Let’s take a step back and look at the big picture so we can better understand what’s going on behind the scenes of Embrace. Sabine Bendiek, Microsoft Germany management board chairwoman, has been appointed to join the SAP executive board as Chief People Officer – that’s what the official press release says, anyway. With her technological expertise and excellent leadership qualities, however, Bendiek is completely overqualified for the position. She’ll most likely support Christian Klein in other matters as well – and the SAP CEO needs her experience and knowledge more than ever before.
Her first task might be to repair SAP’s cloud initiative Embrace. The idea was great, but the execution was lacking. It was never quite clear if SAP loved all its three hyperscaler partners – Microsoft, Amazon and Google – equally or if there were some private negotiations on the side. The SAP community was very clear in its opinion, however: SAP and Microsoft seemed to most like the happy couple while Amazon and Google were demoted to bridesmaids. Especially in German-speaking countries, Microsoft and SAP enjoy a very close relationship and have already successfully completed customer projects together.
And they lived happily ever after?
Not so much. SAP’s and Microsoft’s joint efforts weren’t enough, it seems: There’s already some discontented voices in the partner community saying that the meager end result isn’t worth the effort. Expectations of SAP and Microsoft were high but sorely disappointed: Not enough customers have opted for S/4 Hana and subsequently Microsoft Azure to warrant such an extensive partnership.
In Hollywood, only successful movies get a sequel. In IT, only disastrous products and solutions get a 2.0 version. Many years ago, SAP’s Hasso Plattner and former CTO Vishal Sikka proudly proclaimed that there would be no Hana version numbers, because Hana was supposed to be subject to a continuous improvement process. A few years later and to much surprise, Sikka’s successor Bernd Leukert unveiled Hana 2.0 – and if recent indications are anything to go by, current CTO Juergen Mueller might soon present Hana 3.
Just as it gave up on Hana, SAP apparently gave up on Embrace 1.0: I’ve been told that the ERP company is furiously working to come up with a contingency plan, namely Embrace 2.0. And, as coincidence would have it, one of Microsoft’s top execs will be joining SAP in 2021. Theoretically, knowing both sides of the argument, Sabine Bendiek could basically negotiate new Embrace 2.0 conditions with herself.
Beyond Embrace 2.0
For SAP CEO Christian Klein, his new executive board member might be exactly what he needs right now. In the past, E-3 author ‘Nomen Nescio’ has criticized SAP for letting so many experienced, knowledgeable people go without finding suitable replacements. This streak of bad luck seems to have been broken with the appointment of Sabine Bendiek as Chief People Officer.
I’m not saying that Christian Klein or his executive board colleagues Juergen Mueller and Thomas Saueressig aren’t dedicated, enthusiastic or knowledgeable. I’m saying that comparing their carriers to that of Sabine Bendiek shows that they are lacking something that she has in abundance: experience beyond one company. Before she came to Microsoft, Bendiek worked as a manager in many different companies, like Nixdorf, Siemens Nixdorf, McKinsey, Earlybird Venture Capital, Dell and EMC. Juergen Mueller and Thomas Saueressig lack these experiences – that’s not criticism, it’s fact.
Obviously, SAP wouldn’t waste Sabine Bendiek’s talents on just repairing Embrace. “In Sabine Bendiek, we have found an exceptional executive who not only can drive a business-centric human resources function as the heart of our ongoing transformation, but also has deep operational experience,” said Professor Hasso Plattner, chairman of the supervisory board of SAP. There’s some big things ahead, it seems – by the time in mid-2021 when Sabine Bendiek will also have assumed the role of Chief Operating Officer, Embrace 2.0 will (hopefully) already have been unveiled.