Jim Hagemann Snabe and Bill McDermott, co-CEOs of SAP, have asserted their goal is to reach a user population of one billion. This raises more than a few questions, foremost among them: How will SAP solutions be sufficiently simplified, making them more accessible to the legions of employees across a company who don’t now use them?
We posed this question to Marge Breya, the charismatic visionary who presides over the SAP Solutions organization. This article provides excerpts from that conversation.
When my son starts his first job four years from now, my hope is that he will have an even better experience than he did when he first signed up for Xbox LIVE. He’s 18, and the world of online gaming is now second nature to him — the rich graphics, the social media outlets, and the multi-player collaborative environments, all replete with voiceover IP headsets. Imagine the letdown he and members of his generation will feel when they enter the workforce and interact with the kind of business technology we use today. Even my parents, who are now in their seventies, dabble in Zynga’s online FarmVille community and have come to rely on the instant gratification of Google in their daily lives.
As consumers, when we want information, we instinctively turn to search engines and social media. But in our workplace, we lack this type of basic literacy. We can find information about restaurants, cars, or mattresses, but are hard pressed to find out whom and what we should know to do our jobs. Taking a new position? Assuming more responsibility? Planning a project? Where do you turn for information, in-house best practices, or the people and assets you can leverage to get the job done?
“My vision is for our software to read into and anticipate what users want and present the relevant tools, information, and environment — not to simply respond to a delineated request.”
Marge Breya, Executive Vice President and General Manager, SAP Solutions
And here’s the real irony. Search companies divine our intent either based on our inputs or knowing which site we came from. Sites like Facebook do this through connections. But other than that, they know almost nothing about us. Contrast this to your enterprise, where a lot is known about individuals, processes, and resources. Your SAP systems certainly know who the employees are in your company, their job descriptions, skill sets, approval levels, and reporting hierarchies. There are records of how computers are provisioned. Details are known about suppliers, vendors, and the customers you serve. Systems know how processes run and what their rules of engagement are. They even know what questions people are asking because your business intelligence tools run all your queries and reports.
So I ask myself: Why not make context — providing an intuitive and predictive user experience — part of the DNA of our solutions?
When I look at our solution portfolio, I think opportunities abound for providing a contextual experience, not just a transactional one, for individuals in the enterprise:
- When users query the system or go to run a report, it could respond by letting them know if a similar query or report exists and asking if they’d like to leverage it. So if a sales manager runs a request for product sales by region, he or she will also be provided with quick-and-easy access to regional reports by product or by salesperson.
- Starting a project? SAP can have the relevant assets associated with the effort automatically populated into an application, so that you don’t have to spend time searching for what you need to get started. A marketing person who’s planning a campaign, for example, could be presented with the results of similar past campaigns and the assets that were associated with them, including Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, campaign results, PDF files, and the people who participated in those campaigns’ planning activities. The marketer could then readily invite folks into an SAP StreamWork activity (see sidebar below). Setting up a project folder, the marketer could indicate that he or she is trying to decide how to spend money on the next campaign. Recognizing this, the system would present the KPIs associated with best-run ad campaigns. Mention “reports,” and it would present pertinent reports and display an environment that allows the user to interact with those reports.
In short, my vision is for our software to read into and anticipate what users want and present the relevant tools, information, and environment — not to simply respond to a delineated request.
This can only be done with a real mastery of the language of business, which is our core competency. We know a lot about business professionals and processes. Think about the language of business in terms of verbs and nouns:
- The verbs are the actions we take. We review, delegate, meet, collaborate, and analyze, for example.
- And there are the nouns: invoices, bills of material, definitions of customers and suppliers — all stored in your SAP systems.
Put them together in the context of the user, and you enable users to interact with systems in very natural, simple ways. A sales manager could simply ask for a weekly customer revenue report. These are words SAP systems could understand.
I don’t know of other companies that can do this, because they simply don’t have the content. SAP does. We have almost everything people want to know about their business in our system, and if not in our system, then certainly in that of our partners.
Whether your company runs SAP solutions on premise, on demand, or with a combination thereof, and whether your users access those solutions on a PC, laptop, phone, or iPad, the solutions SAP delivers are there to get things done and enable people to drive the highest levels of business performance.
Accordingly, I’m focused on how we do this and continue to pay off on our corporate slogan, “the best-run businesses run SAP.” When we contemplate a new feature or business process management template, I’m asking how it will affect the business outcomes that our customers want, and what could we pre-populate or pre-supply so that users don’t have to look for or think about it.
The goal is to make SAP software wonderfully simple, intuitive, and anticipative of what a user may want. This is the level of service that I think we owe our customers, and I’m committed to making it happen.