Less than a month after SAP TechEd in Las Vegas, SAP will try pull off the mother of re-invention at next week's SAPPHIRE Now in Madrid.
For the first time in my memory, it will combine the 'suits' flogathon with the more technical 'geek' event. SAPPHIRE Now has the potential to be a change maker for its partner ecosystem if SAP gets it right and successfully bridges the 'geek' and 'suit' divide. It started that process by putting Bill McDermott, co-CEO into the Q&A coconut shy at TechEd, much to the admiration of some technical people.
In times past, I have said to the technical SAP crowd they need to see what happens at the business focused event. Most have guffawed at the prospect, saying it is little more than a sales exercise. While that may be true, they are not necessarily seeing the way in which the enterprise landscape is changing.
Nowhere was this more apparent than at this week's Workday Rising event. There were plenty of CIOs on display but they were far outnumbered by the number of functional experts. More to the point, those same functional experts were hardly what you'd term 'geeky' while the CIOs provided a refreshing business centric view of their implementations. And that perhaps personifies better than anything the gulf that exists between the world of yesterday and that of tomorrow.
SAP tries its best to bridge that gap. This piece about the yet to be released Finance OnDemand makes a stab at it:
Business Configuration is a simple adaptation tool ("Click to Adapt") that allows to configure and change the system in a fraction of the time it used to take for solutions of this kind of scope and depth. Business Configuration allows, among other things, easy selection of processing options, relevant work centers, and global standards and localizations.
Yet it falls into the trap of expressing itself in what some of us affectionately call 'SAPenese,' a language only understood by those who live in the SAP world.
My biggest concern though comes in whether SAP will continue to trot out 'innovation' in every other keynote sentence. The piece referenced above does that in spades. In doing so, it digs a hole out of which it is very hard to climb. From the get go, I wonder whether SAP believes its own rhetoric any longer given the long preamble that seeks to justify use of the term.
In the end it doesn't work because where it says:
...removing a major hurdle to solution implementation and adaptation with a proven, easy and flexible methodology for solution configuration counts as innovation in my book.
I have to ask the question: Why is it that so many people find SAP hard work or perceive it as 'tyranny?' That hardly invokes good feelings about 'innovation.'
In thinking about this topic, I rambled back and forth with one colleague who correctly said: "It is hard to turn this mothership on a dime . Too used to one model to let go." I totally get that and especially so when you see results like the last quarter. But then while size does matter, all software empires fall - eventually. And I sense this knowledge is what drives much of what I see as defensiveness at SAP.
Instead of parading customers front and center, the company continues to focus upon perceived superior technology, stretching credulity in the process. Technical superiority as a differentiator was certainly true years ago but is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain when compared with the breakneck pace of change I see at other vendors. For instance, those of us who count ourselves among the better informed about SAP have never been offered the opportunity to sit with customer panels without media supervision. Contrast that with last week's session we had with Workday customers.
The good news is that SAP is allowing us to video selected customers and once again, I expect to spend a considerable amount of time with start up style developers working on new HANA solutions. So while I hope that SAP doesn't bang the HANA drum too hard, I hope they showcase some of the examples I have seen. I would rather drown in those kinds of delightful innovation than grind my way through the same old rehashed stuff.