SAPTechEd: Lead or follow, but get out of the way

Another theme at SAP TechEd08 is agility-as the company evolves, it needs to help the customer move quickly, and offer the flexibility to deploy what is needed, when needed. In essence, enterprise software can be a source of good, but it can also get in the way. According to SAP Co-CEO Léo Apotheker’s, the days where integrating a new upgrade took weeks of downtime and chaos must be reduced to a simple weekend upgrade that few even notice. To this end, SAP is promoting the “timeless software” concept as a philosophy, implementing regular small upgrades rather than large overhauls.

With the Business Process Management product, NetWeaver, SAP is working with different functions at clients to create a “simplicity of notation,” according to Wolfgang Hilpert, Senior VP at SAP. Getting people inside of a company to speak a common language that has meaning for all users around processes can be difficult. Another challenge is to get companies to move quickly to integrate new BPM systems or upgrades; SAP seems to realize that implementing or upgrading systems can be disruptive.

What seems to be a progressive strategy actually has some conservative overtones. One such manifestation is around social media, a topic which SAP seems slow to embrace. Admittedly, SAP’s reasoning, that some social networking technologies may be short term trends, is reasonable; building support for technologies that become irrelevant goes against SAP’s philosophy towards agility. Picking between agility and features, however, is a tricky balance, especially if the tradeoff causes SAP to delay what will be a mission critical feature. I hope we hear more about SAP’s plans around social media technology integration, because customers will not wait. Perhaps SAP does not see the irony that the whole point of social media in the enterprise is to increase agility, at least in theory.

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