At Sapphire Now: SAP Intends to Shed Complexity

ORLANDO, FL—SAP, known for helping enterprises solve complex business problems, is turning in a new direction, according to CEO Bill McDermott. "The passion of SAP is to help customers run simply," he told the crowd of attendees at the Sapphire Now and ASUG Annual Conference Tuesday, which he said drew 25,000 registered attendees as well as 250,000 people streaming the conference on the Internet, the highest number ever.

"I like the turn SAP is making," said Paul Greenberg, president of the 56 Group, cautioning that "they're in phase one of the turn," and many details, including what they're doing with CRM, remain to be seen. In early May, executive board member Vishal Sikka resigned, so many were watching closely for any changes in company direction. Besides the emphasis on simplicity, however, there weren't any immediately obvious changes. "We didn't hear the vision. Simplification is the beginning of the vision that this will be a different SAP. The question is, what is that, and when will we know more about the different SAP?" said Ray Wang, founder of Constellation Research.

One step toward simplicity came from the announcement that SAP's user interface Fiori will now be available for free, a surprise greeted with applause by the audience. Fiori allows users to carry out common SAP business actions using a clean, simple interface with a consumer level of ease. Fiori was originally introduced as a premium product last year. That move drew many complaints in user groups. "We want everyone to run a simple, gorgeous user experience, and now it's included," McDermott said. Fiori, which covers more than 300 processes in SAP, helped customer Nestle reduce keystrokes by 75 percent, a testament to the program's simplicity.

McDermott also talked about how SAP HANA, which he called SAP's "crown jewel," will help companies achieve simplicity. For companies that used to organize business processes around the time they would take to process, HANA is a game-changer. SAP HANA is an in-memory computing technology that brings the speed of analysis to near real time. Computations that would take minutes or hours can be done in seconds, and the amount of memory needed to store data is also reduced. Companies now have the ability to bring together all their SAP solutions in the cloud, and use the same platform  to store disparate information, such as structured and unstructured data or transaction information and analytics.

Just before the Sapphire Conference, SAP announced customer engagement solutions tailored to three industries: retail, insurance, and utilities. "SAP historically had the best industry focuses. They let the emphasis on industries drop, and now they're reviving them, which is important," Greenberg assessed.

SAP also showed how a simplified back end could affect the consumer experience. "Customer engagement and commerce is the future," McDermott told the audience. Being able to connect a customer experience in a mobile app with the interaction that same customer has in the call center, for example, is the way of the future.

Greenberg and Wang agreed with SAP's emphasis on customer engagement, but felt that tethering the idea of customer 

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