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Sapphire 2022 provided scaled-down value

Rise with SAP took a backseat to sustainability at SAP Sapphire 2022, which returned as a live event. There were no big products announcements, just a flurry of updates.

SAP Sapphire 2022, which returned as a live event, was at times both familiar and curious.

For the familiar, the conference for SAP customers and partners was once again held at the vast Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. The event floor and meeting areas had the same look and feel as past Sapphires, but at a noticeably smaller scale.

The major themes included speed of business change, supply chain disruption and sustainability. While SAP unveiled no major product announcements, it did release a slew of new product updates and partnerships.

A smaller number of vendors and SAP's largest partners exhibited on the Sapphire show floor. And attendees had fewer sessions and presentations from SAP and its partners and customers to attend. Americas' SAP Users' Group (ASUG), which once held dozens of educational sessions at Sapphire on SAP technical and product issues, also had a scaled-down presence this year.

However, the scaled-down event may have helped some customers establish stronger relationships and gain beneficial information.

"There were fewer interactions with people, but the ones we had were more valuable," said Jamie Lee, CIO at Ecobat, a firm in Irving, Texas that provides recycling for batteries. "People seem to be enjoying the interactions more, and they're getting more out of them."

The following are other notable aspects of the familiar and curious Sapphire 2022:

Sustainability takes center stage

SAP CEO Christian Klein's opening keynote focused on three major themes: sustainability, the speed of business change and supply chain disruption. Of the three, sustainability appeared to be the one that most thoroughly infused conference messaging.

During his keynote, Klein stressed that sustainability and profitability are not mutually exclusive terms, and much of the conference looked eager to point this out. Many of the product and partnership announcements had a sustainability component, and sustainability signage dotted the conference center.

SAP's sustainability products generally focus on helping companies track and report on sustainability data that flows through their systems. Sustainability also took center stage on the Sapphire show floor, with an exhibit dedicated to a fictitious fast fashion company called Trilogy. Employing interactive displays and features like working industrial robotics, the Trilogy exhibit endeavored to show how a company can use SAP sustainability products to enable analysis, planning and reporting on the design, sourcing, procurement, production, delivery and returns processes.

The Trilogy exhibit at SAP Sapphire 2022
The Trilogy exhibit at Sapphire 2022, a fictitious fast fashion company.

Product announcement quantity trumps impact

Sapphire 2022 saw scads of product and partnership announcements. But most of the product news was minor and included low-key product extensions and new functionality, such as SAP Digital Manufacturing Cloud extending plant execution capabilities for process manufacturing, SAP Business Network features enabling companies to comply with laws on due diligence for human rights, and S/4HANA functionality for product sourcing for automotive and Industrial Manufacturing, Marketing and Components industries.

As for partnerships, the most notable was with Apple on developing supply chain-related apps for iOS devices. Another included a partnership with consulting firm McKinsey on sustainability-related services.

The lack of product news was unsurprising to industry experts, considering today's cloud-oriented enterprise computing environment and continuous rollouts.

"The problem is truly that we're delivering so much constantly," said Sven Denecken, COO of S/4HANA and head of product success at SAP. "Before we would say, 'Wait until Sapphire, where we'll announce everything.' But that's not how the world is now."

Rise with SAP -- or lack thereof

Featuring prominently in Klein's opening keynote address was SAP's initiative to foster the business and technical transformation of legacy on-premises SAP environments to a digital core centered on S/4HANA Cloud. Klein said Rise with SAP, which was released in early 2021, was SAP's "holistic business transformation offering in the cloud."

However, Rise with SAP was absent from much of the rest of the event, which seemed incongruous to its inclusion in the opening keynote and some of the customer confusion that remains around the Rise portfolio.

Sapphire had information and demo booths dedicated to various SAP technologies, including SAP Business Technology Platform, Customer Experience and Cloud ERP, but none focused entirely on Rise. One SAP employee manning a booth for support services that included "Rise with SAP" in the labeling said he had experienced a stream of customers asking about Rise.

Crowds were back at SAP Sapphire 2022
SAP Sapphire crowds watch CEO Christian Klein's opening keynote.

A garden hose of content

SAP and partners hosted plenty of production demos and information sessions, but at far fewer numbers than at previous Sapphires. There was also a lack of vendor presentations, customer roundtables and other sessions that had provided in-depth information and educational opportunities.

Part of this was due to the scaled-down presence of ASUG, which in the past provided hundreds of product information and training sessions at Sapphire. ASUG had a dedicated area for its members and other customers to meet and exchange SAP product stories and advice.

For Paul Wagner of Centuri Group, a construction firm in Phoenix, the limited amount of information was the most remarkable aspect of Sapphire 2022

"The content on the floor was very SAP-centric and the ASUG content, which used to be about 50% to 60%, was very limited," Wagner said. "I really like hearing people's stories about how they succeeded -- or failed -- with their migrations or other activities they have going on, but I didn't hear that."

However, Centuri Group has recently migrated from SAP ECC to S/4HANA, so Wagner was still able to get valuable information from the sessions that were available.

"In past years when we were still on ECC, the content about the glories of what you can do on S/4HANA didn't do much for me went I got home," he said. "Previous Sapphires were like drinking from a firehose; this year was like drinking from a garden hose. It's still a lot of water, but it's not going to blast you, you're not as drained at the end of the show."

Jim O'Donnell is a TechTarget news writer who covers ERP and other enterprise applications for SearchSAP and SearchERP.

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