For most of the first official day of SAPPHIRE Now 2012, I was running the half mile between the video blogger room at the end of the south hall in the Orlando Convention Center and the executive offices, at the far end of the north concourse. That's a good 20 minute round trip allowing for elbowing past the crowds on the show floor.
Much of what was discussed with myself and colleagues Jon Reed, John Appleby, Harald Reiter and Vijay Vijayansakar must remain embargoed and to be drip fed over the coming two days. That's always a pain in the butt yet there are very good reasons why SAP wishes us to keep quiet. That's OK with me.
The only real public activity was when Bill McDermott stood up and delivered a short address that had all the hallmarks one might normally associate with a political gathering. It was that kind of delivery. Andrew Nusca captures the flavor of the session with what I personally heard as echoes of an Obamaesque past:
“Business has a chance to spur widespread productivity and growth,” far beyond enterprise borders, he said. “We can take the consumer, customer experience to a remarkable next level.”
The surprise for most was that SAP took a radical departure from its past fare of grand visions and cheesy demos. Instead it got real, walking, talking customers to join McDermott on stage. I know this was CMO Jonathan Becher's brain child as it is a topic we have regularly discussed. The questions from MSNBC “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski were mostly softballs to even the untrained ear and at times bordered on the inane.
Even so, I give Becher, McDermott and the creative team a LOT of kudos for stepping away from a formula that no longer works and is often as dull as dishwater to business people. Of course a keynote of this kind is always a sales pitch. But if you've got to have them then I'd much rather it was customers doing the advertising than the often hollow sound of a professional sales person.
Some of my more techie colleagues were decidedly ticked off but you know what? It really is time for this 40 year old engineering company to get its customers talking about what SAP provides in the real world - business solutions that really do run some of the largest companies in the world.
Curiously, all the customers were talking about ERP. They recognize it represents the backbone of what they do. No transactions, no dollars flowing through the business coffers. No amount of socially larded razzamatazz changes that. And no amount of poo-pooing SAP for being old and stodgy can get away from the fact it is still the largest independent business applications vendor in the world by a comfortable margin. Yet curiously you'd be hard pressed to find any of the hundreds of booths flogging ERP.
It was particularly poignant listening to Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts who last fall shared a stage with Marc Benioff, CEO Salesforce.com at the 2011 Dreamforce gig. Then, SAP was shown as the system of record underpinning Burberry's social business efforts. This time, the sub-text was the power of HANA providing the data crunching capability to make sense of the many data points that Burberry is now collecting and analyzing as part of its social business endeavors.
All those cloud zealots need think again. Co-existence between the on-premises and cloud worlds *is* today's reality for core business activities involving financial transactions. Anyone who thinks otherwise for the vast majority of business is living in a reality that SAP customers don't recognize. Does that mean these customers provide a justification for SAP's sometime odd approach to cloud topics? Absolutely not. As SAP knows only too well, customers place their technology bets where they will get best value. If that means sticking with on-premises then fine. If it means cloud, then that's fine too.
How that changes in the eyes of SAP senior management will be seen during tomorrow's keynote with SAP co-CEO Jim Snabe and newly minted board member with responsibility for SAP's cloud portfolio, Lars Dalgaard. Like my colleagues, I'll be taking a front row seat for what promises to be a fun packed morning, enhanced by sessions with senior management later in the day.
In the meantime, you can get a brief glimpse of what is happening behind the scenes in the day one wrap shoot we recorded after the show finished.