What company does SAP want to be tomorrow?
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), all the talk of the platform….the Platform…THE 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
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
HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE SAP HANA PLATFORM
😆 😛 😉