Skip to Content

Vishal Sikka joined SAP in 2002 to run projects focussed around innovation. Since then, he grew to be a CTO, Board Member, and friend of many on this network. The SAP Supervisory Board met today – they often meet on a Sunday due to very tough schedules, and they are required by German law to immediately release news from the meeting.

And so it is that Vishal’s decision to leave SAP for personal reasons was announced, whilst Bernd Leukert and Rob Enslin were appointed to the SAP Executive Board. I’ve been following the Twitter feed all day, and there has been an emotional outpouring – shock, sadness and grief. I wanted to pen some words telling the story of Vishal, and what his work meant to us as a community. SCN is clearly the appropriate place for this to be written.

To many of us, Vishal is a visionary. As SAP co-CEO Bill McDermott described in his blog on this site, Accelerating a Culture of Innovation “the innovator of our generation”. Let’s have a think about what that really meant over the past 12 years.

I don’t know about you, but I was consumed into the SAP ecosystem around the time of Vishal’s appointment to SAP. Shai Agassi was running innovation, and SAP was struggling to become relevant in the Web 1.0 world, with green screens everywhere. Since then… SAP has moved leaps and bounds:

Multi-cultural development

Vishal brought to SAP, development centers around the world. I remember the pain of NetWeaver 7.0, which was for the first time developed with teams around the world. But, this has brought a culture of healthy competition between development teams. I remember in a conversation with Hasso Plattner, how SAP sometimes challenges development teams against each other to get better outcomes for the customer.

Four large-scale acquisitions

SAP has acquired four large companies under Vishal’s tenure. First, SAP warmed up by acquiring French company Business Objects for $6.8bn in 2007. Next up, US-based Sybase for $5.8bn in 2010. SAP moved into acquiring cloud companies, first the $3.4bn SuccessFactors in 2011, and next the $4.4bn Ariba in 2012.

All of these companies now form a single development structure and, to some extent, a way of working, and I regular work with people who have worked for all of these companies, and those who come from SAP stock.

There were smaller acquisitions including TomorrowNow, Coghead, Syclo, KXEN, Hybris and the pending FieldGlass acquisition. All of these are significant undertakings!

Renovation of the User Experience

Since 2002, the SAP Business Suite has undergone some incredible transformation. With Enhancement Packs, we can more easily update systems. With Fiori we have a fresh means to access commonly used processes, and with Personas we have some improved screens. The school of design thinking has been introduced to SAP via Sam Yen and developers are taught to think about human computer interaction.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with a number of teams including those under Michael Reh, who have recently created some amazing technology in the analytics space. I can’t talk about much of it yet, but watch this space!

A figurehead and leader to the development community

I went to two of SAP’s internal developer conferences this year, d-code. In the first, Palo Alto, Vishal spoke, and he walked on stage. “Hey. What have they done to you? Did they bore you all with PowerPoint?” – with that, he put down his clicker and talked – interspersed with live demos. Developers love him, and he loves developers.

In the second, I was honored to do the keynote at the Israel d-code. There was a clear sense that Vishal was the spiritual leader of that office, which is interesting considering that this office also plays homage to Shai Agassi.

Timeless Software

This has been quietly consumed, or perhaps lost, in last few years, but Vishal invented the concept of timeless software – software which is not disruptive to the user as it evolves. SAP HANA is an instantiation of the timeless software concept, and all Revisions of SAP HANA are, in principle, backwards compatible and non-disruptive.

SAP HANA

I’ve got a way into writing this without mentioning HANA, but it had to come along sooner or later. When Vishal first joined SAP, Hasso had asked him to find ways to reinvent the company. The first, was to create a next-generation database, and this became SAP HANA. I work with SAP HANA every day and it amazes me how SAP managed to create a database, within around 5 years.

More amazing is how SAP has managed to reinvent what the database means, by building HANA as a cloud, or on-premise application platform with the most enormous feature set. In HANA, you can complete what it requires 20-30 products from a competitor, in incredibly complex configurations.

To add to that, in recent releases, HANA has a stability that belies its years. We often deploy enterprise-ready, mission-critical apps on HANA. Apps that would be tough to build on any platform.

Renovation of core apps on HANA

This is a story that’s still being told, but SAP is in the process of rewriting all its core apps to be optimized for HANA. This is a huge undertaking – and has several phases.

First, was the compatibility with SAP’s existing Business Suite on HANA, and that is now complete. Processes will be further optimized to run on HANA.

Second, is the migration of all the acquired assets to run HANA in the Cloud. SAP has already announced Ariba on HANA, and SuccessFactors is in progress. There are several additional aspects including the PaaS HANA Cloud Platform, and IaaS HANA Enterprise Cloud.

Third, is the renovation of SAP’s apps, and this has already started with SAP Smart Financials. This is a significant program of work that simplifies the SAP portfolio to be designed for HANA, rather than just optimized for HANA.

SAP River

River troubles me, because River is Vishal’s 10th Symphony. When Hasso asked for ways to reinvent the company, Vishal proposed to reinvent the ultimate broken batch process, software development. River is the second, or third such attempt at this, and it is a language by which one can describe what is required, whilst separating intention and optimization, whilst achieving both.

I do hope that River will continue under Jacob Klein‘s leadership.

Cloud

SAP’s move into the cloud is ongoing, but thereare now many data centers around the world building solutions based on Succssfactors, Ariba, and SAP’s HANA Enterprise Cloud. There are millions of users and a significant run-rate of around $1bn. The story will tell itself over the next few years, but the foundations have been laid.

Humanity

The thing that I love most about Vishal is his humanity. You need to go no further than his blog to get a sense of this. I have to make a strange admission here – sometimes, I will watch a keynote, or a recorded video or audio from Vishal, because I find it very relaxing and impactful. It always allows me to see the bigger picture.

Vishal blends anthropology and philosophy with technology, as do all the great innovators. Technology is only a mechanism, after all, by which to help people. It’s always about people.

Moving into the present

If you have things that I’ve missed from Vishal’s achievements, then please drop a comment and I’ll update this article. But, I also wanted to move into the present, because Le Roi est Mort… Vive Le Roi. Bernd Leukert takes over the reigns from him and whilst I don’t know Bernd well, he has a great reputation, especially for Apps. I’m hoping to spend more time with Bernd in the coming months and years.

For those of you who are afraid, or worried – Vishal’s legacy lives on. All the hard work that has been done has not been lost, and the vision is here, and the vision is enough to last SAP for a good long time. What SAP really needs now is execution on all the great ideas that are out there. If you work for SAP, and you want to make Vishal proud, then I encourage you to think of some of the things below:

Execute, execute, execute

The strategy is clear. Making customers more successful with HANA, in the cloud. I deal every day with many wonderful people within SAP, but when SAP is at its worst, it can get bogged down with bureaucracy and fail to get things done. Make sure you’re not one of those people, and be someone who brings positive change every day.

Be introspective

The software world has changed dramatically over the last few years, and Salesforce is already the #10 enterprise software vendor by revenue. Workday will cross the $1bn run rate soon, and those, and other vendors, are eating SAP’s breakfast. It is no longer possible to live life according to the business models of the 1980s and customers won’t accept it. They want value from their 22% maintenance and they expect innovation in the support dollar.

Remember that life goes on

It is clear that from the reaction on Twitter, the SAP community is in shock from his departure – I was too. Some while later though I’ve come to realize that all things must come to an end. For me, it felt like Vishal had unfinished business at SAP and the universe wasn’t ready to let him go, but that’s not always how it goes.

There are many amazing people

I’ve been privileged to work with many of Vishal’s team and there are an incredible amount of great people. I’m not going to call them out here because I’ll miss some critical people, but there is no shortage of talent and leadership. You will all need to step up a little to fill the void, but that’s life.

It has given opportunities to leaders like Rob Enslin and Bernd Leukert to have a seat on the Executive Board, plus spots for Helen Arnold (CIO) and Stefan Ries (Head of HR) on the Managing Board. Bjoern Goerke moves back into a product-focussed role. All of these are great things for the company.

Final Words

I do hope that this essay provides some thoughts for those of you who are thinking about Vishal’s departure. But more than anything, I want to point out that Vishal’s legacy is all of you. The amazing people that have made the renewed company that is SAP in 2014, and you are all still there. Take a moment to mourn his departure and then get on and create amazing software.

And remember… it’s turtles all the way down 🙂

To report this post you need to login first.

33 Comments

You must be Logged on to comment or reply to a post.

  1. Vasi Venkatesan

    Nice article John –

    HAsso’s New Architecture – created a big ecosystem for many, not to discount the paradigm shift in the way we think about database, business intelligence etc, thanks to Hasso and Vishal.

    I have to mention – I was always surprised at Vishal’s simplicity even if it is a big web conference – sitting somewhere in the world in a tee and still presenting a great topic in simple terms. All the best – Vishal!

    (0) 
    1. John Appleby Post author

      Yes, some might say that he redefined SAP, as a company. He won’t be forgotten any time soon.

      And yes, Vishal has become an amazing speaker – I was terrified to keynote d-code, when people are used to his quality of impact. It’s an incredibly tough act to follow. But, his shoes don’t need filling just yet.

      (0) 
  2. D J

    Very surprising/shocking for me,  when I heard Vishal in last tech-ed , I was hoping that Vishal is starting whole new front at SAP with HANA/cloud/river/Ganges, and thought the journey is just started but now suddenly it came to an halt (at least ,till the time SAP come up with the new strategy) ….

    I heard Vishal four time in different tech-ed (d-code) and each time it was very energetic and inspirational .     Thank you Vishal for all your guidance and contribution to SAP ecosystem till now and best of luck for your journey ahead.

    (0) 
    1. John Appleby Post author

      Yes, the universe wasn’t ready to release Vishal from his tenure at SAP, but that’s how it goes sometimes. He’ll be missed.

      (0) 
  3. kishan P

    The skeptic that I’am, I smell something fishy with his resignation. “Personal Reasons” usually means trouble! 🙂

    (0) 
    1. John Appleby Post author

      There are a lot of rumors going around today, but Vishal put it perfectly himself in his blog last week http://vishalsikka.blogspot.com/

      Our words, including mine here, are at best half-truths to you the reader. But sometimes words are worse than half-truths, far worse. They are the fabrications of a gossip-monger.

      Keep it real.

      (0) 
  4. Jake Krishnan

    Well put John.

    Lets acknowledge the tremendous contribution by Vishal for SAP, respect his need for privacy (whatever be the personal reasons) without any rumor mongering and build on his innovation foundation for an even greater growth for SAP in the coming years.

    Thanks Vishal and good luck in your future endeavors

    (0) 
  5. Joao Sousa

    Since there are several people saying praise, let me look at the negative side.

    From my point view SAP has one great, truly great product the ERP. Very badly programmed that’s for sure, but it’s functionality beats the competition and is worth all the money you pay for it.

    With all the aquisitions, I fail to see a thread or roadmap for the rest of SAP porfolio. Sybase was hot, until Syclo was hot, until there is little left of both in the SMP. SAP Sourcing was great, until Ariba comes along, and then Sourcing clients are left hanging… SucessFactors…. does it integrate with SAP ERP? Probably, but where is the thread? Where is the “native” integration?

    HANA is great, but it’s still foreign to the ERP at least from my view. It’s positioning is strange, seems to distance itself from SAP’s core product. I fail to see material here on SCN about the advantages of ERP with HANA. It’s all about HANA XS, HANA Cloud or whatever. I’m all for innovation, I’m in to SAPUI5, but I would still like to see how HANA can help the ERP processes.

    During the last few years SAP “fired” in a lot of directions, but as for a clear thread/roadmap, I didn’t see one. HANA seems to be gaining traction, let’s see what the next few years bring our way.

    (0) 
    1. John Appleby Post author

      I’m not sure this is the right place to go here – we had a call with Bill McDermott this morning to discuss the future of SAP, and one of the things I said that we didn’t want to talk ill of the dead (not that Bill would).

      This piece was intended to be about Vishal’s legacy at SAP and I think he provided net good in his tenure.

      It’s also true that SAP has plenty of places where execution could be better, though if we were to allocate “blame” I think only a portion of that would sit with Vishal.

      And now we move into the next chapter of SAP’s history, with a single American CEO, and a much more distributed senior leadership team.

      Let’s see whether SAPPHIRE provides the answers you’re looking for.

      (0) 
      1. Joao Sousa

        I think it’s not fair to provide a view of Vishal’s legacy like it was all roses. I’m not saying the net result is good or bad, only that there is some criticism to be made. The handling of Sybase aquisition and the evolution of SAP Mobile Roadmap was disastrous.


        Either you don’t say anything (either good or bad) about “the dead”, or you have to provide an accurate all-round view of his tenure which includes the good and the not so good. If you only talk about the good stuff, you end up talking about a mythical figure that doesn’t exist.

        (0) 
        1. John Appleby Post author

          Yes, but you also have to be fair – Vishal joined SAP in 2002, was CTO in 2007 which gave him quite a narrow remit. In 2010 he was promoted to the Executive Board with a remit of Innovation, and I believe that was extended (may be wrong here) to all of product in July 2013, when Jim Snabe left.

          So to blame Vishal for the Sybase acquisition and integration in 2010 seems quite rough. Mobile was run by Raj Nathan until 2012 and then later Sanjay Poonen until 2013, who did work for Vishal at the time and put together the strategy for SMP 3.0. My Mobile team think the SMP 3.0 strategy is pretty sound.

          Hopefully my point is clear – need to be careful when assigning blame, because enterprises are complex places.

          (0) 
  6. Muralidharan Surendran

    John…a wonderful blog…I must admit that I was shocked with Vishal’s departure. In all the keynotes…I always waited for Vishal’s Keynote..he had this amazing ability to get clarity in the direction that we need to move forward…that was the most impressing and ofcourse trying to find the intersection between Technology and Humanity (as described by John)…

    I will surely miss Vishal somebody whom I always looked up to..

    Thank You Vishal for all things you have contributed…You will be missed…

    (0) 
    1. John Appleby Post author

      I wanted to tell a story here – in preparing for the d-code Israel keynote, I fretted for months on how I could live up to Vishal’s quality of presentation.

      On the day of d-code I fell asleep at midnight, and work at 3am, with a perfect sense of what I wanted to say and the demo I was going to show. So I threw my slides away and went to check my live demo. Only to find out that I had imagined the demo in my dream just before 3am.

      6 hours later I hopped on stage with the demo I’d built in the meantime. I don’t think that I was able to connect technology and humanity in the way that Vishal can, but hopefully it was enjoyed.

      Point being, his ability to connect with developers and human beings, will be fondly remembered. The rest of us are just imitators 🙂

      (0) 
  7. Ram Vusirikala

    Your blog says it all, John.  We all are shocked and sad at Vishal’s departure from SAP.  I was so amazed with his delivery of HANA Open SAP course.  He made such a complex subject seem quite simple and digestible.  He is quite humble person. 

    I wish him good luck and great future endeavors.  Looking forward to another HANA kind revolutionary product/development from Vishal.

    (0) 
      1. Sriram S

        Yes John,

        When I started to hear ‘An Introduction to SAP HANA by Dr. Vishal Sikka’ it is so nice to understand what and why HANA.

        But today only i read your blog and come to know it, Your blog is so clear to understand.

        And finally till HANA live, SAP Never forget Vishal.

        (0) 
  8. William Newman

    One thing that Vishal had working – all the time – were skunk projects throughout his vast network in Israel, Australia, EU and other locations.  I think finally someone looked at the idea pipeline over the past year and asked to justify at deeper, more corporate levels, what the worth of these efforts collectively and individually.  We had some codevelopment work with the Glasshouse project – a sustainable network project.  When it got some interest in the market it became known inside SAP and that visibility created scrutiny on an effort that went from black to grey to gone very quickly.

    As I commented on your other blog, John, Vishal had trouble with the German process culture.  I think that while he was very transparent to the user base and customer community, he wasn’t perhaps transparent enough inside of some circles of SAP and that may have created skeptics.  I’m speculating here, no light harbor statements needed.

    Best,

    Bill

    (0) 
  9. Ambarish Satarkar

    What an article this is. It covers everything. I am late to read but better late than never. Yes after reading this article most of my doubts are clear. Lets hope that SAP moves ahead without trouble. Thank you Vishal for all your guidance and contribution to SAP ecosystem till now and best of luck for your journey ahead.

    (0) 
  10. Anand Patil

    Its very sad that Vishal has left SAP. Thanks for a very good blog John. Much appreciated for reflecting back on what Vishal has achieved though we can’t really summarize everything or give a perfect picture of him. I really enjoyed reading your blog. Thanks!

    (0) 
  11. Harish Allachervu

    Great blog thanks for giving more insight about one of the most incredible person who redefined the SAP through his presentation and articulation skills. i’ve seen few videos of vishal they are truly informative not only in terms of technology and even philosophy which i liked most same thing which you’ve mentioned in your current blog.

    Technology is only a mechanism, after all, by which to help people. It’s always about people.

    Regards,

    Harish

    (0) 
  12. Mandar Bahadrpurkar

    A Great Innovator & visionary! Wonderful leader. And, furthermost, competitive visualizer. Under his leadership we saw some innovative products like HANA, His early understanding of the fact that in near future SME’s will matter more to sustain & grow the business is exemplary.

    Sir, We’re missing you.

    (0) 
  13. Carlos Weffer

    Great Blog John.

    I have been working on SAP projects since 1999 (4.5B) and I have never seen so many changes for the better as I have seen with Vishal as CTO.

    I certainly appreciate all Vishal and his team’s effort and hard working days as it has a direct impact on my working like.

    Proudly join those who will miss him.

    Cheers, Carlos.

    (0) 

Leave a Reply