SAP World Tour Toronto: Morning Keynotes

There was a big crowd out for SAP’s only Canadian stop in its World Tour today: about 900 people in the keynote as Mark Aboud took the stage to discuss how SAP helps companies run their business, and look at the business trends in Canada right now: focus on the customer to create an experience; improve employee engagement by providing them with better tools and information to do their job better, increase speed in operations, managing information and distributing information. He moved on to talk about three technology trends, which echo what I heard at CASCON earlier this week: big data, cloud and mobility. No surprises there. He then spoke about what SAP is doing about these business and technology trends, which is really the reason that we’re all here today: cloud, analytics and mobility. Combined with their core ERP business, these “new SAP” products are where SAP is seeing market growth, and where they seem to be focusing their strategy.

He then invited CBC business correspondent Amanda Lang to the stage to talk further about productivity and innovation. It’s not just about getting better – it’s about getting better faster. This was very much a Canadian perspective, which means a bit of an inferiority complex comparing ourselves to the Americans, but also some good insights into the need to change corporate culture in order to foster an atmosphere of innovation, including leaving room for failure. Aboud is also providing some good insights into how SAP is transforming itself, in addition to what their customers are doing. SAP realized that they needed to bring game-changing technology to the market, and now see HANA as being as big for SAP as R/3 was back in the day. As Lang pointed out, service innovation is as important (or even more so) than product innovation in Canada, and SAP is supporting service businesses such as banking in addition to their more traditional position in product manufacturing companies.

Next up was Gary Hamel, recently named by the Wall Street Journal as the world’s most influential business thinker. Obviously, I’m just not up on my business thinkers, because I’ve never heard of him; certainly, he was a pro at business-related sound bytes.  He started off by asking what makes us inefficient, and talking about how we’re at an inflection point in terms of the rate of change required by business today. Not surprisingly, he sees management as the biggest impediment to efficiency and innovation, and listed three problematic characteristics that many companies have today:

  • Inertial (not very adaptable)
  • Incremental (not very innovative)
  • Insipid (not very inspiring)

He believes that companies need to foster with initiative, creativity and passion in their employees, not obedience, diligence and intellect. I’m not sure that a lot of companies would survive without intellect, but I agree with his push from feudal “Management 1.0” systems to more flexible organizations that empower employees. Management 1.0 is based on standardization, specialization, hierarchy, alignment, conformance, predictability and extrinsic rewards. Management 2.0 is about transparency (giving people the information that they need to do their job), disaggregation (breaking down the corporate power structures to give people responsibility and authority), natural hierarchies (recognizing people’s influence as measured by how much value they add), internal markets (providing resources inside companies based on market-driven principles rather than hierarchies, allowing ideas to come from anyone), communities of passion (allowing people to work on the things for which they have passion in order to foster innovation), self-determination (allowing freedom to move within corporate control structures based on value added), and openness (external crowdsourcing). Lots of great ideas here, although guaranteed to shake up most companies today.

The only bad note of the morning (aside from having to get up early, rent a Zipcar and drive through morning rush hour to an airport-area conference center far from downtown) was on the Women’s Leadership Forum breakfast. Moderated by a Deloitte partner, the panel included a VP of Marketing from Bell and Director of Legal for Medtronic. Where are the women in technology? Where are the women entrepreneurs? The woman from Bell, when asked about lessons that she could share, started with “work harder, every day – just that extra half hour or so”. That is so wrong. We need to be working smarter, not longer hours, and we need to take time away from work so that we’re not focused on it every day of our life if we expect to show true innovative leadership. About 20 minutes into the conversation, when the moderator turned the talk away from business and started asking about their children, horseback riding and the dreaded “work-life balance”, I left. What other business leadership forum that didn’t have the word “women” in the title would have included such topics? Quite frankly, this was an embarrassment.

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