Q&A: A chat with SAP Canada

ORLANDO—At SAP AG’s user conference this year, SapphireNOW, ComputerWorld Canada caught up with Mark Aboud, managing director for SAP Canada. Aboud spoke about several topics including SAP’s product and development strategy, the desire to deepen its presence in the small-to-medium enterprise market, and a re-commitment to the ecosystem in which it toils.

ComputerWorld Canada: We’ve heard messaging from SAP in the past several months about wanting to foster a better relationship with customers, employees and foster an open ecosystem in general. How is that translating to the Canadian market?

Mark Aboud: A lot of that translates well into Canada. SAP has invested as a company very heavily into Canada as a country. So we have 2,000 employees which per capita is a pretty good representation for SAP. We have 1,200 some odd customers and we’ve always been pretty close to our customers. But it’s getting closer to customers with more innovation and more ideas around how to enable their strategies. So I wouldn’t say that we weren’t close to our customers before but it’s getting closer to some new things.

When talking about employees, it’s the same thing. It’s getting employees jazzed up about some of the things that Hasso Plattner and Jim Hagemann-Snabe had talked about to get us excited about the future goals. I think it translates really well. SAP has delivered on the value proposition that (customers) have understood for a long time. But now the value proposition has changed a lot so I think when they come (to SapphireNOW), there’s a lot more happening than they realized.

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CWC: How do you see SAP’s three-pronged focus on on-premise, on-device and on-demand technologies playing out in Canada?

MA: The on-premise, on-demand, on-device is a strategy that applies well to Canada. In on-premise we’re by far and away the market leader. In on-demand there will be a lot more applications coming in the cloud from SAP like Business ByDesign for example. People in the Canadian marketplace are asking for them. But it’s still a little new as to how much in the cloud do you want to be and what do we really want to use that for. I don’t know if that is clear in the marketplace yet, but people want to have choice. They don’t want to be just in cloud, just on premise, just on device. SAP has talked about this openness. Why not provide the customer the choice? On-device is the office of the future.CWC: SAP has recently talked about shifting from its image of a monolithic enterprise resource planning vendor to appearing more flexible and targeting the small-to-medium enterprise (SME) market. Since Canada is very SME-heavy, I imagine that shift plays particularly strongly in Canada?

MA: Big time. Well over half of our customers in Canada are SME. Some of those customers are very small, like 20-person shops who are doing SME implementations in 90 days or a few hundred thousand dollars. When you tell people that, they say, ‘Well, I thought SAP was just for big companies.’ It is for big companies but it’s also for small companies. One of the best stories I can give you is in the late 90s Research In Motion was less than a $100 million dollars in annual revenue. It invested in SAP, we’ve grown with them and we believe we’ve helped enable their growth and now they are well over $10 billion annual sales, still running SAP that they bought in 1999. Canada leads the way in North America in terms of Fast Starts.

CWC: SAP has said that it wants to focus on the applications part of the technology stack by being a software, not a hardware vendor. How does that fare with customers you’ve spoken to?

MA: We believe that customers want to buy the best of whatever it is that they need. We have chosen our part of the market. We are the best by far and want to remain the best at it. We don’t want to dilute that by doing a bunch of things that we may not be the best at. We want to be the best provider of enterprise applications … unlike the other companies who say, “Well, we’ll supply everything from beginning to end.’ But how are you going to be the best at any one of those things? It’s like that you’re going to be second, third or fourth best at all of them. As a customer, why do you want to buy a stack of stuff that’s second best? I don’t think you do. That’s what we’re hearing from our customers and that we believe is the right answer.

CWC: Some industry observers think SAP’s open ecosystem approach could potentially be hampered by partner friction and incremental costs. Thoughts?

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MA: We have a massive SAP ecosystem and it’s not always in complete harmony. You just can’t be; it would be too hard. It’s like free enterprise, we do some software, we throw in some things, companies jump onboard who have their own value proposition. They’re probably going to use that to go to market. So they have to compete among themselves. You don’t want a highly orchestrated, highly dictatorial strategy. You’ll probably have some friction here and there but it’s probably, in the long run, good.

CWC: Are Canadian customers concerned about the Sybase acquisition in terms of them losing focus to the consuming process of integrating a new business? MA: With Sybase there is really no overlap in our products. With Business Objects, it was a great fit. A few products had some overlap … we had migration paths for some pieces that were overlapped. I don’t see the customer base really worrying. I think they’ll be saying, ‘What’s in it for me? Will this acquisition of Sybase help me as a customer of SAP?’ the message right now is it’s going to help you in the medium term put SAP on devices. And, longer term, the database is out there and we’ll continue to support it.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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