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SAPPHIRE Now 2014 - the one thing to expect, simplification

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy May 28, 2014
Soundings among colleagues and others suggests that simplification will be the principle message at SAPPHIRENow 2014. How easy will it be to deliver?

Bill McDermott - CEO SAP
Bill McDermott - CEO SAP

SAPPHIRE 2014 will be an interesting event for many reasons but chief among those will be CEO Bill McDermott's keynote, his first as sole owner of the CEO title at SAP. Observers, pundits, analysts, anal-ysts and other assorted waifs and strays will be searching for nuance among the rhetoric of the sales pitch but from what we can gather, the main message will be one of simplification.

Even before we know what's actually said, I can hear both cheers and boos coming from the cheap seats.

Some of those in the trenches of delivering SAP solutions will likely roll their eyes at the thought of simplification. Not because it is a bad thing but because they have to deal with the morass of technology that is SAP on a day to day basis.

In that sense, McDermott's keynote carries similar risks to one that Leo Apotheker made when he was CEO and said (and I paraphrase) 'Read my lips - no more upgrades,' to which one of my tech colleagues replied: 'In your dreams.' If you ever need proof of the reality then check out this set of withering posts by Martin English, talking about what it takes for a non-SAP developer to get going on SAP technology. Start here. It makes for brutal reading.

And then there is the whole cloud 'stuff.' Jon Reed has extensively reviewed the current position but as an example, in talking about HANA Enterprise Cloud and HANA Cloud Platform, he asks:

How clear are the differences between HEC and HCP?

This may be too ‘techy’ a question for Sapphire Now, but there is confusion-a-plenty on where the HEC ends and the HCP begins. Example: somesmaller SAP cloud apps run on the HEC side,not on HCP (e.g. Fraud Management, Customer Value Intelligence). Without concerted effort, the distinctions between the two are going to fluster customers and observers alike. This will need clarification by D-Code in the fall.

Earlier in the week I talked about data and analytics, noting that competition is nibbling away at the SAP installed base albeit on a departmental basis. SAP can always fight back with its whole enterprise position but that's complex - right?

So what can we expect to see that speaks to the simplification message? We do not know for certain although there have been odd hints and clues here and there.

Some of 'us' have been given a preview of 'simplified financials' as SAP perceives it. I cannot get into details since the briefing was under non-disclosure and what I saw was very much beta software so things will have changed. What I can say is that the things I saw are a world apart better than I expected and should be readily understood by anyone in the finance office. If those demos reach the main stage then I would be surprised if the SAP-savvy audience is disappointed in what they see.

The trick that McDermott needs to pull off is one that balances an exposition of the broad portfolio of SAP solutions with one that clearly demonstrates fast track time to value the audience understands, supported by a simple consumption model. This will not be easy given that SAP has already decided that a hybrid 'choice' model is where it wants to be.

Message delivery is made more complicated by the fact that pure cloud players are able to communicate a very simple and well understood explanation for what they're doing. For example, Workday's move to a single codeline has resulted in clear and obvious benefits for both itself and customers that are self evident. SAP on the other hand has to heft solutions from many code bases and delivery models and as a result, has to assemble a complex picture in such a way that listeners are not left wondering 'what about....??'

Even if McDermott convinces on the simplification front, that will have to come with a roadmap customers can buy into. That in turn cannot stretch out over multiple years because the world is moving too fast for that to be seen as realistic by the majority of SAP core customers.

My sense is that at a very high level, McDermott will pull it off. In his recent taxonomy story produced here, McDermott made the kind of direct appeal to business buyers that has largely been absent from the tech vendor rhetoric. I certainly enjoyed the no BS tone.

The question remains however, will the EVPs/SVPs that have to get into the detail be as accomplished in their delivery? We will know by this time next week.

Endnote: if I have underplayed the task in front of SAP then check this from Jim Spath who is a very, very long time SAP techie and ASUG volunteer about some of the things he won't miss at SAPPHIRE Now:

I will not miss any hyperbole about "cloud", "mobile" and whatever the other alleged key word is this year.  Particularly HANA.  Will not miss the oversell of a technology that solves few problems in the enterprise except "adding shareholder value" and increasing complexity in an already dense matrix of information services.  Won't miss vendor booths solving problems I don't have.  Won't miss the global press trying to discern world shattering import from the turn of phrase by a suit.

Disclosure: SAP and Workday are partners at time of writing.

Featured image via ASUGNews

Image of Bill McDermott via Martin Gillet, Sapphire Now 2012

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