If you ask newly-appointed SAP Canada Inc. president Michel Brisson what he thinks about doing business in Canada, he’ll tell you a story about his father the car salesman.
“”He always said that the more cars (he puts) in the showroom, the more difficult they were to sell,”” says Brisson.
It’s a valuable lesson, considering that SAP is streamlining some its solutions and coming out with a product specifically aimed at the small business market.
Canada may be a market of small and medium businesses, adds Brisson, but the challenges it faces are no different from those of other nations. He should know: he started working at SAP six years ago for the company’s office in France and has since consulted for Japan, Sweden, Finland and Norway. But Quebecois Brisson is home now. He spoke to Computing Canada about what Canadians can learn from European business practices and to how to avoid another Sobeys nightmare.
Computing Canada: What’s your approach to the Canadian market? You’ve worked in territories like France and Japan. Are there any key differences?
Michel Brisson: It doesn’t differ that much. Over the last few years we were privileged in America, especially in Canada, to get our hands on large customers that were looking for the kinds of values that SAP solutions were bringing forward. On a worldwide basis, SAP has been in Europe now for 25 or 30 years.
The big deals that we had coming in on a regular basis had been all done or mostly done in Europe for the last four or five years. There was a lot of work to position ourselves for medium-sized enterprises and smaller-sized contracts. I believe right now, in terms of software solutions, Canadian medium-sized enterprises are looking at the kinds of solutions we have. The expertise I have on the European side was basically having my hands on so many deals in the pipeline — that’s what I feel I’m bringing back from my expertise in Europe.
CC: How important will the SAP small business suite be to Canada, which is largely a market of small and mid-sized companies?
MB: Most of the time when I meet a president, he never introduces himself as a small business president. Everyone introduces themselves as a unique manufacturing company or a unique subsidiary. I believe there’s a lot of business in the medium-sized enterprise in Canada where we have a complete portfolio of solutions. Whether it’s the mySAP solution or whether it is the new ERP or mySAP enterprise solution.
Within large enterprises, not every owner thinks integrated, but in the medium-sized market, each president or CIO or CFO has to think integrated.A large enterprise has the ability to find the budget if it goes beyond the original requirements, which is not the case with a medium-sized enterprise. They want value for their money.
That’s where we have been more competent, I would say, in Europe than I’ve seen in Canada. It’s that second step where we make sure the customer, at the end of the project, will have value for his money. That’s the question I’m always asked about.
CC: At the most recent Sapphire conference, it was mentioned that some of SAP’s offerings will be slimmed down to get rid of extraneous features. How will that change your approach to the market?
MB: With the type of clients we’ve had over the years, we’ve spent a lot of effort in developing vertical solutions, added applications (like) PRM and CRM. We need to do this to make sure we keep our optimal customer service.
We are coming out with pre-configured solutions which are going to be able to match to smaller enterprises. At this point in the game, we are not asking the customer to pick up something in our solution suite, but we are trying to make sure we match the customers’ requests. Every one of our customers is not thinking about their own company, but about the concept of extended enterprise, which is: ‘My supplier and my customer needs to be linked to me.’
CC: Do customers want an end-to-end solution or are you selling SAP solutions more piecemeal where you have to integrate them into a heterogeneous environment?
MB: I’m seeing less customers buying the complete solution in one shot. It used to be common where we’d have a customer buying a full mySAP.com suite who would say, ‘This will cover my 3,000 employees for the next three years.’ I’m also seeing less of people buying high-tech because it’s high-tech. People were buying what was fashionable.
In today’s environment, I don’t see customers making it a big deal up front. I see customers saying, ‘Here’s the first 300 users.’ A trusted relationship (with customers) in today’s marketplace is not established in one shot. Selling today is a bit more complex, because you need to participate with the project leaders in the company on the project. To me, it’s a healthy way to do business.
CC: Is there are particular market you’re targeting in Canada or any vertical that SAP doesn’t play strongly in right now?
MB: I’ve been away from the Canadian market for the last three or four years. I’m meeting with my top level management in the next couple of days. It varies from region to region. We’ve got the federal government, but we’ve lost the provincial government. I still need to do some solid positioning in the financial market. Traditionally I’ve always been very, very strong in the process industries. I intend to stay very competitive.
CC: How is SAP going to lean on the large integrators to sell and roll out projects? SAP Canada said a few months ago it needed to get them more involved in order to complete projects.
MB: We’ve had no change in philosophy. For years and years we’ve leveraged our business partners. It’s not only the Big Five integrators. We have many more business partners that are helping us implement projects. Will that change? The answer is no. I think over the years we’ve solidified our relationship with partners.
I see the Big Five searching avenues in terms of offering (outsourcing) to their customer base. The dynamic is basically changing. It’s not going to be vendors offering traditional customers the same old solutions. All of that is changing.Our business partners are going to try to find ways to increase their own business and we see ourselves participating in this fully.
CC: Last January, Sobeys pulled the plug on its SAP ERP system, claiming it crashed the Sobeys database. How are you going to avoid similar incidents?
MB: That’s the million dollar question. Every time we sell a solution, we have task forces and people discussing the methodology that we’re going to use with the implementation partners. Sobeys was a very complex project. It was managed by a lot of people with the greatest intentions, but somewhere along the line we didn’t make it as much a success (as we’d hoped for). We needed a bit more time to make it a success.
Most of the time, it’s not only the software, it’s a combination of the software, change management, hardware and implementation partners. I see success when I look at (SAP customer) Pratt & Whitney. There’s many, many customers that have it right the first time. With Sobeys, the key issue was we did not have it right the first time. Due to the complexities of the project, there’s always a risk . . . but rest assured that we’re putting effort in to make it right.