ORLANDO, FLA. — Despite the recent glimmers of hope seen in the stock market, Leo Apotheker, co-chief executive officer of German software giant SAP, isn't yet ready to exhale. As part of his opening address this morning here at SAPPHIRE '09, the company's annual user conference, Apotheker went to great lengths to impress upon the crowd that businesses should continue to expect a wild ride.
"We face a new reality, and this is not just a bump in the road," Apotheker said, referring to the current recession. "Volatility will stay with us for a long time, and uncertainty is here to stay. So, we need to prepare the world to be a different place and emerge out of crisis."
[Editors' Note: For more of Christopher Musico's coverage from SAPPHIRE '09, see his destinationCRM.com news story here, and his blogposts here and here.]
It's fair to say the SAPPHIRE conference itself reflects some aspect of that new reality: With an onsite crowd at the Orange County Convention Center estimated by SAP at 10,000, and another 8,000 people joining virtually, Apotheker described the event as the largest Sapphire show ever. The onsite attendance, however, marked a 50 percent drop from attendance levels that had held steady at around 15,000 in each of the last three years.
The recession, however, will one day come to an end, Apotheker said, adding that when the economy revives there's only one way for a business to rise above the laggards: clarity. "Globally, we're all seeing a lasting, growing desire for clarity," he told the audience. "As people conduct business in a global economy in increasing speeds, complexity, [and]…risk…, the only antidote to uncertainty is clarity." Underpinning the contention that enterprises must be clear and transparent, Apotheker spelled out some of the characteristics that SAP expects to see in a transparent enterprise:
- clarity of purpose and strategy, a necessity in making informed business decisions;
- agility, with full visibility to operate and understand what's going on in all business networks; and
- transparency, accountability, and sustainability, in order to foster trust among all business stakeholders.
Apotheker said that SAP is already built to deliver on the promise of clarity, especially with its latest offering, SAP Business Suite 7, formally announced in New York this past February. "[This solution] provides the foundation for running a clear enterprise," he said. "In this latest edition, we added numerous, integrated processes…to avoid fragmentation that can happen when you run in disparate environments."
While stressing the importance of visibility and clarity, Apotheker also urged the crowd to push another step further, toward sustainability. "The world has limited ability to produce what we consume, and it affects businesses [insofar as] volatile prices for energy," he said. "That doesn't even speak to the risk and impact on [the] environment. Businesses worldwide have a moral obligation to embed environmental and social concepts into [the] way we do business." Apotheker noted two specific achievements as proof that SAP's interests here go far beyond mere posturing:
- First, the announcement that the company had reduced its carbon footprint by 7 percent in 2008; and
- the acquisition of Clear Standards, a company that provides enterprises with carbon-management solutions, which Apotheker said will help SAP customers "continue to build out environment solutions."
Expect that message of sustainability to echo throughout SAPPHIRE, says Paul Greenberg, president of CRM consultancy The 56 Group (and a CRM magazine columnist). "SAP's commitment to sustainability is what resonates the most about this conference," he said. "Not only are they reducing their own carbon footprint, but they've developed applications, services, and even a Sustainability Solutions Framework that can be used by other businesses. This seems to be something they are genuinely committed to -- it's a pleasure to see it from such a large company."
In another sign of SAP's push toward clarity throughout the enterprise, specifically with data and decisioning, the company also announced today what it called the first major fruit of its collaborative work with Business Objects, acquired a year and a half ago: SAP BusinessObjects Explorer. The new release aims to help virtually any business user easily navigate and mine company data without the help of specialized technology staff. With the new product, Apotheker said, "We're crossing the chasm from ‘I think this is a good solution' to ‘I know it's a good decision.' "
Ray Wang, vice president and principal analyst for Forrester Research, says that SAP has worked hard to investigate what's really troubling its customer base -- but that the work isn't yet complete. "SAP has done its homework to identify the customer pain points in this crisis and…to find solutions within its stable of solutions," he says. "The key thing is to pitch areas that sell more new licenses such as Business Objects and [governance, risk, and compliance]. Customers see some opportunities, and want SAP to provide more details for their [specific] industry."
Speaking directly to the thousands on hand and the thousands more watching online, Apotheker concluded his keynote by stressing SAP's commitment to helping customers of all sizes -- from small-to-midsize companies on up to enterprise-level ones -- find their way to the top of the heap when the economic smoke clears.
"We've seen that clarity in business is the antidote to uncertainty," he repeated. "Our vision is that we will help every enterprise to become a clear enterprise, carry our entire ecosystem of customers and partners out of this crisis and into the future as strong leaders in their respective industries…. This is our commitment to bring new innovations you can trust, and continue to deliver increased value."
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