Many years back, I read a great article in Wired magazine about Amazon (still looking for it to link!), how the company transformed itself, how it fully embraced a “services” architecture, and furthermore, how it had built a “platform” (on which it ran its own services). When we talk about the “platform”, we are saying just that….it is this “thing” that everyone else can then build on top of…their apps, their software, their services…with the platform owner getting a little “cut” of all of it. The article went on to say that the “platform” is where the future (and future revenue) is at for big software companies (not the traditional licensing and maintenance models of past), and that those that are moving to embrace, develop and lead in this area will be the ones to survive. The platform is the future!…and lucky for them, Amazon had got out there ahead first.

     Fast forward to now, and Amazon isn’t the only one in the game. I had not thought much about that article until I heard Dr. Vishal Sikka’s keynote and really saw/felt the “shift” of focus at SAP TechEd in Vegas. As I sat there listening to the keynote something began to feel “uncomfortable”. The keynote seemed to focus a lot on SAP’s HANA platform, the start ups building on it now (there was a slide that showed 1000+ logos of companies building their business on the HANA platform), IMG_2446.JPGall the talk of the platform….the PlatformTHE PLATFORM…with little covering much new for the traditional SAP business suite (notice how short Sam’s part was about Fiori? haha). Then one only needed to scan through the sessions (and especially the focused “network lounge” quick meetings) that “the platform” was getting a lot more love than other areas. Lastly (as if you had not quite picked up on it yet), Demo Jam seemed chocked full of competitors showing off things they did on the HANA platform, but not necessarily having any business suite relevancy at all. There was a drummer showing real time music analysis, a team of workout nuts showing real time fitness monitoring, a team showing how you can locate nearby vendors/restrooms at a sporting event while the vendors could also offer real time specials based on crowd behavior, and one team that actually showed a tie in to the business suite for their demo for field services work using “augmented reality”.

     So with all this apparent (to me) shift in the “mood” of TechEd through the week, I was not sure if I was the only one that “got” what/where SAP is going or was it just that everyone else:

  • already knew this (man, I must be slow.)
  • did not care (hey, they still will be doing their jobs on the business suite so all the other stuff doesn’t affect them)
  • just did not get it (as the saying goes “they did not pick up on what was being put down”)

     

     I did not observe any “gasps” or head/fist shaking from the crowd during Vishal’s keynote nor did I overhear anyone talking about all this in the halls, sessions, breakfasts, lunches, receptions, lounge, etc. throughout the conference. There was no “buzz” at all about this. I felt like I was in some weird movie walking around fully aware of a secret no one else seemed to know…or was the joke on me and at some point would everyone yell “surprise!….just kidding, Chris!”.

     So…to summarize for the TLDR crowd (haha)….SAP now wants to position themselves as a platform company? Their own business software they have been known for will just be a “side product” of their own services running on said platform (Amazon deja vu)? Well, if that is so, man, we are in for one heckuva ride as SAP re-brands their big ship!

     First off, how does SAP become “cool”? They have to get buy in (and in a BIG way) from the developer eco-systems. How do they get the Silicon Valley coders. the tech bloggers, the digi-elite, the Jon Reeds of the world, and similar types to take them seriously? For years now, when I talk to my other friends that are developers, web designers, etc., and I say “oh I do development with SAP stuff”, I almost always hear “Oh, that business software stuff right?”. Then they go on to tell me how they get to do all the cool, cutting edge work like HTML5, cutting edge mobile apps, web services and such. When I respond “I do HTML5, web services and all that cool stuff too….with SAP.”, they look at my, roll their eyes, and give me that “yeh right” look. In the eyes of those people, SAP is just not and never has been “cool”. Now, SAP suddenly wants hoards of these people to flock to their platform to start companies and build the next greatest thing?!?! It reminds me of the South Park tv show episode with the underpants gnomes with their grand business idea…”step 1, collect the underpants……step 3, profit!” haha

https://youtube.com/watch?v=RCweHYG_EZA

     Secondly, how does SAP convince people the platform is truly a non-SAP centric platform? Does SAP suffer from memory loss or refuses to recall past blunders? Does anyone remember when industry reports said something similar….that those companies that built portal products would be huge. So then SAP and Top Tier get together and SAP spins off a separate company (the geniusly titled “SAP Portals”) to try to position it as a separate SAP product (ie. “you can build your own portal to any content using our portal platform product!”). Not too long after, the company was brought back “in house” because it actually was pretty tightly integrated to the business suite of other SAP component products (because that actually made for a lot of its differentiation from other portal products in the market) and not really a big hit seller as a true standalone portal product. So in a nutshell, there was not a rush from developers, start ups, or companies to the “SAP portal platform” because it still had the SAP and stigma of “just business software” attached to it and did not help itself by making the product very SAP-centric to begin with. Dog chasing tail much? haha

     Lastly, how does SAP embrace and run with this image without alienating their base, traditional SAP customers, developers, consultants, etc. who’s lives have focused around the business suite? As I sat listening and watching this all unfold at TechEd, I could not help but think “What will TechEd look like next year?!?!? Will there even be a “TechEd” as we know it?”. I just picture a new TechEd being this thing where all kinds of companies are showing off what they built on the HANA platform, developers talking code and solutions, consulting firms recruiting, start ups on the hunt for talent to actually build their companies, “live” coding contests will be going on while down in the basement somewhere, we will find 2 or 3 sessions on workflow, form development, and ABAP coding. (haha) Seriously, think about the trickledown effect of this if SAP shifts focus to being known as a “platform company” and not so much for their “business suite”:

  • What does SCN look like after this? Right now, SCN is heavily focused on the business software suite side of things and solutions for all those things. What will it become or look like with a “platform” focus?
  • If we talk about a change in SCN, then of course, I have to ask what does the SAP Mentor program look like after this? SCN and the Mentors are eternally intertwined. If one changes, the other must as well.
  • What about user groups and communities? What will become of ASUG? ASUG typically focuses on customers’ users “in the trenches”, and they present things they have done around the business suite. Will they start to include “platform only” customers/companies?
  • and on and on and on with every group that in some ways depends on the image of SAP as THE business software company and leader

These are certainly some interesting times in the SAP world. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out…..like one of those old, cliffhanger, episodic, black and white movies…..”Can SAP become a platform company?….will our heroes prevail?….will the Silicon Valley naysayers be defeated?…..stay tuned next week for our next exciting episode of…..

          DOCTOR STRANGE TIMES

                                  or

HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE SAP HANA PLATFORM       

                                                                                                      😆 😛 😉

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21 Comments

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  1. Mark Finnern

    Hi Chris,

    That post is a bit over dramatic especially the end. With all the cool new and shiny HANA news, we may have forgotten to also stress all the things that are happening in the business suite.

    Reading your post, it strikes me, that you too have to expand your view on what the business suite is. That concept, that won InnoJam and was part of DemoJam of a company being able to give coupons in real time to their customers during a ballpark game is absolutely an extended business process and its final incarnation will be part of the business suite.

    I am convinced, that Bernd Leukert’s keynote in Amsterdam will hit a different chord, after all he is head of Application Innovation.

    But you raise a valid concern. My question to you is, why is it an or, why can’t we work on it being an and? A platform and business solution company? How cool would it be if the platform and business suite developers as well as the functional folks work closer together, it is there where the real value is created, when new technology is seamlessly integrated into the business process to the benefit of the consumer as well as the companies. That is where the music is playing.

    Your example of Amazon is valid there too. I think this is the post that you were looking for: https://plus.google.com/112678702228711889851/posts/eVeouesvaVX an originally private rant about how Jeff Bezos requested to service enable everything internally, which was a monstrous undertaking, but which made them so much more flexible/agile in the long run, one of the reason why they were able to grew into the 800 pound Gorilla in the cloud space. But that additional focus, didn’t make them take the eye off the ball of being the best online store out there, or at least I have not seen anyone taking that crown from them. Similar SAP can continue to dominate in the business suite and actually accelerate innovation there by innovating the platform too.

    We may not always get the mixture right and thanks for pointing it out, I see amazing enormous opportunity in the symbiotic relationship of platform and business. .

    Let’s work on making it happen, Mark. 

    P.S. Just want to stress that this is my opinion not an official statement from SAP.

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    1. Christopher Solomon Post author

      Mark! Thanks for the response.

      First off, I wasn’t trying to come off as dramatic…as much as keeping it light and not “the sky is falling” talk. I am quite sure my sense of humor does not always translate well over the internetz. (haha) I thought some might get the “bomb” analogy. it changed the world (good and bad) and this could as well. 😉

      Second, the article was partly this 2008 one ( http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/16-05/mf_amazon?currentPage=all) as well as the one you mentioned that was later.

      Third, I was really not trying to sound more positive or more negative…just positing a few thoughts (oddly enough, three points much like this haha)…as well as my thinking on each.

      As you said…and I believe…can the two images live together? Sure. But I suspect that the “platform as everything” will out weigh the business suite focus. I can see the business suite (as I mentioned) being looked upon as “just SAP’s own products on their platform”.

      The thing I am still wondering, is the opposite of what you ask….instead of wondering how to address/imagine/work towards the platform and business suite together, how is SAP going to insure people that they are quite different in order to draw folks/start ups/non-SAP companies to the platform. They have to shake that “SAP is just business software” image and draw in folks that have no intent at using, running, implementing, etc. any of SAP’s business solutions and insure that their platform does not come too SAP product integration specific. As I kinda mentioned, that is what I think killed them when they went after the portal space before.

      And most certainly, I agree with you…this could/should be a time for amazing opportunity….even for those that create their own….on the new platform. haha 😛

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      1. Thorsten Franz

        So Chris, have you written your own “Kiss of Death for the Business Suite” blog post? LOL! Welcome to the club. When people start calling you overly dramatic, watch out. 😉

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        1. Christopher Solomon Post author

          whoa Whoa WHOA!!! Talk about dramatic! haha….nope, I won’t say/think that this is a “kiss of death for the business suite” by any FAR stretch of the imagination. That is the foundation of SAP and will always be….oops! did I say always??!?!…..let me step down from this soapbox…or “platform”, if you like to call it such. haha

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    2. Steve Rumsby

      Over dramatic or not, it was an obvious conclusion to draw from the keynote. HANA is the future and everything else is legacy.

      The message is out there already: http://redmonk.com/jgovernor/2013/10/28/4031/

      If this isn’t the case then the Amsterdam keynote had better emphasise that, or this message will run and run, and on-premise Suite customers aren’t going to like it…

      Steve.

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  2. Jarret Pazahanick

    Nice blog Chris, and definitely gets you thinking as I think everyone can agree that SAP has some major challenges and strong competitors in almost every business area, so having the right strategy, execution (and messaging) is going to be paramount for the next several years.

    One could almost say there is a 3rd “big thing” out there as SAP is also trying to transform into a cloud company as we have heard repeatedly they are “all in” as it relates to the cloud. It will be interesting to see how SAP can be “all in” on so many different areas and be successful at the same time but many people out there are “all in” on their SAP careers so lots of fingers crossed that SAP can make all these transitions “seamlessly”

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  3. Matt Harding

    Hi Chris,

    I think my Marketing filter was on when I listened to everything at TechEd this year, as SAP have a long way (and most likely too far to go at this point since they took the wrong turn back many years ago) to go to become Google like cool. Now while the platform is a genuine platform being offered, it is only really extremely unique use cases that I see being launched on the platform based on Software Architecture and Design, and it will be the starter type funding/offerings that will be required to attract solutions to be built on it.

    It’s a possibility it will be Amazon like genuine platform in the future, but for now, my filter just listened to everything and it was like the platform was something I may be interested in for my ERP based solution and yes – I am indeed.

    Now as a platform that I can hire traditionally non-SAP developers for; then again, we have a way to go there, and it will be a big challenge for SAP to convince these guys to pick up skills like SAPUI5 when other obvious platforms are out there.

    But on the obvious, SAP are saying “Challenge Accepted” so fingers crossed we get to Step 3 in the future.

    Cheers,

    Matt

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    1. Christopher Solomon Post author

      Matt, I think your ears were adjusted dead on to what most TechEd attendees were as well….”my filter just listened to everything and it was like the platform was something I may be interested in for my ERP based solution”…..so yeh, you are coming from the “if this platform is awesome for my ERP solution from you guys, then heck yes, I am ‘all in’ too!!!!”….but that is coming from a customer’s perspective right?….an existing business customer. Reading between the lines (and TechEd sessions and keynote) however, SAP is positioning itself for a far broader audience….and will those people embrace SAP if they have in their mind “oh that’s just that business software company”? That’s where we will really see if the message hits or misses. 😛

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  4. Holger Stumm

    Hi Chris,

    great review, I agree with you in almost all points.

    Same thing happended to me while watching SAP TechEd unfolds in Vegas:

    First, it is the disconnect between the ballyhoo of tech conference taking place in casino’s and the reality at your actual customer and work site. TechEd is great, if you, your customer or your employeer has the spare money to join the party. Me, my company and most of my customers don’t. (And don’t care) . It is colorful marketing, at the end.

    As much as I evangelize SAP HANA and all the changes it brings: I think, that we are on the way to the usual “Valley of Disillusionement and Tears”, that comes in the Gartner Cycle of Hype just after the peak of the hype, that will be Amsterdam in my opinion.

    After that, all these question you had will be imposed by the market. And SAP needs to respond. And then, at the very end of the hype cycle, we are back to rationale and then we see the sustainable change at the landscapes.

    Great Blog

    Holger

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    1. Gregory Misiorek

      i don’t think Gartner wants you to think of tears as they will inevitably be shed when a project comes to a sudden stop. what usually happens in the cycle is a new hero (technology) is hailed and the next big thing will have everyone jumping on in excitement and so to the next loop iteration.

      whenever i hear platform it sounds like going after IBM’s business, but without hardware i just don’t see it happen. Amazon may be the best cloud company at the moment, but they too need to run their clouds from somewhere which is not in the sky as much as they want you to believe it is.

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  5. Twan van den Broek

    Well written Chris. Curious to learn how SAP TechEd in Amsterdam unfolds. I am surprised as well that SAP is more and more selling technology in stead of business power. SAP still is the nr 1 business suite vendor. But with the push on all new (cool) technology stuff a lot of customers don’t understand or see their next step. That is a serious threat. My personal tip to SAP – look back to your customers see their daily issues and translate new product innovations into solutions for daily use. If someone doesn’t understand the message, don’t explain more about tech stuff and future possibilities but look at today’s business cases and opportunities.

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  6. Vijay Vijayasankar

    I am late to the party, but better late than never 🙂

    This is a great discussion and I want to offer a few thoughts here.

    Yes, it is true that SAP wants to be a platform company. However, the idea of being a platform company is not being executed by taking our eyes off applications. So to be perfectly clear – SAP wants to be a Platform company AND an Applications company. One does not preclude the other in any way.

    What makes a platform successful? It is the apps – and that includes applications SAP builds and what the ecosystem builds. SAP’s existing applications like the Business Suite are not going away. They are all being modernized to work on HANA platform.

    When we talk about platform – it must also be clearly understood that there is no intention to force any customer to a specific deployment model. While we are committed to moving as much functionality to cloud deployment models as possible, we fully understand that customers decide at their own pace. We respect that – and wherever feasible, we will give that option to the customer to choose their deployment. Hana works great irrespective of whether it is deployed on premises or in a cloud.

    About the messaging itself on Platform vs Apps – I will pass the feedback internally that platform messaging needs to be better balanced with our focus on applications. My best guess is that the messaging was heavier on platform and lighter on applications only because SAP’s pedigree as an applications company is well known for decades. But from the blog and the comments here, I think we need to balance this better. Hopefully you will like what you hear in Amsterdam.

    Please keep providing such excellent feedback – and please feel free to ping me any time if I can be of assistance in clarifying anything. I might not know all the answers, but will try my best to ask around and get you a good answer.

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    1. Christopher Solomon Post author

      Vijay, thanks for the feedback.

      I think you are dead on that a lot of the problem is the messaging coming from SAP. If in fact they are saying “hey we are a platform company too” while assuming that everyone will “get” that second implied part of “but we are also still an applications company also”, then I think the message needs some real rework in order not to alienate traditional customers (make them “feel the love” so to speak). Just because SAP does have that long history as an apps company, does not mean they can just stop reminding people of that fact. I would say “who knows better how to build a platform for applications than a company that has built and delivered the best applications in the world for decades” (and notice I did not say “business” applications as that will surely make non-SAP people think the platform is just for “business stuff” as the world outside SAP perceives them)…but then, I am not a marketing person. haha 😆

      But that also brings me back to another issue I have with this too. First off, I do NOT think they are in any way abandoning or ending innovation in the business suite side of things …that has buttered their bread for years! But I do think there is a shift in focus to the “platform” as they try to butter their bread on the other side now. 😛 That “shift” has to be managed well in order to make both sides feel important. Secondly, I am still very concerned about how SAP plans to push this “platform” to the non-business suite crowd…to get non-SAP folks to flock to it as a real platform that will be business suite agnostic (if possible). And along with this is the pricing concern. Just for existing business suite customers, I hear grumbles about how expensive it is if they want to move to HANA. How will you get developers/start ups/etc to build on the platform if the cost is so prohibitive? The Tomcat/Apache combo didn’t get tons of developers flocking to it simply because it was the “best platform” around at the time. I am curious as to how SAP will do this (if they will at all).

      Thanks again for the follow up and for opening the channel of communication.

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  7. Somnath Manna

    In my short memory of attending SAP TechEds and eagerly listening to Keynotes (without understanding the technical stuff much and later on reading through) I now have figured out the “marketing” filter required.

    Starting 6-7 years back during my first TechEd, Netweaver cast a web, Java vs ABAP war was one, soon SOA/ESA became hot, then came BPM/BPX/BPMN, grand concept of BPP (Business Process Platform) envisaging a “core platform” on top of which a customer can pick and choose the functionalities they want and run business. As a functional consultant I was worried that days of SPRO was soon to get over and thought Project Management was the way to go for 😉 . But better sense prevailed, stayed on as Functional Consultant and still able to eke out a living doing SPRO, SE38, SE18, SE37.

    One thing I believe in now – a core around ERP, SCM, CRM, SRM (dubbed in between as BS = Business Suite not typical slang thought by the uninitiated) will form the “Platform” for organizations to run their business on, be it deployed on Cloud, in Premise or Hybrid.

    BTW anyone talked even in whispers about ByD during TechEd LV. That was the perfect platform for SMBs (?).

    /nex

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  8. Mark Yolton

    Hi9 Chris:

    I enjoyed this post a lot. It’s thought-provoking, and I think it reflects a lot of SAP’s thinking — perhaps not communicated in such compelling ways — over the past years. 

    Please take a look at this, which I think you’ll find relevant and in synch: Three Elements of a Successful Platform Strategy by Mark Bonchek. (By the way, I shot a note to him and asked him to check-out your blog, too.)

    M.

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    1. Christopher Solomon Post author

      Thanks Mark! I finally got a chance to check out and read the article you linked. It is very good! I think SAP suffers in the “gravity” department (haha). Thanks again for taking the time to check out my blog…as well as passing it along!

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  9. Witalij Rudnicki

    Hi Chris. I will try to share my personal view, but probably my SAP hat will still stay on as I reply. First of all, I though about the one word, which would answer the question in the title, but I did not find one. So, the answer would be the same as to the question “What Is the Main Goal of a Publicly-Owned Company?“, which is answered there: “The main goal of virtually every publicly-owned company has always been to maximize shareholder value…”. I spent most of my career working for publicly-owned companies, and it was not different anywhere else. As the main question is answered it is obviously that as a company we need to find strategy and tactics to make it happening. In light of the fact that big ERP market is saturating, SAP had to start building other legs, and becoming the platform company is one of those legs. On the tactics site it obviously requires being balanced in the way making customers, ecosystem, employees and other stakeholders happy and loyal. Tough task, and that probably why I am not a manager and probably will never be 🙂

    Now more to the ground. I’ve been going through the same experience about 5 years ago, when SAP bought Business Objects. My background was not R/3, but BW, and all of the suddent whole Analytics content at TechEd was about BusinessObjects, and not BW at all. It hurted at the beinning, but then I found the balance. TechEd became “what’s next” conference, while non-SAP events – like SAPinsider conferences or ASUG events, where it was not SAP setting up the whole agenda – the place to discuss with peers about “what’s now and how”.

    With acquisition of BusinessObjects in BI space, Sybase in data management and mobile, SFSF and Hybris in cloud the processes you questioned – about the future of SCN, communities, user groups, and SAP image – started several years ago. You should be there five years ago, when SCN opened to BusinessObjects folks! “They” came in big numbers, loud and demanding, to push “us” (traditional BW folks) into the dark corner 🙂 And “they” are still demanding more love from SAP for “non-SAP customers” and complaining for “no analytics in TechEd keynote”. And that’s ok, that’s how the change happens. Do you know that http://scn.sap.com/community/crystal-reports-for-visual-studio is in the Top 10 communities of SCN?

    14 months ago I decided to make a choice: to stay in my BW consulting and easily feed from it for another years to come, or to get into the very middle of the change SAP (and the market) are going through. I chose the latter and joined SAP’s Developer Experience team (the one most known for http://developers.sap.com and http://www.sapinnojam.com). Our goal was to make SAP and SAP technologies more open for external developers. Not everyone is happy about this. Many would like things to be as they used to be for last 10-20 years with SAP being its own world. It happened for me to hear from traditional SAP consultants: “Why would you bring more people into SAP technologies? With more people our rates will go down!” It is difficult to do Change Management in a single company; it is even more difficult to manage the change in the open ecosystem. But it is what we are all going through.

    During last year I participated (sponsored, presented, judged, just listened) in about 15 events, most of them non-SAP in order to break the ice and to show SAP face. Yes, most of the people out there thought still about SAP as ERP (sorry, they do not know it by “Business Suite” name) vendor only, but the moment we get to the point that passion for business software (irrespective of forms, use cases, sizes of organizations, underlying technologies) is our common least denominator – we can talk!

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