SAP.info: The SAP ecosystem includes over 1.7 million people and a multitude of platforms. How do SAP customers actually benefit from these communities?
Yolton: There are many benefits. The first is getting quick, high-quality answers to their questions from other customers, from partners, and from SAP experts. The second is getting connected to other customers from whom customer community members can learn about new trends, shared challenges and best practices – which they might then adopt. That leads to a lower total cost of ownership, greater efficiency, higher quality implementations and eventually, higher quality operations of their SAP solution and maybe of their business. Also, members can learn about the optimum configurations for their industry, the best practices for change management, for upgrades or for migrations, and what other “best run” companies are achieving. And from thought leaders and the experience of thousands of others, customers get early information about trends, market shifts, and other insights that can help them achieve greater business and career success.
SAP.info: What about contacts with SAP internal experts?
Yolton: Our product managers – and a wide range of other SAP experts – are moderators within the community and are engaged in the blogs, wikis and discussion forums. That means they can get direct feedback from our customers. Participants are not going through layers of management – it is a direct channel between and among customers, partners, external thought leaders, and SAP experts. Customers might post a question on a discussion forum, they might write a blog saying ‘this would be a great product feature if SAP offers it,’ and immediately, this information goes to the product managers and others across SAP who are engaged.
SAP.info: Ok, that’s great for companies. But how does the individual user benefit?
Yolton: Individual developers, business analysts, consultants and others usually first engage in order to get an answer to a question, or a solution to a problem. This typically happens in the discussion forums. They soon realize they can further their careers by growing their skill sets and by gaining a reputation through these communities. A large customer recently turned to our community to find an expert to help them implement an SAP portal system. They found a highly qualified expert, who is part of a consulting company and active in our community, and have him leading a major project for them.
SAP.info: How does SAP’s community differ from others in the field?
Yolton: What we do more than others is break down barriers between us and anybody who doesn’t have a SAP badge. We view it as part of our job to make SAP more porous; to remove the constraints between SAP and our ecosystem of customers, partners, bloggers, and thought leaders, to increase the information flow between all of these entities. For example: We have nearly 5,000 people blogging within our community, two thirds of whom are not SAP employees. They’re customers, partners, thought leaders and industry influencers. We know that this level of active engagement, openness, and transparency is unusual, one that differentiates SAP in the market, and ultimately gives us an advantage. Some of the other communities are larger than ours in terms of membership, but the activity level within ours is multiples higher. As a matter of fact, SAP was just recognized as one of the “top ten most-engaged global brands on the web” by a respected pair of analysts in an independent study.
SAP.info: Take, for example, the SAP EcoHub, the community-powered solution marketplace that SAP launched at the end of 2008 …
Yolton: …and a tool our entire partner and customer ecosystem is very excited about. The SAP EcoHub brings together solutions from SAP and our partners into one marketplace. Customers can discover and explore the solutions more easily. But what really sets SAP EcoHub apart is its interactive community aspect. Our customers rate and review the solutions from our partners and from SAP. That way, a prospect company looking for a solution from SAP or one of our partners can make a better-informed purchase decision based on the experiences and opinions of other customers.
SAP.info: So you have brought the spirit of Web 2.0 into your community.
Yolton: Yes. Web 2.0, social networks, and social media are all about enabling and encouraging active participation and engagement by the members of your extended ecosystem. Social media allows us to have a genuine conversation with our customers and partners through tools like discussion forums, blogs, wiki’s, audio, and video – and through programs like our reputation management system. It’s about better understanding customer needs and pain points – and then working to relieve those with our products or services. Web 2.0 really means a change of attitude for companies.
SAP.info: How does that work in practice?
Yolton: Well, let’s take the launch of SAP Business Suite 7 in New York City a few months ago. For the first time, we invited members of our community – such as bloggers and industry experts – to attend the news conferences and briefings. They authored their own and linked to our blogs, wikis, forums and pod casts on SCN. The people in the room were using Twitter to let the broader community around the world know what was going on live. Community members were tweeting back saying, ‘Hey, could you clarify this?’ those in the room asked the question in real time in the session and got answers on the spot, and re-tweeted to the world. As a result, SAP Business Suite 7 was one of the top 10 trending topics on Twitter that day. So really, we created a storm of information in the marketplace that we couldn’t have done otherwise.
SAP.info: You are also active on some other platforms.
Yolton: Yes, we have LinkedIn and Facebook groups for SAP EcoHub, for SAP Tech Ed events and for the SAP Community Network. We have nearly 100 videos on YouTube of community members giving testimonials, keynotes from our events and demo’s from webcasts. When a blog is posted in SCN, it immediately sends a Twitter alert to almost 2000 followers. We have viral widgets on our SCN pages that allow community members to add the SAP blog stream to their private websites and blogs. We make personal connections in Facebook and professional connections on LinkedIn. So, all of these Web 2.0 tools and others are being used by SAP to extend our reach beyond our platform to tap into the broader market .In the end, this makes us at SAP more efficient, more effective, and more successful, because we’re using every tool and technique available to make our customers more successful.