SAP co-CEOs Bill McDermott and Jim Hagemann Snabe and Sybase CEO John Chen keynoted a two-continent event on August 19 to demonstrate their solidarity and provide an early look at strategic plans. Many analysts greeted the initial announcement with positive reviews – mine is here, and Noel Yuhanna of Forrester weighed in here. Progress since the $5.8 billion transaction formally closed (just a few weeks ago) has been modest, but certainly better than the message, which was not yet crisp. The press release (several pages in length) was long on marketing phrases and short on specifics, and those in attendance generally found the content scattered and difficult to parse. Highlights emerged, however, in the subsequent discussions as press, analysts and bloggers dug in for details:
- A mobile application software development kit (SDK) will combine the Sybase Unwired Platform (SUP) with SAP NetWeaver Mobile and Business Objects Mobile software within 9 months.
- Sybase CEO John Chen, on the SAP board, will operate Sybase as a “separate, independent unit,” and reaffirmed the commitment to maintaining the product roadmap he made when I interviewed him at TechWave
- SAP will “port, certify and optimize” SAP Business Suite, NetWeaver Business Warehouse, Business Objects Data Services and Business Objects BI solutions to Sybase ASE. No dates were specified.
- Business Objects, already certified for Sybase ASE and IQ, will be “combined with (unspecified) Sybase data management servers” to deliver “discovery, storage, and consumption.” No dates were specified; it’s not clear what’s new here other than packaging.
- The companies will incorporate SAP’s in-memory computing technology across SAP and Sybase data management offerings.
Bill McDermott kicked the story off with some ringing phrases. As I’ve said before, the charisma deficit is clearly behind SAP, as McDermott spoke enthusiastically of billions of workers and trillions of devices to be linked. He yielded the floor with a generous intro:
“We become the leader in mobile with the Sybase acquisition – and we can see the transformation of Banking and Retail businesses ahead. John Chen, a luminary, is an incredible leader with a great management team. Under him, the roadmaps go forward.”
Chen observed that SAP’s 22 verticals afford opportunities for “low-hanging fruit mobile applications.” As he noted, the combination of technologies allows such scenarios as businesses reaching a discrete customer in a discrete location with a loyalty campaign. In a live demo using a shortcode texted to a consumer whose location in a store was known, a POS system, integrated with SAP’s CRM offering, addressed the mobile device, offered the consumer a deal to sign up, registered membership, presented a coupon, and executed the transaction.
Some twitter traffic at this point said “we’ve seen this before.” True, but this combination brings real applications to the table, not just parts and possibilities. Consumers don’t go to Home Depot to buy a house, and businesses don’t build enterprise-class transactional mobile apps out of widgets. SAP provides a business process platform the retailer already is running; SUP mobilizes. For this observer, the promise is shorter time to value, and we may at last see widespread rollouts of systems that until now have been left to the pioneers. To Chen’s point, there is plenty of low-hanging fruit out there.
Digging in the Data Details
Vishal Sikka got the tough assignment: answering a welter of specific, pointed questions about the entire portfolio. Determinedly casual (he told me he wouldn’t be caught dead with a tie given a choice), he took on all the questions and offered a lot of specifics, given the short window since the deal was closed. For example, he defended database diversity in the portfolio: “One size does not fit all for database. Depending on the app we’ll use different database management.”
The combined company has both mature and new databases. Sikka noted, “IQ is an awesome disk-oriented column store and we’ll make it a supported database for [more – MA] Business Objects products.” In response to my question about which in-memory offering is the go-forward choice, Chen added, “As long as it’s transparent to our customers, we will have the best underneath – either one, a combination – whatever gets them protection of their purposes.” Sikka was nonetheless clear that the SAP in-memory columnar database technology is the future, and that the “disk-optimized” Sybase IQ will continue to be sold and developed, with its attributes being added to the SAP technology. Clearly, SAP is not likely to abandon the substantial and still growing IQ revenue stream, and indeed, several references were made to its future release strategy.
The ease of handoff between the two firms here was evident. It confirms off the record conversations I’ve had with the Sybase technical teams that have dwelled on what was often called the “respectful” process of discovery and exploration of technical opportunities that has been underway so far.
I asked about the volume of non-database resident information, the fastest growing piece of many shops’ challenge. Sybase CMO Raj Nathan talked of Sybase’s work on distributed query processing, and said that future releases of IQ will have access to Hadoop and other outside structures. No details yet, but in earlier conversations, Sybase has shown some of these ideas under NDA to analysts, and the commitment to that work is likely to grow, not shrink, with SAP’s help. Information management was so prominent in the dialogue that Carl Olofson of IDC (twitter: @databaseguru) tweeted: “ they buried the lead: the mobile info stuff is great, but its power is in … ASE and Replication Server.” As a fellow database guy, I can hardly disagree; Replication Server was unnamed but has thousands of customers and its heterogeneous data support is a powerful weapon in SAP’s broad strategy..
SUP? Mobility Rises, NetWeaver Continues
Project Gateway will create the connection to SAP applications for SUP (which already has extensive data connections but not for all the specific application possibilities.) Specific timing is not yet forthcoming – again, hardly surprising. The commitment is to enable both current and prior versions of SAP application software, a substantial undertaking that will take time to plan and execute. Sikka reaffirmed that “NetWeaver is our platform, underneath everything that you see. Joint products will get the organizational structures necessary to develop, deliver and sell them.”