Friday Rant: The Transformation of Procurement Within SAP Is Finally Here

SAP is a place where it's easy to cover one's tracks. It's long been an inside joke to those close to some of the procurement product lines, for example, that when someone in a moderate or high position of power makes a mistake -- or a team for that matter -- which leads to bungled, delayed or canceled launches, that the likely action is not a wrist slapping or ceremonial corporate beheading, but rather the promotion of this individual and his cohorts to an even more important role (yes, this has happened more than once over the years).

Such behavior at Oracle would be grounds for quick dismissal, but not so at SAP. They still maintain some of their Germanic roots in every office around the world, that somehow the firing or laying off of employees is not a good thing -- even those who may deserve it. Yet despite numerous missteps over the years including the lack of a GE approach to human resources, SAP finally has not only its current product portfolio act together within procurement, but executive and sales support for the line is finally at the levels it needs to be.

At Sapphire this year, I heard from numerous sources both within the various procurement product groups as well as those in different parts of the organization having little to do with the area that procurement was truly receiving greater focus and positive scrutiny than before. This has manifested itself in multiple ways, such as the continued partnership with Hubwoo (including the recent supplier network announcement/partnership with Crossgate) and the desire, from the top, to take on a vendor in the space it believes it can and should beat (we all know who that is).

But even in other areas, such as the support and corporate blessing for commercial launch of Supplier InfoNet to the increasing number of procurement RDS (rapid deployment solutions with a fixed price and guaranteed implementation outcome/time frame) coming to market -- which a colleague pointed out is SAP's response to the fixed pricing and deployment expectations of competitive cloud products -- it's more and more clear that Waldorf is getting behind what used to be a line of business stepchild within the business application area for SAP.

I suspect from a solution perspective, we'll continue to see better and better talent and resources added to the procurement product lines. I met a handful of new solution managers at SAP this week, many of whom feel far more cut from the Oracle hard-nosed product cloth than the old SAP culture. I've also seen these new -- and existing -- solution leaders move quicker than before in new releases (and service packs) to include increasing numbers of features at one-time that customers are requesting. The degree of progress in such areas as Sourcing in a single year in new releases (across now three products within this line) is much, much greater than a couple of years back.

Clearly, SAP is not only taking procurement more seriously than before -- they're building, creating and shipping products that everyone in procurement should pay more attention to -- including both SAP and non-SAP customers alike. They're also moving quicker than even their best of breed competitors in bringing new, creative solutions to market. While I'll be sharing more on Supplier InfoNet next week, this single solution, which has an order of magnitude more complexity and moving parts than just about anything remotely like it in either the spend analysis, supplier management or supplier performance management areas, was developed and launched in less than a year. In fact, the team behind it released two versions the first year of development -- with only a shoestring team of focused developers behind it. Now that's progress -- and not the SAP I used to know.

Jason Busch

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