Will SAP Fall Victim To The Innovator's Dilemma? – Thoughts From SAPPHIRE NOW 2010

TECH DEVELOPMENTS: I have been re-reading Clayton M. Christensen’s The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail in preparation for a session that Chris Mines and I are running on adapting to the Next Big Thing at Forrester’s IT Forum 2010.*  Last week, I attended SAP’s SAPPHIRE NOW conference in Orlando, listened to co-CEOs Bill McDermott and Jim Hagemann Snabe, and met with McDermott along with other Forrester colleagues.  The juxtaposition of the book and the event caused me to wonder: is SAP like one of the highly successful companies in Christensen’s book that failed to adapt to disruptive technologies?  As Christensen noted, “the managers of the companies studied here had a great track record in understanding customers’ future needs, identifying which technologies could best address those needs, and in investing to develop and implement them.” 

Everything that McDermott and Snabe said was consistent with these characteristics.  They talked about how companies were facing a world of mobile, empowered customers; their need to be connected with each other to optimize the value chain through to the end consumer; the desire for new process flows; and the importance to them of fast decision-making.  They identified a combination of on-premise, on-demand, and on-device solutions that SAP will be offering to meet these needs.  They discussed SAP’s investments and new offerings in these areas, including its acquisition of Sybase for its mobile solutions and real-time analytics capabilities. 

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So Where Were The Best Run Businesses Then?

In addition to my software pricing and licensing research, I also study use of technology to improve procure-to-pay (P2P) processes; so, I'm always interested in customer presentations at software company events, in case I can spot some new best practices or interesting trends. This week I’m at Ariba LIVE in Orlando, but last week I was at SAPPHIRE NOW in Frankfurt, where I attended a presentation by a project manager from a large German car manufacturer talking about his rollout of SAP’s SRM product. Given that it wasn’t in his first language, the presentation was very good, and quite humbling to an anglophone, even a relatively multi-lingual one. (I can say “two beers, please” in eight other languages, but wouldn’t dream of presenting in any of them).

However, the overall case study was disappointing. I won't name the company, but I’ll just say that the SRM implementation didn’t look to me like as good a “leap forward through technology” as I expect to see in a showcase presentation. In particular, I was disappointed to see that this company is:

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SAPPHIRE NOW 2010 – The Quest For Innovation

 

 

 

The Name

This year SAPPHIRE officially changed its name and became SAPPHIRE NOW. Why? Different answers from different people. Those that should know said: "The new name stresses the urgency." Urgency for whom, SAP? And will the next SAPPHIRE be named SAPPHIRE THEN? Never change a successful brand.

The Event

Another premiere for SAPPHIRE was the simultaneous show in Orlando, US and Frankfurt, Germany. With 5,000 attendees in Frankfurt, 10,500 in Orlando and 35,000 online participants, this was the biggest SAPPHIRE event ever. I must admit I was concerned going to Frankfurt while everyone in Walldorf desperately tried to escape to Orlando. Who wants to attend a second-hand event? But now I’m a believer. SAP managed to balance the important parts of the show between Orlando and Frankfurt. Keynotes were held simultaneously in both locations via virtual video connection and speakers in both cities. In general I never had the feeling I would miss anything important in Frankfurt simply because it was the smaller event overall. It didn’t make a difference if I couldn’t attend another 400 presentations in Frankfurt or 800 in Orlando from the total of 1,200+ presentations – I had a packed agenda and got all that I expected and needed, including 1:1 meetings with SAP executives like Jim Snabe. The simultaneous, virtual set-up not only helped to save a lot of cost, it created a sense of a bigger virtual community and underlined SAP’s ambitions for more sustainability. To all that traveled intercontinental: Shame on you, next year stay in your home region!

The Stars

Like every show SAPPHIRE 2010 had its stars as well:

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Google And VMware Advance PaaS For Enterprise - Who Will VMware Partner With Next?

Today, Google announced Google App Engine for Business, and integration with VMware’s SpringSource offerings. On Monday, we got a preview of the news from David Glazer, Engineering Director at Google, and Jerry Chen, Senior Director Cloud Services at VMware.

For tech industry strategists, this is another step in the development of cloud platform-as-a-service (PaaS). Java Spring developers now have a full platform-as-a-service host offering in Google App Engine for Business, the previously announced VMforce offering from salesforce.com, plus the options of running their own platform and OS stacks on premise or in virtual machines at service providers supporting vCloud Express, such as Terremark.

What’s next? IBM and Oracle have yet to put up full Java PaaS offerings, so I expect that to show up sometime soon – feels late already for them to put up some kind of early developer version. And SAP is also likely to create their own PaaS offering. But it’s not clear if any of them will put the same emphasis on portability and flexible, rich Web-facing apps that Google and VMware are.

So Google aims to expand into enterprise support – but will need more than the planned SQL support, SSL, and SLAs they are adding this year. They'll also need to figure out how to fully integrate into corporate networks, the way that CloudSwitch aims to do.

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Strategic Tradeoffs At SAP

During this week’s Sapphire conference SAP co-CEOs Jim Hagemann Snabe and Bill McDermott repeatedly stated that their goal is to make SAP the market leader for on-device, on-premises, and on-demand enterprise solutions. This very bold statement raises two simple questions:

  1. With what products and values does SAP want to be the leader? Does the company want to win the technical innovation race or the business optimization and intimacy race?
  2. How does the leadership goal translate into meaningful operational commitments? Does SAP have the determination and resources required to win in all categories? 

We don’t have clear answers to these questions, but the next couple of months will show whether and how this goal translates into organizational capabilities. Right now, we just need to wait with patience for the next change and live with the — hopefully incorrect — impression that SAP is pursuing three strategic tracks simultaneously: intimacy, innovation, and growth.

I strongly agree with Paul Hamerman, who recently observed that SAP's success as a company will be a function of how well it looks after the best interests of customers and how it links innovation to customer value — not growth.

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SAP’s Co-CEO Answers Forrester’s Questions At Sapphire

Here at the European half of SAP’s global customer event, I had a chance to ask some questions of one of SAP’s co-CEOs, Jim Hagemann Snabe. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to ask for some advice to my country’s leaders on how to manage a two-party government, because it seems like he and Bill McDermott are very happy with their own coalition.

It's very encouraging that Hagemann Snabe, along with other SAP executives I’ve met here, acknowledge that SAP has made missteps over the last year or so, although they are still very confident that they know how to fix the company’s problems. There’s a thin line between positive spin and misplaced over-confidence, so hopefully, in private, he recognizes the challenges he faces. Still, I’d like to see more willingness to accept that SAP doesn’t have all the answers and to get advice from outside the organisation, to help it become customer-centric instead of sales-transaction-centric

Both CEOs want to talk only about new revenue opportunities: increasing SAP’s addressable market, the potential of new on demand products including Business ByDesign, and mobile solutions based on the proposed Sybase acquisition. I asked Hagemann Snabe to explain how he’d improve the value for money that existing customers will get for their maintenance revenue. He mentioned the introduction of customer choice between the Enterprise and Standard support offerings, although that isn’t much of a choice since CPI increases on the latter make it cost almost as much as the former. He also stressed the importance of the ‘Innovation without disruption’ enhancement pack system, which will now be delivered in one simultaneous release each year, across all product lines. 

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Sybase Acquisition By SAP - A Great Move

Recently, SAP announced a definitive agreement to acquire Sybase for $5.8 billion, at $65 a share, a 44% premium over the share's three-month average price. The transaction is expected to close during the third quarter of 2010. Sybase will operate as a standalone unit under the name “Sybase, a SAP Company,” and be run by Sybase’s management team.

Although execs from SAP and Sybase have stressed mobility, real-time information, in-memory, and analytics benefits that come from this acquisition, the increasing pressure from Oracle cannot be undermined. Oracle’s stronger focus of stack level integration and selling around applications, middleware and database, and recent acquisition of SUN has put pressure on SAP.

 

SAP-Sybase Deal Offers A Lot Of Synergies

SAP and Sybase offer many benefits ranging from in-memory technologies, databases, analytics, and data integration to mobility and ILM.

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SAP And Sybase Could Be A Good Marriage In Banking

Most of us have already heard that Sybase will become part of SAP — or, to be more precise, that SAP and Sybase announced that SAP's subsidiary, SAP America, Inc., signed a definitive merger agreement to acquire Sybase. When this acquisition takes place, there will be various impact areas across SAP and Sybase’s combined portfolio. Rather than discussing this big picture, I would like to focus on SAP for Banking.

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Finally, SAP Is Acquiring (At Least A Mobile) Middleware

Finally, SAP Is Acquiring (At Least A Mobile) Middleware

SAP’s customers and the analyst community have been speculating about the possibility of SAP acquiring a middleware company for a while. After it had missed out on acquiring one of the heavyweights like BEA and hesitated over TIBCO and Progress Software, SAP and Sybase agreed yesterday on the $5.8 billion transaction.

Sybase used to be a database, but its database’s visibility in the market decreased so dramatically that, in a recent Forrester survey, it wasn’t considered to be a primary database choice by any application domain. A good share of the 4% of open source databases used in the ERP space are actually SAP’s open source MaxDB (based on SOFTWARE AG’s original ADABAS D), which is a default for SAP systems if a customer doesn’t provide a third-party database like Oracle or DB2. SAP is unlikely to replace this default database with Sybase. This would be an even less important database than MaxDB, which integrates well with NetWeaver. But different analysts have different opinion and you might like to look for Boris Evelson's take on the impact of Sybase's database. If SAP runs a careful post-merger process, it will recognize Sybase’s database knowledge and employ all the engineers who have already developed in-memory database capabilities to bring Hasso’s idea from the Palo Alto “garage” to full product availability. While SAP has deployed in-memory capabilities in its analytics technology stack, the in-memory capabilities for transactions are still in the lab.

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