“The biggest Sapphire ever” according to SAP: “more than 30,000 registrants in Orlando, more than 300,000 watching online”. I was impressed when I entered the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida for the first time this May. Well-choreographed, interactive screens at the session theatres, the networking zone, and the backside of the keynote theatre next to the entrance immediately caught my eyes. Behind this colorful scenery were located the illuminated booths of dozens of SAP partners. They all showed tremendous creativity in getting visitors’ attention: 3D printers, robots made with Lego, a miniature connected factory, drones, car simulators, wheels of fortune—even a real electrical racing car was exhibited. The whole ambience felt like walking through a materialized cyberspace which obviously represented SAP’s ambition to become the digital core of the new industrial era together with its partner eco-system. So I was excited about the hearing the news from the keynotes.

Key messages in keynotes

From a high-level perspective the SAP executives did not present a lot of new stuff. Many participants I spoke with had expected Tim Cook on stage with SAP’s CEO due to the recent announcement of a tighter cooperation with Apple. In fact Bill McDermott did not mention this partnership with one single word. Instead he invited Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, on stage who talked about a tighter integration of SAP with Azure and Office365. The latter reminded me of a product called “Duet” which was launched already almost a decade ago.

SAP reiterated several times that they would now listen more carefully to their customers. To act as a role model Bill McDermott chose a dialogue kind of style with a moderator for his keynote which seemed to me… different. I was not able to figure out why they put so much focus on it as to my perception as a long-time employee and now partner of SAP they had rather opened up in the recent years compared to a decade ago. Maybe not enough.

And from a solution perspective? SAP continues to focus on HANA and Cloud, so no change in strategy there. Beyond that SAP is accelerating its expansion from the traditional market of standardized business applications into the world of connected things, digital manufacturing, and alike. This is a very interesting move into the right direction although I missed clear statements how they will deal with the heterogeneity in existing landscapes. Proclaiming S/4HANA as the new core of the digital world falls short to reality and keeps a lot of doors for growth opportunities shut. Even more when we take the fascinating possibilities of using SAP HANA in the non-SAP world into account like I described in another blog recently.

Between the lines

It was up to Hasso Plattner on day 3 to give us a glimpse of the new possibilities of HANA and S/4HANA, the new R/3. But we had to listen carefully to get the right message. Almost 50% fewer tables and 45% fewer lines of code in the core system sounds like technical buzzword bingo of SAP but it shows the massive rationalization potential that HANA has. The problem is, that in the world of SAP standard software, this potential is almost completely absorbed by SAP itself which is why nobody in the audience got really excited about it.

This changed when they presented new solutions for the business which are based on the new architecture, like “Financial Statements Insights” and “Real Spend”. Being able to simulate and modify a business (model) in real-time with the move of a mouse is not only exciting to watch. It has significant positive impacts to enterprises given the fact that 1) a lot of resources are wasted due to inflexible business plans and budgets, 2) a lot of business opportunities are not taken due to missing transparency and wrong risk estimations, and 3) a lot of human capital is lost because top performers do not want to work for companies who are managed like this any longer.

And the winner is…

The prize for the biggest “wow” effect however goes to two young colleagues from the SAP Innovation Center in Potsdam who presented the prototype of the “Knowledge Workplace”. The basic idea is that in a connected and transparent world, subject matter experts from business should analyze data and make decisions, not data scientists in the IT department. Knowledge Workplace is an interactive tool with which data can be visualized and correlations discovered. It reminded me of Tom Cruise in “Minority Report” but for businesses. Everybody in the audience was thrilled.

Bring it to the market, fast, SAP!