SAP Sapphire Now 2011: Blazing on Process, Tepid on People

As I flew into Orlando for SAP Sapphire 2011, I revisited a bunch of review posts from last years Sapphire Event to see what was promised. In my post last year, I summarized SAP Sapphire 2010 themes:

  • In-Memory / Hana
  • Cloud and Devices
  • “People – Centric”

To cut to the chase, Sapphire 2011 came back strong on 1) and 2) and has its work cut out on 3).

I’m going to quickly summarize developments on In-Memory / HANA and Mobility but point you to other posts on the topic for more detail. I’ll spend my time on the areas that promise to blend the best of people and process to improve business outcomes.


The keynote message was dominated by infrastructure progress to date. Speed was the single most important Co-CEO message at the event and as you would expect, Hana was all  the rage. I’m a sucker for business execution and the customer case studies were really good. Colgate-Palmolive, Lenovo, Medtronics and many more. One striking example was that of Infosys: The global services firm uses Hana to get real time updates on margins, down to the individual project level. If you stop to think about that for a second – across thousands of projects underway – to be able to get roll up data as well as identify precise trouble spots at a unit level in near real time so you can course correct. That’s pretty incredible. More on Hana from Mike Vizard at ITBusiness Edge.


The acquisition of Sybase is coming to fruition and a number of apps were available for viewing on the show floor. There’s no question that SAP has extended its process tentacles to be available where ever the end user might be.  Frank Scavo has a post and a video, and ZDNet’s Dennis Howlett has a somewhat measured view on uptake and operational details.

Netweaver Gateway

By far, the most promising news that broke at the event, in my opinion. This piece of technology connects SAP back end applications to other apps and services at the edge. Think third party business applications, tiny and large mobile apps, Twitter, Linked and Facebook data, and more. Says customer Manish Choksi, CIO of Asian Paints:

"The pilot using SAP NetWeaver Gateway allows us to leverage the power of social media sites along with our SAP applications and create enhanced customer engagement, while deriving immediate business benefits. Insights from these social media interactions are captured through SAP NetWeaver Gateway in SAP Business Suite and are used by our product and marketing teams, providing them a true customer ‘pulsecheck.’

There’s plenty of applications for such technology, not the least of which is giving end users extensibility to marry apps and data they like at the edge with critical ERP process and data. I saw this Asian Paints demo in-person. Whilst I think those of us close to social data aggregation /sense making of said data would find the first deployment to be primitive (e.g. connecting the raw twitter fire hose to CRM and Call Center), it’s good to see SAP begin to go down this road. When it comes to customer and prospect data in particular, this move will also provide SAP with good customer feedback on the kinds of semantic and filtering technology it needs to procure/OEM/ build to really scale and meaningfully apply social ‘big’ data to improve process performance.

This technology is also the basis for Duet Enterprise – the connector that enables sharing and socializing of SAP data and workflow inside SharePoint 2010. More on Duet and the Microsoft partnership by Mary Jo Foley.

‘People Centricity’

This is where things fell off the rails for me. Last year, CEO Bill McDermott said the following:“This is an era of people empowerment”. In turn, Dr. Hasso Plattner had a huge slide behind him on the podium labeled “The real Enterprise 2.0”.

But a year later, the effort to leverage social and collaborative constructs to augment transactive and workflow process with Hana providing the jet fuel, was tepid at best. To me, these three elements, combined with new extensibility offered by Netweaver Gateway is an honking opportunity for SAP to redefine how work gets done in the year 2011. Whilst I get that for many customers speed of transaction is sufficient, I was a little disappointed that the focus was solely on using Hana to do what SAP currently does, just faster. Back to the drawing board business activity redesign that blends the best of process, data and people was missing and could go a long way towards filling in those white spaces in ERP enabled process where end users scramble every day to find reliable experts, content and answers to get the job done.

Talking about back to the drawing board, Sales OnDemand  is an exception and was, far and away, the best example of innovative task facilitation thinking at SAP. It shows that the company has the guts to re-think a foundational enterprise application, strip out bloat, and understand where collaboration accelerates business process (more on this topic in this older post). That’s what Sales On Demand does and here’s Paul Greenberg and Jon Reed on the topic.

However, to truly leverage the best brains to get the job done, business networking and collaboration can’t work in a silo (in this case sales) and shut others out. It needs to be cognizant of people who otherwise were considered outside the traditional loop, to truly get the best insight. And so, a sequential roll out of social capabilities ERP application by ERP application can complicate participatory patterns at execution time and seriously discount the value of a connected enterprise. SAP’s efforts to get ‘people centric’ needs to happen across traditional functional areas, in tandem.

Next up was SAP StreamWork which is yet to find its footing as a social software system of record, in spite of SAPs envious rolodex of incumbent customer. I’ve spoken to SIs implementing StreamWork and on a case by case basis there certainly is value, but from a go to market stand point, repeatability of use cases across SAP customers needs work. The good news is that SAP announced the availability of StreamWork across SAP business apps (Kathleen Lau has more, here) and to me that’s promising. With Jack Miller just recently taking over the reigns at StreamWork and along with Holly Simmons, we can expect some fresh thinking on how this product will stick its neck out in the very crowded social software market. 

So stuffs happening on the people centric apps side of the house, albeit slowly and in pockets. But given the rapid pace of innovation in this area, SAP really needs to step on it and in a cohesive manner if it wants to be a contender for purpose driven collaboration. Chatter + Radian6 + Salesforce CRM and Service Cloud, Socialcast Reach, Yammer + NetSuite and others, Jive Apps MarketSaba People Systems and even early whiffs of social and unified collaboration across Oracle Fusion Apps clearly shows a trend towards social and collaboration, coming to a process near you. At Sovos, we’re working with a number of clients who are increasingly executing their social and collaborative strategy in harmony with process, and some of the combinations allow customers to concentrate on strategy and execution when the software plays nice. Once implemented, collaborative systems that power a vibrant maze of relationships and conversations are extremely difficult to rip and replace (imagine trying to even re-build your LinkedIn or Facebook network on a new platform). So if they want to play, SAP really needs to get in on the land grab, pronto.

Closing thoughts on Sapphire Now 2011

Net net, SAP customers looking to do ERP faster, and where ever they want, be that in the cloud or on a tablet, will like a lot of what they saw at the event. Those customers looking for fresh ideas to improve employee/ partner/ customer activity and engagement, will want more.

photoThe event itself was near flawless from an organizational stand point and thanks to the Global Communications Team, the influencer / blogger cadre continued to get direct feedback from the right folks – be those partners, customers or SAP leadership. SAPs social media relations team, led my Mike Prosceno and ably executed by Stacey Fish, Andrea Kaufmann and Craig Mehil, and Amisha Gandhi is, without question, the gold standard in the tech industry. They make it look easy which it certainly is not.

I’ll leave you with a killer video of Hana + Microsoft Kinnect (xBox 360) that captivated the gadget lover in me. We truly live in amazing times…  – )

(Hana image, courtesy Tom Raftery; Sales On Demand image, courtesy Jon Reed)

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