What I-know-I-don’t-know about E2.0 and SAP from Sapphire ’08

EIs meet with SAP execsMy bad. Sapphire ’08 was an enormous field of opportunity to mine SAP intelligence on what the company is doing regarding Enterprise 2.0 initiatives. Somehow, I missed that opportunity and find myself with a lot of follow-up todos. A group of us had back-to-back meetings with SAP execs both Monday and Tuesday. To be perfectly frank, I learned more about what SAP is doing in Enterprise 2.0 from a product manager on the show floor in a half-hour (thank you Peter!) than I did from any of the executives. This was partly my fault and no-one’s fault, as well. My fault because I could have done a better job of trolling the show floor and no-one’s fault because in the meetings we had, we had a limited amount of time to speak to the executives individually. My EI colleagues had pressing issues on understanding why SAP’s mid-market SaaS solution Business-by-Design is going to be delayed, as well as other issues involving Business Objects, NetWeaver, TCO, cloud-computing, etc. To interject questions on blogs, wikis, RSS and mash-ups just seemed silly and inconsequential to me, so I mostly kept quiet.

Enterprise 2.0 is just not a burning issue on the minds of top SAP execs (with the notable exception of the CMO, Marty Homlish). SAP execs mirror the same sentiment as our executive clients: they have serious businesses to run– not a lot of time for the giddy consumery stuff. SAP software fuels the nitty gritty of hard-core business processes for most of the largest enterprises in the world. Where blogging (for example) fits into getting a raw material through the factory floor to a finished product, booked in inventory and ready to move through a supply chain is just not obvious to me right now. So the likelihood of an Enterprise 2.0 bolt-on to SAP is just as slim as it is naive.

I’m trying to choose my words carefully here because I don’t want to “open my mouth and remove all doubt” regarding my ignorance of SAP’s legacy business or its product roadmap. If you want thorough, interesting, and thoughtful commentary on SAP, please consult with my Enterprise Irregular colleagues who shine in this arena.

What I did uncover about SAP & Enterprise 2.0, however, was pretty interesting and demonstrates that 2.0e2.0 and SAP technology is working its way into mainstream SAP software, as well as delivering benefits for SAP customers. I, unfortunately, missed a terrific presentation by Andrew Cabanski-Dunning, Director of Product Marketing for SAP NetWeaver. In Cabanski-Dunning’s presentation, “Empowering the User: Enterprise 2.0 Solutions from SAP”, he talks about engaging the user, community virtual workspaces for collaboration, networks connecting peers and experts, searching all business objects, integrating 3rd-party tools and data with open APIs, wikis and web content publishing, mash-ups, flex and ajax, mobile interfaces, and user adoption. All the buzzwords and key concepts are there. I’m going to follow up with Cabanski-Dunning and see if I can get a personal briefing of this presentation and publish what I learn.

On the collaboration front, a number of gems surfaced. The community efforts are truly paying off for SAP. Through communities such as its one-million member strong SDN (software developer network) and BPX (business process expert exchange), SAP is reaping the benefits of an active and engaged co-collaborative community where collective intelligence delivers benefits for all parties. Where ten years ago, customers had to accept SAP’s view of the world, today customers, ISVs, solutions integrators, and partners jointly weigh in on enhancements and features. I heard one statistic that claimed over 50% of SAP’s enterprise services are now developed in tandem with the community. Other communities include its Industry Value Network, the Enterprise Services Community, as well as the many Industry Standards communities where SAP participates.

The most interesting discussion on the use of next-gen technology for me was a show-and-tell with CMO Marty Homlish. Homlish experimented with a virtual marketing community meeting that included 1800 people over 3 days spanning 15 time zones. Using Unisfair (which is like a Second Life for business) and a collaborative workspace called Plexus, SAP marketing employees contributed over 3,000 user-generated content items over the 3-day period. At one point during the trial, 75% of SAP’s global marketing operation were participating in the live event. Incidentally, the Plexus collaboration workspace is itself an example of a co-innovation built for the community by the community as one of the projects in SAP’s Co-innovation Lab. It is a co-development project between Jive Software, Intelligroup, Wipro, Enthiosys and Adobe.

Finally, I did get the chance to ask co-CEO Henning Kagermann about SAP’s internal social networking product, Harmony. He indicated it wasn’t clear yet what they were going to do with it. Harmony is in use by about 2,500 SAP employees including the company’s “high potentials” and select members of its U.S. community. He viewed it largely as an HR offering and indicated it was “not built on SAP technology.” He mentioned it could be a side-by-side offering in the future, but did not commit to a date for commercializing the product. He hinted that collaborative supplier management could be part of the suite, but didn’t go further.

It was clear to me that SAP was not going to be launching a killer app in Enterprise 2.0, but would rather incorporate social networking and collaborative features into its product suites where it made sense and delivered value to customers. So where IBM has Lotus Connections, Microsoft has SharePoint, SAP will be content to patch 2.0 functionality into its core business offerings, but may not uniquely focus in the discrete social software arena.

Oracle, on the other hand, is making a noisy “me-too” in this space. In the past two days, I’ve seen a lot of interesting developments highlighting Oracle’s interest in positioning itself as a player in Enterprise 2.0. To Oracle’s credit, they’ve done an excellent job in communicating the benefits and logical integration opportunities for 2.0 technologies in its core business applications. See Dennis Howlett’s interview with Charles Phillips and this post from JavaOne at the CNET blog which includes a video. I’m working on a briefing demo with Oracle and will keep you updated with what we discover.

I was complaining last week on Twitter about SAP being late to the party in Enterprise 2.0. Having been around the technology business for a thousand years, a(nother) little bird reminded me of something similar years ago in the outsourcing market. It was 1994 and IBM was seeking relief from the Justice Department about lifting its 1956 Consent Decree so it could compete more effectively for large IT outsourcing contracts. At the time, giants EDS and CSC were leading the market. My prediction was that IBM would dominate over time and the reason could be summed up in two words: installed base. IBM proceeded to trounce its competitors and is today the largest services player in the world. Over a decade later, the fundamentals still prove true. SAP may surprise us all.

Author: Susan Scrupski

Longtime fan of technology to improve humanity.