What should we expect at SAPPHIRE?

sap-sapphire-logoCasting the Rune Stones for the annual SAPPHIRE flogathon is always entertaining. Whether you are a buyer, partner, user, analyst, developer or hanger on there is usually something for everyone. This year will be no exception. Before getting into this I need to get a disclosure out the way.

SAP has been casting its advisory net pretty wide in recent months. It has organised a series of calls and meetings with a variety of influencers on many topics. Emails from some senior management have been flying around and I recently participated in a small confidential event on SAPPHIRE related material. However, I am not privy to specific announcements and would expect that SAP will be writing and re-writing keynote scripts right up to the last minute. Therefore what follows is less of a prediction and more an advance commentary.

My sometimes JD-OD show guest Vijay Vijayasankar, IBM associate partner has already penned a detailed view of what he wants to see. He opens with:

Right off the bat – I am not a fan of this “5 market” strategy, given the “kitchen sink” approach. SAP just comes off as trying hard to be everything to everybody, and does not give the impression of having a value proposition that differentiates them. SAP has clear leadership in Apps and Analytics, and has a fair shot at databases. Cloud and Mobility are not in that league yet. Consequently, I am just looking for SAP to clarify its plans for mobility, cloud and database.

I am in agreement with Vijay’s broad strokes but take a different perspective. As supplier to 24 industry segments I am constantly amazed at how little SAP knows about its target markets and the things they have been doing or the things they want to do.


Vijay goes on to get into some of the detail with questions around his desired topics. To be honest I am less interested in HANA than others. I’m kinda HANA’d out. I’m only really interested in four things:

Rock solid customer stories that have moved beyond the proof of concept stage. RIght now, the SAP charm offensive on its own media properties points to great brand names like Kraft Foods and John Deere but they read suspiciously like futures. I am scheduled to film at least one HANA customer, I’d like to find more.

Customer enablement. HANA’s speed is well known but what is less well understood is how this opens up opportunities for companies to transform operations. My sense is that some customers are overwhelmed with the potential for new business case scenarios. Others are baffled by the current focus on Business Warehouse on HANA as it isn’t a short term play. Both SAP and its partners need to send in SWAT teams capable of helping customers make sense of the smorgasbord of opportunity, finding ways of delivering breakthrough value in the current year, not in 2013/14. Make the CIO a hero in the process and customers will ‘get it.’ Send that message in a non-sales manner and SAP is good to go. That leads on to my next point.

What’s the HANA apps story? Applications across a broad spectrum of needs will be the jewels for SAP. Right now, customers cannot see enough POC apps to ‘get’ HANA as a value differentiator. I am scheduled to meet with Deloitte’s Harald Reiter (another JD-OD regular) to go through their HANA booth. I’ll do the same with IBM and anyone else that’s got a decent story. I am concerned however that SAP will not have come up with a blockbuster app of the kind I discussed with Vijay recently. It desperately needs a public portfolio of stories that talk to unique, industry specific applications that cannot be built except with HANA. That’s how it differentiates and makes a credible case for HANA as both a database and applications platform. Talk to those issues and customers will prick up their ears.

What does the roadmap look like? The roadmap for HANA has changed drastically over the last couple of years. What started out as an idea for boosting analytics performance is rapidly morphing into something very different. We are told that co-founder Hasso Plattner will share a keynote with Vishal Sikka, executive board member and the driving force behind HANA. If I don’t hear the how and the why of what HANA will be about in the next couple of years then SAP will have missed an opportunity to deliver a crisp, clear and unequivocally differentiated message to the whole of the market. So far, the best differentiation I’ve read that could be put in front of any CXO comes from David Dobrin. If SAP addresses this topic in this way then they will have done a great communications job for both customers and developers.


Vijay’s post closes in on many of the detailed topic areas I’d like to check off as having credible answers. The most difficult will be around the organisation and style of leadership.

Will SAP’s cloud unit be ring fenced? When Doug Merritt was leading the cloud charge several years ago, we discussed ring fencing in a LOT of depth. In the end, the SAP board was not prepared to go that route and Merritt moved on. SAP’s culture and style of leadership does not sit easily with that of SuccessFactors. The current phrase du jour is ‘Culture Eats Strategy.’ There is another side to that for SAP: Culture Eats Culture. The SAP works council in Germany is already complaining about what it sees as a shift in the power center of the company over to the US. As a company, SAP has been here before. Will it learn the lessons of the past and give Lars Dalgaard’s team the elbow room they need to build a coherent cloud strategy? That can only come from ring fencing.

How will the cloud unit be organised? I watched Dalgaard stand up in front of a German SAP developer only event and declare that everyone is in sales. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. That might work inside the SuccessFactors teams and has some merit as a guiding principle in the new world of on-demand applications. But that’s like saying SAP developers are overhead. The last time I heard someone say something similar was at PeopleSoft when Craig Conway came on board. He was more blunt declaring that if employees were not in sales then they were overhead. It took little more than a year for much of PeopleSoft’s best talent to drift away. Dalgaard will need to work very carefully on this point if he is to build a powerhouse, sustainable cloud unit. It’s both an organizational and change management problem where Dalgaard needs to be patient. With that in mind, I’d like to hear some detail around this specific topic because without something coherent here, there is no story for developers in the ecosystem. In turn, that means there won’t be any product worth talking about.


Vijay’s post on mobile asks many of the questions I have posed at various times in the past. Right now, progress is glacial, the story is confusing. Developers don’t have any easy on ramp to SAP technology components i.e. Sybase Unwired Platform, Gateway and Afaria to say nothing of back end requirements for Netweaver and the Business Suite.

Rejigging as a work in progress? The consensus among developers I speak with is that SAP has shot itself in the foot, missing opportunities that are obvious to everyone except SAP. A good part of this centers around the fact SAP has a cultural problem with licensing topics. RIM had the same issue several years ago. Nothing moved unless it had been given the legal work over. Net-net it took years to get things done. Look at the picture today? A severe market kicking has woken RIM up to the reality that it desperately needs mobile developers and guess what? All those developer enablement barriers are collapsing. In a swingeing commentary on SAP mobile, John Moy of Australia Post and John Appleby of Bluefin Solutions tore into SAP’s mobile strategy. (check at 41:48) In a conversation I had with SAP I said that the points come down to one word: ‘friction.’ Get rid of the friction throughout the delivery of mobile development resource, enablement and applications marketing and SAP will be in good shape. This is not a trivial set of tasks. I am told there will be important announcements but the real prize is getting this done by SAP TechED, later in the year.

What’s with the happy talk? When I read Eric Lai’s piece on SAP’s positioning according to Gartner I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. In the end I shook my head and wondered what brand of dope everyone is on. Gartner’s positioning and the explanations I read don’t tally with what I am seeing in the market or for that matter what I see in the SAP store for mobile. Its position as leader per Gartner while Apple is placed somewhere in the back is plain nonsense. The levels of innovation Apple has delivered in its business model, supply chain, developer enablement and consumption models are the envy of everyone in the market. Gartner’s omission of Workday doesn’t make sense. Neither does its lowly positioning of Microsoft and Salesforce.com. Of course for enterprise things are a little bit different to the consumer world. I am sure Vinnie Mirchandani will squirm at the thought his old alma mater could make such strange MQ decisions. And then for SAP to crow over it without looking around to see if it makes sense shows a lack of market understanding. In fairness to SAP, if the research is methodologically faulty then they cannot be blamed. But to push this into the market and expect CIOs to simply suck it up is bordering on the delusional given what customers are asking for and where they are placing their bets. SAP needs to carefully think about how it bridges the gap between what it is reporting around Gartner’s view and what many voices have said on this topic inside the SAP ecosystem. Messaging at SAPPHIRE on this topic needs to be laser focused. Happy talk doesn’t cut it in a market where SAP is at risk of squandering some great assets.


The topics and approaches I am proposing in my question areas may seem a little ‘inside baseball’ but they contain common themes. Much of this conference is going to be about the extent to which SAP is pivoting around the new rules of business, design, developers, customer needs and cultural change. Chewing off SuccessFactors has become a driver for this but both the database and mobile areas need important work.

My final wish is to see customers on stage answering questions that are relevant to customers. Seeing customers on canned video or answering fluffy questions in a live setting doesn’t do it for me. SAP knows my thoughts on this topic and I am assured that part of the program is evolving. We’ll see how much progress they have made along with the extent to which CMO Jonathan Becher can bring alive the promise that SAP is about customer users talking to customer user issues. That would be a major step forward.

Above everything though I am looking for a small handful of juicy bones that not only talk to the vision but with feet rooted in the real world delivered in crisp terms. In other words I want to be surprised.


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