Event: SAP Sapphire '06 (annual customer conference) and SAP ASUG '06 (America's SAP user group)
May 16-18, 2006, at the Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, Florida
Conference Info: For more information about SAP Sapphire or ASUG, go to www.sap.com
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Morning keynote, Day 3: Hasso Plattner is SAP's answer to Bill Gates. He's both the company's founder and chairman of the supervisory board of SAP. And like Gates, Plattner has a larger role as SAP's chief software advisor that speaks to his status as the company visionary that allows him to get involved in pretty much anything that interests him that he wants to get involved in. Plattner gave a long (but interesting) keynote on design and how innovation that is driven by good design is a key differentiator for highly successful companies. His key observation: that high performance organizations embrace both analytic thinking (execution, problem solving, focused and systematic thought) as well as design thinking (creativity, holistic, fact and need finessing lateral thought). And he quoted another visionary, Steve Jobs, saying, "Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works." He pointed to Apple's iPod as an example of how "great designers connect through users with empathy–they connect with people."
Media savvy: There were some 80 analysts and members of the media hosted by SAP at the conference. Media attendees ranged from mass-circulation newspapers like The Wall Street Journal and the Toronto Globe and Mail to business publications such as Workforce Management and Investor’s Business Daily--and even specialized titles like Information Week and Supermarket News. But in a move away from tradition, SAP also invited some 15 bloggers who regularly write about high-tech issues to come to the conference and cover it just like any other media outlet--people like Zoli Erdos at SQLFusion and Charlie Wood at Spanning Partners. As one SAP executive told me, "If they are going to write about us, we'd rather have them here so they can get information directly from us."
Conference size: This is the first time that SAP has combined both its customer conference (Sapphire) and user group meeting (ASUG) at one time. The result was 15,000-plus attendees and 290 SAP partner companies coming together in Orlando's Orange County Convention Center. Incoming ASUG president (and current VP) Matt Rickard of NB Power Holding Corp. in Canada told me that the joint Florida conference this year was such a big success that SAP will probably do it the same way next April in Atlanta.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Morning keynote, Day 2: A big crowd got up early in Orlando to hear the big guy speak. Henning Kagerman, SAP's CEO and chairman of the executive board, focused on a topic that was a theme throughout the three-day conference--the need for businesses to not just upgrade, but to innovate. He touted SAP's ability to help businesses of all shapes and sizes take incremental steps forward to make their business processes more innovative without having to go through a huge upgrade on the technical side. Kagerman pointed to a couple of real-life examples in his presentation: Australian mining giant Rio Tinto and the Body Shop, a U.K.-based retailer of skin and hair care products. Both companies, he said, use SAP's flexible software architecture to allow them to both grow and extend their business processes to partners and contractors that the companies deal with. Kagerman's key point: SAP is not a product provider anymore, but rather, a provider of business solutions. That may sound like a lot of marketing hype, but Kagerman made a compelling point that SAP has the ability to quickly offer flexible tools that can be scaled up or down depending on the size and needs of the business.
Big focus: After hearing Henning Kagerman talk about SAP's ability to scale its products up or down depending on the size of the customer, it wasn't surprising to hear Tobias Dosch, SAP's senior VP for solution management, talk about the tremendous growth opportunities for SAP in the "occasional" user base and smaller companies. And what does SAP consider a "smaller" company? According to Dosch, it’s a business with annual revenue of $250 million to $1 billion. The focus on smaller companies is part of a larger effort by SAP to show that its software is not just for huge organizations, but can be scaled and adapted to businesses of all sizes.
Afternoon keynote, Day 2: Shai Agassi, president of SAP's product and technology group (and a member of the company's executive board), talked about simplicity through redesigned processes and how the software industry was moving toward a complete suite of products and away from the "best of breed" approach.
How German is SAP?: At a press conference with other executives after his keynote speech, Kagermann was asked: Just how German is SAP these days? His answer: Germany is still very important to SAP and is 20 percent of the company and its second-largest market (after the Americas), but that it will become a smaller part of the business over time. Or as he put it: "We used to be a German company that had a global presence. Now we're a global company that just happens to be headquartered in Germany."
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Keynote, Day 1: I got in too late to hear this one, but the first keynote speech late Tuesday afternoon was delivered by Bill McDermott, president and CEO of SAP Americas, and Leo Apotheker, president of SAP customer solutions and operations. McDermott is an interesting opening speaker, and his spot at the beginning of the conference is probably a nod to McDermott's place within SAP's global organization. SAP Americas isn't just the company's growth region, but also has the highest customer satisfaction ratings within SAP. When I asked why the Americas region has such a high customer rating, other SAP executives point back to McDermott. As Peter Graf, executive vice president of solution marketing, put it, "Bill McDermott is obsessed with customer success."
Global deal: The first big news announcement was that big Chinese computer maker Lenovo had selected SAP's high-tech solution portfolio to better transform and manage its core business processes, manufacturing integration and supply-chain management. Lenovo, which acquired IBM's PC Division (and its popular ThinkPad laptop line) last year, is the world's third-largest PC manufacturer and is pushing hard to challenge leaders Dell and Hewlett-Packard. Under this deal, Lenovo will roll out software from the SAP for High Tech portfolio to about 15,000 users in 148 countries.