Carl interviews Geoff Scott, CEO of ASUG (Americas' SAP Users' Group). As CEO of the largest user group under the SAP banner, Geoff’s vantage point and perspective on technology is unique. With 100,000+ member organizations, the power of ASUG lies in informal partnerships formed through knowledge-sharing and commitment to a common cause. For 25 years, day after day, ASUG members help one another solve problems.
Carl: Welcome to the Connected Enterprise podcast, where our guests share how they stay connected. I'm your host, Carl Lewis from Vision33, and my guest today is Geoff Scott, CEO of ASUG, the Americas' SAP user group. Geoff, you and I know each other well; we've been friends for several years. But tell us a little bit about yourself, ASUG, and the role you play with the company.
Geoff: Thank you for inviting me today, Carl. It's wonderful to chat with you, and as you've said, we've known each other for a while, so it's wonderful to be here on this podcast. As you said, I’m Geoff Scott, and I'm the CEO of the Americas' SAP user group. I've been in this role for five years, if you can imagine that. Before that, I was a CIO at a shoe company in Los Angeles, California. Before that, I was the CIO at a massive food manufacturer in Colorado. Before that, I spent many, many years in automotive in Detroit, Michigan. So, I've been in automotive, food, and fashion, and that brought me to ASUG.
I've been an SAP customer for a long time. I've always been an enthusiastic user of SAP, a believer in the technology, whether it’s Biz One or the ERP in success factors or Ariba or the vast number of products in the portfolio of services and products SAP offers. And my job here at ASUG is, as our mission says, to help both organizations and people. And frankly, I think people are more important. To help organizations and people get the most value from the investments they're making in SAP (which could be monetary, careers, projects, etc.). We all today – you, me, the audience – have invested in SAP technologies in one way, shape, or form. And we want to make sure that investment brings us value and allows us to do the things we need to do. And that's what motivates me and excites me every day about my role here at ASUG.
We’ve had phenomenal success. We’re the largest user community inside the SAP portfolio, with the second largest being the German user group DSAG. And I just love having an opportunity to speak to customers, understand their technology challenges, and learn what they think about how technology helps their businesses. As you and I and everyone on the podcast today is aware of, technology is changing how we do business. And those are conversations, challenges, and opportunities that are really exciting. And that's what motivates me to come to work every day, and hopefully be a great voice and a good resource for all the customers in the SAP ecosystem.
Carl: That's exactly why you're here, and you have a unique job in a unique organization. A user group is one of a kind because there aren't that many out there that are significant like ASUG. And your role, Geoff, working with so many types of customers, thousands of them, that run SAP gives you a unique perspective. And that's why I think your perspective on some of the things I want to ask you today are important and will help people.
So right off the top, you talked about how IT is changing the world we live in. What are some of the big trends in the industry around automation you hear people talking about and doing today?
Geoff: That's a fantastic question, Carl. But I want to back up for a moment. When I first came into technology, I didn’t do it directly. My background and my first job out of college were in accounting. I'm an accountant by education, and, even worse, I'm a tax guy. And I did public accounting for six to nine months and realized I didn't want to a tax guy. What really interested me was technology, so I jumped over into the consulting practice, and that's where it all started. And for me, the driver has always been not the tech itself, but what we as businesses can do with it to fundamentally change how we operate our businesses.
And when I think about that through the lens of it being 2019, the other fundamental shift that's happened (in my view) is that it's no longer about “How do we use technology to make our businesses run better?” It's, “How do we use this technology to help our customers connect with us better?” And that fundamental inflection point happened the day that the internet went mainstream. The day mobile devices and tablets were severed from an ethernet connection and had enough battery power to last for a bunch of hours and could be mostly mobile. The day we opened the first version of the Apple iPhone or the first version of the Android operating system. Even back to our Blackberrys, if folks on the podcast are old enough for that. That feeling of liberation you got.
I remember my first Blackberry, and I remember being on a bus to the airport from the car rental place. And just, wow. I had all this stuff in my hands. And even back then it was all text-based. But now look at what we're carrying around in our pockets, and what we're using to converse with each other, and you can see the world is fundamentally different. And it's about, “How do we put this technology to work?”
So, to your point, automation. Automation is this continuing progression of, “How do we use technology to do the things we used to do by hand that we now want to use computers or other automated means to do?” And it's hugely impactful. It's hugely interesting to me. So whether we're talking about artificial intelligence or machine learning or RPA (robotic process automation), which are things we're throwing around a lot inside the SAP ecosystem these days, they’re tremendous tools that help us do the fundamental thing we want to do, which is use technology to get stuff done better and faster. And how does that help us better connect with our customers? How does that help us understand their journeys better? How does that help us do the things we need to keep our customers satisfied with what we do?
Carl: Very unique perspective on that, Geoff. I like that a lot, because that's kind of where I come from as well. Your journey was interesting.
I started – you'll love this – as a theologian.
Geoff: Yep. I remember that.
Carl: And ended up in IT. So, yeah, it’s an intriguing area of life. And it's all about this value. Of adding value to our lives, not just the business we do.
When you look at all the stuff that's happening, especially as you mentioned here, the ascent of mobility, what do you see as the biggest challenge?
Geoff: I see the biggest challenge we as technology-based teams face is not knowing how to make it all make sense. Customer experience is a topic I started paying attention to a year, maybe two years, ago. The definition you and I and most of our audience think of when we talk about customer experience is buttons on a screen you can touch or click. Or where you put a field on a screen. Or how someone interacts with the app you're building. And that's a part of it, but customer experience is also, “How do you want your customer to interact with your brand? With your company? With what you do?” And the fundamental difference, for me now, is that so much is rooted in technology.
That interaction could be through social media, chatbots, a website, or an app. It could be through automation or sensors; there’s a litany of different ways your customers may be touching your brand every day. And how do we, as technology practitioners, want to make that make sense?
The role of Biz One or back office applications is to be the glue that binds all that together. Glue that’s easy to access and easy to change. And the challenge is, I said the word ‘glue,’ and glue isn’t something you consider tremendously flexible or easy to change. So, I need a better word than that.
The investment we make in this tech becomes the nervous system, the backbone, of our organization. And it must be easy to access. It must be easy to work with. It must be something we can change if we need to. Now, it shouldn't be easily changed, but it should be changeable – and not by taking months of time, outside consultants, lots of dollars to do. This nervous system we operate must be willing and able to embrace everything that's coming at it. How do we incorporate social media? How do we incorporate all the new and emerging tech? How do we think about ways this gives us feedback on our products? How do we think about how customers think about us, and how do we use that to affect the way we think?
You, coming from a theological background, me coming from a financial accounting background, technology has always to me – and I think to you – been a means to the end. And the end is customer experience. How do we use tech to make that the best thing it can be? And that's what I find so intriguing, because you and I could take this conversation a million different ways, but the fundamental thing is to say, “It's not just about Biz One. It's about how does this fit together.”
Carl: Yeah. I've heard of ERP as a platform. ERP is a glue. Maybe it's rubber cement? A little more pliable.
Geoff: Yeah! Something we look at and say, this must constantly change. Because one thing I've learned in watching us, as customers, progress through this SAP ecosystem is, if you're operating 20, 10, 15, 20-year-old technology and you've done a good job of not making it changeable, you're probably woefully behind where everyone else is. And you need to think about how to modernize it to stay competitive. Because our customers are knocking on the doors of our core technology systems and they're not patient. Our customers are not patient people, but they're coming closer and closer and knocking on that door. We must be able to open the door and say, "Come in! Here's what we have for you, and here's why you want us to be a customer for life."
Carl: You know, it’s kind of all about relationships and making them work consistently. Communication is at the core of that. Today, when you look at ASUG and communicating with your constituency, which is primarily SAP customers, how do you do most of your communication? Do you see changes on the horizon?
Geoff: Like everyone else, more of our communication is digital. This isn’t a statistic I'm proud of, but we send 12 to 14 million emails and do 700 to 800 webcasts a year. And when I look at what we're doing, the technology platforms we use and operate are all best-in-class, state-of-the-art. They're not well connected, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. And we all struggle with, “How do we connect all this?” And one of the fundamental things we don't do well but are working hard to improve is, “How do we help a customer through a journey over time?”
So, we have all these tools. We can send out tons of emails. We can host tons of webcasts. But we still struggle with how to talk to our customers in a way that encourages them to respond. And that ultimately comes down to personalization. It comes down to understanding our customers’ journeys better, segmenting those out. Sitting down and saying, "What do you want from your journey in SAP, and how can ASUG help you with that? Let us put a program together for you. Let us help you understand how to take advantage of this technology. Can we help with webcasts on feature functionality? Can we help with professional education? How do we help you connect you better?" And that starts with understanding the customer journey, and where they are and where their heads are. None of this technology will help us with that; it just does a better job delivering it. But it doesn't tell us the ‘why’ we're delivering it, or what people are looking for.
And so, for me, the thing we've really been working on over the past year, and it required bringing in a full-time CMO, is, “How do we connect with the customer?” How do we understand that and make sure we're asking those questions? And that's what starts the relationship. It's not technology. The technology is a piece that empowers it and makes it possible, but it comes back to, “What are you going to do with it? How do you make it work? How do you understand customer journeys? How do you appeal to them?”
And I think we're seeing good results, where if we change the wording in emails, think more about audience segmentation and who really wants to hear this message, we get a better response. We haven't changed the email platform, we've just changed how we use it. And it's harder. Understanding your customers isn’t easy, especially if you’re as big as we are and have most of your customer base in Vision33. You're not talking about five or ten customers – you're talking about thousands or tens of thousands. How do you figure out what that means above the noise? And that’s how all this tech helps. That's where some of the things we're seeing in the SAP announcement of acquiring Qualtrix, some of the other investments that hopefully do a better job of helping us all better understand the customers’ journeys.
Carl: I was going to ask what you think some of the most challenging parts are about communicating with all these critical parties, but you just put that together for us. Talk about trying to discover what each customer’s requirements are and how you segment customers better.
Geoff: What do they need from you?
Carl: Yeah. Exactly.
Geoff: Yeah. What do they need from you? And are you providing it? Those are the important questions.
Carl: Geoff, do you see ways your organizations and others can automate gaining those insights into customers?
Geoff: Yeah. We're starting to watch closely. And obviously, a lot of what we do is connected to our marketing functions, so we use a lot of technology behind the scenes to help us understand clickthrough rates, help us understand this marketing concept of A/B testing. We'll send an email, for example. We'll send two versions of an email to different populations and see which one performs better. We’ll look at how many people are responding to a message. How do we repeat that message and make it better?
So, for us, it comes down to, “How are we using this to motivate people to step into action?” That delete button on your keyboard is so critical, and we’re all inundated with email every day. Every hour. You and I both know, and the audience knows; just look at your personal email account. It's overwhelming how much junk is in there. How do you raise your voice above that and make people go, "Oh, that's who I want to hear from”?
And I have a challenge to you and everyone in the audience. Given the 15 emails in your box at any hour of the day, which one are you choosing and why? Why did you choose that one over someone else's? I bet you it’s brand and customer experience and voice that's driving that.
Carl: And it's what I care about.
Geoff: Yeah. That's what you care about. And that's all connected to it. You care that it's the right message at the right time. And you go, "I'm in. I'll read that."
Carl: Right. How do you guys measure and track that? Do you have specific systems and methodologies?
Geoff: Yeah. There's a lot of tech out there that does a lot of that tracking for us. I hope it doesn't move onto the side of creepy, but we play in a lot of different places. We try stuff on Facebook, on LinkedIn, through email marketing. And the tools are getting sophisticated enough to aggregate it all. We can look at who clicked on a Twitter feed, who did this, who did that. We want to look at that and understand customer behavior. For instance, if we put a particular piece of content out there that talks about a customer journey, who’s connecting to that? And then, as we develop patterns of folks, we get to understand their interests better. And how do we modulate our content to fit those interests? And we’re all leaving bigger digital footprints behind us, and we're using those to understand how we talk to you.
Carl: Right. Right. And before we-
Geoff: Somebody that has SAP tech.
Geoff: We're not getting into that today.
Carl: I hear you. You used a term earlier, CMO. Be sure everyone understands that particular position.
Geoff: Well, for us, that's our chief marketing officer, and what she looks at (and she's an absolute treasure) is, “What are we trying to say? Why are we saying it? How are we saying it?” And trying to get us to a consistent image of what ASUG is. And for us, that's very difficult, because you know as well as anyone how big and broad we are. But we're doing a lot of work around, “What's our brand? What's our brand promise?” Stuff that, as an IT person, has never interested me. But in this role as a CEO, it’s so important to what I'm doing. It's fascinating to think through all the brand impacts. And I would encourage all my technology partners and folks out there who think about technology daily to take this journey and understand brand a little bit better, and how what you’re doing affects it.
Carl: And last, you mentioned a couple of things. You mentioned the SAP acquisition of Qualtrix and this expression of customer experience. Can you tie those two up for us, and what's on SAP's mind for the future?
Geoff: I think SAP is saying that customer experience isn’t about front office or back office systems. It's fundamental and foundational to how we think about our products and services going forward. And Qualtrix allows you to put surveys out in the market to understand how people interact with your company and brand and how to do a better job of doing that. And I think it fundamentally and foundationally changes the way we think about tech.
Carl: Do you think, Geoff, we’ll see some actual ... [inaudible 00:22:06] when SAP acquired business objects, for instance. Suddenly there were a lot of sort of real-time integrations into the ERP products. Do you think we're going to see that with Qualtrix?
Geoff: Great question, Carl. I think so, but I think it's going to be very different. A very different level of integration than we've ever thought about because it's not transactional. It's not a transactional level of integration where you're going to send a transaction and it's going to drive a sales order, or it's going to drive a warehouse pick order, or something like that. This is more about, someone was out there and we sent them a product. And when they opened the packaging, did they like what they saw? Does that impact how we do transactions? Absolutely. Is that data transactional in nature? Absolutely not. And so, I think it's going to be intriguing to watch how we think about integration in that realm, and how we think about how it all comes together.
Carl: Well, Geoff, I really appreciate you participating in this Connected Enterprise podcast. And I'm sure other people are going to be intrigued by things you had to say. It’s way too easy to be long and wrong; I like to say that.
Geoff: That's a great one. Yes, absolutely.
Carl: I like to keep these podcasts short and to the point. And so, until next time, I hope everyone stays connected.