In its place, the crowd had Steve Lucas, global president of the SAP Platform Solutions Group, leading the go-to-market teams and strategy for key innovations and technologies on deck. That's longhand for 'sales guy.'
Putting a sales leader on stage at a developer keynote is fraught with risk. First, developers don't care for buzzword bingo. Second, they want to see code. Third, they like that you keep to time because they have lots to get done. At one level, Lucas' delivery was a #fail on all counts. But to say that is all would be a gross misjudgment of what I saw as a nuanced set of complex messages.
SAP can't avoid the buzzword compliant nature of the tech industry. Lucas poked fun at himself for having to use certain buzzwords as a way of defusing the inevitable criticism. Mercifully, Lucas slide deck skated around the usual suspects except where the moniker has already stuck, such as HANA Cloud Platform. On keeping to time? That was a fail since the presentation overran by 40 minutes.
Side note - when you overrun to that extent, you're stepping dangerously into Marc Benioff, CEO Salesforce territory. In this case, by the time Lucas got done, the hall was half empty. And that's a shame because many of the vignettes were really good.On code, Lucas took the unprecedented step (for SAP) of wheeling out customers and partners who mostly showed their wares in varying degrees of readiness. We got to see precious little code and even less that explained what was running the various examples. But that isn't the point.
Lucas was at pains to point out that all business is moving towards digital. Most of the crowd got that but it is in the detail that things get interesting.
SAP showed examples such as 'no UI', demonstrated by Amazon Alexa coupled to analytics systems built on Vora, a new all embracing platform, where, in this case, the user controls presented information Star Trek style. Analytics were shown to be drastically reducing the amount of time engineers have to test microchip components and at petabyte scale, with a soupçon of predictive thrown in for good measure. We even had sushi delivered on stage. Alongside, SAP talked about its partnership with Made in a Free World, an organization that is bringing attention to the massive global slavery problem that sits inside supply chains. Students from Notre Dame showed how they are solving for road safety.
Although not articulated directly, Lucas demonstrated a broad range of application use cases that imply that any organization can get onto the digital train at the point that is appropriate to the organization. This is fundamentally different from talking about siloed operations or point solutions.
Throughout, Lucas peppered his presentation with light digs at the competition, naming Tableau and Oracle specifically. He also endeavored to position the current suite of applications as representative of a platform that makes organizations more effective at web scale and in real time.
In one sense it was a bit like a shuffling of the application stack to reflect back to a predefined message around the changes that digital based services bring. That's not a bad way to look at it but it was clear to me that SAP has to put a lot more meat on the application bone before the story becomes a coherent whole.
Interestingly, he kept largely clear of talking HANA and 'run simple' every other breath, neither did he talk about the core transaction processing engine. He did mention S/4 HANA Simple Financials in passing and made clear that the overarching assumption is that all applications run on some sort of network infrastructure that we otherwise characterize as cloud. That was smart.
At the end of the session, I asked a number of my developer colleagues to give an instant impression. Most saw the whiff of marketing fluff (as one wag called it) coming through, while others questioned the depth of what they were seeing. But - overall, the folks I spoke with gave Lucas a cautious if somewhat lukewarm thumbs up. That is much better than expected.
I believe we are at a point where the kinds of problem business is trying to solve cannot be packaged neatly into an application stack in the way that you would for an HR or accounting admin team. Instead, organizations are looking for what I prefer to think of as liquid platforms, building blocks and services that allow them to easily express problem solving in software and at webscale. That means both line of business and developer organizations have to become much closer aligned than has been the case in the past.
Lucas claims SAP is the only company capable of making that a reality. SAP has a genuine shot and with some technologies now being priced competitively against the likes of Amazon, I hope this foretells of an SAP that is much more realistic about its ability to monetize. But they need to win over the hearts and minds of developers who have many years' experience in a different kind of environment, and who themselves need to adapt to a new reality.
This was a very difficult keynote to pull off successfully. SAP was trying many new things at the same time. In my mind they just about got there. Now comes the detail that will serve as the judge, in hindsight, whether Lucas was blowing smoke, or whether developers can run with what the company is offering.
We will update with more commentary and video as the event unfolds.