Digital transformation and more structured approaches of old seem incompatible. Disruption and change define today’s market. With numerous innovations and hectic staff turnover, SAP tried to stay on the ball, but the game has only gotten faster and more complex.
The only constant in SAP’s shifts and transformations is Hasso Plattner, who also invented SAP’s last big innovation, Hana. His four other co-founders left the company early on. Executives like Shai Agassi, Vishal Sikka, Bill McDermott, Jim Hagemann Snabe, Henning Kagermann, and Léo Apotheker have left the company in droves, too. There are few people that have stayed as long as SAP veteran (and good friend of Plattner) Gerd Oswald. A new generation of leaders has taken over and continues to be led astray.
What made SAP so unique in the past was its software’s unique selling point. Instead of building on SAP’s USP, however, former CEO Bill McDermott championed a new approach: Independent thought became secondary to emulating what other IT companies were doing. SAP acquired cloud companies, startups and “innovators” seemingly at random, slowly evolving into more of an IT general store than a software provider.
The acquired products didn’t fit well together, neither with SAP’s existing products nor with each other. No surprise, therefore, that McDermott’s successor, Christian Klein, has been first and foremost trying to reconcile and harmonize these products. Legacy systems, especially on premises, are complicating this task. It will take a while before Christian Klein can hold a candle to legend Hasso Plattner.