This week's SAP influencer summit was a roller coaster affair. On the one hand I didn't detect anything fundamentally new on the BusinessObjects side other than a considerable amount of repackaging with a view to gaining additional sales. There's nothing wrong with that but it didn't demonstrate a huge amount of innovation. In fairness to SAP, they're still digesting BusinessObjects and I know from other sources that they are gaining a much better understanding of user requirements from the products they've acquired. That should bode well for the future.
On the other hand, the piece I wrote about pricing stirred some controversy. It's worth adding additional comment on that issue. While he was not there, Vinnie Mirchandani astutely observed in comments:
I need to convey that within the Irregulars you are considered a model vendor executive. You are smart and transparent - in our web 2.0 world we need execs like you who don't just sugar coat and spin.
Yep - I was remiss in not reinforcing that point of view though it was one made by Mike Krigsman in his analysis of the SME session:
The SME deep dive raises the bar on communications by enterprise software vendors. Led by Jeff Stiles, SAP executives, partners, and customers accepted challenging questions from the small audience (30 people). To his credit, Jeff allowed the full-day schedule to drift based on audience interest in particular topics. While many of the questions were tough and analytical, the answers were straightforward and reflected confidence in the offerings...
...Note to other enterprise software companies: transparency is a sign of confidence and demonstrates you have nothing to hide. Let’s see you step up and meet the openness challenge.
The SME sessions were interesting because Jeff Stiles, who leads marketing for all SAP's SME offerings demonstrated incredible skill in responding to a battery of tough questions in every session. He even managed to shut me up by calling foul when I suggested ByDesign sales is a 'disaster area.'(Score one to SAP for that!)
I recall at SAPPHIRE Berlin, Phil Wainewright said to me that he was deeply impressed with the level of access and transparency among the executives he met. Contrast that with almost all other mainstream enterprise vendors. They struggle to arrange a call, let along develop a credible blogger relations program. They are the losers because as anyone who reads this blog knows, SAP gets an outrageous amount of coverage - both good and bad.
It is worth noting that afterwards, analysts from Gartner, IDC and Forrester said they felt they'd learned a lot and enjoyed the sessions, precisely because of the interplay between SAP, its customers, it VARs and the attendees. I believe that interplay worked for several reasons:
- Jeff allowed it to happen. He said: "I want to have this conversation."
- The Irregular contingent made the best use of the opportunity
- The VARs and customers were willing to answer any question put to them
I learned afterwards that unlike the usual marketing sessions, the VARs and customers were not scripted or tutored. It did mean the day ended somewhat chaotically but that was hardly SAP's fault. They were trying to cover a huge amount of turf and constant interruptions cannot have helped.
Above that, I was surprised the extent to which SAP has managed to integrate the way the products are presented to customers. The configuration calculator for instance goes a long way twards helping customers get to the point where they understand what they're getting themselves into on whichever product is most appropriate for their circumstances. That's a huge win for customers.
Any organization of SAP's size will find it difficult to get all its 'ducks in a row' at any one time. Add in the collegiate nature of the company's management and it will sometimes appear conflicted. Even so and despite the many naysayers I see commenting about SAP, it remains THE most interesting of the enterprise vendors.Next stop for me? TechEd.