The days of casting the great business conflict of the age as one between incumbents and digital natives no longer adequately describe the forces driving change in the market. Instead, the demarcation is between companies that truly understand customer experience and those that do not.

That is the message delivered by Alex Atzberger, President, SAP CX, in the opening keynote of the SAP Customer Experience Live Event which kicked off in Barcelona this morning.

C/4HANA incorporates five clouds: marketing, commerce, sales, service and customer data. Atzberger said SAP’s mission is to provide a common experience, unified data model and platform extensibility for customers using these clouds.

Ancient grudge, new mutiny

In his keynote, the SAP CX chief said digital natives used to be positioned as companies which were born on the Internet with data in their blood, and for whom the normal gravity of the financial markets simply didn’t seem to apply. Incumbents, meanwhile, were painted as anchored in infrastructure, with decades of investment behind them and huge and lumbering supply chains, he said. The conventional wisdom was that incumbents faced being “uberised” or “amazoned

“But then something changed,” he said.

Customers started worrying about privacy and delivery, and trust was lost, he said.

SAP CX President Alex Atzberger on stage in Barcelona

“Suddenly some of the digital natives started building physical assets while incumbents got smart about technology and data.”

“Who is winner and loser, and how will the story end?” he asked.

Atzberger’s contention that the great dividing line in future would be customer experience was building on a key theme from the larger SAP Sapphire conference earlier this year where the company’s CEO, Bill McDermott, said SAP’s goal was to reinvent CRM — which he criticised at the time as too focused on sales and accounts, and not customers.

“Technology is pervasive. Digital does not favour one company — it is a great equaliser. Every company can compete with great data and great CX and by putting the customer at the centre.”

Atzberger said he learned from the genuine CX leaders that they want to move fast, they want to be connected to their customers, and that those customers want a fully connected end-to-end experience.

And, he said, “CX leaders want to build empathy and trusted relationships, and to create loyalty for the long term.”

SAP’s role is to help them move faster, break down data silos and to be compliant and build trust. “Based on these requirements, we stepped back and said there’s a new vision for CRM which is anchored at putting customers at the centre.”

Clarification: SAP CEO Bill McDermott was incorrectly identified as Bill McDonald in an earlier version of this report. The error was corrected subsequently in editing.

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