Hasso Plattner on the cultural shift behind SAP's 'intelligent enterprise’

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The SAP founder discusses the internal shift SAP has taken under its new slogan: ‘the intelligent enterprise’

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A typically meditative keynote from SAP founder Dr Hasso Plattner at Sapphire in Orlando today saw the industry veteran look back at the history of the company and where it is headed under its new internal slogan of 'the intelligent enterprise'.

After a self-lacerating preamble about his dream of becoming a rockstar instead of making enterprise software, Plattner ran through the history of SAP in an era where "founders did everything", leading up to the breakthrough development of R/3 and later the HANA in-memory database that now underpins everything SAP does.

What is the intelligent enterprise?

Plattner went on to explain how he understands SAP's new internal slogan: "The Intelligent Enterprise", which is a cloud-first play that focuses on giving customers more intelligent IT systems.

"Intelligent enterprise is more than ERP," he said. "We have here surrounded the centrepiece of our intelligent enterprise - the Cloud Platform - with our applications. The intelligent enterprise is not a product... it is a system."

"We defined that these systems are part of a family, not just the financial umbrella of SAP, but part of the family 'intelligent enterprise'," he added.

Plattner was keen to talk about the culture change the idea of intelligent enterprise has had within SAP: "We have changed in the company and all of a sudden the heads of development and these business units, they come together to try to work together and define what kind of interfaces are necessary, what harmonisation is necessary and all of a sudden the adoption of HANA got accelerated."

During a press Q&A after his keynote Plattner added: "We should write a Harvard Business Review about this, it is textbook: have the right strategy.

"Second: find the right leadership, we need leaders otherwise 4,500 people don't start marching, we know this since Caesar. And we need branding, I have learned this. Branding of a project has a huge importance to unite the people working so the internal branding of ‘intelligent enterprise' helps these people to feel they are part of a family and not part of a conglomerate."

Lastly, joking with CEO Bill McDermott he said: "Intelligent enterprise is a system, all of these components you can buy, these are products and they have a line item on the price list and I don't think I promise too much, Bill, to say if you buy all of them you will get a discount."

A comeback in the CRM space

Later, when talking about SAP's latest product announcement of a new CRM product suite - called C/4HANA - Plattner recognised his company's legacy in this area by calling it a "comeback in the CRM space".

This recognises that SAP was once the sort of legacy CRM vendor that CEO Bill McDermott is now accusing market leader Salesforce as being.

Read next: Everything you need to know about SAP's new CRM product: C/4HANA

"We developed a strategy, took some time and partially we have to acquire some components, redevelop systems, build real integration between the components and build a modern customer facing CRM," Plattner said.

He also described the development of C/4HANA as "the largest development initiative inside SAP by far regarding the number of developers".

Plattner was also meditative about SAP's track record of product announcements: "The CRM market is as big as ERP, if not bigger, and we will go for that and the interesting thing effect of having a strategy which is understood by the majority of the people, and having a brand name that is at least as good looking as S/4HANA with C/4HANA, it helps.

"It didn't help that we have Hybris and customer 360 and I don't know what, we have all of these names and they were changing faster than I can memorise, so the CRM strategy at SAP was using so many brand names that the typical thing in our customer base happened: the customers became confused and that's not good.

"Whenever we do something wrong you are confused and we have no clear message to get from a to b. If we have a clear migration path people are migrating with us. If we have a clear product roadmap customers understand where we are going and when and if they can jump in."

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