This content is part of the Conference Coverage: SAP Sapphire 2024 news, trends and analysis

SAP Sapphire likely to offer dual cloud, AI agendas

SAP Sapphire will likely focus on pragmatic guidance for cloud and AI, along with examples of how to derive business value and successfully undergo complex transformations.

SAP Sapphire 2024 could become a balancing act for the vendor, as customers continue to focus on legacy technologies while SAP makes the case as to why migration from on-premises systems to the cloud is necessary.

Plus, SAP Sapphire, which offers a co-located event with Americas' SAP Users' Group, is expected to focus on newer technologies, including its AI offerings. Specifically, industry experts are expecting SAP to provide sessions during this week's three-day customer and partner event that focus on how its "business AI" -- a concept intended to deliver business- or industry-specific outcomes through SAP's AI, such as its Joule generative AI assistant -- will deliver value for its customers.

But customers might not be ready for such technology, and analysts will also be looking for concrete, real-world advice on how customers can deal with problems they're facing.

Seeing what other customers are doing

Customers are asking fundamental questions about how similar companies are doing major projects such as cloud migrations in a proven way and can speak to the value of that, said Liz Herbert, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

"Sometimes there can also be an announcement of a partnership that might be notable," Herbert said. "Certainly, they have to showcase AI, but that doesn't set them apart from every other conference in any ERP-related space."

This year's Sapphire is a pivotal show because it's important for SAP to get traction with customers on the company's emerging technologies, particularly AI, said Jon Reed, co-founder of Diginomica, an enterprise industry analysis firm. These customers are also facing real-world issues around things such as the end-of-maintenance deadline in 2027 for legacy SAP ERP products.

"We hear a lot from customers about the need for more resources for those deadlines -- more business cases, more skills development," Reed said. "They want confidence in how they're going to approach that, is it going to be more a technical upgrade, and if so, can SAP make it easier? It will be interesting to see if SAP can balance those two agendas."

Show real-world benefits of AI for business

SAP also needs to demonstrate some real value in the burgeoning AI capabilities of its products, said Joshua Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting.

"I'm hopeful and think it will happen that SAP will step up to show some genuine business productivity case studies for its AI capabilities, and that it's going to be real stuff," Greenbaum said. "They have it, it's there and they are building more real AI capabilities that deliver value."

The imperative now for SAP is to show that this isn't just smoke and mirrors, and it's not just a small win here and there, there's actual real value.
Joshua GreenbaumPrincipal, Enterprise Applications Consulting

Customers are demanding these proof points and need to see that SAP can deliver on these capabilities, he said.

"The imperative now for SAP is to show that this isn't just smoke and mirrors, and it's not just a small win here and there, there's actual real value," Greenbaum said.

Reed agreed that SAP must show the practical benefits of using AI, rather than the big ideas of what's to come in the future. One thing that SAP should show is examples of how AI connects to a data strategy with tools like the SAP Datasphere, an enterprise platform that integrates data from internal and external sources, as getting this right is a key for AI.

"What customers will welcome more than anything is information around AI readiness," Reed said. "How do you start getting ready to consume this functionality, what do you need for data governance, what oversight do you need, and how does this fit for human workers who have questions about how this will help them or not."

Rise with SAP clarity needed

SAP will also need to clarify questions that customers have around the Rise with SAP program, which is designed to ease the move to the cloud, he said. SAP has been adding to Rise with SAP continually since it launched in 2021 to improve it for customers, but many still don't understand what it means for them specifically.

"SAP doesn't always realize how much work they have to do to make the case for why Rise is important," Reed said. "It raises questions on things like what the clean core means and what options they have."

Brian Hardee, CIO at PureTech Scientific, is attending Sapphire to discuss on stage and during a roundtable session his company's experience with implementing S/4HANA Cloud.

PureTech Scientific, a manufacturer of glycolic acids used primarily in industrial cleaning, just went live on S/4HANA Cloud after a 14-month implementation project, Hardee said,

"I'll speak about the PureTech story and will hopefully have the opportunity in the customer roundtable and other times to help people understand that you can get whatever you choose to get from [S/4HANA Cloud]," Hardee said in an interview with TechTarget Editorial.

SAP CEO Christian Klein at Sapphire 2023
SAP is gearing up for its annual user conference, where executives like CEO Christian Klein, pictured here at Sapphire 2023, are expected to juggle AI ambitions and cloud realities.

The value of live interaction

The ability to engage in conversations with other customers that may be considering or in the middle of similar projects is a valuable benefit of attending Sapphire, he said.

"I always learn something from anybody that I engage with," Hardee said. "I want other people to understand that they have the same opportunity and can help them understand on the front end the tips and tricks that they need to get the best from their systems integrator and the application."

This is one reason why SAP continues to hold Sapphire as a live event, although the event has scaled down in size and now includes a virtual offering and a separate version in Barcelona.

The amount of choice should appeal to customers who want the information but may not be able to travel long distances to attend, Herbert said.

"SAP has always had regional events, but making it more accessible for customers where interest in traveling or budgets for traveling has dwindled goes a long way as well," Herbert said. "It's helpful for their European customers if they don't have to travel all the way to the U.S. and everything that entails with cost and time."

Having scaled-down regional and virtual events also aligns with SAP's messaging on sustainability, she said.

While SAP does a good job of offering streaming content and interactive virtual sessions, there's still a lot of value in getting people together in the same room, Reed said.

"It's ultimately a relationship business, and it's easier to get your problems solved face-to-face. There's a benefit to being in the right place at the right time when you can potentially meet an SAP partner off-hours that can make a difference on your project," he said. "Those things are very hard to simulate on-line -- not impossible, but there's more of a chance to have those hallway encounters that can make a difference for your project."

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

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