SAP TechEd - what you didn't hear at the keynote

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed October 25, 2013
The SAP TechEd keynote and news has been sliced and diced - but there's more to the story.

After the first day TechEd keynote review, I hit the show floor to get my own gut check. I found that SAP's cloud platform message was fairly well received and surprisingly well understood. But - and this is a big but indeed - that doesn't mean the message spoke directly to the immediate concerns of customers and partners. Net-net: vision passes relevance test, but plenty of work ahead. Execution is not going to be easy (see my prior blog for a detailed rundown of the main challenges.)

Several coffees and club sodas down the road (actually many coffees), another story emerged - the topics either not covered in Vishal Sikka's keynote or in the newsy announcements (SAS, Cloud Foundry, etc). On the third day, we pulled Aiaz Kazi into the JD-OD studio for two videos that captured some of these points (the first of the two videos is pictured above).

Stories worth noting are:

  • Try before you buy (BW on HANA Amazon trial as exhibit A)
  • HANA marketplace revamp
  • Pending changes in cloud platform/HANA pricing
  • Palo Alto 'SAP TechEd meetup' points to shift in SAP's event strategy

Taken together, the stories lead to a struggle towards a radical openness I will get to at the end.

Try before you buy is gaining traction

The first video covers the BW on HANA trial and the marketplace revamp. We've covered this underrated story on diginomica before. As Dennis noted in his Try before you buy is the new SAP mantra post this week:

The applications will be ‘lean.’ That is they will have core functionality that provides enough for prospects to assess usefulness. They will not be ‘boil the ocean’ type applications. So for instance, Vijay’s team will not build for every use case or for every user. Instead, they will look for high value problems in the short term with solutions that can be brought to market within six months. This is a lofty ambition but fits with the general transformation policy that SAP’s engineering teams are promoting internally.

In a blogger meeting with Vijayasankar, he told us this iterative feedback loop with trusted externals and customers would be a staple of his team's development process going forward. Though these 'lighting round' apps do have to sacrifice some features and user experience bells and whistles (example: there's isn't time to develop multiple role-based profiles with rich, role-specific feature sets), there is always time to add on the successful apps as the market embraces them. SAP has been developing in similar fashion for a while but the BW on HANA Amazon trial is a marker that this approach is really sticking to the proverbial wall.

Rethinking the marketplace experience

As for the revamped HANA beta marketplace, As Kazi noted, it is now a live parallel site you can check out by going to the current SAP HANA marketplace and clicking on the 'beta' link in the top right. There are eight or nine new features on the new SAP HANA beta marketplace, including full search and the ability to federate content from other sources (e.g. feeds and SCN blogs). But Kazi believes the implications are bigger: 'The key thing is we have taken a hard look at the UI and the buyer experience and focused on that.'

Whenever I review the multiple online SAP storefronts, I become grouchy as all get out, and I'm not going to belabor that again. But Kazi is onto something when he says: 'The marketplace is the capstone for putting it all this together: we have to get the build tools, the sell experience and the buying experience all together into one community.'

Moving beyond user-based pricing

In the second video, Kazi divulged some of the thinking going into the revamped pricing models for the cloud platform and HANA, targeted to be rolled out with HANA SP7 in late November. The big shift is moving away from user-based pricing:

Going to per user per app pricing we noticed was levying to much of a tax on the end user and the buyer as to why would they have to pay so much for a platform over and over again...We wanted to make sure to simplify the platform pricing into a single one or two SKUs...Directionally, this would be non-user, non-app. Essentially, you could build any number of apps on it and you could have any number of users on it. That's a big change.

The database and apps pricing will be tied together: 'You won't have to get a separate database and a separate app for runtime or for development.'  Kazi then declares his intention to get the pricing selection down to 'one or two clicks' - now that would be something to see.

During the second shoot, Kazi also discussed the use cases for the HANA cloud platform - both for developers getting their feet wet and, an emerging one: customers and partners building 'high performance' apps:

SAP events - pushing beyond the faithful

SAP is also changing its event strategy, and we can expect further TechEd changes down the line. This year, a simultaneous event took place at the SAP TechEd Meetup in Palo Alto. The Meetup was a developer-focused event in Silicon Valley. I grabbed a quick lunch with SAP's Thomas Grassl, who helped organize the Palo Alto event before jetting to Las Vegas.

There were 250 attendees, 2/3 of which were external to SAP (students, independent, status, consultants, partners and customers). Grassl told me aside from streaming in Sikka's keynote, much of the content was not SAP-centric, but a view of developer innovation from many angles. One panel included Hortonworks, Cloudera and SAP - not the usual SAP panel lineup.

The goal of this event? Build developer connections and collaboration between SAP developers and the local developer community - not unlike the Code Jams pioneered by Craig Cmehil that have taken place all over the world (see my onsite TechEd Live interview with Cmehil for more on that and the challenge of openness at SAP).

Final thoughts on TechEd Vegas

There are still too many inside of SAP who derive a false confidence from thinking that SAP can just sprinkle HANA pixie dust on their market problems. Success will require much more grittiness and humility than that - not to mention a dispassionate view of HANA's strengths versus other platforms and strong integrations/partnerships where appropriate. Sikka set a tone of greater humility in his keynote by acknowledging SAP's own struggles with the forces of disruption it hopes to help its own customers not only overcome, but capitalize on.

Pursuits with Hadoop, SAS and the Cloud Foundry partnership point to the kind of openness SAP urgently needs to foster, as it promotes customer choice and changes the view of SAP from 'ERP lock-in' to trusted innovation partner. Leaders the likes of Aiaz Kazi, Vijay Vijayasankar, Thomas Grassl and Craig Cmehil are grasping the implications of this radical openness.

While the long term outlook is very much up for grabs, in the short term, we will see more options for customers and developers to dip their toes in SAP's waters without having to pay yacht-like prices before they have proven the value to themselves.

Another example I haven't dug into is the pending SMP 3.0 mobile platform, which promises a great deal more openness and bring-your-own tools simplicity (see Adrian Bridgwater's review). By contrast I heard from developers and small partners at TechEd who still find the entry points into SAP mobility higher than they would like, and of course there's the ByDesign afterburn affect on partner trust. Building trust through openness and extending it to new developer communities is the matter at hand.

If this sounds more optimistic than some of my prior SAP pieces, that's because I find SAP's 'open platform' ambitions and industry-focused HANA use cases to be much more persuasive than the hyped up, 'HANA-is-fast/we are the cloud company' proclamations I heard at Sapphire and the partner summit in Miami. SAP TechEd Amsterdam is up shortly, and in six weeks, Bangalore, where more noteable announcements should come out. Let's see how this unfolds.

Bonus podcast: I taped a short podcast with ByDesign customer and partner Leo De Araujo to get his firsthand views of what he learned at SAP TechEd about ByDesign's future and roadmaps. This is a practical view rather than a stir-the-pot take.

Disclosure: SAP paid the bulk of my travel expenses to SAP TechEd Las Vegas. SAP is a diginomica premier partner.

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