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06/10/2014

Sapphire Now: Bold, Ambitious and Big Dreams

Joe Skorupa
Editor at Large
Joe Skorupa profile picture
By Joe Skorupa

Big companies with big portfolios require big goals. SAP, for example, has adopted at least three big goals: 1. "Simplicity" in business processes and technology, 2. Becoming "the cloud company," and 3. Developing a database model that runs with zero latency and zero aggregation. It has taken the ultimate step of actually adopting the technologies it advocates to run its own organization.

The SAP tech extravaganza in Orlando kicked off by introducing three high-energy millennial entrepreneurs to emphasize that we are witnessing a "young, ambitious, bold SAP with dreams," said SAP CEO Bill McDermott, the opening keynoter. It's a stretch goal for sure, but the kids were a fun counterweight to the rest of the Sapphire Now program, which sets the standard for state-of-the art tech conferences.

McDermott focused forcefully on the "simplicity" mantra noting that business management shouldn't be like an onion - "you shouldn't have to peel back the layers and it shouldn't make you cry when you do."

He also noted the irony in a company that is famous for complexity adopting "simplicity" as a major goal, but he noted that it is time to change and "we cannot let complexity win." Acknowledging it won't be easy to achieve simplicity, McDermott compared the struggle to streamline complex businesses and technologies to "a race without a finish line." You can make fast progress but you still have a long way to go.

One way "simplicity" will play out at SAP is through more intuitive, Apple-like user experiences that are starting to appear on some current and future SAP display screens. For now the user-friendly interface is called SAP Fiori and it previously required an upcharge to deploy. However, McDermott announced it will be included for free in future packages. The goal is to reduce 10-click functions to two, for example, and create more personalized and responsive user experiences.

The Cloud Company
Today, SAP is "the cloud company." Yesterday, figuratively speaking, it was the on-premises company. Okay, times have changed and SAP has evolved, as well it should.

Backing up "the cloud company" claim, McDermott reported that today SAP is "a 67,000-person company running its enterprise in the cloud." He also noted that the SAP Hana in-memory database/application platform now integrates all SAP solutions in the cloud on a single platform.

This is quite a shift for a company that once offered a cloud solution designed for small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) that languished for years. The SMB approach missed the point that the largest technology-specific item in the IT budget is managing databases and data warehouses. The cloud offers a proven pathway to reduce those costs and is very attractive to large enterprises, and once they have all (or most) of their data in cloud it is a logical step to shift core solutions there.

The future of technology is in the cloud and so the mentality at SAP has made a dramatic shift to a cloud-first approach. This shift began a few years ago and every executive I spoke to at the conference was in synch with the cloud-first messaging.

Deconstructing Hasso Platner
One of the joys of attending a Sapphire event is getting to listen to Hasso Platner, co-founder of SAP. Platner is not only one of the most brilliant and influential IT executives in the world, but also that rare personality who is an engaging communicator. Now that the SAP Hana in-memory database and application convergence platform is rolling out through the SAP client base, Platner focused on the "sustainable and disruptive innovation" that such leading-edge technologies represent for business.

Since every piece of data is accessible at the line-item level in the SAP Smart Finance suite, for example, there is no need for reconciliation. The reports are always accurate and in real-time. Essentially, there is zero latency and zero aggregation, which represents a disruption in how businesses currently run. Platner calls it "the biggest step forward in the history of enterprise systems."

I will leave the ultimate analysis of Platner's claim to more technologically astute colleagues, but I will say there is little doubt that the concept of aggregate reporting underlines all business processes today. Since these processes and reports are set like concrete in software, reorganizational shifts become slow and difficult to achieve. With speed of change emerging as a top priority, the ability to shift on the fly is essential for successful companies. Removing latency and aggregation from reports will simplify integration schemas and increase the speed of change.

Simplicity, as described at Sapphire Now, is a multidimensional and aspirational goal. It underscores the virtues of speed, convenience and agility. It is a stretch goal and one that is a worthy goal for a software company and for retailers alike to pursue, especially those who want to survive in an increasingly competitive and customer-centric world.

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