WSJ: SAP struggles with globalization

A little more than a year ago I was discussing a story I wrote with SAP executives. They were peeved that I referred to SAP as a German company while failing to note the headquarters of a rival I mentioned.

A little more than a year ago I was discussing a story I wrote with SAP executives. They were peeved that I referred to SAP as a German company while failing to note the headquarters of a rival I mentioned.

That sticking point--which was an oversight--stuck with me. It seemed to me that SAP was a bit too touchy about being known as a German software maker. The big question: Why?

Now that item is clearer to me thanks to a Wall Street Journal story (subscription required) today. The gist of the story was that SAP's plan to globalize out from its Walldorf, Germany headquarters has had its troubles.

To be sure globalization is never easy due to cultural barriers and worker fear. But the WSJ story also hints at how the recently departed Shai Agassi was often in the middle of a tug of war between American, Indian and German developers.

SAP adopted English for meetings even at its German headquarters. Veteran German developers chafed at the move and worried about quality. American developers, based in Palo Alto, Calif., worried SAP wasn't moving fast enough. These cultural issues were compounded because product development was spread around the globe and run by Agassi, who seemed aloof to his German workers.

As a result, traditional SAP programs clashed with Agassi's baby, NetWeaver. The Journal story also details how clashes even spilled out to the newspapers in German. Last year, SAP hosted a town-hall meeting over the "Americanization of SAP."

Whether these issues are globalization growing pains or something more serious remains to be seen. SAP's top brass--Henning Kagermann and Hasso Plattner and now  Leo Apotheker--remain committed to globalization. After all, they have no choice.

But now that Agassi is gone the messaging becomes more difficult. The Journal noted that Kagermann and Plattner are now trying to convince U.S. developers that the company won't become Walldorf-centric again. How convincing that message is will be critical since SAP will need all the developers it can get to combat Internet-based software models and build next-generation SAP apps.

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