ORLANDO — Odds are a lot of the 20,000 people attending SAPPHIRE NOW, SAP's annual user conference here, expected SAP CEO Bill McDermott to go on and on about his company's new partnership with Apple during yesterday's opening keynote. But that didn't happen.

On the opening day of the three-day conference, McDermott focused on the customer instead. "We have to know more, care more and do more or we're an also-ran," he said, noting that both SAP and its customers have a lot at stake.

McDermott seemed to utter the word "empathy" more often than the company's "Run Simple" slogan, let alone the name of its flagship product, the SAP HANA platform.

McDermott said SAP has an unbreakable covenant with its business partners and customers. "Seventy-six percent of the world's economy and $39 trillion in global commerce are powered by SAP," he noted.

Powering Business in Real-Time

Business happens in real-time in the digital world and SAP said its technologies have been transformed to empower it. It's why big-data crunching SAP HANA was invented and why it continues to evolve.

McDermott invited Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to share his keynote stage to announce that SAP HANA will now be available in the Azure Cloud to deliver mission-critical applications and data analytics on a global scale with enterprise-grade security and compliance.

"Enterprises move from digital consumers to producers — that's digital transformation," Nadella told SAPPHIRE NOW attendees.

The CEOs also announced that Microsoft Office 365 would become better integrated with multiple SAP applications like Concur, SuccessFactors and Ariba to make collaboration, calendaring and communications easier.

“The partnership with Office is nothing new. SAP and Microsoft have partnered on this over two decades and the road is littered with more or less partnership iterations,"Constellation Research analyst Holger Mueller told CMSWire. "It is not clear what will be different this time."

But what might be different, from CMSWire's point of view, is Microsoft's commitment to the relationship. In the pre-digital world, Microsoft got to call the shots. In this world, as evidenced by Nadella’s appearance at many leading tech conferences, Microsoft is humbly asking to be included in the game.

Learning Opportunities

Extending the Cloud

CIO's aren't debating whether they should move to the cloud anymore. So McDermott had no need to repaint that vision. But SAP is making it a point to let them pick how and when. Enterprise bosses don't want to be pushed or rushed to be ready, but they don't want to lose out on the savings and the agility that the cloud brings either.

SAP has heard its customers and has focused much of its innovation, of late, in addressing their requests and concerns.

"We're extending the SAP HANA on-premises platform to the cloud," Ken Tsai, Vice President, head of Cloud Platform and Data Management, SAP Product Marketing, told CMSWire in a pre-conference conversation . "Cloud savings and cloud agility will soon be available to enterprises regardless of where HANA lives." The offering, SAP HANA Hybrid Data Management Services in the Cloud, will be available in beta to select participants starting in July.

SAP HANA competitors like Oracle might claim to offer hybrid models, but they don't follow the same definition. "The true hybrid model allows organizations to test the impact of IT system change requirements in the cloud before committing the upgrades to an on-premise environment — ultimately promoting cost-effective IT management," said Daniel Schneiss, senior vice president and global head, SAP HANA Platform and Databases, SAP.

Understanding Relationships

SQL databases weren't built to uncover relationships between people, places and things, but Graph databases were. SAP HANA now offers Graph data processing capabilities to help users discover relationships visually by identifying entities that share a common edge.

"Venerable graph databases are making a comeback, and with good reason — as they are uniquely qualified to model the real world relationships that we live in," said Mueller.

Command Center for the CEO

In a world where GenXers are increasingly becoming C-level bosses, McDermott could not have left the stage without showing-off SAP's Digital Boardroom. We'll share all the details soon, but we'll leave you with a picture for now.