I haven’t written much in the way of news from Sapphire08 in Berlin so far, except for this short piece on green process innovation or the lack of it, but one comment has really stayed with me – the quote I used for the title of this piece. I am not going to name the executive that said these words, but its clear major change is now. For SAP these will be interesting times, in the Confucian sense. The wall is coming down.
SAP traditionally stands for continuity and third mover advantage. Its a very German company with a strong culture of consensus – can you imagine a Silicon Valley firm with a co-CEO setup? The contrast with Oracle’s top down command and control approach could not be any starker. But the purchase of Business Objects may have finally tipped the balance away from the German axis that has controlled the firm for so long. SAP wants to get into situational, unstructured apps that cross boundaries but it will need a new mindset to get there. The company doesn’t currently think in terms that allow for uncertainty- every process must be tightly bound. But managing knowledge is an inexact science. IBM is creating a new brand, Infosphere, to sell into the same space after its acquisition of Cognos (of which more here… For Mash Get Smash)
Some old hands such as Peter Zenke are taking a step back from active day to day management, while other new players are jockeying for position. Zenke I should add has evidently done a more than solid job with SAP’s BusinessByDesign SaaS platform. We were somewhat skeptical at first, but evidence is slowly mounting SAP has built something powerful, with social characteristics that take advantage of the network just as a SaaS app should (the community-based help functions, for example, look promising.) The beta program is being very closely managed by SAP, but early customers like what’s been delivered. [I was going to link to a piece I thought Dennis wrote on the subject of customer adoption but Goog didn’t find it].
SAP had three different power centers- Israel, Palo Alto, and Walldorf, but Business Objects brings a cadre of people in San Jose, strengthening the West Coast connection. Ex-CEO and chairman of the supervisory board Hasso Plattner also maintains a fiefdom in Palo Alto focusing on driving design thinking into SAP apps.
In meetings in Berlin you could feel that things had changed. Executives were less relaxed than they had been recently. Some were putting themselves forward more aggressively. Its not clear how everything will shake out, but I tend to agree with the quote: SAP is set to go through a period of substantial and rapid change. The German contingent won’t be taking August off this year…
What does all this mean for customers? Not a whole lot at this point. Don’t expect any sudden product or strategy changes, though there will almost certainly be some changes of personnel before the Autumn.
disclosure: SAP is a customer, and paid for travel and expenses to Berlin. IBM is also a client. Oracle is not.
Picture of where the Berlin Wall used to be courtesy of Nigel James, ace PHP and ABAP developer, currently looking for a position.