SAPPHIRE NOW 2010 Sheds Light on the State of HR…and Gives a Lesson to Us All

Bill Thomas, Executive Director, Europe & Asia Pacific

I attended SAP’s annual market conference, ‘SAPPHIRE NOW’ in Frankfurt yesterday and thought I would share some thoughts on the event.

Firstly, the scale of attendance and very active participation was extraordinary; I don’t know the formal numbers but I would guess 5000 SAP clients, prospects and partners will rotate through Frankfurt this week (with an even bigger parallel event going on in Orlando at the same time).  I observed a ground swell of activity in investment programmes delivering real change and whilst there was a solid underlying theme that trading conditions are tough, the attendees are clearly investing in business improvement, business optimisation and platforms for future growth and agility. I don’t see conditions improving markedly or quickly, but I do conclude there is both cash in the system and that companies are looking beyond the current year.

The panel I joined discussed how HR functions wrestle between strategies of on premise, on demand, Shared Services, HR Outsourcing and hybrids. The key conclusion I took from this session was that whilst there is increasing market awareness of the range of operating models open to an HR function, there remains a real need to help build an understanding of the pros and cons of each model, the commercial models of each, and how to execute on each.

Specifically I talked about how buyers should always start with the end in mind – think about the commercial constraints you operate within, the type of organization you are and what constraints and opportunities that represents, what success looks like for the board and how quickly benefits must be delivered. Also invest in your change programme and start early and finally but critically, invest in your governance function and again start early…

Rate of change is always surprising and really shouldn’t be. There were some interesting extremes of conversations on the floor though – on the one hand ”what’s coming next?” on the other hand “I’m interested in the future, but I need help now with what I already have”. So, whilst adoption of ‘business by design’ had a buzz in one group, another was talking about hybrid operating models coupling both on premise and on demand platforms, and the next was talking about their challenges with operating multinational payroll.

Finally, a lesson to us all, though I am not sure what the lesson is…. The entertainment in the evening was an hour long set by Duran Duran.  A bunch of 50 something Brits, 20 years past their hay day perambulating on stage in Frankfurt endeavoring to entertain some 5000 technology and business professionals with an age range of 20 to 60 years old was always going to be interesting. Setting aside musical preferences, they worked the crowd with trade craft born out of two decades of experience…. It didn’t take long to get going and sure enough Duran Duran had some swaying, if not  indeed some jiggling, going on in the audience. The front 300 or 400 hundred were enthusiastically overhead clapping and of course there was widespread use of the 21st century upgrade to cigarette lighter waving – the mobile phone video camera. So what is the lesson here?  There are more closet ‘new romantics’ in their 50s then we thought? It’s not just kids who want to be rock stars? Could be. My take though is that there is no substitute for knowing your craft – no matter whether you are an IT, Finance, HR, or Procurement professional, a software reseller or systems integrator, an outsourcer, a consultant, an advisor or even a band, substance and talent counts.

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