I attended the 2018 American SAP User Group (aka ASUG) SAPPHIRE NOW conference in Orlando this past week. This was the largest conference ever in its 25+ year history with over 21,000 SAP customers attending. Throw in SAP employees, vendors, exhibitors, and so forth, the overall attendance exceeded 30,000. What an amazing time. I wrote about my experiences during last year’s conference, “When Hasso Plattner Speaks, Everyone Listens” and I kept the momentum going this year. The theme of this year’s conference, and this applies to all business innovation and not just SAP customers, is the “Customer Revolution.”

 

The evolution of ecommerce and online retail that we all have been witnessing over the past 20 years has driven this customer revolution. Traditional customer buying trends have been uprooted and cast aside, and brand loyalty hardly exists anymore. Customers have at their fingertips the power to alter entire industries and start and stop trends in days if not hours. Much of this change is evident during the comparisons of the top 20 businesses 10 years ago versus today. Google, Amazon, and many others are near the top when 10 years ago they were barely top 50.  So how does this apply to us IT professionals? I will forgo the typical, “IT Is Always Changing Like No Other Time Before, And So Should You!” article (I’ve been reading those articles for 25 years). Instead, what dawned on me during this conference while listening to so many amazing keynote speakers (SAP CEO Bill McDermott, Olympian Lindsey Vonn, Jon Bon Jovi, Condeleeza Rice, President Barack Obama, and too many more to list) is IT’s role in maximizing on this revolution.

 

For one of my presentations during this conference, I spoke about how a specific SAP report designed to identify innovation and business transformation opportunities within your SAP ERP landscape can be used as a conversation starter with your business stakeholders on their participation in upcoming key IT initiatives and projects. I’ve given this presentation several times already this year and I would say that my audience has been predominantly IT.  After my last presentation, I was approached by someone in Finance from a popular global shoe brand. Pym attended my presentation looking for inspiration on how to engage his company’s IT to get their participation on Finance’s initiatives and projects. It appears that Pym’s IT department is reluctant to listen. Honestly, I was caught off guard by this juxtaposition and I found myself with little in the ways of advice to offer Pym. So this had me thinking… what is IT’s role?

 

There are many tangible factors to this evolved IT landscape: virtualization, cloud, mobility, agile, etc. But these are all really only logical conclusions to trying to meet the demands of an insatiable customer base, whether they are internal or external. No matter how much faster, smarter, predictive IT products and services become, the customer will always expect more from them. This journey to IT nirvana never ends. Your accomplishment of reaching the summit of one complex IT project is only followed by the prospect of another, and another after that. I’ve been in IT in various capacities for 25 years. There are two absolutes that I have come to realize: IT will always have more work than they can handle, and the customer’s love affair with technology is tumultuous at best.

 

So back to Pym. I am sure his company’s IT is really busy and is resource constrained. Honestly, what department isn’t? So I asked Pym, “Does your IT view themselves as a customer-focused group?” Pym laughed. “No. But not for lack of trying to work hard. They are busy doing their things and working within their processes.” Pym replied. I followed up with questions on the company’s culture, IT’s mission as defined by the CIO, and his opinion of how well IT communicates. Pym’s responses were typical of a customer that is on the outside and disconnected. Pym’s perception was that his IT was failing to meet the demands of their customers. How does this change? “Change comes from the top!” is the standard response. But that type of culture shift takes valuable time if the staff is looking to the CIO to drive it. Each savvy, career-minded IT professional needs to recognize the Customer Revolution and the importance of being ahead of it.

The IT realm serves as the conduit for business transformation. Technology fuels automation, the analysis of huge volumes of data to identify opportunities which leads to unimaginable improvements in productivity (take a quick pause and reminisce how you were working, and living, 22 years ago), and positive outcomes that continue to move our planet forward. Your role as that savvy, career-minded professional is to take your company’s mission statement to heart. Know your customers and be empathetic to their situation. Be creative in your solutions to solving their problems and removing their roadblocks to success. If you find yourself working in an IT department that is “…too busy doing their things and working within their processes,” then I hate to tell you this, that department is not customer focused and not aligned with the company’s goals. Be a positive voice for change and customer advocate in your department. Improve your critical thinking skills and your emotional IQ. As my former high school principal often said during his morning announcements, “If it is to be it is up to me!” Take ownership of issues, turn them into opportunities, and work for your customers.

 

I realize that this is a lot to ask of you without appearing to ask anything of your customers. Take comfort in the fact that you will be rewarded in knowing your customers while being an active participant in this customer revolution. I will end it this with some inspiring quotes from SAP CEO Bill McDermott, “Innovate your next move! Change has never moved this fast and it will never move this slowly again.” And perhaps my favorite, “We cannot let anxiety detract from opportunity. The new wave of growth in this economy will be at the intersection at the speed of the machines and judgement of the human.” Now get out there and know your customers. Allow their success to be your success. Viva la Revolucion!