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The SAP community is looking to get information on crucial issues like how to make the business case for Rise with SAP, a new product offering unveiled earlier this year to ease migration to the cloud and S/4HANA.
They're hoping to get those answers at the upcoming SAP Sapphire Now 2021 event. The annual conference for SAP customers, partners and insiders will once again be virtual, featuring recorded keynote addresses by SAP executives. It will begin with CEO Christian Klein on June 2, followed by regional events throughout the month and will include recorded sessions with technical content and panel discussions.
While customers are looking for clarity on Rise with SAP, experts believe the intelligent enterprise will take center stage -- but hope that SAP will provide real-world advice on issues like how customers can get their businesses back on solid footing after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Making the business case for Rise with SAP
Figuring out how to make a business case for Rise with SAP is one of the goals of Tammy Powlas, a senior business analyst at a large East Coast water utility.
Rise with SAP is the company's program to drive SAP S/4HANA migrations via a simplified, single contract SaaS model.
Powlas' company is upgrading from SAP ECC to S/4HANA but has not yet purchased Rise with SAP. The utility had already purchased S/4HANA and SAP Cloud Platform before Rise with SAP was available, but Powlas wants to find out if going with Rise makes sense now.
"We will be upgrading to S/4HANA soon, so we'd like to know what our next steps are, what's the business case for Rise, what's the roadmap and what are the business use cases," she said. "Before we purchase anything, we need to know what the business case is, because we're a public utility so we want to keep our costs low and be as efficient as possible."
Powlas has attended Sapphire events off and on ever since the first one was held in 1998 in Los Angeles. She said that while there are some advantages to attending a virtual Sapphire Now, the online event loses some of the value that comes from SAP professionals gathering in-person in previous events.
"[SAP Sapphire Now] is going to be interesting this year because there's a split of one keynote and then the regional breakouts that's going to span a period of two weeks," Powlas said. "This is good because it gives more time to attend sessions when we can. But I do miss the in-person experience."
Missing the in-person touch
In-person Sapphire Now events offered ad hoc opportunities for attendees to get information they needed, Powlas explained. At previous events, for example, ASUG (Americas' SAP Users' Group) held meetings specific to the utilities vertical that enabled members of the same customer segment to connect and network.
An opportunity for this kind of discussion would be especially helpful for her company now, she said, as it is in the midst of an S/4HANA migration, new territory for the water utility.
"Around 70 utilities have purchased S/4HANA," Powlas said. "I don't know how many are live, but not very many. [This is where it's] tough doing virtual, because the [in-person] discussion can be more forthright and you can get help and meet people."
Sapphire Now will likely center on Rise with SAP, which was unveiled in January along with news of SAP's acquisition of business process software provider Signavio. But it's not clear how many customers -- especially large enterprises -- see its value when they already have engagements with hyperscalers, said Gavin Quinn, founder and CEO of Mindset Consulting, an SAP partner in Minneapolis.
"I expect SAP will highlight some Rise customer success story from the stage, and if not, it will be a struggle to focus on Rise," he said.
As part of its messaging on Rise, Quinn said he also believes SAP needs to show that it intends to improve relations with its large partner ecosystem.
"I'd like to hear some better news for partners, as so far SAP has encroached into SI [systems integrator] territory with Rise," he said. "PartnerEdge [SAP's resource program for partners] has significant gaps, and partners are cut off from many customer engagements. So are partners really valued, as SAP says?"
Focus on real issues for customers
SAP should focus on delivering an honest message on how it can solve real problems for customers, said Jon Reed, co-founder of Diginomica, an enterprise computing analysis site.
Jon ReedCo-founder, Diginomica
"If you're SAP, the hottest issue might be the intelligent enterprise. But if you're a customer, the hot issue is probably things like how do you regroup from the pandemic," he said. "For example, how do you take the next step back to business as usual, and how can SAP help with that. There's a potential disconnect there, and SAP has to find a way to bridge that gap."
Plus, Reed said, SAP made promises about how customers can reduce total cost of ownership by using Rise with SAP, and it needs to show it's living up to previous promises to get better on integration.
"This is a gut check on this leadership team," he said. "So will they have a lot of technology propaganda, or will they have a lot of customers sharing meaningful stories?"
Sapphire Now's online setting may be one obstacle for customers in getting honest information, he said.
"We're virtual by necessity right now -- and I'm not going to single out SAP here because, unfortunately, there's almost no enterprise software vendor that's truly figured out how to take advantage of virtual," Reed said.
Joshua Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting in Berkeley, Calif., echoed Reed's comments on providing an honest look at what customers are facing.
"Clearly we know that the intelligent enterprise is going to be front and center," Greenbaum said. "But I'm really hoping that SAP is going to continue its baby steps in acknowledging the heterogeneity of the customer base and describing the value of an enterprise in the context of all the products that customers are running, not just the ones that have an SAP logo on them."
Greenbaum agrees that a virtualized Sapphire Now loses some impact, even if there advantages in attendees not having to travel and sit through long keynote addresses.
"I would love a world in which we forego the ritual of death defying and bladder defying two-hour keynotes and have a truly educational community-based virtual event," he said. "But I'm also a big believer in in-person interaction, both from an information exchange standpoint as well as a sales execution standpoint. Being there, seeing, touching, listening and speaking to real customers is an essential part of the enterprise software lifecycle, because this is not cookie-cutter stuff. You can't sell it like Office 365."
Sapphire Now schedule at a glance
Sessions for the North American and EMEA markets take place from June 7-10, with each day dedicated to specific industry and product tracks: IT and industries on June 7; procurement and supply chain on June 8; HR and customer experience on June 9; and finance and midmarket/SMB on June 10.
Jim O'Donnell is a TechTarget news writer who covers ERP and other enterprise applications for SearchSAP and SearchERP.