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What’s SAP’s Plan: Innovation, SOA, and Winning?

I am back from SAP’s annual industry influencer conference. When I attend one of these meetings I typically take lots of notes on my laptop so that after the fact I can go back and make sense of what the executives actually said. It is a fascinating process. When I take these notes and analyze them I begin to see through the “show business” factor of an event intended to influence.

I enjoyed spending time with fellow blogger Michael Krigsman (IT Project Failures blog) who makes some interesting observations in his blog and the blog of his colleague, Joe McKendrick, who writes a SOA blog for ZDNet. Their perceptions on SOA and SAP are worth paying attention to.

Now, back to my point. So, what do my notes tell me? First, SAP leadership is obsessed with three things: innovation, service oriented architectures, and winning.

So, here is my quick take on each of these issues:

Innovation. In the seven pages of pages I took during the opening keynote sessions of the meeting, I typed the word innovation 25 times. While I am sure that is not a record – every vendor meeting I have attended in the past six months has focused on innovation. SAP’s definition of innovation is not surprising — it is tied to innovation in process. In many ways, SAP is correct. You can have enormous potential for efficiency breakthroughs through a process approach. Here’s a quote that I liked from one of the keynotes, ”

It is about continuous innovation. You take the process innovation and industry innovation in SAP, multiply that with the blueprint of SOA. This creates a possible incremental breakthrough. This approach can be adopted in a step-by-step way to create break through. You can bring in new processes and add more flexibility to create a business breakthrough..”

Since I don’t take dictation, this is as close as I got to a direct quote. But what is interesting here is that SAP is talking about innovation in terms of an incremental approach, an approach that assumes a structured service architecture, and the fact that the end result will create a business breakthrough. No one could argue with these points. However, what I kept waiting for and never got was examples that put these words in context with customers’ experiences.

Service Oriented Architecture. SAP loves SOA. In several conversations I had with SAP executives I was told that they were the leader in SOA. And I agree that SAP has done a good job in taking on the task of breaking down monolithic code into modular components. This is a good approach for SAP internally since it means less work for their own development organization when they need to move from one version to the next. Using standards based web services interfaces instead of proprietary APIs helps tremendously. SAP is strong on adhering to industry standards within their platform. What I question is the company’s ability to claim leadership in SOA if it is intended to be an SAP dominated architecture where they own and control all the moving parts.

In my view, SOA has to be based on a heterogeneous approach to architecture. Business services have to be loosely coupled — no matter what platform they were build for. SAP is not the only company I have a beef with on this point — Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, BEA, etc. all would like to have their platform become the SOA standard. This would be a dangerous move for customers.

Winning. I actually think that if any one vendor “wins” the architectural game, customers lose. If I write next year that SAP has accomplished its goal and become the standard for SOA, I will be there first to proclaim SOA is dead. While SAP is a smart, competitive, and technically sophisticated company, it needs to focus on winning based on their customers success in a highly fragmented, complicated, and heterogeneous world.

 

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