Q&A: Robert Enslin, president, SAP North America

NEW YORK — A 16 year veteran of SAP (NYSE: SAP), in his current position as president of SAP North America, Robert Enslin has the challenge of steering the enterprise resource planning and business intelligence software vendor’s North American wing through a trying economic period, and once that is changing the way in which companies buy, implement and use business software.

During the vendor’s recent SAP World Tour stop in New York City, Enslin sat down with Computer Dealer News to discuss SAP’s Canadian business, the changing nature of the BI software business, what that means for the channel model, and the competitive landscape.

The following is an edited transcript of that conversation.

Computer Dealer News: How is SAP’s Canadian business weathering the current economic climate?

Robert Enslin: I think the market in Canada is doing pretty well. Our business in Canada is pretty strong. They’re in line with last year, and that’s positive in today’s market. We’ve done very well in manufacturing, utilities, consumer packaged goods. It’s the industries that are strong in Canada where SAP is very strong. Outside of the U.S., India, China and Germany, Canada is probably our biggest investment in research and development resources and people. We’ve made big investments in Canada, and they’re good investments in good people.

CDN: How do you approach the SMB-dominant market in Canada?

R.E.: We’re very successful in countries that operate with a large SMB practice. SAP is the dominant business applications provider in the SMB in Canada, New Zealand and Australia. We’ve had success not only in Canada but across multiple geographies in the world in the SMB market. What makes a difference is there’s a completely different way of implementing software for an SMB versus a large enterprise. The most glaring difference is when you work with an SMB, you’re working with the business owner and decision maker and they can make decision quickly. With large enterprises its consensus driven, but can SMB can implement very quickly For me, it isn’t the size of the company but how they make decisions.

CDN: What are some of the challenges you’re hearing from your channel partners as they go to market in this economy?

R.E.: Our technology partners are looking at adding the Business Objects portfolio and looking at how to put ERP and CRM on iPhones and BlackBerries and make it consumable. For the systems integrators (Sis) it’s about small projects and quick projects. Customers want quick returns and they want success now. The biggest Sis have adjusted their plans and approaches to that desire. That’s how we’ve all adjusted our businesses. Big transformation projects are just not that bountiful right now. I don’t know if they’ll come back, and that may not be a bad thing. Today it’s all about consumables, go live quick, fast return. You need to be careful though to avoid the spaghetti approach with many disparate projects. As businesses implement short-term projects, we need to help to make sure everything maps-out right to a strategy over three-to-four years.

CDN: How has the acquisition of Business Objects, a company with a more deeply-ingrained channel culture, changed SAP’s go to market and channel approach?

R.E.: I think it’s been a phenomenal acquisition, both platform and culture. It has enhanced SAP and made us a better company. I think the two together have been just tremendous. It has helped us in areas of the business where we had very little experience, such as inside sales, and suddenly we have a platform. It has helped us in many ways. We’re driving more products through our inside sales organization. We’re expanding our distribution model. We’re expanding their channel to focus on parts of our portfolio. I have zero negatives around this. If there was a business case study they’d be amazed at how successful this has been.

CDN: How is this new short-project model changing the way you work with partners?

R.E.: We’re helping our partners develop more consumable solutions in areas such as liquidity management and price management, areas everyone is focused on right now. Many partners are saying there are business solutions I want to put together, I’ll wrap in some consulting, and here’s the cost so it’s very clear. And they’re selling that to the line of business. We call it Best Run Now packages. There’s a lot of partners that have come up with their own version of what they believe is important by industry or by market. Spend analytics is the most popular one.

CDN: Among your competitors, Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) has been very active on the acquisition front. Does SAP see more opportunity for consolidation, and would SAP be involved?

R.E.: What are you going to consolidate? The big players have been consolidated in our market. We’ve actually made some cool acquisitions. After Business Objects, the one that comes to mind is Highdeal; it’s a small company that does digital assets and billing. We want to go after companies that have innovations or would fill specific needs.

I’m not certain though that it’s in the next interests of a company to have the full vertical stack (of applications, such as Oracle). I’d be worried about where the innovation comes from. If you own everything can you really innovate and really help your customers five years from now? That would be my question.

We much prefer having business networks, having partners and growing our business together with partners. And we love to invest in small companies and do venture capital, maybe help them be successful. Maybe some become part of SAP, maybe some don’t. We have great partnerships with Open Text, with Research in Motion. Partnering is how you create the next generation of ideas that will help the world.

CDN: What are the next competitive differentiators for SAP and its partners?

R.E.: With SAP Business Objects Explorer, I think information and the use of information will have an impact, not just on clarity but the speed at which decisions are made. You can’t afford five days (for an answer or a report) in this market. In retail, you better have all the right products for the next five months because if you get it wrong in that industry, you might not make it. It’s about speed today, and if you can’t operate at that speed today you’ll just be a participant.

CDN: What are one or two Greenfield opportunities you’d like to see partners take advantage of?

R.E.: Partners are usually the ones coming to us with the opportunities they’re driving. They’re very innovative. CRM in the cloud is one that one partner is doing, they have many customers and it’s a low cost of entry. Our partners are pretty innovative in driving what they need from us.

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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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