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SAP Bets Big on Big Data and Platform Play


At this past week’s TechEd 2013 event in Las Vegas, SAP signaled loud and clear that it’s betting big on big data and positioning its HANA technology as a platform for growing the company’s ecosystem of app providers and developers. In addition to the announcement of new design services, cloud offerings, and enhanced access to third-party data sources (like Oracle and SQL Server) and tighter Hadoop integration via Hortonworks, several themes and observations emerged from my time attending sessions, hearing keynotes, and meeting with nearly a dozen SAP executives, including:

  1. SAP is in the midst of a major transformation (its own version of digital disruption so to speak), both in the ways it envisions and aims to deliver new user experiences, and how it sees itself evolving as an enterprise software provider.
  2. HANA and SAP’s new UI tools and its eChannels/store (along with recent acquisitions like hybris and SuccessFactors) represent a major re-architecting of the company’s core product offerings and go-to-market approach.
  3. The company seems to have latched onto the “bigness” part of big data, yet this high-end processing and “scale” story is only part of the equation. Case in point: a lot of the narrative in Las Vegas was about tools for the data scientist – even though the momentum in many cases is moving towards “small data” apps and tools for analysts and business users who aren’t data scientists.
  4. Beyond the headlines, I was able to sample a number of very interesting (and potentially high-impact) initiatives that are underway, including ones to recruit start-ups and developers to the HANA platform, and new solutions for advanced analytics, visualization, and smart retailing/customer engagement.

So, what do these developments mean for SAP going forward?

First, just like the past, the future of SAP lies in its ecosystem. The trick is that the company must keep its traditional customers and SI partners in the fold with “add-ons” to its core business apps and incentives for investing in HANA, while at the same time evolving its marketplace, offerings for line of business buyers (and especially marketers – see below), and honing “direct-to-developer” chops.

Second, will the company’s recent messages and HANA-focused initiatives scale and gain meaningful market acceptance? Early results are positive (over 2000 customers on HANA, 1000 start-ups building on the platform, a new relationship with SAS) and executives seem to be saying the right things about the need to become more open and drive innovation via partnerships, but as they say, actions will speak louder than words!

Third, can SAP finally crack the code when it comes to reaching/selling to marketers? Given our recent research about delivering the value of big data to the masses, there’s a huge opportunity for SAP here, especially with some of its analytics offerings (boosted by the KXEN deal), enhanced mobile capabilities, ecosystem of start-ups, and potential to incorporate its social/collaboration and e-commerce tools into one integrated offering for digital marketers and merchandisers – IF the company can learn to fully speak the language of the creative crowd.

The Bottom Line

Even though SAP is acting (or at least sounding) like a different company these days, many aspects of its transformation and new product initiatives are still works-in-progress. It’s clear there’s a renewed confidence that is being bolstered by the early response to HANA and SAP’s cloud offerings from companies of all sizes. But as core license revenues slowly shrink, there’s still much work to do in growth areas – on both the product and market development fronts.

This is especially the case in expanding SAP’s presence with CMOs and their teams. From what I’ve seen, the ingredients are there, but at the end of the day, SAP must be viewed more as a “by and for marketers” company, and fully define its CRM vision. Even more so, it must be seen not only as a credible partner to large SIs – but also to the digital agencies and specialty service providers who are defining the next wave of content- and data-driven campaigns and customer experiences. We’ll be watching to see how this plays out between now and the next SAPPHIRE in June 2014.


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