Cheap jibe sullies SAP's SaaS strategy

Is SAP as serious about SaaS as John Wookey claimed in his widely reported speech last week? A comment by SAP CTO Vishal Sikka, trashing Salesforce.com in an interview published this week, suggests not.
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor

My jaw dropped as I read this just-published CIO.com interview with SAP's CTO Vishal Sikka. Last week, John Wookey, executive vice-president of large enterprise on-demand, set out SAP's commitment to on-demand in a widely-reported speech in Amsterdam (SAP this week reiterated the commitment in a corporate press release). This week, the company's CTO had this to say about leading SaaS vendor Salesforce.com:

"When [vendors] call their little salesforce-automation application a 'platform', that does actually bother me, as a technologist, to be honest with you."

If SAP wants to be considered a leader in the on-demand space, as John Wookey proclaimed in Amsterdam, then the last thing its top executives should be doing is going around belittling the achievements of other SaaS players.

I find it astonishing that Sikka — who works out of the same Palo Alto facility as John Wookey — could be making such statements at this time. Was he not aware when he gave this interview of the likely content of Wookey's presentation in Amsterdam last week? The message this sends is that Wookey's initiative doesn't have the wholehearted support of SAP's board.

Unfortunately for SAP, the outcome of Sikka's intervention may be the opposite of whatever was intended. His smug contention that the entirety of SAP's supported software catalog is "timeless" is just an invitation for ridicule. He ends the interview warning about the responsibilities inherent in running mission-critical software:

"You need to ensure that the first requirement of customers — which is integrity and stability — is met. You cannot afford an 8-hour downtime in a service or some security lapse. You're dealing with financial, payroll or customer data, and if things don't work, people can go to jail."

I wonder, was Sikka thinking about examples like the "troubled SAP implementation" reported this week by ComputerWeekly? In a story headlined Staff get stress support after SAP go-live, the UK title reports:

"Somerset County Council went live with the delayed first stage of a SAP implementation on 1 April 2009. Staff have struggled to pay invoices on time. It is further claimed that some bills have been paid to the wrong suppliers and that some companies have been paid twice for the same service ... a higher-than-usual number of emergency payments to the authority's suppliers are being made through the same-day bank-to-bank Chaps network."

No wonder SAP is so worried about taking responsibility for operating its own products when its implementation partners (IBM in this case) have such a spotty track record of bring its software live reliably and on-time. Perhaps instead of attempting to pour scorn, Sikka should invest a bit more time understanding how Salesforce.com has managed to go the past three years without a single downtime incident of more than a few hours at a time — and that includes planned downtime for twice-yearly major releases of its core application. You never know, SAP might learn a thing or two about how to really build software for integrity and stability.

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