We're on the verge of SAP TechEd season, with the Las Vegas show kicking things off next week. SAP has a big opportunity or problem, depending on whether you are optimistic or cynical.
- Can SAP flesh out the amorphous Leonardo vision in a compelling way, while tying Leonardo into S/4HANA in a way that makes sense to those customers still trying to understand the S/4HANA benefits?
- Can SAP make a convincing case that S/4HANA should be the digital core for their customers, while offering accessible ways to push ahead, even for those on older releases, or who aren't ready to commit to SAP as their "digital backbone?"
- Can SAP build on the openness implied in deeper partnerships with the Google Cloud, Cloud Foundry and so on?
- Will we see keynote examples of ambitious partners building cool stuff on the SAP Cloud Platform? Are we moving toward a vibrant collection of S/4HANA apps customer can use today, or is SAP losing the momentum it tried to spark with the startup program? Will developers show off nifty stuff they've built on the keynote stage? Will there be more "show" (good), or more "tell" (not so good)?
- Will SAP show practical examples of AI/machine learning without falling into the hype of flogging technology that too many vendors are overhyping?
- Will we get a convincing update on progress and customer adoption on S/4HANA Cloud?
- Can SAP build on the energizing diversity themes that served them well at SuccessConnect via the Business Beyond Bias, Africa Code Week, and Autism at Work initiatives?
That's more than SAP can hope to address in one show, but through the fall events, we'll get a good sense of the progress - and where the gaps are.
Robert Enslin sheds light on SAP's API and cloud integration plans
Recent interviews surfaced themes worth watching - and insight on how SAP plans to tackle APIs and cloud integration. During my SuccessConnect interview with SAP cloud chief Robert Enslin, we hit on key SuccessFactors items which I've already published. But Enslin, whose formal title is President, Cloud Business Group and Executive Board Member with SAP, also owns (most of) SAP's cloud product portfolio. If SAP is to create the open digital platform customers want, integration and APIs come into play.
APIs are tough to evaluate at a show because if you say "we've added 200 APIs," that's a tough statement to assess. APIs are about adoption, not just volume. That said, it's helpful to keep in mind that Hybris and Concur are API-heavy, while Ariba is not (yet). SuccessFactors is getting there. S/4HANA Cloud was initially light on APIs but partners have told me that the APIs are increasing. Customers and partners building on the platform are the best gut checks on SAP's API progress.
As Enslin told me, along with APIs comes cloud-to-cloud integration. S/4HANA Cloud to SuccessFactors is a big one to watch, as that is a priority with SAP given Workday's integrated HR and Financials solutions. But Enslin told me he didn't want to get bogged down in clunky, point to point integrations. Instead, SAP will use the SAP Cloud Platform (SCP) and publish "integration flows" between their SaaS products. Enslin's take on SAP's cloud approach:
First of all, SAP cloud platforms should be agnostic. What the SAP Cloud Platform does is provides services... It's a differentiation between infrastructure and services. The way Björn has actually driven [the SAP Cloud Platform] is to actually create a true open architecture where the cloud services that they provide, you could use because you benefit and because you write SAP applications on it. (Björn Goerke is SAP's Chief Technology Officer and President of SAP Cloud Platform, a key player to track at these TechEds).
Enslin wants to give customers the choice to add SAP Cloud Platform services over time. Referring to the cloud portfolio, he added:
All of these solutions will then start to standardize on certain services that are open, that are open sourced, in the SAP Cloud Platform environment, because we want all of our cloud platform to utilize certain things.
So the vision becomes clearer:
- Make SAP's cloud solutions easy to extend/integrate via services that can be consumed on the SAP Cloud Platform (SAP watchers will note that SAP Hybris' microservices approach, which our own Dick Hirsch has written extensively about, could factor in heavily here).
- But: also allow customers to run SAP's solutions on their cloud infrastructure of choice (Or, at least the three leading choices. SAP's deepened partnerships with Google, Amazon and Microsoft will be another TechEd theme).
On that second point, Enslin said:
We'll still allow [customers] the freedom to do certain things differently. For instance, it might be more beneficial for Fieldglass to run on Microsoft Azure than Google, so the architecture's got to be in such a way that those options are available to us moving forward. That's the benefit of the SAP Cloud Platform.
Enslin summed up his take on APIs and integration flows. The integration flows will focus on processes that extend between cloud applications:
What we're really focused on is on the integration piece, because you've got APIs, and then you've got the integration flows, because that adds two capabilities... On the one had you've got APIs, so you can connect to these applications and write your stuff and it's protected. On the other hand, when we talk about the integration flow between Fieldglass, Concur for expense or Ariba, and then connect it to S/4, those integration flows will all be published.
Enslin told me he's frustrated with the word "integration."
Help me figure out a different word for integration.
Because what I think you get with how we've architected SAP - and I know the diagram's pretty complex and that kind of stuff - but what you get with the SAP Cloud Platform, and what you get with these solutions in how we're architecting it and building it, [is different]. The whole containerized with Kubernetes aspect, and how we're building products now, allows us a different level of flexibility with integration.
Enslin is looking for a new catch phrase that combines flexibility and integration, two words that in the past, clashed with each other. (I didn't suggest "Flexigration" on the off chance that SAP Marketing would seize upon it).
It's also the concept of a "good enough integration." Good enough might sound like a cop out, until you take into account that with its cloud standards, the integration flow shouldn't have to be rebuilt with each release. Oh, and it better be fast:
I'm trying to figure out how to actually articulate that you can have both. You might not have the world's best integration, but you'll have good enough integration that gives you end-to-end capabilities and it'll provide speed. I haven't figure out the word for that yet.
Discussing customer views on S/4HANA and Leonardo with an SAP Mentor
I got a whole different angle on SAP TechEd during a recent podcast with SAP S/4HANA expert and SAP Mentor Julien Delvat of Bluefin Solutions. Taped live at Controlling 2017, Delvat and I contrasted the HANA-skeptical views of old school SAP controllers with the different audience SAP can expect next week at SAP TechEd (podcast embedded below).
Aside from my snarky digs at Leonardo as a "next gen kitchen sink," I haven't analyzed it much yet as I await more specifics. However, during my piece with Sam Yen, Why SAP's design approach is central to its Leonardo ambitions, I explained my surprise at learning that SAP Leonardo will be delivered very differently than classic SAP software installs, starting with design thinking and a white board (well, not exactly a white board, rather, with SAP Build, but the idea being: build out a project based on the customer's digital needs). As I wrote:
Yen realizes the enormous change this collaborative model is to SAP’s “always be closing” sales culture. That change was coming either way. Leonardo should pose a big test as SAP attempts to juggle quarterly numbers with forward-thinking projects. I believe SAP may have to take such partnerships further, into “skin in the game” project models.
Delvat and I hit on Leonardo and a number of S/4HANA topics:
- Why Delvat sees Suite-on-HANA as a technical implementation while S/4HANA is a business transformation project.
- The progress Bluefin has made helping customers to build a business case for S/4HANA.
- Why S/4HANA achieved more momentum after the release of 1610 (aka Enterprise Management), and why that explains the adoption levels to date.
- Quick review of the latest S/4HANA releases (cloud and on-prem).
- What the heck is BW4HANA and why it matters to customers.
- Making (some) sense of SAP's incredibly complex planning, consolidations and analytics portfolio.
- How Leonardo's next gen projects fit into an S/4HANA business case - or not.
- Whether a customer on an older SAP release could "leapfrog" S/4HANA and go directly to Leonardo projects.
That last question was a bit of a surprise twist from a customer at the event and while Delvat and I could only speculate, it will be an important point for SAP to address in Vegas. Some customers need to push ahead on digital projects now, without going through a major S/4HANA conversion.
My (quick) take
My rule on conferences is: never throw the vendor under the bus before they play out. SAP has a formidable set of questions to address over the course of several SAP TechEd shows, wrapping with SAP TechEd Barcelona in November (I won't be in Vegas; I will be in Barcelona).
A more open, "multi-cloud" SAP is good for customers. That puts the SAP Cloud Platform and SAP's open source involvements like Cloud Foundry in center stage. What remains to be seen is whether the SAP TechEd venue will work as a way to engage non-SAP developers.
The fangirls and fanboys will be at SAP TechEd in droves, but will this format work for SAP's open source collaborations? Or will SAP be better off embedding itself further in open source events and downplaying TechEd, or regionalizing TechEd into shows more easily attended by non-SAP developers? We should get a better idea of that based on this year's events. As always, stay tuned.