SAP.info: You’ve headed SAP’s user group-facing organization for a year now. What excites you about the work?
Yasmin Awad: Well, number one is definitely the customers. I earned my spurs in ten years of field organization work, all kinds of things, and enjoyed it so much. Close to the market, knowing where the customer is hurting, being right where demand sparks supply sparks demand. And now I’m also in there with all these different cultures and markets and perspectives that are the lifeblood of a big multinational like SAP.
The user groups are great for us. They channel feedback. They help us roll out products and talk to customers everywhere in the world. They help us help customers because they help us respond to them.
SAP.info: It hasn’t always been roses between SAP and all of the SAP user groups. How are things right now?
Awad: Pretty good. You sense a strong desire in the user groups to work with SAP more and strengthen our business. There’s a lot of demand for news and dialogue. Sometimes there are serious criticisms that SAP has to address. That’s fair enough; it’s why we’re here. Both sides benefit from open communication channels.
That’s important for us. We need feedback of all colors. We need to know what customers really think about our products, how we communicate, and our strategy. We can’t improve if no one talks to us, so for me, if there’s ever a communication issue, it’s just about the tone. And the tone is usually encouraging and constructive. Certain things are pain points in certain markets for SAP and for users. It varies from country to country, but things can look very different in a mature market than in an emerging market. In some emerging markets, SAP consultants are still thin on the ground. More mature markets can have other issues. My job is to work with user groups on identifying the problem areas and then to work inside SAP on having them addressed and resolved.
SAP.info: So, sharing news and views is what you do most. What else does your team do?
Awad: At the end of the day, disseminating information will always the most important thing we do. There are lots of things the user groups want to discuss and influence. But in some countries it often turns out people don’t really know how much SAP can already deliver. So we’re here to make sure they really understand the key facts – even in difficult territory like licensing models.
For example, it’s brilliant that we have regional Executive Exchanges where the top people from companies in the SAP user groups meet and talk with the top people at their local SAP companies. Executive Exchanges are a key two-way communication channel.
Meeting and working with each other in a user group is also crucial for customers. User groups provide a space for SAP customers to share their ideas and their accumulated practical wisdom.
A third aspect, and it’s a very important part of user group work, is providing input into the functions and quality of SAP products. It is part of our job to make sure feedback from users reaches the right ears in SAP’s product organization. User groups help SAP channel and prioritize customer input effectively, so with the help of the user groups we at SAP can be sure that our content really is what the market wants.
Customer Connection, the Customer Engagement Initiative, and Customer Advisory Councils are the gateways through which our customers take a direct part in fashioning and optimizing our portfolio. All of the user groups support this work so that they can take advantage of the opportunities for influence in their markets.
SAP.info: So your main function is as a kind of bidirectional communications channel, a mediator?
Awad: Well yes, “channel” is right, but it isn’t the whole story. Our job is to encourage and develop the user groups, because only users who engage with us, who think about our solutions, can help move the SAP world forward. We are the advocates for that perspective within the company, and we help user groups network with our co-workers in house, such as people working in software development. We enhance the benefit of user groups to the company so that the user groups can in turn enhance the benefit to their members.
SAP.info: How does it work in practice?
Awad: It’s very different from country to country and from user group to user group – because the markets themselves are so different. As I said before, disseminating information is an important part of what we do. That means organizing informative events on specific product-related questions, facilitating contact between their experts and ours, speaking with them to their members. We also work on country-level focus topics that the local SAP company and the local users take forward together. We can supply a global view if required.
One thing on the agenda of every user group is growing the membership. The more members, the more everyone benefits. That’s something else we can help with: For instance, we can draw customers’ attention to the possibility of joining a user group. In emerging markets where there is still a lot of groundwork to do, we are very proactive in providing contacts and putting on special workshops. In almost every country, we support the user group’s annual convention, whether by sending subject specialists or with sponsorship.
Another important function is delivering customer feedback right to the development teams. If you’re an SAP user and you have feedback for the company, the best route is via the user group program set up for that purpose.
SAP.info: However good relations are, the interests of the customers are not always the same as the interests of SAP. What do you do then?
Awad: I don’t think our customers’ interests are in any way fundamentally different than ours. SAP would never do well as a business if our customers weren’t happy. Wherever we need to improve, it’s in our interest first to hear about it straight from the people affected, and secondly to openly discuss the possible solutions. Transparency and open communication are vital.
This is a complex business, and of course things aren’t always sunshine and light. But it’s an important step to tell the user groups about things early and involve them. Our goal is satisfied customers – not necessarily customers who see everything exactly as we do.
SAP.info: SAP is going into lots of new fields, making acquisitions, and striding ahead in the cloud. What does all this mean for the user groups?
Awad: That’s a big question, and of course the user groups are alive to it because SAP will change. And just as new licensing models for the cloud will have their part to play at SAP, so the user groups will doubtless be finding new kinds of membership. It hasn’t happened yet, and pure cloud landscapes are not yet prevalent in the SAP world. The cloud will change the industry, and we all have to respond. But for the moment, our main concern is to tell the user groups about our cloud strategy and to involve them in time.
SAP.info: What lies ahead for the user groups? What are your own objectives?
Awad: I want to help the user groups and our organizations in the countries work even better together. I also think it’s important for us to become more proactive on product-related matters, and communicate our strategy and road map as early as we can. The user groups help us roll out news and knowledge, and they also help us “rolling in.” They are important mediators in both directions and a cornerstone of SAP’s strategy. That’s good, and it’s important, and I want for it to be better appreciated – and to keep growing stronger.