Ask-the-SAP-Expert – Craig Dale – UKISUG

Ask-the-SAP-Expert – Craig Dale – UKISUG

Eursap’s Ask-the-SAP-Expert article is a feature designed to give you up-to-date information on the latest SAP news, featuring key thought leaders in the SAP space and regular interviews with the best SAP consultants in the business.

This month, we have a treat for you! We feature Craig Dale, the chief executive of UK & Ireland SAP User Group (UKISUG). Craig was the very first employee of UKISUG back in 2004. As the business and strategic face of the UK and Ireland SAP community, Craig confers regularly with his peers at executive levels in SAP, as well as with other SAP User Groups around the world.

To say Craig has his finger on the SAP pulse would be an understatement. Along with other User Group CEOs, Craig is instrumental in driving the strategic direction of SAP across the globe.

Hi Craig, what a pleasure to talk to you. I’m sure our readers would appreciate a little background information about yourself – would you be able to give us that 1 minute elevator pitch about who Craig Dale is?

Passionate, driven, enthusiastic and collaborative, I am a champion of the power of community and connector of people. A people focused leader, grandad, dad, husband, son, brother, friend and colleague, I’m always striving to improve my life/work balance. When I am ‘in the zone’ I have a tendency to shut out everything around me, which can lead to some thinking I am ignoring them, prompting a difficult conversation beginning with an apology.

You’ve been in management and board level roles for decades now, Craig. I’m intrigued: what made you choose the SAP user group all those years ago?

It was like a perfect storm to be honest. I came across the role at a time when I was looking for something new, with the ability to spend more time with my family as we had three young boys back then. I didn’t know what SAP was at that stage, but the requirements of the role matched my skills and experience perfectly. Following a chat with the recruiter, I was convinced I could add value and threw my hat in the ring. Following a couple of interviews, the second of which was a presentation to the whole User Group Executive Committee (IT leaders from various organisations and industries – a little daunting to say the least) on my ideas to develop the organisation, I was offered the position.

It was a challenge, being the first official employee, setting up the office and having a target to develop the User Group and revenue streams to fund both myself and growth. If I didn’t hit those targets in the first two years, I was out – but I was confident I could deliver. The rest is history as they say.

Many of our readers may not have made best use of UKISUG services. How would you describe UKISUG for these potential members? How does UKISUG help SAP clients and consultants?

UKISUG is a not-for-profit membership organisation – run by members for the success of members. Our purpose is to create one vibrant SAP community, learning and developing together, and speaking with one voice.

Today, UKISUG comprises more than 600 organisations and 6,500 professionals from CEOs and data analysts to FTSE 100 companies and self-employed consultants. UKISUG provides members with access to unrivalled resources, education and networking opportunities. It gives members a unique chance to lift the lid on how other organisations are managing their SAP journeys and getting the maximum value from their investments.

We host 200 online and face-to-face events annually, and our UKISUG community is always looking to gather knowledge on all areas of SAP.

Ultimately, we help drive success for the whole SAP community.

The UKISUG CONNECT conference in Birmingham in Q4 of last year was a roaring success (I know, as I was there!) What plans do you have for the 2023 event?

It was fantastic to see so many people at CONNECT in November. In total, we brought together more than 1,000 members of the SAP community for two and a half days of networking and learning. We were almost back to pre-pandemic levels of attendance, which was great to see and further highlighted the continued value of face-to-face events.

We are in the process of putting together the programme for the 2023 event (taking place 26th – 28th November at ICC Birmingham). As ever, we will have a great mix of keynote speakers and customer presentations – and of course SUGFest on the Monday evening. Watch this space!

Holding an event with 1,000 delegates and dozens of SAP partners – and representation from SAP themselves – is a pretty challenging prospect. You must have seen some difficulties over the years the conference has been running – any anecdotes you want to share?

Over the years, we have had the occasional badly timed mid-keynote fire alarm, which is never helpful when keeping an event to time!

One always sticks out in my mind when we were in Manchester and it was raining outside, which is not a great situation. However, that year we had given an umbrella to every attendee as a welcome gift and our branding was on show with hundreds of our umbrella’s open outside Manchester Central. Every cloud!

I think our 2021 event was perhaps one of our most challenging as we had to negotiate the travel disruption caused by Storm Arwen and the emergence of the Omicron Covid variant. If we managed to overcome that, I’d like to think we’d overcome anything.

Tell us a little bit about the relationship between UKISUG and SAP’s Customer Engagement Initiative?

UKISUG has been a regular contributor to SAP’s Customer Engagement Initiative and it is a fantastic way for our members to help influence the direction of SAP’s product roadmap.

The Customer Engagement Initiative opens up SAP’s development plans so users can provide feedback as early as possible in the product lifecycle. Users can help define future functionality and even provide input on business cases. Project lists are made available three times a year through a registration page. From there, members can browse and sign up to any projects they are interested in participating in. It allows our members to help shape future SAP solutions.

ICE is one of the key initiatives in UKISUG and central to everything you do. Can you give us an overview of the initiative?

Our people, values, beliefs, behaviours, community development and success are key strategic drivers for UKISUG, and they continue to underpin our ICE (Investment, Community, Environment) initiative.

When it comes to supporting and developing our community, we have remained focused on areas such as wellbeing and diversity. Throughout the year, we have continued our wellbeing offerings with our partner Thrive. Our Women in SAP community has proved to be extremely popular and has gone from strength to strength.

We also successfully launched our new Sustainability SIG, with the aim of working with SAP to raise awareness of its solutions offerings and to provide a forum for wider discussions on how technology can support sustainability across industries. As an organisation, UKISUG remains on a journey to being net zero, and we shared our progress against this goal in a recent webinar with our sustainability community.

We also continue to reinvest in the SAP community. So, it gave me great pleasure at CONNECT to announce our intent to launch the UKISUG Academy in 2023, to help fill the gap between deep-dive technical training and business user training. We believe the UKISUG Academy will deliver considerable value to many of our members.

I also would like to touch upon SUGEN – the SAP User Group Executive Network. This group is sixteen years old this year – can you talk us through its mission and how it is steering the conversation with SAP?

SUGEN is comprised of leaders from multiple global SAP user groups, with SAP’s CEO, Christian Klein as its executive sponsor. Its mission is to provide a powerful international voice, uniting regional user groups in an open and honest dialogue with SAP.

UKISUG is a founding and long-standing member of SUGEN and our former chair and current board member, Philip Adams is part of SUGEN’s senior leadership team.

UKISUG has gathered a huge amount of data from its members around SAP technologies, products, and services. What are the key messages your members are saying to you in 2023?

For most of our members, it is a case of “when” rather than “if” they move to S/4HANA. Our most recent member survey revealed that almost 9 in 10 organisations are either using or planning to use S/4HANA. However, concerns remain around the skills and training required to implement and manage S/4HANA. Of those organisations yet to move to S/4HANA, 92% were concerned a lack of available skills will slow their migration (an increase from 71% in 2021).

This is one of the primary reasons we are intending to launch our S/4HANA Academy later this year. It’s about providing practical skills to help implement and manage S/4HANA.

If you look ahead to the future – perhaps as you and I approach retirement age(!) – what do you think the SAP world will look like then?

The lines between IT and the business have become increasingly blurred in recent years and where we have seen the vast majority of the SAP community having an IT focus in the past, more and more line of business leaders and users are engaging in SAP. With the drive to the cloud, this is an important focus for SAP. More and more organisations will utilise the cloud at some level, be it in a hybrid or fully cloud environment.

Bringing together the whole SAP community is important to us, so bringing in the line of business leaders and users is vital. However, we must not leave the technical people behind. A large part of our community strategy is to find the right balance so we provide value to everyone who engages in some way with SAP.

With the increased offerings within universities, and the work communities like UKISUG is doing in collaboration with them, we hope to see a lower average age across the world of SAP.

And what about the public cloud offering from SAP S/4HANA? Do you think the growth in that area will accelerate? Currently it seems to be restricted to SMEs rather than huge multi-national corporations. Any signs of that changing?

It’s clear that RISE with SAP has a big role to play here. Organisations have a much better understanding of RISE with SAP compared to twelve months ago. As a result, more are seeing it as a viable option to accelerate their journey to the cloud and S/4HANA. However, RISE isn’t a “one size fits all” solution. Organisations will need to weigh up the impact of moving to the cloud (using RISE with SAP) on their overall SAP running costs. As the RISE offering matures, we will continue to work closely with SAP to share the latest use cases because we know this is an important part of organisations’ evaluation processes.

And when you talk to SAP clients now, what are they telling you about the SAP job market? Is there still a real skill shortage in the new technologies around SAP? I hesitate to include S/4HANA in that statement as it is (unbelievably) already 8 years old – but has the consultancy market for S/4HANA kept pace with demand for skills?

As I highlighted earlier, availability of S/4HANA skills continues to be a major concern and risks slowing the speed of migrations. With the 2027 maintenance deadline for ECC 6.0 approaching, the issue could become even more acute. Schemes such as SAP’s Partner Talent Initiative are a step in the right direction, but it’s apparent more needs to be done to address the skills shortfall and ensure organisations are set up for S/4HANA success.

It is down to everyone in the SAP community to do our bit and improve this.

And what about in your spare time. Craig? Do you get time for interests and hobbies?

Local league cricket was a huge part of my life and my major stress reliever. But as the years of bowling many overs took their toll, I needed to find a replacement before I retired a couple of years ago (due to not being able to walk properly for most of the week after a game). Cycling has become more of a hobby over the past few years, and I love nothing more than getting out early on a Sunday morning to explore our local countryside and coastline. I also walk a lot, and an early morning walk before breakfast helps get my body moving and creates a positive mindset for the day ahead, whatever the weather.

However, all of this fades into the background when it comes to our grandchildren. They are literally the light of my life and seeing their happy faces melts away any stress the day may have thrown at me. Don’t get me wrong, I love our children to bits; but being a grandparent just takes you to another level.

I’d like to finish up Craig, with the question we always ask our experts: what advice would you have for new SAP consultants just starting out, or established SAP consultants facing new challenges?

Do not underestimate the power of community and building your network. Whether new to the world of SAP or an experienced hand, there is always something to learn and help you develop from speaking with others within the community. One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is the willingness of people in our community to help others on their journey.

We had a wall of positivity at our Annual Conference, UKISUG Connect, a couple of years ago and I was asked to judge the best comment placed on the wall. The one I chose perfectly sums up the ethos of the UKISUG community:

“Blowing out someone else’s candle does not make your own candle shine brighter.”

Members of our community help each others’ candle burn bright.

Craig Dale talked to Jon Simmonds.