In the first part of this blog, we noted that many of the themes and objectives of Customer Engagement and Commerce (CEC) projects today are similar to those of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) projects from ten years ago – begging the question of why should we expect better results now?
The answer to that question can probably be found by considering what is different today – and evaluating whether that is enough to drive a better chance of success.The differences can be considered in two dimensions – the technology available and the approach to deploying it.
The rise of The Cloud – and particular software as a service (SaaS) – is changing the way organisations look at software applications. Leaving aside the impacts on licensing for another discussion, there are a number of particular aspects of the ‘cloudification’ of applications that have been of particular benefit in driving the success of Customer Engagement and Commerce (CEC) projects.
Rapid release cycle
SAP’s Cloud for Customer product operates on a quarterly release cycle – something unheard of in the SAP CRM ‘on premise’ days. This rapid, regular, continual (and largely ‘pain-free’) release of new features acts as both a carrot and a stick to organisation – the carrot of adhering to this schedule is the delivery of new functionality “for free”. The stick is organisations being forced to align themselves to SAP’s roadmap and vision – and the further you stray from this path the less value you get.
SAP’s Cloud for Customer application (especially in its ‘public’ cloud guise) is deliberately designed to limit the degree to which individual clients can customise its functionality. Instead, the emphasis is more on adoption of the standard processes and features – the payoff being regular additions via new releases. This is the contrasting feature when compared to SAP CRM.
Of course flexibility does still exist – but the approach is different and comes with some major advantages. Historically, if you needed to implement significant additional or customised functionality you would code it straight in to the main application. This meant that the core application became customised, complicating upgrades and future changes and increasing cost of ownership.This was one of the major challeneges observed with SAP CRM where the customisation would cause cost overruns and upgrade difficulties. SAP’s new approach aims to keep the ‘core’ applications (be they S/4HANA or Cloud for Customer) as standard as possible and push complex developments out into separate platforms such as the SAP Cloud Platform (formerly HANA Cloud Platform) or YaaS.io (for hybris micro services). This separation of system of record and system of innovation enables the so called ‘bi-modal IT’ with the ability to innovate and develop more quickly to meet changing business needs without interfering with core systems.
The current generation of SAP projects (including Cloud for Customer and the other components of the SAP Hybris product stack) benefits from technology that is finally able to deliver on the promises around usability. Although the bar to what user experience is expected from an application is continually being raised by consumer giants such as Apple, the SAP applications are able to deliver a compelling and current experience – something that cannot always be said of historic SAP products. The regular release cycle, and SAP’s renewed commitment to a focus on usability means that it is realistic to expect that this position will continue and that customer investment now will not result in ‘orphaned’ technology in the near future. Technology limitations should no longer be an excuse for poor user experience.
The new SAP solutions (C4C, Hybris, HANA, etc.) provide functionality designed to support very quick access to vast sums of data as well as far easier integration. A particular step change is in the area of reporting which was a weak point in previous generations of SAP CRM but is now a notable strength in SAP C4C. In addition to the core functionality, SAP has also invested in a comprehensive set of standard plugins such as online chat services and knowledge warehouse.
Equally as important as the changes brought about by the latest technology solutions are the changes in approach to solution deployment. The rise of ‘agile’ approaches, a renewed focus on pre-configured ‘best practice’ solutions (as embodied by SAP’s new Activate methodology) and Cloud based solutions that encourage adoption of standard functionality are driving down the cycle times for projects – meaning functionality can be delivered more quickly and in smaller packages that was previously the case.
The blurring of the lines between “project” and “support” into a DevOps framework – coupled with the regular and frequent release cycles found in Cloud applications - mean that the time to deliver new functionality can now be measured in weeks rather than months (or years!)
This increased responsiveness means that IT is better placed to meet the needs of the business – even if those needs are continually evolving.
The latest SAP applications – and the new approaches to their implementation - mean that the objective of Digital Transformation is a realistic and achievable one. However, very few organisations have the luxury of starting from a ‘green field’. They are instead encumbered by a legacy of existing solutions that cannot be changed overnight. So perhaps the biggest challenge is not working out where you want to be, but how you get there from where you are today. I would try exploring it in the my next blog of this series.