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SAP Hybris: Finally a Marketing Cloud

“SAP is now finally a leader in marketing. Who would have thought that?” SAP Hybris CTO, Moritz Zimmerman, in his keynote to the 2017 SAP Hybris Global Summit had just highlighted the company´s appearance as a leader in the latest Gartner magic quadrant for multi-channel marketing.

And indeed, SAP Hybris, the commerce arm of the German software giant, is finally talking about being — among other things — a “marketing cloud.” It´s been a long time coming. Tracking the progress of Hybris over the last few years, I´d perceived an avoidance of discussing the whole marketing cloud space — an emphasis, instead, on front office microservices.

Leonardo: Our “catchy” name

But in conversation now with Jackie Palmer, global VP for strategy and solution management, responsible for SAP Hybris Marketing, I found a willingness to talk openly about competing with Adobe, Salesforce, and Oracle. They´ve even chosen a “genius” handle for the AI component of their offering: Leonardo. “We had to get our own catchy little name,” she confessed. And Zimmerman had admitted, “We have to do some work on our brand recognition in this space.”

Talk of the SAP Hybris marketing solution as a marketing cloud is “relatively new,” she said. The company, of course — not unlike Oracle — has an on-prem software heritage. Indeed, the Hybris toolbox, which includes not only marketing, but commerce, sales, service, and billing, can still be closely tied to back-office functions like finance and ERP. Each of the five Hybris offerings has its own global VP: “There are five of me,” Palmer explained.

Taking GDPR Seriously

One enormous contrast between recent U.S. tech conferences I´ve attended and the SAP Hybris summit in Spain (or Catalonia — watch this space) was the reaction to any mention of GDPR.  In the States, conference attendees slump in their chairs and look distraught at the idea of any restrictions on gathering, using and storing customer data.

In Europe, where preparations have been underway for some time (GDPR comes into force next May), there´s positive talk of finally being able to use clean, accurate, permission-based data in an ethical marketing environment. Ruebsam told me SAP Hybris will be in full compliance come the relevant date: That alone may give the company a significant competitive advantage over some large U.S. vendors.                                                                                                                                                   

All of which brings me back to another statement Zimmerman had made: “Ultimately, it´s only a suite approach which can deliver a first-class customer experience” — from marketing and acquisition, through CPQ and billing, to “fully integrated” sales and service. As you can see, the SAP Hybris cloud collection shepherds the customer on every step of that journey.

In his presentation, Zimmerman had shown a laser focus on speed, agility, and transformation-disruption (pretty much a compound-noun at tech conferences these days). That´s how he characterizes a business environment in which “your products are becoming services,” with on-demand availability, subscription-based revenue streams, and an increasing emphasis (especially among millennials) on experience rather than ownership (or renting, if you like, rather than buying).

But isn´t there, I wondered, some tension between a business environment gearing up to cater this fast-paced, ever-shifting customer journey, and the concept of a single, unified suite of tech services; ideally layered over the SAP S/4 HANA ERP, and delivered — if not on-prem — from the SAP cloud?

Isn´t that environment better mirrored by a loosely integrated, hybrid set of best-of-breed, but also disposable business applications, even at the risk of Frankenstack?

Not that simple

As so often with SAP Hybris, it´s not that simple. It´s not, it turns out, a binary choice between a single-vendor customer experience suite and à la carte tech snacking. After all, from the main stage, Rob Enslin (president of global customer operations and an SAP executive board member) had said, “It´s an open platform.”

“We shouldn´t use the word ´platform,´” said Marcus Ruebsam, when I reported this remark. “SAP Hybris isn´t a platform. It uses the SAP cloud as a platform.” Ruebsam, SVP and global head of solution management, chooses his words with care. “One paradigm for us,” he continued, “is we want to fix the customer journey. You don´t need 20 products for that. You need the customer ´master´and the data around it.” People are always talking about this platform and that platform: “They don´t need a platform, they need to know how to improve their pipeline.”

Carsten Thoma, SAP Hybris President, had his own take: “I don´t want to call it a platform any more. It´s an infrastructure which supports eco-systems which create an experience.” And to be fair to Enslin, the graphic visualization he offered the audience was indeed that of an infrastructure: satellite offerings (based on acquisitions) like SAP Hybris, SAP Ariba (cloud-based commerce network, SAP Fieldglass (the vendor management system), and so on, circling the S/4 HANA digital core.

But however the visualization is characterized, it does look — at a glance — like all SAP, all the time. But is it? Not necessarily.

The bubble wrap guys

Sealed Air is a major, multi-national innovative packaging business, with food wrapping and (recently spun-off) cleaning and sanitation lines of business. But they will always be known to most people for beloved Bubble Wrap, reated by the companies founders half a century ago.

It´s also a “big SAP shop,” Naveen Kandasami told me. Kandasami is executive director of IT and business partnership with Sealed Air, and also responsible for its global CRM strategy. That´s a secondary role, he told me: he´s not responsible for execution, rather oversight. He was responsible, however, for rolling out SAP Hybris across the lines of business and the many regions in which Sealed Air operates. The brand went live with Hybris Sales last November, and with Hybris Service in May of this year. Hybris Commerce was rolled out for Diversey, the cleaning and sanitation arm just prior to its sale to Bain Capital.  “So they´ll get the benefit,” Kandasami remarked wryly.

The Leonardo Distinction 

Yes, it does sound like they´re jumping on the Watson and Einstein bandwagon. (Adobe´s Sensei doesn´t have quite the same genius ring to it). But it´s worth understanding what Leonardo is, and how it differs — from Einstein in particular.

Leonardo is not about putting a generalized AI solution into every component of the SAP Hybris offering. Not unlike IBM´s Watson, Leonardo is being developed against specific use cases in specific verticals.  What´s more, as Ruebsam explained, Leonardo isn´t some magical robotic force created ex nihilo by Hybris. It´s better thought of as a “tool box,” or a library from which established and tested models and algorithms can be selected and applied to actual business needs.

Given Sealed Air´s investment in SAP back office functions, was the choice of Hybris for the front office inevitable?

“You would think, because we´re wall-to-wall SAP in the back end, we would adopt Hybris,” said Kandasami. “It was exactly the opposite. The reality was that when we looked at a CRM system from SAP, the mind-set was that it would be on-prem.” The brand did consider Salesforce and Oracle. When they looked at SAP Hybris as a cloud product, they expected to find “on-prem with a different color,” said Kandasami. “But that wasn´t the case.” It still wasn´t an easy sell internally: “There was a significant evaluation against Salesforce.”

Kandasami explained that he didn´t want to have a tech-based conversations with the businesses and regions about this. He wanted to discuss three operational “pillars” — defining engagement with the customer, measuring the experience, and synthezing insights from it. Persuading the global components of Sealed Air that Hybris was the right route took some fourteen months: implementation was comparatively fast. “80% planning, 20% execution,” Kandasami said.

“There are benefits to going with the foundational brand on the back-end,” Kandasami admitted, adding that this was a generic point, and not specific to SAP. What´s more, there´s no perfect fit involved. Any large enterprise is going to have a legacy of processes and solutions, if only through mergers and acquisitions; the integration of Hybris with the SAP ERP under-layer was challenging, but Kandasami is “proud” of what was accomplished.

Kandasami is now looking at Commerce for the lines of business which remain part of Sealed Air. “It´s natural to look at Marketing as well.”

The only one?

In a blog post published to coincide with his address to SAP Hybris LIVE, Thoma repeatedly claimed that SAP Hybris was — his term — the “only one.” The “only one” to have led the transformation from web shopping to multi-channel and now channel-less commerce. The “only one” supporting B2B and B2C processes worldwide. The “only one” ready for the disruptive transformation of the product economy into a service economy in the imminent future.

It´s a stirring rallying cry for SAP Hybris, its partners, and its customers. But again, things aren´t quite that simple. As Ruebsam said to me, “There are lots of customers who don´t have a SAP back-end. It´s not a prerequisite, and will never be one.” As for Hybris, “We need to be open as much as we can.” Hybris doesn´t offer a solution for every challenge a brand might face: “We can´t acquire companies or employ developers to fill all the gaps. This is not reality.” 

In fact, Ruebsam regards it as having been a revolutionary move to create (and publish) multiple APIs. It faced some internal resistance. Of course Enslin´s assertion that “we want to get into the front office as a suite” makes good business sense — just as Zimmerman´s claim that an integrated set of services, from marketing through to customer support, provides a smoother customer experience, makes technical sense. But in the background SAP Hybris is preparing to take its place in the crowded marketing tech landscape, and deal with the “reality” of being one contender among many best-of-breed solutions for the marketing (and sales, revenue, service, etc) stack. The days of Oracle shops and SAP shops are far from over, but between the lines SAP Hybris is ready to be not so much “the only one” as a very important one.

And that does make sense.

SAP Hybris covered DMN’s expenses to attend the Summit.

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