ASUG-Sapphire Review: A Year of Transition

(By Mike Raftery)

Last week, the SCM Connections crew made its way south to the convention magnet of Orlando, Florida for the annual ASUG/Sapphire convention. For those of you that have never been, I can only describe the scene as overwhelming. I could give you the square footage of the show floor, but the scale and scope of this convention can only be understood once you are there. Most of us bunker down in our little corner of the SAP universe and plug away throughout the year. When you go to a convention like this, you realize just all the businesses and processes that SAP has its tentacles in, and how much you really do not know about the solution as a whole.

This scope provides perspective into the amount of inertia that a company the size and scope of SAP must overcome to make any change at all. And unless you’ve been living under a rock (inside a cube?) for the last 3 or so years, you know that that change is called HANA. Such a sprawling company needs to have focus around simple ideas for it to have any hope of keeping everyone aligned. And still it seems to be a monumental challenge because this is the third year HANA is the rallying cry.

I’ve been going to this conference for a few years now, and this one seemed to indicate an inflection point in the transition to the future of SAP’s vision. In the past few years there was quite a bit of effort spent explaining the technology, the databases and the infrastructure, and it felt very sales-y. To the vast majority of the SAP community, these solutions based on HANA existed solely on PowerPoint slides.

This year was a bit different. The message wasn’t so laser focused. The keynotes did not land any big punches. The splash just was not there. I read this change in tone as the message from a company in transition. SAP, in more ways than one, is definitely at a turning point. They have spent many years and countless sums of money working on a solution in HANA that is very powerful and definitely has the potential to become a game changer.

But it has not become that game changer yet. It felt to me that this is a company that is currently in the throes of figuring out how to regain their investment in HANA by doing everything they can to move the solution from “cutting edge” to “mainstream.” It was this change in tone that I felt while walking the floor that was different than years past. Everyone seems to be ready to digest what HANA means to them in a functional, day-to-day sense, but the detail on it was very light.

The other theme that was prevalent across every speech, discussion and video board scattered across the show floor was “Run Simple.” Hopefully something comes of this beyond a rallying cry because this is by far the biggest complaint of the SAP suite of applications that I hear on a daily basis. Taking the “half full” point of view, I see this as the first step of acceptance on the journey to simplification. Hopefully SAP follows through to complete the program.

The next announcement that hit the floor was the release of the Fiori user interface for free. This is not the first time that SAP has announced Fiori; we saw it at last year’s conference. It was an interesting move to announce it for free (previous customers would get a credit). This is all fine and good, but I just do not see any business unit these days paying for an IT project that enhances a user interface no matter how simple it is. If it’s included in the next release then great, but I do not think this moved the needle on anyone’s excitement level.

From a supply chain point of view, the mood was very much “be patient.” We expected to see some material about how HANA will change the SCM/APO suite of applications and how S&OP processes will be integrated into their new technology. However, information was scarce to say the least. The impression I got was that there’s something coming soon, but it’s not quite ready for primetime just yet. I expect to hear more from SAP in the next 6 months or so.

Overall this was a very expansive if not game changing conference. I walked away thinking that SAP is struggling to figure out how exactly to move their next generation HANA solutions from the lab to the mainstream. It’s coming, there’s no doubt about that, but what it looks like is not exactly clear. The attendees seem to be hungry for answers that are still being developed. Implementation partners want to know what to ramp up on, and customers want to be able to plan their IT roadmaps. But there is just not enough detail out there to do either just yet, so we’re all stuck in a holding pattern for now.

Everyone gets the technology, and it is revolutionary, but how will it improve business? How will it improve the bottom line? Performance is great, but until SAP finds a message that communicates how that performance translates to business results, we will all remain in a holding pattern.

Finally, I know everyone’s dying to hear about the Bon Jovi concert sponsored at the conference. Well imagine your rich Uncle hired Bon Jovi to play at his daughter’s wedding. That’s pretty much the show. He ended with “Twist and Shout.” Enough said.


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