I read a few tweets today about how SAP does “global well” and how SuccessFactors reflects it. My reaction was technology vendors, not just SAP, are actually inconsistent when it comes to global matters compared to companies like Unilever or Coca-Cola or Siemens.
Every few years I will get a jarring reminder. In the mid 80s, I was on a project implementing a US HR and payroll product in Saudi Arabia. Customizing for “multiple wives” and the varied benefits for each class of expat there was challenging to say the least. In the late 90s I worked on an SAP R/2 project in the UK. Back then doing so without German speaking colleagues was suicidal given very little of the documentation was in English. At Gartner, in the late 90s, I got to see the trajectories of Baan, J.D. Edwards and others as they expanded outside their home markets. Over the last decade as global outsourcing took off, I have been surprised how unsophisticated IBM and other “global” firms were and how in turn the Indian firms struggled to move to “global delivery” beyond India. Hardware supply chains at HP, Apple and others have evolved pretty well globally, but software and services have been much tougher to consistently globalize
SAP had a phenomenonal sales track record in many global markets particularly from 1995 to 2010. But delivery wise, it has not been that impressive.
a) Countless customers have adopted two-tier strategies – deliberately avoiding SAP implementations in many markets
b) SAP’s struggles in coordinating R&D between Walldorf, Palo Alto, Bangalore and other centers are well documented
c) SAP showed little ability to manage its Indian partners. The impressive delivery and continuous improvement record that customers like GE had taught those firms in the 90s, were almost completely lost in SAP world in the next decade
d) Compared to the global network of data centers Amazon, Google, Microsoft and others have been pioneering in off the beaten path locations, SAP and its hosting partners have lagged both in scale and sophistication.
As SaaS vendors go, SuccessFactors has had a fairly successful global run. To say SAP helped make it global is actually a bit unfair to its early leadership.