The Power of Community Comes to Life at SAP’s TechEd

marilyn and craig

Marilyn Pratt and Craig Cmehil, both SAP rock stars, embody the spirit of SAP TechEd.

Walking down one of the cavernous halls at the Palazzo hotel in Las Vegas, we approached one of my Enterprise Irregular (EI) colleagues, David Dobrin.  Dobrin looked surprised to see me and said, “What are you doing here?”  I said, “I’m here to learn!”

Yes, I attended my first SAP TechEd this week and this is where learning happens.  TechEd is in four cities around the world this year: Shanghai: March 13–14, 2014Las Vegas: October 20–24, 2014Berlin: November 11–13, 2014 and Bangalore: March 11–13, 2015.  An “elder” explained to me that TechEd is the physical manifestation of the online community that lives 24/7 around the world in SAP’s SCN community.  The earliest form of SAP’s SCN was launched in 2002.  The community has shape-shifted over the years to become the glue that ties together customers, mentors, evangelists, partners, and every member of the SAP ecosystem.

I was encouraged to attend TechEd by everyone’s favorite community host and star community advocate, Marilyn Pratt.  Between Marilyn and another one of my EI brethren, Craig Cmehil, the inimitable SAP evangelist, I knew I’d be in good hands to learn as much as possible from the community who turns out for SAP TechEd.  As a newbie to the space, my challenge for this trip was to get a better understanding of all things big data and data science.  My hosts, Mike Prosceno and Andrea Kaufmann did a fantastic job lining me up with SAP experts with whom I could share ideas and get a better understanding of how SAP was solving customer problems with big data via its HANA platform.

So what did I learn?

On Tuesday, I tagged along with Marilyn who was introducing Megan McGuire, lead for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF)‘s new eHealth Unit, to various individuals and groups within the SAP community. The goal was to see team2 how SAP’s technology could further assist McGuire in her ambitious aim to provide timely, accurate information, monitoring, and accessibility for all MSF projects in 26 countries.  The challenges associated with data collection, language differences, data formats, even stable connectivity in remote regions all complicate MSF’s goals of going “digital.”  In understanding the complexity of the work MSF set out to achieve, I could see easily how this could translate to any large organization.  What was particularly interesting to me in the MSF approach was its emphasis on design thinking to frame the approach.  MSF’s strategy was designed in collaboration with ThoughtWorks which has an emphasis on disruptive technology for social good and change.  In the evening, McGuire was treated to the talents of about 75 SAP developers who formed teams and participated in a 4-hour data visualization challenge using MSF data and SAP’s Lumira data visualization tool.  Although I didn’t participate on a team, I was encouraged by how quickly the teams – many of whom had never used SAP’s Lumira – were able to start finding insights in the data.  Again, getting a real-time view into the challenges associated with data formats provided a number of teaching moments.

On Wednesday,  I met with several SAP experts and customers who were all taking advantage of the HANA platform.  One of the most interesting was Enakshi Singh, a neuroscientist, who is working with Stanford University on Genome research.  Singh told me that with SAP HANA, researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine are able to collapse the time to analyze large genome variant data from days to minutes and even seconds. The speed of the platform is accelerating learning and new discoveries around the world in the important work related to understanding the human genome.  I also met with Byron Banks, another one of SAP’s big data experts.  Banks and I discussed some of the challenges associated with what I’m aiming to do with Big Mountain Data.  He was generous with his insights and it was obvious to me how much commercial application of big data and data science can be applied directly to solving some of society’s greatest challenges.  I found the same spirit of generous giving at a luncheon hosted by Moya Watson, another SAP Mentor.  Moya gathered a number of SAP friends and fans (customers) who are interested in advancing technology for social good.  The discussion was exhilarating  and chock full of great ideas.

duke appFinally, I met with an enthusiastic team from Duke University who’ve created a real-time app to collect and present stats related to the famed Men’s Duke Basketball team.  With help from NTT Data, Duke’s athletic department was able to complete a “passion project” begun by a former Duke employee who aggregated all Men’s basketball data dating back from the early 1900s.  The project resulted in the first fan-facing data visualization and analytics tool in collegiate-level athletics. All the data is stored in the HANA cloud and presented via SAP’s Design Studio which was deployed natively on HANA.  The team’s project, which goes by the hashtag: #DukeMBBStats, will launch November 14, just in time for the new season.

When thinking about the SAP TechEd experience, it occurred to me how valuable an asset the SAP SCN community is to SAP’s business.  In the cacophony of over 7,000 visitors to the show, the attendees seemed to all “know each other”  in that way only a strong community can bond individuals.  The community creates an experience with the SAP brand that enriches professional development, loyalty, and spurs innovation.  Where SAPPHIRE, which I have attended many times, focuses on new SAP announcements and a concerted effort to connect with customers, SAP TechEd is an event by the SAP community for the SAP community. It was difficult to tell who was an SAP employee, a partner, or a customer.  It was just a blur of passionate people sharing and learning from their friends and colleagues.

The best lesson I learned in Las Vegas?  This will not be my last TechEd.

 

 

 

 

Pinch me. SAP is Dreaming up Social for the Enterprise.

This was my 5th year attending SAP‘s gala SAPPHIRE event.   You can see from my previous blog posts, a recurring theme in all of them is SAP’s cold shoulder toward all things social.

2008What I-know-I-don’t-know about E2.0 and SAP from Sapphire ’08

 “Enterprise 2.0 is just not a burning issue on the minds of top SAP execs… 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.”
“So, once again, SAP invited me to its annual SAPPHIRE and ASUG event. I find myself wondering if SAP will get return on their investment in me once again. The answer is, probably not…  The reality is SAP and its global customer base are just not ready for the socialization of the enterprise. It’s just not a topic that commands attention at this massive event (despite my valiant efforts to bring it up in every executive briefing). The majority of conversations at SAPPHIRE revolve around common themes such as decision-making, analysis, data, spreadsheets, databases, reports, statistics, and business processes. In other words, the real work that goes on in real businesses.”
“For me, SAPPHIRE presents a unique opportunity to re-calibrate and diffuse the hype chamber that self-perpetuates around the 2.0 phenomenon.   SAPPHIRE is the 2.0 Rehab that I voluntarily commit myself to every year for one week. Only at SAPPHIRE do I get an opportunity to see the world the way my Council members do– that the 2.0/social business hoopla is enjoyed and shared by a small minority of corporate professionals.  Through the eyes of SAP customers and the SAP eco-system, I gain unique insight into the tremendous task ahead which involves a host of issues, not the least of which is tying 2.0 transformation to the enterprise business processes that run the world’s most successful businesses.”

This year, in 2012, it looks like things might be taking a new turn.  At least the lip service is on message.  Readers of this blog should know SAP recently hired the #e20 community’s good friend Sameer Patel to assume the position of Social Czar at SAP.  Patel has his work cut out  for him, however.  The two social platforms that qualify as social at SAP are StreamWork and SuccessFactor’s Jam (formerly CubeTree).  Two platforms that, frankly, don’t see much social traction in large enterprise. Neither one ever comes up in a landscape conversation of social collaboration software, and turning up examples of hard core users has been pretty slim among those of us who keep an eye on this category.  CubeTree, in fact, was never a player.  With Patel’s new position, SAP recently moved “social”  into its cloud group where it will support all SAP suites and concentrations (CRM, for example) in a new social platform that will be structured to support the business horizontally and seamlessly across on-premise and cloud offerings.  The group is building what they’re calling, “Project Robus.” (Latin for resolve or purpose.)

What’s probably most significant about Project Robus is that all development is being led by SuccessFactor’s co-founder and  technical cloud guru, Aaron Au. Au  is the lead architect and will run engineering for the project.  The operating vision behind the socialization of SAP’s massive ENSW footprint hinges squarely on integrating social with business process.  As Patel describes it, “This is core infrastructure.  It’s like application servers and middleware.”  The orientation is on business activities first, and social features second.  In other words, use cases will drive how and when social interacts with a business process.  All social presentations within the SAP product suite will touch the Robus platform.  My blogger colleague Alan Lepofsky describes it as “social plumbing.”

The pressure to deliver social is on SuccessFactors CEO Lars Dalgaard who is the Board executive advocate for social. Dalgaard is breathing new life and new ideas into the software behemoth.  He appears to have much support from co-CEOs Bill McDermott and Jim Snabe, as most cloud and social questions asked at the scheduled media/analyst interview were turned over to Dalgaard.   There is evidence in the market that SAP has finally embraced the principles of a more collaborative, social business world (see Jim Snabe’s opinion piece in the Financial Times, “Social Networking and the Future of Business“).

I want to believe SAP will pull this off, but there is a small part of me that wants to scream, “You’re doing it wrong!”  It’s as if SAP is looking for a software solution to a human opportunity.  Focusing on the unstructured data and time spent between workflows is anathema to SAP’s heritage and corporate culture.  And even if the executive and management ranks see the opportunity, the rank and file are going to be puzzled.  We were sitting at dinner with a number of SAP mentors and I asked if any of them were using StreamWork.  All heads shook no.  One mentor said he wouldn’t even bother logging on.  My enterprise blogger friends roll their eyes when I talk about how social is about reinventing the way we work.  But they’re not seeing the changes I’m seeing in large organizations that are successful with social reinvention.  Luckily, I’m not the only one talking about this.  The enterprise is ready for a different way to work.

But, like Kermit, it’s the lovers, the dreamers, and me.  Those of us who are under Social Business’ spell are true believers.  I hope Lars Dalgaard and the SAP executive team can execute on the human potential of social, but I’m still a bit skeptical.

See Dalgaard’s “dream” app.  Here’s to hoping they pull it off.

Enterprise vendors start beating the drum

IBM web2.0 goes to work Last week was a banner 2.0 week for enterprise vendors. Gee. Do you think they were reading my blog? The week got off to a good start for me with a snappy little web 2.0 seminar hosted right here in Austin by IBM, “Web 2.0 Goes to Work.” Of course, SAP announced SAP By Design, but my fellow Irregulars did an awesome job conveying the import of that announcement. ibm seminar logoLike I said to Charlie Wood at lunch the other day, “I can’t even spell SAP…” So, I won’t attempt to comment on the SAP announcement. I’m scheduled to attend SAP’s TechEd Conference next week. We’ll see if I can be learnt.

On the IBM gig, I was surprised, frankly, to find that both Rod Smith and David Barnes were both in attendance at this seminar and both presented. Smith wasn’t there for the whole shindig, but he was there to lend executive support to the the day. Smith related some anecdotal accounts of IBM’s experiences discussing 2.0 with key accounts. In general he said it’s easier to sit with lines of business now (as opposed to IT) to brainstorm ideas. With these new approaches, customers are willing to experiment more, even fail if need be, rather than wait for long, protracted 6-month development efforts that incorporate all the bells and whistles required to support the enterprise environment such as security, privacy, and compliance. Smith said, “That takes time, and [LOBs are] willing to take certain risks.” What I loved about Smith’s early discussions with IBM customers was the interest level about what was possible in the enterprise. He expressed the sentiment that customers want information to be “mashable, remixable…” that they started looking at their data as modular assets– using it in ways they hadn’t planned for. One example yielded an unexpected result when a mashup uncovered shipping information that helped a global distribution company combat piracy on the high seas.

After Smith and Barnes were done keynoting and introducing, for some reason, they made us all wear white lab coats (question mark?) and we self-sectioned off into three breakout sessions focused on each of the three main areas: collaboration, mashups, and IT integration with web 2.0 (my interpretation). I attended the first and the last, as I was having a private demo of QEDWiki in a few days. The collaboration session drew a mix of IBMers, customers, and partners. Questions ranged from, “How do I get people in my company to collaborate with these new tools?” to “How can we get access to data buried deep inside those web2.0-soulless mainframes?” Okay, well that was me asking that question. I had the good fortune to be sitting next to a veteran IBMer who said it IS possible to layer on interfaces to get access to all data in the enterprise so folks can collaborate on just about anything. The question then became– how willing would IT be to let the whole company have open and free access to that data? And round and round we went…

On the IT software integration session, my BSG colleagues were particularly engaged. IBM has packaged its offerings under the bundle, “Info 2.0.” It’s basically an integrated suite of technologies that enable the creation of mashable content. At present, I believe it includes what they’re currently calling DAMIA which transforms content into syndication feeds, the Mashup Hub where you discover, catalog, tag feeds for remixing and then syndicate content and then finally, QEDWiki which I’ve blogged about before and will later. They also have something called Ms. Rita (lovely Rita, “meter maid” in a too short uniform skirt that will never fly with corporate branding IMHO; sheesh, boys!) which is a configurable “utilization management service” to meter, monitor, and monetize web 2.0 an SOA components, applications or environments. Miss Rita (or, whatever) will probably not be available in the first release of the Info 2.0 announcement, not sure why. One fairly cool IBM application in beta right now is Many Eyes. Check it out for a free trial. If you want to see some of these tools in action check out some of these demos, podcasts, and videos.

Blogger transparency dictates that I confess I’m not qualified to comment on the technical intricacies of IBM’s foray into web 2.0, but I give Big Blue huge points for promoting web 2.0 in the enterprise. Like SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft, IBM has something the startups do not: a massive installed base. Even if only IBM puts some massive marketing muscle behind evangelizing, I kind of don’t care if their solutions and approach are a yawner. My sense is, they are serious about this sector for interesting economic motives that may possibly not be obvious to us right now. For instance, did it ever occur to anyone that “the cloud” is not really a cloud at all? Is IBM viewing the 2.0 transformation as an opportunity to reap big benefits from big iron? Just food for thought. Here are two pieces to ponder– one from the WSJ, one from CIO insight.

A few days after the seminar, I had the chance to revisit with Dan Gisolfi to see what he’s been up to lately with QEDWiki. Dan has teamed up with John Musser of Programmable Web. I will have more on that later this week, maybe tomorrow, as well as a report from an interesting meeting I attended with the local Social Media Club here in Austin.

Just a Footnote on SAP’s SDN

I tried twice to post a comment on Jerry Bowles’ blog on his site and on the Enterprise Irregulars’ site and was unsuccessful. Since I don’t have time to keep fooling around with the software, I will post a link to Jerry’s post today here. Back from Sapphire, Jerry posted on how SAP is getting enterprise 2.0. religion citing among a few things, the SDN network and Harmony, its internal HR web platform, which I was getting around to writing about myself.

On the SDN network, Jerry writes:

The granddaddy of these communities–the SAP Developer Network (SDN)–has grown from 340,000 members in 2005 to more than 750,000 today. (SDN has its own “evangelist,” Craig Cmehil.) The Business Process community (BPX) was launched in the third quarter of 2006 and already has more than 100,000 members. Both have proven to be invaluable resources and converted even the most skeptical oldtimers to the belief that there may be something to this Enterprise 2.0 business afterall.

What I wanted to communicate to Jerry was this:

Hi Jerry. So wishing I had gone to Sapphire! It’s good to hear that SAP is getting religion on enterprise 2.0. It’s worth noting, however, that the SAP Developer Network is run on a Confluence Wiki (Atlassian). I’m pretty sure about this, although I’m sure someone will correct me fairly quickly if I’m wrong. Even a technology giant like SAP with its billion dollar R&D budget can benefit from innovation at the edge from a couple of college kids who started a company on a credit card a few years ago. I just couldn’t resist the irony.

ERP Celebrity Gossip

Happy New Year All– I’ve taken a brief blogging hiatus, but now I’m back. Yesterday, I received my invite to attend one of the scheduled Sapphire events and thought I’d better get up to speed on SAP.

I was flipping the pages of a recent Forbes issue and saw this titillating brief: “How to Succeed in Business.” (The article is short, so I’ll post it here because you have to pay for it at Forbes.com if you’re not a subscriber.)

From Forbes, January 8, 2007:

Speculation’s swirling in Silicon Valley over who’s in the line of succession at SAP (nyse: SAPnews people ), the third-largest software company worldwide. Current Chief Henning Kagermann’s contract expires at the end of 2007. Per SAP policy, Kagermann has to say by April whether he’ll stay or go. Bets are on a departure. Insiders say the former physics professor has told SAP Chairman Hasso Plattner he won’t renew. Kagermann has two presidents jockeying for his position–and you don’t want to be caught between them.

Leo Apotheker, 53, runs sales, marketing and operations from SAP’s base in Walldorf, Germany. The German-born, no-nonsense executive helped ensure SAP’s 6.5% annual sales growth the past five years.

Apotheker’s competition is Shai Agassi, who runs technology strategy and development out of Palo Alto, Calif. At age 7 the Israeli was programming on punch cards. In 2001, at 32, he sold his software firm TopTier to SAP for $400 million. A year later he joined SAP’s executive board, the youngest member by more than a decade and the only non-German.

The two contenders have been subtly trying to trip each other in the race to the top. One former strategist for SAP says Apotheker, in executive meetings, has been frequently lamenting the pace of technology development and tells his best salespeople to let Kagermann know when the software isn’t good enough to sell (a sure shot against Agassi’s efforts). Agassi is rumored to be including Kagermann on upbeat progress e-mails to his staff, a change from the past. Insiders say Apotheker will win. If so, Agassi would be ripe for poaching, says tech headhunter Mel D. Connet.

My question for SAP fans (and foes) is if, in fact, either two of these execs are the finalists for Kagermann’s succession, how will the global company change under the new leadership? Those of you who are familiar with the personalities of these two individuals– what philosophical differences do they bring to the helm that may change the culture or strategic direction for SAP?