At its big Sapphire conference back in 2018, SAP launched a new-and-improved customer relationship management (CRM) software suite in an attempt to take on the established market leader, Salesforce.
The new product, called C/4HANA, is actually a collection of CRM solutions for marketing, sales, customer service and commerce and is a clear cloud-first play, marking another move from the German software maker into the world of software-as-a-service (SaaS).
The full C/4HANA portfolio closely resembles that of the cloud CRM market leader: Salesforce. It consists of: SAP Marketing Cloud, SAP Commerce Cloud, SAP Service Cloud, SAP Customer Data Cloud (following the Gigya acquisition) and SAP Sales Cloud (following the CallidusCloud acquisition). SAP Hybris has also been rebranded as SAP Customer Experience as a result.
In a press release, SAP stated: "Following the completed acquisitions of market leaders Hybris, Gigya and CallidusCloud, SAP now ties together solutions to support all front-office functions, such as consumer data protection, marketing, commerce, sales and customer service."
Speaking on stage at the time, president of SAP Customer Experience Alex Atzberger said: "Ultimately it's no longer about efficiency but driving effectiveness and that comes from intelligence and integration.
"Those five clouds make up SAP C/4HANA, but what makes it a suite is that it has one data model. Number two is that it has one extension framework with a microservices based ecosystem called SAP Cloud Platform. Number three, it has better intelligence through SAP Leonardo, and number four is that beautiful user experience from campaign to billing."
Next generation CRM
Also speaking on stage SAP CEO Bill McDermott spoke about how 'legacy CRM' is holding customers back from getting a single view of the customer.
"It's time for change, there is now a clear paradigm shift forward," he said. "We have moved from a 360-degree view of sales automation, where some companies focus, to a 360-degree view of the actual customer. From a world where nothing happens when you add a record to CRM, to a world where everything happens, the entire supply chain is connected to the customer experience."
SAP clearly sees value in its ability to bring together CRM and its popular back-end systems for customers, and this was further emphasised a year later following the acquisition of Utah SaaS company Qualtrics, which promises to bring together qualitative experience data (X-data) with SAP's historic speciality in operational data (O-data).
Speaking at Sapphire 2019, McDermott talked about SAP being "the platform that combines X- and O-data to deliver true personalisation at mass scale to bridge the experience gap." Read next: SAP commits to Experience Management following Qualtrics acquisition
During a press Q&A a year previous, Atzberger touched on some of the same ideas, saying: “The connected enterprise matters so customer experience needs to connect with the supply chain and the only company that can really do that is SAP.”
As Giles House, chief product officer at CallidusCloud wrote in a blog post: "To truly deliver a complete view of the customer, you need to bring the back-office to the forefront. Only SAP can deliver this - 77 percent of the world's transactions touch SAP. This is what a true customer-centric solution is. Customers are not opportunities, or leads, or accounts. They are people."
Progress so far
Despite the splashy launch, C/4HANA took a back seat at Sapphire the following year to the Qualtrics acquisition and the SAP Experience Management suite.
Speaking to Computerworld UK at Sapphire 2019, Moritz Zimmerman, the CTO for SAP Customer Experience, which includes C/4HANA, admitted that it was launched in 2018 "as a vision, as an idea that we're working towards," and that this makes customer references difficult to come by.
"[That's] a fair observation, because key pieces that make it a platform were just announced now, so how could they be there a year back when they weren't?" Zimmerman said. "So I think now is the time to look out for those type of scenarios." Although he wasn't able to identify any public case studies at this point.
Zimmerman is responsible for the technical work behind bringing together those five clouds that make up C/4HANA.
"My ultimate responsibility is making C/4HANA as a platform a reality, making sure our five clouds come together basically, all of the platform unifying aspects, be it a rationalised, set of coordinated services," he said.
SAP also launched what is calls the Extension Factory to help customers integrate all of these apps and data streams together behind what Zimmermann calls a "scaffolding of APIs and events, providing one place where you can consistently - with the same talent, same knowledge about technologies - customise and extend all of the cloud platforms in a hyper agile mode."
Zimmerman also talked about baking smart, machine-learning enabled features into C/4HANA, something Salesforce has been doing for a number of years under its Einstein brand.
"So we have about 50 or so embedded machine learning scenarios live in C/4HANA," he told Computerworld UK. "Anything from intelligence that will tell you if this deal is going to come or not? Are you positioning against a fierce competitor or not? Is that an industry where we have reference customers or not? What's the bulls**t factor of that rep versus other reps?"
Austrian furniture retailer XXXLutz is one such customer that is leveraging Extension Factory. "So there's some adoption stories," Zimmerman said, "we will probably have a couple dozen in a very short time now, but we do have a handful now already."
For what it's worth SAP did say it would be leveraging C/4 internally, with chief digital officer Bertram Schulte outlining how SAP.com is already using C/4HANA. In a blog post Schulte wrote: "We're not just making it available to customers, we're running it ourselves to transform how our customers shop for SAP applications and solutions.
"Running on SAP Customer Experience and SAP Commerce Cloud (SAP Hybris' digital commerce platform), we're removing the siloed way that people used to purchase from SAP, unifying the buying process on SAP.com."
"We'll lead by example, accelerating the best-run SAP and driving simplicity, growth, and scalability, while improving partner, customer, and employee experiences," he concluded. "These experiences must be real-time, self-service, and digitally assisted in order to achieve our mission to redefine and lead the CRM market.
Going after Salesforce
Without naming them, McDermott criticised existing CRM providers (Salesforce), saying that customers can now move from "a first-generation cloud CRM experience, which by the way most users don't like, to the best consumer grade CRM experience in the industry" with C/4HANA.
Close observers would have telegraphed this announcement, as McDermott said on an earnings call for Q1 2018 in April: "So-called cloud CRM is nothing more than overpriced software running on first generation SaaS architecture. This is probably why so many have responded so eagerly to SAP's recent statement about a new vision for CRM. They know, change is coming, we are coming."
Going further McDermott responded to an analyst question by stating: "Basically we are going to rebrand the whole CRM category, it's going to be a massive movement at Sapphire and we're going to show every customer that they can be a best-run business by running SAP and no longer do they have to be relegated to an outdated sales platform with complex integration layers trying to get that data out of the ERP system."
A year later Zimmerman was keen to step down from this position a little bit, telling Computerworld UK that beating Salesforce is "not necessarily our value proposition, I mean, of course, we'd love to see that, but it's not necessarily that we're focusing hell bent on moving customers off of Salesforce."
That being said, he agrees that CRM is a category ripe for transformation. "When you think about, we have yet to find salespeople anywhere that like working with a CRM system, they all hate it, because it's kind of like they have to fill in all the data, then what happens is they do all these shenanigans because they don't want to do that," he said. "So it's not really delivering the original value proposition as a category.
The launch of C/4HANA also came in the wake of an indirect access scandal which has seen customers like Diageo effectively punished for using Salesforce software on top of their SAP ERP systems. Now SAP is looking to offer a more 'end-to-end' CRM solution to help customers avoid having to do this.
SAP is already the second placed vendor in terms of CRM market share, according to some 2016 Gartner research. Other major players in the market are Microsoft with Dynamics 365, Adobe and Oracle.
Both McDermott and Atzberger were also keen to stress the GDPR compliance by design of C/4HANA, specifically for marketing departments wanting to deliver personalised messaging.
Atzberger summed it up when he said: "The customer is now in charge of the relationship... customers are done with creepy, don't be creepy, without consent don't personalise."
McDermott added: "We assembled a solution for you. For that sensitive consumer data in the GDPR era: we will help you protect it. For marketing: we will help you personalise it. For sales professionals: we will empower them from lead to reference. For commerce: we will help you succeed with any channel on any device. For customer service: we will help you predict issues so you can retain happy customers."