As the name implies, SAP TechEd offers technical education, such as hands-on workshops, deep-dive lectures and sessions with SAP technical experts about all things SAP. That said, TechEd isn’t for everyone, and it’s no wonder that most of the 6,500+ attendees at SAP TechEd 2011, held the week of September 12 in Las Vegas, were SAP partners and technology specialists from the vendor’s large enterprise accounts.
However, despite the technical focus of the event, there were several key themes that have important implications for non-techies and small and medium businesses (or as SAP calls them–small and medium enterprises or SMEs). This makes sense, as SAP’s SME ambitions are core to the company’s growth strategy. Many of the partners I spoke to at the event provide sales, service and third-party development for SAP’s portfolio of SMB-centered applications, including Business One, Business by Design, Business All-in-One and Business Objects Edge. Undoubtedley not by accident, as SMB customers rely on these partners to translate the technology and solution innovations below into practical business results.
- HANA everywhere. As noted in fellow analyst Cindy Jutras’ post, HANA was by far the lead theme at TechEd–just take a look at the tweet stream at #sapteched. HANA is SAP’s innovative column-based, in-memory database, which enables applications to zip through calculations for millions of records in just fractions of a second. While this is relevant for large companies, why should SMBs care? According to SAP, HANA will be part of every solution that SAP offers. SAP applications, from Business One through the Business Suite, will be “powered by HANA,” providing these applications with a big performance boost. The good news here for SMBs is that while SAP Business Suite customers will pay extra for high-test HANA performance, customers using SAP’s SMB-centric solutions will get at least some of this added horsepower as part of the normal upgrade cycle, at no additional charge. However, at this stage, it’s still fuzzy as to exactly how SAP will embed and deliver HANA in its SMB portfolio, what will be included, and what will be priced separately.
- SAP Business by Design (ByD) as a platform. ByD will continue to fill the role of a cloud-based ERP suite, but ByD is evolving to become a cloud platform as well. SAP is providing partners and customers with an integrated SDK to build applications on top of the ByD platform, and plans to debut a ByD app store ala Salesforce.com AppExchange, where customers can buy, download and deploy both SAP and partner ByD apps. The ByD cloud platform should make it easier for partners to build their own applications and IP on top of ByD and expand their market opportunity. Partner-developed ByD services will be layered on the ByD foundation to deliver the common elements of ByD. Providing and enhancing the partner opportunity is essential for SAP to groe its SMB footprint in the cloud space, especially as it plays catch up against early birds such as NetSuite and Salesforce.com. Partner applications and services will be essential to provide the diverse SMB market with the choice and richness in solutions they require.
- Mobile as the design center for solution development and delivery. Aided and abetted by its Sybase acquisition, SAP is putting the mobile experience front and center for application design and development. This means that SAP’s design point for new applications starts with the mobile device experience. Existing apps will get a mobile makeover–providing users with the mobile interfaces they are increasingly clamoring for and turning to over traditional desktop devices. For instance, SAP Business One presented Version 1.3.1 of it mobile app, which enables users to use Business One on an iPhone or iPad. The app provides things such as alerts and approvals, reports and interactive dashboards, and inventory management, and looks very easy to use and streamlined for the mobile experience that more and more SMBs are using in addition to or as a replacement for traditional desktop interfaces.
- Making business applications more engaging. Mary Poppins told us long ago that “For every job that must be done there is an element of fun, find the fun and snap, the job’s a game.” Jane McGonigal, SAP TechEd’s guest keynote speaker, presented the modern-day version of this with her talk on “gamification.” In a nutshell, gamification is making a non-game application more engaging by making it game-like. While I talked to several skeptics (or Puritans?) who don’t get the connection between work and games, I’ve always bought into the Mary Poppins philosophy. To me, it’s intuitive that people doing more fun and interesting work are naturally more engaged and productive. SAP put this theory into action at TechEd with Knowledge Quest, which attendees could play and earn points by answering questions, completing interactive challenges, acquiring codes, and taking on head-to-head challenges with other players. Players with the most points were awarded prizes such as iPads, Nintendo 3DS, and headphones. I don’t know how many people played, but the Knowledge Quest booth was pretty packed whenever I went by. Now this is a very big if, but if SAP successfully tackles the gamification challenge (maybe with a game?!) it can gain a big advantage. SMBs using SAP solutions will also come out ahead–via a more productive and engaged workforce–especially as more businesses are started and run by younger entrepreneurs and employees that have been raised in a video-gaming culture.
The bottom line is that while TechEd isn’t for everyone, SAP’s key themes are as relevant to business decision-makers as they are to technology decision-makers and solution builders.
However, SAP is competing against some great marketers–most notably Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com–who bring their own appetite for and vision of business software innovation to the market. In contrast, SAP, for all of its technical strengths, has not been a marketing powerhouse. While SAP has committed to making its technology innovations digestible for SMB customers, can it do the same with it’s marketing and messaging? Creating clear, crisp and compelling marketing for its diverse portfolio of solutions and its new technology directions may prove to be SAP’s toughest innovation challenge.