SAP CMO on sustainability and the partnership ecosystem

Image courtesy of SAP

Julia White, Chief Marketing and Solutions Officer at SAP, is passionate about technology – specifically the B2B cloud – digital transformation, and storytelling. She joined SAP in 2021 after spending nearly 20 years at Microsoft. Most recently, she was Corporate Vice President of product marketing for Microsoft Azure, helping grow the business to become the world’s second largest public cloud.

Thus, it is no surprise that White leads SAP’s product and industry solution value propositions, go-to-market approach, global brand and digital marketing, corporate communications, and government affairs.

White addressed the media at this year’s SAP Sapphire Now technology conference to talk about working through the pandemic, SAP’s various solutions, anything as a service innovations, and what she is looking forward to in 2022.

It would be great to get your perspective on what you’ve observed regarding how SAP customers worked through the pandemic, particularly with an emphasis on the SAP product portfolio and platforms. 

We saw that when the pandemic first hit, people were doing quick fixes like moving to cloud infrastructure or using creating a no-code application on top of the business process. But obviously, transforming their business process is what’s needed, so things like our RISE with SAP offering, and the extension of that into industry and modular ERP really helped with that business transformation as a service, to do it more rapidly and get at the heart of the business processes, not just around them.

You can include Sapphire as well, but that’s our platform strategy. I think there’s something that Christian Klein (SAP’s CEO) laid out before I joined, but it’s very coherent in terms of how you get that extensibility. It’s how you get the integration across all of the SAP applications and the data and analytics across. You heard us talk a lot about the business technology platform and that’s why that coherent platform strategy underpins all of our applications.

Is SAP’s GreenToken tool specifically and only for supply chains? Or will you introduce in more markets to measure the CO2 footprint of products and materials?

With GreenToken specifically, it was a project we did with Eastman Chemical to see if we can get that harder-to-reach part of the supply chain visibility and transparency into sustainability, and learn. That’s what helped us do and see what’s possible so we can expand from there.

In general, I would say this is the beginning of a journey and we have a lot more opportunities to go as we vary with working hand in hand with customers, so that we can do this the right way. Because these are complicated business processes that are multifaceted, right? It’s part of your entire supply chain, part of your business network. You need to make sure we’re doing it the right way.

How does SAP’s Business Network fit with the marketplace strategy that you have? 

The Business Network works in terms of bringing the supply chain parties together into that ecosystem, and making sure there’s great value for the buyers, for the suppliers, and driving new business and new opportunities through it. That’s the ecosystem unto itself.

We announced our industry capabilities and talked a lot about the business technology platform, and a marketplace of applications that extend your ERP into all of these vertical solutions. That part is the marketplace. We’re akin more to Salesforce’s marketplace on that side of it. So, related but two distinct areas that we’re moving into.

There are many smaller partners who help customers with connecting SAP applications to their environments. How do these partners fit into the picture for SAP going forward?

Our integration partners continue to be incredibly important. I think the work they do and the skill set do need to evolve. What you do on-premises is different from how you do it in the cloud.

A lot of the work we have with our partners, particularly the services partners, is getting them trained, competent, and capable on our cloud offerings. So that as they’re doing their integration and working with their customers, they have the right skill sets and modify their approach, and business models around it as well.

They continue to be very important, both the services partners, who are going to do the integration work, but also the application partners, input service distributors, and extension partners, who are building on and extending our cloud solution.

Given the new offerings featured this year in Sapphire Now, what other “anything as a service” innovations do you see in the next three to five years?

I think in three to five years it will become mainstream – being able to look real time at what your business processes are, and actually looking creating a digital twin of them, and then doing the optimisation, and then adjusting it.

If you think farther out, five years from now, I hope we’ll start to see something like quantum compute coming in. As we look at sustainability and the algorithm, the things we’re trying to solve there, we’ll have a different kind of compute to help us.

Which industry will SAP’s priority be to build connectivity? SAP has been focusing on strengthening the connectivity in the ecosystem. Can you elaborate more about the importance of that?

We have expertise in over 20 industries, so we’re doing a lot today. At our Sapphire announcement we have five focus areas for the RISE with SAP industry offerings. So those offerings bring together SAP first-party solutions, as well as our ecosystem solutions.

The partners are very much part of that industry solution. I do think we have a lot of industry depth. I think you should expect us to do more across industry offerings. It’s a combination of curating what we do first-party as well as the ecosystems. I think that’s an area where we’re really focused on providing better clarity to our partners. What is SAP going to build and what is the partner opportunity? 

I think sometimes in the past we haven’t been as clear and consistent, so that’s certainly feedback we’ve gotten and are very explicitly taking it, with a transparent roadmap approach with our ecosystem. So the partners know where we’re focused and which on parts of the industry areas they should focus.

Given the unprecedented nature of COVID-19, how has it helped you think about developing software resilience and readiness for potential black swan events?

There’s a lot to that. When you’re building with cloud technology, that certainly helps because you have access to that infrastructure when you need it. Obviously the company had to get our entire development team remote and yet still working, collaborating, and building against the same code tree. So certainly, growth that’s happened there will be enduring.