SAP TechEd 2018 may have been and gone for Jon Reed and I but the show rolls on, with the last event of the series in Bangalore at the end of November. That space gives SAP and its leaders time to reflect and digest the learnings out of the Las Vegas and Barcelona events. The internal scorecard ought to be encouraging.
Nowadays I want to be done at most vendor-led events inside two days and that's how I planned my time in Barcelona. On this occasion, I should have taken three days because from the limited amount of time I spent on the show floor it is obvious I missed many things. If you'd like to get a fuller flavor of what was on offer then start with the SAP TechEd Twitter hashtag.
On the flipside, and even on my limited time, I'd assess this year's sessions as the most satisfying in a number of years. Having Dick Hirsch with me for many of those sessions helps. He is far more technical than I but contextualizes those conversations well for me to parse back to a more business focused audience. So for example, the deeply technical conversations we had with the API management group allowed me to better understand the enormous challenges of building out an API led business model that spans multiple internal SAP systems and external, third-party solutions. That's not always obvious to the business leader.
For business leaders looking to transform to more service-oriented business models, the message could not be clearer. Yes, it's doable but yes it needs rigorous IT management and guess what? Sometimes you're going to experience issues that are not down to your IT but the external network providers who are serving as the train tracks and pathways through which to reach customers.
I take that as a message which today demands a much better understanding of IT as a value generator and not simply as a bunch of plumbers who make things happen. To that point, be assured that the IT shops which grok this stuff totally get it so, in my view, it's time for the business to listen to IT in describing what is rapidly becoming the art of the possible on a journey beyond the intelligent enterprise.
The turning point
The turning point for me comes in four main flavors.
- Björn Goerke's keynote was among the best I've seen in a long time from an SAP technical lead to a developer audience. If you're a developer who has grokked the 'developers as the new kingmakers' meme then this was your chance to hear what that means from an SAP and ABAP in the cloud perspective. He hit many of the major themes but left the audience with a clear opportunity to innovate in ways that are only now possible through cloud architectures.
- The cloud application development model is not only in place but rich with features that will allow both SAP and non-SAP developers to bring innovation to customers in ways that were not possible in the past. Listening to DJ Adams talking about that technology as the 'golden pathway' for both SAP and non-SAP developers is an important milestone. The SAP message may be about the Journey to the Intelligent Enterprise but from the limited amount I saw, the smartest people in the SAP developer ecosystem are already ahead of that particular curve. To that point, I wonder if next year's TechEd will be themed along the lines of Buzz Lightyear's catchphrase 'To Infinity and Beyond?"
- SAP has done a really good job in getting the most articulate developer storytellers out there and into both customer and developer communities. I was especially impressed with the way SAP is talking about actively recruiting people who can flesh out the Mentor cadre, splitting off those who are SAP employees but were in the Mentors and into a fresh role as Ambassadors. That frees up the Mentors to act as a channel through which SAP can both learn and communicate directly with those who are at the customer coalface, unencumbered by policy restrictions. Check out my conversation with Craig Cmehil for details on how that's working out.
- SAP gets a bad rap for being perceived as a vendor that's playing catch up in the maelstrom of the cloud zeitgeist and the marketing hype that goes with it. Time spent with customers and listening to those who are evangelizing the more hyped up technologies (think blockchain and AI) paints a very different picture. The 180-year-old company that's pivoting to services and the challenger postal service that's held up as an example of post-modern thinking spring to mind. Then there is the pharma effort to bring order to chaos using blockchain. These are use cases and examples you don't see on a day to day basis but which I expect will be common in years to come.
The biggest challenge comes in helping developers understand how they can use solutions like SCP and SAP's API Management Suite alongside extensibility capabilities and the S/4 SDK to traverse multiple systems. There is a lot to learn and while I can see how this plays out, the learning curve and developer patterns will need to be made clear. Or, as Dick Hirsch said, SAP will need to provide clear guidance. It's coming but it's not all there - yet.
Where does this go? In one test example, I saw, the person's phone used to first surface a report on sales order throughput and then pass order placement data back to the sales order management system and out to the financial app. A machine learning algorithm then generated a suggested work bonus for the rep who took that opportunity. The manager then changes or approves the suggested bonus and payroll kicks in to include that bonus in the next payroll round while also sending the rep a congratulatory message. All done on a smartphone.
Now think about the number of systems that had to be connected in a seamless manner to deliver those messages and processes in real time. That's very different from the way we've viewed solutions in the past. The silo is dead. Or, as one of my colleagues, asked me accompanied by a huge grin: 'Why aren't you thinking about integrating your financials directly into activity metrics in your main business model applications?' Why indeed?
Once we see this kind of thinking pervading the real world then I sense that SAP will have finally transitioned from its sometimes insular view of the world to one where the messaging about openness and transparency is obvious to everyone. I look forward to assessing progress in 2019 and the final death throes of 'Not Invented Here' syndrome.
More to the point, I look forward to seeing how developers grow from being those who are charged with coding to those who are problem-solving in an anticipatory fashion. That, to me, is the journey beyond the intelligent enterprise to one that's frictionless in the manner Phil Wainewright describes.