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New leadership and redesign may spark SAP Community revival

SAP Community Network was once the best forum for SAP developers to share ideas, but user activity declined significantly. Can top executive attention and a redesign save SCN?

SAP Community was once the go-to hub of information about SAP, but interest and activity have waned in recent years.

This was confirmed by SAP CEO Bill McDermott, who addressed the state of SAP Community in a blog post in January.

"Recently, I put myself on the line that SAP would restore SAP Community to a position of strength," McDermott said in the blog. "After a steady stream of feedback that the Community's voice had been diminished, it was clear that we needed to act."

So, why has SAP Community been diminished, and what is SAP doing to restore the Community "voice" under McDermott's direction?

In his blog post, McDermott explained that some SAP Community changes over the years frustrated members, thus eroding participation, and that the company had "let the impression linger that SAP was using our community simply as another channel to promote our corporate messages."

SAP Community gets back to its roots

To get things back to its roots primarily as a place for SAP developers to share information, SAP Community Network (SCN) will now be managed by SAP CTO Björn Goerke and Thomas Grassl, vice president and global head of developer relations and marketing.

SAP fully understands the value of a strong developer community, Grassl said.

"Overall, the community is very strong, and it was very important for [McDermott] and us to make a statement that the community is very important for us because it helps us to work with our customers, with our developers and with the business experts," he said. "The questions that people want to work on in the community are very specific, either around our products, understanding the business process, understanding certain industries, how to implement this with SAP, and that's why and how the community was formed and got its momentum."

Grassl acknowledged that a change of platforms in 2012 affected SCN activity adversely but that the company is developing a new SCN platform that will have new functions and incorporate ideas from social media platforms, like LinkedIn, that have drawn some users away.

"On one hand, we want to establish the functionality that people need, but we are also starting to look into the next things, like seeing what social networks can offer and how we can embrace these things in the SAP Community for our members," Grassl said. "It's going through a redesign, and we're pushing out some new functionality gradually so the Community members can see and react to these and get feedback. We take that very seriously, and if there's something the Community says should be in there, we will take a closer look."

Many factors lead to decline

Longtime SAP Community members agree that activity declined over the years, but this could have been due to a number of factors, including the growth of other platforms that can connect SAP users.

SCN and its predecessor, SAP Developer Network (SDN), were pivotal platforms in the SAP ecosystem that gathered SAP employees, customers and partners and fostered a "genuine sense of community around SAP's products," according to Luke Marson, co-founder and Americas CEO of iXerv, a San Antonio-based SAP business partner that specializes in SAP SuccessFactors.

"I was a particularly active member of SDN and SCN and benefited hugely from my involvement in these communities," Marson said. "They also gave me a platform on which to blog, and in my peak year, I wrote 34 blogs, and all in all, I published over 100 blogs and other articles that generated over 500,000 views."

However, SCN began to decline when the current site was launched in 2012 on the Jive platform. The new SCN site had an "uninspiring and unintuitive interface" and changed how content was discovered, according to Marson.

This contributed to users moving away from the site, but there were other factors as well.

"LinkedIn launched its blogging platform around the same time, and authors were seeing significantly more views on [their] LinkedIn blog than they would on the same blog on SCN," Marson said. "One final nail in the coffin was the increase in marketing content from SAP, disguised as 'thought leadership.' As user-created content reduced and SAP-created marketing content increased, the value of the SAP Community fell significantly."

Direct high-level involvement bodes well for SCN

Ethan Jewett, an SAP Mentor and founder and consultant at Coredatra, a data management and visualization consulting services firm based in Madison, Wis., also saw activity decline after SCN switched platforms in 2012.

One thing to watch for under the new organizational structure, where SCN is under an explicitly technical organization headed by the CTO, is whether SCN returns to its roots as a primarily technical community or continues to push into business and process topics.
Ethan JewettSAP Mentor and Coredatra founder and CEO

"After the switch to the new platform, my activity dropped off a ton because it was much harder to passively subscribe to content on the site that was relevant to me, and I got really busy with other things, so it's hard to say which was the root cause," Jewett said.

The direct involvement of McDermott and the move to put SCN under Goerke and Grassl bodes well, Jewett said, but it may be even better to have the same kinds of Community experiences on platforms like LinkedIn and Stack Overflow rather than on one vendor-controlled site.

"One thing to watch for under the new organizational structure, where SCN is under an explicitly technical organization headed by the CTO, is whether SCN returns to its roots as a primarily technical community or continues to push into business and process topics," Jewett said.

Both Marson and Jewett are regulator contributors to SearchSAP.

Technical issues caused big problems

There were technical issues with the redesigned SCN that caused problems as well, according to Gavin Quinn, founder and CEO of Mindset Consulting, a Minneapolis-based firm that specializes in Fiori UX and mobile development for SAP ERP systems.

Accounts sometimes did not merge properly, so SCN users lost years of content and brand credibility that they had built up, Quinn said.

"I don't think [the decline] is disputed. Most people don't write purely altruistically, but because they want to engage to share a message with a community and grow their influence," Quinn said. "The reorganization sort of destroyed that, and you could see the view count shrink drastically."

Quinn does not think that marketing messages had much to do with the decline but definitely believes the proliferation of other platforms had an effect.

"I don't think anyone cared [about marketing]; everyone knows this is business, not a community of cat lovers," Quinn said. "There are many other means of community now that have grown since SCN came out -- Twitter, Medium, easier blog platforms, LinkedIn, podcasting and YouTube -- these platforms give a broader audience."

Nonetheless, Quinn is optimistic about the direction of SCN under new leadership, although the future is somewhat unclear.

"I like the idea of direction, that it should get better," he said. "The value of community, content and connection all still exists and could be tapped into again, but I'm not sure how."

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