerization and digital transformation in his opening keynote. “The consumer rules — and it’s fundamentally changing everything,” he said.
In future he said companies will need to be data-driven and offer a simple seamless experience to their customers. This message clearly resonated with his audience of partners and customers including Walmart whose CIO, Karenann Terrell endorsed SAP HANA on stage as being “a transformational technology” for Walmart that would enable the company to become data driven and serve its customers faster and better. “We are a technology company within the worlds largest retailer,” she said.
I also heard Jonathan Becher, AP’s Chief Digital Officer, talk about the launch of the SAP Store – perhaps the most significant new announcement of the show so far.
The online Store represents a major initiative for SAP and will enable individuals to click and buy SAP and third-party business apps with a credit card or PayPal account in much the same way that they would download music or a consumer app from the Apple or Google’s app stores.
Some of the apps that are already available for purchase in the SAP Store are new ‘digitally native’ apps, designed from the ground-up for personal consumption and have distinct features such as offering in-application purchases, simple pricing structure, and configuration in minutes not hours or days.
SAP is betting that this new direct business-to-consumer ecommerce channel – one of the first of its types and a classic example of the consumerization of enterprise IT – will become a significant additional revenue source and expand both the geographic reach and scale of its offerings.
Interestingly, as the press release announcing the launch of the SAP Store also noted, the platform could also be used to enable SAP’s entry into content and data offerings.
The buzz here in Orlando among customers is also undeniably upbeat. The launch of SAP S/4HANA earlier this year appears to have succeeded in building momentum behind SAP’s sales efforts while the ‘Run Simple’ messaging has found resonance. As one customer told me yesterday, “its an exciting time in enterprise IT, and that hasn’t always been the case.”
One key reason for this excitement is that a growing roster of companies in diverse sectors including industrial manufacturing are recognizing that they are essentially software and services companies, and that their future success will depend on their ability to deliver value added services to their customers – for example John Deer, the agricultural equipment maker, is using sensor data and big data analytics to provide predictive maintenance services to tractor owners.
In his keynote on Tuesday morning Bernd Leukert, SAP’s executive vice president in charge of products and innovation, highlighted this trend noting that the CEO of one big airline company told him recently that his company has the opportunity, “to become a software company with wings.”
Does this hybrid model sound familiar? In a very real sense these company are 21st Century corporate centaurs – combining the features of a traditional manufacturing operation with the smarts of a next generation, (big) data driven and customer focused services business.