Friday, April 17, 2009
On April 29, SAP will host a conference call to discuss its results for the first quarter ending March 31. The company is also expected to announce that Henning Kagermann will be retiring from his role as Co-CEO. Fellow Co-CEO Léo Apotheker will assume the top position.
Knowing Mr. Kagermann, I bet he would have preferred to leave his successor with a strong pipeline and a robust economy as he slips quietly away. During a brief conversation a few weeks ago, I asked him whether he expected to see the economy recover by the end of this year or if we would we have to wait for 2010. Mr. Kagermann said that he thought “we will be lucky if it’s 2010.”
Over the last few weeks, I’ve sat through a lot of product discussions with various SAP executives and dozens of the company’s largest customers. Based on my observations, Mr. Apotheker faces numerous challenges. The top one may be the increasing complexity of the company’s product line and strategy. Here are some observations.
Surprise! Separate Enhancement Packs for ERP and each New Dimension product
When I attended the SAP Business Suite 7.0 launch in February, I left believing that all of the company’s new products would be delivered through an annual Enhancement Pack that covered the whole product spectrum. As it turns out, there will be separate packs for ERP and each of the New Dimension products. (The latter is an old label that refers to SAP’s offerings for CRM, SCM, HCM, and SRM.)
In addition, each release is cumulative, meaning that Enhancement Pack 5 will contain all of the features included in the previous packs. While this is great news for vendors like IntelliCorp and Panaya, which offer tools to help buyers compare the new releases with the current versions, it adds a lot more complexity to large implementations. This is especially true if SAP reverts back to separate release schedules for each of the various New Dimension products.
At the launch, SAP also introduced the concept of value scenarios. If you read my piece, “A Closer Look at the New SAP Business Suite,” you may remember that SAP had created 30+ vertical-specific scenarios based on end-to-end business processes, including inspired shopping experience, integrated product development, and collaborative demand and supply planning.
These scenarios are more like frameworks than composite apps. Still, a scenario such as collaborate demand and supply planning could involve pulling data from CRM and supply chain management in order to create the end-to-end process. This builds in a level of dependence on synchronized product releases. This is a challenge giving that SAP software is developed in 10 or 11 labs around the world.
Three types of apps: transactional, analytical, and collaborative
SAP has quietly built in additional complexity by adding different types of applications. In the R/3 days, its world consisted of transactions, with all of the results stored in a database.
Then, SAP developed and acquired a set of business intelligence/performance management products that pulled data from multiple data sources and content types, both structured and unstructured. The latter creates an issue when you see the world as a set of transactions. For example, what do you do with unstructured data? Where do you store it?
With the acquisition of Business Objects, SAP will be offering far more powerful and complex tools capable of managing enormous volumes of real-time data. This will likely result in a lot more members in the Terabyte Club, a moniker created by AMR Research’s Derek Prior.
Returning to the collaborative demand and supply planning scenario, these new collaborative apps offer a different challenge. In this application, SAP envisions a sort of a heterogeneous trading hub where a manufacturer may be exchanging real-time data with customers, suppliers, third-party logistics firms, contract manufacturers, financial institutions, regulatory agencies, and other interested parties.
The combination of the three types of applications, higher data volumes, and increased transactions is putting more pressure on SAP to open up NetWeaver to support third-party products. Discussions with customers, software vendors, and former employees point to the need for improving or replacing SAP NetWeaver Process Integration (PI). Formerly known as XI, PI is SAP’s enterprise application integration toolset.
Add SaaS and cloud to the soup
While SAP has been relatively quiet about its plans for expanding its on demand and software-as-a-service (SaaS) products beyond CRM and SRM, it’s logical to assume that over the next three to five years, most companies will find themselves support a hybrid architecture consisting of traditional on premise deployments and the rapidly growing on demand software.
Then there is the subject of cloud computing. A few weeks ago we spoke with SAP CTO Vishal Sikka about his plans. He told us that his team has been “working with Amazon for some time.” Logical cloud offerings include backup and archive, support for test and demo systems, and some virtualization support. In terms of offering applications on the cloud, Dr. Sikka pointed to several issues that need to be resolved: lack of analytics, integration challenges, and the difficulty of supporting transaction-intensive functions such as available to promise.
Urgent need for product roadmaps spanning two to five years
So, as you imagine the challenge of mixing and matching transactional, analytical, and collaborative applications in some combination of on premise, on demand, and in the cloud, you can feel the CIO’s pain. Clearly, CIOs have a lot more work ahead on governance, master data management, insourcing/outsourcing, and taming the total cost of ownership.
In meetings with SAP customers, we usually hear the same request unanimously: “Please help get SAP to provide us with product roadmaps.” Most are trying to slot in new, bite-sized projects over a multiyear period. This is much harder when you don’t know the release schedules. To date, SAP has been reluctant to disclose detailed plans. When we push back, the answer usually revolves around revenue recognition concerns. Okay, but that’s not very helpful for customers.
We will plead your case to Mr. Apotheker at SAPPHIRE
The next time we see Mr. Apotheker will be at SAPPHIRE in Orlando (May 11–14). In the past, Jim Shepherd and I have had the opportunities for one-on-one chats with Mr. Kagermann, Mr. Apotheker, and other SAP board members. Assuming that tradition holds, I promise we will relay your requests for detailed roadmaps for user interface plans, applications, NetWeaver, Business Objects, SaaS and clouds, and implementation strategies. Would you like more guidance on pricing, too?
We will also ask him about the economy. I hope he’s a lot more optimistic than his soon-to-be former boss. Look for our analysis next month.
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