SAP's Schwarz & Sikka: The Road to More Agile Business Performance

SAP's Schwarz & Sikka: The Road to More Agile Business Performance

Summary: Last week I had the opportunity to spend time with SAP CTO Vishal Sikka and separately SAP executive board member John Schwarz, and I've been ruminating on our conversations a lot since those meetings. Fortunately I was part of a group of bloggers who have been following SAP closely, and their questions and insight were a valuable addition to the conversations and my education given their deep knowledge and practical experience.

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Last week I had the opportunity to spend time with SAP CTO Vishal Sikka and separately SAP executive board member John Schwarz, and I've been ruminating on our conversations a lot since those meetings. Fortunately I was part of a group of bloggers who have been following SAP closely, and their questions and insight were a valuable addition to the conversations and my education given their deep knowledge and practical experience.

I come to this subject from the perspective of internal employee collaboration of course. I've since had a chat with Dan Woods of Evolved Technology Press who have just published a book by three SAP employees Bardoliwalla,Buscemi & Broady titled 'Driven to Perform: Risk-Aware Performance Management From Strategy Through Execution'.

This book, with a focus on performance management to achieve tangible business results, appears to be a good up-to-date primer on how to tune SAP in the enterprise to get the maximum bang for your buck and create a 'high performance, data-driven culture'.

More on this in a minute but first back to our conversations with Sikka and Schwarz. My blogging compadres were Jeff Nolan, Vinnie Mirchandani & ZDNet's Dennis Howlett of the Enterprise Irregulars.

To quote Nolan's post on our conversation with Sikka:

Vishal has a tough job because he is responsible for charting the technology roadmap for a company that prides itself on being innovative yet is faced with the reality that their customers want stability and continuity. In Vishal’s own words, SAP’s customers want the company to be like a night watchman who ensures that everything is safe and secure when no one else is watching.

Mirchandani, who is in the trenches at the deal making end of the spectrum for his clients with SAP is frustrated by this night watchman approach, pushing for more innovation and agility. 'Industrial-strength functionality' is clearly the backbone of SAP's offering to its loyal customer base (Vishal proudly discussed the longevity and depth of client relationships).

In a sense SAP are like the power grid that runs a city: fundamental infrastructure that underpins all activity. Embedded deeply into the work processes of countless companies, inter company collaborative relationships and of course literally cities.

I won't get into a shopping list of SAP's offerings here which focused on serving process, discrete, consumer, service, financial and public services industry sectors,  but Mirchandani's comments that a role of night watchman for companies rather than innovation leader leave something to be desired are worth picking up.

In the blizzard of micro incremental change around 2.0 technologies, the sophisticated minority of users who eagerly explore every nuance and use case possibility are in the vanguard. Yes, there is increasing uptake of Enterprise 2.0/Social Networking/ SocialMedia/Web 2.0 in Business - nomenclature hasn't matured yet - but they are typically departmental point solutions and not overarching strategic initiatives.

SAP and their enterprise competitors track the transactions and resources inside industry, and with the purchase of Business Objects, SAP have acquired the seasoned mind of John Schwarz to provide a much greater  level of analytics. Those transactions, whether financial, human capital or resources planning, are fundamental to business. The book 'Driven to Perform' which I'm currently reading, gets deep into designing an efficient process driven culture using these technologies.

Some of the more mature enterprise 2.0 vendors have started to bake analytics into their products - Jive Software can integrate SAP's analytics, and in a conversation with their CEO Dave Hersh this week we discussed the value of offering the ability to measure what employees are doing, and the ability to get feedback on positive or negative morale. since Jive are one of the vendors serving communities of over 20,000 (and up to 90,000 in one case) this industrial strength feedback is powerful.

SAP are very well positioned with Business Objects, now digested and integrated after being consumed in 2007, leading the infrastructure needs line of business wants installed and data extracted from for analysis. Traditionally IT have checked the requirement boxes and supplied infrastructure, often with unhappy results from the actual users.

One of the fundamental reasons for shadow IT - the ad hoc use of browser based 2.0 productivity tools by users - has been the sheer inflexibility of what IT has provided to get their job done. Tighter alignment and fit for business need is always a good thing in the enterprise, and analytics are an important part of measuring utility as well as data.

This is a vast topic and I haven't gone near Microsoft's Office fortress, which many knowledge workers live in - as Dennis Howlett discussed

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.’

Like Dennis I think this is a significant DNA change attempt for SAP, and both from a technical and user change management perspective not to be underestimated. Separately enterprise software doesn't typically win any beauty contests in the use interface pageant, and FaceBook is a fad which will be usurped by a newer, better free service over time.

SAP on the other hand is an infrastructure anchor, and at the heart of Governance, Risk Management, and Compliance (GRC) and associated security. The guardians of the enterprise firewalls live and breath this stuff, and as this Wired story (US) 'Military May Ban Twitter, Facebook as Security ‘Headaches’ demonstrates, although there is a well defined market for Facebook behind the firewall which enterprise 2.0 vendors like SocialText, Jive, and Telligent are doing an excellent job providing, Facebook is no product to emulate for that function: it's a mess and of questionable value.

The challenge going forward is in surfacing information from SAP's 20,000+ screens to provide contextual timely information in the workflow of a future process driven environment. Providing this level of functionality, with partner applications if necessary, while avoiding the concerns the US Stratcom, responsible for securing the military’s “global information grid”,  are arguably the future of Enterprise 2.0 strategy, tactics and associated technologies.

Topics: Banking, CXO, Hardware, SAP, IT Employment

About

Oliver Marks leads the Global Digital Enterprise Team at HP, having previously provided seasoned independent consulting guidance to companies on effective planning of business strategy, tactics, technology decisions, roll out and enduring use models that make best use of modern collaborative and social networking tools to achieve their business goals.

These are Oliver's views and not those of his employer HP.

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