SAP TechEd wrap

TechEd was a slightly odd show this time around that left us with plenty to think about and much to anticipate. Here's the show wrap.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

While all the SAP TechEd headline attention was on HANA, we should not forget that mobile and cloud figure largely in SAP's future. The question now becomes: how does the company sensibly go to market in a way that customers find attractive and which delivers value?

As I have said before, Vishal Sikka did an excellent job selling the HANA apps vision. Now comes the execution. During the show, my colleague Jon Reed and I spent much of our time grilling startups that are focusing on HANA/mobile based development. Some are brand new, others have a history of dealing with SAP customers and are now looking to build apps they say were impossible before HANA's capabilities came into view. These are NOT companies looking at the database element as a prime motivator but as an accelerator for other styles of application.

My personal favourite was Basis Technologies, a UK based third party developer that showcased Customer Insights. They have a predictive solution for energy utilities that does two main things: it works out which customers are most at risk of switching and those that are most likely in need of service in the coming days or weeks. These are much more than customer satisfaction oriented solutions but ones designed to both protect revenue and help plan service scheduling. They reference EDF as an early customer. EDF is a large, France based multi-national energy utility.

The HANA engine reduces processing time from days to minutes making decision making much more relevant to solving immmediate problems. We saw a demo on iPad (see video above.) While this style of app has been around a long time it is the first time that business has been able to get insights close to real time events. It is the type of solution that can readily be morphed to work for financial services and onwards to certain retail segments. In my mind that makes this kind of solution much more versatile and so likely to succeed. 

On the mobile front, we had an interesting conversation with an independent developer (video including demo to come) where he talked about the SAP mobile app store. His view is that right now, the store is not so great. In part he says that SAP customers are very unlikely to buy from the store because most have customisation requirements that preclude them from getting value, especially from niche applications that require tweaking. However, he also said that the SAP app store could serve as a great way for developers to get their solutions into market on a trial basis prior to making a buy decision. In his view, the trial serves as a way for customers to safely experiment before settling upon their needs requirements. It is an interesting perspective that makes a lot of sense. 

Other developers, notably Graham Robinson from Australia questioned whether the large pool of SAP ABAP developers are ready for the HANA world (video to come.) He argued that many of these people are stuck in a 1990's mindset that will make it very difficult for them to adjust to the new world where modern languages are used to augment application portfolios. My view is that those same developers are at risk of becoming commoditised as their skills are relegated to bug fix operations in mature landscapes. The same goes for certain parts of the SI community. 

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the release of Personas, a drop dead easy way for end users to customise their front end UI. I first saw this a couple of weeks ago and was blown away at its simplicity and ease of use. At a stroke this removes large gobs of development time building DynPro screens and changes the focus for consultants away from value-less coding to value-add consulting and app building. Those that understand this will thrive. The rest will find their markets rapidly shrinking as billable hour gigs give way to value based metrics. It is long overdue and I welcome it. 

Cloud? Nary a word in the main keynotes and a notable absence of key cloud executives. I assume they'll correct that omission once we get to SAPPHIRE Now in Madrid in a few weeks' time. 

While there has been plenty of criticism among the cognescenti around the non-stop HANA messaging in the last few years, I was surprised at how few people in the SAP ecosystem have heard of HANA. Lunchtime conversations with user representatives revealed a consistent lack of awareness amid greater concerns around topics like Linux support for the Business Suite. This seemed particularly true among the mid-range customers that account for much of SAP's customer base by volume. That has to be a cause of concern, especially since SAP is betting the future farm on HANA as a broad based technology play which paradoxically runs on Enterprise Linux. 

Equally concerning has to be the whole go to market, product management and roll out strategy. Right now, things look a tad chaotic. With so much coming down the development pipe, I get the impression that SAP has not had time to think about how it manages the roll out, what messaging needs to be applied and then how to programmtically get those solutions and technologies into the largest number of hands as possible. It urgently needs case studies across a broad range of technology areas incuding the kind referenced above plus those that are running MRP on HANA and, eventually, the Business Suite. We are told that BusinessOne already runs on HANA but again, where are the customers and what is their experience?

Despite fundamental objections I have to much of what Vinnie Mirchandani says here, there is merit in saying:

It should be able to bribe, cajole, coerce at least 5% of its customers to adopt anything – so it should not even bother to talk about progress till it has shipped 10,000 units of anything. 

SAP has not forgotten how to develop. It has not forgotten how to sell. But I strongly believe it has forgotten how to launch new products.

I would not go as far as 10,000 for the immediate future but I would definitely go as far as 1,000 over the coming months. 

Overall I came away with a sense of excitement (yes, I know...) and anticipation, bouyed by the statement made by Harald Reiter, one of our JD-OD Daily Wrap regulars and a Deloitte project manager who said that in his opinion, HANA represents the first real SAP innovation he has seen in 20 years. That's a big statement coming from someone in the trenches at a leading SI but one from which SAP should draw satisfaction and inspiration. 

If SAP wants to round out the year with a bang and set the stage for 2013 then Madrid will have to be something special. We know that Vishal Sikka's team have more to announce and I also know there has been significant progress in completing the work needed to get the Business Suite HANA ready. SAP has had 100 developers on one piece of this project alone and accelerated the delivery timescale from six months down to six weeks. How that pans out quality wise is anyone's guess but I am told SAP is eating its own dog food and is running parts of its internal systems on this technology. 

 And with that...I am outta Las Vegas.

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