WSJ: SAP struggles with globalization

WSJ: SAP struggles with globalization

Summary: 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.

Topics: Software Development, SAP

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  • Discrimination Against Germans in Washington State

    I am told that legislation was necessary to change laws because the Washington State SAP system or SAP contract was harder to modify than it was to change the law of the land.

    That is an extreme example of changing procedures to fit automation. The fact that Oracle bitterly protested the award to SAP/ Microsoft (apparently PeopleSoft put in a better bid) supports the notion of Abramoff-style influence peddling (read bribe or promise of future bribe with laundering of contributions through charities).

    I am looking forward to reading the WSJ article especially since it appears to address the efficient but not flexible, not compassionate, and easier for criminals stereotype of a German operation.

    The State of Washington often emphases its multi-cultural work force as a strength. The strength derived from all the different perspectives of its work force is likely a natural strength. In nature a kelp forest is better able to thrive when there are multiple types of organisms within its environment. In government the same applies, IMO.

    In the past when either SAP and especially Microsoft were responsible for computer installations the ecosystem would be changed to mono. One vendor providing all fiscal systems, for example.

    Just yesterday, a state worker (whistle blower?) I was marketing a project to complained to me that even after all the problems with the SAP/Microsoft payroll project, plans to replace the long used Agency Financial Reporting System (AFRS) with a no-bid or rigged-bid SAP solution were proceeding.

    AFRS is a well hated system in Washington State because legislators often know about fiscal problems in the state agencies before inattentive management at those agencies do. It is an old 30+? year COBOL based system. It is apparently a very good system at least for oversight.

    My customer/whistle blower believes that those who complain about extra work involving the SAP software are laid off, fired, not promoted, and otherwise trained not to complain and speak out but instead march to the drum of the SAP payroll system towards an all SAP fiscal state system with a Microsoft Office 2003 front end. Those who praise the SAP/ Microsoft way are promoted. It all is so stereotypically German - isn't it?

    It was overnight and recognized as so by Times in its person of the year award for 2006 that hierarchical chains of command and communication had given way to Web 2.0 ways of communication and with that the promise of a much more democratic and transparent way of decision making. The stereotypic autocratic and efficient and less compassionate German way does not fit well with this new Web 2.0, democratic, highly social, but now also efficient Web 2.0 world.

    It is great that ZDnet is addressing this kind of issue with an article.

    IBM's roll in the identification of those interned in concentration camps and eventually killed, is not well told. The responsibility of IT professionals in recognizing the harm as well as benefit of our efforts in technology should be better emphasized.

    In closing, recognizing stereotypes is not a problem but rather a good thing, if one also recognizes that there are always exceptions. Not all Germans are autocratic, efficient, and prone to ignore criminal activity. Perhaps not even the majority. The do not all belong to Skull and Bones and similar secrete societies. And Germans, just like Mexicans, Italians, and Irish are part of the multi-cultural work force that makes the US government strong.

    Frank L. Mighetto CCP
    US Citizen