This article is part of our Conference Coverage: SAP Sapphire 2020 news, trends and analysis

Sapphire 2020: Christian Klein steps back from products to push ‘intelligent enterprise’ resilience

Christian Klein used his first Sapphire keynote as CEO of SAP to underline the supplier’s support for supply chain resiliency and automation against Covid-19 pandemic and climate change backcloths

Christian Klein used his first Sapphire keynote as CEO of SAP to stress the supplier’s support for supply chain resiliency and increased automation against the backdrop of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Registered attendees struggled to access the webcasted keynote through the official SAP event website, with many resorting to a Periscope feed – and stoking up a Twitter storm.

Klein, who took over as sole CEO in April, avoided the approach of previous CEO Bill McDermott, who made product developments, like the supplier’s database Hana and the S/4 Hana enterprise resource planning (ERP) software based upon it, and acquisitions, such as the 2018 $8bn purchase of Qualtrics, the building blocks of his Sapphire keynotes.

Instead, the new CEO, resplendent in white T-shirt and trainers, spoke at a heightened level of abstraction in the midst of film studio-quality floating graphics about resilience and sustainability.

For, of course, attendees (who found their way to the pre-recorded keynote) were not, this year, in Orlando, Florida, for the annual Sapphire event. Due to the Covid-19 coronavirus global pandemic, they were behind screens.

Klein dialled up the “intelligent enterprise” theme that has been a background hum at recent Sapphire conferences, and is usually the domain of SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner. He referred to his previous role as chief operating officer, in which he led a digital transformation of SAP itself based on the gamut of its own technologies, from S/4 Hana, through all its acquired cloud properties, to its C/4 Hana customer experience products.

In the keynote, he encouraged SAP customers to become intelligent enterprises that can ensure supply chain resiliency and business continuity, enable new business models and unlock growth, increase productivity and drive automation, and foster sustainability and counteract climate change.

“We can become more resilient and make sustainability profitable, and profitability sustainable,” said Klein.

Referring to the pandemic, he said the current health crisis would affect us all for months, maybe even years, to come. “Digital transformation is no longer an option but a must,” he added. “When we can’t interact in person, we are forced to find other ways of doing business. Companies that use innovative technologies were more competitive before the crisis, and are more resilient in the crisis. This crisis shows us that if you are not resilient, you are left with nothing.”

“We can become more resilient and make sustainability profitable, and profitability sustainable”

Christian Klein, SAP

Klein spoke of how artificial intelligence (AI) could drive automation and productivity.

And while, he said, “health, safety and business continuity” are SAP users’ priorities today, “let’s not forget our biggest challenge is climate change…if utilities, agriculture and transport were to use digital technology to reduce their carbon output, that would equal the positive impact of 500 billion trees”.

The keynote also featured Porsche as an SAP customer. Lutz Meschke, chief financial officer at Porsche, spoke about using SAP Master Data Management and “digital boardrooms” – information dashboards – to make better, fact-based decisions at the car maker.

“Mobility is at the beginning of a new era,” said Meschke. “We have innovation, competitive and cost pressures. Our customers want digitised, connected and electrified cars.”

He said they have been investing in supply chain resilience since 2015, and operating an Industry 4.0 mode of lean and smart production that has included its first electric sports car, the Taycan.

Porsche has been an SAP customer for decades, he said, but in 2019 agreed a “strategic partnership” where each learns from the other through co-innovation. “SAP benefits from our industry know-how, and we leverage the full potential of data-driven business models and scalable, process-driven and AI-infused architectures,” said Meschke.

He said SAP Analytics Cloud was being used across the company, and had reduced manual sales reporting processes from three days to 20 seconds.

Klein finished the keynote by emphasising a focus on the customer: “SAP has always been at our best when we listen to our customers. Getting value out of our solutions for your long-term success does not stop at the point of sale.”

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