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The evolution of the SAP finance organization

by Davin Wilfrid

March 9, 2011

By Davin Wilfrid, analyst, insiderRESEARCH

Like any other company, SAP was not immune to the financial crisis that wreaked havoc across the globe in late 2008. According to SAP America CFO Joel Bernstein, SAP felt the impact swiftly and harshly as the crisis unfolded.

"The proof of that is that we lost $150 million in pipeline in just a few weeks," Berstein told attendees during his keynote at the Financials 2011 event.

Responding to the crisis required a rethink of SAP's go-to-market strategy, which had gone stale after big ERP successes in the 1990s and 2000s.

What does this have to do with finance? It was the finance organization that first brought to light the risks of conducting business in a pre-crash manner. The prior focus on big deals exposed SAP to big losses once budgets tightened up across the board.

The focus of the new go-to-market strategy was three-fold:

1. Moving back toward specialized go-to-market initiatives around smaller solutions, rather than trying to sell the entire fruit basket all at once.

2. Better clarity and internal alignment ("On premise, on device, on demand" anyone?)

3. Focus on key KPIs and risk management.

Of course it wouldn't be an SAP presentation unless BI played a starring role. Bernstein showed off a BW-built report SAP uses to pull global sales dat a into a single report that allows managers to drill down and track key metrics. This single reporting interface (delivered through SAP Portal) essentially replaced a mish-mash of powerpoint presentations delivered at quarterly meetings.

The key theme of all of this, according to Bernstein, is that modern finance organizations play two key roles: keeping the lights on and serving as a trusted advisor to the business. The emphasis on each function will shift based on external pressures, but the most successful companies are those that can drive value in both areas.

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