SAP Gets Mojo Back: Enterprise 3.0

The overarching vision for SAP is a little tricky to see, but they did a good job of selling the power of real time analytics to measure sustainability at Sapphire.

Sapphire Now Notebook

New SAP Co CEO Hagemann Snabe, 100 days into his tenure, described the evolution of SAP as part of a broader 'inflection point' in his section of the global keynotes at Sapphire this week.

The world is changing fast and SAP, the foundational IT underpinnings at scale of so many global businesses, is making all the right noises about recognizing a people focused new era.

The vision of 'best run' companies deploying a new generation of SAP technologies that are informed by huge changes in use patterns and taking advantage of the devices that are rapidly signaling the end of the personal computer era was everywhere.

Mobile, iPads, on and off premise - real time access to sophisticated analytics and sophisticated enterprise apps is the promise of the new SAP, supercharged by in-memory performance.

The reality SAP are confronting is ironically based on the remnants of the last wave of server/thin client enterprise computing.

SAP was founded in 1972 by five former IBM engineers, and, according to Wikipedia...

In 1973, the SAP R/1 solution was launched. Six years later, in 1979, SAP launched SAP R/2. In 1981, SAP brought a completely re-designed solution to market. With the change from R/2 to R/3 in 1992, SAP followed the trend from mainframe computing to client-server architectures.

The shift from mainframes to client/server was a famous success but also forms a legacy which SAP are only now starting to confront, despite their highly successful internet business process strategies and products.

On-Demand, Software as a Service disruption is growing in a tight economy, even though still being fragmented and incomplete. The clock is ticking and last fall at their TechEd event SAP sometimes felt to me like a slightly dusty relic of a previous era struggling to straddle the old and newer 2.0 generations. Between an appalling economy and an apparent lack of coherence the future looked a little ominous for a company whose mission critical foundations can't fail but could be acquired and neutralized over time by competitors.

This week Hasso Plattner's keynote proclaimed in-memory computing the 'real' Enterprise 2.0 - I'd go further and say we are now moving out of that era, based on my briefing around sophisticated Business Objects contextual information crunching and associated analytics this week.

Today the newly revitalized SAP is arguably shooting to be at the cutting edge of what some call Web 3.0 - the semantic web era.

2.0 technologies at their worst don't scale, can lack security and are frequently not easily interoperable, all issues which don't play well against the industrial strength infrastructure SAP are famous for creating.

The combination of a wrench thrown in Moore's Law by the inability for code to be written to take advantage of new generation multicore personal computer chips from Intel et al, versus SAP's dominance in exploring in-memory computing I'd argue will make this coming era a time when the large enterprise computing companies will shine.  CTO Vishal Sikka has the manpower to solve this issue at scale.  SAP have put a stake in the ground to be at the forefront of this coming epoch of ultra connected real time contextual business technologies.

(Delivering on the promise of Multi-Core chips requires overcoming the parallel programming gap: there's a yawning divide between the capabilities of today’s programmers, programming languages, models, and tools and the challenges of future parallel architectures and applications).

SAP’s chairman Hasso Plattner thinks their in-memory efforts will help streamline supply chains: “The faster software can process data and plan demand, the fewer physical parts have to be stored.”

Between their vast scope across countless business verticals, sectors and needs and SAP not revealing too much to their competitors, large scale events like Sapphire can feel like a burlesque fan dance: there's a lot of elaborate views of parts of the body but you never get a look at the whole thing...

The overarching vision for SAP is therefore a little tricky to see and depends on where you're standing, but they did a good job of selling the power of real time analytics to measure sustainability at Sapphire, a goal few on the planet can have issues with.

This is potentially a profitable new sector for SAP, and keynotes from Sir Richard Branson, Al Gore and Colin Powell underscored the value of environmental conservation; Gore touched on the idea of Carbon Taxes, something SAP would be well placed to put into process.

Beyond this 'Do Good' vision, a clever combination of marketing and reality, the many industry verticals were represented in discrete sections of Orlando's giant convention center, with the centerpiece a large Times Square like edifice broadcasting video imagery from the TV studios below.

Frankfurt and Orlando were feeding a global online audience and SAP did a masterful job of focusing a moment in time, with terrific keynote scripts from the two new CEO's. You can watch the event in replay here.

SAP are talking the talk around understanding the power of modern collaborative technologies woven into their business process, understanding the power of semantic data and the shift to real time mobile devices. The question now is whether they are now able to walk the walk, whether the more conservative Walldorf culture has truly given a mandate for the new CEO's to realize the vision.

On the one hand is the reality of the thousands of legacy systems SAP historically support, on the other a more Google-esque new world of agile development and beta refinement with customers. This split personality has been a blessing and a curse for years - with the new vitality exhibited in 2010 I believe SAP have a real chance of combining the best of both worlds to realize a 3.0 future...but execution and effectiveness is everything..