SAP Transforms Business Technology and Challenge Conventional Wisdom of Industry
May 21, 2010

SAPPHIRE, the annual SAP user conference, was held in two locations, Orlando and Frankfurt, Germany, connected via live TV, and also offered on the Internet with the virtual conference online. SAP, of course, is one of the largest enterprise software providers, and SAPPHIRE provided a number of useful insights on the future of its technology as well as providing deployment reports from customers and suppliers.

This also was the first annual conference for the recently appointed co-CEOs who are taking large – and desperately needed – steps to transform SAP. It showcased a series of core advancements for SAP that spanned from its acquisition of Sybase (See: “SAP Taking Sybase for Mobility and Database Technology “) to in-memory database technology, cloud computing, analytics and sustainability to mobile computing. The conference also was buzzing with demonstrations of applications and tools operating on the Apple iPad, in effect offering a series of free infomercials promoting this new device that promises to change people’s view of what is possible in business mobility.

It was interesting to see how much SAP has simplified the top-level presentation of its broad portfolio of software for business processes and analysis tools; clearly there’s much more to it under the covers, and lots of that was revealed at SAPPHERE. CTO Vishal Sikka, for example, led the attendees into an exploration of the need for choice in technology to make it possible for businesses to address both innovation and continuity. Vishal’s and other executives’ keynotes addressed one of SAP’s key focuses, “real real-time,” shorthand for in-memory computing where transactions and analytics are handled using modern hardware to enable organizations to operate faster, better and cheaper than ever before. This technology advancement is one of those moments when change is happening so fast that most organizations initially are left behind, failing at first to understand that it is now possible, for example, to get one server blade containing two terabytes of memory.

This theme was hammered home in the keynote presentation by chairman and cofounder Hasso Plattner who discussed what he calls “The Real Enterprise 2.0.” Hasso outlined the global development effort to advance the in-memory database technology to support applications and also the next generation of analytics. He detailed how the in-memory database can transparently replace IBM, Microsoft and Oracle technology in a range of versions of SAP R/3 and SAP BW, enabling organizations to significantly reduce the resources and technology costs of supporting the applications. The in-memory technology can also be found deployed in the SAP BusinessObjects Explorer to deliver fast search and analytics capabilities for business professionals who need to get answers quickly.

The chairman provided a historical context for this new development, reminding listeners that this approach of having analytics and BI directly integrated with applications to support transactions and analytics is precisely where SAP was in the 1980s; now, he said, technology is available to utilize this approach again in today’s high-volume global environment. This approach is not just feasible but actually operational today, making it possible to use fewer indices or any attribute as an index, insert only on the delta, do a combined column and row store and proceed without materialized aggregates needed. It supports single and multi-tenancy, active/passive data stores, a reduction of technology layers and interfaces, multi-core parallelization, compression and object-to-relational mapping.

Also a large part of the dialogue was exploration of moving software from on-premise to on-demand environments and SAP’s cloud computing efforts. SAP has been working to advance its effort in clouding computing by designing its entire application suite to operate in the cloud using what it calls SAP BusinessByDesign, which has been well-covered by my colleague (See: “Business ByDesign is SAP’s Strategic Proof Point“)( At SAPPHIRE SAP outlined both its approach and its progress in this regard in two specific areas. The first is providing specific line-of-business point applications – expense, sourcing, sales analytics, talent management, collaborative planning and others that can be easily adopted and if necessary can connect to on-premise applications. The second is ensuring that the full SAP BusinessByDesign business suite will be available globally by the end of 2010. In fact, the business suite was demonstrated by Hasso Plattner on an Apple iPad. One highlight was his showing how to drag-and-relate with sales analytics. (What? You aren’t familiar with the term drag-and-relate? It dates back to the days of SAP Portals and technology for navigating across applications, information and services in a unified manner.)

SAP spent significant time at last year’s conference discussing the importance of BI (See: “SAP Announces New BI Explorer: Even a CEO Can Use It”) and its roadmap and direction. This year it presented a much more sophisticated dialogue on analytics, their use across the lines of business, and how its solutions will help organizations derive more value from their data. In probably the best demonstration done ever by a software executive, Hasso Plattner himself, with no demo or stage support, showed how the new sales analytics product on the Apple iPad can be used to address a range of customer and financial objectives. SAP spent significant time across the entire conference focusing on this new on-demand sales analytics solution, and also on enabling collaboration among teams of people using StreamWorks, an approach similar to what has released in the form of what it calls Chatter (See: “Salesforce Chatter Brings Social Collaboration and Media into Business“).

StreamWorks, which is available today, can change decision support and management of activities by improving how business managers and executives work together to gain the needed knowledge, feedback, resources and team for decision-making or enabling them to gather insight from more than just a handful of people. SAP EVP Marge Brea demonstrated how new developments will enable users to dynamically interrogate e-mail messages and other communications using activities that can be managed efficiently, an advance over relying solely on the productivity waste that e-mail has become. Much of what she showed is available today in manual efforts, but it was amazing to see how it is possible to create decision processes that can be linked to performance management using technology rather than just the memory of the human brain.

SAP, capitalizing on its work with Cisco, presented a new business collaborative conferencing system called InSite Studio that connects individuals virtually through Internet conferencing technology and, using analytics and BI capabilities from SAP, enables boardroom or management-level review of performance. This technology was very interesting to see and test out at SAPPHIRE; it reminded me of SAP efforts with its strategic cockpit in the ‘90s, when the cost of the technology and maturity of organizations were not at today’s levels.

Then there was the appliance –the integration of hardware and software focused for a specific purpose. Hasso unveiled a new SAP product, a high performance analytic appliance using HP and IBM hardware to compete with Oracle Exadata, the storage server the lattee developed after its acquisition of Sun, as well as Teradata, HP NeoView, IBM and even newcomer Netezza. Many could be heard in the halls wondering if SAP was going to offer what I humorously call a ”toaster”; indeed, it will have one by end of the year. It is not clear if SAP can compete at same level as some of these other providers, but at least it will be able to offer one that can help meet the needs of its customers and also support a new generation of analytic solutions.

SAP’s largest growth potential is in the area of mobility, delivering a new generation of applications and services for business. This is also one of the major reasons for its announced intent to acquire Sybase. SAP’s mobile strategy has been built on the components and platform in SAP NetWeaver, but these needed to be improved further to deliver a broader set of services. Many of the resulting advancements were demonstrated in the form of applications and services running on Apple iPhones and iPads and I believe is a good dose for working with business. SAP did announce new technology called Project Gateway to extend its externalization of SAP in the form of connection to mobile technologies including Duet Enterprise (developed in collaboration with Microsoft), IBM Alloy for integrating with Lotus Notes, and RIM mobile devices. SAP is definitely stepping up its focus on mobility, but to be successful it will need to clarify details of its mobile strategy and framework for interoperability and interconnectivity with the range of technologies that require native support.

On the business front, one of the key advancements is in the area of sustainability (See: “Advanced Analytics and Sustainability - Growing Opportunity for SAP“), as highlighted in an insightful session by Peter Graf, EVP and SAP’s chief sustainability officer, and author Andrew Winston. Vallero was offered as a key example, as it is saving millions of dollars by reducing the cost in current operations through sustainability improvements. Pepsi looked at the carbon footprint of its orange juice and found that fertilizer was the most inefficient element of it, which helped reduce costs across supply chain. In the area of sustainability for business,  SAP announced a new product called Carbon Impact OnDemand that will be available in July to give organizations a fast way to make improvements to their energy footprint. At the same time, SAP is advancing efforts in GRC (See: “SAP Promotes Value of EPM and GRC at SAP Reporting Conference”)to enable organizations to mitigate a broad range of environmental risks such as a volcanic eruption interrupting business operations. SAP has instrumented the support of this through GRC with specific applications and also access and process controls to managing these initiatives across an enterprise.

SAP’s overall strategy for its technology offerings is to layer them across channels and devices like mobile, on-demand and on-premise solutions while providing orchestration to help them interoperate and integrate efficiently to support a new evolved model of business computing. SAP believes this new generation of technology that is in-memory computing will change how people buy layers of technology from database to middleware and application servers to tools and applications. They might just be right.

This truly global SAPPHIRE conference was also a morale booster for SAP, which has exited one of its most challenging years, a time when many employees expressed dissatisfaction with its management and the direction of the business and there was significant unrest among its customers. This led to the transition to two CEOs. This conference was a major step forward and a change from last year’s conference (See: “What Léo Apotheker from SAP Should Have Said”). With new executive leadership and a new generation of sales, product and marketing leadership, the company is experiencing a degree of change it probably has never witnessed before. SAP is stepping forward on its projected enterprise software and applications strategy, which is essential for it to compete with IBM and Oracle. SAP is definitely challenging the conventional wisdom of the industry with its advancements into in-memory computing, replacement of database technology in old versions of SAP R/3 and advancements into mobility – the latter one that many question but that is clearly something it is passionate about and committed to succeeding in in the next decade. As expressed by one of the SAP executives, “Insights change companies and culture,” and this year’s SAPPHIRE provided some of the best insights to SAP’s future yet.

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Mark Smith – CEO & EVP Research


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