Bill McDermott commits to SAP Community – it’s a BFD. MSCNGA?

Last evening I saw a post by Bill McDermott, CEO SAP on the SAP Community and his commitment to getting it back to its former glory. This is a BFD for SAP and long overdue.

The SAP Community Network (SCN) has been moldering for years. A litany of technical problems stretching back to 2011, a loss of community leadership, a drifting away of some of the brightest people in the SAP universe and an SAP Mentor program that needs a reboot, have all contributed to a diminution in the perceived value of SCN. It’s not something SAP can afford.

What’s changed

To his credit, McDermott acknowledges most of the top of mind business issues in his post.

Recently I put myself on the line that SAP would restore SAP Community to a position of strength. After a steady stream of feedback that the community’s voice had been diminished, it was clear that we needed to act.

We asked some of the company’s up-and-coming leaders to come together and do whatever it takes. A true ONE SAP effort to once again earn the full trust and engagement from our community. Here is what they told me:
1.We made a series of changes to the SAP Community experience over the years that frustrated our community and eroded some of the participation.
2.We let the impression linger that SAP was using our community simply as another channel to promote our corporate messages.
3.We drifted from what made SAP Community such a critical success in its early days – a place for users of SAP to come together, post content and share experiences.

As I hope most would agree, these were honest mistakes made with good intentions. Especially as of late, I believe the SAP team has made substantial process to get us back on the right path for SAP Community. The many dedicated colleagues who work on this are the loudest advocates for community in the company. I’m grateful for their efforts.

This is an impressive acknowledgment by a tech company CEO, and I agree with the sentiment that good intentions were fouled by errors.

Where I take issue is that after so many years, if the SCN dev team can’t get their technology right then how will it reward the trust and loyalty that its most senior contributors deserve? McDermott has the start of an answer:

SAP Community is not a marketing platform. It is a place for our community, especially our developer community, to come together. Accordingly, the team behind SAP Community will now report to our Chief Technology Officer, Bjoern Goerke and Thomas Grassl.

Our fearless SAP Mentors will also be supported by this new model. I have enormous respect for the Mentors, especially when they push SAP to make changes that are in the best interests of our customers and users.

This is genuinely good news. Like all great companies, SAP has cultivated a bench of high-quality leaders who grok their community. Hasso Plattner, co-founder is still revered by the community. In his time, Vishal Sikka, CTO was much loved. After something of a hiatus, SAP has Bjoern Goerke is turning out to be another of those much-loved leaders. His performances at last year’s TechEds were very well received.

Thomas Grassl has long championed the innovators among the SAP developers, both inside and outside the company. He also is much-loved and respected in SCN.

It is telling that McDermott closes out with this:

Bjoern, Thomas, Nick Tzitzon, Alicia Tillman, and many others deserve credit for reaching this conclusion collaboratively, without any of the normal “turf talk” that hurts companies. This is best for our team, best for our Mentors and best for SAP Community.

Tzitzon and Tillman sit on the marketing side of the SAP team so the fact they ‘get’ what needs to happen is excellent news.

Where to next?

No-one’s going to wave flags of congratulation in SAP’s direction just yet. There’s a lot of work to be undertaken. There are also fresh challenges which have emerged with the passage of time.

In response to McDermott’s post, I responded this way and got this response:

I agree Dennis! Must be a destination at the intersection of business and technology…

– Bill McDermott (@BillRMcDermott) January 17, 2018

There is plenty of work to be done in the SAP customer base that reflects SAP’s product heritage. But the recent pivot towards a digital core surrounded by applications that address modern-day challenges requires a different approach and a different kind of community. Buzzworkd bingo afflicts all tech companies and SAP is no different. But in the enterprise, there are so many potential business avenues to explore that SAP needs to get much closer to the business, in partnership with IT, rather than restricting SCN to developers.

One example I’ve seen that gets little attention is the hybris Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce property. It is mostly marketing driven but I derive value from the informative pieces that ask questions or surface real-world issues. If this sounds like it flies in the face of McDermott’s team sentiments then that would be to ignore the business value element that developers rarely get alongside. Right now business needs that help because as many of my peers are starting to understand, there’s a lot of questions to be asked BEFORE business cases can be developed for next-gen apps.

Elsewhere, there is a more pressing issue from SAP’s perspective. In response to McDermott’s post, Jarret Pazahanick, who leads the 37K strong SuccessFactors group on LinkedIn said:

Getting people back will be the challenge as if you cross post this on Linkedin for example I bet you will get 20X the views and 50-100X the engagement (comments/likes). Due to that I will be cross posting and watching before I consider coming back but wish this initiative all the best as [I] think a strong community is great for SAP and Customers.

Pazahanick is right to a degree. Conversations go where they want to and absent a quality home elsewhere, LinkedIn has become the natural successor to some communities. However, that’s not to say LinkedIn will remain that place. Neither is it a given that Pazahanick’s group is the right place to be in the scenarios I am describing.

Commercially, Salesforce has put a massive stake in the ground with its Trailblazers initiative. The leadership there is fired up and convinced it can build a sizeable community. They too have a top class team and where once SAP stood alone with SCN, that’s no longer the case. Oracle will have to follow suit, while Workday works closely with its closed group of customer advocates. That will change as Workday’s PaaS comes into sharper focus.

My take

These are not easy times for SAP. It talks about being cool but by and large, it’s not considered cool. Attracting the very best in the new disciplines of machine/deep learning, neural networks, voice and so on is tough for everyone. Community matters and can serve as a showcase for innovation but there needs to be purpose around that/ Simply rebooting SCN to cater for R/3 and beyond is a dead end.

In my mind, the re-org McDermott announced, combined with the open acknowledgment of pain points paves the way for making a genuine difference but I also see it as an opportunity to do something ‘other’ that is relevant to the 21st-century business. Whether the team understands and can do that is another matter. At the same time though, I believe the SAP Mentor program needs an overhaul. There are some great people there but that program could be used as a way of making connections with the business that are meaningful. That doesn’t exist today.

Regardless of my critique, it’s probably the best thing I’ve heard about SAP and its community in….years.

Anyone for baseball caps with MSCNGA?

Image credit – the author Disclosure – SAP, Oracle, Workday, and Salesforce are premier partners at the time of writing. At one time both Jon Reed and I were SAP Mentors.


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