- For those of you who don't know it. SAPPHIRE is SAP's annual conference, which for the last 3 (I think) years has been a joint effort of SAP and ASUG, their user group umbrella organization. This is a MASSIVE conference - with over 15,000 attendees - apparently stuck down here in Orlando FL for a few more years (too bad on that one) at the Orlando Convention Center. Which can handle the traffic. I just don't love Orlando.
- My approach to figuring this all out is straightforward, I listen to the stuff said on the stage, then I go and talk to people and, ahem, eavesdrop on the more casual conversations that go on and watch and listen for the smaller things that indicate cultural and intellectual transformation. So, for example, if someone says, as Henning Kagermann, the CEO of SAP, did, that SAP is committed to a culture of co-development and co-innovation, then I go out and find the signs that they are by seeing what they are actually doing and hearing how people are talking
Follow the Yellow Brick RoadThere were three things they mentioned, much to my delighted surprise as their path going forward. They were:
- Co-innovation - That was specifically discussed with the recent RIM/SAP alliance to provide all of SAP's applications, starting with what might be a brilliant execution from what I saw of SAP CRM for the Blackberry. Driven by SVP of Mobility and Analytics Michael De La Cruz on the SAP side and a variety of folks on the RIM side including my good bud, Paul Briggs as the marketing guy for RIM in this effort, the application I saw was easily the most comprehensive and user friendly CRM application for the Blackberry bar none. I saw it in pre-production so I don't know how its going to play but even in that state it was fully integrated with the RIM alarm and calendar and contacts and accounts. In other words, the native Blackberry apps - which makes sense given that in the spirit of co-innovation, RIM actually developed the app for SAP - which is a marked departure, by the way, for BOTH companies in how they do things. That alone for those of us into the arcane machinations of company politics and culture - is important. But the idea of SAP doing it alone is seemingly not entirely a thing of the past but has become simply one of the approaches. While coopetition is not new, as old as 1990 or 1994 or something (a Novell guy wrote a book by that name), the idea of collaboration and co-development was never something that was culturally comfortable - apparently until now.
- Web 2.0 - what made this particularly interesting was not just the new use interface of SAP CRM 2007 which was I think the best looking interface and perhaps the most functionally useful and simple one I've ever seen in a large enterprise CRM application, but also the fact that SAP claimed that they were "living the Web 2.0" - which is the harbinger of their cultural change. Now, I treated that as a marketing claim until I had the ability to speak with some of the senior management at the conference (from CEO Hennings Kagermann - a really nice guy - to SVPS of varying title to VPs to some of the less senior) and I had the ability to listen in on some "ordinary" organic conversations - and I think they are being authentic. Or as we say on the street (yeah, Paulie, you're quite the street guy aren't you? Right.), they're real. Keep in mind, I'm a skeptic not by nature but by profession to some degree. But the level of interest and activity among a decidedly younger management and staff than I expected (given that I'd talked with several of them in the past) around Web 2.0 tools and the freedom to innovate which seems to have seized control over the last year or so or some more recent time period is amazing. They don't seem to always move as glacially as they did in the past though they still (as I can personally attest) have their icebergian moments. (yes, I made that word up. But you know what it means don't you?). They seem able to take an idea and incorporate it quickly into their thinking. For example, I had a meeting with one SVP who was pointing out to me (proving it, really) what they were going to do in future generations of their products around the social applications - which was on a more significant scale then I expected. I mentioned something that I thought they needed to consider, a lightbulb seemed to go off in his head and he then made serious note of it and I do think he'll follow up. None of that "traditional" SAP "we'll do it and you'll like it" approach that characterized the past. In multiple discussions with analysts from Gartner, Forrester, AMR and IDC, there was a universal agreement amongst them that there is something different about SAP as a company and all really like the new SAP CRM 2007 and the Blackberry implementation of SAP CRM out there besides. I'd like to think that while I certainly am naive enough to be made a fool of on occasion, these folks (about 6-8 of them) are far more seasoned and "foolproof" than me and they saw what I saw. SAP is living the Web 2.0 "philosophy" or whatever you call it and they are different than they were even a year ago. What's amazing is that I'm not sure what triggered it at all. But it's good.
- Analytics and Insight - Insight in particular was a word that was thrown out there a hundred times.
Now, this is maybe the one glitch in the soft message. This is now a pillar of the trio of pillars because they acquired Business Objects and they have to do SOMETHING with it. Actually it seems to be a good acquisition but this is the one part that smacked a bit of self-aggrandizement. Its forgivable. Its their conference, for godssakes. What they emphasized here, though, was still a plus - the idea of providing real time analytics embedded across applications so that dynamic insights could be provided in real time.
There is one piece of advice that I hope they take. I noticed that there was almost far too much consistency to the conversations about SAP product releases. So for example, in every discussion I heard or had, without exception, when it came to the discussion about the Blackberry CRM product, whether in a speech or on in a conversation, they all began the discussion with how people use the alarm on the Blackberry to wake up. EVERY-LAST-ONE-OF-THEM. Obviously everyone is well schooled in what the messages need to be around product, but it comes across as plastic which isn't good. A little messaging freedom might be nice.
That's a niggling thing though by comparison to the sea change that SAP seems to have undergone. Look, maybe over the next several months, they'll break my heart and turn out to be what they used to but I don't think so. This one is here to stay.
If I had to venture a guess as 2008 keeps moving inexorably to its end - I'd say that salesforce.com is going to be challenged by SAP and Oracle for CRM 2.0 leadership. Not expected at all, but welcomed. I'm not sure I'm right because my big caveat is that I haven't seen either Oracle or SAP new products in live customer environments over time and THAT is the final arbiter of success, culture change or not.
As far as SAP goes, they've revitalized themselves and it seems unanimous among those I spoke with here - analysts, some customers, SAP staff members - that the change is deep and real.This is a far cry from what Microsoft did at Convergence at month ago to itself at this location and a far cry from what SAP did to itself a year ago in Orlando. But this time, SAP did good. Real good.
Good for them.