Talking IT strategy with SAP's Jeff Nolan

...is Oracle-JBoss deal imminent?I'm running late for my meeting with Jeff Nolan, one of SAP's key strategists, and a former venture capitalist at SAP Ventures.
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor

...is Oracle-JBoss deal imminent?

I'm running late for my meeting with Jeff Nolan, one of SAP's key strategists, and a former venture capitalist at SAP Ventures. I pull into the car park of SAP Labs, located next to Xerox PARC, in Palo Alto, and the car park is full, but there is a spot out towards the back of the building and I find my way into a bright, tastefully furnished lobby and get my visitor badge.

Mr Nolan offered to meet me in downtown Palo Alto, but I like visiting people on their home turf because you get to feel the vibe of a company. Plus I like to see the car park--is it full, what kinds of cars, etc. All these things indicate something about the culture of an organization and its people.

SAP Labs has been coming up on my radar screen from several different sources over the past year and I've liked what I've been hearing. SAP is a German software company but it has had a presence in Silicon Valley for many years and Hasso Plattner, the company founder has a home nearby.

And with the battle over enterprise software markets being fought by SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, IBM and others, SAP Labs has been gradually expanding its workforce in Silicon Valley and has developed a momentum buzz.

Mr Nolan has an interesting job. He runs the Apollo Group, it is a strategy and communications organization within SAP, that is sometimes referred to as the "Attack Oracle" group--because Oracle is SAP's largest competitor in enterprise applications. And with Oracle's acquisitions of PeopleSoft and Siebel, Oracle is getting serious about its so far lackluster applications business and is  eyeing SAP's huge 32,000+ customer base.

Mr Nolan's goal is to make sure that SAP develops a strategy that enables it to compete against Oracle, whether it is through acquisitions, investments or just pure communications of SAP's message--the goal is to rise above any noise that Oracle produces.

Mr Nolan has a key role to play within SAP, and it is one that he clearly recognizes because of his blogging activities. Mr Nolan writes one of the top VC blogs and because he is involved in the blogosphere he understands the importance of online influencers and how this process works. [That's the reason I get to have a face-to-face with him.]

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison commands a lot of attention and can easily insert Oracle's point of view into many influential publications, consulting groups, and Wall Street brokerages. But Mr Nolan's knowledge of how ideas and conversations propagate around the internet, gained from his experience as an A-list blogger works to SAP's advantage.

I sit down with Mr Nolan in the company cafeteria which is nearly empty since it is late afternoon. The topic of the day is and its acquisition recently of several open source companies. Mr Nolan says his sources expect Oracle to announce the acquisition of JBoss, another leading open source company, at anytime.

"I'm not sure what Oracle's open source strategy is going to be," he says. "The deals fell into Oracle's lap but I think Oracle could make good use of the acquisitions because it does have good developer relations."

Mr Nolan says that Oracle could be putting together a middleware strategy because middleware is becoming very commoditized. Sun Microsystems, IBM and Ingres, (a company that SAP is interested in building partnerships) are offering easy to digest per user licensing models.

What is SAP's open source strategy I ask. "I'm not sure that we have one yet, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, we've made a lot of investments in the open source community and we are waiting to see how things develop...."

(Please continue reading Part 2 . . .)

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