SAP Stays Agile with Startup Spirit to Magnify Customer Engagement

During a question-and-answer session during the recent SAPPHIRENOW | ASUG Annual Conference in Orlando, Dr. Hasso Plattner, a German businessman and co-founder of SAP SE software company, was asked how he helps keep SAP agile with an ongoing startup spirit.

“We’ve done a lot of things in recent years,” Plattner said. “It starts with HanaHaus in Palo Alto. It’s a community building and café where people can come to discuss software.”

Located in the heart of Silicon Valley in the center of Palo Alto, HanaHaus occupies a physical space that’s practically hallowed ground for innovation. The focus of HanaHaus is about coming together to meet, socialize, share ideas, and connect with experts. 

HanaHaus is a café and community workspace that fosters a vibrant culture of technology innovation. It is the brainchild of Plattner, who co-founded SAP in 1972. SAP believes that to be an innovation leader, it must act beyond its own walls and is eager to support Palo Alto’s rich tradition of entrepreneurship.
SAP SE has more than 335,000 customers in over 180 countries.

Originally a theater that was closed for many years, HanaHaus revitalized the building as an expansive café and communal workspace attracting Palo Alto’s innovators of today who will define the technology of tomorrow.
Plattner has served as chairman of the company’s supervisory board since May 2003, when he stepped down as CEO.

“We also have several innovation centers,” Plattner said. “We try to develop software in different styles, different teams. I was always in favor of open space. When I came to the U.S., there was open space everywhere. It’s probably more creative. It’s a much better atmosphere.”

Plattner was asked about the challenge of metrics (applicable to the loyalty industry)−how SAP sells its technology might differ from Oracle, possibly lending confusion to brands−and how thinking can be coalesced from a nomenclature perspective, a measurement perspective, and a technology perspective.

“I don’t know whether that is true,” Plattner said, offering a car buying analogy. “You can get software easily. You test run it in the cloud and then make a decision. And then you decide if you want to buy a Buick, a Mercedes, or a Tesla. A lot of these properties of a sale are the same as with software.”

Since 2012, SAP has acquired several companies that sell cloud-based products, with several multibillion-dollar acquisitions viewed by analysts as an attempt to challenge competitor Oracle.

In 2014 SAP bought Concur Technologies, a provider of cloud-based travel and expense management software, for $8.3 billion, SAP’s most expensive purchase to that date.

In 2014, IBM and SAP began a partnership to sell cloud-based services and, in 2015, SAP partnered with HPE to provide secure hybrid cloud-based services running the SAP platform. Both HPE and IBM provide infrastructure services to SAP, and SAP runs its SAP HANA cloud solution on top. SAP has announced additional partnerships with Microsoft to give customers tools for data visualization, as well as improved mobile applications.

Plattner was asked about SAP Leonardo, a digital innovation system that integrates breakthrough technologies and runs them seamlessly in the cloud. It offers design thinking methodology and SAP expertise to help companies rapidly adopt new capabilities and business models.

“Now, these IT people and marketing people call everything a platform, everything a system,” he explained. “Leonardo is not a system. We can build systems with Leonardo. What is in Leonardo can be decided and changed overnight. It’s a set of tools. Leonardo has capabilities, but it’s not a real platform. You develop something with the help of Leonardo.”

Artificial intelligence solutions are not perfect, Plattner noted, “but this boundary is moving and we’re getting better every single week. We can do unbelievable things with AI and the system never gets tired. There are things machines can do better, but design is pretty much a human task. Our human brain will not be made superfluous. We have to be on top of it. It’s coming. We have to think about it. We stay in control.”

Simplicity is essential.

“To change the mindset of an engineering company with a large German heritage, it is necessary to keep things simple,” he said. “Make it simple as a design paradigm, as a design objective. We have to learn from each other and the world has to get simpler.”

Plattner admitted that SAP was a little late to the game regarding artificial intelligence.

“We have thrown all of the resources we have into machine learning for the next foreseeable future to get as many projects going to have an impact," he said. “AI was there 25 years ago, but it was not fast enough for our type of applications and was outside the system, but now we can apply AI inside the system.”

Plattner is very optimistic about the future.

“I see so much potential,” he added. “When can we harvest it?”

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