Monday, December 13, 2010

Making Sense of the SAP Influencer Summit 2010

Now that the SAP “Influencer” Summit 2010 is in the books, we can all haggle about what it actually meant. There is even debate about “Influence” itself, and whether those invited comprise the true influencers. (ASUG “Influence Council” members, not invited to the show, might argue the point). To add to the challenge of influencing the influencers, the SAP Summit had to finesse its conflict with the “Dreamforce” event that occurred on the same two days.

A third day for (ahem) “influential” bloggers who would have missed the SAP event due to Dreamforce was eventually added. This day covered the same on-demand content as day two, but in a small group setting. I attended the whole three day spread, hoping that the small group interaction would be worth some content repetition. Given that the ten bloggers assembled included some of SAP’s fiercest critics; it was not a day I wanted to miss.

At the end of day two, a couple of sleep-deprived analysts who traveled long distances to get to Santa Clara pulled me aside and said, “This is the same message as SAPPHIRE, nothing has changed.” I didn’t totally agree. In particular, SAP has made strides since SAPPHIRE on its on-demand and mobility roadmaps, but the point has some truth. At SAPPHIRE Now 2010, SAP went bold on themes that would take at least a year to productize. At the Influencer Summit, the message was sharpened. SAP is banking its future on the following propositions:

1. While “the cloud” is disruptive, large enterprise (LE) customers are going to want hybrid environments for years to come. SAP believes it is uniquely positioned to provide hybrid solutions with its increasingly coherent menu of on-premise and on-demand solutions. SAP Executive Board Member Vishal Sikka, who keynoted on day one, refers to this as the era of AND. Stability AND innovation, on-premise AND on-demand. Meaning: customers shouldn't have to compromise one to get the other.

2.The converging trends of mobility, business intelligence, on-demand and in-memory have changed the middleware game (see my PAC TechEd piece). SAP intends to change outside perceptions from “legacy vendor” to tech leader by rejuvenating its NetWeaver platform, largely thanks to its acquisitions of BusinessObjects and Sybase, combined its own in-memory technology.

3. SAP argues that customers don’t want “one stack” solutions. Oracle is rarely mentioned but SAP’s competitive intentions are clear. SAP’s mission is to make sure its customers have a genuine alternative to “one stack” via easy interoperability but single vendor accountability - a juggling act that has proved difficult for vendors to pull off in the past. Hence the need for that next-generation middleware. Co-CEO Jim Snabe made this point powerfully during his virtual keynote from Germany when he said that stack databases are giving way to in-memory, hardware is shifting to commoditized cloud components, and front ends are changing to mobile devices.

4. SAP is enhancing its SME play by offering a choice of on-premise and on-demand solutions, with Business ByDesign as the key on-demand offering. SAP aims to tie the seemingly disparate SME and LE markets together with a refined go-to-market strategy that features Business ByDesign as a viable option for subsidiary business units of large customers.

5. SAP will cross-pollinate all these initiatives via its “Platform as a Service” (PaaS) offering, unveiled at the Influencer Summit (for details, see my Jargon Buster piece on SAP’s PaaS announcements). In the new PaaS architecture, large enterprise customers (and partners) will (soon) be able to build Line of Business (LOB) solutions on the ByD platform. SAP will release Sales OnDemand, its first LOB offering built on this platform, in Q1 2011, with more releases to follow, including Travel OnDemand. Career OnDemand is also in the works, though John Wookey, who heads up SAP’s LOB OnDemand offerings, was not ready to commit to an alpha release date for Career OnDemand at the Influencer Summit (customer consultations on desired functionality are still in process).

Most of these points were somewhere in the keynotes at SAPPHIRE, but they weren’t tied together yet. SAPPHIRE Now was more about the surge of Sybase possibility than meaningful roadmaps. TechEd brought increased clarity, but it wasn’t until the Influencer Summit that SAP unfurled the following slide during the keynote of Peter Lorenz:

(if this screen shot is cut off on you browser, you can see the full display in my SCN post with the Sikka interview).

Though most of us would need a guided tour to fully grok this slide, nevertheless, SAP has resolved a fair amount of on-demand roadmap confusion. “Core” technology on the platform is based on ByD, “Edge” on River (the lighter weight Java platform which supports nimbler enterprise extensions like Carbon Impact and StreamWork.) Note this is now a NetWeaver platform (dubbed NetWeaver 8.0) which, for now, will run alongside existing NetWeaver installations “without disruption.” As I Tweeted from the show, SAP is no longer hedging on multi-tenancy - it’s now listed prominently on the design principles for all of the OnDemand apps that will run on this platform.

On the third day, Executive Board Member Vishal Sikka, stopped by to meet with the bloggers for lunch. After the lunch, he and I shot a brief video where he explained SAP’s clarifications about “core” and “edge” and how HANA fits into the picture:

It’s understandable that analysts craving big news found Dreamforce more hospitable than the SAP Summit. The theme of this year’s Summit was “Delivering on the Vision,” but “How We’re Going to Deliver on the Vision” is a more accurate description of what transpired. Yes, SAP had customers on many of its panels, including several ByD customers with stories to tell. But we’re all waiting for the new “innovations” to scale. Scale is what proves customer adoption; scale is what demonstrates that the technical framework is viable. Scale is what will make SAP’s model attractive to shareholders. Scale is what wows the most demanding analyst.

So for scale, we’ll have to wait. With that in mind, SAPPHIRE Now 2011 should be SAP’s most important in years. By May, SAP’s ByD release 2.6, which includes the SDK and many functionality enhancements, will have been live for five months. BusinessObjects 4.0 will be in high gear. Other SAPPHIRE Now topics that SAP will be expected to deliver on:

  • The promised SAP-Sybase integrated SDK based on the Sybase Unwired Platform (SUP)
  • Availability of Gateway for broader usage beyond its current role in Duet Enterprise. (Gateway will provide access to SAP data for lightweight applications including but not limited to mobile appliances).
  • Many more examples of River/”Edge”-based development by partners (one such partner, Keytree, showed off an exceptional demo of its iApprove River-based workflow approval app at the Influencer Summit).
  • We’ll also be looking for HANA customers on stage as well, especially those running earlier 4.x versions of SAP.
Sybase executives will also be expected to present a more transparent and complete roadmap than they have presented at the previous three SAP shows (SAPPHIRE, TechEd, Summit). If you just attended the Summit keynotes, virtually or in-person, you didn’t walk away with much more about Sybase than we learned at TechEd, but there was progress during the breakout session on the first afternoon, where a small group of influencers including SAP Mentors Kevin Benedict and John Appleby pressed Sybase executives for specifics and got more than we have heard publicly up to this point (see John’s blog for an update).

Some final takeaways:

  • Accenture’s presentation pushing Business ByDesign to subsidiaries was surprisingly potent. They intend to build small ByD subsidiary ecosystems around larger SAP customers, with smaller offices running ByD. Those who are skeptical about SAP’s ability to roll out ByD through partner channels should take a closer look at what Accenture is up to.
  • Though StreamWork, SAP’s collaborative enterprise solution, still suffers from usability issues - something its product leaders are at least keenly aware of - increasingly, StreamWork is being embedded into transactional processes. This is SAP’s best chance at impacting the overhyped world of social software. The most impressive StreamWork demo I saw was an All-in-One demo of an exception handling scenario. The process started with an iPhone workflow approval app, which moved to StreamWork for “human troubleshooting’ and back into All-in-One, where the comments could be viewed in context on the list of approved invoices.
  • John Wookey’s group is following a “people-centric” design process to build its new LOB OnDemand solutions, including the upcoming Sales OnDemand application. Though the UI looks terrific, with plenty of collaborative “Enterprise 2.0” type features, this does seem to set up a conflict with the process-centric approach that I see coming from the NetWeaver BPM direction. This conflict could be a productive one, with both sides gaining from each other’s work, or it could invoke the cultural/organizational issues that are one of SAP’s biggest obstacles to realizing its hybrid vision. Another obstacle could be the increased confusion created by the new “NetWeaver 8.0 architecture,” given that most SAP customers already have two versions of NetWeaver to reckon with already, one for their technology stack and one for the Business Suite.
SAP has its work cut out for them, but one shift I noticed was the change in tone on the third day of the summit. In past years, discussion with this particular group of bloggers was often contentious, to the point of someone in the room blurting out in frustration, “SAP just doesn’t get it!” This year, the discussions were sometimes intense, but the tone of the conversation was decidedly different. No one is giving SAP a pass, but more so than in past encounters, the bloggers seemed willing to see if SAP can deliver to scale. If that doesn’t happen, the conversational gloves will surely come off again.

Additional content: SAP Summit replays (keynotes and some breakout sessions) are now posted on (free registration required). Also recommended: Dennis Howlett's contrast of Dreamforce and the SAP Summit. Note: SAP covered my travel and accommodations to this event.

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