Digital transformation is a chance to think further, to look beyond the familiar horizon. This expansion of the ERP horizon is SAP CEO Christian Klein’s vision. He is trying to motivate existing customers, partners and his own employees to rethink ERP – perhaps even to reinvent it. His role models? None other than the five SAP founders.
From today’s perspective, it may seem almost trivial what SAP founders Dietmar Hopp, Hasso Plattner, Claus Wellenreuther, Klaus Tschira and Hans-Werner Hector achieved some 50 years ago: a database as a single point of truth, combined with a few application modules and the ability to drill down from any situation to the original document (later, in R/3, this worked with just several mouse clicks). At the time, however, it was revolutionary.
The prevailing opinion at the time was that org problems should be solved with hardware. This was also the reason why Dietmar Hopp and his colleagues left the global corporation IBM, where they had worked prior to founding SAP. IBM believed in the power of hardware while Hasso Plattner and his co-founders already saw that software was the future.
IBM continued to adhere to the mainframe paradigm for many years, while shortly after the founding of SAP, the most innovative ERP software in the world was created and is still being created today. Professor Henning Kagermann was the first SAP CEO after the founder generation who was able to take this innovative spirit of a standard business software even further.
Léo Apotheker and Bill McDermott saw their contribution to SAP in aggressive sales tactics and growing revenue. The brief intermezzo of dual leadership with Jim Hagemann Snabe and Bill McDermott was not able to change much about the commercial direction the ERP world market leader was heading in.
Breaking new ground
Christian Klein is now breaking new ground as head of SAP. He is very young compared to the average age of IT enterprise CEOs, but already has some life experience. He is also the one trying to steer SAP into a new direction, away from sales-oriented thinking and towards innovation and customer satisfaction.
No one before at SAP has defined and exemplified the term customer friendliness as comprehensively and sustainably as Christian Klein. It is no longer the egoistic striving to achieve an even better share price that is guiding SAP’s decisions, but the endeavor to guarantee a secure future with SAP software for existing customers.
Even though I often harp on the fact that listening to customers is not the same as acting on the gleaned insight, it is very impressive how the global ERP company was able to transform itself within just a few months. Now it is up to the SAP community to challenge SAP’s executive board members, because they should get the chance to prove that they aren’t only able to listen, but also able to deliver.