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SAP's product strategy - we haz roadmaps and purpose

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy August 4, 2020
As the refreshed SAP executive board shapes the firm's future, next up is the product strategy and accompanying roadmaps.

It may be a quieter time as many people go on some kind of vacation/staycation but SAP isn't standing still. At the end of last month, Thomas Saueressig, executive board member SAP delivered the company's latest product strategy roadmap (see video above.) This was contemporaneous with an updated integration roadmap announcement by Christian Klein, SAP's CEO that was well received on LinkedIn. Late yesterday evening I listened to Saueressig flesh out what's happening. That conversation gave me a second chance in recent weeks to offload on issues we are seeing in customer engagements and around the SAP community in general. What have we got?

At SAPPHIRENow, SAP started talking about resilience, sustainability, supply chain and industries all in the context of integrated end-to-end processes. At the time, the messaging was framed in the context of the pandemic but there was comparatively little meat on the proverbial bone. The combination of Klein and Saueressig's presentations take us another step forward but with important additions that signal a change in direction that looks like it will stick. 

Partnerships aplenty

Earlier in the year, and before the pandemic struck in earnest, Klein acknowledged to me that SAP could not go it alone in making its vision a reality. Partnerships and co-innovation with customers have always been a part of SAP's DNA but that has come at a cost. On the one side, you don't see the big partners sharing their wares in any SAP marketplace. On the other hand, partners and potential partners have always feared that some day SAP will take what they're offering and make it their own. This led to the much despised NIH (Not Invented Here) Syndrome which I argue stifles innovation inside the SAP ecosystem rather than encourages it while at the same time leading to numerous pockets of development inside SAP that seek to reinvent for solved problems.  

The SAP change in direction is perhaps best illustrated in two ways. Among the first integrations referenced in Klein's story was this nugget:

We enhanced the SAP Cloud Platform Integration Suite, our open and modular iPaaS supporting a comprehensive set of enterprise-wide integration scenarios, with further integration templates. Adding to already more than 1,500 pre-packaged integrations and +160 open connectors for SAP to non-SAP applications, these templates for example include SAP S/4HANA to Salesforce integration or SAP Qualtrics Surveys Integration with SAP Cloud Platform Process Visibility.

Calling out Salesforce explicitly is a really big deal. In 2014, we noted how SAP had Burberry's then CEO Angela Ahrendts talking enthusiastically about both their Salesforce and SAP implementations but in different settings. Now we hear Klein acknowledging that Salesforce is an integral part of the broader enterprise software landscape where SAP plays. The psychological importance of this should not be underestimated. To me, it is code for saying 'if we can't beat them, we'll join them.' and to be sure, SAP can't beat Salesforce. 

The second, and largely unreported item comes from the announced partnership with Siemens. That announcement made the following key points:

  • Together, industry leaders Siemens and SAP will deliver integrated end-to-end software solutions across product lifecycle, supply chain and asset management.
  • Partnership leverages expertise and technology of both companies to provide a true digital thread that helps enterprises eliminate process and information siloes, drives digitalization and delivers a comprehensive solution for the 4th industrial revolution (Industry 4.0).
  • SAP will offer Siemens’ Teamcenter software as the core foundation for product data management. Siemens will offer SAP Intelligent Asset Management solutions and SAP Portfolio and Project Management applications to maximize business value for customers over the entire product and service lifecycle and enable new collaborative processes between manufacturers and operators.

Here, SAP is acknowledging that Siemens is the world leader in PLM. For its part, Siemens has made a virtue of its Amberg, Germany digital factory which, according to Siemens chairman Jim Snabe, experienced zero downtime during the pandemic when many other factories had no choice but to close. But there is a broader agenda in both of these elements.

When Klein first talked about sustainability, he also framed it in terms of the Climate21 initiative. This was a topic that didn't sit easily with me, delivered as it was in the teeth of the pandemic when many of us were struggling to get reliable supplies of the basics in life. Fast forward to today and Snabe's essay on Renewal Not Return. In that essay, Snabe argues for a different future across the dimensions of globalization, climate action and digitalization. It is a compelling read and I encourage everyone to study the content. In the climate section Snabe says:

COVID-19 has put us on the spot as well. Will the world’s leaders postpone climate action and focus on restoring the economy the way it was before the crisis? Or will we accelerate climate action in the wake of COVID-19?

At the Davos meeting in January, the consensus was clearly moving toward acceleration. The unsolved challenge was how to secure the tremendous investments necessary for accelerating the decarbonization of our economies.

COVID-19 is now showing us the way out of this dilemma. The money is there – trillions of it, in fact! Here I’m referring to the stimulus and recovery funds. We now have to make sure that those funds are actually used in ways that make our economies, companies, and organizations more sustainable – and accelerate a decarbonized future in all supply chains.

He wraps this into the idea that what we need going forward is 'responsible technology' that in his worldview leads to this assessment:

Rather than glorifying the ability to plan continuous improvements, we should start celebrating our ability to reinvent organizations for a better future – a sustainable future where digital tools enhance human capacity and create opportunities for all.

If we take one step back from the daily news cycle, we may realize that COVID-19 is not just some crisis we have to overcome – it’s, as UN Secretary-General António Guterres says so aptly, a generational opportunity to build a more equal and sustainable world.” 

As a businessman, I would add: It’s also a great opportunity to reinvent our organizations and prepare them for success in a new age. Rather than rebuilding the companies and economies we had before COVID-19, we should leap ahead into a better future. The motto is: Renewal, not Return.

Alongside, in Saueressig's presentation (video above) there was specific reference to Climate21, a topic I didn't expect to hear much about. Perhaps the time is right after all. But here's the kicker, Klein and Saueressig take similar positions to that expressed by Snabe albeit they frame their arguments from the software perspective. But that too may be changing.

During our conversation, Saueressig emphasized the importance of bringing the business into the software selection, implementation and use processes. This is something we are seeing - check the story I wrote about Baylor and Oracle as an example. The Mindfuel event is littered with similar examples. My one question was to ask whether customers would be expected to learn SAPanese, the peculiar language that percolates through so many SAP engagements. If SAP gets this part of the overall equation right then that won't be necessary. 


So what about roadmaps, that most favorite of topics among enterprise software folk and especially the technical types? Klein kicked the ball into play but now we have comprehensive timelines available in SAP Explorer. Caveat: you need a P or S number to get into the roadmaps section but once there you can find pretty much anything you need. You can view this across products (with the obvious emphasis on S/4HANA), the four key end-to-end processes where SAP is concentrating its efforts or industries. You can do this in a multi-dimensional way  so that for example if you are thinking about Lead to Cash in Automotive, there's a set of roadmap items for that for the next year, divided into quarterly deliverables. (See image below)

SAP roadmap 2020
SAP Lead to Cash roadmap for Automotive (screenshot from SAP Explorer)

Some items are, of necessity, generic but there is enough in each roadmap to provide customers with a sense of the direction of travel and the timelines over which they will need to consider consumption. Will everyone be happy with this?  Of course not. Roadmaps are rarely (if ever) wholly representative of what individual customers need. In some cases, they highlight deficiencies that may serve as project blockers. But the fact these are available, in detail and in a single location is a significant step forward. 

Fresh blood?

That just leaves my favorite topic - communities and new blood. I won't rehearse past arguments here except to say that Saueressig says he is committed to providing SAP and non-SAP developers the best opportunity to check out what the SAP Cloud Platform offers. Here, the imperative is to arrive at a point where developers are not forced to periodically relicense developer versions of products. There was a time when I could understand the legal argument about protecting intellectual property but with open source showing us all the way things are done into the future, that argument doesn't stand up to examination. In my view, this is one of the principle ways that SAP could make developing for SAP much more obviously attractive. We will have to see how that goes but SAP did something seriously smart in Saueressig's presentation. The company had Thomas Jung as moderator. 

Jung is a legend in SAP-land whose career at SAP very nearly came to a crashing end in what to me was a disastrously executed 2019 RIF. Today, he's running a multi-media teaching show, answering questions raised on LinkedIn and now, presenting alongside an executive board member. To me, that is the best example of a demonstrated commitment to developers that is easy to say but too often gets relegated to the long list of to-do items. 

My take

Since Klein and I first met me late last year, I've been consistently impressed with how SAP is refining its message while at the same time delivering on the drumbeat of promises the board has made and especially since March of this year. Nine months ago I described my sense of seeing a 'reboot' at SAP. The latest set of announcements, when taken together and seen in context, are further evidence of the execution by the executive board. 

There's still a lot to do. On our call, Saueressig spoke about what SAP today calls the Business Network - he's really referring to Ariba and its potential to join both suppliers and customers. Saueressig sees an opportunity to make it much easier for industry specific networks to operate right through the supply chains. It won't be an easy task. Companies like to think their method of connecting between customers and suppliers is the only way yet, as others found out in the past, one person's favorite is another person's nightmare.

Navigating that particular minefield will require much more than a technology fix. It will require many exercises in diplomacy, industry persuasion and more. As I said on our call: 'Good luck with that one,' but I'm also thinking that if SAP can solve some of those connectivity issues then it will have gone a long way to helping to reduce dependence on fragile supply chains. It's one of those Big Hairy Problems for which SAP has demonstrated an appetite and ability in the past and on which it can reach into its deep body of experience for potential answers. 

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