There is no doubt that today’s business requirements for the enterprise landscape are broader, deeper, and more complicated than ever before. Smaller companies are doing business on a global scale, and the largest multinationals are honing into local sales, while everyone, it seems, is struggling to produce more with fewer people, in less time.
Salim Ali, Vice President, Enterprise Solution Marketing at SAP, has been a keen observer of the effects that this is having on technology and on its business users. “The time our customers have to react, adapt, and deliver a product or solution has become shorter,” says Ali. “And the speed of change has significantly accelerated — that’s our customer reality.”
With these challenges, businesses themselves have evolved into something new. “In the old world, business transformation was exceedingly linear — much more command and control,” Ali explains. “But now it’s more collaboration, a loosely connected model where the customers are at the center and people come together and try to build better offerings to meet their own customer needs. It’s much more organic and fluid.”
Focusing on a New Generation of Customers
In fact, not only does business seem to be spinning faster every day, but individuals’ expectations also are changing. “What’s happening is, from an enterprise perspective, business customers are starting to expect very consumer-oriented behavior and models in every aspect of their work — especially as a new, younger generation of employees comes to work,” Ali says. “Everything is iPod-like or Facebook-like. These new expectations are bringing into the forefront new models of thinking, which our customers and partners have to understand and adapt to as well.”
As a result, Ali is seeing a greater focus on the user experience. These users expect to gather information with a level of interconnectivity and multiple methods for consumption and collaboration. Individuals seamlessly weave their work from the office to their home, on a mobile device, in a car, on a plane, or a train. Many are working with teams that cross oceans and time zones, and they come to expect information and answers to be available anywhere and at any time.
With such dispersed teams, how does anything get done? The answer, according to Ali, is that people across extended teams, from different departments, organizations, and geographies are coming together to quickly collaborate and create something of value.
||SAP customers are now at the center of the ecosystem, connected by innovative user communities and trusted partner solutions and services
Collaborating Across Corporate Boundaries
These days, as Ali explains, many enterprises are increasingly acting in ways similar to how Hollywood players — producers, directors, agents, writers, actors, cinematographers, and various crew members — collaborate to make a major motion picture.
Enterprises now assemble collaborative workgroups that span employee barriers and utilize trading partners, solution providers, systems integrators, resellers, analysts, and even other business peers to hammer out solutions. When the job is complete, they go their separate ways, disbanding, only to unite again on another project.
Reflecting the new ways these highly adaptable team members are asking questions, sharing answers, and generating solutions for their own organizations, SAP Community Network ties together key resources across the broader SAP ecosystem, including developers, business process experts, and consultants from customers, SAP, and partners. This broad and diverse SAP Community Network brings together more than 200 countries, through more than 2 million members, via 200,000 contributors. The site enjoys over 1 million unique visitors per month, with 27 million total visits in 2009 and 20 million pages viewed per month.
That represents a lot of knowledge, Ali notes, and explains how SAP Community Network is a vehicle for SAP customers to gain easy access to some of the smartest minds in the world. “There is a growing acceptance for companies to reach outside their own corporate boundaries to acquire the knowledge, capabilities, and solutions to develop and deliver change and innovation,” Ali says. Business processes become increasingly inter-connected, which creates a greater need to share information and coordinate business processes beyond traditional corporate borders.
Helping Customers Engage with Partners
The lens through which Ali sees the world locks its focus on SAP customers. “In my world, I’m looking at how the ecosystem is adding value to SAP customers. It’s my job to think about what we can do to make SAP Community Network more relevant, more germane, and more important to our customers. How do we frame all of that and bring the ecosystem to our customers using SAP EcoHub? That’s what I look at,” he explains.
Consider, for example, how even the adoption of new software and technology is evolving. “I spoke with many SAP customers in Phoenix during SAP TechEd 2009. One customer in the beverage industry was telling me that his group would continually go through the software discovery process in a very traditional way — ad hoc information gathering. A team member would say, ‘Let me ask A, let me ask B, let me talk to a consultant’ — a process then repeated by every member of the team. So it’s just doing the same thing over and over again,” Ali says. Leveraging today’s technology, SAP has built a network of collaboration and networking for SAP customers to learn from experiences of industry peers, current users, or feedback from external sources.
What’s more, while SAP customers may be well aware of SAP offerings, this process may not help them fully grasp the latest partner offerings or how to find the solutions that are right for them. “To ensure our customers have the most complete, compelling solution, we work with an ecosystem of partners that provide additional software, technology, and services to meet our customers’ unique business requirements,” Ali says. “But how do we ensure they can quickly identify from the list of thousands what really matters to them and their business goals?”
That’s what SAP EcoHub offers customers — it helps companies discover just the types of solutions they need and provides information to assist in their evaluation to quickly make the right decision — including demos, customer proof points, information and input from the SAP communities, and even a “contact me” option. As Salim explains, SAP EcoHub is designed to put everything an SAP customer needs to identify and investigate just the solutions they need — all in one place.
The Innovation Discovery Model
How can SAP help people find answers when they need them? Ali spends a lot of time thinking about this and about how to refine the SAP ecosystem. “The result is the creation of a new innovation discovery model that focuses on how customers find innovation and how they discover what they need to solve their business problems,” Ali says.
Ali provides an example of a customer at the center of this concentric model: “Let’s say I work for a global automobile manufacturer, and we have a big change in how we manufacture one of our products. What do I need to do? First, I look at our production process and capabilities and identify the gap. IT is involved very early, analyzing what technology changes are required to meet the business need. It’s possible that there is no existing solution or expertise in-house,” he explains.
“Then, I go outside to my supply chain and to my peer network. If I don’t find the solution there, next I would go even farther outside to adjacent markets. For example, I would see what an industrial equipment manufacturer has done that I can learn from,” Ali says.
This type of knowledge sharing, Ali notes, would typically take a great deal of time to go from internal sources to business partners to the peer network in adjacent markets, which is a much broader community. However, SAP EcoHub brings all these people together so customers can drastically shrink the time it takes to find applicable solutions and then move toward implementation.
||SAP EcoHub provides SAP customers and partners a community-powered online solution and service marketplace
Learning from Peer Experiences
Businesses tend to think their problems are unique, which can make traditional innovation discovery efforts even less effective. For example, when the Florida Department of Revenue was looking for a new revenue and tax management solution, it expected that custom application development would be required, which would mean significant capital investment.
Luckily, this state agency linked up with an SAP partner, a consultancy actively working with other SAP partners and customers in the public sector industry. This consultancy showed how to use out-of-the-box SAP software to create a revenue and taxation system — saving the agency significant time and resources.
“They also leveraged business process expertise from the Business Process Expert community for help during the implementation,” Ali says. “And when they were finished, they shared the experience back to the community so other organizations could benefit from their efforts.” According to Ali, not long after, another US state’s department of revenue followed this agency’s example.
The Power of a Five-Star Rating
While sharing best practices in the industry is effective, there’s another quick and efficient way a person can wade through a field of options. The ability to quickly narrow the possibilities using a five-star peer rating and review system is something users seem to greatly value.
“As we’ve met with customers, they’ve expressed much appreciation for the reviews and ratings section of SAP EcoHub,” Ali notes. “In this section, it’s not just partners or SAP saying a product is a good solution. It’s peers within the enterprise who have actually tried the product.”
SAP EcoHub members have virtual business cards that help provide context for the reviews and ratings — in addition to reviewers’ contact information, if they choose to make these details public. This is a powerful option because it lets SAP EcoHub members contact each other privately to delve deeper.
Responding to Customer Needs
Through SAP EcoHub, SAP builds and delivers solution extensions based on customer interest in hot topics. For example, inventory optimization is a critical focus for many customers, especially in a lean world.
To respond to that need, Ali says, “We brought together service partners Wipro, Bristlecone, and CSC with a software partner, SmartOps, delivering an end-to-end business value proposition and solution footprint called Best Run Now: Inventory Optimization — and this is delivered through SAP EcoHub. It’s an example of how our ecosystem comes together to solve customer needs.”
For SAP EcoHub to save customers time and money and drive solution sales for SAP partners, there’s a complex mix of back-end Web 2.0 technologies that seamlessly connect various SAP ecosystem communities to deliver a consistent, easy-to-use tool. Ali notes that this dynamic platform provides two significant usability benefits:
- Users can interact with SAP EcoHub at a time of their own choosing, at a speed of their own choosing, all consolidated into one tool — nurturing the information needs of the business users and decision makers, which supplements the assistance expected from an account executive.
- Customers can share the information they find with someone else within the enterprise, making the innovation discovery process simpler and faster.
Ali closes by encouraging SAP customers and partners to, simply put, “leverage the power of the ecosystem.” Visit ecohub.sap.com.