After 3 days (and nights) in Orlando at Sapphire Now, I wanted to share my 3 major takeaways from Sapphire  from a Finance Line of Business Perspective

1. Evolution of the SAP S/4HANA (Finance) conversation

SAP S/4HANA Finance has been a great success at Sapphire Now since Simple Finance was launched during the event 2 years ago.  Throughout the year, I have seen an evolution and maturing of the discussion around SAP S/4HANA Finance and how it can support digital transformation.  Yet at Sapphire, the discussion moved once again to a different level of detail.  This was highlighted in the keynote presentations when Hasso Plattner, shared conversations with customers who told him that they do see SAP S/4HANA as the future.  However, they shared that this journey is not something they will start blindly.  Customers want more specifics on how to get there and what the future roadmap will be.   However many customers have started this journey and where at Sapphire to share their SAP S/4HANA journey this year.  Asian Paint’s, CIO Manish Shoski in Plattner’s keynote spoke about their transition to SAP S/4HANA.  They now have real time data and had no disruption to the daily work of their business. Learn more here. New York Life also discussed the benefits of having real time data.  See the replay here. A common thread through many customer presentations was that although they had realized immediate benefits from SAP S/4HANA Finance, the potential for future innovation with the SAP S/4HANA platform was even more exciting.

This focus by customers on the details could be seen in many of the finance interactive and demo sessions.  Martin Naraschewski’s roadmap session on SAP S/4HANA Finance was very popular. The phrase “standing room only” didn’t cover it and the questions at the end of the session were very detailed.  Questions were often specific to an individual system configuration or installed components and how they could move to SAP S/4HANA Finance. 

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I heard a lot of interest in understanding the differences between the SAP S/4HANA Finance versions.  (1503 includes just simplified finance, while 1511 includes simplified finance and logistics) So there are currently two tracks).  

It was the same in the different planning sessions on SAP S/4HANA, with Kirk Anderson, customers had detailed questions.  They wanted to understand the differences between BPC on HANA, BPC embedded model optimized for SAP S/4HANA and which would be the best choice for them. (It depends on your landscape configuration and what is important for your users, real time updates for example). 

For central finance, Carsten Hilker, despite competing with a thunderstorm, dived down into the details of scenarios.  Siemens also covered their assessment of SAP S/4HANA and Central Finance deployment options.  Siemens want to gain the advantage of insight across their complex landscape without massive disruption or long implementation cycles.  Click here for the replay

One thing that was clear there is not just one path on the journey to SAP S/4HANA Finance.  Depending on your business needs and system landscape, it could be an upgrade of an existing system.  A move into the cloud.   A landscape transformation with central finance at the core.  Or the ability to start with solutions on the edge such as SAP RealSpend, the Digital Boardroom and many others.  Customers are defining what is important to them and then finding out which path makes sense.  To do this they need more details so they can chart their own path to SAP S/4HANA Finance.

My colleague Amr El Meleegy wrote a great blog titled S/4HANA keynote moments if you want more details.

2. Focus on the Fundamentals.

However although the new solutions and technologies can help in many ways.  Fundamentals still matter.  There were sessions that covered compliance, IFRS regulations, accounting and financial close, budgeting and spend analysis.   Sofia Segenko from Heineken gave a great and well attended presentation about shared services.  One key takeaway, Segenko shared was that the decisions made about people and location are just as important as the system and processes.  Segenko stressed that talent management and having the right governance is critical to success. 

The finance strategic panel reiterated this as well. Click here for the replay. John Steele, Deloitte, put it perfectly when the discussion moved to the question of the next big thing, and new technology such as robots to further automate process was discussed.  “Robots should not be put on bad processes” Steele stated.   The panel also iterated that “strategy and goals need to be kept in mind” as people have learnt in the past, technology for technology sake never works. The basics and the overriding purpose till need to be right.  Geoff Scott, CEO, ASUG also stated that this makes sense as at the highest level “Purpose driven companies do better” in the ASUG keynote – replay here.

I particularly enjoyed the session hosted by Celina Rogers, from CFO.com.  She shared research about the role that finance professionals expect to have in the future and how technology will help. She highlighted that finance professionals expect to have to roles in the future that are significantly more collaborative, technologically self-sufficient, and forward looking and focusing on analyzing information.   This started an interesting discussion on the impact on talent management for finance departments.  Participants agreed that this will be a significant focus for finance departments in the future.  This shift in role is already impacting recruitment and potentially education and training in the future.  As finance executives are looking for this new skill set to support the new role of finance in the digital economy is very different. Below are the five key actions Rogers identified for finance professionals.

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3. Connections Still Matter
With around 30,000 people attending Sapphire – it is impossible to overlook the human factor at Sapphire.  SAP has its own ecosystem of customers, partners and employees and Sapphire is a celebration of that.  I find Sapphire is opportunity to meet new people, meet people face to face for the first time or to reconnect with old friends.  Presentations, interactive sessions and demo pods disseminate a lot of information.  But just as important are the conversations that happen anywhere and anytime during the three days and forming new connections. Technology is invaluable, and I am grateful that means that I can work with people all over the globe without travelling every week. But events where you meet people face to face, say hello, shake hands and have coffee are still important.  As we move into the digital age, collaboration and teamwork across many dimensions will drive innovation.  How we harness that will be another interesting aspect of the digital transformation. I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts Freakanomics on the way back from Orlando . The podcast was on productivity and featured the research at google on teams.  The podcast discussed how we connect is a great indicator of the productivity and innovation of teams.  The digital economy will make that even more important.

Wrap Up

So for now, Sapphire is over for 2016, and hopefully the thunderstorms.  The Coldplay concert was incredible, it was a fitting end to a great three days.  I look forward to working with many of you during the year and seeing you again at the next Sapphire.

Click here for more detailed recaps on day 1 and day 2,

Click here for the replays of all finance session

Join us at the SAP Insider in Vienna to continue the SAP S/4HANA Finance discussion, click here to register.

For more SAP Finance news you can follow me on Twitter @jucubiss

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