SAP CEO Bill McDermott delivering the keynote in Orlando, Fla. at the 2019 SAPPHIRE Now

The setup was perfect for a 47-year-old software company eager to claim its place in the new, experience economy.

"When I say X, you say O — XO, XO." SAP CEO Bill McDermott rallied the crowd from the concert stage at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla. It was the closing night of Sapphire Now, SAP's annual user conference and McDermott was using the minutes before Lady Gaga took the stage to drive home the conference messaging one more time. Bring experiential data together with operational data and perform analytics, and you'll be in a position to close the gap between what people expect and what people receive. When that gap exists, customers get frustrated and go elsewhere. 

“It (the experience economy) is a $1.6 trillion market,” he told the 30,000 people gathered to hear Sapphire Now's opening keynote. "Experience is now the organizing principle of the global economy."

Bringing Together the Old and the New, The Back-End and the Front-End

And it's an area in which SAP customers could have an edge, if they use the right SAP software, that is. In January SAP closed on its $8 billion acquisition of Qualtrics, a feedback and survey software maker that collects and reveals brand, product, customer, employee experiences. Combine data from Qualtrics with operational data from SAP, whose technology touches 78 percent of the world's transactions, and enterprises will be able to see across the entire customer journey, including orders, across product creation and delivery, invoicing and so on.

It's a differentiator according to Dion Hinchcliffe, vice president and principal analyst, Constellation Research who told CMSWire that when back office (O-data) is combined with experiential data (X-data), companies will be able to act in real time and deliver better results.

During the keynote, Qualtrics founder Ryan Smith also took the stage to preach the value of combining existing data with Qualtrics data to an audience who knew SAP for its enterprise resource planning (ERP), human capital management (HCM) and human resource management (HCM, via SuccessFactors), customer relationship management (SAP CX) solutions, among many others.

"We live in the experience economy where organizations are either intentionally racing to the top or unknowingly racing to the bottom,” said Smith. "The difference between the companies that will win is they understand how X-data and O-data work together to tell the story of what is happening in an organization, why it's happening and how to act in real time to deliver breakthrough business results."

SAP was smart to feature Qualtrics and Smith in the keynote to address early on its core group of longtime customers, who want to make sure that the company whose products they depend on has not lost interest in the software on which their businesses run. SAP COO and executive board member Christian Klein evangelized around the Intelligent Enterprise which combines back office systems and front office systems, leverages analytics, IoT, and artificial intelligence, to deliver a seamless customer and employee experience. All of this will leverage SAP HANA and SAP Cloud Platform (SCP) as the common, underlying database, including the cloud solutions which came to SAP by way of acquisition and ran on a variety of databases. "This is the first time SAP has made the commitment to the SAP Cloud Platform," Holger Mueller, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research told CMSWire.

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A Rare Sighting of the Apple and SAP Partnership 

Apple CEO Time Cook was among others who joined the keynote stage. This was remarkable not only because of Cook's celebrity, but also because Apple had been somewhat reticent to amplify its relationship with SAP (or any other external vendor) until now. On stage Cook and McDermott not only discussed their common commitments to data security and privacy, but also the availability of CORE ML, Apple's on-device machine learning technology, which will soon be accessible through the SAP Cloud Platform SDK for iOS. The solution, available by the end of May, will help companies create custom, intelligent iOS apps powered by SAP Leonardo. Machine learning models will automatically download to iPhone and iPad so apps can run offline, and then dynamically update while connected to SAP Cloud Platform.

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Sapphire News: SAP HANA Goes Cloud Native, SAP Data Warehouse Debuts

Sapphire Now's second keynote featured SAP co-founder and supervisory board chairman Hasso Plattner, who made some remarkable announcements and revelations. First and foremost was that SAP HANA has been rearchitected to go cloud-native. 

"That's the major development. Storage separated from compute," Tony Baer, former Ovum consultant and now principal consultant of his own firm, dbInsight, told CMSWire. It is something that had to be done to accommodate the massive influx of data from social networks, internet of things (IOT) and more. It allows for the processing of structured and unstructured data stored in data centers or the cloud. "If SAP figures out a good way to balance information out for great performance across HDD and RAM, that will help the whole HANA infrastructure," explained Mueller.

Not only that, but it could also make SAP Cloud Platform (SCP) attractive to non-SAP customers to build applications on, according to Plattner, who noted that the re-architected HANA is too powerful a platform not to share with outsiders.

SAP also announced the SAP data warehouse, a new offering that provides a single experience for all analytics, regardless where data resides, Kate Wright, vice president of development for SAP Analytics Cloud, explained to CMSWire. What is key here is that it includes external data sources, according to Nic Smith, vice president of product marketing for SAP Analytics Cloud. Wright also noted that decision makers often have trouble trusting data they can't see, and that different enterprise users get different answers to queries when their data is accessed from data silos. "Without this capability SAP could not get HANA, C4 HANA (SAP's customer experience and commerce platform) and six sisters (Ariba, Concur, Fieldglass, Customer Experience (formerly Hybris), C/4 HANA, Success Factors) data together," Constellation Research's Mueller told CMSWire. 

The company has also added capabilities around pocket BI, aimed at helping business users gain insights from data without having to know much about analytics. The company has pre-built solutions for different use cases.

Qualtrics co-founder and COO Jared Smith brought it all together at the end of technical keynote. Speaking of a world that existed before SAP HANA and Sap Analytics Cloud, he lamented on the difficulty of working with data. "It was hard, it was painful, and expensive to move data around just to see what was going on," he said. That's a problem that SAP aims to solve. "Salespeople are sitting in front of their data, wouldn't it be nice to know if people are happy, unhappy, and what you could do about it?” he continued.

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The Proof Is in the Pudding

By the end of the conference, attendees could not have been more clear on SAP's message: In order to compete in a digital economy you will need to mix your X-data with O- data to win. Or, as Ryan Smith noted in the opening keynote, "Companies are disproportionately rewarded when they deliver a great experience and absolutely punished when they do not. And it's predictable."

It's an interesting vision according to Baer and Mueller, but the Qualtrics acquisition is just four months old. There's work to be done.