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 Recap – The Customer Is Always Right


This is the first blog post by my buddy Nathan Oyler, and I am honored that I got to host this. Nathan is an Enterprise Architect at SAP, and works in Oliver Bussman’s organization . He specializes in Hana.

I met Nathan on twitter last year, and we have been friends since. We both enjoy Indian food, and technology – and hence most of our techie chats are done at our favorite Indian Restaurant, Chutneys, at Tempe, AZ.

You can follow Nathan on twitter as @nathanoyler

—————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Teched 2012 was the first Teched I’ve attended, and it was as an SAP Employee working at the SAP runs SAP booth. SAP runs SAP is a project developed by our CIO Oliver Bussmann to ensure that SAP is always a first customer of products that we create. I work as an enterprise architect at SAP running the internal implementations of ERP on HANA, CRM on HANA, HANA as a side by side accelerator, and many other internal projects. I spent several months preparing innovative demos to present at Teched.

I approached each customer the same way asking what they were interested in before considering whether showing the demos fulfilled their needs. What I learned quickly was that customers loved the story of SAP runs SAP, and were very pleased to hear about the different systems we run internally, but it didn’t fit their immediate concerns. Innovative demos are nice, but they wanted real advice on how to implement BW on HANA today in their current environment.

I was blown away, and decided to do the only rational thing. I became an architect for each customer that visited our booth. I asked each customer about their environment to understand what sort of challenges they experience. I listened intently before I spoke and tailored everything I said to the direct specifics of their situation.

It couldn’t have went better. Over and over again I worked hard to consider ideas from the customers as if I was an architect working for them. There were configurations I had never even considered before. There were older versions of our products that I didn’t know customers ran! It was fascinating hearing about their challenges and considering options to improve their situations.

And they listened. The fact that it was IT talking to them as opposed to a sales guy really made a difference in my opinion. I wasn’t trying to sell them on anything, but really made an honest effort to determine what I would do. In some cases I even suggested holding off on HANA, and instead focusing on other topics that were very specific to their business. Most of the time I thought BW on HANA was the right fit, and helped many customers make improved business cases for themselves.

It was tremendously difficult to deal with the range of questions people had, and there is no way I could have done it without the teammates at the SAP runs SAP booth, Dirk Pluschke, David Poisson, Oguzhan Genis, Bjoern Brencher, Martin Lang, Paul Rostagno, and Eileen Butler. They allowed me to roam a bit while providing wonderful Demos on Business Objects, SAP applications for Windows 8, Mobile Applications designed by SAP IT, and providing many talks as well. It was a tremendous effort from everyone, and I’m really proud of SAP IT being a leader in helping shape customer decisions.

Overall I thought this year’s Teched was a huge success. Many of our customers came into it unsure if HANA was right for them, and walked away with a clear understanding of the choices, rewards, and challenges related to upgrading to BW on HANA. Several customers were looking for a HANA Architect to employ in their company, which shows the demand for HANA, and the need for skilled architects to help these customers add HANA into their environments.

It was a rewarding and frankly awesome time. I would encourage us to be in front of customers more often in an open Q&A Clinic where we can field any specific concerns they have. The most common thing I heard from customers was,

“My boss came here to have me get the answer to a question, and I can’t find anyone to help me. Can you?”

My job may have been to give innovative demos, however when a customer gives me a compelling challenge like that, I have to react. As we know, the customer is always right.

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 http://twitpic.com/b54jpd

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. http://www.sap.com/solutions/technology/cloud/netweaver/index.epx . Go here to get dev licenses – http://scn.sap.com/community/developer-center/  – and they are free and indefinite, As Anne Hardy tweeted.

2. HANA One is available for productive use (AWS version of HANA). http://www.experiencesaphana.com/community/solutions/cloud-info . 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 https://www.sapvirtualevents.com/teched/embed.aspx?sid=3460 . 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 https://andvijaysays.wordpress.com/2011/07/24/google-plus-tribes-wont-follow-till-chiefs-jump-in-with-both-feet

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://https://andvijaysays.wordpress.com/2012/09/10/on-business-it-and-artificial-distinctions/

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 .

 

 

A Book Of Verse, A Jug Of Wine, A Loaf Of Bread, And Thou Beside Me….


It was of course not the first time that we had taken a vacation, but this one was different on a few fronts. Before I go further, for those of you who did not figure out the title – it is a translation of the famous Rubaiyat, by Omar Khayyam. I can only wonder what he would have written if he had a chance to visit Hawaii.

It was totally unplanned. It was decided at the last minute, and we flew about 24 hours later. It helped that my daughter had her fall break and my wife could move around her schedule at the last minute to make this work.

This was our first trip to Hawaii – despite having planned many a time before. Now that this one worked fine, we might finally be able to do the Australia trip soon. Special thanks to my pal Hendrik Van Geel for his constant encouragement to take a vacation.

The theme of the vacation was “Do nothing” – wake up each morning, and decide what to do that day, usually just trusting the GPS to take us someplace. Peeps who know me at work would probably be as surprised as I was, since I am known to plan and over-plan every last thing to a fault. Apart from a little reading I did on the way over to Kona, I did not even open a book while in Hawaii. And we probably watched less than 1 hour of TV that whole week – and that was to see the presidential debate in Denver.

From the moment we landed we saw the need to slow down a LOT. Nothing moves at speed in the island. Speed limits are low, people are unhurried, even restaurant service is on the slower side compared to the mainland. The place had “slow down and smell the roses” written all over it. It will be quite a challenge to pick up pace next week.

Let me take it from the top.

We woke up early, and dropped our two fur kids – Boss and Hobo, at the Pets Hotel.

The US Airways flight was quite comfy. As we boarded, I had a call from Vishal Sikka, the CTO of SAP. Although we covered some “work” topics, it was mostly Vishal giving me travel tips to the big island. These came in quite handy when we took a roundtrip drive to Hilo from Kona.


We had an awesome Thai dinner – Pineapple fried rice, Mai Tai were stand out.

As soon as we ate, we hit the beach. It was the most fun we’d had in ages.

We watched the sunset right at the beach. I don’t think my daughter had ever seen a sunset at the beach before.

Breakfast routine pretty much every day was to drive up to the Starbucks and enjoy a hot mocha, and a warm sandwich. Except for the last day, when we checked out the coffee shop at the resort.

We took a 400 mile round trip to Hilo. It was a fun drive – the scenery and the weather changed almost every 10 miles. It reminded me of Ooty and Munnar in South India.

Where I grew up in India, the only place you could see Banyan trees were outside temples. So it was an amazing sight for me to see several big beautiful trees at the Japanese Garden.

There was a light drizzle when we got to the garden, and it added to the beauty. Not only was it lush green, the design made great use of difference in height of trees and plants for visual impact.

The fish ponds had an amazingly calming effect – you have to see it to believe it.

From the calming gardens, we drove up to visit the Volcano. Apparently you need to take a helicopter ride to actually see lava flowing, which we did not know at the time. But that did not take away anything from the awe inspiring crater and the huge cloud of sulphur dioxide and steam jetting out of it.

The highlight of the entire trip was the Luau. I would’ve had no regrets making the trip if this Luau was the only thing I could do.

Everything about it was awesome. Amazing food, drinks and performances. Star of the dinner was a whole hog that was roasted all day long in a pit, and dug out just before dinner in front of the guests.

The sunset was the perfect background for the evening. It reminded me of trips to Kanya Kumari made when I was a kid growing up in Trivandrum.

The last day on the island, we visited a coffee plantation. I have seen coffee plantations before in India, but Dhanya and Shreya were seeing it for the first time. We started the tour visiting 125 year old trees that were planted by the wife of the farmer who started that farm.

Little did we know that the coffee cherry has many times the quantity of anti-oxidants that most berries have. They can pick the cherries about 7 months a year on a trot. The red ones are ready to be picked, and the green ones need time to ripen on the tree.

The farm also grows avocados in 10 acres, just outside their 60 acre coffee plantation. I had never seen an avocado tree before. It took me back to my childhood visiting Grandma’s house where there were several mango trees, and we used to pluck raw mangoes from them much to Grandpa’s angst.

My parent’s house in Trivandrum had banana trees and papaya trees in the back yard. Seeing them in Hawaii took me pleasantly down memory lane.

Hawaii is so much like Kerala (which literally translates to the land of coconut palms), my home state in India, that I was quite nostalgic by the end of the tour.

Social Media In Marketing – Is It Too Much To Ask For Peaceful Co-existance?


While I have no claims at all to be a social media expert – I am an avid user of social media, especially twitter, Facebook and my blogs on SCN and WordPress. All of this week, I have been on vacation in the island of Hawaii – and although I kept away from work email (ok, except checking email couple of times on day 1), I was on twitter and Facebook when time permitted with hardly any “guilty” feeling. Social media never felt like “work” to me so far – and that has now changed.

I was both pleasantly surprised, and also pretty dismayed by what I saw on social media this week.

First about the surprise – when we drove up to Hilton Waikoloa for starting the second part of vacation, I was told I could not checkin for a few more hours. I have been a VERY loyal customer with Hilton, and have had a diamond status with them for several years. So I felt this was unacceptable, and I said so on twitter from my iPhone. To cut a long story short – I got a response in almost real time from Hilton customer service via twitter and then email, and got checked in pretty quickly afterwards. And then the customer service guy checked in again one day later to make sure I am treated well. I am totally happy with this – and needless to say, I will remain loyal to Hilton going forward too. In short – social media was pretty freakin awesome.

While we were having a lot of fun enjoying our little vacation , Oracle Open World was happening in San Francisco,CA. Since I was on and off twitter, I kept on getting infrequent updates on what was happening at the event. It was all rather low key till Larry Ellison took a swing ( rather small swing too, in my opinion, considering what the man usually does) at SAP HANA. Now, obviously SAP did not need any complex predictive analytics to figure out that Ellison will say something in his keynote about HANA.

Next thing I knew – twitter was ablaze with that news. The response from SAP was quite good in the beginning. Vishal Sikka, SAP Board member and CTO, wrote a very good blog on why Oracle is wrong about what they are saying, and why HANA is fundamentally different in architecture. Steve Lucas got interviewed by Business Insider on this topic too. Personally, I thought that was not the best medium for Steve to make his first response, but it was an ok article in general. Both Vishal and Steve sent a few tweets too. All was good till this point, and I did not pay much attention on twitter stream for next several hours.

And when I returned to the hotel room that evening, for the first time since I started using twitter, I felt that following only a relatively small set of people ( 186 as I am typing this) was actually a nuisance. My whole stream had like 90% hana content. It was mostly SAP employees pulsing existing HANA articles (including some of mine) and videos using the Oracle Open world hash tags of #OOW and #OOW12 . Some of the people who pushed out hana content at crazy high frequency are people who in the past have never done such a thing.

My first impression was ” Oh boy, SAP is in panic mode” and then ” This is a centrally organized offensive play – I am curious to see how far it will go” . And this is where my dismay at social media set in.

In fairness to SAP, obviously they had to do something to counter Oracle’s false accusations. And social media being a nascent tool in marketing toolkits – I doubt there were any established “best practices” for this type of social media defense (or offense depending on how you look at this, I guess) for SAP to use.

SAP is considered by many inside and outside the company as an expert in social media. So when SAP does something, I think it probably gives the impression to others that this is “best practice”. That comes with the “halo effect” attached to leaders. And if SAP should continue to be viewed as leaders in this space, they should seriously consider if this is how the future of social media should look like , especially in the context of marketing.

My own opinion is that SAP handled this in a rather heavy handed way. Looking at it with a quantitative lens, probably SAP got the results they wanted. They took over a good part of the traffic with hash tags #OOW and #OOW12 with HANA content. They clearly did a lot more than just story correction. As much as social pundits might enjoy the idea of marketing and corporate communications using social for more things – I think the net result is just more overhead for people who use these platforms, and event organizers. The need for sophisticated filtering just got more important and troublesome, in my mind.

But from a qualitative viewpoint – it looked rather tasteless to me. Taking over someone else’s event tags – especially using sponsored tweets, while that event is in progress is borderline bullying, and that is not what I expected a company like SAP to do. SAP has a long history of being on the right side of these things, taking the high ground. When excessive reaction happens – it just gives an impression that panic has set in. There is absolutely no need for panic – HANA is clearly superior to the EXA* products in what it does.

So far I have personally not seen any customer backlash – but then I have not seen or talked to any customers this week. Next week, I will be meeting several, and then much more the following week at Teched. It remains to be seen how customers view SAP’s social media onslaught.

Unlike SAP, Oracle does have a reputation of taking hard and aggressive stances on these issues. However, apart from a handful of tweets etc, I did not see Oracle trying to return the favor to SAP in real time. Of course it could be argued in two ways.

1. Oracle chose to focus on their own event, and chose not be bothered with SAP reactions.

2. Oracle had nothing to say, because SAP so comprehensively beat them on the topic.

I have no idea what was the real reason, but my instinct is to believe that Oracle, and other SAP competitors might now feel that it is totally fair game to target SAPPHIRE and SAP Teched events and try to take over the social media conversation around those events. SAP has multiple events coming up in the next few weeks – so we will know soon enough which way Oracle will go. I seriously hope Oracle will let it pass this time, and not try to respond in kind. It is not just Oracle – SFDC, Workday et al are all possible competitors who might choose aggressive social media strategies against SAP. For their part, I also hope SAP will resist the temptation of spending significant time at their events responding to Oracle and others, and just focus on their own stories.

Failing which, my back up plan is to take a break from twitter for a while. I used to think till last week that not checking email frequently will kill me. A week of vacation proved me wrong,so I am betting I will survive for a bit with out twitter too 🙂 .

Added http://aragonresearch.com/vendor-wars-customer-events-and-twitter/ This is what Jim Lundy of Aragon Research had to say about this matter. A good read.