“Business transformation should be the driver for cloud adoption”

Brian Duffy was born in Ireland, but has been living in the United States for the past 21 years. He has spent most of his career at SAP, where he has held various positions over the past 17 years, including leading the business in the North EMEA region for three and a half years. As of January 2021, he heads the RISE with SAP business unit and presides over the Cloud division of the German manufacturer.

Could you define RISE with SAP as a concept?

RISE with SAP was launched to respond to the needs that our customers were telling us, because, after all, they were already taking steps towards the cloud. But now they have also realized the need to transform themselves, and we are the best people to accompany them on that journey. For example, we can take advantage of the possibilities offered by SAP Signavio to observe the processes that these companies are executing and see how we can help them reinvent them in a cloud model.

What we want our customers to focus on is the products, services and experiences they offer to their customers, not the processes. However, many of them, unfortunately, still spend a lot of time on this. That’s where we need to step in, showing them what the systems can look like, in order to help them take the right steps in that direction.

Naturally, our installed base has more legacy than new customers, but this is an opportunity for them to see the full benefits of moving from their current situation to the cloud.

What type of companies is RISE with SAP aimed at?

Basically, all the solutions that we have in an on-premise model, which are focused on all types of industries, are also available in RISE with SAP. In fact, there is no industry we do not cover.

RISE with SAP is driving the transformation of SAP itself

Of course, it is true that there are still certain entities, such as those related to the public sector in some parts of the world, that may be hesitant or feel some reticence when it comes to moving to cloud models.

In any case, that picture is likely to evolve over time. Our commitment is to support all of our customers, not leaving any of them behind, if they are moving to RISE with SAP.

What are these reluctances that companies still harbor?

In general, I would not say that companies are reluctant. Very significant transformations and moves are being made in our installed base, or will be made soon.

I think all companies recognize “why” they need to transform. The next point, the «how», is basically solved through the complex work that needs to be undertaken. In addition, there are also other elements, such as the necessary change management; and, logically, the participation and support of the entire company is also required to develop all of those changes successfully. There are many pieces that need to come together, but organizations that are able to do this, and coordinate it properly, have the opportunity to really change the playing field for their business.

In addition, since the move to the cloud has to be a profound change, and not just a simple lift and shift, it is necessary to transform the business as well. For example, from a business point of view, if you go home on a Friday and on Monday the switch to cloud has already been made, and you don’t notice any difference at all, that’s a totally missed opportunity. It’s a matter of getting the support of the whole company, and then start executing the change.

Perhaps the sensation of “loss of control” is one of the main fears?

I don’t think it’s the loss of control. Rather, it’s the fact that the systems are running efficiently today. But the real question is whether those systems are going to be just as efficient when they have to deal with what is coming in the near future, that is not yet known.

We have all been there in the last few years. We are talking about challenges that can be generated both internally, in the organizations themselves, as well as outside of them. By now everyone has realized this and is also aware that it is unavoidable to walk the path to the cloud if we want to be in a position to face what may come.

We must be clear that this pace of change is not going to slow down

Another relevant aspect, when facing these changes, may be the size of the company. In general, smaller organizations are also less complex, which translates into a simpler transformation process.

In any case, we have learned from our larger clients, who have already completed the transformation that, when you have the necessary buy-in and cultural change has taken place within the organization, these processes can be undertaken with certainty and good results.

In addition, there is a return on investment to consider

Indeed, the move to the cloud is a significant change for organizations and, thanks to RISE with SAP, the return on investment (ROI) is significantly faster. The main message we convey is this: you need to run what we call a clean core and reinvent processes. This, in turn, enables agile and lightweight systems.

We are not saying that you shouldn’t customize, but you have to customize the right way. The right approach is to take advantage of the SAP BTP (Business Technology Platform) and not to make developments that affect the core, as has been the case until now with some customers.

The move to the cloud has to be a profound change, not just a simple replacement

The SAP BTP technology in the cloud, combined with the RISE with SAP philosophy, gives our customers a unique advantage. In addition to differentiating themselves from other companies, they get a much faster return on investment than they would achieve if they stayed with a traditional on-premise SAP.

What do you mean by “clean core”?

Companies often have customizations and modifications in the core of the system, many of which make it difficult to perform certain tasks, such as installing enhancements, updates or patches, which will inevitably be required during the product’s life cycle. This usually results in a longer system downtime.

Now, once we move to using a clean core, we get to situations where we find very large clients that now experience downtimes – during upgrades – of less than twenty minutes. This is because their core is much cleaner. In addition, the savings at all levels are obviously very significant.

What is the main motivation for moving to cloud?

The main benefit that customers perceive when opting for the cloud is the business transformation it facilitates. Ultimately, that’s the driver for everything. In fact, in my opinion, that’s how it should be: the driver for cloud adoption should be business transformation.

Given the work we have done with our customers, and thanks to the ecosystem we rely on (because in order for us to deliver RISE with SAP we need it to join us on this journey), the message from the market is becoming clearer: there is a clear need for deep business transformation, much more than just a change in technology.

In the conversations I have with our customers, I see that things are changing and that more and more of them are open to the need for business transformation.

How is cloud adoption developing?

Over the past few years we have seen some of the solutions in our portfolio, such as SAP SuccessFactors for Human Resources and SAP Concur for Travel and Expenses, adopt the cloud earlier than others. This has been quite evident. But right now there is a clearer trend towards our core ERP moving to the cloud.

Obviously, putting an ERP in the cloud is one of the biggest migrations an organization can undertake. It is probably the largest application they have, and also the most critical to the business. It may even be the application that has been with the organization the longest – the lifeblood and the engine that keeps that company running every day.

For this reason, it is extremely important for us to be there for our customers in this process, helping them to overcome any difficulties they may encounter on their journey. This is why we launched RISE with SAP.

Is there concern about the growing dependence on the Internet?

It is clear that we live in a connected world. Moreover, the pace of change we have had to deal with over the last two years, forced by the situation we have been living through, has been incredible. On the one hand, we have seen companies that have skyrocketed; on the other, there have been organizations that have had a hard time; and we have also seen many companies that have transformed or fallen victim to disruption. In any case, what we must be clear about is that this pace of change is not going to slow down.

Above all, technology (related to communications) is one of the elements that facilitates more changes, both in companies and in society in general. Yes, we can say that we are always connected and that we have e-mail anywhere and at any time. But, on the other hand, companies are also responding: they are launching initiatives such as mental health days, Fridays without meetings, etc. Through these, they seek to mitigate the negative effects of hyperconnectivity.

There is a clear need for business transformation, much more than just a change in technology

For me, the exciting thing is to see where we’re going to be in five years. We think the current change is happening very fast, but five years from now we’ll look back and think, «Come on, this has been very slow.» That’s the reality.

Something similar also happens with the technology we use. I remember the first time I made a FaceTime call; I thought it was incredible, and now it’s everyday. Imagine what our grandchildren are going to see.

How is SAP evolving as a company?

We always work very closely with our customers and, as far as we know, the cloud has been the direction they are all heading in for quite some time now. Today we are focusing more and more on the ERP and its evolution towards the cloud, but we should not forget that this is our origin, our DNA as a company. For this reason, the entire organization is increasingly adopting the cloud mentality. RISE with SAP is driving the transformation of SAP itself.

Putting ERP in the cloud is one of the biggest migrations an organisation can undertake

In terms of the process, it’s similar to the transformations our clients are undertaking: I can tell you that none of them are easy. It takes hard work, and if it doesn’t, it’s probably because you’re not really evolving as an organization.

SAP is changing completely as an organization. And it’s a great thing, because it shows that there is a willingness within the company to keep evolving, adapting and learning. This attitude I think is what keeps many of us here.

What is clear is that we are in the midst of an evolution and transformation to the cloud right now.

What comes after cloud?

We will see what comes after cloud. From the meetings I have with customers, I can tell you that «the cloud» has been a phase. There was a time when everyone knew they had to move to the cloud, but more importantly, what is really changing within the enterprise itself? How is it transforming? Now, because of everything that has happened in the world, there is a lot more thinking about how to change the business… And the answer is: «towards the cloud».

We will continue to position the transformation of the business, as we have always done, but, of course, now it will be in a cloud model, and that brings great benefits. In addition, I believe that our customer base today is much more responsive than before and more knowledgeable about cloud.

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