SAP unplugged: Vishal Sikka and John Schwarz on deck

Jeff Nolan and Vinnie Mirchandani have done a sterling job in reporting our meeting Vishal Sikka, SAP's CTO and John Schwarz, executive board member in charge of BusinessObjects. To my eternal shame, I was asleep for most of the meeting with Vishal having completely miscalculated the effects of jetlag, turning up for the last 20 minutes before getting him on video to discuss some of the issues under discussion.

Jeff Nolan and Vinnie Mirchandani have done a sterling job in reporting our meeting Vishal Sikka, SAP's CTO and John Schwarz, executive board member in charge of BusinessObjects. To my eternal shame, I was asleep for most of the meeting with Vishal having completely miscalculated the effects of jetlag, turning up for the last 20 minutes before getting him on video to discuss some of the issues under discussion.

Despite Vinnie's coyness on 'unpleasant topics' such as ByDesign, Vishal endeavored to provide an explanation for the apparent black hole in understanding the economics of getting ByDesign out into the marketplace. He insisted that what SAP is attempting to do goes well beyond competitive offerings, noting that analytics are baked into the application. As he correctly points out, the computational requirements for analytics are an order of magnitude more demanding than transactional systems. Even so, it remains unclear whether SAP is wrestling with a provisioning issue or something more fundamental. It will be another year before we find out. He was however firm that cannibalization is not the issue. At least not now.

John Schwarz was in relaxed mood, talking to the different dimensions across which SAP's vision of business analytics is traversing. I was curious to know how the company hoped to wean the Excel junkies off their addiction to Pivot Tables. I was a little disappointed to hear John tread familiar territory, arguing that it is better to live with spreadsheets than try fight them. There was instead some hints that SAP may be looking at the equivalent of a kind of 'Facebook for Enterprise.' I'm not so sure that will work. The notion that design thinking should follow the consumer style of application is fine but as Facebook has demonstrated, you can easily end up with what I describe as digital vomit - a mess of 'stuff' on the screen that lacks coherence or reasoning. I can't see SAP falling into that trap but we'll have to wait and see how that plays out with its Jive implementation.

Much more tantalizing was the suggestion that SAP is becoming willing to adopt open source approaches to development. The 'Not Invented Here' syndrome that has at once been both a strength and a weakness for the company may - and I stress may - be on the way out. That will excite developers and got me to place a call with the SAP Mentor community leader to see if John can be persuaded to address that group at the upcoming TechEd.

John didn't go so far as to nod at the idea of MySQL as a future database of choice but it would not be beyond the realms of possibility to envisage that happening in the years ahead. Imagine the hole that would burn in Oracle revenues. A billion dollars perhaps on an annualized basis? He did however note that the new emphasis is on persuading the business user rather than IT. That way marks the line of least resistance inside the SAP customer base and a strategy I see as succeeding rather than trying to deprogram the Oracle zealots.

Overall I came away with the impression that we are starting to see the emergence of a new SAP under Leo Apotheker's leadership. One that is getting back to being hungry rather than assuming incumbent status. How far that goes in a company I have felt has become conflicted between speed at the edges of innovation and ponderous at the core remains to be seen. However, if these two leaders are representative of that new face then we can look forward to a reinvigorated company that remembers its past but has its sights set firmly on the future.

Now back to managing my return jetlag.

Disclosure: SAP covered my travel and expenses.

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