SAPs Rainbow Coalition

I spent a day at SAP TechEd last week. I was there primarily to meet some customers and execs for interviews for SAP Nation. I knew the theme of “open” would be prominent during the event, but I was not prepared for the extremely wide range of tools and technologies that now define SAP Nation.

SAP had a series of bins with pins for developers to vote for their language of choice. I walked around the show floor with Brian Dennett, a SAP Mentor and now co-founder of He proudly showed off his Python pin. I expected most at the event would similarly be showing off their machine learning chops or Java pins. I was blown away the ABAP bin was empty. As ABAP migrates to SAP’s Cloud Platform, the 35 year old language continues to flourish.

We had a meeting with Maricel Cabahug, Chief Design Officer at SAP. The world of UX is mind-blowingly complex. Mobile trends on iOS and Android. Social/collaboration trends driven by Facebook Workplace, Slack and others. Digital assistants like SAP’s CoPilot and many others.  Listening to her, you see expectations change dramatically as you move within an enterprise. Customer facing marketers are far more UX savvy and demanding than workers on the shop floor. As you move around the world, you have to reflect expectations of chat and emojis common in China. And yet, you step back and many customers migrating to S/4 are asking for the old keyboard and mouse driven SAP GUI interface that SAP has been maligned for! It makes the user transition easier they say.

AWS, Azure and Google had big booths at TechEd. In Asia, the Alibaba cloud is gaining steam. Many customers are choosing to deploy on SAP’s own data centers. Many of SAP’s outsourcing partners deliver private cloud proposals with their own hosting partners. The matrix of on-prem/private/public single/multi tenant deployments continues to morph.

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HANA was front and center at TechEd, as it has been for several years. Yet, SAP’s own cloud acquisitions like SuccessFactors have been slow to move to HANA. S/4HANA today only covers a small part of the enterprise –  most SAP customers continue to live with Oracle, SQLServer, Sybase and DB2 in surround applications. It is an open database world in that sense.

There are two ways to look at this variety. You can cringe at the complexity of so much heterogeneity. Or you can admire SAP’s multiculturalism and its “wide open tent” philosophy. The tapestry of different shapes and colors does make for a striking piece of art.

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(Cross-posted @ Deal Architect)

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CEO of Deal Architect, a top advisory boutique recognized in The Black Book of Outsourcing, author of a widely praised book on technology enabled innovation, The New Polymath, prolific blogger, writing about technology-enabled innovation at New Florence, New Renaissance and about waste in technology at Deal Architect.  Previously Analyst  at Gartner, Partner with PwC Consulting. Keynoted at many business and technology conferences and has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, The Financial Times, CIO Magazine, and other executive and technology publications.