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SAP + hybris is ALSO about The CEM Imperative

experience2Although it’s software rather than services this time, yesterday’s announced acquisition of hybris by SAP is just as much about customer experience management (CEM) as the recent fusion of Accenture and Acquity. (Which I blogged about here.)

That claim doesn’t require deep analysis, since it’s the fundamental justification for the purchase (terms not disclosed) offered in the official press release: “With hybris, SAP has made a decisive move to raise the stakes in customer relationship management and define the next generation customer experience.”

The press release calls hybris a “recognized leader in e-commerce technology” — which is a convenient way to slot the company into a familiar software category, but which will sound like finger nails on the blackboard at hybris headquarters. Brian Walker, the hybris senior vice president of strategy (and my old colleague at Forrester Research) has argued passionately for many years that it’s long past time to drop the “e” from e-commerce. Since virtually all commerce is digital — or significantly influenced and supported by digital platforms and insights — treating internet-related transactions as a separate realm is nonsensical. hybris calls itself a “commerce technology company.”

But Walker also rejects the other popular modifier, “multichannel commerce,” arguing that traditional channels have been joined by multiple other “touchpoints” — apps, social sites, interactive advertising, etc. — and accessed on a growing number of connected devices. The growing consumer expectation is for consistency and transparency across every touchpoint — what we at Digital Clarity Group call “de-channeled” customer engagement. And the expectation (soon, demand) applies beyond commerce sites and transactions to every interaction with a company or brand.

Creating and sustaining customer-facing “systems of engagement” requires that they have access to “systems of record” — the enterprise applications and repositories that form the deep infrastructural backbone of modern business. (Geoffrey Moore originated the distinction and explains the concepts in this video, which coincidentally was delivered at an SAP-sponsored event.) SAP’s core ERP applications are the poster child for such systems of record — and, harsh as it sounds, this child is far from adorable. Entire companies — not to mention SAP’s own NetWeaver portal business — exist almost solely to make SAP’s core applications less user hostile.

SAP states they will initially enhance hybris with their “big data” HANA in-memory database and analytics, as well as the SAP Jam social tools. Those are the right steps to get more much-needed intelligence and insight into (content) marketing. But the real payoff will come when they provide the split-second communication with the ERP, CRM, supply chain, and other “deep” systems that is demanded by systems of engagement.

Making systems of record fast and flexible enough to fuel engagement is a massive challenge. The combination of SAP and hybris offers them a leading position in the battle for superior CEM — assuming they have the courage, and can resist treating hybris simply as an upsell opportunity for SAP shops.

Courage, or arrogance? hybris was founded in 1997 in Zug, Switzerland. That’s in the German-speaking part, and “Hybris” is, quite simply, the German word for “hubris” — the transgressive trait of extreme pride, exaggerated self-confidence, presumption, and arrogance. (Perhaps hybris was fated to be acquired by Larry Ellison?) The German Wikipedia entry for Hybris features an engraving by the German artist Hans Sebald Beham from 1549 (reproduced above). A muscular man pulls at a tree trunk; above his head is written “impossible.” The right margin contains the moral of this emblematic image: “Niment under stesich groser Ding, die im zu thun unmuglich sindt” — meaning roughly, “Don’t attempt great things that are impossible for you.”

But there are two problems with this warning against hubris. First, the tree trunk is insufficiently stout — the man’s task hardly looks impossible. (Was CrossFit training available in 1549?) Second, in this era of accelerating change, empowered consumers, ubiquitous connectivity, social transparency, device proliferation, budget reductions, mismatched skill sets, data silos, incomplete insightsmarketing turmoil, and a widespread paralyzing fear of failure, a dose of hybris is just what’s needed — as a character trait, and perhaps also as a software solution.


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