The Future is Here (but its not evenly distributed yet)

This catchline was used last week in the starting video at the SAP World Tour at the ICC in Birmingham (July 8th). So, did the rest of this mini-Saphire — SAP's big user and partner conference — live up to the tagline?

From the point view of the 900 attendees present, the presentation gave them an insight into SAP’s strategy built around “Customer Centric Innovation”.

Tim Noble, managing director of SAP, UK and Ireland, opened the conference by looking at the prime market forces that SAP is exposed to. These were listed as:

Sustainability – where with the new UK legislation around carbon indexing coming in April, effects were being noticed;
Workforce demographics – we all know that the new entrants into the workforce are the first to be what one might call “socially sharing aware” – i.e. face book and twitter are second nature
Economic uncertainty – are we all now about this and the budget 2 weeks ago makes this even more of an issue.
New technology – are you arable to keep up with what is available and how it ca be used?

Noble discussed the results of the SAP UK survey of 250 chief information officers.

These CIOs saw that the split between business applications being on premise, on demand or on device in three to five years would be 51%, 28% and 21% respectively.

The latter figure is of real interest, as this is about the number of us who will be using business applications on devices that are unfettered. Noble closed by stated that the market opportunity for the UK and Ireland was looking good and that SAP UK had recorded double digit growth this last year (year ending March 2010).

Keynote Two was given by Sanjay Poonen, executive VP and general manager SAP Business User and LoB Solutions. Poonen took Customer Centric Innovation as the theme of his talk. SAP has some 97,000 customers in 120 counties – that’s a big pool of customers to listen to.

With Business Suite 7, SAP has aimed for being the best-of-breed as well as the best integrated solutions. That sounds like it can’t work. However because of all the investment that SAP has made into the underlying architecture and its support for international standards, the company has a foundation on which to integrate seamlessly these best-of-breed applications. The additional user functionality in the applications has been led by customer demand.

SAP’s purchase of Sybase earlier this year has allowed it to build on the partner relationship it already has to provide the ability to access applications from many devices. Apple’s iPad isn’t there yet, but Poonen hinted that it was coming soon!

Build it… and they will come
In his summary, Sanjay Poonen used the allegory of building a house to describe the SAP strategy. The house foundation is Netweaver, SAP’s java-based development, integration and process management toolset. The ground floor is the applications (Business Suite, All-in-One, Business ByDesign and Business One). The first floor is all about extracting information from the ground floor, using Business Objects. The second floor is then about providing business intelligence – once aging through Business Objects. The roof of the house is about performance and the management of a company’s goal through Enterprise Performance Management.

With the British Formula One Grand Prix taking place on Sunday after the conference, the user speaker was appropriately Jonathan Neale, managing director of McLaren Racing. So petrolheads were listening! Neale’s talk was about what it takes to run an Formula One business. F1 is seen as the pinnacle of motorsport with 19 races in a year, 12 teams, a complex set of technical and sporting regulations, where every car needs to be customised to each driver and each circuit. The business model is all about producing product excellence.

Neale sees F1 as the ultimate team sport, partly because it involves three different teams: the Race team who look after the car during the racing season (this includes the drivers); the technical team who build the car and do behind the scenes analysis of all the race statistics gathered from 200 monitors and sensors on each car; and finally the technical partners, who provide specialist knowledge for certain components like tyres and computer technology.

Neale stressed that in F1, a deadline is a deadline and that deadline is ultimately delivering the car onto the grid to start the race. What does it take to win? Neale saw this as a combination of technical and organisational differentiation. On the technical side it is about the chassis, engine, tyres and driver, and the set is completed by race excellence and operational efficiency. Organisation difference is about a winning mentality, clear values, with the development of talent in employees supported by long term sustainability as a business.

Neale explained what worked for them and what didn’t in terms of business operations:

Worked Didn’t work
• Clear mission and goals • Presumptive detailed objectives
• Shared values on risk • Procrastination, risk avoidance or decision abdication
• Openness, trust and commitment • Very heavy process overload with obligation on conformity and compliance
• Culture of an obligation to win • Distracting initiatives
• Clarity and focus on prime objectives • Failure to direct

“Winning is why we are here,” Neale concluded his speech by saying.

The rest of the conference was streamed and contained presentations by SAP UK staff and by customers around various aspects of the SAP product portfolio.

So will the future be more evenly distributed? I think that was a big claim, but those that attended the SAP World Tour should have found something valuable to take away – if not least how the SAP house is built.

Simon Holloway