SAP hybris bets on microservices for a simplified front office

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Game Plan 2015 at the Omni, Fort Worth
Game Plan 2015 at the Omni, Fort Worth

The lines are blurring between B2B and B2C customer journeys. That's the clear takeaway from research conducted by Forrester on behalf of SAP hybris and Accenture, and released today. The headlines:

  • B2B buyers have embraced digital engagement.
  • They're moving across channels.
  • They're doing at least some research in the B2C space.
  • They're even making some purchases online.

Blurred Lines

Although B2B sellers understand that buyers have increasingly expectations when it comes to cross-channel engagement, they are struggling to meet them. They face challenges in sharing customer data and analytics across "channels, countries, or locations"; personalized engagement is hindered by a lack of information about buyers at the top of the funnel, and by the distribution of data over disparate systems; and in many cases, customer data is held in some channels, but not all. For example, only 39 percent of medium-to-large sellers surveyed had information about customers' businesses available in all channels.

B2B purchasers are starting online research in consumer areas

Previewing the research at the recent Game Plan 2015 event in Fort Worth, Texas, Forrester principal analyst Andy Hoar said: "B2B purchasers are starting online research in consumer areas--consumer market places, and search engines," and not so much on manufacturers' sites. Internal siloes, legacy systems, and defensiveness about sharing information meant that most customer data is not available in all channels, or at each phase of the customer journey. According to Brian Walker, Chief Strategy Officer at SAP hybris, many B2B sellers continue to dabble in the digital space. "There are people employed in B2B, and they'll say 'We know what our customers need,'" he said. "That's BS.  The customer has already moved."

A separate report from Accenture Interactive underlines the trend. 59 percent of B2B sellers see customers conducting transactions online and 86 percent allow digital purchases--even as some B2B buyers, as well as B2B sales teams, remain set in their offline habits. 

Simplifying the front office

Big tech players are competing, of course, to ease these growing pain points in the B2B space. We've written extensively at The Hub about the major marketing clouds, as well as point solutions to address specific problems around concepts like a single customer view, personalized content, attribution, etc. The hybris approach is different at an architectural level--and the explanation can get quite technical--but there's a unifying theme: the simplication of the front office. (SAP SE, the Germany-based global enterprise software vendor entered the digital marketing and customer experience stakes in 2013, purchasing the Swiss e-commerce software company hybris--lower case "h" preferred).

CRM is dead

"CRM is dead,"  announced Carsten Thoma, president of customer engagement and commerce for SAP. His Game Plan keynote portrayed CRM as a backward-facing concept. "You need to know what your customer will want tomorrow. You need to know what your customer wants before he does." Thoma's Game Plan keynote referred to a simplified front office "which only focuses on your customer"--and he took a SAP perspective. Once you have the platform--the infrastructure--in place, and the data layer, only then can you talk about apps, about understanding the customer, and about the customer experience.

At the center of the SAP hybris strategy is hybris-as-a-Service (abbreviated to YaaS), an open, cloud-based platform for businesses and developers, conceived as a foundation for the "modular front office," and a playground for microservices rather than apps. YaaS is certainly not aimed exclusively at B2B by any means, but as Brian Walker has made clear, it has "the omni-channel transformation of B2B and B2C companies" in its sights.

That needs some unpacking, and to help me I sat down at Game Plan with Marcus Ruebsam, SVP of Commerce, Marketing and Billing Products Solutions Management for SAP SE/hybris software. He startled me, given the omni-channel emphasis of the Forrester research, by saying he didn't care about channels.

Customers don't care about channels, they care about experience with the product

"The channel is the wrong direction. Customers don't care about channels, they care about experience with the product." Marketing campaigns, service calls, transactions--they all need to work seamlessly together. He reiterated that CRM is a dated concept, replaced by "a single view of the customer in the moment of interaction." CRM gives you the history, but you need the comprehensive view "right now"--and if you're thinking in terms of channels, "you're already siloed."

"It's the rich data which makes the difference," he said. This is the "laser focus on establishing a platform based on real-time customer insight which SAP hybris SVP of Marketing, Jamie Anderson, described to us back in August. The hybris Profile solution sets out to aggregate data froma comprehensive range of touch-points--historic CRM data, browsing behavior, PoS data--and attributes activities to close the data loop between marketing spend and outcome. Social data is collected, of course, and hybris recently announced integration between the YaaS platform and the Sprinklr Experience Cloud to facilitate management of social engagement and campaigns." 

A new kind of marketing and commerce platform

"We could become a data provider," Ruebsam mused, "Look at how many commerce customers we have, and how many transactions. Either you become a huge data syndicator or a platform. We want to be the platform--but in a new sense. We believe in microservices. Vendors will be in the background: the eco-system will be built by partners, customers and developers." Indeed, Ruebsam said, the platform itself should be in the background.

Microservices will become the core ingredient

"Microservices will become the core ingredient," he said. "We're not going to do the app exchange thing," he said. Microservices are "business processes-as-a-service...a new concept, very visionary." 

You'll be hearing more about microservices, but getting a clear sense of what they are--and how they differ from traditional apps--isn't easy. For our purposes, suffice to say they tend to be enterprise applications driven by businesses processes rather than products; they're device and channel-agnostic; they're modular (you can alter components without redesigning an entire app); and they lend themselves to decentralized governance.  If you're interested, you can take a deep dive here--but the bottom line is that YaaS invites businesses and developers to build, exchange, sell, and consume microservices on its open platform--and using a wide variety of coding languages.

And if there can be another bottom line, YaaS is perceived by some commentators as presenting a challenge to Adobe and Salesforce, who might otherwise be well placed to lure SAP software customers to their marketing cloud solutions.

An environment where the pace is much faster than it is today

At Game Plan, Walker confirmed that marketing "is an area we are investing heavily in." To hybris commerce customers he said, "You need to be thinking pf yourselves as software development companies. You need to be the fastest and easiest to do business with," Walker told the audience. Personalization confined to web experiences has become too narrow a concept. "We need to step way out of that box. We need to pick up digital signals, and not just from our own channels. We need to create an environment where the pace is much faster than it is today."

It's going to be interesting to see what progress this different approach to putting together a marketing and commerce stack makes against entrenched assumptions about what a marketing cloud should look like--and in particular whether it can help join up the customer experience dots in the B2B space.  

SAP hybris covered The Hub's travel and expenses to attend Game Plan 2015

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