Frequent visitors of IT events know it’s true: a race car simulator will guarantee one of the busiest spots in the hall. Even the most self-controlled manager transforms into an introvert, white-faced maniac the moment he is seated behind the steering wheel and the virtual race begins.
Luckily enough, the Sapphire in Vienna had an exciting attraction like that. Because for the rest, the atmosphere at the annual SAP user conference was a bit on the dull side. At least, that is my personal perception and I feel I should build with a few words on Andy’s analysis of what went on at Sapphire, adding an extra perspective (feel free to add your own, if you have been there; our comments section is open).
Some people could not escape from the feeling that a part of the lukewarm experience was due to the sudden departure of Shai Agassi, until recently the undisputed technology visionary of Walldorf. Agassi could do so well, wearing a black turtle-neck when addressing a big audience. Always ready for a joke or two about his unworthy competitors. Always unveiling a surprise or some new, innovative concept. With the vision behind NetWeaver he actually managed to create a hint of a trendy brand around SAP. Wearing your Nike Airmaxes and Apple iPod while implementing a standard package: who would have thought that ERP could be cool.

Now, we have to do with the keynote speeches of Henning Kagermann and Léo Apotheker: Excellent leaders, but not particularly reputed as inspiring and innovative platform speakers. When – against all odds – Kagermann shows some ad-hoc & hip Web 2.0 technology, you just know he is supported by months of careful preparation work in South West Germany.
Yes, the conference floor breaths continuation and stability. The course is set, for now it’s all about execution. Although sessions about novelties such as Master Data Management, Analytics and the DUET user interface for Outlook attract reasonable crowds, the focus is clearly on specific solutions for an increasing number of target verticals. More emphasis on business, less on technology.
Also, no one can fail to notice that SAP is casting even hungrier looks at Small and Medium Businesses: the part of market that will drive the most interesting growth in revenues in the forthcoming years. In order to succeed there, much of the complexity and vastness of traditional ERP solutions need to be disposed of.
Kagermann shows fragments of SAP’s strategy when he dedicates a few words to A1S: a secret, new package suite for ‘smaller’ clients which is build in utter secrecy and is only available to a very select group of pilot sites. Its design principles (100% SOA, build to be delivered through Software as a Service) clearly resemble the fundaments of – presumably – much more innovative competitors such as with its visionary APEX platform.
Only time will tell what exactly ‘smaller’ clients are supposed to be. And whether A1S in fact is a surreptitious, early incarnation of where the entire SAP enterprise suite sooner or later will be.
Anyway, real announcements are not being made this time. Innovative life and business model changing products typically shy away the existing user base. And equally important, they both scare the hell out of prospective clients and crash stock prices. In retrospective, Agassi’s resignation may just have been a case of perfect timing to SAP. He might have been tempted to drive a nervous Formula 1 car where a steady, reliable Diesel Volkswagen would have done the job just fine.
It’s SAP, remember.