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.

The e20 Experts Corner: Shrinking to Expand

The Council frequently conducts Q&A teleconference call-ins with e20 gurus.  The calls are very casual, but are always illuminating and worth the 60-minute investment for everyone who shows up.  Last week’s guru Q&A was with Jeff Dachis, head of The Dachis Group here in Austin.

As I listened to Jeff’s preamble about who he was and where he came from, it surprised me that I forgot this is the same

http://www.flickr.com/photos/essjay/1418941439/

Jeff Dachis that jump-started a new sector in the IT services space in the late 90s when big corporations were smirking about the oncoming Internet revolution.  Of course, during the dotcom heyday, you couldn’t tell what was a sock puppet from what what was real. The easiest course of action was to deny anything was happening.  (There’s a big story in what actually did happen in the e-services sector, but that’s a story for another day.)  The fact that the market crashed made it look like the naysayers were right.  Yet, a decade later, most everyone will agree the Internet did change the world as we knew it, and it changed the business world irrevocably.  Jeff himself was the one who said, “In the future, everything that can be digital, will be.”  While we were on the call, Jeff described the post dot-com era as the “Internet winter.”  One of our members chimed in immediately with, “We’ve awoken now to the Social spring.”  That is a great metaphor to describe the phenomenon that’s now unfolding.

In 2006-7, everyone watching this new space of Enterprise Web 2.0 was eager to share what they knew, spontaneously connecting and collaborating.  All the up-and-coming experts emerging in the space all knew each other and helped define and chisel the image of the new market opportunity.  I’d say by mid-2009, everyone recognized the market was maturing.  It was about that time I launched the Council, and soon after, Headshift was acquired by the Dachis Group. Other alliances formed over the past year, e.g., through Gartner’s acquisition of Burton Group, Mike Gotta can now teach Gartner clients about e20, Oliver Marks and Sameer Patel joined forces to create the Sovos GroupGil Yehuda went to work in Silicon Valley, and the Altimeter Group is crossing over into the sector with its focus on social CRM.

The cheese that stood alone in the consulting crowd was Dion Hinchcliffe whom I once referred to as separated by birth from the Dalai Lama.  Today, Dion is announcing his company has also been purchased by The Dachis Group.  This is a terrific development in our sector as the consultants who’ve been independent are recognizing there is a tremendous amount of demand to understand and adapt to the technology-driven disruption and innovation that is exploding around the globe as a result of the socially interconnected web.  Where the majority of our members in the Council are inventing wheels for the first time, the extension of their hard work will require a bench of professional talent.  In order for consultants to meet that demand, consolidation is the only way to deliver by taking advantage of economies of scale. Whether the opportunity is strategy, technical integration, education, or assistance with deployment, the days for external evangelism are probably coming to an end.  The idealism that led the first era of this sector has now been replaced with pragmatism and will help businesses of all size move to the next level.

It reminds me of the boutique firms that cropped up in other eras that helped large companies manage the transition from before to after. Over time, the large consultancies will enter the market.  That’s when we’ll know we’ve arrived.  I’ve already seen some interesting arrangements with off-shore firms who have some unique capabilities to bring to the party.  As this business turns its attention to growing up, I applaud the pioneering efforts of these early bloggers and teachers who’ve brought us to this point.  So whether we quibble over our own insular naming conventions or accurate assessments of what is is, one thing is for certain, we’re ready for take off.  Buckle up.