A tour around the sometimes lesser-known elements of the SAP software suite is guaranteed to provide additional insight into how the company has built a whole which has always intended to be greater than the sum of its parts. Come on a tasting menu tour around SAP Ariba, SAP Concur, SAP CX and SAP Fieldglass, with an important side order of SAP SuccessFactors.
In order for a technology vendor to be able to call its IT stack a ‘platform and suite’ it needs to meet a few core criteria. Platforms need to represent a technology base and substrate layer that can be built ‘on and on top of’, which generally necessitates the existence of a functioning set of software tools that align to the platform work surface.
Suites on the other hand need to be composed of a collection of logically related software applications and data services. Often presented with a homogenised user interface layer to breed familiarity and encourage use, the integrated nature of a software suite is designed to provide interlinked and overarching experience for the user.
Although many platform and suite offerings fall into the personal productivity ‘Office’ type category, Adobe’s Creative Suite is clearly a different type of beast, as is the total package offered by SAP.
With its foundations in ERP and technologies that provide functions related to systems of record, SAP has spent a good part of the post-millennial years finessing the structure and components of its suite, often through strategic acquisitions.
Before we look into some of the key tiers of the SAP suite in more detail, let’s make sure we know what some of these software solution components are and where they logically sit together on the SAP family tree.
SAP SuccessFactors is a human capital management and employee experience service. An established organisation in its own right before becoming part of SAP in 2011, SuccessFactors has always kept its core technology proposition and mission intact as an SAP brand.
As a triumvirate of organically connected services, SAP has brought three key acquisitions together into a sub-suite known as intelligent spend management. This suite-within-the-suite features SAP Ariba, a procurement and supply chain solutions package; SAP Concur, a travel and expense management service; and SAP Fieldglass, a services and external labour management solution.
SAP Ariba does not in fact draw its brand name from any reference to a cartoon mouse; it is said to be a neologism coined by a branding specialist. Regardless, the fact that it starts with the letter A, is easy to pronounce and variously translates to words like ‘go’ and ‘upwards’ arguably hasn’t hurt the brand.
Straddling its own estate of sub-services, SAP Ariba breaks down its procurement solutions into five categorised areas: SAP Ariba supplier management; SAP Ariba strategic sourcing for control over indirect spending; SAP Ariba solutions for direct spend to provide the crucial supply chain functionality in this tier; SAP Ariba procurement which perhaps obviously relates to the buying function and SAP Ariba financial supply chain for invoicing.
Managing procurement spend across a more changeable workforce base while spanning an increasingly differentiated and fragile sales marketplace is a tough challenge. Doing so while staying within the boundaries of international regulatory compliance and still reducing costs is an even bigger challenge.
The complexity of these tasks combined with the ongoing shifts, imbalances and disruptions being felt across global supply chains in the wake of the pandemic has driven more organisations to digitalise operations. This is the focal point at which SAP Ariba is intended to be applied in order to orchestrate multi-tier supply chains while managing supplier risk and supply chain disruption.
Organisations now have to emerge from the disruption of the last two years – and indeed the positively disruptive forces created by cloud, data intelligence and mobile ubiquity of the last twenty years – to now being able to protect their brand and protect their employees, customers and partners alike.
In real world operational environments, procurement and supply chain managers are fighting hard just to keep the lights on 24/7. These same team leaders are then also required to simultaneously coordinate spending and policy compliance across different categories, inside smaller time windows and inside what are more fragmented marketplaces.
There are two buzz-phrases that resonate at this level of IT implementation. One is self-service functionality and the other is end-to-end visibility. If organisations can provide a gateway to smart self-service procurement services that offer clear and compliant end-to-end visibility, then they can reimagine their buying experiences.
Fully deployed, SAP says that SAP Ariba customers will be able to create more powerful and scalable execution and procurement processes. These are workplace systems with data-driven abilities to manage more intelligent supplier sourcing and spend analysis, all of which is dovetailed with more sophisticated contracts management.
As SAP itself puts it, SAP Ariba and its sister technologies SAP Concur and SAP Fieldglass come together to deliver modern supplier management capabilities for supplier discovery, qualification and segmentation, supplemented by the automation of the entire order-to-invoice process for touchless, intelligent document exchange with zero processing errors.
As of 2022, SAP Ariba has been reported to support procurement, sourcing and supplier management connections to over five million companies internationally. Some $3.75 trillion’s worth of commerce is reported to flow between the buyers and sellers using the SAP Ariba network.
Prolific enough to have its own television advertising campaign support in the USA, SAP Concur joined the SAP family through acquisition in 2014. Created to simplify, automate and accelerate the process of employee expenses management, SAP Concur Expense sits alongside SAP Concur Travel and SAP Concur Invoice.
By enabling organisations to automate and integrate expenses management, the core technology and business propositions behind this technology centralise around the ability to speed up manual expense reporting and submission. A core feature of SAP Concur mobile, ExpenseIt is a receipt scanning smartphone application that automatically turns photos of travel expense receipts into data.
By connecting to SAP Concur partner applications, employees can further accelerate the process as expenses from services like Uber, Hertz, American Airlines and Marriot Bonvoy are brought across automatically into SAP Concur Expense, complete with their own e-receipts.
With built-in audit rules to highlight exceptions, employees can use SAP Concur Expense to create thorough, complete and accurate expense reports. Managers can then use the SAP Concur mobile app to approve expenses while they are on the move. Desktop-based dashboards offer a way to track expenses against key performance indicators and understand what’s being spent where. SAP Concur also offers direct native integration with SAP solutions across the organisation’s complete stack and suite.
SAP Concur Travel enables employees to work with an automated, integrated corporate travel system that captures travel data wherever it is booked. This solution enables users to make air, rail, hotel and car bookings using one online tool. It then presents consolidated travel data on a single dashboard.
SAP Concur Invoice enables organisations to automate invoice management and gain visibility into spending. A key function within this element of the suite is its ability to
control costs by getting ahead of vendor spending. It also gives employees mobile tools so they can work anywhere, while increasing compliance and reducing fraud.
Like SAP Concur, SAP Fieldglass joined the family in 2014. This element of the suite is designed to simplify how projects with external services providers – from consulting firms to marketing agencies to security companies – are initiated, engaged, managed and offboarded.
The SAP Fieldglass Services Procurement application provides real-time statement of work monitoring and management in a project management office dashboard with an AI-enabled chatbot. This provides the ability to quickly establish and maintain a clear chain of custody for every worker and the tracking of services budget and SOW spends.
SAP Fieldglass solutions have helped customers improve their services procurement processes for engagement with consulting firms, marketing agencies, field services, maintenance and business process outsourcing.
Suites, sub-suites and subcomponents
If there is any validation for the usefulness of the software suite model in this analysis, it may come down to the logical tiering structure that appears to provide the architectural foundation for these software solutions.
We know that SAP is the suite. Further, we know that intelligent spend management is the sub-suite parent of SAP Ariba, SAP Concur and SAP Fieldglass. Squaring the circle of logic then, we also know that each member of this trio has its own set of tributary functions for specific use cases.
Being able to coalesce and integrate all these software assets and artefacts into one higher-level product, service and commercial brand is no mean feat. In that regard, SAP has sometimes been called out for the less agile elements of its total estate, some of which may exist as ‘hangover’ legacy customer deployments connected to acquisition technologies that have now been more centrally evolved into the SAP DNA structure. But that being said, legacy software is software that still works, so let’s not necessarily offer any disrespect there either.
Staying sweet throughout a total software suite is a tough job, but if any organisation gets it right, the end result can be a toothsome delight.
Getting personal with SAP SuccessFactors
There’s an old pre-millennial joke in people management that goes something like: what’s the difference between personnel and human resources (HR)? The answer is: about 10,000 pounds or dollars per year. The joke being that the salary scale in HR is somehow artificially hiked due to its newfangled systems of aptitude and performance management.
That joke no longer works for a number of important reasons. Firstly, we now talk about human capital management (HCM) beyond HR (or HRM) as a wider definition of skills and resources value expressed over time, over an employee’s work lifecycle and over wider enterprise business cycles.
Aside from the fact that the joke no longer works due to inflation, it also falls flat because we now talk about HRM and HCM in the context of not just employee skills, but also workplace experiences and human wellbeing. This is the operational fulcrum where we find SAP SuccessFactors, an organisation that offers what we now need to call human experience management (HXM).
X for experience
SAP SuccessFactors HXM suite is HR or HRM in the traditional sense in that it includes software solutions for core HR, payroll, time tracking, benefits admin and HRM service delivery. But SAP SuccessFactors HXM is HRM in the new sense because it embodies inclusivity so that everyone in an organisation feels supported and empowered.
The new philosophy of work hinges around a core understanding that, even in this digital age, people are everything. SAP SuccessFactors software and tools are built with this fundamental precept at the core; this is a DNA structure designed to drive enterprises to give their employees experiences that set each person up for success based upon who they are as individuals, with their own unique combination of needs, desire and ambitions.
The SAP SuccessFactors HXM Suite provides individualised experiences that keep employees happy, productive and engaged. It includes: employee experience management, with a wide range of employee surveys, feedback analysis and guided action; HR and payroll, with an HR information system, payroll software, self-service HR, time and attendance; talent management, with solutions for recruiting, onboarding, learning, performance management, compensation; and HR analytics and workforce planning, with AI-powered people analytics, scenario modelling, what-if analysis and strategic workforce planning.
The future of work
As public and private organisations now look to re-engineer their workplace mechanics in the post-pandemic shockwave that is only now just playing out, it will be more important than ever to think about how we manage human experience management in the new increasingly remote and mobile world of work.
Now that we can firmly say goodbye to the live-to-work dictum of yesteryear and look towards the work-to-live enlightenment of now and the future, we need to rethink the meaning behind one central fundamental business rule. Experience always wins, but now that’s not just learned historical experience – it’s also human experience for wellbeing, fulfilment and belonging, which ultimately always creates innovation and business success.
SAP CX: the customer is always digitally right
As we’ve established, people are everything. And the customer? Well, the customer
is always right. This age-old aphorism still stands in the age of web-centric cloud-native mobile-ubiquity, but two core factors in this simple equation have changed. First, the path to the customer is now more diverse and multi-channel. Second, the customer journey is now more multi-textured and influenced by a wider number of buying factors.
What this means for modern organisations who want to win customers is more opportunity, but it also means more complexity.
Beyond legacy CRM with SAP CX
Bringing a combination of in-house developed software solutions together with a strategically acquired set of new competencies in the customer relationship management (CRM) space, SAP now offers SAP Customer Experience (SAP CX) as a more holistic solution to customer management designed to go beyond ‘simple’ CRM.
Built to run on the SAP HANA platform and use SAP Fiori user interface technology, SAP CX starts from a foundational understanding that CRM needs to start before, engage more closely throughout and go beyond the point of sale. Customers need to receive a positive experience at every stage of the customer journey and across every one of the preferred channels that they use to engage with an enterprise, large or small.
By bringing together customer data alongside microservices with machine learning, SAP CX sits under the SAP C/4HANA umbrella to power real-time customer engagement across sales, customer service, marketing and commerce.
Five elemental units of SAP CX
Within the breadth SAP C/4HANA suite, we can point to five key functional spheres that come together to create SAP Customer Experience (CX).
SAP Marketing Cloud finds and targets customers with relevant promotions and campaigns; SAP Customer Data Cloud from Gigya helps turn unknown online visitors into known loyal customers; SAP Sales Cloud helps sales reps focus on the right deals most likely to convert into sales and also improves the customer buying experience; SAP Commerce Cloud offers flexible personalised commerce experience and order management; and SAP Service Cloud provides comprehensive control of customer support tickets and interaction experiences.
Intelligent enterprise marketing must now step up to solutions that offer data-driven customer profiles capable of delivering in-the-moment experiences with real-time insight into customer needs, behaviours and intent, all while buyers move across channels.
Fruitful footfall: churn vs. return
What SAP CX is built to deliver is a means of managing the modern multi-faceted buying factors that influence customers in their omni-channel commerce habits. It aims to drive enterprises towards new tiers of hyper-personalisation with trusted, transparent and ethical permission-based first-party customer data exchange. All of which are designed to lead to fruitful footfall in bricks and mortar stores and, at the same time, also concurrently maximise online sales.
In the battle of customer churn vs. customer return, organisations need a way to blend the online and physical world. The customer is still always right, but now we need to make sure that means the right product at the right price, in the right place and at the right time, all with the right service.