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What Are You Expecting From Sapphire 2009?

Yesterday, someone asked me what we could expect out of Sapphire this year, in terms of SAP’s major announcements. Guessing at these scoops is good fun because SAP makes a point of keeping keynote announcements under wraps, and no, not even SAP Mentors get a look at the envelopes that Leo Apotheker and other keynoters will be opening. But that question got me thinking. I realized that at Sapphire, there are always three lines of questioning: 1. The agenda SAP is trying to set; 2. The agenda customers are truly interested in, and 3. The questions I am most interested in. So let’s take a look at how these might overlap, or not.

For starters, here’s what I said on Twitter. I was expecting to hear at least some news on Business By Design at Sapphire, but then I came across some info from Bill McDermott of SAP and Tweeted this:

  “SAP’s McDermott on BBD: “There’s not going to be a lot to report" on BBD at Sapphire.”

I was surprised to read this news because I thought we’d hear a bit more on BBD. So I followed that Tweet with:

“Hmm well SAP is going to need to say something on SaaS trends at Sapphire. If not BBD, then what? We’ll see next week.”

SAP is usually pretty good at staying on the offensive, but they have taken a pounding from the blogosphere on SaaS. To some degree, this pounding has been driven by what I call “Cloud Krishnas” – folks who are convinced that the cloud will magically solve all enterprise problems. But having said that, SAP could really use a better set of talking points on SaaS. Saying "we’ll have something on BBD for you in 2010"  is not going to be enough to avoid another round of criticism.

SAP’s own customers are interested in how they can take advantage of cloudlike benefits to help them in 2009, while maintaining the level of security and enterprise stability they expect from SAP – something cloud vendors cannot always ensure with credibility. Virtualization is one piece of this puzzle, so perhaps SAP will look to reframe the SaaS discussion around SAP instance virtualization, and there is a story to tell there. SAP customers are wary of cloud evangelism, but they want to know that SAP is boldly pursuing cloud-based innovations rather than avoiding them because they might detract from more conventional (and profitable) SAP products. So the SaaS story is a big one to watch, because whether or not SAP mentions it, the industry press sure will.

Then Kirsten Paragona of HCL asked me what else we could expect at the conference. I Tweeted:

“I expect a main dish of Business Suite 7, with sides of Business Objects (e.g. Polestar) and UI fun (smart phones, etc)”

I then said:

“I also expect to hear things about NetWeaver BPM and “process-driven ERP,” but SOA downplayed in favor of short-term ROI.”

If the economy was better, I would expect SAP to spend more time on NetWeaver BPM. I expect we will see some case studies highlighted from early NetWeaver BPM users, but the fact remains that leveraging NetWeaver BPM requires a level of sophistication (and an ERP 6.0/NetWeaver 7.x platform). SAP’s flagship customers may be ready to take the plunge, but the typical SAP customer has other pressing concerns. We won’t hear much about SOA, because even as web services become a lasting part of the ERP 6.0 landscape, SOA as a term has come to be associated, fairly or not, with overly-ambitious projects that require a greater degree of organizational change and technical vision than most customers can stomach currently.

SAP is well aware of this, which is why we’ll see plenty of emphasis on shorter-term ROI benefits involving user-friendly reporting, embedded analytics, and dashboarding tools. We should see some neat stuff in terms of embedding Rich Internet Applications into SAP, as SAP tries to look and act more like the consumer-friendly UIs that we see and use on smart phones. Neat stuff, but not the focal point of an enterprise conference keynote either.

I also expect more Polestar demonstrations as “Polestar powered by BW” gets closer to prime time. Yes, some of these new reporting projects have a price tag on it (SAP BusinessObjects premium pricing), but SAP will not by shy about pushing these products, likely drawing on customer stories of quick go-lives and better use of transactional ERP data through data visualization. We will hear more about sustainability and SAP’s green initiatives, again tied into proven customer benefits and cost savings. Whether we will also hear harder questions about what “green” really means and why the software industry has been such laggards as a whole on green initiatives depends largely on the spine of the reporters (myself included) who ask the questions in the post-keynote sessions.

There is an interesting story around Business Suite 7. In particular, how does SAP articulate the advantages of this major new release to customers who are wary of the very idea of “major”? And is BS7 going to be the focal point of the keynotes? SAP has made some fairly dramatic keynote announcements over the years. In that context, talking up BS7 may not resonate with the assembled ASUG members. On the other hand, there are plenty of misconceptions about BS7 that could stand some airing out. In particular, SAP needs to do a better job of explaining “value scenarios.”

My understanding is that BS7 value scenarios are very important to SAP, constituting a big change in how we view core ERP and the stand-alone suite components. Yet if we ask 20 customers the question “What are value scenarios?” we’re likely to get 20 different answers, many of the “I haven’t a clue” or “just more empty buzzwords” variety. It’s up to SAP to validate the importance of value scenarios. Will they attempt to do this during the keynotes? It would be somewhat risky to do so, as it’s not an easy concept to work with, especially in terms of the “give me something that will help my company now, without having to redo my business processes” mindset.

The bottom line is I have no clue what SAP is going to do to add sizzle to the keynote. Will they take an item on this list and give it some fresh paint, or will they surprise me from another direction? Even if it makes me look stupid for missing something obvious, I’m hoping for a surprise.

In terms of issues SAP doesn’t want to talk about at the conference, we can add maintenance fees to the mix, and toss in the Oracle and Waste Management lawsuits while we’re at it. SAP made one of its smartest moves in the last six months by agreeing with SUGEN to postpone maintenance fee increases unless a set of agreed-upon KPIs are reached. I suspect that SAP will get a relatively free pass on maintenance at the conference. However, this issue is not going to go away, because the SaaS trend has called into question the entire “BigERP” business model, and maintenance fees constitute a very important leg on the revenue table of that model, but I see SAP as avoiding hard questions on this topic for a while due to its smart (if overdue) decision to freeze the maintenance increases.

As for me, my agenda at SAP trade shows is focused on grasping SAP skills demand and how SAP professionals should respond to changing economic and technical circumstances. My real allegiance is with the SAP independent consultants; I suppose, for lack of a better word, I think of myself as an advocate for this demographic. Not that they really need one; independent SAP consultants are a very savvy group. But they seem to get along with me as a whole, so until I hear otherwise I will attempt to represent their views. I will bring this sensibility into my formal meetings and into the clubhouse where the best conversations usually go down. I look forward to talking shop with many of my fellow SAP Mentors – an exceptional group of free thinkers who are really worth knowing should you encounter any of them at Sapphire or elsewhere.

In formal interviews and blogger sessions, I expect to be pressing SAP executives on questions pertaining to the skills needed for success on SAP projects as SAP evolves into “process-driven ERP,”and how consultant quality relates to implementation success. I have ongoing questions about SAP certification and its relationship to consultant quality, so there should be some spicy moments as I attempt to understand how SAP’s executives see the relationship between certification and consultant quality. If past discussions are any indication, there are some differences of opinion there.

In addition to talking to SAP executives, I plan to talk with SAP customers and also SAP third party vendors about how they see the skills issues in this current market. There are always skills gaps that need to be identified and filled. I want to have a better understanding of which skills can be offshored and which cannot. I’m really looking forward to attending the “BPX Guide to Business Suite 7 Value Scenarios" pre-conference ASUG session, so I will certainly learn some useful things about value scenarios that day, and hopefully I’ll get more real world examples of how the “BPX skill set” is gaining traction on customer sites. My friend and BPX Evangelist Marilyn Pratt was instrumental in developing this session and I know it will be a good one. I’m hoping to do some live audio podcasting and maybe even shoot a video clip or two during the week. And yes, I have client meetings lined up also. Like everyone else in the SAP market, I have to look after my financial stake in this whole deal. Podcasting and blogging is fun, but it’s not how the bulk of my income is currently derived.

Oh, and one other topic I am very interested in is SAP’s social media strategy. About a month ago SAP took a lot of heat about their social media strategy due to the departure of a visible presence in this part of their organization. While the questions were understandable, I felt that SAP’s social media strategy was not portrayed accurately at that time. I’m going to dig in further on this issue and report back.

Whatever happens, you can count on Tweets on my Twitter feed, many of them from my BlackBerry, since my netbook recently crapped out on me and is currently convalescing with the manufacturer. I’ll be using the hashtag #sapphire2009. Those of you who are covering the event virtually are in for a real treat, as there will be many ways to track the event while it is happening. is a good place to start. Make sure to use that hashtag so your own Tweets are pulled into live coverage feeds. Also, my friend and fellow SAP Mentor Dennis Howlett is not attending Sapphire this year, but I expect him to be a virtual factor. I’m biased because I think his often-outspoken views on SAP are a vital part of this mix, but if you like your commentary delivered without spin, make sure to follow Dennis next week. OK, time to stop blogging and start packing. See you live or (virtually) from Orlando.

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