Sapphire Now 2013 report card

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed May 17, 2013
I'm awarding SAP high marks for clarifying HANA options and a passing grade for talking about a modern user interface badged Fiori. Not approved for graduation? The cloud platform story. Read on for more.

During his Sapphire Now 2013 keynote, Chairman Hasso Plattner called students from the Hasso Plattner Institute onstage. One student showed off a demo analyzing 4 billion lines of code with HANA in real time, prompting a snarky friend of mine to quip, “Why do I need SAP? I'll just get a HANA instance on Amazon and hire one of Hasso's students directly.”

In keeping with the school spirit, let's hand out a few initial few grades for SAPPHIRE Now – which are open to revision as new facts emerge.

High marks

Path to HANA clarified for SAP customers (including cloud options). With an uber-confidence lacking in past years, SAP clarified the paths to HANA for its own customers, including surprisingly reasonable explanations of the public cloud (AWS), private cloud, and on-premise options. The lack of head-scratching afterwards was a big messaging win for SAP, which is usually expert at tripping on tech minutia.

Unlike past years, SAP didn't push the 'hybrid' future of on-premise and cloud to hedge their cloud bets. As SAP steps ever-closer to“all in” on HANA, that now means HANA/mobile/cloud. The three are now inseparable in SAP's future plans, and that's not an insignificant change. Whether SAP's ERP customers will embrace this plan or opt for a different way to modernize their core remains to be seen.

As for multi-tenancy purists eager to scrutinize SAP's cloud architecture for scale, they were likely either delighted or baffled by Plattner's explanation that while the HANA Enterprise Cloud is not multi-tenant, SAP's HANA cloud platform does support multi-tenant applications. Plattner cited Sales OnDemand and Financials OnDemand as examples, while announcing an August 2013 timeframe for moving SuccessFactors (also multi-tenant) onto HANA. SAP isn't sweating cloud definitions; it's focused on giving its customers the right options. That's high marks.

Passing grade

We need a modern UI right now” - the Fiori announcement. "Consumer grade UI" is a big piece of the HANA/cloud/mobile puzzle. During Executive Board Member Vishal Sikka's Thursday keynote, Sikka brought Sam Yen on stage to demonstrate 25 new “Fiori” apps (Yen owns the unenviable job of transforming SAP's UIs).The apps looked appealing, though a fellow attendee told me they had a Windows 8 vibe, which may not be the comparison SAP was ultimately hoping for.

According to Yen, these Fiori apps address 80 percent of SAP users and 45 percent of SAP system usage. To drive the point home, SAP showcased an already-live customer, Colgate Palmolive, which talked up Fiori's ease of use and deployment. Colgate gave particularly high marks for Fiori's mobile look.

Based on SAP UI5, Fiori apps are HTML5-based, and optimized for the Google Chrome browser. Fiori's back end connectivity, provided by SAP's OData-based Gateway tool, makes for a lightweight architecture. Sybase Unwired Platform detractors will be pleased to learn that the “toolkit formally known as SUP” is not part of the Fiori solution. Fiori also launched with transparent pricing. Within minutes I had the Fiori page up and a shopping cart loaded. The price? A modest $150 per user for the 25 apps.

So why did I give Fiori only a passing grade? During lunch, an ASUG volunteer told me her company is running Internet Explorer 8, which is not HTML5 compliant. There are no foreseeable plans to upgrade. I heard other similar stories. No, Internet Explorer 8 is not SAP's fault, but it does pour some cold water on the goal of immediate availability.

Fiori's pricing also provoked a heated Twitter discussion about whether the apps should be given away. Should they be made free as atonement for previous UI suffering? Goodwill is never a bad thing.

SAP seems resolute that it's valid to charge for Fiori. There are also questions about whether Fiori is intended for core users (the impression I got from the keynote) or casual users, a distinction which could have pricing implications. I'm wary of SAP's insistence on monetizing every rollout, particularly mobility functions other vendors are offering at no cost.

For now, I'll assign a passing grade and see what Fiori adoption is like.

Not approved for graduation (yet)

The HANA Cloud Platform story. Yes, the HANA cloud choices for SAP ERP customers made sense. The Afaria cloud option was an underrated story, and putting Lumira in the cloud helps me make up for the clunky renaming. (Lumira was renamed from "Visi"). But elsewhere, confusion abounds.

During Sapphire Now, the press attended a briefing on HANA Enterprise Cloud where the HANA Cloud Platform was explained in a way that created more haze than clarity, including some questions about overlapping "HANA Cloud" names that were not well answered.

To be fair to SAP, Aiaz Kazi, who now has the new job of running platform at SAP, has recently published a coherent explanation of the HANA Cloud Platform that is much more definitive than what I heard on the ground, fleshing out the HANA Cloud Platform content in Plattner and Sikka's keynotes. I shot a video with Kazi at Sapphire on this topic - I'll add a link to it once it's produced.

If Kazi can get this message propagated internally and bring developers on stage with good stories to share about the HANA Cloud Platform at TechEd, SAP can turn this around.

Extra credit

  • 29 million SAP cloud users - Numbers don't mean everything (and are open to interpretation) but is not a small number.
  • 9.8 million Jam customers - Again, not sure volume tells the whole story, but collaboration at SAP is a sneaky story to watch.
  • The math-and-design-heavy keynote on day 3 was a treat for quants and creatives. Not sure it was a perfect fit for the Sapphire Now audience, but it put intellectual weight behind the HANA marketing message.

Revise in time for TechEd

  • Developer engagement is not a done deal. Gateway pricing improved – yes. Amazon AWS – good. But free download options and access to back end SAP systems for testing are still (sorely) needed.
  • HANA at its best is an open system with as much potential for SAP startups as for SAP ERP customers. We need to hear more about ease-of-development on the HANA Cloud at TechEd – for customers, but also for partners and individuals who have never seen the back end of an SAP system.
  • SAP has a big opportunity to deliver on cloud integration (and cloud/on-premise) the way it never really did with NetWeaver. SAP knows this but we have yet to hear an explanation that isn't bogged down in SAPanese.

With TechEd season a few months off, SAP has time to get this done. We'll find out soon enough. (For more on my Sapphire Now 2013 views, check out my Day 1 wrap. Dennis has also posted several of our Sapphire Now videos in his Sapphire Now-SuiteWorld faceoff post - more are coming).

Disclosure: SAP covered most of Jon's Sapphire Now travel costs. SAP is a diginomica premier partner.

Image credit: Jon Reed

UPDATE: Holger Mueller provides a different take on proceedings that is well worth the reading.

UPDATE: Section on HANA Cloud Platform updated with new information - 05/19/2013 2:30 EST.

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