Ask-the-SAP-Expert: Timo Elliott

Ask-the-SAP-Expert: Timo Elliott

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, as well as regular interviews with the best SAP consultants in the business.

This month, we feature Timo Elliott, a thought leader and innovation advocate in the SAP world, who has presented to technical and business audiences in over sixty countries. In addition, he has written articles for such esteemed publications as the Guardian, Forbes and the Harvard Business Review. Timo has lived in four continents across the globe. He is Vice President and Global Innovation Advocate for SAP in Paris, France currently.

Hi Timo, thank you so much for giving up your time to talk to us. Can we start by you telling our readers a little bit about yourself?

I grew up Poole, Dorset, a seaside town on the English Channel, but now I’m a proud naturalized Frenchman with a Canadian wife and a tri-national daughter. Perhaps my most unusual claim to fame is that I’m a published cartoonist: If you Google “AI cartoons” or “analytics cartoons” you’ll find my work in the top results (or go to Here’s a niche statistics joke that recently got a lot of attention:

You have 16 years’ experience of working for SAP, plus many more years before that with Business Objects. It must have been a long time ago when you first heard of SAP – what was it that first brought SAP to your attention?

My first experience with SAP was as a competitor. I was in charge of competitive intelligence at Business Objects, so it was my job to persuade customers that our business intelligence tools were easier and more intuitive than those of SAP. Ultimately SAP agreed and acquired us in 2007.

And what about your role now. Can you give us a flavour of what it encompasses by telling us what “a day in the life of Timo” looks like?

My role involves working with SAP customers on the leading edge of innovation, gathering the lessons learned, and sharing that with as many people as possible – so that we can all be more successful.

That means I do a lot of presentations at conferences around the world on the latest business technology trends, customer interviews on social media, articles, and hosting of CIO panels and events.

Tell us about what the next big thing is in the SAP space – should we all be as excited as we are about AI and machine learning?

Generative AI is clearly transformational. The jury is still out on just how much: is it like the arrival of the iPhone? Or the world wide web? Or maybe the steam engine, because it could free humanity from “mental labour” the way steam freed us from the limitations of manual labour?

One thing is clear: the AI we’re seeing today is the worst we will ever use and 2024 is poised to bring some big breakthroughs in terms of reasoning power and efficiency.

I’m particularly excited about what AI means for SAP and our customers. I don’t think there’s much doubt that SAP systems contain the highest-value business data in the world, and AI gives us new ways to unleash that value.

And when you think about SAP’s innovation journey – it really is quite something – everything is moving so fast! What gets you up in the morning and keeps you excited in your role?

Personally, the more time I spend with customers, the more energised I get. I love discussing the translation of new technologies into real business value and what barriers we still need to overcome.

One of my favourite parts of my role is being one of the judges for the SAP Innovation Awards. I get to review the very best real-world examples of how SAP customers are improving customer experiences, increasing efficiencies, and improving lives.

If you had access to a crystal ball, Timo, and you glanced into it, to see what the year 2030 in the ERP space for SAP, what would you expect to see? Would you still expect to see clients using on-premise systems? How about the public cloud offering expansion? And would BTP be the “norm” for innovation? And how about the evolution of generative AI?

Not everything is going to move to the cloud, but I think it’s clear that the paradigm has flipped. All new innovation is born in the cloud, and the cloud will be the heart of future business systems— connecting where necessary to any systems that have to remain on-premise for security, legal, customisation, or compliance reasons.

Our job at SAP is to help our customers with the right strategy to the cloud for their pragmatic business needs—with programs like RISE with SAP and GROW with SAP. SAP Business Technology Platform is an essential part of the transition: it has all the tools to help you handle the transition and to enable a “clean core” for future innovation.

With this vision in mind, what would you recommend SAP consultants focus their attention on now? I’m thinking new consultants in the SAP market as well as grizzled ECC6 consultants looking to upskill.

With the cut-off for mainstream maintenance in less than three years’ time, the biggest opportunity is clearly to help move existing ECC customers to S/4HANA. Generative AI is speeding this up: helping understand existing customisations and remapping it to the new environments.

And AI provides more incentives to move. For example, SAP Joule, our new AI assistant, gives businesspeople the kinds of interfaces they’ve been dreaming about for decades, with the ability to access business systems using everyday language.

Other big areas of opportunity include new Business Data Fabric approaches to implementing a strong data foundation, enabling businesspeople to innovate faster with tools like SAP Build, and rethinking business processes from scratch using the latest Generative AI opportunities.

I’ve recently heard very experienced SAP consultants talk about their ongoing affection for the SAP GUI and being resistant to the new user experience offered by Fiori. Is this really a sustainable approach, with Generation Z coming to the market and demanding more intuitive experiences?

Personally, I’m fed up with going to dinner parties, telling people I work for SAP, and having them groan because they’re being forced to use a decades-old interface that they hate. Better interfaces mean that everybody can get more value from existing systems.

Looking to the future, AI-powered chat interfaces can provide both new and expert users directly with the answers and actions they need.

You must have a rich background in analytics, having worked so long for Business Objects. How central is analytics to the SAP ecosystem now and are companies making the most of the predictive analytics available as standard in the many SAP solutions from S/4HANA to SAP Analytics Cloud?

I talk to lots of customers about their innovation projects and often ask them what they would have done differently second time around. The answer is almost always the same: they would have spent more time cleaning and integrating data.

In order to take a big leap forward in innovation, more organisations have to take a small step backwards and clean up their “data plumbing.” Historically, it’s been hard to get executives excited about investing in these kinds of projects. The good news is that the ROI of better data is skyrocketing because of AI, and new technology is making it easier than ever.

When it comes to analytics, organisations have typically tried to rip the data out of SAP and put it into a data warehouse, or a data lake, or a data lake house, or a data cloud. But data stored in SAP systems is complex and multifaceted, and so that’s like ripping a tree out of the forest and trying to get it to grow elsewhere. It’s possible, but you’ve lost all the business context: the relationships, metadata, the hierarchies, the row-level security, etc. and you have to try and recreate it in the new environment. That’s time intensive and expensive and the results have typically been disappointing.

My strong recommendation is to use SAP tools for SAP data, because they’re optimized for that. Microsoft, for example, uses SAP Analytics Cloud for Workforce planning.

How is SAP dealing with the profusion of big data in the ERP landscape now? How can organisations control their analytics in the face of such an overwhelming amount of data?

Organisations have been complaining about “information overload” long before I started my career. There will always be too much data even as we get ever better at managing it. Recent, more federated data mesh / data fabric approaches have helped.

And Generative AI offers a new opportunity to make “unstructured” data a first-class citizen in data platforms. We’re embedding a new vector store into the SAP HANA database to help get the full value out of all the business data stored in SAP systems (documents, tables, processes, graphs, etc)

How do you get your message about innovation and how SAP can help organizations out there? Your blog ( is one of my personal favourite reads. How else do you make use of social media, conferences and the web to evangelise?

I used to love Twitter but no longer post there. I’m on replacement platforms such as Mastodon and BlueSky, but spend more time on LinkedIn. I read and post content on the SAP community site, I try to follow user groups such as ASUG and UKISUG, and other influencers such as the Boring Enterprise Nerds (we recently did a podcast together on best practices for presenting technical topics). I also share some photos on Instagram, and the occasional TikTok video.

In general, I try to share what I find new, interesting, and different, in the hopes that others will also find it interesting.

And what is on the horizon for the rest of 2024 and 2025 for you now? Any conferences for which you are speaking coming up?

I’ll be continuing to work on the “Better together: customer conversations” series of interviews with customers talking about their SAP Business Technology Platform innovation projects. We talk about the business benefits and the technical implementation, but I’m particularly interested in focusing on the lessons learned that others could benefit from.

And in-person conferences are back and thriving. There are two that I’m currently particularly looking forward to: I’m doing a keynote in Melbourne for Mastering SAP in May, and I’m hosting a CIO Executive Summit as part of Sapphire in Orlando in June. I hope to see you there!

What would be the one thing you would advise organisations who are struggling with an ageing SAP ERP landscape and considering how and when to migrate to SAP S/4HANA and whether to utilise the opportunities afforded by Rise?

Formal ROI cases struggle to put a value on being able to adapt faster after a move to a modern cloud platform. But the only thing that we can guarantee about the future is that it will be different from what we expect today. I’m convinced that delaying the move to S/4HANA is one of the riskiest decisions an organisation can take.

Innovation is a leap of faith. What most people really want to hear is that some other organisation has already done what they’re thinking of doing, and it turned out great. Come talk to us and we’ll try to put you in touch with them.

On a personal front, tell us about your love for Paris – which you say is the most beautiful city in the world. I see you started your career there and have ended up back there.

Who wouldn’t want to live in the most visited city in the most visited country in the world?! It’s no accident I’m here: I spent the last few decades searching the world for the place I felt most at home. I do miss living near the ocean, but I often catch myself in awe at the beauty of “La Ville Lumière”. Please come and see for yourself! (after a few lean pandemic years, we need your tourist dollars!)

Given your role currently, you must have a love for travel! Sixty countries is impressive. Would you list travel as one of your hobbies, and what else keeps you busy outside of work?

I still very much enjoy the travel to conferences—especially because it means I get to catch up with customers, colleagues, and other experts. But it’s not all glamorous (all that travel has been in coach class) and I’m always happy to get back home and spend time with family.

In my spare time I’m a keen photographer and enjoy what the French call “sports de glisse”— activities that involve “sliding” such as windsurfing, surfing, skiing, rollerblading, skateboarding, etc. My favourite recent purchase was a foldable skateboard—I haven’t owned a car for over twenty years, and it makes commuting via public transport a lot more fun!

Timo Elliott talked to Jon Simmonds.