SAP are proposing a 'clear path forward' in their marketing materials, in an opaque global economic situation. At this week's Boston Influencers Summit financial volatility, rising customer power, sustainability, increased regulation and rapid change in technology and information were acknowledged as key influencers of the SAP supertanker.
Even a boat as big as SAP, which is essentially a core back office infrastructure component of many Global enterprises, has to navigate turbulent water when the going gets rough. SAP prides itself on supporting conservative customers running archaic (in IT terms) SAP instances even as the pace of technological change speeds up and they are expected to serve up futuristic products.
The results are slightly schizophrenic - a vision that reassures the long term on -premise Enterprise Resource Planning, Business Analytics and Financial communities in the face of massive hype around cloud computing and 2.0 lightweight applications and a huge customer base of all sizes.
The word 'cloud' is about as useful as the word 'servers' these days: meaningless without scale and context. the idea that magic servers maintained by someone else somewhere else will be able to host all your mission critical systems is currently fashionable In some circles.
A cloud can be anything from a private global cloud to an on premise cloud to the easily understood 'software as a Service' product vendor hosted application.
When you're dealing with enterprise scale the first two options are an increasing reality, often working in tandem with on premise servers in the old fashioned firewalled off sense of the phrase. These lines are blurring with virtualization and the viability of in-memory applications.
The self explanatory small business video above demonstrates how the clunk of SAP interfaces of Christmas past are being replaced by surfacing in the moment process, analytics and workflow across browser and mobile surfaces.
The video demonstrates setting up a small business selling printer online, with seamless integration of outbound sales through a website leveraging business one which spits out invoices, processes credit cards and runs support seamlessly across web and iphone interfaces.
In this case the foundational SAP application is recently launched Business One 8.8 working with SAP gold partner Core Systems product add ons and mash ups, but this type of thinking is more broadly informing the SAP and Business Objects marriage on many product levels. The 'clear path forward' goal is on demand, on premise and on device.
This is working very well above, 'All In One', the small and medium business set of products, integrates collaborative social tools to a greater extent than Business One on a more formal level, and both these examples make Business By Design look a little Frog Design 90's clunky despite the advances in process sophistication of that particular slow to launch super tanker.
Despite the sophistication of the tech and design communities in their enthusiasms and judgements of application user experience quality, it's worth remembering that millions of non techy users interact with SAP interfaces every day, and many wouldn't know a browser from their elbow as this entertaining Google Chrome street video demonstrates.
SAP have to be thinking over the horizon in planning out their offerings - one thing in great evidence this week was the Microsoft connection. Silverlight was formally named as the user interface surface of choice over Adobe's Flex, and Sharepoint & Office interoperability is clearly seen as the path forward over that horizon. The dev environment is similarly on the .net side of the ocean.
Excel and Crystal Reports (and SAP's Xcelsius) are similarly foundational components to analytics reporting and dashboarding. Given the pace of fellow supertanker Microsoft's roll out of their navigational plans and new tools to get there the glacial speed of enterprise roll outs and timeframes can be frustrating to a frentic analyst community (is it ready yet?) but probably wise when seen as an orchestrated fleet of giant partners setting out together without colliding..
The question is are they so busy focusing on the horizon that they don't see the fast moving agile icebergs in the foreground? The clear path is all about timing, and time frames, even in this economy, are compressing.