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Customer success was the main focus of the SAP Global Partner Summit Online, a virtual conference held this week.
SAP Global Partner Summit Online is a gathering of SAP executives, partners and customers who convene to discuss innovations and resources.
Partners are the key to customer success and happiness, said Karl Fahrbach, who was appointed SAP's first chief partner officer about a year ago. Partners provide a variety of services for SAP customers, including consulting and implementing systems, as well developing and marketing applications built on platforms like SAP Cloud Platform, or extensions to systems like SAP SuccessFactors.
"Customer success means that we recognize that, in order to make our customers successful, we need to do it with our partners," Fahrbach said. "The role of the partner has changed within SAP. It's no longer about sales with our reselling partners or implementation with our services partners."
He stressed that partners are key players in advancing SAP's idea of the intelligent enterprise, a broad vision of advanced enterprise systems that allow companies to transform old business processes or develop new business models.
The initiative to rely on partners as the driving force for customer success comes from the top levels of SAP, a point SAP CEO Christian Klein emphasized in his streamed keynote address.
"Everyone at SAP has to understand that customer success is not about the point of sale," Klein said. "It continues across the sales lifecycle, and partners play a vital role in that. So, we have to double down on that."
Klein vowed that SAP would develop tools and programs to simplify and automate partner interactions.
"We owe our ecosystem a much better experience than in the past," he said.
Focus on implementation quality
At the summit, SAP unveiled new initiatives and enhancements to existing programs that are designed to help partners better serve SAP customers.
For implementation partners, SAP debuted the new Partner Delivery Quality Framework (PDQF), an initiative designed to help partners implement higher-quality projects faster, Fahrbach said.
The PDQF consists of three components: project delivery, partner skills and post-sales management. The first component looks at project delivery quality and establishes feedback loops to ensure that an implementation is on track and adoption is successful.
"You can see in real time how the implementation is going, what's being deployed, how the adoption is going, because this is key to see if this customer will be successful or not," he said. "We're going to share that information with the partner to make sure that we are transparent, and we support the partner in delivering that quality."
The second component consists of investments in certifications and skills that partners can use to make sure the project quality is high. The third component focuses on the partner's post-sales management. An SAP team of partner delivery managers will work with partners' project managers to deliver quality standards and resolve escalations.
SAP partners will also now have free access to the same testing and demo systems that SAP uses internally to develop and demonstrate projects for customers.
This will enable partners to build applications that integrate various SAP platforms, like S/4HANA, SAP Ariba, SAP SuccessFactors, and SAP S/4HANA Cloud, in a test and demo environment that they previously had to pay for, Fahrbach said.
"They will be able to show end-to-end scenarios of the intelligent enterprise without having any additional costs," he said. "The partners have been asking if they can get the same environments that SAP uses to do the demos, and now they have free access. This will improve the economics for the partners because it's free, and the quality of the demos will improve as well."
A quicker path to validated apps
For independent software vendor (ISV) partners that develop SAP-based applications and extensions, SAP unveiled the Partner Solution Progression framework. The initiative enables partners to quickly develop SAP validated products and make them available on the SAP App Center, an online marketplace for applications and SAP product extensions, according to SAP.
Having apps that are validated and well-supported by SAP can be vital to an ISV's success, and the Partner Solution Progression framework allows ISVs to gradually advance the technical and business quality of their applications. Once a partner puts a validated app on the SAP App Center, it can grow into the Partner Spotlight program that includes more go-to-market support. If the partner's strategy and app success continue to improve, the app is eligible to be invited to SAP Endorsed Apps, an SAP premium certification initiative.
The idea is to make it much easier for partners to get applications on the SAP App Center and show that they are valuable innovative products, Klein said.
"Business on the SAP App Center has quadrupled, but it took way too long for partners to become a partner in the App Center and to onboard their solution until they make their first dollar in revenue," Klein said. "We have significantly improved how you become a partner and how you publish in the App Center."
COVID-19 concerns addressed
When the COVID-19 crisis began earlier in the year, SAP launched a virtual partner advisory council to examine how the crisis might affect the partners' business and determine what they need to do to address it, Fahrbach said.
One result was a decision to help partners deal with cash-flow issues and credit access, he said. SAP postponed SAP PartnerEdge program fees until later in the year and will not raise annual maintenance fees. SAP PartnerEdge is a program for ISVs that provides resources to help design, develop and bring applications to market.
"We also launched credit service options to make sure that partners have access to credit and have revised commercial guidelines for the cloud," Fahrbach said.
To that end, partners can now use a consumption-based pricing model that was previously available only for SAP's direct salesforce with the Cloud Platform Enterprise Agreement (CPEA), which meters a customer's use of SAP systems on the SAP Cloud Platform so that they're charged only for what they use.
"This will provide our partners the ability to be flexible in the way customers consume our software, which is especially important these days with COVID-19, " Fahrbach said.
Proof will be in the pudding
It's important that SAP's messaging on the role of partners is coming directly from recently installed CEO Christian Klein, said Shaun Syvertsen, CEO and managing partner of ConvergentIS, an SAP partner based in Calgary, Alta.
"The idea that Klein has recognized and reinforced with his teams that partners should not feel like SAP services is directly competing with them is important," Syvertsen said. "Certainly for few years that was a dramatic trend as SAP was really doubling down on services and growing the services teams and sales positioning, so that's a remarkable shift, and I think it's a really healthy one."
SAP partners would often see similar and competing products coming from SAP product management, and it will be interesting to see if this changes, Syvertsen said.
"The idea that an ecosystem matters is something that we've heard from Klein over several years, and there has been a tone of being more open to that. So, now we'll see if some of those behaviors change within the organization to honor some of the investments the partners have made," he said. "For example, there's Sodales Solutions [an SAP partner that develops extensions to SAP SuccessFactors]. If SAP comes out with a new module for SuccessFactors that does what Sodales does, that's not a good sign for anybody. Those are the kinds of things I'm watching for."
SAP can do more to boost innovative partners
The partner program initiatives are a welcome development for SAP, but they could do even more to highlight smaller niche players that build emerging technology or industry expertise into their applications, said Jon Reed, analyst and co-founder of Diginomica.com, an enterprise applications news and analysis site.
"This is a time when companies are largely pausing on major software upgrades, but they are eager to extend their platforms with impactful apps and analytics that can get up and running quickly," Reed said.
Many of SAP's partners have offerings that fit this bill but do not get enough exposure. Some, like Sodales Solutions, have gained visibility this year, but there needs to be more like that, he said.
Joshua Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting, agreed that the proof will be in the pudding for SAP's partner relations.
"The spirit is willing in SAP at the top, and we'll have to wait to see how everything goes," Greenbaum said. "They are truly dedicated to the proposition that SAP can't compete without a healthy and vigorous ecosystem, and I think they really mean that, but unfortunately the best practices have not been best for the partners. They've been best for SAP in the past, so this is going to be a real wait and see."
The trajectory path for partners with the Partner Solution Progression framework is perhaps the best development, he said.
"It took a while to articulate the value of having that trajectory to follow to the partners," he said. "The key is that SAP has to do good by existing partners, but also make it an enticing ecosystem for new partners -- and their reputation isn't that good. With Fahrbach in charge and Klein's vision, the pieces are there, but these are complicated, inbred cultural behaviors that need to be modified, and that takes time."