The Second Question

As many of you have pointed out in private and in public – I have not blogged much since I have joined SAP . Trust me it was not intentional – just that other things like kitchen remodeling , getting used to my new job etc took all my bandwidth. But now that remodeling project is complete , I can get back to more blogging etc .

Any way – my first assignment at SAP is to work with our customers and partners to make sure they realize the value of BW on Hana . Since the day I joined SAP – I have been talking to customers about this, and something interesting became clear to me. So I thought it might be useful to summarize my customer and partner conversations in my blog so that we can have a more extensive conversation virtually .

When Suite runs on Hana , BW runs on Hana and assorted data marts run on Hana – what would be different for a business user ? In my opinion – after talking to several customers – it is the “ease of answering the second question” that is the most value adding scenario for a business user – especially the “business analyst” types.

Let me explain with an example that should resonate with many of the readers here

Analysts live in an ad-hoc world – their “real” work starts when an executive asks them a non routine question like “how many bottles of soda did we sell to top 5 distributors in Arizona last summer and how did we do against plan” . Question is simple enough – but there might not be an easy way to answer this .

Analysts will probably go to BW or CRM to find who their top 5 distributors are , how much was sold to them etc. and then they will probably log on elsewhere to find plan information . Finally, all of that gets dumped to an excel sheet , massaged with various vlookup functions etc and a prettied up table and graph will be presented to the executive . Most probably , one of the sources of information is yet another spreadsheet stored in a share point site.

Now, I have never met an executive who had asked all she wants to know in one question – and that includes me !

So as soon as the first answer comes in – the exec would ask her next question . “Hmm – that is interesting , how is that split across the various brands we sold them ?” .

The best analysts know this and will come with as much info that they can second guess. But that is a limited approach with most executives – invariably , more data dumps and analysis will be needed . And this takes time – hours at a minimum, days to weeks usually .

Now, what would change with Hana ?

For starters – a lot of data sitting in BW can be crunched and compared to spreadsheet data on the fly by the analyst without IT help using workspaces . This can be done without Hana too – if speed is not an issue and patience is over abundant .

BW sitting on Hana can be combined easily with other datamarts modeled directly on Hana via composite providers. So – adhoc queries spanning multiple sources become all the more easy . And of course the front end like BI 4.x Analysis makes this an excel friendly exercise .

Now when suite also works on Hana – and suite has the Hana Analytics Foundation under it – this becomes all the more easy . SHAF is nothing but Hana views that can also understand BW data . And of course it understands BI front end tools . So in effect – data sitting in suite, BW and other Hana datamarts are all available to users without a lot of manual work to make sense of it all .

Back to our analyst friend who got the second question – now he can quickly change the query to include more parameters and respond to the executive much faster than in the pre-Hana world . What is not to like ? :)

Of course , Hana does not replace the need to have a good solid BI discipline in place . The right way to look at this in my opinion is to think of how powerful is the scenario of having Hana and a good BI system together than just one or the other (or god forbid, neither).

It is also important to note that suite on hana does not eliminate the need for BW. Neither is it always a good idea to move everything in a BW system to a custom data warehouse even if it sits on Hana . If you are not convinced , try to implement a reporting scenario that is based on an ERP cost center hierarchy with time dependencies directly in Hana and also in BW on Hana . You can see why having these solutions to compliment each other is better than trying to force fit every requirement into one of them .

Now tell me – what is your “second question” I can help with :)

May The Bridges I Burn Light The Way – I am Joining SAP !

First things first – I am not really burning any bridges :)

“Burning bridges” is usually construed as a negative thing – but I mean this in the most positive way. To move forward, I need to let go of parts of my past career. I will also be reusing most of what I learned so far.

That being said, after seven years of working in the global SAP consulting practice at IBM – today I have submitted my resignation to my manager. I have accepted the role of Global Vice President at SAP Labs, and will be working in The Technology and Innovation Platform team (known to friends and family as TIP) , which is Vishal Sikka’s Board area. Words cannot adequately express how happy and excited I am to join this amazing team.

I have been thinking about a change in my career direction for a while now. I decided about 6 months ago that I wanted a change from a traditional consulting career, and move to a software company. SAP of course was a natural choice given I have worked in that field all my life. To my delight, Vishal offered to hire me with IBM’s concurrence. I owe a lot to John Leffler, my boss at IBM, who was totally supportive of me moving to SAP. I am extremely lucky to have a mentor like John. I decided to stay in IBM till end of 2012 to finish all my commitments here, and start the new year at SAP. January 7th, 2013 will be my first day at SAP.

IBM has been an awesome employer for me. I had a lot of diverse assignments, and worked in 3 continents in my tenure there. My last job as the head of forward engineering was probably the most rewarding. In this role – my team and I were able to take cutting edge innovations from SAP and IBM to our customers. I will miss working with Gagan and the gang, but I am sure I will have an opportunity to partner with them in my new job too. The three biggest lessons I take with me from IBM, as I step into SAP are
1. Talent only wins games, Teamwork wins championships .
2. One needs multiple mentors to have a rewarding professional life
3. Investing in ecosystem relationships is the smart thing to do

Details of my new job are still being worked out – but the general idea is to SAP scale its innovations, and reach a large number of customers and users. My dream is for SAP to be able to run a victory lap someday in foreseeable future with a slogan “Earth Runs SAP”. I strongly believe SAP has the potential to touch the life of majority of the world’s population every day in some form in a few years. Between its smart employees, loyal customers and its extensive ecosystem – I think this is a goal worth attempting ( and for my cynical friends – I’ll add, OR DIE TRYING :) )

I do plan to continue to post on this blog as usual. As you probably know – I blog about pretty much anything that takes my fancy – software, music, food, sports, politics, economics – they are all fair game. Hey, I might even write something about IBM from time to time :)

Right out of college, till now, I have always worked for an SI. I have never worked for a software company before. So a part of me is worried whether I will add enough value to SAP. But then, this is an area I know well for many years, and I am still a hands on techie ( for the most part, that is . I am sure someone in my team might contest this notion ). And I know a lot of people at SAP, including several who work in TIP. So I know who to call for help, and I am never shy. So the other part of me thinks I can come up to speed reasonably quickly. I will keep you folks posted on how I manage.

I have been considered an SAP influencer and blogger for some time now. Obviously Mike Prosceno has to kick me out of his program now. It will be fun to see my blogger colleagues on the other side of the table going forward. Knowing them as well as I do, I don’t expect them to cut me a lot of slack with their questions :)

There are a large number of friends at SAP who gave me generous amounts of their time in the last couple of months, as I bombarded them with questions on how various things work at SAP. I can’t thank them enough. I am not going to take any names – but you know who you are, and please know that I am very grateful for all your help and guidance.

Last but not least – many thanks to my friends and mentors Vishal Sikka, Abdul Razack and Sanjay Poonen for the opportunity to work in their team. I truly appreciate that.

Wish me luck !

If Innovation Doesn’t Scale, How Do Vendors Ensure Mass Adoption ?

Few weeks ago, I posted my thoughts on n whether enterprise software companies can scale innovation . I was thrilled to see the quality of debate that this post started – with Thorsten Franz, Michael Bechauf et al jumping in to offer their POVs.

So my next question is – if you cannot come up with innovation after innovation, how do you ensure that the few that have real potential have massive adoption ? Adoption is what makes or breaks software. This is especially true for larger SW companies because they have to make up for the big overheads to remain profitable, keep the lights on existing stuff, and invest in new things. In no particular order, here are a half dozen ideas that come to mind. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but just random thoughts that have been in my mind for some time. Please chime in with your thoughts

1. Evangelize – but more holistically than today

This is easier said than done. Not everyone makes a good evangelist. Evangelists for SW have to cater to different parts of the ecosystem – developers, customers, partners etc. SW evangelists can use some models that seem to work in the world of religion. Evangelists do not preach to the choir – that is just a waste of effort. They are constantly trying to go from place to place and spread the word to people who have not heard the message before. Once people show sufficient interest, the trick is to make sure they don’t change their mind. But the evangelist – who is used to taking extreme stances for good effect on people who need a big leap, are seldom the right people to preach to the already converted. Otherwise, they will run the risk of many of the newly converted ones being put off by their efforts. So there is a need for someone else to take over and keep a steady influence on people who have shown an interest. Compare this to religious groups who meet once a week, and a priest talks to them in a language toned down from the one that evangelists use.

This second part is by and large missing from software evangelism. And I think that is affecting the way adoption is happening, especially with developers. Developers need to be evangelized a few times to get them excited, but if there is no follow up – they will drift away to the messages of the next evangelist.

2. Limit POCs that cannot scale by definition, after the first few are done

When new software comes out, you of course needs a bunch of customers to use it for high impact use cases. And by definition, these POCs are way too specific to be reused elsewhere. There is no way around it – it is a necessary evil in the grand scheme of things. The trick here is to make sure customers don’t look at these as science projects that can shut down the moment vendor team walks out of the door with declarations of victory.

These projects need to be tried out in limited numbers with your most loyal customers. But – set up expectations clearly and for the long term. Agree on what the customer will reasonably need to see for calling the results a success. And then make sure it means – if it is successful, they will take it to production.

This needs some organizational adjustments on vendor side. The black belt warriors who do crazy good POCs seldom have time or inclination to make reference architectures, maintainable code etc. Forcing them to do these will only decrease their efficiency. So I would expect a follow on squad to take up the job of making the project “production quality”, and build as much reuse as possible.

3. Don’t be penny wise, pound foolish – use the ecosystem

Enterprise software companies thrive on ecosystem – so use that to your advantage. No one company can hire enough people to do everything by themselves. There is always a tendency to think that you can make more money by trying to do everything yourself, especially when large amounts of money has been sunk already into products. However, this comes with the risk that adoption will slow down quite a bit. If business is shared with ecosystem partners – you can grow the pie, instead of dividing a small pie into really small chunks. Again – easier said than done. It takes strong sales leadership to take that long term view.

4. Talk where the action is

Existing customers have only so much budget to go around. And existing developers are already fond of you – so they are not running away in a hurry. So – rather than try all the new innovations on the existing base and build up an echo chamber, try to grow the base. This is very very hard – since there is the fear of the unknown. Recruit from places you have never recruited before. Hire consultants from areas you have never hired before. Attract new customers – even if they are only a tiny part of the revenue stream.

5. Software is a game of needs, not a game of wants.

Get better at portfolio management. This is a big problem for enterprise companies – they cling on to everything they ever created. And on top of that – they try to be everything to everyone. When there is only limited budget to go around – why is it that companies try to spread it really thin?

6. If you have money lying around, try financing your customers

Economy is in bad shape. Very few companies want to spend money now – they would rather wait for things to turn for the better before they let go of their purse strings. But if vendors are cash rich – try offering some financing to your customers who have good credit ratings. Not only can you move more product, you will also make some money from interest. Some companies already do it well – but most do not.

SAPPHIRENOW 2012, Madrid – Keynote Expectations

This year, I am not going to Madrid to attend SAPPHIRENOW  and SAPTECHED 2012, due to some scheduling conflicts on work front. I will be following the event online as much as I can. My JD-OD friends will surely do their excellent wrap up videos, and I can’t wait to watch them. Also, a shameless plug for my IBM team at Madrid . Please go visit them at the IBM booth, and ask for Gagan Reen, and watch the retail application we built on HANA, specifically on XS engine.

I am not sure if there is a lot of new news that SAP has to share with the world this time. Not a lot of time has passed after SAPTECHED 2012 in Vegas. I am a big fan of keeping SAPPHIRENOW and SAPTECHED together as one event.  And having events so close to each other serves very little purpose to SAP and its ecosystem. I hope SAP does it in US too – and a change of venue from Orlando and Vegas couldn’t hurt.

I am sure the keynotes from Bill McDermott, Jim Snabe and Vishal Sikka will be awesome, as they usually are. What do I expect from each ?

From Bill McDermott, I expect to hear some color on why an amazing innovation like HANA only has about 650 (probably some more now, since 650 was what we heard in Vegas at Teched) customers. More importantly – what are his plans for 2013 .  APAC is where the action is for a lot of enterprise software. I would love to hear what Bill has to say about unique solutions for APAC companies. Of particular interest to me is what he plans to do to capitalize the mobility market there. It is ripe for the plucking . Checkout what I wrote last week on my way back from India. 

Maybe Bill will let Sanjay Poonen to do a short section of his keynote to explain the mobility strategy in more detail.  Another thing I expect Bill to go into is the convergence of mobility, hana , analytics and cloud . In past keynotes, he has articulated what each bring to the table. But the business value for customers clearly is in the intersection of all (or some) of it.

From Jim Snabe, I expect to hear the business side of SAP’s cloud story – with emphasis on the Ariba acquisition and Collaboration. I am sure several SAP customers will be excited to hear about how SAP is planning to give them extra value on Ariba’s vast business network. And collaboration plays a key role – since none of SAP’s competitors in collaboration space has the advantage of tight integration to the context of business processes.  An interesting side question to SAP cloud strategy is how SAP’s investment in HANA as the DB for ERP, CRM etc ties with the fact that new innovation in business processes from most of their competitors like SFDC, WorkDay etc are on cloud.  So why is SAP choosing to invest in On-premises HANA enablement, when the world is generally moving to cloud?  I hope Jim addresses that question. If I was in Madrid, I would have asked this in person to Jim.

There is no denying that my favorite part of any SAP event is Vishal’s keynote.  From Vishal, I expect to hear the next level of detail on SAP’s platform story. Platform is the future, and SAP’s platform is evolving rapidly. Maybe he will finally announce the sunset of the beloved Netweaver brand for cloud. What would be a really good thing for Vishal to explain is what is the next thing that the millions of ABAP programmers in the ecosystem to do in near future to keep themselves relevant.  It is a captive audience that is extremely loyal to SAP. It would be a crying shame if they are not shown a clear path forward on skills they need for the new-SAP.

Alright then – I am ready to kick back, and watch the virtual event. Good luck SAP .

Mobility In India – Reminds Me of A BoneyM Song Bahama Mama

Last time I went to India was in May of this year. And I came back totally convinced that Mobility and Cloud have tremendous potential there. As I am flying back home to Phoenix now, after a whirlwind trip to India, I have a better perspective of opportunities and challenges.

I know BoneyM might not be popular with some of the readers – so check this video out. When I think of mobility in India , the lyrics of the song that goes “…6 beautiful roses, and no body to pluck them..” come to mind.

First, some observations from last week when I was in India.

Internet speed in India has increased by leaps and bounds, but hotels surely have ways to go in terms of bandwidth they provide their guests. I spoke to the staff at both Windsor and Leela Palace in Bangalore, both amazing hotels – and was told I will be pleasantly surprised if I visit a year from now. I will take them for their word since I know first hand over the years that they take customer service more seriously than almost any other hotel I have stayed in.

Mobile phone bandwidth on the other hand is a different story. I had poor up-time even with international roaming for data and voice. Voice surely was better than data by a long margin.

Device diversity is probably bigger in India than in US – and I found everything from iPhones, iPads, Androids of all form factors, Nokia phones and several blackberry PDAs. Email and Facebook are probably the most used apps from what I could see.
But almost every person I met is an expert in SMS messages. India runs on SMS (and missed calls – no voicemails, people just leave a “missed” call as an indication that they expect a call back).

Mobile banking continues to be a big hit with even the “tech averse” older generation taking an active interest now. I was pleasantly surprised to see many elderly folks take internet connections to just read news on internet, and do internet banking and save trips to the bank.

Mobile users in India seem to have lower expectations of functionality and performance than those in US and Western Europe. However, they do expect extreme simplicity. Given a choice, they would like to live in a world of SMS alone.

With these observations, I have to believe there is tremendous opportunity for someone to take that market by storm. Volume is not a problem in India – there are a billion people, and vast majority seem to have a mobile device of some sort. However – I think a mobile solution for India should have some common aspects to succeed.

1. It should be inexpensive

India needs a volume pricing – and buyers are price concious. And this would mean whatever solution is put in place needs a solid platform to go with it that gives economies of scale.

2. It should work in any device

There is no one favorite device.  It is a gadget friendly nation

3. Wherever possible, use SMS

The country practically runs on SMS. It will take time to change to something else. But if SMS can solve an issue today, there will be lot of people who will buy. This is also good from a multilanguage support point of view. It will be an expensive undertaking to build apps for each Indian language.

4. Offline capabilities is a must

Given high availablity of bandwidth is a pipe dream in several parts of India, some offline capability is a must for any mobile app

5. Government, banks, construction and transportation are easy pickings

Forget your political leanings – India is all about big government, and people look at government for all kinds of things. Vendors should embrace this and not fight it. On bright side, there is plenty of interest from government to IT enable everything. Banks are already on forefront of mobility initiatives, but the opportunity is huge. Construction is probably where the biggest bang for the buck is – there is a high rise coming up anywhere you look. And I am yet to see engineers use a mobile device to do their work in those. Public and private transportation companies are used by everyone, yet hardly make use of mobility. These are the no-brainer type opportunities. I can think of another two dozen or so avenues for mobility initiatives

6. India needs local talent to develop and sell mobile solutions

This is applicable not for just mobile – but ANY solution really. It is a unique place, that many from outside India will find hard to figure out at a level needed to succeed in business. It is not a big deal for vendors since India has amazing talent locally, and a large expat community that can bridge any gaps. It will be a very strategic investment to utilize this talent pool and invest in it now.

7. Extensibility, multi language support can wait a bit

On first impression – it looks like several users in India can live for some time with out of the box functionality. From a good design perspective, of course it is better to build things with extensibility and multi-language support in mind. But it can wait for a bit – I think a profitable business model can be built for short to mid-term without needing a lot of enhancements and multi-language support. Of course I will gladly stand corrected if people who live in India point me in another direction. I am basing this on my short visits, and I am fully aware that I might not have picked up on the nuances.

The question in my mind is – who will seize the first mover advantage in India? Will it be SAP? IBM? Startups? By first mover – I mean the first to try to solve the problem in large scale. I am well aware that this is happening already in a low scale fragmented mode. I must admit I am quite tempted to give it a go myself.

Can Enterprise Software Innovation Be Industrialized ?

Every enterprise software vendor I know of touts innovation in every message they share with their ecosystem. It has many flavors – open innovation, inclusive innovation and so on. Yet, there are very few products that come out that customers cheer as innovative.

That shows a couple things clearly, in my opinion
1. There is more thought leadership and marketing about innovation, and less actual innovation
2. Innovation does not scale

More Talk, Less Action

This is not a surprise, since generally talk precedes action in software circles ( as proven by hype cycles of SOA, social business, big data etc in last 5 years alone).  SOA by now is well accepted, and real projects use it. When it first was talked about and evangelized, very few projects used it. Social business and Big data will most probably follow that same trend.

But unlike with SOA, I see a disturbing trend with newer topics. People who talked up SOA had a good proportion of folks who knew what they were talking about. They could articulate the value proposition, and answer criticism logically and explain the pitfalls. Even then, it took several years for actual projects to use SOA at scale.

That is not true for currently hyped stuff like cloud, big data, social business etc.  There is an absolute minority of people who can sound credible when they talk about these topics. That scares me.  A lot of evangelists of cloud, for example, have never seen a data center, worked closely with an IT organization , been involved with a CAPEX/OPEX decision in their life at big scale, or negotiated a software contract to know how lock in happens in on-demand and on-premises world. Yet, they have no problems advising CIOs (at least allegedly advising) on what they should do about cloud.  And they are the loudest – so I always worry some CIO will inadvertently fall for it and make a bad decision.  A lot of reasonable voices on cloud just drown unnoticed because of the loud evangelizing of the people who are unreasonable.

There is a simple reason I worry about this topic.  I get paid for actual execution of projects. When unrealistic expectations are set for my clients, my job gets harder because a lot of my time will be spent in convincing people to let go of fantasies and get realistic. That is time that I should have spent in executing the project.  I also get criticized by many friends that I have no incentive as a consultant to promote cloud, since it reduces consulting effort. Actually nothing is farther from truth. Cloud needs a lot of change management, integration and migration work . I ( and others like me) will earn a living doing that work instead of on-premises work. So – no , I do not worry for a second about my work disappearing.

Does Innovation Scale ?

I used to think till very recently that innovation scales. I was wrong – it does not scale. I need to live with it. Innovation – and the associated disruption – is not every ones cup of tea. In fact most people cannot live with innovation in their work life. The same people usually love innovation as a consumer of someone else’s work.


To begin with – it is very difficult for two people to agree on definition of innovation.  For example, SAP promotes design thinking a lot. It is a simple philosophy, but if you ask 3 people in SAP to explain it to you – you will rarely get any consistency in their responses. That is not a bad thing really. If two smart teams are given a problem to solve – and they both follow design thinking approach – there is practically no possibility that the two teams will come out with same solution. We all have our biases – formed by our life experiences. That decides what questions we ask, and you only get responses for questions you ask. And the solution you design depends on those answers. Ergo – design thinking is not a magic bullet that helps industrialize innovation.  It does help provide a structure – and that is pretty much it.

We all know what happens when design happens by committee. And if Jobs and Ive tried to ask customers on how to get requirements for Apple products, how would that have worked for them ? So, essentially true innovation needs special people, who by definition are small in number in any population. And even those people can only come out with so many new ideas. Look at Apple – they have shifted to an incremental improvement model now. May be something truly innovative will come again from them in future, but it is a good point for rest of us to know how mass innovation does not happen.

I am still on the fence on effect of inclusion on innovation. That is what I am planning to think through in the next 36 hours or so that it will take for me to reach India.

SAP Teched 2012, Las Vegas – It’s All Good In The Hood

I reached back home few hours ago from SAP Teched Vegas. As always, it was a terrific event that magically gets better every year. Huge congratulations to SAP, and especially to Chip Rodgers for excellent execution. SAP paid for my flights and hotel (thank you very much) since I went there as a blogger . A big thanks to Mike Prosceno (herder for bloggers) and Mark Finnern (herder for mentors) for being such great hosts. Surprisingly, the food at lunch time was quite good this time unlike many previous events.

Unfortunately, I did not get to spend much time at innojam this time due to conflicts in schedule. Its probably the first time I have not competed or judged. I hope it is the last time – it is a terrific event, and I am looking forward to Madrid. I am always amazed at how much effort goes into it from Anne Hardy and gang. SAP is lucky to have them.

Congratulations to my colleague and friend Tomas Krozjl for being named Hana Distinguished Engineer , and to fellow mentor Martin Gillet for taking this photo of us

The blogger and mentor meetings were more manageable this time compared to prior events. So I used most of that time to network – and caught up with several fellow SAP tribe members (and chiefs). And since the information is now more continuous in its flow to influencer community, I did not have to worry about running from session to session trying to find latest information . Admittedly, the excitement part of Teched was low for me – but satisfaction level was higher. It was a lot of fun doing the daily wraps with Dennis, John, Jon and Harald for JD-OD. And we even tried live streaming.

Of course HANA was the big theme of Vishal Sikka’s keynote. It was probably Vishal’s best key note till date. If there is one thing SAP needs to get better at – it is the length of the key notes . It is now a common thing for these sessions to go over time. While the content was quite good – I would have loved to see some customers, developers and the new batch of Hana Distinguished Engineers on the stage. In my opinion, it would have made the event 3 times more effective and enjoyable. Hopefully this will change by Madrid. I loved it that Vishal got several members of his senior leadership team on stage to share the spot light.

I was not sure how Oracle would respond after the infamous #OOW hash tag hijack by SAP when Openworld was going on. I give full credit to Oracle for not responding in kind at teched. They took the high road , and I hope ORACLE and SAP don’t resort to doing anything silly on social media during Madrid SAPPHIRE, and dare I say “ever after” .

The messaging on HANA is getting better. I was happy to see less emphasis on speed, and more on transformation, and a move towards HANA as a platform. A few announcements got my attention.

1. Netweaver Cloud (despite the Netweaver tag, which I wish SAP loses quickly) is now GA. . Go here to get dev licenses –  – and they are free and indefinite, As Anne Hardy tweeted.

2. HANA One is available for productive use (AWS version of HANA). . It is about 64GB in size, which in effect can only hold about 30 GB data, making it near impossible to use it for a real production use case. Once bigger images are a reality, this should become a great model for using Hana . There is no SAP support you can expect for this deployment now. You need to depend on “community” support. Actually not too bad, since community support for HANA has in general been terrific in my experience.

3. MRP on HANA is now available, which should speed up MRP runs quite a bit in ECC, and at least some customers should find that relieving . I am waiting to see the business benefits pilot customers got.

4. Ariba and SFSF will run on HANA in future. This will give serious street cred to Hana when it happens. Replatforming is never easy – and I know this from running a huge replatforming program for a customer for a mission critical non-SAP business application. SAP has a lot of great talent – I am sure they won’t replatform, just for the sake of replatforming.

By Madrid, I expect this to get even better, with a lot of customer stories available. There are only 603 HANA customers now – so SAP has some ways to go. SAP also should weave all these into “we have only one platform” story in Madrid.

I also wanted to point out that I was rather confused that SAP chose to hold a SAP HANA Council at New York, the same week as Teched was happening. Why would they do that at all? This is one week where all the SAP technology executives should be at Teched and addressing customers, developers and partners at their largest technology conference. From the outside, it did look to me like two parts of SAP went in their parallel ways with holding two events the same week, with more or less similar agenda.

I was thrilled to see SAP Co-CEO Bill McDermott at Teched, and had a chance to engage him in conversation. This is very important for SAP to do at Techeds. Bill was of course on his A game as always, and gave an excellent and lively Q&A session. When he said “Not everything is about making money”, I could totally visualize him debating someone in a future presidential election :)

Mobility and Cloud did not get as much attention in keynotes as they deserve, but I will give SAP a pass till Madrid.

There were a half dozen  things that stood out for me this time, and let me spend a couple of sentences on each

1. Hana Startup Program

By far, this was the best meeting at a Teched that I have attended, and SAP should be shouting these start up stories from rooftops. What was very greatifying to hear was some start ups clearly saying they could not have done this in any other technology. Kaustav is definitely doing a bang up job running this program.

2. Usability

I was quite impressed with Sam Yen’s vision of how he intends to make usability discussions go away when talking about SAP. It is a tall order given the history of hundreds of thousands of ugly screens (by today’s standards). Persona’s – which lets a non-technical user to make their screens look better very quickly – are a great idea. No points for guessing Dennis Browne and team made this possible. They are rock stars. What I liked the most about the hour spent with Sam is the idea of getting better usability without boiling the ocean. It is a targeted approach of identifying the right screens for each customer. It is fairly easy technically, since Kernel upgrades are all it needs . No enhancement packs are needed. Now – not all is well. It is built using Silverlight technology, and it will take time to move it to HTML5. And it costs money to buy the repeatable custom solution . The big competition is from good old GUIXT. But all things said, this is a great move by SAP. And good luck to SAP for taking this role.

3. SAP Store

Dan Maloney explained his vision of how all the SAP stores – things like ecohub that SAP built, and things like eShops that came to SAP via acquisitions – will all merge into one store. I was skeptical that SAP AEs will not like it, but was pleasantly surprised to hear AEs will be compensated even if customers buy from stores. This will take a couple of years to see light of day in full fledged form, but is definitely the right thing to do. Dennis Howlett would be happy to hear that the store will also list prices in public. I am looking forward to seeing more in Madrid

4. Juniors @ SAP

If there is only one video that you watch about Teched , watch this . Very few things make me emotional at tech conferences. Seeing these kids in action definitely made me very emotional . A big shout out to my friend John Astill.

5. Business Intelligence

I also had an opportunity to chat with Michael Reh a couple of times . He manages engineering for BI clients. I was genuinely impressed by the hanalytics product he showed us mentors. I also appreciated how candid he was of the bumpy road that BI 4.0 had to take, and steps he is taking to make it less bumpy going forward. And I loved his Jaein ( Ja and Nein) answers . I asked Michael if he felt bad about BI products being discounted heavily to aid non discounted Hana sales . His answer was upbeat – he did not see any issue as SAP will get paid either way, and it doesn’t matter to him whether it is Hana or BI that brings in the money . I admire that answer – I would have felt terrible if I was in his shoes . If Vishal ever need a good solid use case for his “timeless software”, “non disruptive innovation” and “kill the layers” principles, BI is a perfect candidate.

6. Dogfooding @ SAP

I swung by the “SAP runs SAP” booth to catchup with my pal Nathan Oyler . It was exciting to hear SAP’s own adventures with BW , CRM and ECC on Hana. I hope Nathan will blog about it soon . I will be honored to host his post as a guest blog any day . He is a great addition to Oliver Bussman’s team – along with Martin Lang et al.

I will close out this post with mentioning something that was greatly gratifying for me this week. I have not been a blogger for long. And many of you know that I have conflicts in my mind on how my readers, especially those who work for SAP, will interpret what I say on my blogs. I was put at ease considerably after discussing this topic with several people at Teched. A lot of SAP employees expressed their thanks for expressing my opinion in public domain, and some of them showed me long email threads discussing questions I raised in blogs at great length. A couple of people did point out that some of my criticism of SAP was off base, and unfair . But all things considered, I am a lot more at peace now about blogging than ever before.

How Many Communities Do We Really Need ?

If you do a search in internet for SAP communities, I am sure you will get a lot of hits. If you take the time to dig deeper, you will probably find significant overlap in their content and membership too. There will always be a loyalty/intertia factor that inhibits widespread adoption of a new community. Every time SAP acquires a company, this problem of integrating communities come up again. In short, I doubt the world is short on online communities.

Just to avoid annoying close friends – let me use a more neutral example. We saw Google+ arrive some time ago. Almost everyone I know who was active in twitter, jumped to G+. There were plenty of debates on whether twitter will die, and all action will be in G+. End of the day, they both survived, and peeps on twitter I followed are still more active on twitter than G+ by orders of magnitude. Sure there are nuances and all – but in general, world did not become a better place in a hurry because of G+ in my opinion. I wrote about it sometime ago too

Yesterday afternoon, I caught up a little with twitterverse. There was an interesting conversation going on there with my friends at SAP and my fellow SAP mentor Mico Yuk. The general topic was whether SCN was a comprehensive community.

Mico raised two points on SCN – apparently based on what she heard from her customers .

1. SCN is way too technical, and hence not a good place for business people to visit. So for people who sign the BI checks, as she put it, SCN does not fit the bill

2. The top ten contributors in SCN are “no-names” in BI.

Now, Mico holds strong views about SAP and its ecosystem, as I do too. I respect her for that. In this case, I have a slightly different view point.

It is true that SCN primarily has technical content. With great fanfare, SAP brought in a community for Business Process Experts (BPX) few years ago. I don’t know if it is alive or dead now, but in my mind it did not catch the imagination of majority of the community. May be SAP thinks other wise, and that is fine with me. I am just expressing my personal views here.

So do we need a separate community for Business ? In this context – I have some opinions on the Business/IT divide. http://

I do agree fully with Mico that business typically will tend to tune out of topics they don’t find an interest in. But that does not necessarily mean SCN does not have a place in the scheme of things, and that we need another community.

The way I have seen purchases happen in BI are in 2 ways – a “shadow IT” purchase by a department within a company (typically CFO office) , or an IT purchase by CIO organization. In shadow IT purchases, they typically depend on vendor references, a couple of analyst studies and probably google searches. The CIO purchases typically include more formal RFP type processes, and might include a buyer’s agent if it is a big decision. Of course this is a generalization.

In either case, the actual buyer in most cases may not get a lot of direct online community information. But he/she will be heavily influenced – on purpose – by people actively listening and/or participating in the online BI community. And that is where a community like SCN comes in. I have seen multiple business buyers resist the temptation of buying new departmental solutions, after someone in their organization points them to content in online communities that sheds less than favorable light on the solution. SCN does not get the credit it deserves due to many reasons – but it is still vastly influential amongst people who give their input to the ultimate buyers of BI software and consulting services.

There is no hard and fast distinction of business vs IT content , as it applies to a buying decisions, in my opinion. Things like security and scalability are important to both sides, but probably need to be expressed in different language for each audience. I would much rather have one community with content for everyone, and then strong filtering and search capabilities built in. Just as the world of canned BI reports and dashboards is shrinking, so is the world of content management changing. One of my biggest criticism about HANA content was that it was split between SCN and experience HANA website. I hear there is some integration happening now , but in general it did not hurt me much as long as I used Google as my starting point, instead of an SAP site.

Next , about the “no names” comment about top 10 BI contributors. If some customer of mine said that, I will go out and try to correct them. Everyone has an opinion, but this by no means makes it fair to criticize the top 10 contributors. They don’t always serve a technical purpose. I will take 2 names from mentor community in that list as an example. Ingo Hilgefort is an SAP employee who delivers excellent content on BOBJ. His audience at teched etc is technical. But I also know first hand that he deals with business users all the time at my clients, and gives them sound advice. Similarly, there is Tammy Powlas. She is an SAP customer. She is a total god-sent to BI community, and SAP should be sending her flowers and chocolates all the time in my opinion. It is not always that a customer takes time to post content on a vendor’s product. If I am a buyer, I would give a lot of weightage to her opinion, than content coming from an SAP Partner ( like yours truly). So unless I am mistaken on what was the rationale for the customer to make the no-names comment, my view is that that was an unfair assessment.

The trouble with twitter is that the 140 character limit does not allow meaningful conversations back and forth all the time. So my plan is to see if I can get Mico and Mark Finnern together for a few minutes at Teched next week and get a bitter grip on this discussion. Maybe some other mentors and community members including customers will join us? I know the community clubhouse usually has great coffee to go with such discussions .



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 :)



Is There Anything Left To Be Said About SAP HANA – Yeah, There Is

I have written a lot about HANA, and have participated in several podcasts, webinars and so on about HANA. And I am probably the least prolific person around on the topic. SAP and its influencers have all done a lot to spread the word to the extent that I was joking on twitter recently that I wonder if there is anything left to be said about HANA.

I guess there is – about what is going to happen next about HANA.

Apart from the stand alone HANA option and BW on HANA that are both in GA, a lot of things are in the pipeline from what we have heard from SAP – ECC on HANA, CRM on HANA, and every other business application from SAP on HANA, the HANA App cloud and so on. There is also a lot of activity going on about HANA start ups. We know this – but what remains as a question is what will SAP prioritize when it comes to HANA ?

We have heard Vishal Sikka state that ECC running on HANA in some shape will come out in Q4 this year. I know it is a topic close to Vishal’s heart – and for good reason. Having heard Hasso on the topic too multiple times, I know this is a big priority for him as well. I think the primary reason to do this is to prove to the world that HANA can take transactional workloads as well or better than Oracle and other traditional DB vendors. It is a coming of age of sorts for HANA. So this definitely has merit as a worthy goal for SAP to aim at. But is this a good commercial goal for SAP?

HANA apparently has about 600 customers for what is available today as functionality. Not all of them have projects on HANA, but probably will have one at some point. Now, it has only been out for a limited time – so we have to give it time. For a 16000 strong install base, HANA has barely skimmed the surface. Probably it will sell a lot more – and it is a safe bet, since BW is not always a mission critical system, and more customers can be persuaded to buy HANA for BI purposes even though it has only gone into GA recently. There is enough value to offset cost for most BW customers.

However, that is not the story for ECC. Most companies will come to a screeching halt if anything at all goes wrong with ECC implementations. Although to a lesser extent, so is the case with CRM. So I am curious as to how many customers will make the leap into ECC or CRM on HANA in near future. I am sure there are a few that always will buy into SAP’s vision and jump into it. But the vast majority of SAP customers might take a conservative stance on changing their database for a production ECC or CRM instance.

As I and many others have pointed out before – just by porting ECC from some database to HANA, things won’t get incredibly fast by default. The reason is that most of the bottleneck is in the ABAP layer. Unless all that code is rewritten, the schemas simplified and so on – it is difficult to imagine ECC consistently getting a huge boost from Hana. I am sure SAP will probably rewrite some code to make use of HANA, at least for long running batch jobs. But even in that case – the best case I can see is most customers using it as a secondary database for accelerating some parts of ECC at best. Add to this the efforts of all the other DB vendors to attack HANA to protect their turf. So all things considered, running ECC etc on HANA is at best a technical triumph, but not a sure shot commercial success in itself.

Then there is the HANA App cloud. When I first heard about it from Vishal, I was super excited at the potential. But not a lot of action has happened for customers to jump into it. But I am a bit confused on the whole cloud strategy at SAP now. There is the big cloud division under Lars Dalgaard that has BByD, LOB On Demand solutions, SFSF etc. Then they bought Ariba – and I am curious to see where that will fit in. Will Ariba folder under the existing cloud organization? I doubt it – but curious to see is it does. And then there is the Hana App cloud, and netweaver cloud. Where does all that fit? will it stand alone ? Will it fold under Lars’ organization? Why does this matter ? Only because now SAP has so many disparate technologies and data centers, that I am not sure they have the time and effort at their disposal to get synergy out of all of this – in data centers, in applications, and in platforms. Sure we can assume that user experience will converge at some point, but if the back end is heterogeneous, it is hard to drive down costs. I hope I can get some clarity from the SAP people next time I meet them.

Many years ago – SAP made an all out effort , though not quite as impactful as current efforts on HANA , on Netweaver. Netweaver was supposed to be the super platform that would make everything work together seamlessly, and with great performance and low development effort and all that good stuff. As it turns out, it was only a moderate success. Not many people – except some die hard SAP shops – trust netweaver as the platform to run non-SAP stuff. With HANA – SAP has a chance to correct that, and make a big platform play.

Hana as a Platform is where I think SAP has biggest bang for their buck. I also think that is where SAP customers and the developer ecosystem also has the biggest bang for their buck. I am not sure if SAP sees it that way – but surely there are people there who are exploring that. Look at all the start ups, the interest in HANA during techcrunch and so on. These are not the traditional SAP ecosystem people. Their needs are different, and they have no loyalty from past that will keep them tied to SAP . And SAP has a relatively short window to keep their interest and make them loyal.

But there in lies the problem – there is only so much money and time SAP can throw at HANA, despite their deep pockets and excellent commitment at all levels of the company. The needs of HANA as a Platform are not always consistent with the features it needs to be an excellent database for ECC and other business suite products. If SAP tries to do this sequentially by getting HANA ready for business suite first, and then think of Platform plays, they might not have enough of interest from the ecosystem by the time they are ready for pltforms. Of course when I say platform, I don’t mean just the technical features – I mean everything from Go to market, pricing, support – the whole enchilada.

There is a blogger meeting with SAP coming up in few days – I will try to find answers to these while I attend those sessions, and post a part 2 if needed.