Hybris CEO Lüdi: SAP acquisition adds commerce, not old school CRM

Hybris CEO says SAP bought the Swiss commerce platform company to deliver a multi-channel customer experience

Hybris CEO Ariel Lüdi said SAP bought the Swiss commerce platform company to move beyond traditional customer relationship management (CRM) and enable it to deliver a multi-channel customer experience, in-store as well as through e-commerce, to companies that sell goods and services.

In much of the press coverage surrounding the acquisition, announced in June and completed on 1 August, Hybris has been labelled a CRM supplier. But this is a mistake, Lüdi told Computer Weekly at an event in New York outlining the “vision” for Hybris as an SAP company.

How does Hybris does go beyond CRM, according to its CEO? And why was SAP so clamant in heralding the acquisition as an attack on the CRM market?

“During the due diligence and closing process we got a better understanding of the terminology to use,” said Lüdi. “The confusion had been due to how the SAP web channel had been located within the CRM product.

For more on SAP’s acquisition of Hybris

“They are clearly two separate markets: one is CRM and the other is commerce. They do feed off each other. In commerce, with us being in charge of all the touch points that customers use, we generate a lot of data. We then feed that into a CRM system, which feeds back to [our technology] with things like customer segmentation. So it is a closed loop.

“The old CRM systems are now like dinosaurs in the context of the omni-commerce movement. They are not channel-aware, and so unable to get a single view of the customer. They also cannot react to information in real-time. They are very batchy. Our vision is for real-time systems.

“I used to work for Salesforce.com. The focus there was automating internal people – sales staff, call centre staff, and so on. Here it is about creating a good customer experience, in physical stores as well as online.”

Lüdi said Hybris had options other than SAP, including IPO, but decided to go with the Germany-based company because it offered relative autonomy and its culture was a good fit. 

“It is not the old SAP. It is a cool company. I've enjoyed talking with Hasso [Plattner], Vishal [Sikka], Jim [Hagemann Snabe], and Bill [McDermott],” he said.

According to Lüdi, 90% of the core team at Hybris favoured the SAP option, and they are all very impressed by the in-memory database appliance Hana.

Lüdi said the degree of agility required for contemporary commerce – using multiple channels to get the customer – is beyond the traditional relational database: “On the database layer we are already at the limits of the relational database model. We have an abstraction layer to the database, so we can plug in NoSQL databases, whether MongoDB, Cassandra, or Neo4j. They all have their pros and cons.”

As for Hana, which does speak SQL, “it took us about a week to port Hybris to Hana”.

Lüdi confirmed the Hybris negotiating team drew confidence from talking to senior executives at Ariba and Success Factors – SAP acquisitions being run as relatively independent entities.

SAP also confirmed that it does not understand Hybris’s specialist area in providing commerce platforms, he said.

Lüdi is anticipating a “tsunami of incoming interest” in his company's technology as a consequence of the SAP acquisition. He said managing that will not cause disruption to Hybris’s existing UK customer base, which includes Toys 'R' Us, Phones 4U, EE, Ladbrokes, Ted Baker, and Long Tall Sally.

“The UK was our first geography outside the German-speaking countries. We are established there, and the UK business will benefit, partly because the SAP installed base is so big there,” he added.

McDermott and Snabe, SAP’s co-CEOs, said: “SAP and Hybris will deliver the next-generation customer experience for businesses and consumers in a world where digital and physical converge seamlessly. With the addition of the Hybris commerce platform, we intend to help enterprises achieve unprecedented intimacy with customers in real time and across all devices, delivery channels and touch points."

Hybris will operate as an independent business unit under its existing leadership, including Lüdi and president and co-founder Carsten Thoma, and will be known as "Hybris, an SAP company".

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