SAP promises new focus on customer satisfaction and innovation

SAP is hoping to rebuild customer relations and drive more innovation within the company, after the sudden removal of Léo Apotheker as CEO of German ERP giant.

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"I was part of the decision that we had to raise maintenance fees," he said. "That is not something we can put in Léo's shoes. This was done by SAP. We made a mistake and we have to change course here, and regain trust from the customers who were more than upset. Unfortunately, the head of the company takes the blame, whether it was just or not."

Plattner would not discuss why Apotheker's contract was not extended, but admitted that it was his idea, although it went through board approval. "I decided that I will only make forward-making statements," he said.

Plattner specifically said Apotheker removal was not not because of problems with Business ByDesign, SAP's on-demand ERP (enterprise resource planning) suite for the midmarket.

SAP has scaled back the roll out of the software while working to ensure it will be profitable enough. A broader launch is expected later this year. "Léo was the one who really was instrumental in turning it around," Plattner said.

Plattner's remarks "are going to go a long way in having SAP restore trust," said Forrester Research analyst Paul Hamerman. "He was very candid on the call. He admitted mistakes. His candor and his accountability will go a long way toward getting SAP back on track."

Although Plattner will leave the day-to-day operations of SAP to Snabe and McDermott, he will remain visible for some time, said Jon Reed , an independent analyst who closely tracks SAP. "I think he's going to stick around ... until SAP's on the right track, in his view," Reed said. "He doesn't want to endure the reputation hit of tooling away in his lab while the company he created goes to pieces."

Apotheker's legacy at SAP in one sense helped foster his demise. Prior to his ascension to CEO, he built "a very successful" global sales organisation, Hamerman said. But Apotheker carried that emphasis forward as CEO, to the detriment of technology, he said.

Plattner's comments Monday may serve as a rallying cry for SAP customers. But the company still needs to fill in many blanks about future product direction and strategy, said Ray Wang, partner with the analyst firm Altimeter Group.

"A lot of efforts have not gone to market, and a lot of efforts have been late," he said.

Customers should pay close attention to SAP's upcoming Sapphire conference, scheduled for May in Orlando, Hamerman said. "There should be key announcements about the company's direction and where it's placing its bets."

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