This week, SAP conducted its combined 2013 ASUG and Sapphire customer conference in Orlando and Supply Chain Matters was able to view some of the executive keynotes and theatre presentations.  This author has attended many prior Sapphire events, and thus has a context of where SAP has come in this event and how overall customer messaging has evolved. In the near past, these events tended to be large on vision but lacking in details for customers to get excited about.

When we shared our Supply Chain Matters perception of Sapphire last year, our headline was one of bold vision but confusing messaging. That changed this year, and we were pleasantly surprised with the improvement in customer messaging and the crispness of product direction and strategy.  Customers should be much more of ease that SAP is now getting its full act together and has obviously completed its homework.

Co-CEO Bill McDermott’s opening keynote that featured an entire sports business theme candidly did not hit the mark for us, but subsequent executive keynotes from Co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe and Board member and CTO, Vishal Sikka were crisp and focused.  Snabe outlined SAP’s strategic advancements in three significant areas:

  1. The ability to bring data and information, both transactional and analytical, of large global and other companies into one area.  In essence, a declaration that SAP will support all applications and information intelligence from main memory, vesting improving response times.
  2. Introduce innovative new applications that can leverage the power of SAP HANA, as well as the power of cloud and mobile computing. This was the opportunity to introduce the Sapphire audience to SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud, which we previously commented on.
  3. Much more increased attention by SAP on the end-user experience and how users desire to interact with SAP applications, which was described as completely new thinking on the user experience. SAP now views its benchmark for usability to not be contrasted with other enterprise systems but to consumer software such as Amazon.com and others.

In the context of B2B and supply chain messaging, there was a real effort to have Ariba, SAP’s most visible B2B acquisition, and gain maximum visibility in conference presentations. Similar to what occurred after SAP’s same-year acquisition of BusinessObjects, there was all gloss, with no real substance in articulating for SAP customers the all-important progress being made in integration of all of SAP’s current sourcing, procurement, electronic invoicing and catalog support functionality, not to mention the overall direct material B2B networking support strategy timeline. The emphasis was more to have SAP sales teams selling the potential of Ariba vs. the all important questions of what does Ariba bring to my existing product supply chain landscape vs. general procurement process support needs.

We did have the opportunity to view a presentation anchored by Hans Thalbauer, Senior Vice President, Line of Business Solutions for Supply Chain.  That presentation provided a bit more clarity as to long-term direction setting, including some integration among and between Ariba and other existing SAP supply chain applications.  However, for us, the important news from Thalbauer was that finally, SAP will begin to deploy SAP APO (Advanced Planning and Optimization) on a HANA architectural platform.

Last year, what seemed little noticed was a passing reference by SAP Supervisory Board Chairperson Hasso Plattner on the ability to significantly accelerate the performance of SAP APO by leveraging HANA capabilities.  In April of this year, SAP quietly announced in a News Byte the planned availability of SAP liveCache technology powered by the SAP HANA platform.  SAP APO users know all too well that liveCache was SAP’s original manifestation of in-memory computing and that it serves as the foundation of all data brought into the application.  Users, however, had to often deploy instances of SAP Business Warehouse (BW) in their landscapes as a supplemental repository of the APO information that could not be supported by liveCache.  In its earliest days of introduction, it was often referred to as “live crash” because of its limitations.  That has since greatly improved but make no mistake, this move to HANA will be the most significant announcement in the history of SAP APO.

It now opens the door for the application to support both planning and predictive analytical capabilities along with a more compressed footprint of data and information. It should also enhance the overall scalability and response times of not only APO, but other supply chain support applications in the SAP Business Suite.

We heard encouraging words from some customer presentations regarding the building interest with the SAP Sales and Operations Planning Powered by HANA application. We were previously disappointed with the released functionality at the time of announcement but it appears that gaps are now being addressed by SAP development teams and key implementation partners.

One other noteworthy mention was a clarification we heard regarding the near-term availability of both the SAP Business Suite on HANA and HANA Enterprise Cloud offerings.  Apparently the initial released versions will contain limited supply chain management support applications and no initial Ariba support.  That will hopefully change in the coming months.

Supply Chain Matters will follow-up with a more detailed commentary regarding SAP in B2B and supply chain management support in the coming weeks.

Bob Ferrari