The president of SAP North America sat down with ComputerWorld Canada to discuss SAP

Q&A: Robert Enslin, president, SAP North America

NEW YORK — A 16-year veteran of SAP AG (NYSE: SAP), in his current position as president of SAP North America, Robert Enslin has the challenge of steering the enterprise resource planning and business intelligence software vendor’s North American wing through a trying economic period, and one that is changing the way in which companies buy, implement and use business software.

During the vendor’s recent SAP World Tour stop in New York City, Enslin sat down with ComputerWorld Canada to discuss  SAP’s Canadian business, the changing nature of the BI software business, the competitive landscape and why competitor Oracle’s desire to own the entire application stack may be bad for innovation.

ComputerWorld Canada: How is SAP’s Canadian business weathering the current economic climate?

Robert Enslin: I think the market in Canada is doing pretty well. Our business in Canada is pretty strong. They’re in line with last year, and that’s positive in today’s market. We’ve done very well in manufacturing, utilities, consumer packaged goods. It’s the industries that are strong in Canada where SAP is very strong. Outside of the U.S., India, China and Germany, Canada is probably our biggest investment in research and development resources and people. We’ve made big investments in Canada, and they’re good investments in good people.

CWC: How do you approach the SMB-dominant market in Canada?

Enslin: We’re very successful in countries that operate with a large SMB practice. SAP is the dominant business applications provider in the SMB in Canada, New Zealand and Australia. We’ve had success not only in Canada but across multiple geographies in the world in the SMB market. What makes a difference is there’s a completely different way of implementing software for an SMB versus a large enterprise. The most glaring difference is when you work with an SMB, you’re working with the business owner and decision-maker and they can make decision quickly. With large enterprises it’s consensus-driven, but an SMB can implement very quickly For me, it isn’t the size of the company, but how they make decisions.

CWC: Is the current business climate and the economy changing the way in which enterprises purchase ERP and BI software?

Enslin: It’s about small projects and quick projects. Customers want quick returns and they want success now. That’s how we’ve all adjusted our businesses. Big transformation projects are just not that bountiful right now. I don’t know if they’ll come back, and that may not be a bad thing. Today it’s all about consumables, go live quick, fast return. You need to be careful, though, to avoid the spaghetti approach with many disparate projects. As businesses implement short-term projects, we need to help to make sure everything maps out right to a strategy over three to four years.

CWC: How has the acquisition of Business Objects changed SAP’s go to market approach?

Enslin: I think it’s been a phenomenal acquisition, both platform and culture. It has enhanced SAP and made us a better company. I think the two together have been just tremendous. It has helped us in areas of the business where we had very little experience, such as inside sales, and suddenly we have a platform. It has helped us in many ways. We’re driving more products through our inside sales organization. We’re expanding our distribution model. We’re expanding their channel to focus on parts of our portfolio. I have zero negatives around this. If there was a business case study, they’d be amazed at how successful this has been.

CDN: Among your competitors, Oracle Corp. has been very active on the acquisition front. Does SAP see more opportunity for consolidation, and would SAP be involved?

Enslin: What are you going to consolidate? The big players have been consolidated in our market. We’ve actually made some cool acquisitions. After Business Objects, the one that comes to mind is Highdeal. It’s a small company that does digital assets and billing. We want to go after companies that have innovations or would fill specific needs.

I’m not certain, though, that it’s in the best interests of a company to have the full vertical stack (of applications, such as Oracle). I’d be worried about where the innovation comes from. If you own everything, can you really innovate and really help your customers five years from now? That would be my question.

We much prefer having business networks, having partners and growing our business together with partners. And we love to invest in small companies and do venture capital, maybe help them be successful. Maybe some become part of SAP, maybe some don’t. We have great partnerships with Open Text, with Research in Motion. Partnering is how you create the next generation of ideas that will help the world.

CWC: What’s the next competitive differentiator for SAP?

R.E.:  With SAP Business Objects Explorer, I think information and the use of information will have an impact, not just on clarity but the speed at which decisions are made. You can’t afford five days (for an answer or a report) in this market. In retail, you better have all the right products for the next five months because if you get it wrong in that industry, you might not make it. It’s about speed today, and if you can’t operate at that speed today you’ll just be a participant.

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