‘If you had asked me 10 years ago what were the challenges for FDs, I would
have said the same thing as I say now compliance, reporting and getting info
on the business with the hope of using it to assist growth,’ says Steve Gazzard.
But as the UK FD of one of the world’s largest business enterprise software
companies, SAP, Gazzard’s points could cause his sales consultants’ blood to
freeze. After all, SAP’s aim is to solve all these problems.
Thankfully for them, he issues a caveat, saying the compliance bar has been
raised since the accounting scandals of Enron et al. ‘In a generic sense it is
the same issues, but there is growing complexity and expectation from markets,’
SAP is in a prime position to push products upon companies looking to resolve
problems that have arisen out of growing regulation and legislation, such as
international financial reporting standards, Basel II and the Sarbanes-Oxley
But for Gazzard the ‘cowboy’ approach that gave many IT suppliers and
consulting firms such a bad name in the late 1990s, when selling products to
deal with the Y2K threat, is unacceptable in the new millennium.‘What you saw in
the past was a disconnect between selling the software and its implementation.
But if you look back, I’m not aware of any major SAP headlines for years. It was
often someone giving us a bad name.’
One solution has been the launch of a new quality assurance scheme that aims
to keep consulting partners selling SAP to meet customer satisfaction levels.
Gazzard thinks that customers can help in this process as well, and they have
been enlisted to provide feedback and be more proactive about what they want
from the project.
He also has plenty of sympathy for FDs burdened with compliance issues. As a
subsidiary FD of a German-based company with a US listing, Gazzard is going
through a ‘painful’ Sarbox process with his finance function, and trying to
squeeze some business benefits out of the project.
‘I’ve instructed my team to think: “We have boxes to tick and have to get it
right, but what can we get out of this to help our business?” If we don’t get
anything, then it has been a waste of time.’
Understandably, Gazzard is keen to point out that SAP is taking advantage of
its own technology to keep track of its processes.
His role, which involves driving commercial activities, enables him to work
closely with the finance directors of current and potential clients. While he
likes to see himself as part of the sales team, he is not ‘ pushing a Sarbox
product at ‘X thousand pounds per user’.
Instead, he spends time with businesses, getting to understand their
strategies and drivers, then recommend products to support growth. ‘It means
we’re seen more as a customer adviser rather than just a transactional supplier,
and that makes it easier for us to do business with them,’ he says.
But the inescapable truth of the matter is that, avoiding jail which is a
risk if Sarbox legislation is not met does inevitably lead to businesses
looking for one-off solutions to problems.
Gazzard admits there will always be certain hot products at any one time, ‘a
particular compliance engine, for example’. But he believes SAP cannot provide
best value by selling in that sense: ‘We’re looking at more wholesale changes.’
He points to the UK retail industry, which despite currently suffering
arecession and traditionally one of the first industries to cut back costs, is
still investing in IT. ‘If we can show them value, show them the business case,
they know it can differentiate or put them one step up from competition.’
Discussion of marketplace activity inevitably leads to talk of competition
and in the case of Oracle, which has metamorphosed from a database giant to an
acquisitive hungry machine producing a raft of business applications, the
competition has been fierce and aggressive.
Oracle’s protracted, but ultimately successful, purchase of PeopleSoft for
$10.3bn (£5.4bn), which had itself recently acquired JD Edwards, persuaded SAP
to adopt a ‘safe passage’ tactic.
SAP targeted the 2,000 companies using PeopleSoft applications, and promised
to provide technical support for them - and JD Edwards’ clients - if they
chose to migrate to SAP. PeopleSoft licenses could be exchanged for SAP’s
enterprise software mySAP, while third-party maintenance business TomorrowNow
would provide support for the incumbent technology.
AMR Research analyst Jim Shepherd says the move was ‘particularly surprising’
from the normally conservative SAP, ‘which rarely makes acquisitions or directly
But ever since its launch, Oracle and SAP have made claim and counterclaim
about the shifting market, as clients ‘bed-hop’.
Gazzard adds his weight to suggestions that Oracle/PeopleSoft/JD Edwards
customers are left in limbo regarding current and future IT projects when
products change hands.
‘We’re quite excited at the state of the market…sometimes we look in
amazement at the competition, they couldn’t make it easier for us,’ he gushes.
‘We have lots of customers coming over to us, where they want sustainability,
a trusted supplier they can rely on, it’s a big investment they’re making. In
terms of Oracle, we’re winning almost every engagement we make, people are
unsure of its strategy, buying up competition, but not sure how it will upgrade
He claims that a couple of ‘very high profile companies’ have recently ducked
out of buying Oracle-owned applications or systems, ‘without us courting them’.
Gazzard’s own less-than-inspiring experience of using Oracle came during his
previous role as a BAA subsidiary FD. Joining SAP as a finance controller was an
enlightening experience. ‘I remember this light shining when I was trying to do
some basic drill downs of variances, I double clicked on a journal entry, and
the invoice popped up in front of me, I didn’t understand what it was! When I
used Oracle, we had a whole team to help print out the ledger posting before
going to accounts payable to get more info.’
Gazzard began his career in audit, training as a chartered accountant with
Ernst &Young. This gave access to numerous large businesses, and enabled him
to take on management experience while still in his twenties.
A-two-and-a-half year stint in Australia saw Gazzard set up a previous audit
client’s subsidiary before heading up finance for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
‘My qualification that got me the job with the Orchestra, and my experience of
dealing with statutory accounts,’ he explains.
Now, back in Blighty, he provides advice to other finance directors drawing
all-too-familiar challenges of compliance, reporting and information gathering.
‘I was working with a Lloyds TSB subdivisional FD his list of requirements?
Well no surprises,’ says Gazzard. ‘Good ledgers required, good management
information, to be able to plan well and through a portal to give access to this
information. He wants to do it in a cost-efficient manner, because he has
compliance issues, and provide value to the business.’
For Gazzard’s sales compatriots, that should be music to their ears.
SAP is traditionally viewed as one of the two mainstay suppliers of
enterprise systems for the world’s largest businesses the other being Oracle.
But with static licence revenues, both companies have looked further down the
chain to drive revenue growth.
SAP acquired Israeli software house TopManage Financial solutions in 2002 and
repackaged the product as SAP Business One soon after, while Oracle is heavily
pushing its own mid-market software.
And with Microsoft Business Solutions looking to snap up clients and compete
in the mid-market through Navision, Axapta and Great Plains products,
Yet SAP UK finance director Steve Gazzard believes Microsoft is more a
business partner than a rival. ‘It will be interesting to see what happens in
that space, it is a fine line between partner and competitor,’ Gazzard concedes.
In a move that was viewed by the industry as sticking two fingers up at
Oracle’s huge acquisition of PeopleSoft, SAP and Microsoft announced a joint
project earlier this year entitled Mendocino.
The project will enable SAP business process technology to tie into Microsoft
Office applications more closely.
David Bradshaw, principal analyst and practice leader for CRM at Ovum, says:
‘There were two shots here at Oracle, which is not only SAP’s arch competitor in
business applications but which, ironically, is the most popular database for