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SAP TechEd Las Vegas - day one gut check review

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed October 23, 2013
If consuming a two hour keynote while poring over event hashtags isn't your favorite project, here's my initial SAP TechEd reactions.

SAP TechEd 2013 formally kicked off Tuesday, courtesy of a two hour keynote from Executive Board Member Vishal Sikka that set a surprisingly candid tone for what SAP is up against and the HANA-driven transformation that is well underway, though now heavily influenced by what could be called the 'cloud and user experience disruption'.

If consuming a two hour keynote while poring over event hashtags isn't your favorite project, here's my initial reactions, framed in a Q/A lighting round style.

What was the news?

SAP TechEd day one was (relatively) light on news  but heavy on a surprising shift in emphasis towards HANA-as-application platform (more on that shortly). But strictly from a news perspective:

  • Some felt the SAP-SAS partnership could bear interesting data science/predictive fruit (see Den's analysis)
  • From the keynote stage, Sikka acknowledged that Q3 numbers reflected that SAP is 'not immune from these forces of change' disrupting the enterprise market.  Den has an analysis, including potential changes to a rigid margin focus.
  • The Cloud Foundry partnership was snuck into the keynote briefly, but it did not go unnoticed by open source advocates. Those attached to SAP's own platform play might wonder about partnering with what appears to be a platform competitor, but in the press Q/A, Sikka made clear the intention was to go where the developers are: 'We are thrilled to welcome SAP to the @cloudfoundry ecosystem this AM. — Cloud Foundry (@cloudfoundry) October 22, 2013

What was the real news?

1,000 HANA startups in the SAP startup program have already seen the potential of highly-focused industry apps. For customers and partners to build great apps and add-ons to existing products, they need a platform. If the SAP TechEd keynote is any indication, SAP has now moved the HANA-as-platform view to the center of how they present their strategy - meaning that SAP has big plans for the HANA Cloud Platform (HCP):

Why does a cloud platform matter? Well, here's one huge reason: 'If ERP customers move from custom code sinkhole of despair to building/customizing apps on shared platform it's a major advance.' #sapteched — Jon Reed (@jonerp) October 22, 2013

What else stood out?

Along with a focus on platform comes a much more compelling view of HANA as a driver for industry use cases, in some cases aligned with Hadoop and 'big data' architectures. SAP TechEd 2013 marked a shift from the 'speeds and fees/HANA-is-fast' conversation that so many of us blasted for IT-wonkiness and business tone deafness. This time around, the customer examples were different:


If this wrap seems a bit upbeat given my 'aspiring curmodgeon' status, that's because I thought this was the strongest SAP positioning since HANA was announced, despite a keynote that could have used a dispassionate trim. The content was there. But, all is not dreamy either:

What are the tough questions ahead?

There are some thorny issues to be solved if these changes are to have the bottom line impact that will justify SAP's labored transformation:

Customers will need some clarity and will vote with their wallets. If SAP watchers don't understand the difference between the HANA Enterprise Cloud (HEC) and the HANA Cloud Platform (HCP), then customers surely have the same questions and then some (in the press Q/A, HEC was defined as SAP's IaaS play and HCP as the PaaS play - a clear enough definition that should have been noted explicitly in the keynote).

The debate over charging for innovations (and the hefty price tags attached) will continue. Sikka's mention of Fiori as the future UI development paradigm sparked the expected Twitter reaction of whether SAP's customer base should pay for UI improvements. HANA features were talked about glowingly from the keynote stage, but while SAP moved beyond HANA-is-fast, it failed to address HANA-is-expensive. The issue is less about charging for great new products and more about helping curious customers dip their toes in and prove the new models for themselves. In that light, it was a shame SAP did not highlight the new BW on HANA Amazon trials - a perfect advance for the SAP TechEd audience and a textbook example of being able to tip your toes in.

The ByDesign news has a partner ripple effect SAP will need to address.  The ByDesign news is not as cut-and-dried as the Twitterati think and some aspects will take months to play out (watch this space or read Den's breakdown in the meantime), but one thing is certain: for some partners who risked building ByDesign practices, there is a hard pill to swallow here. At a time when the platform play requires massive partner buy-in, SAP has work to do mending fences and collaborating on new opportunities that will (hopefully) ease the disappointment.

Integration is no joke, cloud or not.  NetWeaver did not live up to its potential as an integration solution except for SAP's all-SAP-all-the-time customers. SAP has a chance to improve upon this track record with cloud integration starting to rear its beastly head, but so far we haven't heard too much in terms of concrete plans. By next year's TechEds, the integration message needs to be much more visible and comprehensive.

As developer access improves, the marketplace question looms larger. SAP has made big strides on giving developers the tools to build apps in the language of their choice, but now they need a thriving apps marketplace to share those apps. Now is not the time to dissect SAP's chaotic and complicated history of online stores. Suffice it to say that progress has been made but the 'bustling storefront' is not there yet. Some smart folks inside of SAP are working on this and enterprise storefronts are a tough nut to crack. I feel confident the HANA marketplace is moving in the right direction, and it will be worthwhile to track its evolution.

What's next for TechEd?

My next mission is to shoot a slew of videos and (hopefully) get a clearer view of the customer and partner reactions to the news to date. I don't expect major advances on these storylines this week, but I would recommend keeping a close eye on SAP TechEd Bangalore in about six weeks, as Sikka has noted some announcements coming then. From what I can guess, those will be worth hearing and will flesh out the focused, purpose-driven message that made this year's SAP TechEd keynote a bit of a milestone.

Update: my SAP TechEd live interview with Vishal Sikka is up - the 13 minute interview found him in a relaxed mood, even laughing when I ribbed him about the 'concise' two hour keynote:


Bonus podcast: If you want to dig into the day's events - pros, cons and open questions, check out my informal SAP TechEd Day 1 podcast with SAP Mentor and devops advocate Chris Kernaghan.

Photo credit: Jon Reed

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

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