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SAP CEO Bill McDermott Puts Customer Empathy Center Stage at SAPPHIRE NOW

In front of more than 30,000 attendees with an additional 300,000 watching virtually around the world, SAP CEO Bill McDermott wasted no time in setting out a simple, bold company vision at the company’s premier customer event SAPPHIRE NOW in Orlando this week.

D2.jpg“This is all about you, our customers, and what makes us special is that we have a covenant with you that is unbreakable,” said McDermott.

That unbreakable covenant is indeed a mighty one as 76% of the world transactions run on an SAP system, totaling about $39 trillion in global commerce.

McDermott said the challenges and unpredictability of today’s economy is a stark reminder that the customer determines whether businesses win or lose.

“Everything has to start with empathy for the end user and the experience they are getting from your company,” said McDermott. “We feel strongly that design thinking and innovation is the way forward. So we truly have to understand that with every encounter with our customers means we have to understand their customers. We have to make the world run better, we have to improve people’s lives one customer at a time and that’s the commitment I give to you today.”

Feeling the feedback

Feedback received from SAP’s executive board – a formal process that includes meeting with the top 30 CIO’s from the biggest companies around the world and Silicon Valley – has also played a big part in igniting McDermott’s quest for customer empathy.

“They gave me a handful of messages, not all of them good,” said McDermott who considers this type of eye-opening, truthful feedback the ultimate courtesy. “They basically told me we weren’t empathetic enough, we weren’t listening or hearing their problems, in their terms, on a consistent basis.” McDermott’s pledge to address this feedback includes an empathetic approach of being curious about the customer’s business at all times.

A complete vision

In 2010, SAP made $50 billion investment to innovate its business. While most was organic, some was acquired via mergers and acquisitions. The other main tenet of SAP’s big innovation play is SAP HANA, the new standard for the 21st century database. SAP re-invented its business suite with S/4 HANA, which means business processes can be streamlined faster than ever before. And with the capabilities that SAP Ariba offers, SAP has extended the collaboration between business networks.

“CIO’s told me, ‘We love that completeness of vision – only problem is, not everyone at SAP communicates the way you do and by the way, we’d like to see more clear roadmaps for the direction you’d like to take my company,” said McDermott. “That completeness of vision is powerful but only becomes real when we make it real for you.”

In the spirit of keeping things real, McDermott provided his e-mail address ( to SAPPHIRE NOW attendees.

“If you’re not feeling the love, I want to hear from you,” said McDermott. “But I have a feeling there are 78,000 men and women at SAP that don’t want me to hear from you,” he quipped.

Future of business and tech

While there’s still a lot of activity around how businesses formulate their cloud, mobile and big data strategies, areas that can fundamentally change the game for many companies, McDermott predicts the next five to 10 years will be far more disruptive than the five to 10 we just lived through. Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality will be the next game changers, McDermott said.

“I believe very strongly that intelligent applications will fundamentally change the way you do work in the enterprise and the way you collaborate with your trading partners.”

To view this keynote in its entirety, please visit For additional news, including details about the new partnership with Microsoft and SAP, please visit the SAP News Center.

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