Businesses around the world are prioritizing digital transformation, a development that was accelerated by changes due to COVID-19 lockdowns but continues even as societies around the world are beginning to reopen.
By 2023, more than half of global GDP will be accounted for by digitally transformed enterprises, according to estimates by IDC. “This digital tipping point heralds the emergence of a new enterprise species, the digital-first enterprise,” according to IDC as reported in Forbes.
As customers continue to transform, SAP must continue to transform to meet their needs. This transformation often leads to hybrid solutions, combining cloud and on premise. SAP customers’ solutions will look fundamentally different a few years down the road, and the trend toward cloud is continuously gaining momentum. We must be ready to meet our customers where they need us.
To adapt to the new digital reality and to support our customers on their journey requires adopting a cloud mindset. This is something that we have worked hard to develop in the Customer Solution Support & Innovation organization, which is responsible for supporting all of SAP customers’ solutions end to end.
Developing this mentality has meant nothing less than the wholesale transformation and reinvention of how our team operates. Although developing a cloud mentality means overcoming some significant hurdles, it is more than worth it, as it is this mindset that will determine the future of business. In three key areas — underlying technology, ways of working, and customer support — we were able to reap the ultimate rewards of a cloud mindset.
A Cloud Mindset Requires Purpose-Built Solutions
As an example of what this meant in Customer Solution Support & Innovation on the tools side, consider SAP Solution Manager. SAP Solution Manager is a typical on-premise product that must be installed on a server and requires its own database; it is a system in and of itself to manage customers’ actual SAP product landscapes. It is no longer logical to have an on-premise system that must be run, operated, configured, and maintained to manage a cloud-based solution. Consequently, the idea of SAP Cloud ALM was born.
One of the most difficult decisions we made when creating SAP Cloud ALM, our application lifecycle management (ALM) solution for customers that use predominantly cloud solutions from SAP, was to develop it from scratch rather than build off previous software. But in order to realize the true potential of a cloud-native solution, something entirely new was needed.
It is always tempting to take a shortcut for immediate gain. A common hurdle when adopting a cloud mindset is resistance to developing new solutions when so many of the old ones are still perfectly serviceable. After all, not everyone is using entirely cloud-based systems, and in the short term, some existing technologies — which were themselves time-consuming and difficult to develop — can get the work of today finished.
While this required more up-front work, there are multiple benefits from the resulting cloud-native system. For one, it is extremely easy to deploy. Any customer that has an SAP cloud product can activate the program practically with the click of a button. It is also easy to scale. A multi-tenant cloud solution should offer the ability to multiply its underlining technical services and have it scale automatically, which is not only powerful today but will be invaluable as our customers continue to move to the cloud.
For a true cloud mindset, you must be willing to put in the work up front to experience continuous innovation and regularly provision new features while effortlessly scaling in the future. Still, the development of cloud-native solutions comes along with a change in the way we work.
This means that individual roles change as well. One example of how a job fundamentally changes with a cloud mindset is the product manager’s role. Traditionally, they look at big features. In a world where you introduce small, incremental changes every day, as is often true of cloud software, releasing innovation to customers is not a discrete event that happens once and then ends. Instead, product managers must learn to break things down into small features and have different groups working on each small feature. There is no grand release; it is a continuous stream rather than a sudden burst of water.
In a similar vein, programmers must learn to work without dependencies, which are common in traditional software development. In a continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) cloud environment, every dependency must be continuously resolved, and changes are being released to customers on a daily basis rather than being collected for a single release date.
Another example would be the role of a software quality manager. In a world with daily deployments, the old ways of testing software are completely gone and instead, q-managers become test-automation managers.
A New Way to Work
In addition to specific roles, a cloud mindset requires adopting new ways of working. This can be a major hurdle; it is difficult to change old habits and patterns of behavior. However, it’s not impossible, and I have been thrilled to discover that, with a few people guiding the way, the vast majority of people on my teams were able to adapt to new ways of working.
The difference between traditional work processes and a cloud mentality of work is somewhat like the difference between a pre-recorded show and live television. The pre-recorded show requires a lot of work that ends once the show is released for the week, when work on the next episode begins. With live TV, everything must happen in real time. There are no second takes, and there is no pause between episodes, just a continuous stream of information. And if something goes wrong, it’s going wrong in front of a lot of people.
A New Model of Customer Support
Finally, adopting a cloud mindset means developing not only new ways of working internally, but also of working with customers.
Today, many customer business processes have turned into something I call real-time processes. They’re always on, highly mission critical, and have an immediate business impact when they’re not available. If customers are using real-time processes, then we need to offer real-time support. For my organization, this means nothing less than being available for our customers in live expert chat. Customers can choose not to send a support ticket but rather speak to our top product experts live – now! We also offer customers to book live interactions at a time of their choosing.
Another one of my favorite examples is this. In a traditional, on-premise situation, a customer’s system could receive an individual software change, with a larger change published to all customers afterwards if need be. However, a cloud-first mentality means accepting that changes must be pushed out at regular intervals to all customers. This requires managing expectations: real-time support is invaluable but might look different from what a customer might expect coming from the old system. If a customer wants a noncritical change, the timeline may be different than it once was, while we must be ready to support their critical changes constantly and without delay.
From tools to job functions, a cloud mindset requires a fundamentally different way of working, which, vitally, permeates through the entire organization — everyone is touched. However, it also means that everyone has the opportunity to contribute to the cloud mindset, and with the proper change management, can create a cohesive group with a shared mission and outlook on the future of the organization.
What doesn’t change with a cloud mindset, however, is the imperative to constantly delight the customer. The Customer Solution Support & Innovation organization exists to provide customers with the kind of world-class support they expect from SAP, and that hasn’t changed.
That’s why I believe we were ultimately successful in adopting a cloud mindset, and it’s this commitment to our customers that we take into every digital transformation we support.
Andreas Heckmann is executive vice president of Product Engineering and head of Customer Solution Support & Innovation at SAP.