Inside the mind of SAP

What's it like inside SAP? Is this company as ossified as some believe?
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

For me, SAP TechEd, Las Vegas has been packed with video shoots and meetings with development and marketing executives from SAP along with customers and partners. My feet are killing me and I long for a good night's sleep. Be that as it may, and I have said this before, but under the current leadership I get unparalleled access to senior people at the company.

Vishal Sikka, executive board member and the person driving SAP's flagship HANA development is among the most open and accessible people I know. He is unusual in that he 'gets' the fact that in his position, he is too far removed from day to day developers in the SAP ecosystem to have a good hand on the reality of what it is like operating and developing SAP systems.

With that in mind, he took a good amount of time out of his schedule to meet with around 60 of the SAP Mentor community. These are some of the best and brilliant minds I know in that ecosystem. Representation comes from IBM, Deloitte and many other SIs as well as developers inside companies like Colgate Palmolive and Adobe, while at the other end of the spectrum there are independent developers and representatives of fast growing app builders and integrators. And then there's me. It's a truly eclectic mix.

The conversation was candid to the point of being painful but absolutely worth the time investment. I took the opportunity to shoot some of the session. The video includes selected highlights. If you want to understand something of the flavor of this most enigmatic of tech vendors then I encourage you to watch. For the rest, here's a precis:

  • In the first clip, we talk about the need for SAP knows to change in order to be competitive in the 21st century. Just how hard is it? Sikka talks about the burden of legacy and gives a great example of a small consumer application that partially failed due to inappropriate sign up procedures.
  • In the next clip, Sikka gives an indication of the scale of customisations that occur in some of the world's largest companies and the challenges that presents when thinking about an inclusive ecosystem.
  • In the third clip, he exhorts Mentors to do the groundwork that helps spread ideas among the ecosystem. That's happening in patches but SAP needs to do more to highlight just how large and valuable that same ecosystem can be. Comments from Mark Finnern who leads the Mentor group form the SAP side point to the potential for developers to be the showcase that helps sales.
  • Next, Sikka moves on to talk about the activity among HANA developers based in Walldorf and their dedication to the job. At the end, the audience gets a laugh when someone wonders whether they work late because of escalations.
  • In the final clip, he talks about the evolution of enterprise ecosystems. It is very different to to what you might imagine.

As I reviewed the clips and thought back over the experiences of the week, it struck me that SAP is much more alive to the risks it faces than most people imagine. If SIkka is representative of the leadership - and I have no reason to think otherwise - then I get the sense SAP is a company coming to terms with the new reality of the 21st century.

As a side note, I was impressed with the fact that when colleagues brought major problems to the table, action was taken in the moment to get things fixed. That has never occurred before. And for the first time, I met a series of highly placed individuals who are not only thinking differently to the way I expected but have real plans in place against which to execute.

We left SAP with a laundry list of issues. The next stop in the TechEd tour is Madrid. I'll be checking progress with keen interest and looking to gain more insights into what makes this company tick.

Image courtesy of Martin Gillet

Disclosure: SAP covered most of my travel and expenses to attend the event.

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