Sapphire 2023 keynote
Sapphire 2023 Orlando and the virtual edition are over and while SAP offered it this year again as an on-site event, the keynotes were streamed live for Sapphire virtual participants. SAP decided to stick to tradition and decided to fail again at many levels regarding the organization and communication of the event*. Nevertheless, the live stream worked. SAP knows how expectation management works.
The keynote featured Christian Klein as host that guided the audience in almost 1 hour through a wide range of topics. A summary of everything news worthy can be found in the news guide. I am not sure if the main topic was AI, or partnership. The keynote started with Satya Nadella and celebrating the success of RISE with Microsoft and later featured a talk with Thomas Kurian from Google about the partnership with SAP and GCP. Maybe Google hiring all those SAP managers over the last years did not pay off in customer acquisition or it resulted in having Kurian invited as keynote guest. Interesting: Satya part was only remote and pre-recorded, Thomas part was live and on stage. Seems that the focus on Microsoft and Azure is ending and SAP including more publicly other cloud providers. Waiting for AWS to join one of the next year’s keynote.
Regarding AI, some of the upcoming innovations are listed here. First demo was about SuccessFactors and AI. Key topic: skill gap, finding people. The AI solution chosen to demo the potential of AI wants to solve these problems by adjusting the job description text. For employees working at the perfect workplace because of a fitting job description, AI is there to improve the learning experience via training recommendations. Seems like “Jon liked Python 101, try course COBOL 101”. Can work, most likely won’t add value. Training recommendations are not new, and they are rarely helpful. Question when you search for a training is not: what others did, but: I have these skills and these project requirements. Recommend me a personalized training or even training plan. An AI that knows about out a current skill gap, what is needed in the next 2 – 5 years (market, company, team) and give recommended internal and external trainings based on this information. Maybe this is possible with the presented AI-based solution. But if so, I guess SAP would have shown this part in more detail. Same for the job description. Sure, low hanging fruit, but does the AI look at Glassdoor, Kununu, social media, etc. to find out what people are currently searching for, where the company is seen weak or must improve? Is the AI looking at company factors like salary, toxic people and gives solution on how to fix this first? There was not enough shown at the keynote to know if SAP is looking into these kinds of use cases. The demo gave the impression that some executives wanted to show something with AI, and because of a lack of hands-on experience, started a brainstorming session. So far, so good, but the result was to take the first two ideas and use them for the Sapphire keynote demo. That SAP was going to demo AI with a HR solution you could already guess. SuccessFactors is in the cloud for 10+ years. If you are using it, you are in the cloud. Eliminating all possible problems when it comes to S/4HANA customers (on premise, private cloud, public cloud, release, etc). Makes it easy for SAP to offer AI powered services. And for customers: if it is not working, it is “just” HR and not a business-critical process that needs to work flawless 24/7. A win-win situation.
The keynote included more presentations of a wide range of solutions. Which is good, as AI is important, but SAP customers also have other problems they need solutions for. Like Analytics, of course. The new hyped solution SAP Data Sphere got its time slot. Integration of SAP with non-SAP data is a huge topic for customers, SAP knows this. Irony: while the problem exists since the beginning of (SAP-) time, the fact that SAP failed to deliver solutions to customers that offered what they wanted resulted in the problem in having now to integrate a heap of data sources. It is the new reality, SAP tries to solve this since years, so far, the problem is not solved. In fact, many times SAP is not the target system in which all data gets consolidated for analysis, SAP is just one data source that provides data. Why this will now finally be solved with Data Sphere? I have no idea. Maybe communicating concrete commitment can help. Or is there any guarantee that any investment from clients (budget, projects, people) to Data Sphere will ensure the product is still in the center of SAP’s attention in 5 or 10 years from now? How many times SAP promised to solve the integration problem over the last years, and how many solutions were presented to do exactly this?
A different aspect of integration are the partners. Or that SAP is reaching out to many different partners like Oracle, Microsoft, customers, and the government. Subtext: we cannot do it alone. SAP was always strong when they recognized that the reality is more complex than what SAP can cover with their portfolio and people. This is still a point where SAP’s current strategy is not alinged with reality. OK, let’s go to cloud, use BTP and SAP services. But how does this fit reality when customers also depend heavily on other partners? How to integrate different solutions and even strategies?
Back to the future
While the keynote moved along, many important topics are covered. AI, integration, analytics, sustainability, partnerships, customer focus, … The keynote is not as lengthy or confusing as previous keynotes. But many times, the topics raised seem like a repetition of earlier keynotes. AI was important when Leonardo was introduced and big when SAP came up with the intelligent Enterprise. Sustainability was part of many past Sapphire keynotes. Integration, of course, was ignored for many years until the pressure to put it back on the priority list was too high. Analytics was so many times part of SAP keynotes (remember Digital Boardroom? Yes, 2015. Although the past is erased). Back to future and AI is back in business. SAP is offering intelligent solutions for a while. I have to say: it surprised me to see that there are 80 solutions in the playground, but nothing concrete to show? Besides some easy integrations like the ones for SuccessFactors. What about a ready to use solution for the intelligent construction site? Document, material, order, incident, asset management? Some ideas are cool. Talk to SAP and get reports? Nice, but remember that similar demos were shown years ago in the context of SAP’s Co-Pilot (which never lived up to the marketing: supported languages, AI implemented manually via a set of IFs). Signavio looks very promising in that context. Can SAP make it super easy to include Signavio in current SAP landscapes? Somehow, I’d suspect that all the knowledge around AI and scenarios built over the last years puts SAP in a vantage situation. It will be interesting to see if in 5 years AI really is the foundation of S/4HANA, or if it gets labeled as stable and gets integrated into the AI core of SAP.
Cloud first and only?
While SAP showed that they are working on solving business problems, the solution offered is cloud. SAP brings AI or sustainability to their customers, but please use cloud. Makes total sense from an SAP perspective. When will these innovations be made available for on premise customers? What is the plan to offer AI to on premise S/4HANA customers? Specially for the larger ones? They had to invest to upgrade to S/4HANA. There is a commitment from their side to SAP. And now? For on premise S/4HANA customers, using AI from SAP should be easy. Basically, only adding a query if AI should be used and then call the AI service in BTP. It will be interesting to see how customers and user groups are going to handle this.
Back to standard
At the end of the keynote Klein brought up a customer that moved to the cloud via lift and shift. He stated that this is like the least efficient way to go to the cloud. Easy to agree with this opinion. Welcome to reality.
SAP is good at blaming their customers when there is a problem migrating to S/4HANA or going to the cloud. The complexity accumulated over the decades by customers makes it easy to blame them. Yet, it is not like customers did all the custom code and adjustment because they simply wanted. That it is easily possible to adjust SAP to your own needs is one of the main reasons customers buy and stay with SAP. Majority of custom code was done simply because SAP standard does not fit or – worse – does not exist. That SAP does not fit all business processes, that’s OK and an impossible task. Nevertheless, how about first ensuring that the SAP standard business processes for S/4HANA offer what customers need? What if a process is not available? Is it so specific that it only fits one customer or is it an industry standard? For the next Sapphire keynotes, I’d prefer not to see many cases that tell me what I am going to miss because I am not using S/4HANA cloud or a specific BTP service. I’d like to see the commitment from the board to work closely with customers together to transform more and more custom coding to standard processes. What is offered by SAP customers do not need to develop. What they do not need to develop is code and complexity that does not exist, making future upgrades easier.
SAP is working on their portfolio. Some parts are getting better as more and more solutions are added. No problem in having AI running in the cloud. It must be easy to enhance on premise systems with AI features. The AI features seem like SAP was caught on the wrong foot with the OpenAI and ChatGPT hype. What was presented seemed to a large part like the result of last minute brainstorming. This should worry everyone that followed SAP so far on the intelligent Enterprise mission. The AI strategy currently reminds me of what SAP did when Blockchain was hyped. Throwing out some half done products with little to no business benefit, but enough to please marketing and analysts. After reality caught up, these products went from hype to EOL. AI offers value, let’s hope somewhere at SAP some good use cases are backed into products.
The virtual event experience and the on-site format chosen by SAP is questionable. Orlando was open as usual. I guess that’s because it is a co-event with ASUG annual conference. I have no idea what kind of sessions were presented at the ASUG conference. The agenda I had access to was for Sapphire virtual. Maybe at ASUG some interesting sessions were part of the agenda. There weren’t many for Sapphire virtual. For the other Sapphire locations: if you can select your audience by having an invite only event, you get the audience you want. I can understand that. Easy way to get an audience that loves your products, that is aligned with your strategy. Considering other events like DSAG, live is easier for SAP executives when they can select who shows up. Why spending time with customers that ask difficult questions about your solution or roadmap when you can also have an audience that is just happy to be there? Makes life easier for SAP managers and employees. SAP can now even only let people to Sapphire that are already on S/4HANA public cloud, announce a new feature that is only available for public cloud and everybody will agree that this is the best thing ever. Win-win. I think that with these decisions, it gets more and more important for customers to join in SAP customer user groups and raise their voice there. Partnership was important at the keynote. Maybe the kind of partnership SAP is creating with their Sapphire alignment may not be what SAP had in mind.
* Time zones, of course. Confusion about the agenda, late e-mail communication what will be offered during the event, on-demand content with questionable value (I had a video were black image was streamed), still haven’t figured out how to find videos that run longer than 15 minutes or contain a specific topic like roadmap or architecture, communication for virtual attendees going out to onsite attendees, shortly before the event started, the website showed the demo content, login only with SAP UID user, but not needed for registration, making event website login unnecessarily hard. The news guide for 2023 uses the same URL as 2022, and when I tweeted the URL, this showed up:
Welcome to the Sapphire 2022 news guide. The whole virtual event experience SAP delivered since Covid is so bad, there is only one logical explanation: “If you do the job badly enough, sometimes you don’t get asked to do it again”. Next SAP TechEd virtual will be fun.
The virtual experience will be some kind of unique experience, for sure.