There was a mixed response when SAP announced the HANA in-memory database. Some shrugged, others giggled, few thought SAP could possibly be successful putting its weight behind a new database for SAP customers where Oracle, Microsoft and IBM dominate.
It quickly became apparent that HANA would need to be much more than a database and SAP enlarged its development program to position HANA as a solution platform. In the meantime, SAP scrapped for deals and scrabbled to find use cases beyond 'speeds and feeds.'
SAP BW on HANA is an obvious and easy to understand use case with a large potential customer base of some 18,000 customers. While it proved reasonably popular, SAP needs to get it into more customer hands. Hence the Amazon free trial that launched last week. From the evidence available, this has proved to be a solid success.
What's interesting about this is Vijay's approach and what it can tell us about the SAP community.
How did it work?
It is fashionable to view SAP as that 'tired old German ERP company' that everyone loves to hate and whose time has been and gone. Those of us who know the company reasonably well sometimes share that view but not necessarily for the reasons implied by the above statement. Even so, it is surprising just how loyal its customer base remains. It is equally surprising how loyal its ecosystem parters continue to be. That might have a lot to do with the ongoing promise of work but it might also have something to do with the small but fanatical community network of volunteers who curate content and provide feedback with no expectation of reward.
It is here that Vijay was truly smart. Instead of going cap in hand and asking for project funding, he assembled a small team of internal folk who have enough clout to motivate others and were prepared to work on this as a zero cost side project. He also got feedback from a bunch of folk inside the community which helped shaped project direction. It worked as a model for figuring out how to approach the problem inside that unique organization.
For the full back story, check Vijay's explanation.
But that's just the start and even though it is early days, it seems to me that SAP has to go in two directions.
First, SAP needs more 'instant hit' use cases. That is the main topic of the above video, which follows on from the first one I shot with Vijay Vijayasankar, global vice president, SAP. Finance is the most obvious line of business target although I have seen applications that take both CRM and financial data along with geo-location data to provide predictive service solutions. Vijay talks about a predictive treasury application that was developed by his team at IBM. We shot a video demonstrating that last year. There could be many more involving predictive capabilities.
Second, in my dealings with SAP and specifically the startups that have congregated around it, I've been surprised at the level of invention in solving very specific business problems. Many of the solutions are industry specific. This is an area where SAP should actively support the creation of trials running in cloud environments, using its reach to act as the marketing arm for many of those 'white space' applications.
When you sit on the outside of a company, it is very easy to offer unsolicited advice and/or throw rocks. It is far harder to understand the complexities of instantiating change. What seems obvious to you or me is often far from obvious inside a company that has been used to 'champagne pricing' and the profits that go with it. And while I applaud Vijay's efforts and current outcome, it is only a small part of the transformation puzzle that SAP is attempting to traverse. The next such effort could easily go badly wrong.
Much has to change for these ideas to take root. For example, if the public trial model proves successful, then SAP will need to make significant changes to its sales model and compensation plans. It will need to rejig the relationship between itself and customers. It will need to work out how best to partner with third parties so that those same partners feel they are fairly rewarded without risk of being wiped out by something that SAP develops as a competitive solution.
I'd like to think that what Vijay's team has achieved is sustainable as both a delivery model and springboard for transformation. There will be plenty of skeptics who think otherwise. But ultimately it will be customers who have the final vote.
Bonus points: For those that wish to see the full, unedited version of my call with Vijay which runs 14 minutes, here's the link.
Disclosure: SAP is a premier partner