SAP TechEd 2013 - preview

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett October 19, 2013
Summary:
SAP TechEd is SAP's opportunity to show developers what's in it for them on the HANA platform. How well it articulates this will set the mood for the future.

sikka
Vishal Sikka, executive board member SAP

As SAP prepares for its annual TechEd bonanza in Las Vegas, I was privileged to be given an early run through of executive board member Vishal Sikka's keynote. Without giving too many secrets away I will state the bleeding obvious. The keynote will largely be dedicated to HANA. If you are reading this and already thinking of switching off think again.

What started off as a database alternative designed to accelerate analytics five years ago has turned into something entirely different. HANA is now the de facto database and applications foundation for everything that SAP delivers going forward.

The journey is far from complete and there are many moving parts in various stages of development. Even so, my sense is that for the first time, SAP will provide its customers and developers a much clearer picture of what they can do now with HANA and what they can expect in the coming months.

Top of mind here will be the Business Suite on HANA. Sikka will provide detail about the extent to which work is complete, but I'm told that SAP now runs its business with the Suite on HANA. Don't expect a stunning announcement about the suite having been given a makeover with the Fiori front end. That is some distance off. However, do expect Sam Yen (who owns the Fiori topic) to be demonstrating more applications using SAP's Fiori.

Attendees should also expect to hear SAP talking about some of the extreme applications that customers have been using. One example I've seen using SAP's visualization tool Lumira comes from eBay. Not only is it stunning, business users can expect to achieve near instant value. While talking extreme applications, SAP is building out a unit dedicated to those one off projects. I want to hear more from them.

I also expect SAP to center on landscape simplification. This is one of the great HANA promises. Once again, we're not talking 'job done' but SAP has made significant progress across multiple applications.

In summary - and again no real surprise - expect SAP to talk about three layers: Fiori, applications and HANA as the foundation. So what else?

HANA cloud and HANA Cloud Platform (HCP) has to be an important talking point. Right now, HCP is positioned as an extension platform so for example, Dick Hirsch recently dug through documentation to see of there is a case for porting hybris - SAP's cross channel ecommerce platform - to be offered as a cloud solution.

My view is unequivocal, everything SAP does will have to be cloud enabled by 2017 or they're dead in the water. We already see signs of this with the recent SAP BW on HANA via AWS announcement which I understand has proven attractive with well in excess of 3,000 hours usage recorded in less than a month. But it is one small step on a much longer journey.

There will be the obligatory 'big data' sessions but quite frankly I plan to avoid all with the exception of those that talk about purposeful solutions. As I reminded SAP during the keynote run through, I have NEVER met a customer who wants to buy 'big data.' They want outcomes.

Open source?

TechEd is a show for developers rather than marketers and here I would like to see SAP spell out its open source chops. It already makes extensive use of open source components. It is a member of the Eclipse Foundation but it could hardly be called a great committer to the open source movement. Why does this matter?

For too many years, SAP has had a toxic 'not invented here' syndrome where if the development wasn't coming from Walldorf then it didn't exist. Worse still, when it saw a good idea from the outside, it would often take that to itself, effectively shutting out the original idea. In recent years it has tried to rid itself of that attitude, best demonstrated by the SAP marketplace. Even so, developers have hardly been coming in droves. In this context, SAP already knows it needs to behave differently It's just not clear whether the transformation Sikka has promised is sufficiently advanced to make that a reality. A strong commitment to open source goes some way towards achieving that.

PHP SAP
There are some signs of change. I saw for instance a Facebook post by Craig Cmehil promoting a book he has written called PHP SAP Developers' Guide. My question: Does that mean you can code PHP to HANA? Not quite although Cmehil did say:

I show how you can access data from HANA with PHP and I'm working on something else but not sure how viable it is or even if its possible

Not a great answer but a start. My jokey comment to SAP on this topic: if you can get PHP running with HANA that means even I can code to HANA. ;)

When I quiz SAPpers on this topic I preface by saying that Cmehil says PHP is the most common request for language compatibility with HANA. SAP says it's Java. Clearly it depends who you are talking to. Cmehil is actively seeking out those that don't work with SAP. The others? Go figure.

Then there's the problem of community. SAP's SCN is a treasure trove of information about implementing its large scale solutions but it isn't a community in the open source sense. There is precious little to encourage the non-SAP developer to take a look let alone participate. Which brings me to the broader topic of ecosystem.

Ecosystem

SAP knows that  its core, large scale business applications have run their course. While there is plenty of runway in implementations and upgrades, the world has changed. The long implementation cycle is no longer acceptable in the face of much faster cloud deployments.

It is not clear to me how SAP intends to address this from the developers' perspective. Too often I see technical solutions put ahead of business application. SAP developers have traditionally been one or two steps away from the business and that has to change. At the same time, developers need to have much easier ways of assembling purposeful applications.

I do not know whether SAP will address this during the keynotes or sessions but for me, this has to be a high priority sooner rather than later. If not then other platforms will continue to erode SAP's market and with it, remove the possibility for SAP to attract the industry's smartest brains.

A good start might come in harnessing the great and sometimes whacky ideas it showcases during DemoJam. Sadly, I suspect that as in previous years, those opportunities will be wasted.

Expectations

This year's TechEd won't be one where we see big announcements. It will be a showcase of what HANA has achieved so far although I hope they stop short of chest thumping. Instead, I hope they will get customers speaking about achievements and value.

It will be an opportunity for SAP to hear the concerns and expectations of the developer community going forward. It should take note of those who are already considering alternative platforms for their customers and be prepared to reassure. In that sense, TechEd 2013 could serve as a wake up call to those who, despite many years inside the SAP reality distortion field are being drawn away.

Images via SAP