On the Scene: Clarity Is SAP’s New Enterprise

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Software giant SAP may have a new focus, judging from the messages set forth in Orlando, Fla., by key SAP executives during this year’s SAPPHIRE user conference. While last year there was a heavy emphasis on “changing the game”—Web 2.0 applications and functionality in the German juggernaut’s CRM solution offerings—this year’s message implied that the game had really changed: The worldwide economic recession now requires enterprises—of all sizes—to possess and demonstrate clarity, transparency, and flexibility.

During the opening keynote address, newly appointed Chief Executive Officer Leo Apotheker—shedding the “co” from his title after the retirement of Henning Kagermann—made it crystal clear to the 10,000 in attendance (and 8,000 attending virtually) that, despite some of the positive signs from the stock market, more bumps in the road are coming. “Uncertainty is here to stay,” he said. “So, we need to prepare the world to be a different place and emerge out of crisis.”

Mary Wardley, program vice president for IDC, explains that being able—especially today—to convince companies to continue to invest large sums of money in ripping and replacing systems is a challenge. “Purchasing in a more incremental fashion is resonating with companies now,” she says. “SAP took the right approach.”

The recession arguably affected on-site attendance at SAPPHIRE this year—the 10,000 present marked a 50 percent drop from last year. Granted, this year 8,000 utilized SAP’s virtual conference, making it technically the most well-attended SAPPHIRE to date. Rodney Masney, immediate past chairperson of Americas’ SAP User Group (which teams up with SAP to put on SAPPHIRE), said matter-of-factly, “In this tough economic environment, just getting 10,000 people here is a big deal.”

Ray Wang, vice president and principal analyst for Forrester Research, says that, while many exhibitors found show traffic to be light, quality over quantity ruled the day. “The quality of the attendees was significantly better,” he says. “In fact, the key topic was how they could reduce overall cost of ownership with SAP and what to do with their SAP roadmap.”

Part of this had to do with what makes—as myriad SAP executives put it—a clear, transparent, and flexible enterprise. During the show, SAP unveiled two pieces to this puzzle. The first piece, SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, is a business intelligence solution intended to enable anyone in the organization to navigate and mine data without specialized staff.

Wang says it will be important for the company to highlight in the next few years just how the components of this offering play a role in the SAP ecosystem. “SAP must convince as many of its customers to adopt [BusinessObjects Explorer] where it can in order to meet license revenue targets,” he says. “I think there will be a day where we just assume BI is present and pervasive in the system.”

SAPPHIRE also marked the general availability of an integrated and native mobile solution with BlackBerry users via its partnership with Research in Motion, first unveiled in May 2008. “The BlackBerry is the corporate standard for mobility,” Wang says. “Key SAP information needs to be served up to mobile workers, so this is a win-win. The real question is how quickly will SAP deliver features in this new platform?”

According to Jujhar Singh, SAP’s senior vice president of CRM product management, that answer may be very close at hand. While he couldn’t disclose a time frame more specific than “coming shortly,” he explained that SAP has taken the approach to utilize partners including Sybase and Syclo to help develop mobile applications for enterprise asset maintenance and field service. Sybase, for example, is working now on iPhone and Windows Mobile applications for SAP.

While the message from SAP was clear, that still leaves execution of the philosophy. Wang explains that, despite SAP’s already-solid position in the large-enterprise market, being able to deliver to the small-to-midsize-enterprise (SME) space is now the driver for future success.

“Most people don’t realize that SME requirements are the same as large ones,” he says. “The only difference is they don’t have the staff to manage the complexity and administer complicated systems that large enterprises do. This is where on-demand and software-as-a-service play a role in minimizing the complexity for users. SAP will need to succeed in SME in order to continue its growth.”

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