SAP’s Brian Duffy discusses digitally and culturally transforming a company

3 Dec 2019

Brian Duffy, president of north EMEA at SAP. Image: SAP

SAP’s president of north EMEA, Brian Duffy, talks about creating an inclusive working environment and how the company is making the most of its acquisition of Qualtrics.

A year on from SAP’s $8bn acquisition of Qualtrics, we spoke to its president of north EMEA, Brian Duffy, about why Ireland is a key market, what’s in the pipeline for Qualtrics, and why it is so important to give employees a sense of belonging.

Duffy first joined German multinational software giant SAP in 2005, beginning his career as a lawyer working for the company. Almost a decade and a half since then, he has worked in roles in Japan and China, and for the last three years, he has served as president of north EMEA.

As a native Irish person, it’s obvious that Duffy would feel a connection to Ireland, but he said the company’s appreciation of the country goes beyond his own personal feelings, with SAP viewing Ireland as a key market.

“As an organisation, we have a pretty significant presence in Ireland itself, with 2,300 employees spread between Galway and Citywest. With the acquisition of Qualtrics, which is near St Stephen’s Green, we have that location too,” he told

“In both Galway and Dublin, we have lab facilities where we have our research and development operations, then we have our support organisation where we provide customer support globally out of Ireland.”

What lies ahead for Qualtrics?

Duffy said that it has been brilliant to see the collaboration between SAP and experience management software firm Qualtrics, and what this will mean for the company’s operations in Ireland.

“Since we acquired Qualtrics, we have made the announcement that we’re building a second building near St Stephen’s Green. We have hired close to 100 people as well, and we’ll be recruiting for another 50 roles in addition to that. The team will grow to over 700 over the next couple of years.”

The acquisition has also changed how SAP deals with operational (O) and experience (X) data. Duffy explained: “What we have the ability to do with Qualtrics is manage what we would call ‘X plus O’.

“The O data is everything that’s going to come from the enterprise applications that we deliver to our customer supply chains or financial systems. The X data is the experience data, which tells us how people are feeling – think feedback on brand sentiment or employee engagement. This is the data that’s telling you why things are happening, whereas operational data is telling you what’s actually happening.”

‘The change of pace in the world has never been as fast as it is right now. But at the same time, it’s never going to be this slow again either’

Duffy said that by merging this data, SAP can change the processes it has in place to help deliver better experiences for its customers and for their customers, too.

“The days of individuals deciding on a product because of its price are over. People are now making decisions based on the overall experience that they are receiving. What the data is telling us is that 80pc of CEOs think that they’re delivering a great product or experience to their customers but, in reality, only 8pc of customers believe that they’re receiving a great experience or product.”

Duffy went on to say that the gap between those figures, which is referred to as the ‘experience gap’, is the space that allows disruptors to enter the market and provide a better experience than existing companies.

Businesses need to pay attention to this data, he added. “This underscores why more and more of our customers need to focus on the experience that they’re delivering for their customers.”

Delivering digital and cultural transformation

Something that many of SAP’s clients have in common is that they are going through a phase of digital transformation.

“I think one thing we all need to keep an eye on is the fact that our world is changing rapidly. The change of pace in the world has never been as fast as it is right now. But at the same time, it’s never going to be this slow again either,” Duffy said.

“When you look at it through this lens, it alerts people to the fact that we all need to be conscious that things are changing. We need to be delivering different experiences for our customers, but we also need to deliver different experiences for our employees as well as the talent pool changes dramatically and people begin to expect different things from their employers.”

When asked about these expectations, Duffy said that the data SAP can gather from Qualtrics is very useful when it comes to understanding what employees want.

“I know when my employees are happy or when they’re not as engaged as I’d like. That allows me, as the manager, to start delivering a different experience to them. In addition, one of the things that is incredibly important to us as an organisation is inclusion.”

Brian Duffy. Image: SAP

As well as holding the duties of president of north EMEA, Duffy is also the sponsor of diversity and inclusion within SAP’s global customer operations area.

“We need to create an environment, not where people feel that they’re going to fit in, because when you fit in you’re trying to conform to being a certain way. Instead what we want to do is create a culture where people feel like they belong at SAP,” he said.

Some of the initiatives SAP uses to help employees feel more at home within the company include remaining attentive to feedback from staff, and organising events that help employees see the purpose of their role within the company, as well as the company’s overall purpose.

“There’s a war on talent,” Duffy said. “The expectations people have from their employers are much different than they were even five or 10 years ago. Individuals entering the workplace now find it very important to have a sense of purpose.

“That’s why we allow our employees to participate in social sabbaticals, engaging with social enterprises that we sponsor and give access to our technology. All of these things work in tandem to create this culture of inclusion and the culture where people get to be themselves every day when they come into work.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic