I returned to SAP this week to attend the TechEd conference in Las Vegas as a blogger. I am privileged to be here as part of the blogger’s program that we started a few years back at SAPPHIRE and has been very successful as a part of SAP events since then.
One thing is clear, SAP can still throw one hell of a big party. Everywhere you look there are people with SAP conference badges, which is no small feat in a city as bustling as Vegas. The official count is 6,000 attendees, 20% more than last year.
What follows are my notes on the keynote address.
The theme for this event is Enterprise SOA. What is meaningful here is not enterprise SOA but what actual customers are doing with it. All too often we hear about big initiatives around technology from major vendors with delivery dates years out. SAP has been working on SOA for many years, at least 5 according to my recollection, and they are at a point now where they can talk about what customers are doing as opposed to what their own developers are doing and that’s meaningful.
Case in point are the top 5 showcase applications that were highlighted in the keynote (I need to verify the names and descriptions):
Molson: On demand data cockpit to improve supply chain efficiency.
Anadarta: Control compliance through the procurement process.
Seal OC Tanner: Workflow and notification through Google Gadgets
Microsoft: Tracking $1b of promotions through SAP
Sharp Electronics: Order process control with integration of process, Netweaver, Paypal and First Data
All of these applications reflect customer specific applications and unique integration scenarios that were accomplished using a palette of SOA components.
Peter Zencke is up on stage now, it always cracks me up when the Germans apologize in advance for "a little too much marketing" in reference to the sessions highlighting new and existing SAP technology pieces.
Well it didn’t take long to get to a "roadmap" powerpoint slide, only 2 into Zencke’s preso and we have a trademark SAP roadmap slide in all it’s glory. You just know there’s some department in the basement somewhere that turns out nothing but these slides.
The slide that is up behind Zencke is interesting and reflects a more significant theme at this event. SAP is treating businesses as networks and for years the focus was on network efficiency, in other words, supply chains and procurement and reporting and supporting customers. From here on out you will hear SAP talking less about efficiency and more about "network co-innovation" as a theme.
The idea is abstract but important, how do you leverage your partners and customers not just to cut costs but also grow through creating new products and services, better combining existing resources, and taking full advantage of the "network of brains" that exist in every company.
Zencke just ran a video of Standard Bank in South Africa talking about how they are using SOA to integrate a portfolio of different products and systems in order to better match their customer needs. Reading between the lines, I think what Standard Bank is saying is that they had a bunch of individual systems that supported each of the services they offered to their customers.
As customers began to demand efficiency and a la carte ordering from the product menu they were unable to meet demand. SAP’s NetWeaver is giving them a standardized approach to system and service integration that enables them to better serve their customers. I guess it’s really not that complex of an equation, the high tech industry just tends to make it complex.
Up on stage now is a live demo of something called "switch framework". To be honest, I have no idea what this is but I think it’s something like a configurator that gives admins a one-click approach to adding or removing functionality, process functionality, in a live system. This is akin to an in-flight refueling approach to system enhancement and upgrade packages.
Interestingly, there is another announcement called SOA by Design, which is a play on the recently announced Business by Design product. There is a lot of talk about "harmonizing" this and that, but I am still not clear on what is going on with this. Zencke’s own admission is that there is no existing market for BBD so why is harmonization important? Perhaps this is a technical path to ultimately enable the replacement of Business Suite with BBD?
Speaking of enhancement packages, it has been said at many points in this presentation that upgrades are not disruptive. Everything that runs in the core today is still core while the new things being shown are layered on as opposed to substituted for something already there. I don’t see how SAP can do this across the board as it is inevitable that something has to get end-of-lifed, as rare as that is for SAP, in order to preserve the economics.
My good friend Vishal Sikka is on stage now. Vishal is the CTO of SAP and a seriously smart person who is also self-effacing and really affable. Like I said, I think the world of Vishal and was really pleased that he got the nod to CTO.
Vishal’s approach to this is really straightforward: SAP has scalable backend servers, a big catalog of events and services, and everything comes together with flexible and adaptive user interfaces. This is not a simple task given the tradeoffs between business process management, SOA governance, and end-to-end service and support and lifecycle management.
Jeff Word is doing a demo of the Composition Environment, a new product that SAP released a few months ago that builds on previous attempts to enable business analysts with a model driven tool for building business apps from a service repository. Lot’s going on here but some takeaways are multi-modal interface options, Adobe forms and SAP’s upgraded portal, the CE running in Eclipse, a flowchart-like process modeler, and straightforward UI configuration. I’m clearly not doing it justice with this brief description but it was an impressive demo, in fact this was the only demo that received an applause at the end.
Let me reiterate a subtle but important point, SAP is throwing it’s weight behind Eclipse as an IDE and that’s big news. While SAP has supported Eclipse as a foundation member since 2002 the relationship has always been uneasy. SAP views developer tools as a core competency, so the notion of relying on a third party for this important piece of the developer tool portfolio has been unnatural for the company. Over the years this attitude has broken down and SAP is increasingly building key tools, like CE, on top of Eclipse. Let’s hope the company’s embrace of open source is two way and is an indicator of future support across the board.
The visual modeling tool that is part of CE reflects a long held view that Vishal has that abstractions of processes as services does not require the developer to tradeoff functionality or SOA governance. The promise of SOA is that by weakening the rigid coupling of the components, customers will benefit from cheaper and faster delivery of services to users, services that better match to their requirements.
Tags: SAP, SAP TechEd