SAP CX Live: Once In A Lifetime Experiences

It’s not just about getting customers from A to B any more. That was the message from SAP’s global CMO Alicia Tillman, from the stage of SAP CX Live 2018 in Barcelona. “A memorable experience doesn’t just create a satisfied customer,” she said. “It creates a loyal one.” Brands which can conjure “once in a lifetime experiences” which prove their value to customers every day can create a bond for life. “It’s a transformation,” she said, “from talking about the products you sell, to talking about the experiences you create.”

An aspirational message of course, but much of the meat of SAP CX’s conference was devoted to explaining how the cluster of clouds within the offering (Sales, Commerce, Data, Service, and Marketing) can support the kinds of experiences which make customers “customers for life.”

A reconfigured offering

It was back in June that SAP announced the re-branding of what had been SAP Hybris, and various associated components (including the customer identity platform Gigya) as SAP Customer Experience. Perhaps more significantly, the new unit manifested itself as an integrated front-office suite, SAP C/4 HANA, clearly mirroring the hugely successful S/4 HANA back-office offering. Operating together, the suites hold out the promise of end-to-end business transformation (more here), and that’s the key to the SAP CX message. It’s also key to SAP CX’s overt challenge to Salesforce.

Alex Atzberger, who formerly headed SAP Ariba, became president of SAP CX at the beginning of the year. Since then, the intriguing but complex SAP Hybris discussions around a mico-services-based infrastructure has been replaced by a bright line message which Atzberger delivers tirelessly. “CX is becoming a competitive differentiator,” he says. “Customer won’t wait.” He wears a t-shirt: “#beBold.” He talks about moving fast and connecting the enterprise.

That last part is important. “It’s not just about CRM,” said Atzberger in his keynote to the conference. “You need data across the value chain; structured and unstructured data.” The SAP CX Data Cloud (powered by Gigya) pulls consent-based data from all the other clouds into individual customer profiles. Linking the back-office to the front-office rounds out the customer experience, which depends as much on a seamless supply chain as relevant marketing messages. And the back-office is a space where Salesforce doesn’t play.

The Benioff in the room

I asked Bertram Schulte, SAP’s global CDO, whether this promise of the end-to-end intelligent enterprise was a move against Salesforce. He demurred. “The play against Salesforce is already the horizontal integration of all the customer touchpoint applications.” In other words, the five SAP CX clouds. “Salesforce cannot do all of that; it relies on its eco-system.” On the other hand, “It’s true that the vertical integration [C/4 and S/4 HANA] puts Salesforce in a different league. And it’s not the better league.”

Moritz Zimmerman, CTO of SAP CX, struck a similar note in his Thursday morning keynote, saying “the suite always wins,” contrasting the simplicity of the C/4 HANA offering with the “multiple, overlapping solutions” offered by competitors. “Two commerce solutions, two sales solutions…”

Moving fast

As attendees seemed to agree, SAP might indeed be associated with best-of-breed software; not so much with nimbleness and agility. Unlike Salesforce, built natively in the cloud, it still has deep roots in on-prem solutions. That’s something else Atzberger is seeking to change; its precisely the need for speed in going to market that informed the two major announcements on the first day of SAP CX Live.

  • SAP Upscale Commerce is a solution which can be configured in as little as 7-14 days. In effect, it’s a pop-up commerce offering, geared to the  cost-conscious midmarket, and complementary to the more sophisticated capabilities of the flagship Commerce Cloud. Upscale is mobile first, cross-channel, and powered by machine learning. In practice, it allows nimble deployment of online stores, using machine learning to predict configurations and product recommendations most likely to lead to conversions. The mobile experience connects to the physical in-store experience, showing product availability. In the larger scheme of things, it’s very much not the kind of application SAP has been known for offering. It’s currently “in incubation” in the U.S. only.
  • SAP Cloud Platform Extension Factory is one for the geeks, but important nonetheless. Based on the open source Kyma project, which is developing easy means to connect enterprise applications in a cloud environment, the Extension Factory speeds integration of non-native applications with the SAP CX cloud platform, while avoiding the need to revise the code of the core cloud solutions. The difference lies in the possibility of creating new products in hours rather than on an IT-driven development track which can take months. It means speed to market, and it also simplifies the adoption of those micro-services (modular mini-apps) which SAP has long been touting as an agile solution to rapidly evolving business needs. The future of enterprise architecture, Mort Zimmerman told a press panel, is not big apps, but hundreds of small services “which they can mash up.”

Trusted relationships

But then again, CX is not just about seamless back- to front-office connectivity. It’s about trust. That’s something I’ve been hearing consistently from executives like Alicia Tillman and SAP CX CMO Kevin Cochrane. Consumers need to trust brands, both when it comes to sharing their values, and protecting their data. Put simply, this is not a world in which creepiness prospers.

Tillman brought a telling statistic to her CX Live keynote: 91 percent of consumers will switch brands on the basis of purpose and values, as long as price and quality are similar. “Having a purpose and standing for something today is more important than ever,” she said. And being a purpose-driven business, with a commitment to values, is ultimately inseparable from being a business which can create lifetime bonds with its customers. 

An important part of that bond, in today’s digital environment, relates to what brands know about customers. If the Data Cloud is at the heart of C/4 Hana’s infrastructure, trust is at the core of what it does. Customer profiles are built on consent-based first-party data — GDPR-compliant, but not driven by GDPR. Gigya, the foundation on which the Data Cloud is built, had been talking about trust and security long before GDPR was implemented.

“We’d been talking about these things for a long time,” agreed Patrick Salyer, general manager of the Data Cloud and a co-founder of Gigya, “these ideas of trust and permission-based data. GDPR is interesting, because so often regulation does not reflect consumer sentiment, but in this case I think it’s highly tied to consumer sent.”>

Does a consent-based approach mean missing out on the opportunity to enrich these consumer profiles with third-party data? “If you talk to businesses and ask them how valuable is someone who self-identifies, they often say as much as five or ten times more valuable than an anonymous user.” Salyer also sees the approach as a differentiator. Data siloes within businesses might lead to poor customer experiences, but at least it was often clear why the data in a particular silo had been collected, and what permissions were attached to it. Bringing data together seems a good idea, but once it’s detached from its original purpose it can become useless, “or even a liability,” Salyer said. “Suddenly, the reason to have a centralized profile is not just to improve the customer experience, but to be able to tie consent to that.”

An open data initiative

Consent-based first-party data may be the gold standard, but there never seems to be enough to go around. That’s something which will be impacted by the open data initiative announced in September by Adobe, Microsoft, and SAP, and highlighted at the CX Live event. It’s easy to misunderstand this as just a data-pooling play by the three companies — a kind of data collective. That’s not accurate, as Salyer explained. At Gigya, there was something called the Data Exchange, which brought together consent-based data from some 50 different vendors. The same concept survives within the Data Cloud.

The agreement with Adobe and Microsoft focuses on developing data standards so that their customers (not the vendors themselves) will be able to manage their customers’ data in a seamless, consistent way, no matter whether they’re using an Adobe, Microsoft, or SAP solution. Consent is not endangered because the end customer gives consent to, say, Coca-Cola, and not to the vendors of the software Coca-Cola uses to process and use the data.

There are some big names noticeably missing from the agreement (so far, anyway). Was Salesforce not invited to the party? “This isn’t about who was and wasn’t invited. This is about building a common data model; it’s an open data initiative, and once it’s established I think you’re going to really see it take off.”

Which brings us full circle to CX again. Delivering “once in a lifetime” experiences depends on consent-based data, speed of execution, shared values, and an intelligently connected suite of front-office applications (with the connection to the back-office a distinct advantage). That’s the jigsaw puzzle SAP CX is busy solving, with, per Zimmerman’s keynote, the “most comprehensive portfolio” of applications out there.

SAP CX covered DMN’s expenses to attend SAP CX Live 2018. More tomorrow.

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