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The Customer-to-Partner Evolution: Make the Switch from SAP Customer to SAP Partner to Transform Your Business

by Kevin Ichhpurani | SAPinsider, Volume 14, Issue 4, Features

October 1, 2013

SAP’s partner ecosystem reflects a customer-centric approach that has been a hallmark of SAP’s outlook and growth. Many SAP partners were customers before entertaining the idea of becoming a partner. This article takes a close look at some of these companies, and highlights some of the partner programs that help turn long-time customers into strategic partners.


When SAP was just a small startup in 1972, its five employees spent the majority of their time at customers’ data centers and tackled development work back in the office mostly at night and during weekends. To realize their vision of standard application software for real-time data processing, the founders knew success would come from taking the perspective of a customer looking in, rather than from the inside of the company looking out. This philosophy served as SAP’s foundation then, and despite dramatic industry-wide changes over the past four decades, user experience and customer needs and results remain paramount. That’s not changing.

This customer-centric approach is reflected in today’s SAP partner ecosystem. Our partners have thrived by building their businesses around similar customer-centric core values. They have embarked on extraordinary co-innovation projects inspired by their customers and their own experiences with SAP technology, and often become users of the SAP-based solutions they create for their customers. Importantly, some SAP partners were SAP customers before the idea of becoming a partner, and offering and supporting SAP products, ever crossed their minds.

A Longtime Hosting Services Partnership

Freudenberg IT (FIT) is one of the earliest examples of an SAP partner that initially began as an SAP customer. Its customer-to-partner evolution began long before the onset of the current knowledge-based revolution, which encompasses mobile, bring your own device (BYOD), cloud, big data, analytics, social networking, apps proliferation, and other developments, and has accelerated both SAP and partner growth.

By thinking, planning, and engaging from a partner perspective, you can transform, elevate, or move your business in new directions that may not have otherwise seemed possible.


Headquartered in Weinheim, Germany, FIT operates as part of the Freudenberg Group of companies, a family-owned conglomerate with more than US$8 billion in annual sales. Freudenberg was among SAP’s first users in the 1970s — customer number seven to be exact. In this capacity, the company assisted in the initial development of SAP software, so much so that the FIT brand emerged as a spin-off in 1995 to ultimately deliver SAP hosting services throughout Europe, North America, and Asia.

“Our SAP partner business clearly began with our customer relationship — a great beginning as our parent company gained both user and contributor insights during those startup years,” says Kevin Diaz, FIT’s Senior Vice President of North America, where the company is rapidly expanding its SAP service offerings. “Today, we’re making all SAP applications available to our own customers in a multitude of hosted scenarios across multiple data centers worldwide. The SAP portfolio is now so much deeper and broader in scope that it’s creating unprecedented paths for partnership and business growth.”

Take the Next Step: Partner Program Offerings

FIT’s partnership to provide SAP hosting services to its customers is just one example of the many ways SAP customers can take the next step to transform into strategic partners. Our partner programs offer multiple avenues to successfully make this transition.

Accelerating the Pace of OEM Development in All Directions and Regions 

SAP’s original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partner program allows partners to embed SAP solutions and platforms into their own applications to build more robust, reliable products
at a lower cost. These OEM partners, many of whom first acquired their SAP skills as users, can capitalize on a broad range of program benefits to further their SAP business, including: 

  • Access to SAP applications, analytics, database and technology, and mobile, cloud, and
    in-memory solutions
  • Flexible licensing, deployment options, and royalty models that fit unique business requirements
  • Fast time-to-market with integration
    validation, not-for-resale demos and
    licenses, and implementation programs
  • Co-innovation and co-development in partnership with SAP’s product management team
  • Special invitations to beta testing, SAP Ramp-Up programs, and future roadmap insights 

UK-based McLaren Group is an example of an SAP customer that shifted gears toward an OEM partnership. The company has been using SAP HANA to accelerate data aggregation and analysis for myriad Formula One car components. Better race-day decisions set the pace at first. Now, the company is considering the potential of an OEM partnership with SAP to support business diversification related to performance management systems, including telemetry, modeling, and real-time simulation capabilities. These capabilities can be applied to a wide range of areas, such as sports, health and wellness, energy, and automotive. For example, programs may be as diverse as monitoring patients’ health remotely to real-time analytics, or simulating complex engineering processes in the oil and gas sector. As an OEM partner, McLaren would use SAP innovations to augment the competitive advantage it provides across these areas.

Within the last few years, OEM partnership types at SAP have become more and more diverse. Although hardware companies are usually associated as OEMs, many more independent software vendors (ISVs) and systems integrators (SIs) are joining SAP’s OEM partner program alongside other unique device partners. What’s truly original in this formula is that the end result and deliverables of these partnerships are driving growth across all market segments and regions.  

While SAP HANA can be viewed as a rising tide that is lifting all types of partnerships, it is not the only reason why OEM partners are thriving. More partners are adopting our mobility platform, driven by SAP Afaria and SAP Mobile Platform. Others are choosing SAP Sybase SQL Anywhere, SAP Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise (SAP Sybase ASE), and SAP Sybase IQ to enhance their business. OEM partners are innovating in their own markets by embedding SAP technology into their products to deliver more end-user benefits.

Managed Cloud as a Service: Simplicity and Successes in the Cloud

SAP’s managed cloud as a service program, formerly called “ITO” (for IT Outsourcing), takes an SAP partner’s private cloud and application management model one step further, enabling the partner to offer SAP solutions through its own private cloud and on a subscription basis.[1] Partners can create unique and differentiated offerings that combine software, cloud infrastructure, and managed services in one complete package at a low monthly price. Advantages include more rapid time-to-value and the ability for customers to shift expenses from “Capital Expenditure” to “Operational Expenditure” on the balance sheet.

The model is relatively simple and straight-forward. Partners leverage a term license for SAP solutions within what they offer for managed cloud as a service. Depending on the partnership structure, SAP offers further alignment and support with field resources, as well as other market development benefits. Partners, in turn, use these licenses to create new industry and line-of-business offerings tailored to customer needs, including complete management and support of the customer’s SAP environment.

For example, a large telecommunications company recently licensed SAP Business One, SAP’s ERP software for small businesses, to create a new “ERP-as-a-service” solution for its SME customer base. This package enabled the company to pull through additional solutions and services with managed cloud as a service. In another partnership, a major retailer across Latin America added a new IT services line of business that includes offering SAP software to the company’s tenants. Both of these partners are enjoying growth in
revenue and profitability due in part to the innovative solutions they can now offer their customers.

Application Development Grows Up

If you’re ultimately interested in selling your own packaged software, SAP also has a newly expanded program specifically designed to support partners across multiple SAP platform technologies, such as the SAP HANA platform, SAP HANA Cloud Platform, SAP Mobile Platform, SAP databases, and the SAP NetWeaver platform. The new SAP PartnerEdge program for Application Development goes beyond the previous focus on mobility and SAP HANA Cloud, which quickly grew to close to 400 partners over the past year and resulted in approximately 150 partner-created mobile apps in the SAP Store, as well as hundreds more in various stages of conceptualization and development.

“SAP’s innovations in its mobile technology platform have greatly enhanced our ability to provide our customers with intuitive apps that integrate back-end SAP data onto a mobile device,” says Jim Cameron, Partner at Naperville, Illinois-based ExpertIG. As an enterprise mobility solutions developer, ExpertIG received a 2013 SAP Pinnacle Award as the Packaged Mobile Application Innovator of the Year. Cameron describes the SAP PartnerEdge program as instrumental in this achievement, as it provides the tools that partners need to efficiently develop, market, and sell applications. Any company that intends to develop packaged applications for enterprises can join the SAP PartnerEdge program for Application Development. The program provides the opportunity to market applications through the SAP Store as well as bundle and resell them with SAP technology runtime licenses. Designed so developers everywhere can rapidly build the continuous innovations that all types of businesses and organizations require, the program is open to ISVs, value-added resellers (VARs), SIs, web development specialists, and of course, SAP customers.

Undertaking Humanitarian Efforts

SAP customers-turned-partners are increasingly taking co-innovation with SAP worldwide across nearly all market segments and solution categories. Some of these partners have a specific altruistic goal in mind, intending to do good things for people and undertaking worthy social or environmental causes. One example is the Carbon Disclosure Project, an OEM technology partnership that uses embedded business intelligence to help over 3,700 companies benchmark and manage their own performance and make a positive contribution to climate change.

Additional Resources
  • "Opening New Doors: SAP Innovation Presents New Opportunities" by Kevin Ichhpurani (SAPinsider, October-December 2012,
  • "The SAP and Intel Co-Innovation Story" by Bill Lawler and Rob Shiveley (insiderPROFILES, April-June 2013,
Elevate Your Business

Many SAP customers do not realize that they can greatly prosper by becoming SAP partners. As a customer, you experience SAP technology in ways that can benefit you in a partnership capacity. Co-innovation with SAP can also become another powerful means of differentiation. By thinking, planning, and engaging from a partner perspective, you can transform, elevate, or move your current business in new directions that may not have otherwise seemed possible.

For more information on SAP’s partner programs, visit

[1] To learn more about managed cloud as a service, see “Managed Cloud as a Service: SAP’s On-Premise Applications Delivered as Cloud Solutions by Trusted Partners” by Mitchell Kick on page 25 of this October-December 2013 issue of SAPinsider (


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Kevin Ichhpurani
Kevin Ichhpurani

Kevin Ichhpurani ( is Senior Vice President of Strategic Ecosystem and Business Development at SAP. He is responsible for managing the Global Strategic Partners and driving business development for the Mobility, Cloud, and Database & Technology market categories. Previously, Kevin was Senior Vice President of Corporate Business Development at SAP, leading the development of all strategic partnerships and the SAP NetWeaver equity fund. Before joining SAP, Kevin spent 15 years in the technology sector in various executive roles. He holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management.

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