Yesterday DFOF thought it would be a good idea to have a giggle at my expense. I had a laugh at Larry Ellison’s (CEO Oracle) expense. Some of my friends thought I was way too lame. One even thought I was a ‘pansy’ – whatever that means. In a 24×7 world it was hard to tell if there was any news at all yesterday as the April Fool’s Day jokes kept streaming in.
Today we’re back to normal scheduling. Sort of. DFOF’s riff was to do with me, Trinny and Susanna and virtual worlds. (Don’t ask.) Next week, I will be immersed in a virtual world along with some folk who are far better known and smarter than I. It’s an internal marketing project for 2,000 of SAP’s finest. Among those participating:
In the run-up, Steve Mann (project leader) asked if we’d blog some advance posts. This is what I said about the relationship that has formed between my colleagues and SAP:
It’s a strange experience being part of this merry gathering. I’m the ‘rough house slugger’ of the contingent, an old time hack or journalist who’s been snapping at SAP since 1994 or thereabouts. As someone who ‘grew up’ during the heady days when ERP sold itself and we were waiting for the inevitable fallout from over promising, I recall the days when a meeting with Henning Kagermann or Claus Heinrich were ocassions to savor. They took on the air of a jousting match. Me on one side attempting to get at ‘the truth’ the executive on the other, often trying to hide something.
Even in those days, I had a sometimes grudging respect and secret admiration for the way Henning goes about his business. That hasn’t changed over the years.
Back in the day, SAP was a master of control. We knew that getting anything other than a carefulluy crafted message was going to be hard fought. Fast forward to 2006 when SAP instituted the Blogger’s Corner program. I’ve no idea where the genesis of the idea came from. What I do know is that year, SAP extended its arms out to a group of the Enterprise Irregulars and took them to SAPPHIRE.
The Irregulars are so named after one of our early members, Erik Keller dubbed a motely group of ex-Gartner, ex-PwC, ex-Accenture, ex- and current SAP plus Oracle people who either knew one another or had stumbled across each other via our blogs. We were supplemented by a sprinkling of new technology representatives and well respected journalists like Dan Farber of ZDNet. Erik was the person behind Gartner inventing the ERP moniker which gives you an indication of vintage. Together we add up to a seasoned band of brothers and sisters in arms who know our stuff yet are hungry to learn. Vinnie Mirchandani and I were particularly hard on SAP, taking the buy side position. We still do though perhaps less aggressively than in the past. Back to the plot.
SAPPHIRE 2006 saw SAP take baby steps towards engaging with this band of bloggers who by and large were giving SAP a hard time, often from a position of knowledge but always looking through the glass darkly. By all accounts it was a rip roaring success, with everyone coming back reporting open access and none of the usual command and control antics we’d known so well in the past.
The program quickly took on a life of its own and over the course of the next year or so, various combinations of member were invited to TechEd, more SAPPHIREs and most recently to the GRC event in Orlando. Over that time, we’ve developed a relationship with SAP that’s usually reserved for the Gartner’s and IDCs of this world but in a less formal setting. Unlike the analysts, most of us have no commercial relationship with SAP or if we do, it is very much in an independent capacity. We get good access when topics come up, we exchange thoughts and ideas but throughout we maintain our independence. It’s not unreasonable to say that we’ve grown to respect SAP much more than we would have done in the past without the kind of access we enjoy today.
The big question is does the Blogger’s Corner programme change anything? Yes and no. It is of course a privilege to be counted along with the analyst community but when things are not as we believe them to be then we’ll still call SAP out in double quick time. When BBD was launched in New York, some of us were appalled at the apparent missed opportunity to create a really slick interface. We said so on our blogs. When the customer numbers kept shifting, we drew attention to the fact, probing at sometimes irritated executives who were clearly finding it difficult to articulate a strategy we could parse.
Why would we do this when the hand of friendship had been extended? It’s simple. True friends tell each other the truth as they see it. It isn’t always pleasant and it isn’t always what each wants to hear. But it is necessary to developing mutual respect.
Is this a cost effective use of marketing dollars for a company seeking to reach out to influencers? I’d say yes. One test is the fact that a number of those participating in this project are drawn from the Irregulars. Cynics might say: "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." I disagree. We each have our communities to serve and the better we understand one another, the less likely that misunderstandings will arise. That’s a direct cost saving in reputation and a short cut to ensuring that SAP is fairly reported upon.
As a closer, I’d draw your attention to Wikipedia’s entry for Henning. There you’ll see a group photo. It shows Henning and some of us. I have no idea who uploaded it. I do know it has become something of an unspoken tradition that when we are given the oportunity to meet, a group shot is taken.
There is a kind of irony in the post, which went up this morning on the private SAP site. Henning Kagermann is now joined by Leo Apotheker as joint CEO of SAP. I’m going to enjoy that. Where Henning is the consummate professional manager, Leo brings some sex and sizzle to the table.