Regular readers know that Dick Hirsch is one of the most respected SAP observers. For those that don't know Dick, he's one of those people who knows how to dig seriously deep into what SAP has on offer, providing insights that are not normally surfaced elsewhere. Here's a sample of his work covering last year's iteration of SAP Cloud Platform.
With that in mind, Dick and I sat down to go over our top of mind topics. To put this in context, he and I shared a number of sessions including those involving customers where we got into some of the technical challenges involved in making the kinds of change demanded when shifting from on-premise applications to SAP's cloud offerings. We also heard for the first time how SAP is using some of the more advanced AI capabilities. One example comes from how SAP uses machine learning to map activity.
Once you start looking at cloud environments, there is so much information to exploit about what people are doing and once it is anonymized then it becomes very rich which informs you how you can use the information to improve processes and innovate on those processes. The whole idea of SAP's intelligent enterprise is that you have constant improvement and right there is where it makes sense.
Talking to SAP and customers, we heard an emphasis on openness and APIs. The question comes - how are those monetized. We didn't get a direct steer on this and, as Dick points out,
The whole area of APIs is important but the question is - who's it for? Is it for you (to run processes across different apps) or is it for your customers or the end user?
Regardless of how APIs are monetized, top of mind in many conversations is the topic of managing complexity in an evolving environment that is relatively new for SAP shops.
Let's say you have five cloud functions then how does that work if that's event-based? As business processes become more complex, people will need to know where to put their solutions and have some forms of standard. SAP now has the cloud programming model that helps but as new technology comes down and is moved into the SAP Cloud Platform then the question comes, how do I use it? In talking to the people dealing with extensibility and topics like Kubernetes for example, you can see they're working this out and it is getting a bit cleaner. There is no longer the idea that a process is in a particular silo but spans multiple systems both inside SAP and elsewhere.
Dick noted that the number of developers SAP using the API management system is 'astounding' and he believes that is critical for the future.
It's not only the APIs now, it's events. S/4 is starting to publish events and there are different patterns so when for example you make a change to a business partner that could be published for one person, 50 or 300 people and how SAP is doing that becomes a very powerful model for how you move that information out to partners.
We then moved on to discuss the topic of ABAP and ABAP in the cloud which Björn Goerke characterized as representing an opportunity for developers to transition into the cloud world. We agreed that over the last year SAP has made huge strides in establishing patterns for developers to learn and follow which can only bode well for the new classes of application that will come into being as apps are decomposed and recomposed.
When you think about all the main applications (S/4, Concur, Fieldglass, Hybris, Ariba, SuccessFactors) and see how these patterns are established across those then if all these things have APIs and events then you can start to imagine how these could go way beyond the intelligent enterprise that we see today as a statement of direction and purpose.
The ecosystem needs to be aware of these changes and these opportunities.
The question in my mind though centers around how SAP will partner effectively with the tier two developer and boutique shops that will likely be the ones to develop micro-vertical solutions and micro functions that the large SIs will eschew. We saw that Beyond Technologies has built a partnership but then that company is headed by an SAP Mentor who has been very active in SAP's developer circles over the years. Not every dev shop will have that person able to gain visibility inside SAP such that they can achieve partner status in a manner that will allow credible go to market opportunities. The good news is that SAP is aware of the challenges.
Yes but Beyond is an example of a smaller company using the S/4 SDK to bring new functionality to S/4. So it is clearly possible and on the cutting edge as well. The challenge will come from bringing the ecosystem with them but I think people see a path that might not have been evident to them in the past. It can't just be about technology because things are moving too fast and the business wants solutions so it has to be about business relevance and we saw that in the keynote and in some of the sessions.
As we closed, Dick and I concluded that challenges aside - all of which SAP understands - there is a bright future ahead for SAP developers and the SAP ecosystem. We see that in customer demand, in SAP's own development and in the enthusiasm for tutorials on the show floor which, by the time we left, was heading towards easily breaking the numbers recorded in 2017, which in itself was the best year at TechEd.