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Podcast: SAP Influencer Summit and 2011 Direction - SAP Mentor Roundtable Print E-mail
podcastlogo_jonerp.gif"An international SAP Summit rehash -- and a look at SAP's road ahead in 2011 -- with SAP Mentors Dick Hirsch and John Appleby" (ERP Lounge #16)
Podcast Interview Date: December 20, 2010
Podcast: Listen Now!

What did we learn from the SAP Influencer Summit that we can apply to SAP in 2011? Why is the meaning of "Influencer" changing and what was the controversy around that definition? How are Mentors impacting the definition of Influencer and the blurring of lines between bloggers, analysts, and SAP experts? What did we make of SAP's on-demand, mobility, and StreamWork strategies? To get at these questions and more, I pulled together fellow SAP Mentors John Appleby of Bluefin Solutions and Dick Hirsch of Siemens IT Solutions and Services. We taped an end-of-year/new year kickoff podcast that spanned 60 minutes. We balanced some funny conference anecdotes with more serious talk on how SAP is banking its future on these new initiatives. Since Skype was down, we reverted to a backup taping option that impacted sound quality. If you missed any comments on the audio, check the detailed podcast highlights below the fold.

Editor's note- podcast links: This podcast references John Appleby's blog post on the SAP Influencer Summit, and his post on SAP mobility after the Summit. John has a blog on SCN and also contributes to the Bluefin Solutions blog. Dick also contributes regularly to his SCN blog. Other links: SAP Mentor Initiative. Dennis Howlett's blog post on Dreamforce and the SAP Summit is also recommended. Thorsten Franz's landmark post on Web Dynpro Java is also referenced. Also check out Jon Reed's review on SAP's on-demand strategy: Making Sense of the SAP Influencer Summit 2010. We also reference the previous ERP Lounge podcast with John Appleby and Kevin Benedict on SAP mobility. The SAP "on-demand refrigerator" comment is explained in the Enterprise Geeks SAP Summit podcast with Jon Reed.

Note: to comment on this podcast series, or send in a question for us to answer in the next one, be sure to join our ERP Lounge Group on Linkedin. If you want to subscribe to the series, get the The JonERP Master Blog and Podcast Feed. Or find Jon on his @jonerp Twitter feed. The ERP Lounge podcasts are also included in the JonERP iTunes podcast feed.  

Podcast Highlights

:30 The guys are jacked up on Red Bull and Pizza across time zones and ready to talk shop despite a Skype outage that forced a backup dial-in taping. The focus? A look back at the SAP Summit with an eye towards the themes SAP will be tackling in 2011.

1:50 Jon to John: tell us about your first Summit. John: I didn't know that I was going until four days before, and I didn't know what to make of the notion of an "Influencer Summit" - the notion of an Influencer versus a Mentor seemed a bit contradictory to me - what did you think Jon?
Jon: The notion of "Influencer" was controversial leading up to event. What constitutes an "Influencer" is rapidly changing. And how do we define "Influencers?" Some ASUG users felt excluded from the event because they see themselves as "Influencers" via the Influence Councils and they weren't invited. So SAP has some work to do sorting out the notion of what an Influencer means in the context of this event.

3:17 John: I decided very early on that I was going to look at three core area: the on-demand platform, mobility, and the NetWeaver story, and the NetWeaver story became a focus on the roadmap and the Web Dynpro for Java story that SAP Mentor Thorsten Franz blogged memorably about. 

4:00 Jon to Dick: What is your take on "Influencer." Dick: An influencer can take a variety of forms, but I'd like to see it as a looser definition, it could be a blogger, an analyst, a Mentor, or a professor. The challenge for SAP is to deal with all these different perspectives at an event like this. It was interesting to see how analysts view SAP Mentors, because SAP Mentors have no qualms about asking questions at the event, and many of the questions were asked by Mentors, and asked with intensity and passion.

5:15 John to Jon: My first experience with Influencers was being an SAP Mentor at the Sapphire Influencer reception. But I saw a big turnaround at the Influencer Summit. Dick: I think that's true, the SAP Mentors were able to show the expertise they demonstrate and the quality of the interactions. I think people can see the value Mentors bring to the event - Mentors aren't an extension of SAP marketing, they are asking critical and informed questions. I think that's exciting as a Mentor to have that possibility.

6:55: John to Jon: What's your take on that based on your attendance at these events through the years? Jon: SAP has a Blogger Relations program that is distinct from the Mentor program, and I've been attending events via the Bloggers program, but also as a Mentor, so that can get confusing because the lines are blurring. I don't think outside analysts are always clear on what the Mentors are about, and part of that is because what it means to be a Mentor is evolving. I'm glad to see Mentors at these events, not only because they can bring an independent voice, but they can also bring a deeper level of subject matter expertise in a particular area of SAP, where the Mentors have kicked the tires more, so they can ask more specific questions. I think the analysts who have to cover a broader area than just SAP appreciate those informed questions.

8:50 John: The key difference for me is Mentors have a vested interest in the long term strategy of SAP, whereas bloggers are looking for the story. Dick: listening to the passion involved - Mentors are chosen because of their passion and their interest in their subject matter. I think that comes out of the questions - Mentors have a stake in the subject matter and how it's going to evolve.

10:15 Jon to John: Let's look at an example of that - at TechEd, it wasn't easy for you and other Mentors interested in mobility to get clear answers from SAP on the mobile roadmap, and a lot of the executives weren't there. You had an interesting afternoon event there where you were able to break the Sybase folks down and a bit and get some new information. Can you tell us about that? John: what happened at the event gets even more interesting with the news that came out of the event afterwards...on podcasts before, we've been critical about SAP's strategy towards Sybase and mobility. Part of that is about Sybase culture, keeping information on more of a "need to know" basis. At the Influencer event, the keynote had a marketing focus which was a bit disappointing. But in the afternoon, I ended up in a Sybase deep dive session...Kevin Benedict, fellow SAP Mentor, was there, with 10-15 other people - we really got in-depth into the SAP mobility strategy and we got clearer answers than in the past.

12:10 Jon to John: what were the takeaways? John: Two or three really important things:  Internally, I think they have a coherent product strategy, but they haven't externalized it yet into products. But internally, they are saying, and they made clear to us, "We know we have the two competing platforms, Netweaver Mobile and Sybase Unwired Platform (SUP), and in the future we're going to standardize on SUP. Now, it may be named something different by the marketing people, but that's the underlying technology we're going with. We'll include Business Suite integration into the Sybase mobility platform and we'll release it as a single release."

John: What that allows you to do is make it possible to consume Business Suite content on multiple devices (iPhone, RIM, etc) but also allows you from an abstraction layer to produce HTML 5 apps that can run on any HTML 5 compliant device. So that was one message - the other message is that they are really delivery focused, and have built a mobile apps stream purely around delivering mobile apps quickly. The third point is that they are very focused on the Gateway product, and the ability to easily produce what they are calling "lightweight mobile apps." Examples: photographing expenses and sending them back into the Business Suite, with very little investment from an implementation perspective, those were the three takeaways.

14:10 Jon: One of my Sybase takeaways is that they actually listened to that lengthy SAP mobility podcast you, Kevin and I did. John: Yeah, they listened to the podcast and read the blogs. The real twist is that yesterday, Bob Stutz who was heading up the Mobile Business Unit (MBU), and he's been replaced by Raj Nathan, the marketing guy who will now run the MBU.  Raj's background is engineering, so hopefully some of that background will come into play and not just the marketing.

15:10 John to Dick: You look at a lot of social and interactive SAP technologies - have you looked at Gateway? Dick: I haven't had the chance to kick tires with Gateway yet, but to me, it's a fascinating development as it will allow SAP customers on various releases (who may not have upgraded) to bring their data out of SAP and onto lightweight devices and platforms. That to me is the greatest potential. It's going to be more interesting to see what happens when you bring Gateway into River, because when you have the two together, you can make applications rapidly. How easy it's going to be to develop on both platforms remains to be seen, as no one has really had the chance to play with both at once, except maybe at the Bangalore TechEd. Jon: Yeah, I got the impression that the Bangalore folks at the TechEd Innovation Day had a chance to work with both River and Gateway.

17:10 John to Dick: What have you learned about River since the event? Dick: there was a Coffee Corner where we looked at River ,which was open to the community; there were about 30 people there. We looked at the Keytree demo that was shown at the Influencer Summit. This was an open event with the River team, where we could come in and check out the product and find out more about development. The way this River product team is working with the ecosystem and the community in general is fantastic. Hopefully this kind of rapid, open innovation is becoming more popular inside of SAP. There are no legal hurdles, it's just trust between individuals and it allows us to work in a more rapid pace. The last couple of days, I've been working with River, and I was also doing some research on Coghead, which was the foundation for River. There’s a lot of potential with River in this more open collaborative approach.

19:35 Jon to John: River fits into the on-demand themes you were looking into. What did you learn about on-demand and what are you looking ahead to next year? John: I was talking to someone from our regional office recently and he said it well: "We've been trying to figure out the on-demand story for a while, and thankfully we had the Summit." The Summit included a full day for on-demand, which clarified a lot. The day included a close look at Business ByDesign, on-demand ERP for smaller companies, as small as 10 people though with a sweet spot a bit higher than that, perhaps closer to 100. But they spent a whole day talking about it, did anyone else feel that was a statement to have done that? Dick: To me, the most important thing was the emphasis that on-demand on its own shouldn't be the primary focus.

Dick: To me, it was the recognition that we have a hybrid world, we have the on-premise suite and we have on-demand. How you bring these two worlds together - that focus is critical. With so many large corporations on-premise, how do you bring these worlds together? It's not easy. With the Line of Business (LOB) on-demand solutions, SAP is in the right direction, but there is a lot of work to do integrating these solutions into existing processes within the Business Suite. How do you break down a process and decide which processes go on-demand and which stay on-premise? These are not easy decisions, so we'll have to see when SAPPHIRE comes around if they have delivered on this. But this was the first time when we saw Platform as a Service in the slide (PaaS). But how can they deliver on this strategy? That's something to watch.

22:50 Jon: Yes, Dick, the "PaaS refrigerator"... I would have like the slide better if there had been an actual fridge with some cold drinks on the side. Dick: what is interesting is that this on-demand world has different requirements. Jon, you talked about this in your podcast about the consultants who have to shift into new business models. With the Sales OnDemand application (SAP's first LOB app built on the ByD platform), they almost had to retrain their developers, so if SAP is having difficulty making these changes, then how can partners make these transitions? That was a point I raised at the summit.

John: The partners SAP is engaging with are big guys like Accenture who have big reach, but they are also engaging with new partners. But they aren't engaging with the Tier 2 partners on the local stage, who are probably the kind of partners who could develop on-demand pretty well, but we're not currently working in the 10-100 company category, but we could do it on a large scale. Spending a whole day on demand, it felt quite clear that SAP was investing the kind of R and D with on-demand that it was clear they were betting their future on it. Dick: I agree, and spending a second day on it with the bloggers at Dreamforce, that shows the level of seriousness SAP had on this topic. There were really two events going on at the same time, two events with two different vibes. Dreamforce was a huge event, SAP's was smaller.

26:10 Dick to Jon: Since you went to that extra blogger day, what were the reactions you saw there from the two shows? Jon: Dennis Howlett published a really interesting contrast from the two shows. We covered so much content with the Dreamforce bloggers that a lot of them were off to airports before I got their feedback. The bloggers had tough questions for SAP that day, but you got the sense that SAP was engaging with the issues. SAP has a much more coherent on-demand presentation then they had in the past. Example: SAP has now gotten very clear with multi-tenancy now: this helps SAP advance that conversation.

Jon: You can't really compete with Dreamforce and it's over-the-top vibe. But SAP did a good job of making it a closer, interactive event. Having a clear vision and roadmap matters, but now it comes down to delivering on the vision. Using ByD as the architecture for the line of business (LOB) makes sense to be able to leverage the new technologies for both ByD/SME and for large enterprise. Those are promising developments, but now analysts want to see if it can scale beyond 100 customers to 5,000, and instead of one LOB app you need 10 - that's the challenge that lies ahead. Dick: when you look at the number of applications, the number is 180,000 applications have been built on Salesforce, installed 700,000 times.

29:45 John: That's quite misleading in some sense though - provides a narrower focus. The ByD platform is wider, and in contains 35 years of SAP intellectual property. Dick: I'm talking more about developing community momentum - that to me is a critical factor - how do you motivate people to work on the new platform? That kind of developer momentum is the key. What can SAP provide in terms of resources and environments to help assist in this effort, beyond the partners themselves. John: They have done some of the right things- they built on an existing development platform (.Net and Silverlight). There is also an ABAP base of the NetWeaver 8.0 platform that the on-demand platform is built on.

Dick: But you have to look beyond SAP as well. Maybe you need a REST API. You have Gateway, which is really for the Business Suite, and you have River, which is really more for the edge, but to me, you have to look beyond SAP itself, how do you move into other area so that if people don't know C# they can still access the information. Jon to Dick: It's not just providing REST options, it's engaging the imagination of the developer community, which is one thing that both Salesforce.coma and Apple have figured out. SAP understands that if they don't build that platform ecosystem around these products, it's not going to stick. Dick: If you look at the Sales OnDemand application, it's a different SAP application that's based on a new metaphor, and that's exciting in terms of attracting new developers.

34:10 John to Dick/Jon: How do you feel about StreamWork? Dick: I like StreamWork- I see it as a central component, when you talk on-premise or on-demand, they all have StreamWork integration either planed or in the works. That to me is fascinating - it brings the structured and non-structured worlds together. There is still work to do to bring processes together into StreamWork, but when they achieve that, it's going to be very exciting. I've worked with people from StreamWork for a while, and playing with all the APIs, and if you look at the tool by itself, in isolation, you're missing a lot of its qualities. You have to look at it in the context of SAP as a whole. Jon: StreamWork has worked hard to engage with the Mentors, but there's also been a lot of criticism. When you use it as an isolated decision making tool, you won't see all of its strengths. I've been critical of the usability aspects of StreamWork, and I am seeing some modest improvements there.

But I have seen more at the Summit: first, as you say, Dick, it's not going away, so you have to deal with it, and second, I saw glimpses of StreamWork's potential when I saw it integrated into contextual processes, this holy grail of structure and unstructured information, and how you solve business problems. Example: I was an All in One and mobile demo - it was an exception handling scenario which is perfect for StreamWork. Dick: It's not just structured/unstructured, but social: there's now the ability to have activity streams in StreamWork, what's going to be interesting is when these activity streams are not in StreamWork but in PLM, CRM, or River, and you can follow that information through. That will be much more of a movement towards the Chatter idea presented in Salesforce. This activity stream functionality is perfect for that kind of requirements.

39:00 Jon to Dick: You often seem to bring social topics like StreamWork back to GRC, why is that? Dick: This on-demand world is emerging, and you have all these existing products - GRC being one example - how do you move that functionality around. How can GRC follow a process on-premise to off and back on? GRC has to follow that an ensure there are not SOD violations. How do you do that? These products, not just GRC, but Business Objects as well, are going to have these challenges, and not just SAP products either. Other vendors will face this issue. John to Jon: Coming back to StreamWork, who was representing StreamWork at the Summit? David Meyer. (Discussion of a tweetfest involving StreamWork criticism and running into StreamWork's David Meyer ensues, including John Appleby's spoof retweet dissing StreamWork, attributed to Jon, who then had to go and sit next to David). David is one of those people who understands that social/conference conversations to be productive are going to be a bit edgy and loose and you don't let it get you down.

Dick: StreamWork looks outwards as well (including their Google collaboration, and Evernote, etc). That's intriguing, they are very interested in the consumer space. That's a different mindset than the traditional SAP mindset.

44:00 Jon moving to the wrap: closing phase - Guys, what will you be looking at this spring, where will you be putting your energy? John: SAP has bet their future on products that either don't exist or are in the early stages, and they're betting on the banking industry as well, and their Q3/Q4 revenue projections next year are based on Sybase products that don't even exist yet. That's going to be really interesting to watch. Dick: we've seen the strategy, now I want to see how much uptick they are going to see from the community. Sales On Demand - when will that come out? What else will that come out? How much community support will River get? The technology is there, but they have to get the momentum going.

Jon: I'll be looking at the ByD space and the hotly-anticipate SDK and how the community of developers forms around the product, and the ByD subsidiary rollout to partners. I also don't think the Enterprise support and support and maintenance issue is going to go away. I'm convinced that SAP can approach support in a much more innovative way, and there's still a lot of work to do on Solution Manager. John to Jon: SAP changed the messaging around the support, but I always thought it was ironic that it was marketing that turned that message around, and the cost to customers hasn't changed that much. Jon: The amount customers pay for support is going to continue to come into question with the on-demand model not charging the same amounts for supports. Customers want get feel like what they are paying in support and maintenance they are getting back in innovation. You can point to Oracle and say, "they are doing an ever worse job." In my mind, there are creative ways to approach support and maintenance, you have all these dashboards and analytics, I think there can be a lot more imagination applied to this space.

John to Jon: is there a risk in SAP investing in the on-demand apps in stead of the Suite? Jon: it was a year ago, but now with a more unified on-demand architecture, it seems that all SAP customers should be able to derive some benefits from this investment. But SAP has to be more careful - you can't get too far ahead of adoption. One thing SAP did figure out is that the 4.6/4.7 user base is not in a huge hurry to upgrade. SAP has been focused on HANA, which we haven't even talked about, and Gateway, which need to happen for large enterprise customers.

53:20 Jon: final comments - Vishal Sikka: we had a blogger meeting with him. I asked him about Enhancement Packs and delivering that information faster. Vishal got a bit mad at me, but in a very good natured way, because I had already asked him about this at TechEd. And that's true, I had - but I was curious where the conversation had led. If you have open, transparent conversation but nothing gets followed through on, that tends to leave a sour taste. Vishal was clear he had thought about that carefully. To me, that's the new SAP, that' the SAP I want to see, and if you are a large company, that's how you want to be, if you don't end up following through on the transparency, then it's almost better to be closed and secretive. Dick: but isn't that the definition of Influ3encer? To be more collaborative? It's a two-way relationship. It's not just about pushing information, it's about a two-way influence, and that's an important change. John: I like that, and maybe that's what makes sense about an SAP Mentor being an Influencer in an ongoing, collaborative discussion. Jon: I would add accountability on both sides.



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