Vishal Sikka leaving SAP – My initial thoughts


I had heard this news over the back channel yesterday . Having known Vishal for a few years , and having worked for him for a bit – It was a surprise, but not exactly a shock . This photo above was a picture I took the last meeting I had with Vishal and Hasso before I left SAP .

As a friend, I think this is a good thing for him to do. It was a big job with a lot of stress . He could use a breather before his next adventure . For a man of his caliber , there is no dearth of opportunity in this world .

For SAP, there is both a real issue and a perception issue to overcome . Bernd Leukert is a known and respected entity in SAP leadership – and I think will do as good a job as any one else to keep the ship steady . What Hana needs is a set of apps – and Bernd’s pedigree is all on apps side . He has Bjoern Goerke and other leaders to take care of technology. I am a tad surprised Bjoern didn’t get into Managing Board – but I am sure it’s just a matter of time . So I think SAP board did the right thing in picking Bernd to be Vishal’s successor . I do expect to see some “thought leadership” cues from Bernd (and probably Bjoern too) at Sapphirenow Orlando on how he sees SAP evolve .

It’s not enough to build apps – it needs to fit into the “we are a profitable cloud company” message, which probably needs a renewed focus on mobile business too .

Rob Enslin goes to executive board with Bernd – and I think that was a no brainer too . Rob is as good as the best sales leaders anywhere in enterprise software today. When Bill becomes sole CEO in few weeks , I expect Rob to be a solid general for him . Congrats to Bernd and Rob – very well deserved . I just wish SAP managed to keep Sanjay Poonen too . But Steve Lucas is still there – so there is no real shortage of top talent .

And I think this reshuffle helps Bill McDermott get a great start on his tenure as sole CEO with almost a completely new board to assist him. With Hasso and Jim in supervisory board, he should have plenty of support to chart a great course for SAP. Wish you the best, Bill !

What about Hana , Vishal’s little girl ? As much as Vishal was the face of Hana – there are plenty of people who are experts on Hana in SAP at all levels . The real question is whether SAP continues to keep a technology focus on Hana , or let apps take front seat again and Hana just powering everything in background . Success of a platform is based on apps built on it – so I am hoping SAP strikes a good balance on apps VS technology when it comes to hana . SAP is not breaking down Hana numbers for its quarterly reporting anymore – so I am guessing such an equilibrium will happen soon .

I hope SAP keeps the Hana startup program alive and well – and in addition focuses on building a deeper relationship with other type of partners (HW, SI, SW, Cloud). Ecosystem is SAP’s biggest advantage – and it is important that the company takes the partners in confidence as they transition product and engineering leadership .

I do feel bad for my many friends in SAP who work in P&I – it’s always painful to go through a leadership transition and it’s after effects . I can only hope that you emerge stronger on the other side . I can’t even begin to imagine what I would have had to go through emotionally if I hadn’t left SAP .

I can only speculate what Vishal is going to do next . With his eye for spotting technology trends and passion to see world change for the better – my best bet is that he will become a VC or an Angel investor . But then he could surprise me by choosing to be an entrepreneur again , or join a big company (unlikely but not discounting it ). But whatever option he chooses – I just want to wish him the very best and hope he takes some significant time off to recharge . Good luck V !


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.



Happy First Birthday SAP HANA !

So on Monday, Hana celebrates first birthday ! I will be in Palo Alto to be part of the celebration.  It is amazing that one year has passed since the GA announcement came for HANA. Looking back over the last year, SAP can definitely be proud. They put their heart and soul into it – from Hasso, Jim, BIll and Vishal to all the way down the labs and sales organization hierarchies.

I have had many discussions with Hasso and Vishal on Hana in the past couple of years. Their passion is infectious – and they have an excellent vision on where Hana will take SAP to.  Vishal has a rockstar team – and I know most of them, and that talent runs deep many layers down the hierarchy. Engineering for Hana is definitely in good hands – and as time progresses, it will only get better.

Hype or not – last year showed  the power of good PR and marketing. Jonathan Becher deserves major kudos for this. Same goes for the global communications people under Hubertus Kuelps and Mike Prosceno. Without their extreme effort, Hana probably would not have had the coverage it got amongst analysts, bloggers etc. The power of social media was fully utilized for HANA – probably more than any other product before it.  It is now in a state where if someone has a question about HANA on twitter, some one from the ecosystem can clarify most of the times without needing an SAP person to jump in.

On the sales front – they got the best GM for the job in Steve Lucas. He is a solid leader and an excellent communicator, and is supported by an amazing team. They are going all out to sell Hana to customers. And from what I have seen – they have all the support from Enslin, Poonen and other big executives.

SAP also got around to enabling HANA developers on the cloud. That is a great step in the right direction. Another thing that excites me a lot is the set of Hana start up companies that SAP is supporting. Again – a great step.

The one area I am not equally happy about is SAP education for HANA. I saw somewhere that 2000 people are certified. I seriously doubt even if half those people can hold their own in a HANA project. Education needs to keep pace with product, not lag it . Parts of SAP like the CSA team have done a fair bit to help partners keep pace, but that is not sufficient. If education does not contribute in a significant way – several of those projects that start now will end in disasters next year, and none of us want that. I was extremely happy to talk to Marcus Schwarz few days ago. He is the SVP leading SAP education. He understands this better than me, and he is doing all he can to turn this around.

Last I heard , they have about 350 Hana customers and about 140+ live installations.  That is not bad for a product that is only a year old by any stretch. The question is how much of acceleration will Hana see in 2012 and beyond? Will it be what moves the needle for SAP in a big way in terms of  revenue and profit?  I am cautiously optimistic.

Hana works now as one of the possible databases for BW.  There are apparently something like 17000 BW installations around the world.  If half of these customers will switch their databases to hana – that itself will make the investment SAP made in HANA worthwhile.  But that is not easy to pull off for many reasons

1.  Other DB vendors will do all they can to prevent erosion of their instal base. And they are all bigger companies than SAP with more money to throw at communications and product development. Interestingly, they are all good partners of SAP too. So it will be a fun dance to watch from the cheap stands.

2. Not all BW installations have the prospect for a big sale due to size of DB. So SAP will need short sales cycles to get them to act. This is not easy in several cases since SAP has not actively sold BW in the past. I haven’t seen a lot of SAP sales people articulate value of BW on HANA in a convincing manner.

3. Kind of related to above, and it is about SI partners. Despite the top leaders trying their best – partners have not really had a significant role in HANA yet. Unlike SAP themselves, SIs have articulated BW before and this is their game. By not removing the hurdles for SIs, SAP will slow down the uptake of HANA as a BW database. This is changing, but not at a pace I would like to see.

4. Although I have no real idea why – it was clear this past week on twitter that several people, including some SAP Mentors and big customers of SAP, still think HANA replaces BW.  Steve Lucas posted an excellent blog, and I wrote parts of it. but that did not seem to help since questions keep coming on twitter. I also did a podcast with my DSL buddies on this topic – and guess that did not help either . I guess this will not get solved easily when SAP influencers themselves are not clear on the details.

5. Some of the HA questions did get answered after Hasso’s keynote showed a live demo. But there are plenty of people who need more convincing on data center sturdiness of Hana. SAP needs to step up its efforts big time on this front – and fast.

6. SAP also needs to articulate the IQ vs HANA some more. Generic statements doesn’t help. Listen to the podcast link above and listen to Clint and the DSL guys.

By end of this year, SAP will announce ECC running on HANA in some form.  On the sales and communication side – SAP will hopefully manage to fine tune its act with BW so that they can go all out for ECC. In my view, ECC on HANA is not a big deal really for customers. Not everything in ECC will benefit from having HANA as the DB. Some long running batch jobs etc might improve – but I cannot imagine the majority of ECC functionality benefiting from HANA. However, for HANA to gain credibility as a pure database compared to Oracle, DB2, MS etc – it needs to work on ECC. And for that reason – I think it is necessary for SAP to get HANA on ECC right.

Finally the quest for the killer apps continue. BPC on HANA so far is the best application I have seen, and that will evolve more with time. But given the developer and start up enablement – I hope this is just a temporary issue.

So – Happy First Birthday SAP HANA ! I am looking forward to celebrating with everyone at Palo Alto and Monday, and many happy returns of the day.