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SAPPHIRE 2008 Orlando

May 4-7, 2008 Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, Florida

May 8, 2008

Event: SAPPHIRE 2008 Orlando

Date: May 4-7, 2008

Where: Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, Florida

What: Software giant SAP’s customer conference. Given SAP’s rivalry with Oracle and smaller niche vendors in human resources software, as well as questions about SAP’s product strategy, the event promised to be of interest to HR and HR technology executives.

Conference info: For more information, go to http://www.sapsapphire.com/usa2008/index.htm.

Day 1—Monday, May 5

Conference theme: It’s all right
SAP came into this major user conference dogged by some bad news. Its earnings and software revenue for the first quarter fell below expectations, and the Germany-based business software giant said it was slowing down the rollout of its new on-demand software for midsize businesses.

Equity analyst Pat Walravens of JMP Securities also published a note Monday saying that SAP America was laying off "hundreds" of employees.

SAP said the report was wrong in its details but conceded that the company had laid off about 130 people throughout the Western Hemisphere—out of some 9,000 in the region—in late April.

SAP executives here have focused on the bright side of the company, which is one of the largest sellers of human resources software products along with rival Oracle. After all, SAP managed to achieve its 17th consecutive quarter of double-digit growth in revenue from software and software-related services. And the company has attracted 15,000 attendees to its conference, despite the tough economic climate. This year’s show attendance is roughly the same as last year’s SAPPHIRE show in Atlanta.

Claus Heinrich, SAP’s head of HR and a member of the company’s executive board, said morale is good at SAP and that the integration of "business intelligence" software vendor Business Objects is going well. That acquisition—SAP’s largest ever—was announced last October and closed in January. Business Objects had about 6,100 employees at the end of December. SAP now has 51,000 employees worldwide.

Heinrich said a key to the smooth transition is the fact that Business Objects was formed in France and then expanded into the U.S.—therefore the two firms share a European heritage.

SAP also is continuing its push into the hot field of talent management, Heinrich said. As in the past, Heinrich’s organization is serving as a kind of test bed for SAP HR software products. Among the latest pieces of software SAP has tried out internally is a tool that allows managers to see a variety of talent information in one place—which Heinrich described as similar to a "cockpit." Some, but not all, of that capability is currently available to customers, he said.

Word of the day: UFO
SAP is on the lookout for UFOs—that is, user-facing objects. A session Monday defined these as collaborative tools such as blogs.

Of course, the more common definition of UFOs is unidentified flying objects.

Not-so-hip corporate leaders may in fact see blogs and wikis as alien phenomena.

In any event, SAP says the new acronym can’t help but generate interest in the topic. Said Guy Bavly, SAP product strategist: It’s "a good starter of conversation."
—Ed Frauenheim