I must admit, I was left a little confused by SAP’s Tuesday announcement on business analytics.
Why would SAP hold a big press conference, call in the big guns in Bill McDermott and introduce a bunch of new vertical applications that didn’t really leverage (at least yet) any of the technology principals SAP espoused at Sapphire — on-demand, in-memory and mobile?
To be fair, SAP’s working with HP to put these applications in the cloud, and that likely means that they will in some way leverage HANA — the in-memory appliance that SAP’s working on with HP. Plus, SAP said they would support mobile in the second half of 2011.
So I posed my question to a couple of my sharpest SAP shop pals. I don’t cover business analytics all that often. I know people want business analytics. But is there some huge demand for these that I haven’t caught on to that’d make SAP push them out now?
What I got was an interesting history lesson.
For 10 years or so, SAP has sold industry-specific software as it relates to ERP. You’re familiar with it — Apparel and Footwear, Public Sector, Utilities, etc. This is meant to accommodate potential customers whose business processes weren’t covered by the R/3 functionality, one of my pals said.
Physically, these are add-ons to standard R/3/ECC architecture. Some of them extend standard tables and programs, and some are ‘non-modifying’, completely in their own namespace. But when it comes to BI and BW content, these customers are sometimes left behind, because that content is based on the standard R/3 scenarios. Historically, they were not able to run ETL or report on data that’s in the vertical add-ons without custom development. SAP has put a lot of the vertical content in BW, but the BOBJ stuff is still pretty new.
So these new vertical apps present very appealing SAP BusinessObjects bait for those customers that run those “Industry Solutions”, like AFS or the Utilities. It allows those apps to access content in that industry-specific software without a whole bunch of custom development.
It must be why the SDN-type folks at that press conference kept asking the question over and over again — how much custom development is involved in this? They were schooled in their history lessons.
No doubt business analytics is the hot sell right now. Surveys across our TechTarget sites reveal it is a top IT initiative for customers in 2011.
I’ll return to a theme I’ve repeated a lot on this blog — is it cheaper to keep an existing customer or go out and get a new one? SAP of course wants to sell BOBJ into the existing customer base.
And of course, many customers don’t want to buy something that requires a bunch of custom-development. Perhaps this is a case where the BOBJ content was custom-developed in-house for certain customers to meet specific business requirements, and then readied to be packaged and sold, my pal said.
But how many of the verticals can they actually deliver this type of functionality for? We shall see.
We’ve been hearing it over and over again — on-demand, on-premise, on-device. But there’s something we didn’t hear about at the keynotes at Sapphire, and SAP doesn’t hold press conferences on — customers’ acceptance and adoption of Solution Manager. That is perhaps more important and may well dictate success in all of those areas.
Not that it isn’t debated in the blogosphere; a few months back, there was a lively debate on the “apparently mysterious” tool and whether it actually delivered benefits, summed up and analyzed well here by David Dobrin.
I just finished a fair amount of reporting on SAP’s set of application lifecycle management tools, and came away with the feeling that Solution Manager’s importance to SAP’s strategy can’t be underestimated. Early on in his tenure as co-CEO, Jim Hagemann Snabe added a fourth pillar to the on-demand, on-premise and on-device mantra SAP’s been pushing — orchestration — that could really dictate the success of the other three. Solution Manager is a big part of this.
This idea is what SAP was trying to get at when it rolled out Enterprise Support. No doubt there were financial motivations for the new support structure. SAP kept saying Enterprise Support would bring value in the long-run, but never fully qualified why.
Solution Manager and the concept behind Enterprise Support are so closely tied together, one shouldn’t have ever been explained without talking about the other.
Customers’ systems are complex and expensive to manage. Everything SAP’s proposing has the potential to add even more disruption. And some of the ways customers are looking to save money now, like SaaS, best-of-breed, etc., will likely make landscapes even more complicated, and costly, to manage.
For customers, Solution Manager, in theory and over the long-run, promises to provide everything needed for requirements gathering, designing, building and testing, deploying and operating the system in one place. SAP’s pushing for all of its customers to manage their software with it.
So what’s the big problem — or else, why would I be blogging on this, right? Right now, customers are only using it for the things SAP mandates them to: downloading and managing support patches and basic service-related tasks. And they’re having a tough time building business cases to do much else.
The stakes are high for SAP. For one, supremacy in the application lifecycle management space is a money maker, and gives vendors added control over their accounts, as detailed so well in this blog I’d highly recommend reading by Joshua Greenbaum.
The “SolMan” tune is definitely resonating in the customer base. SAP has loads of initiatives to carry it along. And there are good SolMan evangelists out there like Tony DeThomasis and David Hull to help.
But will it be enough?
If you’ve seen the movie “Up in the Air,” you’ll remember that when George’s Clooney’s character hits the 10 million mile mark, he gets his name on a plane, a sit down with American Airlines’ chief pilot and a shiny silver card with a phone number on the back that provides him with a personal line to the reservation desk.
It’s the sort of image the mention of “SAP’s Premier Customer Network” conjures up in my head. If you spend a huge amount of money with SAP, Hasso Plattner invites you on stage for a demo at Sapphire, you get a golf outing with Ernie Els and a direct line to Bill McDermott and Jim Hagemann Snabe.
I may not be too far off, but seriously, what are the benefits of being a “premier” SAP customer?
Nina Simosko, senior vice president for SAP’s Premier Customer Network, and her team (hired specifically to cater to this network of about 125 customers) are aiming to add some clarity.
The dust has settled on SAP’s Sybase roadmap announcement in Boston. While the big news (to me anyway) centered around SAP’s plans to release a mobile development platform in nine months there were a few other interesting tidbits to come out of the event, particularly in the “deep dives” held after lunch.
That includes some somewhat vague roadmap details, but we can expect more detail at TechEd and plenty of fanfare at next year’s Sapphire conference, which should arrive just around that nine-month timeline. For now, this is what people have to go on.
SAP-Sybase currently supports the iPad, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows tablets and Symbian devices. In the next nine to 18 months they will support Windows Phone 7, HTML 5 and then Linux.
“We think it’s going to be the Linux that’s going to be used for the Asian markets,” Gary Kovacs, Sybase senior vice president markets solutions and products said.
Cloud (what event would be complete without it?)
Sybase currently has a Web services interface, telecom expense management integration and Sybase mobile services integration.
“The key cloud services in the next version will be much richer in its support for more commonly deployed cloud services and integrate with additional carrier services,” Kovacs said.
Integration between SAP and Sybase
Sybase has completed some integration with the SAP NetWeaver Mobile platform, including TCO reduction, an enterprise app store, Mobile BI and Analytics.
Over the next nine to 18 months the two companies will work to integrate Sybase with NetWeaver Mobile and BusinessObjects Mobile BI.
SAP and Sybase have already rolled out Mobile Sales for SAP CRM and Mobile Workflow for SAP Business Suite.
Get ready for an enhanced mobile field service module. The next mobile application project is Sybase Mobile service for SAP CRM and it too will be delivered in the next nine to 18 months. A more detailed roadmap will be made available in Q4 2010.
When it comes to mobile applications SAP is clearly banking that Sybase becomes the mobile middleware platform which its partner network can build mobile applications on top of. Those who have already gone down the path to NetWeaver Mobile and Business Objects Mobile will have to wait for that integration, which SAP hasn’t put a timetable on.
The future for third party mobile middleware on the other hand seems uncertain. It certainly sounds like Sybase-SAP wants partners to be able to build the applications on Sybase-SAP middleware — which leaves lingering questions for partners like Syclo and Antenna.
“There are third party middleware platforms that supply some unique needs we do not want to cut off,” Kovacs said. “There will be partner and custom applications that we enable [for them].”
Mobile technology beyond the phone
The other interesting area that Kovacs mentioned and industry analyst Josh Greenbaum brought up was SAP-Sybase’s plans for mobile technology outside of mobile phones.
“If there is a process or application that’s driving that business we want to enable that,” Kovacs said, bringing up GPS in cars, IP-enabled devices for nurses and even machine to machine. “The first launch is the low hanging fruit but the vision and the roadmap encompasses so much more.”
Sybase will continue to be run as a separate business and it became apparent that both sides see a lot of opportunity. Sybase CEO John Chen practically salivated as he talked about the 22 industry verticals SAP is in which he sees as “low hanging fruit” for Sybase to sell into.
Additionally, SAP certainly sees Sybase as another way into the Asian markets.
“They are the leader in Japan and China,” SAP’s co-CEO Bill McDermott said, “a place we need to grow our business and will grow our business.”
Information management and analytics
On the information and analytics side, my colleague Mark Brunelli offers up some perspective on what SAP-Sybase means for Oracle vs. SAP.
Clearly SAP sees some opportunity combining Sybase and BusinessObjects for complex event processing (CEP). SAP CTO Vishal Sikka used an oil company using CEP as his demo. Sybase plans to rename its CEP products the Sybase Event Stream Platform.
Brunelli also passed along this note from the event:
Also, at one point, Brian Vink, Sybase’s vice-president of data management products, sought to reassure the crowd that Sybase’s popular PowerBuilder developer tool will be a part of the company’s mobility strategy going forward. PowerBuilder is a development environment which allows users to create BI, Analytics and types of applications. According to Sybase, one of the key features of PowerBuilder is DataWindow, which helps users quickly build data rich applications with minimal coding.
“Work is being done in the lab on how we can leverage that data window capability onto mobile devices,” Vink said.
Some other post event coverage beyond the straight up news:
Kevin Benedict, an SAP mentor and mobile consultant blogged on all the SAP-Sybase mobile news.
Jon Reed, another SAP mentor and head of JonERP.com recorded a video interview with Vishal Sikka.
Eric Lai offered up some other tidbits and Tweets from the show at his Sybase blog.
This past week, I had the opportunity to attend a New England Chapter meeting of ASUG. At EMC offices in Franklin, Mass., about 50 SAP professionals gathered to network and hear about a few highlighted topics – the SAP variant configurator, Enterprise Asset Management and data quality.
I love attending these events because they bring me back to reality. While we squabble in the IT press over the market’s innovation via the cloud and mobile devices, customers’ challenges in the trenches are considerably more prosaic and perhaps, even more challenging.
I heard the same theme from attendees there that I’ve heard over and over again at SAP shows – “our board doesn’t think we’re getting the ROI from our SAP installation that it counted on.” And, “folks are going off and buying software to do things that we could probably do in SAP, if they’d just ask us.”
Excel is the biggest competitor in the Enterprise GRC space, Gartner’s French Caldwell said to me on a call about SAP’s new IT GRC partnership with CA.
That sentiment jived with a survey we recently conducted on SAP priorities on SearchSAP.com. Most of our readers said they weren’t using SAP’s GRC applications, either because they weren’t aware of them or they didn’t need them.
But Caldwell’s clients are finding that managing everything in Excel leads to “spreadsheet chaos,” he said. Therefore, he’s seeing more interest in buying one platform to automate these processes.
This piece by Forrester’s John Rymer was blowing up my Twittersphere Thursday morning. Don’t write off SAP, Rymer contends, because, among other things, SAP is the worldwide IT foundation of so many organizations.
Rymer writes that SAP’s biggest chance for success is selling software to its enormous existing customer base.
With this in mind, allow me to beat a dead horse, or perhaps resurrect him. SAP’s working on a bunch of innovative things to keep its customers coming back for more- mobile, in-memory, on-demand. But if SAP’s future is based on making its existing customer base happy – let’s revisit something that made them extremely unhappy – the infamous maintenance and support fee hike.
One of the ways that customers expressed the distaste for the new maintenance and support policies was by not spending with SAP on discretionary projects.
“I think they were listening to their sales channels, and the people who processed purchase orders from customers who had nothing to do all year,” Duncan Jones said to me in a previous interview on why SAP caved and offered two-tiered support. “I think it was the impact on license revenue as much as the vocal complaints.”
I.e., because customers didn’t buy stuff, SAP caved and offered two maintenance and support options.
But is the issue really resolved? SAP mentor Jon Reed and I chatted the other day about the fact that while SAP sort of won the PR war on this issue, there really isn’t much of an option at all. Inflation and fees for extended support on releases older than ECC 6.0 will bring SAP Standard Support close to the cost of SAP Enterprise Support eventually. Dave Dobrin penned an excellent blog post on the topic. We’ve covered the Standard Support issue as well.
Could renewed attention on the maintenance and support issue be one key to keeping customers with SAP? And just as SAP is embarking on an “Apollo project” with in-memory, on-demand and mobile, isn’t the same boldness of vision needed in the maintenance and support question?
Reed said that “the whole support issue suffers from a failure of imagination.”
The KPI program with SUGEN could be called imaginative. SAP said it was a “model for the evolution of software support.” User groups sang its praises. And then, suddenly, when SAP re-introduced “options,” it was gone. SAP blamed it on the program being too difficult. My understanding is that tracking the KPIs relied on heavy use of Solution Manager, and many companies hadn’t configured it for the task.
But there are still ways SAP could revolutionize the maintenance and support model. SAP constantly touts SDN, and with good reason. SDN/SCN is one of SAP’s crown jewels, and one of the most “innovative” things a vendor long criticized for not being all that innovative has fostered.
Many customers are looking to their peers through SDN to solve their support issues. Some in the market have suggested that, in some way, participation levels on SDN could be leveraged toward maintenance and support contracts. Perhaps eventually the same model could be applied for user group forums.
You’ve got to start somewhere.
“The maintenance cow that all these vendors have milked is going to become a little skinny goat. And the more you hold onto it, the more in the end you’re going to lose,” Reed said.
SAP CTO Vishal Sikka is big on the mantra “innovation without disruption.”
But in a recent research note, Gartner analysts make the case that while the “on-premise, on-demand, on-device, in-memory” vision that SAP proposes is innovative and exciting for its customers, it’s also potentially pretty disruptive. SAP still needs to prove to customers where, and how, it all fits in.
By hiring David Boies of Microsoft and Bush vs. Gore fame, Oracle’s at the very least making a strong threat to litigate the TomorrowNow case.
When TomorrowNow closed a couple of years back, it was assumed that the case would settle rather quickly. There is the possibility Oracle’s hired Boies to push SAP to settle for the “billions” it’s alleging SAP/TomorrowNow cost it. But a settlement conference scheduled for this month has been pushed off to September. It’ll be the third such conference, and with every conference the likelihood gets less and less that the case will settle.
But was this case really about the past? Does Oracle really care about money lost through TomorrowNow? Or is it about the future – the potential of third-party support to chip away at profits?
Today, SUGEN announced that it’ll work with BusinessObjects customers — both SAP and non-SAP shops – to give them a stronger voice with SAP on product roadmaps.
SUGEN is made up of representatives of SAP user groups worldwide.
“There’s a great thirst for knowledge not only of the BusinessObjects portfolio, but also on the integration roadmap,” said Craig Dale, chief executive of the UK and Ireland SAP User Group, which is leading the charge. “We’ve seen a vast rise in special interest groups dealing with BI.”
To that end, SUGEN sent a survey to every BusinessObjects user to determine what they want and how the user group can support them better. The organization is asking questions like — what are their requirements? What are they looking for from a user group around education, networking? What do they want from SAP? How do they see SAP? The survey closes at the end of June, and SUGEN expects to have the results by August, Dale said.
“We can probably offer them a lot of benefits they don’t understand yet,” he said.
From what SUGEN has learned so far, customers’ main questions are around product roadmaps, Dale said. So BusinessObjects users aren’t clear on where BusinessObjects is going. And having just completed a survey of our own readership on SearchSAP.com, the same is true for SAP shops – folks are still contemplating where BusinessObjects fits into their BI plans and where.
In this sense, bringing the two user groups together is a win-win. It may prove especially valuable for SAP shops that haven’t yet deployed BusinessObjects and are looking for an SAP BI roadmap.
SAP BusinessObjects BI tools will replace SAP’s BI products going forward, yet SAP customers are still confused on where BusinessObjects will fit into their landscapes and how to adopt them. Networking with BusinessObjects users will give SAP customers real examples of the good, the bad and the ugly on how these tools work in practice.
In turn, SUGEN’s hope is to give BusinessObjects customers a stronger voice on product development. SUGEN has a good track record of getting its point across. With more clout, BusinessObjects customers can call out what they don’t like about the tools, what needs to be fixed, and influence future produce development – providing a stronger product for SAP customers.
The key challenge will be reconciling the heterogeneous customer base – BusinessObjects users on different data warehousing platforms, different ERP and software backends – and ensuring that product improvements useful to not only the largest and most strategic customers make their way through.