SAP has come a long way in the channel

CDN hosted an executive briefing Tuesday by business software vendor SAP AG where the company made a pitch for channel partners to help them capitalize on what they see as a huge whitespace opportunity. As I listened to the members of SAP Canada’s channel team make their pitch, it occurred to me just how far they’ve come since I first started covering the company.

I attended my first Sapphire – SAP’s annual user conference – in Orlando in 2006, for ComputerWorld Canada. This was a very different SAP. Focused on the enterprise resource planning (ERP) market, and serving the large enterprise market – Canadian companies such as CN Rail – with a direct sales model. I doubt the word channel crossed anyone’s lips.

Over the coming years, SAP would transform on a number of fronts. On solutions, it would grow beyond ERP, largely through acquisition, adding analytics with Business Objects, databse and mobility with Sybase, as well as adding cloud and on-demand delivery models. Along with new solution areas came a move down market, into the midmarket and the small and medium business (SMB) space. And along with new focuses came new routes to market, and a gradual embrace of the channel that would consume the company.

Moving into the midmarket made an indirect model a necessity, but cultural changes don’t happen without a push. The ball really got going in 2007, when SAP brought in Pat Hume, an IBM an Avaya channels veteran, to run global indirect channels. She would bring in former HP channel executive Kevin Gilroy to run North American channels in 2008, and together they would ingrain channels into SAP’s DNA.

It happened step by step. First partners would compete in the midmarket. Then they’d get access to enterprise deals. All deals in the midmarket would be partner-led. Then all deals but a select list of named accounts would be indirect, and the SMB sales and channel organizations were merged to cement the relationship. SAP has set a public target of having 40 per cent of its overall revenue through the indirect channel by 2015, and executives have let slip the internal goal is to actually hit 50 per cent.

If they get there, and they appear to be on track, it will have been an impressive turnaround from a company that had the direct culture in its bones. At Tuesday’s executive briefing, Catherine Perry-Robertson, national vice-president and head of general business sales, channels and ecosystems for SAP Canada, said with the market now understanding SAP is not just complicated, big business ERP anyore, it can’t keep up with demand.

“There’s more demand in the market than SAP is able to meet now with our existing partner base,” said Perry-Robertson. “There’s a huge whitespace opportunity and we need more partners to help fulfill it.”

The demand is coming across the solution stack said Glen Moffatt, SAP Canada’s director of enablement for ecosystems and channels, who spent eight years as an IBM reseller. There’s the traditional ERP space, where SAP plays across business segments and delivery models, as well as analytics, mobility, database and cloud.

SAP is going to be selective in the partners it recruits added Bob Vass, senior manager of channel development with SAP Canada. It wants partners that excel at customer service, have deep technical expertise, and have developed knowledge and best practices in a key industry vertical.

“We need to grow the channel, but we want to do it with the right partners,” said Vass. “We are heavily invested in the channel and that comes right from the top.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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