SAP 2010 collapse and other nonsense

As we kick off 2010 many industry observers will be holding their breath and asking : 'What does SAP do to regain its mojo?' Right now it is considered to be on the enterprise apps ropes.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

As we kick off 2010 many industry observers will be holding their breath and asking : 'What does SAP do to regain its mojo?' Right now it is considered to be on the enterprise apps ropes. Lackluster or falling license revs tell a sad story that Wall Street analysts bereft of any understanding of the evolving nature of enterprise apps will likely crap their pants at whatever news comes forth.

And as one of the company's arch critics it would be easy to write them off as a 'has been' with the opportunity of picking over the company's bones. That's too easy and a sop to the news driven topic du jour: maintenance costs.But one to which I will doubtless return.

One analysis might suggest that SAP is a company mired in all sorts of organizational issues that leave them looking like 20th century laggards bound to an old world that struggles to find relevance in the 21st century. Rumors to that effect abound. That's both a sloppy and uninformed view.

I am fortunate that for whatever reasons, SAP chose to pull me into their Mentor orbit. At the time I questioned the company's collective sanity. Why would you want to draw someone like me into the developer/business process inner sanctum? Why would you want to expose your guts to a critic like me who would likely pillory the company at every opportunity? Surely I am bound to grasp the negatives and pitch them as examples of why SAP is a poor choice. That's like volunteering for a deep rectal examination with the crudest of tools. But here's the real deal:

SAP may not like much of what I have to say in the public domain - it's often embarrassing and sometimes off the mark. They get to screw up and I'm likely near top of the queue to express that opinion. But at the same time they tell me more and more about the interesting things SAP has in the pipe for its customers. To many of my colleagues these are marginally incremental changes that deliver wafer thin value. But then I see SAP as a company rich in ideas and poor at articulation. Why?

Some tried to sugar coat this with vague references to SAP innovation but ducking beneath NDAs. I don't buy that. The days of back room privileged briefings should be over. If you want to tell us something then fine. If it's commercially sensitive, don't bother. As a Mentor I get access to all sorts of stuff - mostly under implicit but not signed NDA. Does SAP expect me to remain silent? Probably. Does it black ball me from talking about the good stuff? Never. Did I rant to them about 12Sprints while others provided ridiculously thin and malformed analysis. You bet. SAP is much smarter than the confines of a legally bound NDA.

In 2010, SAP is going full bore on 'the voice of the customer.' It knows it needs to acknowledge and respond to customer thinking at many levels. I will likely be videoing some customers this month (at no cost to SAP - I get to keep copyright but get costs reimbursed) with questions like:

  1. What were you hoping to achieve from your SAP implementation?
  2. Did you achieve the anticipated benefits envisaged when you embarked on the project?
  3. How would you quantify (say) the top three benefits?
  4. Do you have numbers that demonstrate what you achieved and if so, how would you express that?
  5. What lessons would you pass on to others thinking about a similar implementation?
  6. What encourages you to continue SAP investments?
  7. How would you characterize your relationship with SAP from a customer service perspective?What importance do you place on the relationship with your implementation partner and how does that work
  8. If there was one thing you'd like SAP to do better in its relationship with your business, what would that be?

Classic PR questions perhaps but designed to extract the nuts of the real stories that underpin SAP implementations. I can do that. Whether the results demonstrate something that SAP can run with publicly remains to be seen. Whether they can accept the implied critique in some of the questions has yet to be tested. My sense is that SAP is trying...hard though it might seem...to figure how transparency in the customer engagement translates into value delivered and deliver-a-able.

It is a road SAP must tread. Relying on the 22% maintenance stream will likely relegate it to the market value metrics ascribed to Oracle - a company that has assiduously massaged its financial image the last five years and blown $25 billion plus in acquiring legacy with little demonstrable value back to customers. Check Tom Wailgum's 5 mile high Oracle analysis.

SAP may be the company that its detractors love to hate but ask yourself this: are 92,000 customers and a 1.8 million community wrong?

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