I was recently provided with a review copy of SAP Nation 3.0 - Manifest Destiny, the latest in Vinnie Mirchandani's books about the world that SAP occupies. My personal view is that this 'edition' represents the most balanced and nuanced of all three books. It's important to remember that each book is located at a point of time and so represent contexts through which to understand SAP's own journey and the landscape in which it operates. Whether you agree or not with the final outcomes from each book is for the individual to decide.
SAP Nation 3.0 is distinguished by its wealth of case studies that showcase 35 customers across geographies and industries. Many are doing amazing things with SAP technology. In that sense alone, I'd urge both current and potential customers to read through the stories. There is something for everyone who is wondering where enterprise technology is headed in the world of SAP. Here's a list, some household names, others not so much but equally interesting:
Many of these were new to me and helped me gain insight into how companies are thinking about the future. But don't think this is only about SAP, plenty of other vendors are included, some of which may surprise the enterprise buyer.
While SAP Nation 3.0 is Mirchandani's most upbeat SAP related book to date, it comes with plenty of questions and critiques, some of which leave us both perplexed on occasion. But then they're not alone.
As the book points out, others in the enterprise space are far from flawless and Mirchandani doesn't fight shy of naming names. The section covering Unforced Errors is replete with horror stories with which enterprise software watchers will be only too familiar and which have been well documented both here and elsewhere. But then that critique is more than balanced by a wealth of stories detailing extraordinary achievements among customers that worked closely with SAP on diverse advanced projects in the ML, IIoT and other spaces. If there is one learning to be had for all customers and vendors it's this: software and software implementations are rarely perfect. But we knew that, didn't we?
It was in that general context I recorded a conversation with Mirchandani (see above and here for download link.) I've condensed the main discussion down to a commute length 41 minutes but even then we only scratched the surface. We tried to keep to the themes in the book but as always, it's peppered with personal anecdotes.
Surprisingly for fellow analysts who can be highly combative on occasion, we were in broad agreement about many of the topics under discussion. I'm not suggesting for one minute that represents any kind of broader consensus about SAP. But it perhaps is indicative of recognizing a company that, while mired in enough issues of its own, is the only enterprise software vendor with enough product breadth to credibly hold end-to-end process conversations with customers and their LOB leaders. How far those conversations go is another matter and as we point out in the conversation, much of what we see are not products per se but projects with product potential.
If you've read much about SAP on diginomica's pages then a number of the people who provided content for the book and/or were quoted will be familiar, as will some of their pet peeves. Among them (including myself) are Jon Reed, Brian Sommer, Phil Wainewright, Holger Mueller, Jarret Pazahanick, Cindy Jutras, Josh Greenbaum, Upper Edge, Raven Intel, among them. On SAP's side, there's a frank yet encouraging section from Thomas Grassl who leads SAP developer community relations. There's a generous sprinkling of words from SAP CEO Bill McDermott and executive board member Rob Enslin, the 'man with the CX plan' as I playfully dub him. Co-founder Hasso Plattner is not forgotten - far from it.
The book uses the metaphor of the manner in which the American West was conquered as its way of both outlining the journey SAP is on and as a call to action for where it goes next. I'm not sure I wholly agree with that but I see the point. He quotes president Roosevelt saying:
Such growth in wealth, in population, and in power as this nation has seen during the century and a quarter of its national life is inevitably accompanied by a like growth in the problems which are ever before every nation that rises to greatness. Power invariably means both responsibility and danger. Our forefathers faced certain perils which we have outgrown.
Then adding in ominous terms:
In contrast to what Jefferson faced in 1801, the major enterprise tech vendors like SAP, Oracle, IBM and HP were on top of the “continent” of enterprise computing in 2001. Market leadership was theirs to lose, and in many ways that is exactly what they have done: We see a fragmented market, and an opportunity for someone to step up, acquire massive chunks of “real estate” and similarly motivate customers to move “west.”
But as the book progresses, you can see how, from the examples it outlines, that SAP could take up the spaces Mirchandani views as ripe for filling. In the end, he wonders whether he's asking SAP to dream too big but concludes with:
So, how bold can SAP’s and (SAP CEO) McDermott’s dreams be? Are they ready to issue the Manifest Destiny clarion call to go from “sea to shining sea”?
The continent of enterprise computing is waiting to be tamed.
SAP Nation 3.0 is very much a book of its time that will surprise, delight, infuriate and more. That's all to the good.
When SAP watchers like myself, Mirchandani and others ruminate or speculate on what happens next, we look and see companies of all sizes taking extraordinary risks on often little known vendors while at the same time taunting the SAPs of the world to show us what they've got. As Mirchandani discovered, there are many hidden gems.
But then it is understandable that a firm like SAP would first go after large horizontal markets. In the book, there is a section where Jim Holincheck (former Workday, Gartner and Accenture) eloquently describes the tensions that exist for software vendors in making investment decisions between horizontal and vertical market plays. Mirchandani and I often bemoan the way vendors have largely given up on those vertical plays. Perhaps now is the time to revisit those markets with a seriousness that has been noticeably absent in the last 10-15 years.
Equally, we'd both like to see the vendor community as a whole make much better and purposeful use of their developer ecosystems where there are rich layers of talent just waiting for their day in the sun.
Regardless of what you think about advanced technology adoption and how enterprises may benefit from the new 'stuff,' SAP is faced with more mundane problems. In the book, we see cases where customers are moving to S/4 with SAPGUI. My Twitter response was 'duh?' but then as John Appleby pointed out:
It makes sense to me Den. Some companies want to spread change out.
Yet others want to modernize infrastructure and platforms with tech budget but don’t want to disrupt.
Remember @vsikka talked about innovation without disruption?
— John Appleby (@applebyj) March 17, 2019
It's a good reminder that the world of SAP has to accommodate many variations on a theme and for now, this represents a work-in-progress at a global scale with all that implies across 25 and more industries.
In the end, both Mirchandani and I agree that it is down to customers to decide. As such, a SAPPHIRE post mortem will be a good time to sense check what he and colleagues find among customers. Presuming, of course, they've not been buried in Qualtrics speak. ;-)
In the meantime, and at the risk of repitition, I urge customers and potential customers to go get the book. It's a gold mine of useful and relevant information.