SAP Teched is just around the corner – about 2 weeks from now. The timing is also perfect – since SFDC and ORCL would have finished, and SAP will need to explain why it has a better strategy than competitors, without sounding defensive or reactive. After seeing the tweets from my pals who attended Oracle Open World, I am all the more curious about SAP messaging at Teched.
For the techie in me – SAP Teched is the ultimate event.For one, I can walk around without wearing a tie and a suit. Second, I get to hang out with a lot of techies way smarter than moi and learn from them. Last time in Madrid, Thorsten taught me River in 2 hours – may be less. This time around, I will be trying to get smart on Netweaver cloud – just need to figure out if I should bug Mattias Steiner or Dick Hirsch to be my teacher. And finally – I am always excited to hear what Vishal Sikka has to say in his keynote.
I am typing this from US Airways Flight 45 to Kona, Hawaii, for a week of vacation. The last call I had before we took off from PHX was from Vishal. He is never short on passion for what he does. And consequently, he never ceases to amaze me. He has a clear vision of where he wants to take SAP on technology front, and has never once been annoyed when I have given him some candid feedback. And one of the things that seems to be foremost in his mind is making sure SAP has a comprehensive platform strategy, of course powered by HANA. I expect to hear a good story from Vishal on platform direction in his keynote.
There are 3 things I expect to hear at Teched with respect to platforms . I already touched this subject in more detail in my last blog http://andvijaysays.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/sap-needs-a-better-cloud-and-platform-story-and-a-good-story-teller/
1. Is SAP’s platform strategy primarily inside out (protect the turf) or outside in (open to the world to do what the larger market cares about) ?
2. SAP historically has been a product company. What is the future? Is it aspiring to be a platform company or continue to be a mix of product and platform?
Both are valid and can co-exist – but SAP does need to express what is their priority for next 5 years or so.
3. When SAP did the netweaver messaging back in the day – it morphed from a big fascinating “change the world” type thing to “it is a good way to package today’s and tomorrow’s SAP products”. How will SAP avoid a repeat of this mistake?
The challenge for SAP is to build a platform story that does not sound like boiling the ocean, as Vishal himself says. And SAP needs to be specific. As Jon Reed would no doubt attest, at the last teched we could never get a straight answer from SAP executives on whether HANA supports multi-tenancy or not. And today, ORACLE went ahead and announced its DB is going to be multi-tenant. This is a big deal if your intention is to attract cloud providers to build on your platform. SAP needs to make sure its messaging and technical abilities don’t have a big gap between themselves. Multi-tenant database has some advantages in my opinion. It should at least in theory make it easier to build apps on top, and provide faster access to data than letting applications abstract in a layer above the database. There are of course architectural differences between ORACLE and HANA, but if those are not to an extent that a customer cares, then it practically won’t matter. Larry Ellison did not seem to tout any business use cases as far as I could tell from the tweet stream, so that is definitely an area SAP can outshine Oracle.
Outside the platform – I am keen to see if there is any further news on SAP’s database ambitions. ORACLE is a good example of a company who is in a financial sweet spot because it controls a fundamental layer in enterprise software stack. If SAP manages to get control of that share, it will be brilliant for them. But I am not going to bet on that happening unless there is a larger platform play that ecosystem buys into, and DB just happens to fit into it. I do expect SAP to come out with a larger number of HANA customers – I am guessing 700 +/- 10%. Any more than that will definitely make their competition sit up and take notice in my opinion.
As far as I know, SAP has no stated hardware ambitions. I am not convinced SAP can become a big cloud player without a HW play to go with it. They also need a more comprehensive datacenter consolidation/integration story to be taken seriously as a cloud player. I doubt this will change in Teched – but I really think SAP should consider it seriously
If the Ariba deal closes and legal teams allow it, I would like to hear how SAP plans to make use of its amazing network. I will be disappointed if Ariba is treated as just another cloud business. It might need to stand alone for business and organizational reasons, but I would expect to hear a platform unification or integration story.
Integration is a hard topic to deal with,to say the least. SAP will probably charge for integration, and not everyone will like that. We recently had a friendly debate on this on twitter. Customers generally do not always attach sufficient value to anything that is free. And SAP only have themselves to blame for getting customers used to huge discounts on list prices. So when a customer buys 2 SAP products and wants to integrate – should they pay extra? or should SAP just bake the price into other software? On principles of fair play – I think making integration free or very cheap is the right thing to do when both sides are SAP products. But I would guess that SAP sellers will probably throw in the integration as a deal sweetener to make the customer buy. So may be it all works out the same in the end.
Mobility has a similar challenge. Why charge extra to expose an existing application through a mobile device, when customer already pays for backend systems ? It is a nuanced discussion – due to the arbitary nature of defining what is existing and what is new. The answer varies between POV of customer and SAP. On the bright side, SAP does have a good strategy on MDM with Afaria. The rest of it just needs to evolve some more. But they are getting there at a fair clip, with Sanjay Poonen and team leaving no stone unturned. Pricing is much simpler to understand now too. I would really like to see Sanjay up on stage during one of the keynotes to explain the future of mobility.
One final thing I am keen to learn from SAP is the progress it has made with developer and start up initiatives. Without these succeeding – there is no point in having a platform to begin with. I know there are multiple people trying to make it work at SAP – and from outside looking in, I am not sure I always understand how everything fits in. It doesn’t matter really to me – as long as there is some concrete results to show.
I will close out this post with something I wanted to do for a while – a BIG shout out to Mark Finnern, the herder-in-chief of SAP Mentors. The Mentor program is not perfect – and Mentors will be the first to admit it. But we are all unanimous in our opinion, I believe, that without Mark doing what he did/does/will do – we probably won’t be as effective as we are. If I were in Mark’s job – I would have gone crazy a long time ago. SAP should be incredibly proud to have Mark as an employee.