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After being staged as a virtual event for the last two years, the crowds will return to Orlando, Fla., for SAP Sapphire 2022.
However, attendee numbers will be far lower than in the event's heyday.
Once attracting more than 20,000, SAP Sapphire 2022's attendance has been capped at 5,000. SAP's customers and partners who do attend can take part in sessions to learn about SAP products and services, as well as gathering information on new products and getting updates on product roadmaps. The conference keynotes and some other content will also be available in a virtual format for registered attendees.
It's expected that SAP's news and product announcements will center on three broad areas: cloud and Rise with SAP, the company's initiative to drive more movement to S/4HANA on public cloud infrastructures; digital supply chains and intelligent business networks; and sustainability.
The limited attendance is not the only scaled-down aspect of Sapphire 2022. Unlike previous Sapphires, this year's event does not have a co-located program by Americas' SAP Users' Group (ASUG), which had provided dozens of educational sessions on SAP technologies.
Rise with SAP needs more clarification
Industry experts are looking to get more information on all three subjects and more from SAP.
Rise with SAP will certainly be one of the most prominent topics, which still requires more definition and clarity, said analyst Jon Reed, co-founder of Diginomica.
"It's important for SAP to provide a bit of a progress report and clarifications for customers on Rise in particular," Reed said. "Because there's still quite a fair amount of customer uncertainty around what Rise is and what the use cases are all about, and some of that is because of how Rise has been described."
For example, SAP has branded Rise with SAP as "digital transformation as a service," but few customers know what that means, he said.
"They actually do have some good customer stories on that," Reed said. "But [SAP runs the risk] of overreaching and using this Rise pixie dust, 'and sprinkle that on your transformation efforts, and everything is fine,' when Rise is not the solution for every problem that SAP customers are facing."
Jon ReedCo-founder, Diginomica
Ben McGrail, managing director of Xmateria, an SAP partner based in London that focuses on data migrations, agreed that SAP needs to better define Rise with SAP and explain its value to customers.
"A lot of customers that I speak to still don't really understand what Rise is," McGrail said. "Many think it's about S/4HANA when, in fact, it's a cloud adoption program, or they are not persuaded as to the benefits."
There is evidence to support the contention that the messaging around Rise with SAP is not resonating with customers. The UK and Ireland SAP User Group (UKISUG) published a report in November 2021 indicating that only 11% of its member organizations plan to use Rise.
Rise not the only important story
However, Rise with SAP as a product is not the primary topic that interests Joshua Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting.
Rise has been reasonably successful on the sales side, in terms of bundling products and services, but it's not a technology or product innovation, Greenbaum said.
"Rise is pretty mature, but if they were to talk about Rise as a driver for the SAP Business Network and the other product lines, that would be very interesting," he said. "Right now, it's been an S/4HANA play, but I'd be interested to see if they find a way to extend Rise to a broader potential domain."
Greenbaum is particularly interested is seeing what SAP has in store for its SAP Business Network, the "network of networks" that was launched in June 2021 and combines the SAP Ariba Network, SAP Logistics Business Network and SAP Asset Intelligence Network.
"At Sapphire, we'll see a tremendous amount of discussion about what the Business Network is and what it does for SAP and its customers," Greenbaum said. "I'm also looking for a bigger and stronger ecosystem push from SAP. This is going to be another requirement if you're going to be a player in this more complex economy; you're going to have to have a strong ecosystem."
Greenbaum also wants to hear more information about the SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP), a development environment that serves as a critical cloud foundation to integrate SAP applications and other enterprise systems.
"SAP needs to be successful as a technology infrastructure company, so it needs to be successful with developers and partners, and BTP is the linchpin to that," he said.
S/4HANA and SAP BTP are his top technology areas of focus at Sapphire, McGrail said.
"S/4HANA poses an interesting communication challenge from SAP," he said. "The launch was years ago, so the risk for SAP is that they look like they are always talking about the same thing, but on the other hand, the majority of SAP customers have not yet made the move."
Even if the attendance numbers may be a fraction of what they were in the peak years, the presence of people at Sapphire 2022 presents the opportunity to speak directly with customers about their challenges today, such as changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, McGrail said.
"As a specialist in data migration, the most important trends for us are acquisitions and divestments driven by changing business models, the economy and the fallout from the war in Ukraine, and growing weight of customers beginning the path to S/4HANA," he said.
SAP must show how to solve real problems
Also on the technology side, process mining with SAP Signavio, which SAP acquired in 2021, is at the top of the list for George Lawrie, principal analyst at Forrester Research's London office. Lawrie will not attend Sapphire in Orlando but plans to follow the virtual event.
"Signavio, that was a fantastic acquisition," Lawrie said. "They are very smart and interesting people who are doing exactly what has to be done."
SAP Signavio's process mining platform may be able to help organizations simplify complex ERP landscapes like running two-tiered ERPs, Lawrie said. For example, global enterprises may have one ERP in a large country like the U.S. or Germany, and another in smaller countries.
"I'd like to hear from Signavio about what they can do on cases like that," he said. "I need to have more tangible advice about how to do it, and that's what I'm looking for."
Even more than advancements for any particular product, SAP needs to show where it's a global business technology leader that helps companies confront complex business problems, Reed said. SAP risks losing its audience if it "jumps right into the solutions talk" without providing proper context around the problems.
"It's also going to lose people if it insists on pushing Rise too hard, or what they did two years ago, when they pushed sustainability at the height of the pandemic when everyone was freaking out about COVID," he said. "They need to find the right balance between all these different things that are happening, and if they can do that, and present their framework, that's really interesting."
Jim O'Donnell is a TechTarget news writer who covers ERP and other enterprise applications for SearchSAP and SearchERP.