I don’t think I have seen another time after the mid to late nineties when the market was this hot for SAP. Several companies seem to be in a hurry to do big SAP projects again . And no – they are not talking of big HANA projects, or big mobility projects or big cloud projects. Drum roll please……They are talking about the good old on premises ECC projects – FOR REALS! It is like the mainframe – it never dies, and always catches another wind.
This does not mean no one cares about HANA, Mobility etc. All these customers have plans for all the innovative stuff as part of their projects, but they are not front and center in projects unlike in the keynotes we see from SAP leadership at SAPPHIRE and Teched. HANA and Mobility experience will probably be an additional differentiation for SIs trying to win the implementation work. Along with ECC, some of the other business suite systems like CRM and SRM are also showing up prominently in these projects. I expected some of these companies to consider cloud solutions for ERP – SAP or otherwise. But big customers did not seem to have that kind of faith in cloud ERP as I thought. Maybe it needs a few more years to catch on.
There are probably a bunch of reasons for this surge – investment money kept away in last 2-3 years is now being spent, increase in M&A and divestiture activities , economy is slowly recovering and so on. There are a bunch of interesting challenges that go with this too.
1. Experience of leading and working in huge global projects
Not many PMs and team leads in today’s SAP world have the big implementation experience. People who did those in nineties have generally gone to senior leadership positions in SIs and clients, and new generation will need some mentoring. Unless you have done it yourself before – it is not easy to plan and execute a blueprinting session when you have 120 countries in scope. and blueprinting is only the start. So far, I have not seen anyone asking for a global agile SAP implementation, but I am betting that I will hear that one day soon.
2. Quality and quantity of Business Suite experts
If what I am seeing is the beginning of a big trend that will last 2-3 years atleast, then it remains to be seen if SIs and customers can keep up with the demand for project resources – both on quality and on quantity. Education needs will surge, and I wonder if education needs can be met effectively in large scale
3. Architecture challenges
Unlike the 90s where BDC and ALE ruled, the world has changed quite a bit on technical front. ABAP has moved by leaps and bounds, and a modern day architect has many options, and many challenges. Question is – do we have enough people who can design and create big complex systems from scratch that use modern SAP technology in grand scale? And will modern SAP technology withstand this test of scale?
SAP is pretty serious about getting number 2 position in DB market by 2015. If these big projects can be convinced to switch from ORACLE, MS and DB2 systems – that will be a great start to make this goal. Somehow, I don’t feel like holding my breath on this quite yet. But I am going to keep a close eye on this, and will start asking customers from now on whether they feel good about switching their DB .
4. Does SAP still have enough people with deep core business suite knowledge ?
When a large number of big business suite projects start, there is always a tax on SAP – the number of trouble tickets will increase. I would think SAP’s developers are now mostly focussed on HANA and other new stuff. Will SAP have enough people who can take care of a flood of messages? Even though SAP Business Suite software is way more mature than in 90s – big projects will always have big problems that need deep experience from SAP to solve.
5. What about all the innovation agenda items?
My friends from technical side will appreciate this for sure – what will happen to all the cool innovations when a large number of configuration experts (referred to by names like SPRO jockeys ) take over a project, and push tech stuff to the wall? Will HANA and Mobility and Cloud stand a chance? or will they all become a phase 2 item? The only one where I see some light is on BI. Over time, a lot of functional folks have realized that it is probably better to give some attention to their BI colleagues.
There is a silver lining here. It gives SAP enough breathing space to make the innovative new products more robust by the time the big projects are ready for them to be used in prime time. There would not be a risk of licensing revenue loss since SAP license sales usually happen as a market basket, and not a la carte. So HANA sales, mobility sales etc can still show a healthy upswing while projects focus on business suite.
6. Do customers still have sufficient inhouse expertise to run the big gigs ?
Best SAP projects happen when customers pair consulting firms with strong internal resources. But over time, most of these experts move into management, or move to other companies, or their jobs get outsourced etc. So I would imagine a lot of hiring will happen in 2012 for staffing internal roles. And that typically means some solid staff from consulting companies will switch employment soon, and then these firms will have to do some firefighting.
That is just the few that rushed to my mind – and there must be a hundred more to talk about. Feel free to post your thoughts in comments. It is going to be very exciting to live through a series of big projects again.