SAPPHIRE 2010: the hangover sequel

SAPPHIRE was well received but little attention was given to some of the continuing nagging problems. Let's check four out: partner ecosystem, Business ByDesign, Verticals and Sustainability
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Over the weekend my good friend Vinnie Mirchandani dinged me for being insufficiently balanced about SAPPHIRE. It's a fair point, especially as I cut his 'other' views from the video I posted with my wrap up. I also cut Paul Greenberg's concerns over Business ByDesign. I've fixed that problem (see the 2 min 10 sec video above.) But then balance in my stories has not always been as strong a point as it might be.

See: SAP topic page

I sense that a combination of food upgrades, Bill McDermott's amazing sales ability and top class logistics caught us up in SAPPHIRE 2010's reality distortion field. If it did that to us then imagine how customers felts? As one colleague said in reference to Bill McD's performance: "I gotta be careful with that guy. He sure sucks you in." As an aside, colleagues have an ongoing conversation with that co-CEO on issues that matter to us: certification. For the moment, Bill McDermott should be given the opportunity to demonstrate the extent to which words translate into action. To that extent, I'm in the 'cautiously optimistic' camp but equally understand that CEO's have many balls to keep in the air and that my pet project is only one vying for attention. It is perhaps telling that a pre-show video I shot that is anything but complimentary, was used by SAP leadership prior to SAPPHIRE as illustrative of issues it needs to address. But to the other side of SAPPHIRE.

In his own post, VInnie picks on four areas:

  1. Partner productivity
  2. Business ByDesign
  3. Verticals
  4. Sustainability

He is right to do do. I'll give my take:

Partner productivity is a huge issue. One product lifecycle management vendor told me that SAP's solution doesn't cut it in the industries in which they are active: chemicals, food and beverage. They get pulled into deals by Accenture which then adds a 45% markup to the end customer. 45%? My jaw dropped. I wonder how often that story is repeated? This vendor is a minnow and that represents a risk in the eyes of large customers. Having Accenture act as the insurance cover provides customer comfort. Allegedly. But then Accenture doesn't have a solution either because that's why this vendor gets pulled in. Business is brisk says my contact. I'm not surprised. From my point of view this is a case of customers looking too hard at the shiny brand without recognizing the reality underneath. More broadly, why doesn't SAP step in and provide direct support for these small, specialist players who add the kind of value SAP may never provide? It's a win for customers and SAP. Greedy partners lose out but who cares about their loss? Are customers really that worried as to be prepared to fork over +45%? If so then SAP could do a great job by certifying solutions, providing that essential cover themselves (at +10%?) and make a bigger noise about the ecosystem partner catalog. Dealing with the broader ecosystem of SIs is a larger job but not one I see as insurmountable.

Business ByDesign is out. Thank goodness. Vinnie points up issues around infrastructure. They are worrying. Paul points out design and go to market flaws. I point up issues around marketing. They are just as worrying. SAP thinks I've turned negative on them. Not true but I can see the company at risk of wasting resource at exactly the time it needs to have a finely tuned strategy that learns from others who have been around the block. If that strategy exists, then I've not heard it. I suspect a big part of the problem comes from the legacy of having the company take its foot off the marketing gas. To its credit, SAP is taking soundings from a number of sources, and, according to executives, the foot is back on the gas.

Verticals is where today's action lays. After 30+ years of development, it is about time. Vinnie didn't find evidence of much happening around the core. I doubt that's true. SAPPHIRE 2010 was not about core enhancements but about opening the innovation kimono. There's a slew of things happening here with much attention being paid to the in-memory database story. Dennis Moore dubs this HassoDB and then outlines some of the problems associated with it. Co-founder Dr Hasso Plattner is aware of the issues. I suspect his research unit is one or two steps ahead of the pundits. He talked to us about re-engineering. The fact it represents a huge undertaking is neither here nor there in his eyes. "It has to be done," he said to us with a shrug. In the meantime, SAP continues to harden the existing core but anyone expecting SAP to be all things to all the verticals it serves is in for a very long wait. In one sense this flips back to the point about partners. SAP needs to help its ecosystem of developer partners shine far more than it has to date. While it plays up Solution Manager, it has taken customers to figure out how to get the best from this product, not partners nor SAP itself. In the meantime, others like Panaya fight for attention. See the disconnects?

Sustainability is another big theme. I have little to add to what Vinnie says about reporting not matched with solutions that drive out value. As someone who was a practicing accountant for many years, I understand only too well the ability to measure something but for those measurements to have no meaning or action value. Wouldn't it be good if SAP's measurement apps triggered direction to a catalog of potential solutions to reduce carbon?

Quo vadis? As should be clear by now, these areas of criticism are linked by a common thread. The partner ecosystem. As I said during the event, SAP may not realize but Accenture et al made SAP what it is today and not the other way around. Unfortunately that represents a case of the partner tail wagging the development dog. As the new SAP looks forward with its big hairy in-memory hat on, this is one old gripe that must be aggressively addressed. There are plenty of things SAP can do to move the needle, some of which it already knows from conversations and suggestions made by colleagues. It will be in the action steps where we see the results. Spray paint as Vinnie might say? I'm more hopeful. Today.

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