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SAP Channel Chief Karl Fahrbach: 2020 A Year Of Channel Execution, Expansion

After one year as SAP chief partner officer, Karl Fahrbach’s goals this year include expanding partner ecosystem capacity, growing the number of channel consultants with SAP expertise, and increasing resources for partner-developed software and services.

Karl Fahrbach has been SAP’s channel chief for one year, much of which he has spent traveling around the world, attending partner council meetings, engaging with partners and listening.

For 2020 Fahrbach, who in March 2019 was named the giant software company’s first chief partner officer, is promising more activity in expanding the partner base and providing more resources to improve the partner experience and help them innovate.

But the listening doesn’t stop. In an interview with CRN shortly after the start of the year, Fahrbach was still on the road, attending sales kickoff meetings in Barcelona before moving on to other regional and country-specific partner council meetings and SAP sales events in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world.

[Related: SAP Channel Chief: We’ll Remove The Barriers In Digital Transformation Quest]

“I believe 2020 will be the biggest year, by far, for SAP partners,” he said. “2019 was very good for SAP partners, but 2020 will be the year of partnering for SAP.”

Fahrbach, a 14-year SAP veteran, was global head of channels and chief operating officer of the Global Partner Organization before being named chief partner officer following the late 2018 departure of Rodolpho Cardenuto.

SAP’s channel partner base has grown by more than 10 percent to 21,000 partners in the past year during Fahrbach’s watch. New partners include Tek Analytics, a Schaumburg, Ill.-based solution provider that joined SAP’s PartnerEdge program as a Gold partner last year; and Dust Identity, a Framingham, Mass., application developer that joined PartnerEdge when it made its Dust Ledger software available on the SAP Cloud Platform Blockchain service.

“This demonstrates our strong commitment to the SAP PartnerEdge program and reinforces our long-term relationship with both our customers and SAP account teams,” said Bharat Sunkari, CEO and managing partner at Tek Analytics, in a statement. “We now offer our customers an end-to-end hosted service for SAP solutions, from software acquisition to ongoing support.”

SAP is itself now under new leadership: Bill McDermott stepped down in October to take the top job at ServiceNow and the company named executive board members Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein as co-CEOs.

Fahrbach has met with Klein and Morgan (they interviewed him last year before he was appointed chief partner officer) and he said they support SAP’s partner efforts “big time” and are closely following the progress of the company’s channel initiatives.

“They believe that we need partners to be successful and continue the journey that SAP has been on,” the channel chief said of SAP’s new chief executives.

The changes at the top comes as SAP continues to increase its cloud software sales, which grew 39 percent to $7.6 billion in 2019, and convince customers to migrate off the vendor’s older ERP applications to its next-generation S/4HANA applications. SAP is also working to expand sales of its applications outside its core ERP market, including its C/4HANA CRM applications that compete with and the Qualtrics experience management applications the company acquired in 2018 for $8 billion.

Last month SAP said it is extending maintenance support for its legacy Business Suite 7 core applications until the end of 2027, two years beyond the original deadline, followed by optional extended maintenance until the end of 2030. The company also said it would officially maintain the current S/4HANA application set until the end of 2040, a move seen as building confidence in that product and encouraging customers to migrate.

Fahrbach sees S/4HANA migration and greenfield opportunities for Qualtrics as two of the biggest opportunities for partners this year. The company has identified partners with the biggest installations of the older applications and helped them set up “factories” to work with their customers to move to the new software—projects that bring customers closer to what SAP has dubbed the “intelligent enterprise.”

SAP has also been fostering collaboration between partners when specific technical and/or domain expertise is needed. “A partner cannot master all the solutions from SAP,” Fahrbach said.

For Qualtrics, SAP has been providing training and enablement resources to help partners work with customer experience data—often as part of larger digital transformation initiatives. “Our partners are super-interested in learning more about Qualtrics,” the chief partner officer said.

Fahrbach said that while he continues to meet with partners and hear what’s on their minds, his focus this year is on delivering the resources, content and capabilities that partners need to be successful by making their customers successful. His goal is to expand the capacity of SAP’s partner ecosystem, through recruiting and training, to increase the number of SAP-trained consultants in the channel fourfold. In one notable move last year SAP significantly cut the fees it charges partners to use SAP software for testing and demonstration purposes.

Fahrbach also promises to help partners innovate by providing models and tools that make it easier for partners to develop software and services—intellectual property—that build on and extend SAP applications. His goal there is to multiply such partner IP by a factor of three.

And SAP will continue to establish country and regional partner councils—a third global partner council was formed in late 2019—to make sure SAP is doing what’s needed to assist partners. The company is utilizing its own Qualtrics software to run partner experience surveys—one each in the first and second halves of last year.

“We want to make sure we listen to the partners and improve their experience,” Fahrbach said. “We want partner feedback to help SAP evolve.”

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