SAP will take a restructuring charge of up to 950 million euros (A$1.51 billion) to reshape its business after growth slowed in parts of the software maker over the last three months.
SAP, Europe's most valuable technology company, will reassign some employees and offer early retirement to others, but still expects its overall headcount to exceed 100,000 by the end of 2019, up from 96,500 at the turn of the year.
Around 4400 people would leave under the restructuring, according to a company spokesperson. While the majority of staff departures will occur in Germany and the US, cuts are also expected across Australia and New Zealand, the America's, Asia and Africa.
"SAP is constantly changing to adapt to market and customer needs. As part of this ongoing transformation, SAP has decided to undertake a company-wide restructuring program in 2019 across all board areas," a spokesperson told CRN.
"This will allow us to invest in key growth areas while implementing required changes in other areas to ensure they are prepared for the future. SAP currently estimates that globally approximately 4400 employees across all board areas will leave the company under the restructuring program. In cases where new jobs are created, we will do everything possible to give SAP employees first priority.
"It is important to say that this restructuring program, like similar programs before, is not about shrinking the company. Indeed, in 2019 we expect to grow to more than 100,000 colleagues around the world."
SAP plans to offer early retirement programs in Germany, US, France and Canada, as well as voluntary redundancy programs in Germany and various other countries, the spokesperson added.
"Our intention is to design these programs similar to those under previous restructurings. We have just started conversations with the social partners and therefore cannot provide further details at this point."
SAP will take charges of 800 to 950 million euros, mainly in the first quarter. It sees a minor cost benefit in 2019 and savings of 750 to 850 million euros from 2020.
The shakeup comes as SAP announced an 11 percent increase in 2018 non-IFRS revenues, at constant currencies, that beat its thrice-raised guidance. Operating profits rose 10 percent, in line with SAP's own expectations.
Yet key indicators showed signs of weakness in the fourth quarter, with growth in new cloud bookings slowing to 23 percent from 37 percent in the third quarter.
Underlying non-IFRS operating margins, at constant currency, were squeezed by 1.5 percentage points in the quarter to 33.2 percent as SAP implemented hyperinflation accounting for crisis-hit markets in Latin America such as Venezuela.
SAP Global CFO Luka Mucic said that margins were stable at 28.8 percent for 2018 as a whole following years of declines as the company invested in its transformation. "Now we are at the point where we can start to see rising margins," he told a news conference.
The figures illustrated the challenge that SAP continues to face as it makes the transition from its traditional model of running business processes such as finance or logistics at on-premise servers to hosting them in remote datacentres.
The legacy software licence business, which generates chunky up-front fees, continues to throw off profits.
Cloud is driving growth, meanwhile, but margins are tighter as SAP seeks scale and competes with rivals such as Salesforce and Oracle, exerting pressure on the overall 'mixed' margin that the company reports.
SAP boss McDermott, a 57-year-old American, played down concerns that the weakening global economy and US-China trade frictions might dent SAP's business, saying his company was not as exposed to the economic cycle as technology hardware players.
"We're not seeing that," said McDermott, adding that individual risk factors, such as Britain's looming exit from the European Union, were offset by the company's global reach.
"The one surprise for us is the announcement of a major restructuring programme in FY19," analysts at Credit Suisse said. "It seems likely that the vast majority (of cost savings) will be reinvested back in the business," they said.
SAP, which has just closed its US$8 billion takeover of Qualtrics, a US company that tracks customer sentiment online, baked the impact of that deal into raised 2019 revenue guidance of 28.6 to 29.2 billion euros.
But it kept its forecast of non-IFRS operating profit unchanged at 8.5 to 9.0 billion euros, up 7.5 to 11.5 percent year on year.
McDermott said that Qualtrics would add a "customer experience" dimension to SAP's core strengths. The combination "becomes the defining strategy for the winning company in the 21st century", he said.
Giving its first forecasts for 2023 ahead of a capital markets day on 7 February, SAP said it expected to more than triple cloud subscription and support revenues.
Total revenues would reach 35 billion euros (A$56 billion) and operating profits would outgrow revenues to expand at an annual rate of 7.5 to 10 percent.
Reporting by Douglas Busvine. Editing by Louise Heavens and Keith Weir