SAP CEO Bill McDermott
SAP CEO Bill McDermott on the stage this morning at SAPPHIRE NOW at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. PHOTO: Dom Nicastro

ORLANDO, Fla. — SAP CEO Bill McDermott took the stage this morning at his company's SAPPHIRE NOW and ASUG Annual Conference here at the Orange County Convention Center and once again promised a commitment to customer empathy.

"Last year I promised you empathy and turning empathy into action," McDermott told the 30,000 attendees at the Walldorf, Germany-based company's annual user conference. "You wanted those solution roadmaps and we gave them to you with three-year solution roadmaps for everything. Empathy to action is a race without a finish line."

The fist-pumping, fast talking CEO of the 85,751-employee company promised the audience SAP will "remain a culture in pursuit of excellence" and be an "empathic company."

Sounds Nice, But Could You Give Us a Little More?

McDermott said his company's been named one of the top 10 empathic companies but was short on specifics.

The lack of specifics caused some to yearn for a little clarity.

Paul do Forno, managing director of Deloitte Digital, told CMSWire this morning he's looking forward to seeing what SAP means specifically about that.

"Empathy is the most important perspective when creating best-in-class customer experiences," do Forno said. "Unless you put yourself in the user's shoes you can't understand their needs. I'm looking forward to hearing what they mean more specifically about that."

Patrick Heffernan, principal analyst for professional services for Technology Business Research, echoed that sentiment and called for more specifics around empathy.

"Honestly not sure what that's supposed to mean: a recognition they weren't empathic before?" he told CMSWire during the keynote. "Or just a buzzword like blockchain or big data? Or is there something concrete here? If there is something concrete, would be good to hear some actual examples, not just a rating."

Bernd Leukert, executive board member for SAP, continued the empathy talk with the promise of "transparency and clear guidance on an ongoing basis." 

SAP demoed its free Transformation Navigator service as a demonstration of its improved user experience. The company debuted the self-service tool in advance of SAPPHIRE NOW, stating its designed to give customers "clear guidance to the SAP S/4HANA-centric world."

Simplified Pricing, Uptime Promises

McDermott moved between themes and product promotion during his keynote.  

He boasted the company's new SAP Leonardo Digital Innovation System was the "biggest move our company has made since HANA."

"And," he added, "we all know how that worked out." SAP HANA is the company's in-memory database management solution that debuted in 2011. Leonardo is SAP's existing IoT data solution and will now include machine learning and blockchain innovations.

The CEO promised "full transparency" of data center uptime, reliability in user experience and simplified pricing models.

The pricing promises come after a court battle earlier this year where beverage company Diageo challenged SAP on its additional license fees for third party systems accessing data generated by SAP systems, often referred to as "indirect access." The court ruled in SAP's favor.

"I hear indirect access is causing a lot of anxiety out there," McDermott said this morning. "Procure to pay and order to cash scenarios will now be based on orders which is a measurable business outcome for any business. In addition, static read access in third party systems is your data. Competitors charge you for static read and third party systems. SAP will not."

McDermott's commentary on pricing drew loud applause from the audience and plenty of buzz on Twitter this morning:

"Clearly a big issue, which Bill brought up right away in the keynote, is indirect access pricing," said Dion Hinchcliffe, digital workplace strategist and Chief Strategy Officer for 7Summits. "As SAP encourages customers to build digital ecosystems, they will have to take a great deal of care to ensure they're not putting drag cost onto customer early digital growth processes with premature pricing regimes that seek to drive growth in revenue in the short term."

Ian Campbell, CEO of Nucleus Research, said before this morning's keynote he was hoping to see a "continued emphasis on the user experience including both ease of use and functionality" from the company.  

"Cloud adoption," he added, "along with simplification of the business relationship, in part because of the recent Diageo licensing issue, are two other topics we expect to addressed."

Campbell added his analysts continue to see measurable benefits from SAP. He cited a 1.5 percent productivity per user for organizations using SuccessFactors Intelligent Services.

Big Talk on HANA

McDermott also called SAP HANA the "most relevant cloud ERP in marketplace today" and the "de facto standard in-memory platform for enterprises."

"We've got the best portfolio of cloud applications for HR, procurement, sales, marketing and commerce," McDermott said, noting competitors are stuck in 1990s batch mentality.

SAP applications allow businesses to "predict, analyze and respond in real time," McDermott said. This gives CEOs and management teams "control of the most important priorities, a single view of customer in real time on any channel at any time."

Dell on Digital Transformation

McDermott shared the stage with another CEO this morning for a conversation about digital transformation.

Michael Dell, founder and chairman and CEO of 138,000-employee Dell Technologies, discussed his company's usage of SAP HANA. 

Dell also discussed IT's role in the age of digital transformation, calling it more important than ever.

"IT for many years was about cost and productivity," Dell said. "You've got to have those things. You can't live without them, but this digital transformation is different. It is not an IT project. It has to be an 'involve your company CEO' project. If your CEO doesn't understand that have him call me. I'm happy to explain it. It has to be driven by the CEO."

That CEO comment drew perhaps the biggest applause from the audience this morning. 

IT, Dell added, has to be completely aligned with the strategy of the company. He's amazed to see development in IoT that produces relevant data for companies but also stressed the need for security.

"There is a dramatic opportunity for IT to make a big difference," Dell said. "You can't do anything without IT. This digital transformation is real and coming fast and companies have to reinvent themselves and reimagine themselves."