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jonerpdemojam.jpg Jon has been tackling key SAP issues (like SAP certification and HANA) since 1995. Get the latest from his blogs, YouTube channel, and iTunes feed.

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Podcast: Vinnie Mirchandani on The New Polymath and Its Implications for SAP Professionals Print E-mail

podcastlogo_jonerp.gif"Special Edition - Insights from The New Polymath for SAP professionals, Vinnie's take on SAP innovation, and the problems of the SAP 'egosystem'" (ERP Lounge #10)
Podcast Interview Date: June 30, 2010
Podcast: Listen Now!
[PC users: "right click" to download file]
note: this is a 20 meg sound file, so it may take a minute to download

If you're a regular attendee at SAP's trade shows, chances are you have run into Vinnie Mirchandani. Although he attends SAP events as part of SAP's blogger program, Vinnie is not the kind to keep to himself and file stories. When he's not in lively discussions with SAP executives, you can often find him on the show floor, engaging much more directly with the SAP community than many press/media attendees do. The fruits of that engagement show up in Vinnie's new book, The New Polymath: Profiles in Compound-Technology Innovations, which features no less than eight SAP Mentors within its pages.

With the release of his book - one of the most important business books in recent years (see my review on Amazon) - and with the reverberations of SAPPHIRENOW/ASUG Orlando still lingering, the timing was right to have Vinnie in The ERP Lounge to talk about his blogs on enterprise software and innovation. I wanted to dig into his opinionated takes on SAP and his critique of what he has dubbed the SAP "egosystem." I was especially looking forward to asking Vinnie about how the "polymath" practices he describes in his book can be emulated by individuals in their own skills development. I wanted to ask Vinnie how you reconcile the need to have broad expertise with the problem of becoming a "jack of alll trades, master of none."

This 48 minute podcast has three distinct sections: in the first, we talk about the rise of the independent analyst, and how Vinnie emerged as a leading enterprise blogger. Vinnie turns the tables on me and asks about my own business model, and how individuals can stand out in an industry still dominated by corporate giants. In the second section, we delve into Vinnie's book and how its themes can apply to individual skills development. We attempt to reconcile Vinnie's views on the importance of skills diversity with the need of successful SAP professionals to specialize. In the third section, I ask Vinnie about his beef with the SAP partner ecosystem and the kinds of innovations he would like to see in that space. Scroll down for the detailed show notes and time stamps.

Editor's note: this podcast builds on some of the themes in Jim Spath's excellent post-Sapphire/ASUG podcast with Vinnie where they discussed the conference, the role of SAP Mentors in The New Polymath, developing a blogging voice, and the challenge of fairness in blogging - recommended listening!

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.   

Section 1: The Rise of the Independent Analyst (and some post-SAPPHIRE thoughts)

2:05 Latest on The New Polymath - book is in general release on Amazon, and will be available in Europe soon. The reviews are piling up.

3:00 Blogging on innovation - Vinnie: I'd love to say I had a grand strategy and it was all planned out. Originally, the blog was my way of organizing some of the publications I was quoted in. In six years, 5,000 different posts, and has taken on a life of its own.

4:00 Many of the most influential bloggers in the enterprise space are not attached to a major firm. Are we in the era of the independent firm or analyst? Vinnie: Although the power of institutional backing and branding is undeniable, more and more people are realizing that individuals are at the heart of it. Blogs have an immediacy. With larger firms it can be a production to get something out, but with individuals, you can get something out and the modern blogger has all the tools. Yes, quality still matters, the market sill tell you that, it's not easy to build a following.

7:00 After SAPPHIRE/ASUG, Vinnie posted the most positive piece on SAP he had written in some time, but quickly followed it up with "we have work to do" post. What was going on there? Looking back, what were the takeaways? Vinnie: the logistics from around-the-world coverage were impressive. Most of us walked in expecting SAP in disarray, and instead we saw Bill and Hasso and Vishal extremely confident, the mood was very upbeat. The customer base wanted to see that as well. Those two things deserved to be complimented. But when I woke up, I asked myself, "What really changed?" I still see SAP as accountable to the big ecosystem around it, where customers may be spending 6 or 7 times what they originally spent on the software, 75 to 100 billion dollars a year. Vishal doesn't like it when I say "spray painting innovation," but I came back to him with that $100 billion figure.

9:30 SAP has gotten quite few kudos on sustainability lately, including from Tom Raftery, and yet you come at SAP pretty hard on sustainability. What is the essence of your critique. Vinnie: my book has a whole chapter on sustainability and how different organizations are going after the sustainability market and how sustainability is having a broad reaching impact. There's another chapter on investing in green tech, from smart grids to electric vehicle. That to me is applicational sustainability. What SAP is helping companies doing is reporting on sustainability. That's important, but there's more to do. Why are we just analyzing data, why aren't we helping people doing the right green stuff?

12:00 Jon: The New Polymath focuses on big innovation - how does SAP's in-memory push fit in? At the show, I heard two main views: one is that in-memory has been around for a long time, but others say that in-memory could it be a game changer. So which is true? Vinnie: I see in-memory as a game changer, not just because it can reduce reliance on relational databases but it can also revolutionize the need for expensive storage. The story has evolved somewhat, but when I heard Hasso talk about it a year ago, he was talking about 100-to-1 compression. In that case, you can do a lot more in-memory and do a lot less with storage. Oracle might be expensive on the database side, but the same is true on the storage side with HP and others. That's why in-memory does have game-changing potential. SAP makes a cameo in The New Polymath on that topic.

15:00 Looking at The New Polymath: the book focuses on "grand challenges," - does in-memory qualify as such a worthy challenge or do these grand challenges need to have a "social responsiblity" angle? Vinnie: in the book, the companies I look at are tackling "boil the ocean" type grand challenges. My criticism of the software industry, not just SAP, is that we're getting small incremental improvements, and I want to see the bar raised much more dramatically. That's my broad call to the technology industry: "We have challenges guys, let's not hide from them."

17:35 Jon: I was struck by your book title, The New Polymath, because I see it having implications not just for companies but for individuals who want to remain competitive skill wise. What was the meaning behind this title? Vinnie: I should explain what a "polymath" means. It's a Greek word which means "renaissance person," someone like Michelangelo or Ben Franklin who were exceptional at many different things. These days, we are very specialized - our jobs and educational systems force that on us. But today, we have so many different technologies, from nanotechnology to biotech, there are two or three hundred technology components we could be mixing and matching, but to do so, we'd have to have a polymath-oriented enterprise. But you would have to also change your mindset from narrow specializations. The book is about complex new solutions we could create if only we were comfortable with combining this broad array of technologies. Traditionally, software vendors have been very specialized. Newer vendors like Marc Benioff at have pushed that envelope - that's a polymath right there.

22:50 Jon: One aspect of the book that may be your next book if you ever want to go through this again is: how the individual can also aspire to be a "polymath" and use the polymath model as a way of reinventing their own skill set? Vinnie turns the tables and asks Jon: "How do you thrive when the brand names like Accenture, Wipro, and IBM seem to get most of the business? Jon: Looking back on it, it's somewhat as you described blogging, you don't always know exactly where you are going, but you want to take your interests to the next level. I invested in to build a bigger platform for my independent voice and share content that I think has value. Success is also about being humble and respecting market timing. As my site came into focus, I got pulled into the SAP Mentors, a like-minded group of community spirit and independent voices. But it started by chasing passions...later when I read a blog post by James Governor riffing on @gapingvoid and his thinking about global microbrands, and I realize that I'm building a "global microbrand" called JonERP, but I never thought about that.

25:00 Vinnie to Jon again: but you have huge firms with thousands of consultants, how do you compete with that? Jon: certainly competing with name brands or vendor approvals isn't easy. You don't need to win everyone's hearts and minds, but you need to find someone with a different approach. Often times, it's a company that has taken more responsibility with their internal SAP project, and at that point, they are looking at value, and they want to cut through the SAP resource market which realize: they can cut through those layers that just push resumes along. Companies realize "I can go direct to experts in the market." The key is to connect with people who are looking at new approaches. Sharing information is a big one - sharing content that is worthwhile - some of us that share content find ourselves with a strange advantage with some buyers, who derive a sense of trust from what we put out there.

28:00 Vinnie: Back to what The New Polymath can mean to individuals. The notion of what constitutes a job is changing dramatically. I can see individuals making a full time job just being a part of communities. That's a large part of what Dennis Howlett does in his various communities, and he makes a living doing that. The concept of a job is changing quite a bit. When I got out of school, getting work with Price Waterhouse was a big deal. But name brand employers don't mean a lot anymore. Innovation is also moving into the buyer community, from BMW to Nike. "Buyer organizations" are becoming technology innovators, not just vendors. There are talent pools all over the world. You step back and you say, "As an individual, what does that mean to me?" Given that the markets are moving so rapidly, the biggest thing you need to be is flexible. We were taught to do choose a trade and find jobs in that industry. Now, we must be flexible, and retraining and re-inventing ourselves all the time. We're not as gifted as da Vinci, we need to be expanding what we're capable of.

33:00 Jon: But in the SAP world, if you have a little bit of everything, you aren't very marketable, you have to specialize. On the other hand, the best specialists in SAP continue to push the envelope and consume information, that's a common trait. Vinnie: I should clarify: if you're completely a jack of all trades and a specialist in nothing, that won't work. You need to be deep in a certain area, but be able to work with others specialists with diverse skill sets. We as individuals must be on the guard and watch where the markets are headed. Think of it this way: what if an SAP professional had chosen Baan? What would they have done? And now that SAP is morphing, and moving into Business ByDesign as well, how does that impact skills? A Basis person wouldn't have the same relevance in ByD installs. You need to excel in three or four skill areas.

37:00 Jon: What can those who are interested in your work and inspired by this focus on innovation do to help get the word out? There are eight SCN community members featured in the book, as well as Enterprise Irregulars. I used crowd sourcing during the editing process to get feedback. Bloggers have stepped up and done great reviews. Authors have new tools to share their work, and I have leveraged social networks to the hilt in every aspect of this book. (Check out sample chapters on The New Polymath Facebook Page)

Section Three: Vinnie's Views on the SAP Ecosystem

39:00 Jon: What is your take on the SAP ecosystem innovation? Vinnie: there are three different aspects: one are the SIs that are heavily involved in initial rollouts, the project-oriented skill set. SAP has been talking about certification of those consultants for a long time and it hasn't really happened. We talk about Moore's law and things getting better and better, but the industry just hasn't shown much productivity around these established areas like SAP financials. But there are other aspects: there's hosting, application management, database tuning, and hosting. When I look at hosting, the innovation has not been coming out of HP or some of SAP's partners. It's been coming out of Google and Amazon. These companies are building next generation data centers. Yes, there's been some productivity improvements by moving things offshore. But SaaS vendors are supporting thousands of customers with an automated multi-tenant architecture, rather than a bloated offshore market.

44:00 Jon: Michael Doane has proposed a gain share model, what do you think of something like that? Vinnie: Sometimes getting agreement on what a gain share is and how you share it can cause a chasm between the customer and provider. I like the gain share model but there is a level of suspicion that is tough to get over. Also: some of the biggest costs are not in the SI world, but in hosting and infrastructure. SAP has developed some expertise about this with ByDesign that perhaps they can apply that. SAP has opportunities to innovate and encourage in these areas.

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.  


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