Let’s Do the Time Warp Again

Published by Tobias Hofmann on

15 min read

It’s just a jump to the left

And then a step to the right

With your hands on your hips

You bring your knees in tight

But it’s the pelvic thrust

That really drives you insane

Let’s do the Time Warp again

The Time Warp, The Rocky Horror Picture Show

First week of SAPPHIRE is over and the second one is about to start today. SAP honored us with an opening keynote followed by 4 days focused on topic tracks. As always, an immense amount of information was provided. Luxury problem: find the important pieces of information and do not get lost in all the sessions. The most important announcements are captured in SAP news articles. This helps to see what SAP wants us to see as the main areas to focus on. These articles which lay down in written form what SAP promised to deliver. For my blog, I won’t go through each announcement made by SAP or follow the keynote(s) chronologically. I’ll focus on some topics that caught my attention during the keynotes. I wrote about my personal SAPPHIRE NOW wish list and many topics I raised there were mentioned. After the complete SAPPHIRE NOW 2021 experience is over, I’ll write about the outcome of my wish list.

It’s astounding
Time is fleeting
Madness takes its toll
But listen closely
Not for very much longer
I’ve got to keep control

The keynote was better than last year. Not because the streaming worked, it seems that Mr. Klein got some training to improve his presentation skills. And it was with less computer effects. The keynote was full of references to RISE, however not as I expected. SAP did not drag one happy RISE customer after another to the stage. This is good as a product like RISE needs some time to deliver results. This year’s keynote was focused on outlining the content of RISE and its benefits: digital transformation and services from SAP. All under the pressure to act that comes with Covid-19.

Overall, the keynote made a restless impression on me. I felt it were too many people presenting. I don’t know the number, but 40+ wouldn’t be a surprise. Virtual keynotes have a common problem. Time passes without noticing: a person is introduced, enters the stage, walks to the presenter, applause. In a virtual keynote it is just a cut to the video. And you still want to fill in 90 minutes of time.

The stories were about how SAP helped a customer achieving their goals. The setup: SAP speaker talks about a topic they are proud of, and customer says that this feature helped them. On to the next topic. Pharma company Roche was invited to talk about how they make the world a better place in this pandemic. I did not get that message: the story arc of the keynote is that Covid changed the world, and SAP invites a pharmacy company that lacks a vaccine. BioNTech wasn’t asked or declined? In a story about sustainability SAP gave Tetra Pak the stage, announced as a green sustainable company. Either I missed the news that their packaging is good for the environment, or this was green washing at prime time.

While at the sustainability topic. Yes, this is important and good. It’s also the lowest bar to jump over as everybody understands that this is important. Dear SAP, if you take this seriously, are you going after your customers to ensure they deliver also on sustainability? Some of SAP’s largest customers are Oil & Gas, airlines, or mining companies. Are you going to end your business relationship with them because they produce too much CO2? Or pressure them to reduce their CO2 footprint by raising license costs if they don’t? Is SAP willing to lose money from these customers? Is SAP going to cancel all company cars for their employees? Are they only allowing electric cars as company car? Changing the world takes some painful steps, is SAP willing to take this pain? Yes or no?

Another impression the keynote had on me: it was a traditional keynote. Yes, with more people, cuts, effects. Still: a traditional keynote. SAP says what they did or are doing, a customer says thanks you. This made the keynote look like individual, loosely connected presentations:

  • Now we talk about RISE, and look, there is a good customer from us that shares feedback.
  • Now to sustainability.
  • Now to modular ERP.
  • And after the commercial, we are back with more news about the business network. Please stay with us.

I missed a compiled end-to-end story. Instead of jumping from Covid to sustainability to processes to logistic, why not do a single story: a day in the life of company X. Employees get to work, must deal with a problem, solve it with SAP. They go to lunch, with their kids at home, can solve a problem on mobile thanks to SAP. A container ship is stuck and creates some logistic problems: no problem thanks to SAP.

A story arc that prepares in 20 minutes the scenario in which later real customers can talk about their experience. At least I’d remember better each business problem and applied solution.

I remember doing the Time Warp
Drinking those moments when
The blackness would hit me
And the void would be calling

SAP Business Network was prominently featured. It’s new as in: combining already existing products like Ariba, Logistics Business and the Asset Intelligence Network. Seems SAP decided to clean up the portfolio and they remembered that they have a few business network solutions lying around. 9 years after buying Ariba SAP decides to do something with it. Better late than never, and Covid-19 should provide the needed motivation to keep the focus on the new business network going. To quote the SAP news from 2012: “The acquisition establishes SAP as the leading business network, adding business-to-business collaboration to its existing solutions.” Adding intelligence or sustainability and hopefully a working integration, this can be a product that helps SAP to grow.

Not receiving the same airtime yet showing that SAP remembers that they acquired Sybase also for their mobile platform. 11 years later, mobile platform and solutions from SAP still exists, only that SAP did a good job in killing them. Or to say: the market presence has some room to grow. The lack of apps is something I wrote about in – wait for it – 2019! Now SAP tries to bring back apps. Unfortunately, it seems not to be apps, just one app: Mobile Start. It is a single app for helping employees to get their tasks done. What caught my eyes is the video commercial for the app. That’s basically the same video Sybase/SAP showed 10 years ago to market Mobile Workflow. Oh, and you need S/4HANA Cloud 2108. Most people I know would be happy to get an offline capable inbox app. Or full PWA support for the Fiori Launchpad and offline and push capability for all the Fiori apps they have. And for their 4 to 5 years old SAP on-premises systems. The reality and the refusal of SAP to acknowledge that customers hesitate to invest in native mobile solutions due to time and costs are to me the main adoption blockers. To make the app work at customers, it needs to be a ready-to-use app with a very low footprint. Given that in recent presentations from SAP Mobile team low-code was declared as the future way to develop apps, why now a native app? At one meeting SAP explicitly stated that the investment is low code (MDK), and both hybrid and native options are on life support. I do not know what to expect here. Or is the app using MDK? In that case it reminds me of SAP Asset Management that was presented as a native app when SAP signed the partnership with Apple and today is a MDK app. Did some VP changed roles and is now investing into native because, well, that’s why and when that VP leaves in 2 years to work in another org unit, strategy will change again? Time will tell how the new Mobile Start app will perform.

While time traveling, SAP brings back sustainability. We had this before, even as cloud solutions. SAP was way ahead of its time. We must be honest too: their sustainability cloud solutions missed so many features, no wonder usage was low. For their on-premises solutions in the EHS&C area: a vendor must invest into its solutions. There are so many solutions that could have been adopted “easily” to support the sustainability story, but weren’t. What will happen to the backlog? Or is sustainability only achievable with S/4HANA at the center?

Another term that was born is Modular ERP. Industry solutions and cloud are also worked on. This is classic ERP area. SAP can only win here as this is their turf, this is what they know and dominate. SAP ERP was always modular, and now CRM is back, SRM is back, only using different names. Someone knows how to play the game: if you cannot dominate a market, rename it. If you are the only one active in a market you define after your rules, you are the leader. Congrats! Remember: if you want to dominate a market, you must name the market correctly.

In another dimension
With voyeuristic intention
I see all

Just before the SAP RISE event in January, SAP bought Signavio. And just before SAPPHIRE NOW, Celonis announced that they are now evaluated at 11 billion. Seems the “war” between SAP / Signavio and Celonis started. One impression I got is that SAP did not buy Signavio because they are the best solution or allow for the best integration. SAP bought them because they could. Celonis is out of reach, from a price as well as from feature completeness. Signavio offers less, and therefore allows to be shaped and formed the way SAP needs it. Is it the best for customers to get an inferior solution? We will see what SAP does with it. The demo shown at the keynote already raised severe questions about the features. In the short time between buying Signavio and SAPPHIRE NOW, realizing a deep integration is not possible. SAP also wants to continue to sell Signavio as a stand-alone product. What I find interesting is that Solution Manager is out. Solution Manager is the tool touted by SAP for managing your landscape and processes for almost two decades. It is meant to monitor your processes, to see if a process is working or not and to act on this. There is a public demo system for SolMan 7.2 is available that can be used to try out its capabilities. The need, or the reasons why to use SolMan are getting fewer and fewer, and I wonder how long until SolMan is declared deprecated. If its dead, I know many customers that are going to celebrate.

Considering the above, it gets interesting. SAP is about business standard process. For decades, SAP told their customers how to run their business processes. And customers decided to do it differently. Now SAP comes with a new solution to show customers that they do not know how their processes are run. As a customer I’d ask SAP why

a) this tool costs money and

b) why it isn’t part of the existing solution since decades.

SAP comes with tools to define processes and to realize them with SAP. In an ERP project you start with a standard process and adjust it to your needs. What took SAP so long to provide a tool that compares a customized process to a standard process or to do analysis on top of it and provide recommendations? For the ABAP programs, SAP is enforcing an S/4HANA check since years. For the processes they talked about it, but never delivered the tools needed. Now they can and it will be interesting to see for how long SAP can charge for the usage of Signavio before the user groups like DSAG are going to demand that it is included in the normal license.

Well, I was walking down the street just a-having a think
When a snake of a guy gave me an evil wink
He shook-a me up, he took me by surprise
He had a pickup truck and the devil’s eyes
He stared at me and I felt a change
Time meant nothing, never would again

After a rather exhausting official part, Hasso Plattner was given significant air time. Until here, the keynote was tiring. You could almost feel the tense and pressure and that people really tried to not say something wrong. The urge to show why to chose SAP. That’s when the interview with Mr. Plattner was a relief. Easy laid-back talking. For sure he wasn’t under any pressure. That’s the benefit when you are in charge and can hire & fire executives and put them under pressure.

The interview was nice. SAP gave Hasso air time and the stage for some self-congratulation. He looked back at the start of SAP and everything was delivered perfectly. Later, he advised that this won’t work, and of course, he was right, and it didn’t work out (e.g. Business by Design). You have to be very naive to believe he is only standing on the sidelines and watches. The story that he is just advising and watching is a nice fairy tale. His critical review for the SAP visions (best run companies) is refreshing and gives some insights. That kind of review is what should be done regarding HANA. Or many other initiatives that SAP started in the last decade, like Leonardo.

Let’s do the Time Warp again

SAP remembers that they have bought several solutions in the last 10 years and is now trying to bring them back. If you have seen the SAPPHIRE NOW keynotes of the last 10 years, many announcements sound familiar, like Ariba, Hybris or mobility. Partly it felt like doing a time warp back 10 years. Not every marketing initiative made it back like Leonardo and HANA. Do they share fate with Eddie? Even S/4HANA was not prominently featured. I find it weird that SAP is pushing more S/4HANA cloud than the on-premises version. I am pretty sure that the market share and most customers are going to the on premise version. Will the new injected life into old solutions last? Time will tell. It seems that the leadership team has a rough understanding about the benefits this could bring. Delivering on this will be crucial. So far I see too many lose ends that are not connected. At this point, SAP’s huge portfolio turns out to be a real problem. They have to support not only many solutions, but also a wide range in a broad portfolio. A clean up phase should do good. It will hurt, and many will complain, but either SAP cleans up more and consolidates features, or they will stuck in supporting software. The time spend here can be invested better. Better for both SAP and customers. Cloud is a possible path as it allows to easier substitute capabilities, but how to get there? That is another point to watch.

I missed more information on SAP embrace. What is SAP’s plan with it, what should customers expect from SAP and its partners. There is the Microsoft Teams integration, but that is part of a different initiative. Is Google still active in the SAP market? Their offering in the SAP BTP space is, let’s be polite: inexistant. I wonder why other long-term partners like IBM or T-Systems are not part of embrace.

Signavio makes me wonder how SAP sees RISE. First, I thought it is about getting a seat at the table to discuss and form together with customers the future. To define with them how their digital transformation journey will be. As a tool to form a new trusted partnership between SAP and their customers. After SAPPHIRE NOW I have the impression that the vision for SAP RISE from the top-level management is to sell services and not to enter a new stage of collaboration. The message is: buy Signavio, the business network and sustainability will come, the digital transformation simply starts. I miss the collaboration message. A together-we-can attitude.

Overall, SAP needs to work out the RISE story. I can see every piece and how they could work together, but how they are intended to work together, this story I am missing. Currently, SAP is selling individual packages and the integration aspect between them seems to be forced. I am not sure if all areas and departments at SAP are working closely together to a common goal. If this problem is solved, next year’s SAPPHIRE NOW can be used to tell the integrated story where every solution plays their part.

The BTP free tier is coming July 1st. Big news for customers as it allows to cost efficiently run BTP solutions and move from POC to production. The announcement was prominently placed at SAPPHIRE NOW. Now you know the importance the topic has for SAP. Rather disappointing, as customers and the developers that keep SAP alive at customers asked for this. Seems that as long an offering is not attributed with a price tag for sales, it does not really count for SAP. That’s another pain point that SAP needs to address and fits nicely the RISE problem. I get the feeling that SAP is the same as 10 years ago and nothing changes.

Last comment from my side: The social media wall … don’t. Just don’t. SAP marketing employees tweeting how great a keynote or customer case is, and then mention this in the keynote. No, don’t do this. Never.

Let the world know

Tobias Hofmann

Doing stuff with SAP since 1998. Open, web, UX, cloud. I am not a Basis guy, but very knowledgeable about Basis stuff, as it's the foundation of everything I do (DevOps). Performance is king, and unit tests is something I actually do. Developing HTML5 apps when HTML5 wasn't around. HCP/SCP user since 2012, NetWeaver since 2002, ABAP since 1998.


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