SAP Needs A Better Cloud And Platform Story, And A Good Story Teller


This past week, there was a 2 day influencer event in Palo Alto where SAP explained (or tried to explain) its Cloud, Mobility and DB&T vision to about 16 of us. SAP paid for my airfare and hotel and ground transportation. Many thanks to Mike Prosceno and Stacey Fish – you are the best at what you do.

We started with cloud on Day 1 .  Cloud session was led by some of the smartest people I know in SAP, yet it did not go as well as I expected.  None of us in the room seemed to understand what the cloud story really is even after SAP tried a few times. As a technology fan, it did not matter to me that SAP had a sub par performance in the same week as Dreamforce was happening, but I am not sure if everyone else in the influencer gang look at it that way.

Sanjay Poonen and his team did the best job at the event when it came to explaining SAP strategy on mobility. I would say Sharron Ruddock, the COO for mobility, deserves special mention for  how well she explained mobility pricing. Steve Lucas and team took second spot – a close second I should say – with their HANA and DB&T story. And cloud brought up the rear.

If I travel back in time, when SAP execs were pitching ERP to customers, it was all about the business needs that ERP solves. It was not based on ABAP and Basis that a sale was made (which I felt bad about at the time, since I made a living as an ABAPer).  Fast forward to cloud era – and the whole conversation started with technology. Isn’t the whole idea about cloud that we don’t need to worry about technology as much as before?  SAP missed the boat on this one, and should try to revise the story line before their next attempt at Teched and SAPPHIRE.

It is not to say technology vision is less important – it is vastly important. But technology does not serve a purpose without tangible business benefits. If SAP has to succeed in cloud – it needs a VERY strong play as a platform.  This is also where that old DNA question comes to mind again. SFSF has the DNA for cloud based Apps without a doubt. But has that acquisition helped SAP inherit something useful for platforms ?  If it has, then someone needs to point it out, I did not see it.

There were a few highlights that definitely caught my attention. My friend Sethu, who is the deputy CTO at SAP, explained to things that are important.  The most important one is that SAP should not have multiple platform pitches – like mobility platform, analytics platform, Neo platform and so on. There should be  just one SAP platform going forward – which unfortunately does not have a name yet. Sad to say – this important memo did not reach the other parts of SAP in time. We got great explanations of mobility platform and Netweaver cloud platform right after Sethu told us there will only be one platform. The second thing that caught my attention from Sethu was that SAP is aiming for a unified semantic layer for everything that works on SAP platform. This is a much needed aspect of the platform story, and I am waiting to learn more about this.

SAP also has a good integration story that Nayaki Nayyar explained. I had met her once at Madrid last year, when we co-judged innojam before SAPPHIRENOW there. Cloud integration is critical to SAP’s cloud and platform future, and Nayaki explained that there is an integration technology they developed called Netweaver Cloud integration , and that it has two components – PI on demand, and Data services on demand.

The integration concept is webservices based. That is good – I get that, but that is not to say it completely reduces integration costs. It still needs harmonizing security, data, IDEs, and a consistent way to meter the services and components.

I am not fully convinced of the integration story on cloud. To begin with – I am shocked SAP positioned it as Netweaver brand. I don’t know a lot of clients who think of netweaver as a best in class integration platform. And calling its components as PI on Demand and Data Services on demand just gives the impression that SAP just repackaged something to make a new offering. Nayaki clarified that it is not so – and that it is all brand new.  I am sure I have said it before, and will say it again – without an acquisition story to go with it, I doubt SAP will have credibility in market with an integration story.  There are a variety of acquisitions possible based on what SAP can afford from TIBCO to snaplogic.

There is no MDM on the cloud from SAP in this whole cloud integration story. So essentially, one of the existing transaction systems will need to be treated as the master for the data that integrated systems will play with. I am sure this is just a matter of prioritization for SAP on where to invest for short term. While this is ok in convincing bloggers, I am not sure this is a good story to tell customers who typically need a longer term roadmap. Not having an MDM on cloud story makes it harder for them to buy into this integration strategy in my opinion.

I liked the analogy that Aaron Au used (he is the SFSF CTO, and a very friendly guy) of how Amazon evolved from “it is all about the shopping cart” to “shopping cart is just a small part, and only used to close a transaction” to explain how SAP is looking at User Experience.  It is probably the best explanation of Systems of Engagement concept that I have heard from SAP till date. What did not happen unfortunately is that SAP could not tie this example to their products and strategy in a coherent way.

Rainer Zinow was articulate as usual on the ByDesign side. I finally understood the thinking behind Financials on Demand. It is good to know it is not exactly carving out financials out of Bydesign. In fact nothing is carved out – just some parts are activated and others kept inactive. And the business case is mostly the ability to do Mergers and divestitures faster, by moving those entities to the cloud solution first.  That is a story I can live with and I see value in it. I did not hear a ByDesign for Large Enterprises story – maybe I missed it, or maybe there is no such thing. In any case, I think ByDesign and B1 ( Richard Duffy is an excellent speaker I might add)  did not get sufficient coverage in this event.  At least there were no surprises.

I don’t recall anything earth shattering in terms of bold new use cases for cloud. May be the intention was to set the foundation with this meeting, and make the big announcements at Teched or SAPPHIRE. Or maybe I missed out the transformational message when it was mentioned. In any case – there were heavy weight cloud experts in the room with me amongst the influencers, and one of them might explain that part better.

Sameer Patel could not present his vision for social and collaboration in the event proper, but he took time at lunch to educate me on that. I am duly impressed – and it is a grown up version of how social and collaboration should work in enterprises, and it puts it in the context of business processes where it belongs.  Sameer gets the prize for the best elevator pitch of the day.

There was a slide shown at the end of the meeting, but put under NDA – which is kind of sad, since that was the best part of the story. Maybe the next time around, they should start with that picture and work back to the technology issues and solutions. I know it sounded cryptic – but I respect SAP’s reason to put an embargo.

Bottom line – SAP should do some serious homework on unifying the theme of their cloud story . Knowing many of the people involved in this, I don’t have the slightest doubt that SAP will get its act together quickly. It is not to please us bloggers that they should do it – if they don’t do this in quick time , there won’t be much attention from their customers who are getting better messages from other vendors. HANA will run fine for SAP for another year with no issues – but without cloud and mobility picking up pace big time, SAP might not live up to big ambitions of its leadership team. And as much as the story is important, SAP needs to find a good candidate from inside the company or outside to say that story clearly to the world.

This was way longer than I expected when I started the rant here, and I am sure I missed a lot of points. But given my day job needs me to to run back to my customers :)

 

 

On Business, IT And Artificial Distinctions


Whoever started the concept of IT treating Business as a customer did a big disservice to the world. Don’t get me wrong – I grew up thinking that Business is the dog, and IT is its tail, and the tail does not get to wag the dog. My thinking has evolved a lot recently, mostly because in the last few years – I got more exposure to some forward thinking CXOs.

IT is not the only cost center in a business, and neither is it usually the biggest in head count or budgets. Yet why is it that CIOs have to treat others – from both profit centers and cost centers – as customers? How many times have you heard the head of HR or Marketing refer to their fellow  leaders as customer? IT is as much a part of business as HR and Marketing, and hence should not be expected or forced to be subservient to rest of the organization.  How many organizations can even last a week in business these days if IT did not operate with great efficiency? That being the case – why not give IT its due place at the table for decision making?

There is only one customer – the end customer who pays the bills. IT, and everyone else like Sales, Marketing and HR have to work together to delight that one customer. Any change from that singular focus to create an artificial distinction between internal and external customers is just a waste of precious time, money and resources, and rarely results in anything good.

IT is a competitive differentiator – and rest of the organization needs to understand and appreciate that. If IT does not do a good job, it is virtually impossible for rest of the organization to do internal or external work efficiently. And those companies that have better IT capabilities typically have an edge over those that do not. That being said – not all CIOs do a good job in making a case for IT to be treated on par with other parts of the organization.

In most cases, CIO budgets have shrunk over time, or have remained flat. And the vast majority of the CIO budget is just spent on keeping the lights on.  The question is – how many CIOs can spend more time with other parts of business to impact top line and bottom line, compared to the time they spend on operations? If they spend most of their time on operations – obviously, their chance of earning the respect of their peers and leaders decreases. Don’t get me wrong – ops are very important, but that needs to get into a model that sustains itself with minimal supervision. Outsourcing might be a way for CIOs to get to spend less time on worrying about ops, but that is not to say it is a magic bullet. That is a whole another topic though.

The budget constraint is an artificial one in several cases. Budget is a constraint only when there is no way to prove that value obtained through the spend is greater than the cost involved.  Some of the smartest CIOs I know of don’t worry about budgets for the most part. They know that if they approach their peers with proposals that show value greater than cost, they have good chances of securing the budget. Sadly, not all CIOs operate this way. And these are the type of CIOs who are consulted by their peers in rest of the organization on how to take the company to the next level. They are a far cry from being order takers.

Several vendors have latched on to this distinction of IT and Business big time – especially software and SaaS vendors. Their mantra these days is that “We are all about the business, and not about IT” . In some cases this just translates into “CIO’s office will poke so many holes in our offering that we will never close a sale, so we try to circumvent them by going to other parts of business and say that IT is blocking them from earth shattering progress” . In other cases, these vendors have a genuine case to go to non IT buyers directly. But from the customer’s stand point – it makes perfect sense for rest of organization to involve the CIOs office in IT buying decisions. At the very least – this will make sure that non functional requirements like security, scalability, roadmap etc will get more thoroughly checked out before issuing the PO. It should also be not forgotten that IT will probably need to live with supporting the solution once it is implemented.

There are plenty of pundits – and CIOs – out there who say that for IT to be effective, the CIO needs to report to the CEO. I have not seen any real evidence in real life scenarios to support this claim. Reporting to the CEO usually will mean the CEO just becomes a bottleneck to making several IT decisions. This is not to say CIO should not have access to CEO – he or she should of course have access. But adding an additional layer or two should not hurt all that much. CIOs mostly report to CFOs or to head of procurement in several companies. I fully expect them to report to CMOs at some companies too. As CIOs do more and more to help in front line business, I think the conventional org chart will see the impact. But the converse that org chart is what drives CIO success lacks merit in my limited experience.

That was a lengthier rant than I thought I would go into. Many thanks to my buddies who debated this endlessly today with me . Lets keep the conversation going. And sincere thanks to the client CXOs who helped change my views on this matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Workday IPO – First Impressions


So the much anticipated IPO of Workday is here. http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1327811/000119312512375787/d385110ds1.htm#toc385110_13  . Pretty detailed S-1 too. I just flipped through it and also read Dennis Howlett’s blog on it on ZDNET.

The best part of this is that the founders have a long term plan to keep control of the company, and virtually eliminate chances of a hostile take over. I wonder if this will get punished by market or not – probably it will, just for the short term. Customers should like this arrangement – so in long term this should work in company’s favor.

No surprises on revenue – and excellent growth rate. And while COGS is high, it is not that bad given they are young and need to invest in getting big client names, product development, marketing and so on. That will generally stabilize in future and make the company more profitable.

It is interesting to note in the S-1 that “…most of our non-cancellable contract terms have averaged four years“. I fully understand the reason to do this. I just wish some cloud pundits stop saying SaaS companies somehow always do “pay by drink” and “no lock-in like legacy vendors” .  There is plenty of lock-in for SaaS players, and I never really understood why some pundits try to portray otherwise. Customers are not stupid – they know how economics work for vendors, and they factor it into buying decisions.

Mr McNamara , CEO of Flextronics is a Director for the company, and has stock in the company. Flextronics is a big name customer of the company too. I really like Workday’s strategy of getting some skin in the game from customers, and industry leaders. Interestingly, SaaS pundits don’t always mention this relationship of Workday and Flextronics when they highlight “Flextronics chose Workday” .

There is not a lot of presence outside US from revenue perspective. It is not a big deal since there are plenty of customers to go after in US itself for next few years. But they do need to expand in short order to remain viable for global companies. Workday is still kind of a one trick Pony with just HR as their game since very few customers have used them for Financials. For them to be a credible threat to ORCL and SAP and so on, they have long ways to go. R&D should stay high for many years while they develop all the functionality depth and breadth.

S-1 says it takes 3 to 9 months for an implementation. Dennis Howlett characterizes it as “incredibly fast” in his excellent blog. http://www.zdnet.com/understanding-workdays-ipo-filing-7000003569/ . I am not sure  if this is a completely fair characterization since the 12 to 18 months of on-premises SW typically has multiple modules of functionality unlike what Workday offers today.  Since Dennis definitely knows cloud and Workday more than I do, I assume he had more in mind when he wrote this.

All things considered, I think Workday is a fantastic company with a bright future. Good luck to them on their IPO.

 

Added : https://plus.google.com/118281770914088081017/posts/b8fJR6w71Yq  excellent summary in bullets from Jarret P

Not Even Apple Can Keep The Market Happy


So AAPL announced its Q3 results – and next thing we know its shares took a beating – almost down 5% in after hours trading when I looked. Did anything change fundamentally for AAPL to deserve this brutal treatment from investors? I doubt it – they are just paying the price for being a very successful public company for the most part. It is not as if they did bad in absolute terms – they made a lot of money in the quarter, but not enough to keep up with the market’s instiable appetite for more.

Their product cycle did not do AAPL a lot of favors – despite the excellent iPad sales, and a new mac model. Everyone I know – and me – are waiting for the new iPhone. Till next model comes out, large numbers of  existing customers will not pay for an existing model . It is not as if the analysts did not know it – they just did not cut AAPL any slack for it.

There is an interesting question here – how much of iPad sales is killing the traditional mac revenue? I know many who barely use a PC or Mac any more, and just use iPads. I have seen this more with ex-PC users. But this might be affecting mac buying behavior quite a bit too. I am sure some smart analyst has figured it out. I need to find out more. While AAPL is a clear leader with iPads,  the tablet market is getting brutally competitive. So they cannot slacken one bit on iPads .

AAPL has always been very conservative when it comes to guidance to market. It is now at a stage where Apple’s guidance and  analyst consensus is a few billion dollars apart for revenue each quarter. That is a lot of money to make up every time. Apple and Analysts need to reach some middle ground to avoid wide swings. It is hard to pull off though given AAPL’s success.

Some small investors will probably panic as always and sell now. My feeling is that some smart fund managers will just buy at the low price given the company has strong fundamentals and tonnes of cash.

AAPL might not be totally immune to economic issues in Europe – and that could be a long term issue. I would be keen to see how 4Q turns out for them. Guidance for 4Q is 34B USD – which is probably way too low for keeping analysts happy. I am pretty curious to see if they will revise it soon after seeing the stock take a hit.

 

 

Shelf life of innovaton


To begin with – I wonder if someone will argue with me if I just say “there are only so many original ideas in this world”.  I am sure someone would – I can think of a few people I know on social media who hold a different view. In any case – I firmly believe original ideas are limited.

But is innovation a term to define an original idea? I am not sure – partly because I am not a scholar in English language.  I cannot draw a firm difference between invention and innovation when it comes to an original idea. The idea of invention and innovation is to improve something in general.

If someone comes up with a cure for cancer – we will probably call it an invention. And when the next person comes up with an even better way to cure cancer – it gets called an innovation, or less charitably – an improvement. And the judgement passed on this is not done by the cancer patient who got cured or the doctor who treated the patient. It will be done by authors, analysts, scientific community etc – all of whom are a degree or two or more separated from what actually happened. Whether we call it invention, miracle, innovation, minor improvement or a waste of time and money all depends on the eye/tongue/keyboard of the beholder.

What is innovation then?  It is a comparison to status-quo, isn’t it? If I do something better today than yesterday, I have done some innovation. But will anyone other than me agree that it is innovation? Should I wait to call it innovation till I find a few more people to agree with me? If making money is key – then yeah, I suppose a few people should agree with me. These should be buyers, people who influence buyers etc.  This also explains why vendors shout out about innovation before any customers benefit from their wares. Good for them.

What is forgotten in this dialogue (err..monologue since I am the only one “talking” here now) is the time dimension of innovation – or more accurately, the shelf life of innovation.  So I and a few others get to agree that what I just produced can be called innovation.  And someone is willing to pay money to get it. As time progresses, I keep tweaking my product (to keep getting some money to earn a profit, to fund new projects, to go to Australia to watch a boxing day test match and so on) . Will each tweak be called innovative? Or because I did innovation once, will I continue to be known as an innovator?

From the money point – there are two ways I can make money. I can charge money for tweaks by charging a maintenance fee (the type SW companies do) or I can bring a new version every now and then and convince customers to (optionally) pass down old ones and buy new ones (like car companies, Apple etc do).  As a customer, I prefer the former model where I get everything I need for a smaller price tag every year, as opposed to spending money (equal to or more than original investment)  again to buy the next version.  Companies who charge a maintenance revenue are tagged with “improvements” and companies that make you buy the new version all over again are tagged “innovators” or even “inventors”.  Am I the only one who thinks this is strange?

For me as a vendor – if making money is my prime objective, the latter model is probably better.  Of course I cannot do this one product – I will need a portfolio of products so that no one product can sink the ship if it fails to sell. I also need a brand that holds significant value and loyalty. Car companies and Apple have proven that this is a workable model. I have several friends who have bought iPads every time Apple had a new model. I also know many friends who for generations have bought Chevy, Ford or BMW.   I don’t have any friend who buys cars from Chevy, Ford or BMW every time there is a new model though :)

This model is rarely seen in software side. The successful companies like IBM, SAP, MS all have made excellent software – used by millions of users for their daily jobs. Their solutions have long shelf life. And they charge a maintenance fee to provide improvements and support over time.  They also come up with new solutions that fetch more upfront money than the annual maintenance.  But since they don’t make people buy new models every few months – they almost never get any credit for innovation like Apple from the analyst/blogger community.

The criticism on”incremental-ism” is not without merit – customers are not always given sufficient “big enough” changes all the time. Vendors need to address that. However – it is not as if customers use what is available already all the time either. If I take SAP as an example – very few customers take time to find out what is available to them in Enhancement packages that they can use to improve their business process.  And only a few go on all the way to implement it unless forced by laws and regulations etc.  Vendors know this – so they strike a balance on how much they will improve existing products vs invest in new ones. Of course when they come up with new ones – there are people (like me) who will question its maturity.  There is no easy answer here.

One last thing – adding “disruptive” to innovation. I believe this idea of “disruptive innovation” came from Clay Christensen.  I do agree it is a neat idea. Where I differ from some other people is the frequency at which disruption can be done without losing efficiency of doing business.  I cannot get my head around the notion of a business surviving technology disruptions every year in the name of innovation. But listening to some experts on the topic – and resisting the temptation to name names – I constantly get this feeling that they expect customers to be friendly to this idea of constant change.  I know a CIO who had to fight more than a year to convince his company to let go of on-premises MS office and go to a cloud based office 360 solution. I doubt he can fight 5 such battles a year.

Just when I was all tired about the innovation – I spoke to an ex-colleague on phone. He says that the need to be innovative is so yesterday. His company is now moving on to be inventive.  That is the new cool kid now it seems. At least can we go back and talk about “Synergy” or something again , or is retro not cool anymore either?

 

 

Cloud And Mobility Market In India – See It To Believe It !


As I am finishing up my visit to India, I cannot help but wonder why I chose to make a living in USA, and not here. As I stepped out the air conditioned room I was sitting in at my parents’ apartment to drive to a restaurant with my dad for lunch today afternoon – the answer became clear. It is the heat and  humidity, the pollution, lack of effective governance, inability of people to stand in a line, the terrible traffic and the lack of large number of dog shows.  It definitely is not about money any more – wherever I turn, I can see an opportunity to make a successful for-profit business.

Since I had some time on my hand, I walked around trying to gather some primary intelligence on what the potential opportunities are in India.

Any one who has been to India knows that Indians have a craze for mobile phones. I always thought that bandwidth is a big problem here.Guess I was wrong. I did not have a single dropped call here. I am typing this on a tablet using Wifi at my parents’ house in Trivandrum, while also streaming CNN on my PC . Speed is not the same as what I get in USA, but not bad at all.

My dad, who can use a computer – but usually stays away from it, has two. My mom has one. The guy who sells vegetables in the local market has three, the butcher has a belt around his waist that holds 4, plus the one he has connected to his ear via a blue tooth, the 9 year old daughter of our neighbor here has an iPhone and so on.  I am also (proudly?) convinced that my dad and his uncle can out-SMS most kids I know in USA.  All business is done on mobile – usually via SMS. My mom can book a table for dinner, call a cab, ask for home delivery, get a prescription refill -  all by SMS – and apparently so can everyone else I have met here in these last couple of weeks.

So I decided to ask a few of these vendors on how they manage this traffic of incoming calls and text messages. Apparently they are at their wit’s end on managing this. Most small vendors have paid assistants who answer the calls and text messages, and keep a tab on a piece of paper or an old diary and send back confirmation. The more advanced ones use a excel sheet.

In a given day, they lose about 20% of their orders (some as high as 50% on high volume days) due to clerical errors.  I know many of these people from the time I was a toddler, since I grew up here. And they know I do some work with computers.  Several of them asked me if I can write them something on a computer to help them do their business better. They did not press this issue since they all had a line of customers waiting behind me in most cases to do actual business. The only mobility scenario I found here that has a good degree of sophistication is mobile banking, and it is widely used.

This led me to the issue of how pervasive are computers and internet connections in this segment.  Although everyone in this “Very Small Business” category had one or more mobile phones – usually a smart phone, none of them had a computer at work.  Most of them said they have one at home that their kids use, and that they pay for broadband access. Sure enough they have no idea what their kids do with their PCs. So whatever solution these folks need – has to be done via a mobile device.

I would have died of shock if I found an Apple Store in Trivandrum – and I did not. However, I had a near shock experience when I found that there is a Samsung showroom exclusively for smartphones and tablets. I swung by the store, and it is pretty big and nice and carries everything that one would expect in similar stores in other countries.

Next up in my agenda was to move up the chain and talk to people who run bigger businesses – like builders, architects, automobile workshops, car dealerships , law firms etc. Again, most of them are folks I know from before, and/or known to my parents.

Their big problem is managing their financials, payroll and compliance without extreme trouble. On the high end, they have software – either commercially purchased, or built in-house.  They have in-house IT staff and an army of accountants to keep the business running and compliant. In the lower end – they have all bought a computer or two, and some accounting software, and an internet connection. But no one seems to use it well. Many of the smaller shops have not switched on the computer in years.

There is no POS integration to begin with, even in some of the bigger shops. And even in shops that say they use computers well – I could see the industrial strength printer working non-stop generating the big multi-column reports. None of the business owners knew with any accuracy on their working capital, or gross profit. Apparently they need to talk to their auditor’s staff periodically to see how the business is doing financially.  There is zero workflow that is automated. Workflow essentially is a bunch of people running around with print outs of emails, or shouting over cubicles.

There is apparently an e-governance initiative under way in the government. They are now keeping electronic copies of everything – but of course, they also print everything in triplicate and file the hardcopies just in case a disaster happens. It does not help that the laws have not kept up with computer advances – so some of this hard copy fascination is just a response to legal requirements.  Traffic tickets etc are still dispensed by hand, and I have not seen any officer on the street using a smart phone or something for work. Everyone has a personal phone – usually very advanced ones. May be government can save some money by encouraging BYOD here.

I had to renew my passport here, and walked into the local office. Before I left USA, I had uploaded all the required documents into their site.  The passport services is at least partially outsourced here. The lady from TCS who handled my case at first window took one look at her screen and said – ” Your file is no good. You have left many of the mandatory fields empty” . I honestly did not know what to say. I decided against asking her why her system saved my application if it had missing mandatory fields . Next up, she said “I see you have uploaded all the documents. Unfortunately, I cannot download any of them in our system. So you can just give me photocopies”. I felt smug that I had already anticipated this will happen. Eventually she handed me off from Window A to Window B. I physically took some paper work from A to B. Person at B told me I also needed to include my marriage certificate. I had it handy, but he would not take it – I have to restart at A . Ok, so I did that. Eventually I was handed over to B and then C . At C, the lady double checked everything that B did, and that was it – in 3 hrs, I was out of there.  I would love to meet the person or team that designed the process and the wonderful software, and get a copy of my paperwork autographed.

The last area I tried to understand was how sales force of these companies use IT, if at all. Field sales for these medium size companies have company issued phones, and in some cases smart phones. Some of them also have laptops. They file field reports either on paper, or in a word document that is emailed. Some one in back office then files it in appropriate folders etc. For things like price and availability , they use the company phone to check with their friends or with back office. T&E is all done with paper, and needs manual signatures for approvals.

In each of the above cases, there are existing solutions – usually in cloud as SaaS, and most of them have a mobile interface of some sort. Yet, I saw very little awareness – instead the smart people who run these businesses have just adapted their business model to overcome the lack of technical advances. I asked them if this was due to a limitation on their part to spend money. The answer was eye opening. Every one including the butcher with the belt full of mobile phones to the builder of big high rises is willing to spend money on getting a solution that will help their business. They are only too aware of what they are losing out.

I asked them if the local IT companies have ever approached them offering solutions. Overwhelmingly, the answer has been an emphatic NO.  Additionally, the perception I got was that the local companies – even smaller ones -  only care about winning work from abroad and executing in India, as opposed to winning work locally. I don’t know if this is because of their cost structures or for some other reason.

At least with these people I spoke with – there is some awareness of social media  but near zero awareness for social business. Some of them use Facebook to keep in touch with their children who live abroad. Only one person knew what twitter was. On the bright side, I showed some of them what to do with FB and twitter and some of these folks seemed to like it.

Finally, I did a gut check with some colleagues in Bangalore, and some old classmates from Trivandrum – apparently the IT companies in India do play heavily in domestic market, but focus almost solely on large enterprises in India.  From a couple of weeks of asking around, I am firmly convinced that cloud and mobility are both potentially big plays in India for the very small to medium sized firms.  At a minimum, I would urge my friends at software vendors all over the world to check out the market first hand . Seeing is believing.

Slightly off topic – I had to spend some time at a hospital here in Trivandrum this week, where my aunt was admitted. Absolutely the best doctors were in charge of the treatment for sure – and the staff followed absolutely the worst process ever engineered. Plenty of administrative “paper based” mistakes were made in the few hours I was there, and I almost had to pinch myself to check if I was in 2012 or 1712. This does not really need mobility or cloud to solve – just good old client server will do. Or even a better paper based approach – I just cannot imagine life and death issues being handled through the current pathetic process.

And Appleby says , It’s Cloudy out there…


For the first time ever on my blog, I have a guest post by my dear friend, John Appleby – fellow SAP mentor, blogger and an executive at Bluefin, in London, UK.  So without further ado – Ladies and Gentlemen,  I present to you, John Appleby :)

 

When you go to a major conference, tributes to the blogging gods must be paid. Not because we have to, but because the creative energy that surrounds such an event makes you think. And in this case I’d like to thank my good friend Vijay for hosting my thoughts.

And it was so that a senior executive in SAP came over to me whilst I was stuffing my face at lunch and said “John, if I understand you correctly, you believe it is still Cloudy?”. He was referring to their cloud strategy but I realised that actually, I have no clue what an Enterprise Cloud Strategy looks like.

It is true that there are two broad cloud business models that indisputably work.

Small and Medium Enterprises – the suite

I know that if I were starting a new business, I wouldn’t invest in IT assets. I would let each employee expense a laptop and provide then access to some cloud services. And it is so that Netsuite has grown to a $236m revenue over 12000 customers which means an average of $1600 per customer per month. Margins are low but customers are buying.

So as a small business, organisations may buy from a single vendor or from a collection – depending on what suits the needs best. Either way there is no desire to have expensive IT assets in an office somewhere.

Large Enterprises – innovation in LoB

Large Enterprise ERPs are inflexible and as a result, organisations like Salesforce, Workday and so on have poached customers from the large ERP vendors like SAP or Oracle. There are a small number of such potential solutions that are horizontal (i.e. apply to all industry verticals) and a very large number that are industry-specific.

Salesforce Automation, Procurement, Cash Management, Credit Management, Talent Management – all of these and more are relevant such areas.

Is there a demand for a Large Enterprise Cloud Suite?

I’ve spent several late nights discussing this with all manner of people, including good friend Dennis Howlett who claims “the suite always wins”. He might be right but I think that it is in conflict with the current cloud market dynamic.

The reason for this is because right now, it is a number of niche players that have thrown together an app, integration and have created massive demand. But the operating margins are very slim. For Salesforce it is 6%. For Success Factors, there is a small loss. The same for Ariba.

Most of those companies survive as far as they have by trying to grab land as fast as possible and by creating platforms that move quickly but are not carefully architected. So suppose you want some of this market – would you rather try and build something, or acquire?

The problem in building a platform

The challenge is simple: those organisations throwing together a platform can barely make the economics work. But if you build a full cloud platform then you lose agility and add cost. This makes no sense at all economically, and nor could you compete with the niche LoB players like Salesforce, that are normally bought directly by the business.

How do you convince Sales and HR that they should buy a common platform? What is the benefit of that? What’s more there is very limited benefit in doing Financials at all – it’s just a means for posting.

Is land grab the only strategy?

This leads us to what SAP have been doing so far. They acquired Successfactors for $3.3B and Ariba for $4.3B. Given that Salesforce and Workday are not for sale, there are not many horizontal vendors left. The major area is that of areas of Finance – cash management and credit management. Are there others? Other than that there are a bunch of LoB apps focussed on Industry Verticals.

But in the end, I suspect that grabbing users and apps is the only relevant strategy right now. What happens next is the interesting part. Common sense dictates that Dennis is right and the suite will win in time, and therefore the only sensible strategy has to be to build out a suite to underpin land grab.

Final Thoughts

One thing is for sure – I wouldn’t want to have Lars Dalgaard’s job. Getting this part right is near impossible. It’s cloudy out there.

SAP buys Ariba for $4.3B – rather pricey, but still a good deal


As I was fighting jet lag and lying wide awake on my hotel bed in Bangalore yesterday night, I saw the news on twitter that SAP is going to buy Ariba for $4.3B. When IBM bought Emptoris earlier, there was always a question of who will buy Ariba – and my bet was on Oracle. And I am happy that it is SAP who finally did it. I am not sure why SAP did not announce this at SAPPHIRE last week, but I guess it doesn’t matter really.

Jim Snabe told us at Orlando last week that he envisions SAP to be a big player in business networks. At that point, several acquisition scenarios flashed through my mind, but Ariba was not on that list. As a matter of fact, Ariba hadn’t even crossed my mind for a few years now. They make less than a $500M in revenue,so my first thought was $4.3B was too much of a premium. Now, looking at the market cap – it looks like SAP is paying about 20% above closing price. Given the high multiples companies like SAP are paying for buying cloud companies, I wonder when they will generate real profits.

Ariba’s Calderoni will be a terrific addition to SAP’s board. I absolutely loved his decision to hive off services wing of the company to Accenture some time ago, so that Ariba can focus on what it does best. He was a CFO before he got the big job, and he is on the board of directors of Juniper Networks and KLA-Tencor. SAP could definitely use his experience well.Of course Ariba was not always a cloud company. So there is a learning opportunity for SAP here on how they can transform their big on-premises model into a more cloud enabled organization, by using Ariba’s experience. The one thing I do not understand at the moment is how Lars will lead the whole cloud business unit, and Ariba remains independent. Hopefully some one can provide clarity on this.

It is a bold move from SAP’s side for sure. They just paid more than $3B for SFSF few months ago, and now shelling out another $4.3B for Ariba shows a firm commitment to cloud. And it is consistent with their stated strategy of focusing on customers, vendors, money and people.

As I think more about this – the contrast with SFSF is quite apparent. SFSF is a solution that addresses more people since it is for employees. However, it is only used occasionally during the year due to the nature of the problem it solves. Ariba on the other hand targets much fewer users – but the usage is pretty high since it keeps track of purchases globally. So, SAP now has expertise in both models of cloud solutions.

I have a feeling that my buddy Sameer Patel is excited at the prospects of this acquisition. Ariba, at the heart of what it does – is all about enterprise level collaboration for purchasing/trading, which is close to Sameer’s heart. It makes even more sense now that SAP wisely hired Sameer.

Unifying all these cloud solutions – some acquired, some home grown into one consistent architecture and UX, is a complex task. But who better than Vishal Sikka to take that on? I think Ariba will have tremendous use of HANA compared to SFSF. SAP also can derive some synergy with BW and BOBJ in the context of what Ariba does for enterprises.

SAP has its strength in some of the atomic processes in Source to Pay, and Ariba has in some. And there is plenty of overlap between SAP and Ariba for now – and I am sure that will get rationalized over time. With the combined force of SAP and Ariba, Source to Pay could see some real innovation (Source to Pay is one of the most frequently outsourced business process, mostly due to manual steps) in business process. Combined with HANA – I am sure we will see a lot of change in SAP’s and Ariba’s user base.

In general, but for the heavy premium they paid, I am a big fan of this acquisition by SAP. And If I am wrong – I will blame it on jetlag :)

Some random thoughts on SAP’s cloud strategy


As I am flying to Bangalore, I have been thinking of SAP’s cloud strategy – or at least what I understood as their strategy – a fair bit. In general, they did not blow me away. However, I do think they have a lot of things done right. So here are some random thoughts for what it is worth.

SAP is targetting 4 groups – Customers, Employees/People, Money and Vendors. I like that – that covers a lot of the enterprise.But if being everything to everyone was a successful strategy, Business By Design would have scaled greater heights by now, which obviously has not happened. So somethings need to be prioritized over others. The big players in cloud – like SFDC, targeted specific segments and did not try to be everything to everyone. And in general – including SFSF – they have attracted more customers and users than SAP ever did.

I have often raised the opinion that SAP should run cloud as a separate business so that they are not burdened financially or bureaucratically by the larger legacy organization. So I was thrilled to see that SAP allowed Lars to operate cloud as an independent business. And he brings tremendous energy and passion to the table, which is also something SAP could do well with. So organizationally – I think SAP is well set.  If there is one question in my mind on this front – it is whether there will be consistency of engineering across SAP anymore if cloud is a separate organization. But given Lars and Vishal seem to be best buddies, I guess it will work out just fine.

SAP will also  offer parts of BByD as loosely coupled apps – like finance for example. This might work out ok – except, I think Finance in itself is more of a necessary evil, than a true innovation. Without financial postings – the rest of SAP won’t work very well . I am not sure how many will buy the finance solution just to run their GL. A few will for sure – but I don’t see it as a growth engine yet.

SAP derives most of its money from the on-premises world. This poses two challenges. One – if SAP takes a suite approach on cloud, they will have to cannibalize some parts of on-premises solutions. And two – they have to integrate cloud with on-premises world. Neither is an easy challenge to overcome.

First about trying to reinvent the business suite on the cloud. Don’t get me wrong – I do think eventually suite needs to run on cloud. What I am not convinced is the need to do it now, since that is not a path of least resistance within or outside SAP. I think SAP would find it much easier to create apps that solve specific problems that on-prem cannot solve easily. For example – on-prem does Accounts Receivables very well, but not Collections and Disputes management because those users typically are not on-premises. So, instead of moving AR to cloud – why not just move collections and disputes management to cloud? And once that is successful – there will be very little reasons for resistance to move rest of AR, and eventually all of GL to cloud, even for big companies.

And about the loosely coupled thing – I am not exactly buying into the idea of “out of the box” integration of cloud to on-premises systems. One – SAP is not considered a leader when it comes to integration technology. And two – on premises world is heavily customized, so nothing really works out of the box there. I made a living as a programmer primarily because nothing integrates in standard. For SAP to have a credible integration story – they should probably buy TIBCO or something ( ok, sorry to my friends who have heard me say this a million times). But given the high valuation, it might not be feasible.

On the social aspects of cloud, I like what they are doing. Combining Jam and Streamwork makes total sense for customers. And I applaud SAP for their stance that “Business” is the better part of “Social business”.

HANA is a perfect DB/platform for cloud. It will be a safe bet for customers and SAP since HANA can evolve and mature much faster in an environment that SAP has full control over.

One last thought before I have to shut my PC off. What is SAP’s data center story? Cloud needs significant data center efficiency. I think I heard SFSF has its own data centers. If SAP is serious about cloud in a big way – I think it is in their best interests to tell the world more about their strategy on data centers. And to extend that thought – they might even have to buy a hardware company at some point.

I am out of here before the flight attendant of this AI flight will shut my laptop down for me herself. Let me know what you think.

SAPPHIRENOW 2012 Orlando, day 3 – HANA, Developers, Partnership – and one more thing !


Day 3 has been my favorite ever since Vishal and Hasso started keynoting on the last day of SAPPHIRE. So I was up bright and early, and got to the keynote area much before it started.

Unlike last year, this time it was Hasso who started the Keynote. The first part of his session was all over the place, and did not do justice to his tremendous showmanship and technical brilliance. My feeling is that Hasso should be allowed to do it freeform without the constraints of the teleprompter and powerpoints. I would go to the extent of saying, he should also be given a whiteboard that can be projected on the screen so that he can explain his concepts more clearly. He took plenty of shots at oracle, with roaring approval from his fans in the audience.

The highlight of the keynote for me was Vishal announcing that developer licenses for HANA and Neo are now free. That is awesome news – and gratifing to all of us who have made the case with SAP in the past.

Vishal also announced the GA of Visual Intelligence, previously codenamed Hilo. It is a great product – but not the most mature. It hardly had a ramp, which is probably ok since it is a desktop tool. It fills a void in SAP’s portfolio today, and I hope it can match its established competitors some day soon. The only surprise for me was that it did not support Universes in first release. I asked that question to Adam Binnie and Mani Srinivasan – and they assured me that it will get new releases very quickly.  Having seen Mani in action over time, I think SAP has a rock star product manager on their staff. His passion for his product is of the highest order of magnitude.

Hasso downplayed ERP on HANA – which I think is the right thing for SAP to do. He also explained how OLAP and OLTP loads are different in nature.  ERP on HANA is not the best use of SAP’s time – I think they just aim to do this to gain credibility for SAP to tout HANA as a full fledged database.  ERP on HANA makes a lot more sense for SAP if it becomes simpler, and hence cater to an eventual convergence of on-premises and cloud versions. But just for speed – it is limited to long running batch jobs like payment runs, clearing of documents, dunning etc.  but considering SAP has to rewrite a lot of code in existing system, I doubt if it is a worthwhile investment.

A big problem for folks going into HANA on Business Suite is the quality of SQL knowledge they need.  what we knew of as SQL as ABAPers won’t cut it. Actually the development paradigm of going to database for the minimum, and using more of ABAP is inefficient totally. Even for a SQL developer – he/she should know how to make use of set operations, since cursor based SQL is kind of like doing it in old ABAP. This skillset issue is something SAP and ecosystem should address head on. Product development on HANA should take education along with it. In this regard – I should thank Margaret Anderson and her CSA team for their stellar efforts in keeping us partners educated on HANA all the time, even as things change quickly.

Jeff Word’s HANA book, which some of us contributed to – was heavily pushed at the event. I got a copy signed by Hasso, Bill, Jim and Vishal. I need to get Jeff’s autograph too some day before I use it for the reason I got it all signed. Here is a picture.

https://twitter.com/#!/vijayasankarv/status/203693371292790784/photo/1

It was a gratifying experience for me personally, since IBM got a lot of coverage in the keynote. The 100 TB system for HANA is IBM X series scale out machines, and we saw the subsecond response time on it. I had mentioned to many people at SAP including Vishal, Sethu , Aiaz and Steve Lucas that they should pull the plug on a HANA box during the keynote. And they did exactly that – and it worked like a charm. We saw the fail over of the nodes on the big screen. I hope SAP will provide additional details of the data stored in those nodes, time taken and so on later. HA is a big part of the buying decision for HANA – and I think this exercise will boost customer confidence a lot. The other side of the coin obviously is disaster recovery across sites, to make sure  HANA can be put in data centers without too much trouble and manual intervention. But that is harder to show in a key note. But in near future, I expect SAP to publish more details on HA, DR, log shipping, work load management etc. That will single handedly speed up the HANA sales and delivery for SAP.

Vishal also gave my team a shout out for the working capital management solution we built. Late last week, I got pinged by Vishal and team while I was in the Bay Area. It was a simple request – can I come quickly to Palo Alto to meet them, or should they drive out to meet me? I drove to SAP’s offices and showed the app to Vishal and team and they loved it. And they loved it and put it on key note. Thanks folks – much appreciated. Also a big shout out to Dennis Howlett who was the first to tell me this is exactly the type of solution HANA should power. Thanks Dennis. And last but not least – a HUGE shout out to my dear colleagues and their leader Gagan Reen who worked tirlessly to build out 8 end to end usecases to show case business applications of HANA. You guys ROCK, and I could not be more proud of you.

I also got to short interviews on video with the two leaders who manage IBM’s global SAP consulting business, and North American SAP consulting business – Jay Bellissimo and John Leffler. A colleague shot the video of both, and I am waiting to get the download from her. If it came out half decent – I will post it here. These guys have both seen SAP evolve, and I think it will be useful to others in SAP ecosystem to hear their perspective. I am not a skilled interviewer – so I am not holding my breath on this coming out with high quality, but lets see.

And oh – just one more thing. While at SAPPHIRE, I got announced officially by IBM’s Managing Partner for SAP Practice as “Head of Global and North America SAP Forward Engineering team”.  Thanks John and Jay and the leadership team.

It is quite a mouthful – and what the title means is that I will lead the efforts in IBM’s consulting organization for the innovation agenda in our SAP partnership – including HANA, Mobility and Cloud. My charter is to build the capabilities in engineering to put SAP’s amazing technology innovations in the context of business applications to add value to our customers. It is a tall order, and I am humbled at being given this opportunity.

I knew of this for a few months now, and till the official announcement came – I have already been working on many of the things this job entails. One thing I know for sure is that I cannot do this alone – so I am looking forward to collaborating even more with customers,  the SAP community, SAP itself and within the larger IBM organization to collectively surface the best solutions.  I already have solicited input from many people and they have all been generous with their time and ideas – and I want you to know I greatly appreciate it. I am not trying to lead a charge here – I am more looking forward to being an enabler of innovation with the teams and leaders in place today.

There are way too many people to thank – but I will resist the urge to name them all. You all know who you are ! But I have to make two exceptions – without SAP’s Marilyn Pratt’s and Mark Finnern’s efforts, I would have NEVER gone down the path I eventually did with SAP community, and that is what made the difference when I look back.  I cannot thank them enough.  I know all of us SAP Mentors and community members will join me in saying a big thanks to both of these wonderful people for all they do ! they are the BEST !!!