Inspirational Leaders SAP UKI Interview: Chris Gabriel At Sapphire Systems Discusses Cloud ERP In The Mid-Market


Chris Gabriel is Chief Strategy Officer at Sapphire Systems, an SAP Gold Partner headquartered in London which predominantly focuses on mid-market companies (with up to 1,500 employees) in the UK and US.

Sapphire was the first UK SAP partner to sign a customer, Briggs of Burton, to the innovative RISE with SAP business-transformation-as-a-service. Sapphire also won the SAP Intelligent Enterprise Competition 2021 for EMEA & MEE for its Smart Rentals Platform. The platform uses blockchain, natural language processing and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to quickly match up construction companies with the equipment they need.

We caught up with Chris to discuss Cloud ERP in the mid-market and to discover the values and vision of Sapphire Systems.

SAP UKI: Tell us a little about yourself, Chris.

Chris Gabriel: I live in Newbury with my wife, who is a Five Elements Chinese medicine acupuncturist and herbalist, and my two daughters aged 18 and 14. We also have a cocker spaniel, Fearnley, who we named after Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall because cooking is one of my passions.

SAP UKI: Could you give a brief overview of your career before joining Sapphire?

Chris Gabriel: I studied at one of the first ever ITEC colleges in the UK. Margaret Thatcher was visiting our college and I was chosen to present to her. I had 24 hours’ notice and she was sat about three feet away from me. After that, nothing ever fazed me again.

I became an apprentice at a local technology firm which sold some of the first mid-sized computers to hospitals and pharmacies. Since then, I have worked for vendors, channel partners and SIs in the UK, US and in Moscow.

SAP UKI: Why did you join Sapphire Systems?

Chris Gabriel: I got a call from the Chairman of Sapphire, Trevor Rollswho I used to work with. I went in to meet the team at Sapphire who were both incredibly nice people, extremely capable but also genuinely passionate about what the company was doing for its customers. I found it inspiring that Sapphire’s focus is on what the world will be in the next ten years and how to prepare their customers for that future.

The impact you can make in a mid-market business with Cloud ERP and some of this new, intelligent technology is phenomenal. For example, you can have a major impact with RPA if you’ve only got two people in your Accounts Payable team and you’re then able to give one of them extra time to focus on the business. Sapphire has over a thousand customers, so we can make a really big difference to so many companies.

SAP UKI: What are Sapphire Systems’ core values?

Chris Gabriel:  Innovation has always been important to us. We always want to explore innovation that benefits our customers. For example, we’re doing an intelligent transport project where buses can create their own maintenance schedule to optimize its efficiency and lifetime. That all feeds back into a Cloud ERP system, such as SAP S/4HANA or SAP Business ByDesign, which creates real-time budgets and uses blockchain to generate an auditable history.

We’ve got a team now dedicated to developing RPA automation for our customers. We’re one of the first five companies in Europe to have access to the SAP Business ByDesign RPA technology. So, we’re currently very focused there and our customers are excited about the positive impact it can bring to their business.

Sustainability is also at the heart of Sapphire. We’ve been carbon neutral for three years now and have won awards for that. We’re looking at sustainability in our customers’ supply chains, and the impact that things like automation will have. We take sustainability incredibly seriously, and we also act on it.

We are working hard to help our customers create ‘sustainability platforms’ to connect Cloud ERP with assets via IoT sensors and to link people and resources. These platforms can drive transparency and traceability in areas such as the emerging energy market and manufacturing processes.

SAP UKI: What is Sapphire Systems’ vision for the next few years?

We think it’s going to be a very Cloud-orientated future with an increasing focus on lifecycle services. We want to keep evolving as that lifecycle partner who continually works with our customers over the long term.

Generally, mid-market companies have too much friction in their businesses: in their processes, people, products and services, so we want to help them remove that and create greater digital momentum.  To do that, we are becoming more inquisitive about our customers’ wider business challenges.

We think our industry focuses too much on the ‘go live’ date and not enough about what happens next.  For that, you have to think ‘Cloud first’.  A Cloud ERP system can last forever, change continually and adapt as the business using it adapts. But how many partners stay with the customer forever to help them evolve? We want to be that partner.

SAP UKI: What Cloud ERP trends are you seeing in the mid-market?

We did a customer survey at the start of this year around how our customers have coped through COVID and what their plans were. Whilst everybody wanted to be using more data, and using it better, they also wanted to be more adaptable and efficient. To this end, 90% of our customers said they were looking at considering or currently deploying automation RPA.

What’s interesting is that whereas most mid-market customers used to ask us to replace their ERP with a more intelligent Cloud ERP or hybrid system; a like for like replacement, . more recently, the conversations have changed to, “How can I transform either the function, operations, finance or my entire business?”. But they want to transform in a way that is manageable, via smaller projects that deliver faster ROI.

We’re becoming far more consultative, and then trying to package that up in ways that customers can easily consume it. There’s no point having a big, expansive conversation if you then say, “By the way, it’s really difficult to do and it’s going to take you ages and cost you four times more than you thought.”

We no longer start with asking new customers, “How many ERP users do you want?”. Instead, we’re looking at how can we help them to transform their people, process and platform and explore how automation and data is going to change their business over the next five years. Also, what’s changing in their industry and the world at large, and how they can adapt and future-proof.

Are you a small or midsize business based in the UK or Ireland? Find out more about Cloud ERP for SMEs.