Upskilling and Access to Market as a Partner Strategy

Access to Market as a Growth Strategy, an interview with DQ Channels, Nitish Agrawal, VP, and Chief Partner Officer, SAP India on their partner strategy

Bharti Trehan
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Nitish Agrawal, VP and Chief Partner Officer, SAP India

Nitish Agrawal, VP and Chief Partner Officer, SAP India

How has SAP's partner strategy evolved in recent years to align with India's rapidly changing technology landscape? 


SAP has been in India for close to three decades now. And the journey of SAP in India has been powered by the partner ecosystem. The last three years, particularly, have been really exciting. As SAP deliberately moved customers to the Cloud for their digital transformation, our partners in India have played a very important role. 

To give you some statistics, when we moved our customers to the Cloud at scale in the last three years, with our rise and off-grid growth motion and the line of business solutions, 85% of the customers were serviced by partners. So what we truly call a partner-led motion. Our indirect share of business also has increased tremendously. And so today the partners are talking to and collaborating with customers across the spectrum. 

Talk about medium and small enterprises, and talk about digital native customers. Today we have more than 40% of the SAP India unicorns who are using SAP's technology and most of them are serviced by their partners. The large enterprise story is very well known to the media already, and of course in the government space. So a truly exciting time with the ecosystem. Okay. 


Could you elaborate on the initiative SAP has taken to train and enable new partners, especially in the context of India's diverse market ecosystem? 

More than 50% of the 4,600 partners in APJ region are in India. Our partners in India are servicing the customers in India, and they are providing a talent pool to the global customers as well. And we understand this responsibility from the SAP side. 

There's a constant need to enable the partners so that they understand the new Cloud story, innovation story, new business AI and sustainability story. There is a very structured program that we have been running and we have only scaled it in the last few years, where we are enabling the partners through learning curriculums. We provide the partners a great opportunity to take the various certifications that SAP provides at a reduced cost or sometimes free of cost as well. And now, the latest initiative is that we are incentivising the partners to bring in young talent from the colleges and getting them in SAP certification. 


Not only from an academic standpoint, but also in terms of what is relevant and what is needed by the customers today, we are constantly working with our partner ecosystem so that they are also as sharp as we expect them to be when they talk to our customers. 

What is the SAP's approach to integrating small-scale or channel partners into its ecosystem and how does this strategy benefit both the SAP and the partners?

India is a mid-market-driven economy. Today, 80% of our customers out of 15,000 are mid-market customers. Hence, our partner ecosystem also is somewhere mirroring a similar construct. While we work with all the largest of the partners in India, a majority of our partners are coming from the niche mid-market origin. 


There's great participation from the smallest of the partners to the largest of the partners in our ecosystem. And our approach is very simple. We just look at partners who have the right attitude, aptitude and hunger to operate in the Indian market, irrespective of their size. We have very compliant, robust mechanisms and processes in place to ensure that every partner gets his or her due based on the merit of the case. 

Today, when we are digitising the journey of the customer from 132 cities - that number has more than doubled in the last two years from 57 cities to 132 now - our partners, especially the niche and the small partners played a humongous role in that journey. So, all in all, it is not about the size, it is about the intent and it is about their alignment with SAP that drives us to do business with them. 

What are the key benefits that partners can expect from joining SAP's partner programme, particularly in India?


The number one benefit is the access to the market itself. Today we are expanding rapidly. A large part of our growth is coming from what we call the net new segment, which never got exposed to SAP earlier. There are organizations with a lower turnover of about even 100 crores, all the way to multi-billion enterprises, who now understand the value of SAP in their growth journey because India is growing, and every organisation is growing. So, what is in it for a partner? The access to the market.

You have got very good sales and pre-sales and the marketing operations team in SAP India that helps them to scale the business. And of course, there is this entire notion of being a part of the India growth story. Because as India is digitizing, and you might be aware that we want to be a $1 trillion digital economy by 2026. SAP has been a digital partner for India for the last 27 years, India cannot imagine growing digitally without the help of SAP and its ecosystem.

And we see that from a position of responsibility. So this entire growth story of India and how partners can contribute to that is another motivating factor. So access to market, a great team at SAP, not only in India but the global team that supports us, and number three, being a part of the broader India growth story are the motivating factors for our ecosystem. 


How does SAP's partner programme contribute to the digital transformation goals of Indian businesses?

Whatever we do today in India, partners have a big role to play. I spoke about 85% of the customers are serviced by their partners. More than 95% of the net new market where we are digitising the customers is being serviced by our partners. For example, Grow with SAP, our S4 on a public Cloud solution, which is the latest cloud ERP solution, is taken to the customers by our partners. I mean, it is completely a partner show. 

So clearly, if you look at what we want to do in India, which is about tapping into the new market, expanding to more and more cities, looking at a segment that has never been digitised before and of course, then nurturing our segment of large enterprise and the government by giving them more line of business solutions so that they can digitize at scale. Everywhere you see that you can't imagine a life without partners in SAP.


Since we are on this topic, there is a huge manpower that is getting into the SAP ecosystem space. Our partners are hiring aggressively because the new need of India is growing. And not only that, if you look at the ecosystem in India, you can't isolate that ecosystem from the global requirements. So India has got 60% to 70% of the global capability centers housed here in India. 

How are ISV ecosystems helping SAP in India? How many ISVs do you have in India? Could you elaborate on vertical-specific ISV alliance success in the last couple of years? 

SAP has the largest ISV ecosystem globally. The reason is simple we have a talent pool in India and our ISP program allows a partner to build an IP with SAP using the platform or by extending the SAP application. Once you create that IP, we provide them digital access using our SAP marketplace called SAP store, and then the entire world and the global market are available to you.

So to that effect, we have got about more than 2000 ISV solutions that are currently in SAP stores and those solutions are being leveraged by customers not only from India but from across the globe to look at multiple areas of digitization. And really if you look at it, ISVs are filling in a very important white space in our portfolio because as an OEM, SAP is innovating at pace, but we can only do so much in terms of meeting all the requirements across 25 industries that we operate in.

These solutions which are leveraging our business technology platform largely are solving some of the niche problems in India as well as abroad. If you ask me a couple of examples, one great partnership that we did with EY was on indirect taxation. So the entire digitisation of the indirect tax solution was built on a business technology platform and we are very proud of that partnership with EY. 

In the last two to three years, we have catered to multiple customers using that solution. Similarly, we have announced a partnership with Deloitte just last year. We are co-innovating on a specific project on sustainability, which is on the sustainability reporting and this will be again powered on SAP Business Technology and Platform. To summarise, if you look at it, we are solving problems of India on sustainability, specific taxation, etc. as well as solving problems in the industry-wide spaces with the help of ISV solutions which are housed in India. 

Can you discuss how SAP's partner philosophy incorporates sustainability and social responsibility, especially in the Indian context?

Sustainability, as I mentioned earlier, we are co-innovating with our partners at scale, being very cognizant of the requirements of the Indian market. As you might be aware, we have built our portfolio on sustainability in SAP in a very nice manner wherein you can now record the transactions, you can report and then you can act.

So the entire process of recording, reporting, and acting is something that we provide using our sustainability suite of solutions. So like I said we are creating packages with our partners that are specific to industries in India and those packages provide you with a fixed scope implementation, which is being taken to the market at scale. Number two is areas like BRSR reporting, which is mandated by SEBI.

These are the areas where we are creating an IP. We're creating a bundled product that can be taken to the market. When you talk about social good, it's a very interesting point you make, because if you look at the ecosystem of SAP today, having thousands of partners and hundreds of selling or channel partners, there is a big responsibility that we think is there on our shoulder when it comes to really doing public good. And how can we do that? Of course, there are so many areas in India where you can elevate the lives of people who need elevation, but we understand our position of strength, which is about digitizing, which is about providing digital education. 

So what we at SAP, along with our ecosystem, do is through various digital programs, we are enabling a lot of students from the underprivileged section of society who can then come to the mainstream where our ecosystem can hire them. So when I mentioned the young talent for which we are giving incentives to our partners. Our strategy is also to look at how we bring in a lot of young talent from the underprivileged section, from the girl children, who could come into the mainstream and play their role as digital enablers. 

Looking ahead, what are the long-term goals for the SAP partner ecosystem in India? How will it adapt to future technological advancements like generated AI and everything is coming together? 

We can't imagine SAP's journey in India or for that matter in any other geography without the help of the ecosystem. And to that effect, it is our responsibility to enable the partner so that they take the latest and the greatest to our customers. It's already happening at scale. As SAP is innovating in areas like business AI, generative AI, niche products and solutions on Cloud solutions, our partners have access to the test and demo environment. 

They have access to the best of the talents and the process available in SAP so that they can also try their hand, they can dirty their hands and then they can implement projects at scale for our customers. So as we go along, we understand that technology is getting more and more disruptive. Change is the only constant, but our ecosystem with a great talent pool that we have in India is helping us take our narrative to our end customers so that the customers can adopt our solutions in a very limited amount of time.

We are also trying to minimise this entire time to value. When a customer buys a Cloud solution, how do you make sure that within a few months and not years, the customer starts seeing the value from a business standpoint? Again, it is not only limited to technology, it is also about the best practices and it is also about the process of understanding. We keep doing a lot of that so that the partners can go to the market. 

Being a digital enabler of India, we also understand that we need to go to the nooks and corners of India. I spoke about 132 cities where we are digitizing the customer's journey. This year, I am very excited to embark on a program which is called Partner-Led Territory. So we have taken out about 13 states and a few union territories, a total of 18 in number, where we will go to the smallest of the customers, and we will lead only with partners. 

You can call it a partner autonomous motion, wherein we go and explore a lot of uncharted territories within India and see how we can bring digitization at scale. 

What advice would you give to the companies in India looking to become SAP partners? Is there any particular size you look in for partners to achieve this size of their SME or their MSME?

SAP has been a very domain, process, content-driven company, because we are living in a knowledge economy. So for me, the first thing that my team and I look for is the partner's understanding of the business, partner's understanding of our portfolio. Because SAP provides a very aspirational value to a lot of partners. I think the basic ingredient is that you must have a basic understanding of enterprise software like SAP, because we have a legacy, and the customers have a certain level of expectation when they use SAP. So that's number one. 

Number two, your team should have an understanding of what are you going after. Because if you come in and join our ecosystem and you want to go and cater to any requirement within India, I think that will be too big a platform to play with. So either you have to focus on industry or a particular domain on a process or a particular geography. Whenever we see that a partner is clear to a certain level about the opportunity that is with him or her, I think these are the two basic ingredients and of course, the team only keeps evolving. So you must start with a team that shows the right level of hunger and aggression to work with the customers and with SAP. So whenever we see that these three dimensions are met, I think we feel very confident in terms of working with that partner.

There are some basic criteria as per compliance that we have to follow in terms of several years of operations, the company should be in good standing. But apart from that, there are no minimum criteria for the size of a partner. Today I am proud to work with a partner having only 10 to 15 employees in the company to a partner which has got a workforce of 20,000 people. So really size is not the qualifying criteria, but of course a going concern, and the three ingredients that I just spoke about are of importance here. 

Do you have a success story of collaboration between SAP and its Indian partners? Like someone who just started with you and has grown exponentially, someone you want to give an example for?

There are many stories of our partners. I'll give you examples of some partners who have grown exponentially with us. And they played a very important role in opening new markets for us as well with our Grow solution, Grow with SAP solution. Some names that come to my mind are SAR Digital. They are one of the largest S/4HANA public cloud partners for us. Few other partners, and I'm sure I'm not naming all of them right now, but a few other partners like Altrox, Westrix, and other partners like Intellect Bizware, Neovatic, et cetera.

These are the partners who actually started their journey with SAP, and now they're growing as SAP is growing along with the customer. We have a huge ecosystem of partners that we work with and we value every partner, but these are the names that came to my mind at this point. 

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