Want to know what Sapphire 2019 was like last week?

This is a seriously big event – some 30,000 people had arrived in Orlando for SAP’s SAPPHIRE NOW event this year – it’s 30th anniversary (and that’s not to mention the projected 1 million virtual followers… amongst the 200m users it has): it all felt somehow more impressive and larger than last year.

Bill McDermott’s keynote was – as always, upbeat, and inevitably re-enforced the importance of S4/HANA and C4/HANA, dropping the fact that SAP has invested $70bn in innovation in recent years. The keynote focused on “the Experience gap” – the difference between what your clients want and what they actually feel.

  1. Experience is everything
  2. The intelligent enterprise – seamlessly joining your processes to client experiences
  3. Remember your X’s and O’s – X (experience) data and O (operational) data

The big surprise was Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, announcing a deepening of their relationship with the introduction of an SAP Cloud Platform SDK for iOS, based on Apple’s on-device machine learning technology. The next version will use SAP Leonardo to create cloud apps for iOS. 

They discussed the use of Augmented Reality & Machine Learning in the Manufacturing and Retail sectors with a good example using Augmented Reality to show retail staff how to lay out their shelves – goodbye retail planograms hello AR.

The big development for me is that SAP will expand its Apps to run natively on a Mac and will also be bringing Ariba to iOS.

Further announcements covered more on how SAP S/4 HANA will get Artificial Intelligence and Robotics to make S/4 more future-proofed for the world ahead.

O and X data – the new frontier

A big focus was on bringing together O data (operational data) and X data (customer experience data), with SAP’s recent $8bn Qualtrics acquisition as a major accelerator behind this breakthrough. Solving the customer experience riddle is widely seen as the next big challenge and SAP is clearly seeking to solve this for CEOs the world over.

Around the show floor

The language around the show floor from SAP partners has changed considerably this year.

There are several good examples of partners using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to free people up from boring, low value, repetitive tasks in the workplace. The RPA demo at UiPath was excellent, demonstrating RPA provides the intelligent enterprise with more returns from your SAP investment, showing examples of ways SAP customers can use the UiPath Enterprise RPA Platform to automate business processes.

The use of Blockchain to solve everyday problems such as Track and Trace in the Pharmaceutical market is also a good example of innovative tools moving from theory to real use.

Hasso’s Day 2 Keynote

The second day started with an impressive keynote from Hasso Plattner – SAP’s IT Rockstar. He was very relaxed and gave great insight into the challenges of developing SAP products over the years. He is clear that HANA has already become the norm for SAP customers.

Hasso is clearly very proud of having developed the HANA database and the numbers speak for themselves. SAP have now reached 50,000 customer licences with 100m transactions per day running through HANA databases and the largest to date being 72 Terabytes. The projection for the data volumes that customers need to deal with are incredible – the slide below depicts the expected growth in data volumes:

Watch Hasso here for 10 minutes of inspiration https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmGv8bIeCWU

“Public cloud is the future direction” – he says, and Hasso only wants to talk about Public Cloud. This makes sense – many of the comments here were replays of conversations we have with SAP customers every day. SAP customers that maintain their own SAP systems usually and inevitably lag behind SAP on updating their public cloud systems – which means they don’t get the advantage of improved functionality and business processes, it makes it harder to do business led projects and it raises security risks as security patches can sometimes not be implemented quickly.

Nearly all SAP products have now moved to HANA with only Ariba and Concur left to complete the journey.

There are lots of new developments due in the Business Warehouse area to deal with these big data volumes – watch out for something call Persistent Memory and SAP HANA Data Lake (a Data Lake being a storage repository that can store large amounts of structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data for unconstrained analytics).

Open HANA is to be used to run non SAP products and SAP HANA Data Warehouse will be able to run on AWS…… Open Spaces is a new thing in the HANA BI space, allowing business teams to work together on a cross section of external data without polluting the data lake and not reducing data quality. Expect data scientists, who can make this really fly and give the insight businesses will need, to be much in demand.

I visited the Hasso Plattner Institute stand: this is a seriously impressive research institute. I enquired how a student gets to take part and the answer amazed me. Apparently, students pay only around €500 per year to do Masters or PhD Courses – it’s not a commercial enterprise at all and the main funding comes from Hasso himself: what a great legacy is being created there.

Around the show floor

O & X data is everywhere, even on the drinking cups – just to ensure we get the message.

Operational Data + Customer Experience Data is the holy grail that drives insights from large data volumes to improve business performance as the experience gap closes: this also explains why SAP bought Qualtrics as this is key in this way of thinking.

Every year I raise with SAP’s leaders that they need to make it easier for customers to move from older ERP products such as R/3, ECC6.0 and CRM over to S/4 HANA & C/4HANA.

Encouragingly, SAP Transformation Navigator is here and it certainly helps: all you need to do as a customer is to log in with your SAP user ID (S number) and the Transformation Navigator will load the products you have from SAP, and with a few easy questions, guide you to the recommended products for your business sector and SAP platform: this easy clarity strikes me as a good step forward from SAP.

Everyone seemed quite positive and upbeat as the UK&I SAP team and the User group met up at Discovery Cove for their annual Orlando meeting together: this was a really good networking event, and in an excellent environment. I undoubtedly talked with more SAP customers here than in the conference itself.

Last day

The final day was probably the highlight. The keynote was inspirational and the customer case study on the implementation of SAP S/4 HANA was excellent, especially seeing and hearing how people had worked together so well to achieve their common objectives.

The keynote was hosted by Alicia Tillman, Global Chief Marketing Officer, together with two exceptional founders of companies from the SAP.iO start up investment scheme – Jasmine Crowe, founder of Goodr – a food re-distribution program and Shirley Chen, CEO of Narrativ.

Bill McDermott took part in an interview with Sandra Bullock, who was very natural and demonstrated a different line of questioning to the usual approach that really did tease out some good issues and certainly kept Bill on his toes. The session with Karlie Kloss SAP’s new brand ambassador was also excellent.

The top take-away for me from these greats came from Sandra Bullock “Kill horribleness with kindness, take the high road – the view is better up there.”

SAP Licencing news

I met up with Kim Chalmers, a UK based SAP Licensing expert we work with, who was at Sapphire specifically to focus on how SAP sees its licensing model evolving.

SAP made an announcement regarding “Digital Access” as an alternative to Indirect Use and user based Licensing. This is excellent news as I know many customers have been concerned that they could unknowingly have a surprise extra charge on this so SAP have given customers until Q3 to take advantage of the two options on offer.

CRH America Materials SAP S/4 HANA case study

Really inspiring customer stories are hard to come by in IT generally, but the story at CRH was excellent. They had a simple but challenging goal – to take one of their new companies live on S/4 HANA in 9 months – for business reasons: there was just no choice. I caught up with Alan Fralick CRH CIO straight after the session and asked what the keys to this successful project were: the answer was not surprising but the commitment to the key principles was exceptional.

  1. Have a strong business case with a fixed deadline
  2. Keep to standard S/4HANA business process, don’t deviate
  3. Keep developments to a minimum, they had one Fiori app built; that’s all. Perfect
  4. Start green field, don’t go poisoning the system with old out of date or incorrect data
  5. Start data preparations early and put lots of effort into it, it will be your critical path
  6. Work with the best partners you can find (in this case Echelon Solutions)

What was really visible as they told their story was the excellent relationship with their SAP Partner Echelon: they worked together very well and the customer spoke very highly of their partner and that was the most inspirational part for me.

Lady Gaga

Two things to note, the Amway Centre could do with X O process integration because getting in was a bit tedious. However, Lady Gaga more than made up for it with a high energy show and somehow challenged SAP in many ways! During the two-hour set, she not only delivered a stunning performance and rich vocals, but also made the crowd—which she referred to as “software people”—laugh with hilarious speeches, to end the event on a real high note.

Chris Edson


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