SapphireNow Day One – Getting Virtual Events Right, And More

I got some great messages today from people who enjoyed my tweets “from” SapphireNow in Orlando – although I wasn’t there. That’s a tribute – not to me; we’re only talking tweets, for goodness’ sake – to SAP for pulling off a two-continent, video-streaming, full-on collaborative event I was able to participate in meaningfully from my desk in California. There was substance, partner announcements, customer dialogue, and star keynoters. A good day, with the best ahead, if my pre-briefs are any indication; there’s more ahead.

Of course, it wasn’t all perfect – the interface made it a bit harder to find sessions than it might have; the afternoon Colin Powell keynote was cut off as soon as the US-obsessed Americas SAP User Group (ASUG) presenters introduced him, but that wasn’t explained till 15 minutes in; the “blogger sessions” with some key executives were not streamed, when you’d think those people were precisely the ones you’d like to empower if they weren’t there. But in the big picture, these were small things. There were literally dozens of streamed sessions – there was local Q&A in post-meeting rooms provided, another great touch for attendees – and the video and audio quality were terrific.

First day keynotes are tricky. I missed some of the early stuff because of time zone differences. SAP rolled out some stars: Richard Branson and Al Gore to make sure that they got the room filled, and by all accounts it worked. For some reason they interviewed Branson instead of letting him talk – a mistake. They tried so hard to push him in the “right” directions when he had plenty of good things to say about sustainability and innovation on his own. With Gore, it was better – he made his usual speech, but it was reliably excellent. He made the ringing environmental case, pointing out that CO2 is “odorless, invisible, tasteless and priceless.” Kind of like most software till it’s time to pay for it (though he didn’t say so.) Powell apparently was great as well, at least according to the tweetstream that flowed like a mighty river from his talk. One note that was strange for me: many tweeters seemed surprised at how good these guys were, even without slides. Clearly our industry has lowered the bar for presentation quality (and perhaps we don’t get out enough.)

What about substance? There was plenty. The new ByDesign, for example: multi-tenant and single tenant; mobile support (even before factoring in the things to come from Sybase); a Silverlight UI (which improves MS Office connection.) Dennis Howlett blogged about Vishal Sikka’s ringing endorsement of the mobile value of Sybase here, with a great clip of Sikka, SAP’s new star, reiterating some of what he told me last week (discussed in this post.) By the way, kudos to Dennis for a high quality post out very quickly.

I attended several track sessions via video, and some were excellent. A customer panel on innovation was too staged, with a Berkeley moderator trying to drive panelists to the points desired a bit too hard. SAP’s Peter Graf made great points: “Innovation needs a platform, partners, process innovation.” And talked about how SAP has all of them. He’s a very effective presenter and got it done without overdoing it and dominating the panel.

Me? I was multitasking. If you’re tweeting, you’re watching too, and I saw the surprising news that Bruce Richardson, now an SAP competitor at Infor, had blogged that “SAP overpaid” for Sybase. I found some of his arguments a bit thin, but as always, he’s cogent and worth reading. Read and decide for yourself. Back in twitterland, I had posed the following question [cleaned up and expanded a bit here for readability]: “Compare the Sun and Sybase acquisitions. Which one do you think was more damaged when acquired? Which acquirer gets more short-term upside? Opinions please.” I got a half dozen responses from analyst colleagues. Unanimous – Sybase is the likely short-term winner. I agree; it was healthy, growing, and profitable. Sun, not. Long term, it will be about getting the value out of the synergies, which are promising in both cases. Who will leverage their acquisition better? You have to give Oracle the advantage here; they’ve learned a great deal more about integrating acquired companies at scale than SAP has. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, back at the show, HP trotted out an intriguing pitch about how they were going to help break the boundaries of SAP NetWeaver BW with Neoview Advantage, a bladed, small footprint appliance designed to break “the limitations of today’s BW.”  HP and SAP have  thousands of joint installations on HP platforms and now have more than 25,000 joint customers, so NeoView’s relatively small base may see a bit more of a (needed) boost in the high end of the market in the quarters ahead. To help drive business, HP announced a set of new BI services to “strengthen the portfolio of HP hardware, software, services and outsourcing that aligns with individual customer needs.” This alignment is obviously a strategic imperative for SAP and HP; they will have a hard battle against the single-stack offering from Oracle, but at least they have a start. Forrester’s Paul Hamerman tweeted from a session that notwithstanding the competition, “Vishal Sikka says SAP will continue to be the largest reseller of Oracle DBMS.” A delicate balance indeed.

My next stop was an “innovation and cloud” panel; Josh Greenbaum, determinedly casual in a sea of suits, made a strong pitch for the network effect the cloud will bring to apps – more players, collaborating and co-innovating, will move the needle faster. (Sort of like open source – without the open source.) Again, the jury’s out on this one, but there is no doubt that SAP and its customers have co-innovated a great deal over the past few years. The customer stories from panelists were good, and less forced than the prior panel.

Yet another panel followd: business process orchestration, with a designated academic from MIT Sloan School offering that “digitized processes for ‘stable pieces’ don’t constrain innovation.” I had trouble with that, and with the reference to an 11-year-old study to back up another point later on. This was another canned shtick panel – they even had video to show. But there were some nuggets. Pepsico revealed that it’s a happy single-instance site and pointing out that business process “transparency has been left on the table so far, and extending it outside the walls is complex.” This appears to be a mature, global, well-implemented organization looking hard at the next step; the impact of the comments was muted a bit by the revelation that some of what was described is not yet live. All the panelists agreed on one thing: having an Enterprise Architect is essential.

The last bit of the day I was able to attend remotely was the ASUG keynote, which preceded the Colin Powell speech. The Chairman and CEO of this volunteer organization – 85,000 strong – were all about America (US), not “Americas”; they ignored the large number of non-US attendees entirely. That aside, they gave powerful voice to the importance of an independent,  advocacy-driven user group and made the case that they fit the bill. Their visible efforts on the maintenance issue speak well of their results. One does not see this degree of feistiness in Oracle’s public events, to be sure. And the results on contract issues show it.

All told, a very good day. Looking forward to tomorrow’s session.

Disclosures: SAP is a client of IT Market Strategy

Published by Merv Adrian

Independent information technology market analyst and consultant, 40 years of industry experience, covering software in and around the data management space.

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