What do I expect to learn at SAPPHIRENOW 2011?

I am typing this from my flight to JFK from PHX. The next long trip on the cards is to MCO for SAPPHIRE NOW which is fast approaching. Having flown millions of miles, and having attended a good many SAP events – it is only apt that it is in a flight that I got to write a prequel to SAP’s mega event for 2011. What doesn’t help is the turbulence we are hitting while I am trying to type:)

Ever since the current Co-CEO’s took charge, I have heard a consistent message on SAP’s “On Premise, On Demand, On Device” story. It is a good thing too in my opinion, for a statement on strategy.

On Demand and On Device is where I see the most action now from SAP’s side. However, the big question my customers have is “What are the big innovations on existing On premises solutions, where we have already invested big $$?”. I expect SAP to give a clear answer to this at SAPPHIRE. SAP is big on design thinking and agile and all – so I am sure there is a crisp message to be delivered.

Next up – my favorite topic, HANA. I expect to see some firm dates for 1.0 GA, and 1.5 and 2.0 ramp/GA. I also want to know when HANA will support ABAP. SAP shops are generally skilled in ABAP, but less so in pure SQL. In its current form, HANA needs serious SQL skills and knowledge of tables. Having sold R/3 for ages on the message that “you don’t need to know tables and SQL”, it is a big change for customers to be thrown into other end of the spectrum. Again, I am sure there are good answers – and I hope we will hear on this from SAP. It would also be nice to know how many customers have gone live on HANA in production.

And while we are on the topic, when will HANA on cloud be available?
Hardware is growing at a terrific pace – if you blink, you will see 128 core blades are there and cheap 🙂 It is hard to keep up and extract value for most customers. Any smart solutions? And is the HANA software intellient enough to make use of the improved hardware as time progresses? Can it make use of more memory and processing power (scaling up/out etc). A follow on question will be HANA’s speed over networks – not all users sit close to a data center. So are there benchmarks available that shows performance across a realistic number of network hops?

Onwards to on-demand. I already blogged about my concern on the offline usage scenarios. Essentially, salesmen are not always wired. How will SAP support their OLTP and OLAP needs when they are offline? I also want to know how SAP will support integration between all the OD applications that they are developing. Or do they expect customers and SIs to do this?

Also, who is SAP targetting for non-ByD OD solutions as customer base? From what little I have heard – it looks to be targeted at big companies with operations in “developed” world. But for the most part, existing user base can be productive without new solutions in OD. Question is – what is SAP doing to help companies expand into new markets in Asia, Africa etc? Will it support multiple languages? How will we get information into an enterprise BI system from OD?

Finally, how is SAP addressing the problem in the market that SAP projects take too long? In past events, I have seen a lot of good talk on Agile and Design thinking as magic bullets. If that is the case, why is SAP not taking that approach to customers and partners and make them succesful? Is SAP doing agile in their consulting gigs?

I am going with an open mind, and hope to hear SAP executives answering all these questions .

SAP’s on-demand solutions – what if I am offline ?

Over the last couple of weeks, there has been an overload of news about cool stuff happening on SAP’s On-demand and mobile world, especially the sales on demand solution. From what I have read so far, SAP should be genuinely proud of every thing they are doing in these important areas. But, in all this frenzy – from SAP and from the folks who commented on it – I wonder why I don’t see anything about the offline aspects of the sales function.

A sales person is usually NOT connected to internet all the time. A good many of them actually do data entry stuff  on plane  rides etc.  And only a small fraction of planes have internet connections. So, these people  have to put information into spreadsheets etc – and then if their boss pushes them hard, they will grudgingly type it into a system of record some time.  Some of them I know will probably do it only if their commission is predicated on such data entry 🙂

Which reminds me  – does sales on demand also have a place for sales guys to do their expense reports? I seriously think it should. If not for anything else, at least it will be enough to get these people to use the on-demand solution, and then might have an interest in trying the “sales” part of it too.

On-demand solutions also need an offline feature to it to make them successful.  Otherwise, however nifty a solution is, it just won’t get used by sales people. Can sales on-demand system sync with excel sheets (or some other data store) in a drive on  a laptop and keep itself updated?

The necessity of offline capability is not just true for transactional use – it is equally true for analytical use too.  A lot of sales people use excel as a BI tool – precisely because they cannot access required info all the time when they are traveling.  Most them have a (painful) process to dump data into excel periodically into their PC – probably on weekly basis.

So question for SAP – what is your plan to address this? Does sales on demand have an offline reporting tool that keeps information offline on a device? Since these devices have a lot of memory and processing power these days, why not give a powerful offline reporting solution that can periodically sync with the on-demand system?

Finally, about bandwidth. It is a big constraint for making business work on mobile devices. Not all countries have the luxury of high bandwidth wireless connections. And I doubt if that scenario will grow at the speed memory and processing power improves. So, my question here – what are you doing to harness the power of client side machines? With HANA – SAP has a clear idea on what to do on server side. But what about the advances in mobile devices – how is SAP planning to harness that?

Since SAP is big on design thinking, I am sure they have got good answers on all of this. I am looking forward to getting better educated on this topic.