SAP’s Sleeping Product Giant

Michael Krigsman and I had a chance to chat last week — he recorded a podcast w/ me that will be up on his blog before too long — and thankfully the chat got my blogging mojo going again. 

I don’t want to steal our podcast’s thunder, so I’ll focus on a tangent from our call — SAP’s innovation problem.  Michael himself has hoped that SAP’s leadership change would help to bring more innovation to market.  Ray Wang put it more bluntly in his take on Leo’s ouster:

[T]he issue is not sales. It’s products. Snabe and Vishal will need strong product vision to right SAP and point it in a forward direction. Engineering and products need more attention to bring out trapped innovation at SAP.

“Trapped innovation”… that’s so much of what I saw at SAP.  There are many cool technologies floating around, but they don’t fit in the “margin now” mindset that has pervaded the company.   The company is stuck in the classic [successful]  innovator’s dilemma:

By only pursuing “sustaining innovations” that perpetuate what has historically helped them succeed, companies unwittingly open the door to “disruptive innovations”.

Even worse,  SAP had deluded themselves into thinking they were responding appropriately — what was marketed as real innovation was simply new wine in old skins.  Exhibit 1 — 2007-2009 versions of Business ByDesign.

The SAP/Oracle Choice re: Integration

With the release of SAP Business Suite 7, the debate about the SAP and Oracle integration strategies has heated up.  Loraine Lawson at IT Business Edge (here) uses two posts by Ray Wang (here) and Dan Woods (here), to contrast the two approaches.

Of course, I agree with Lawson and Woods that the SAP approach is better :-).  I also agree that the Forbes audience — C- or high-level business folks — will eat up the SAP message.  However, IMO, it isn’t quite so simple.  Per a paragraph from Woods’s Forbes piece.

Companies implementing new applications or consolidating many companies must ask which foundation is best: a productized and unified platform for business automation or a collection of products that needs to be integrated. Best-of-breed is another way of saying that the user, not the vendor, is responsible for integration [emphasis mine]. 

My experience is that some firms and industries like to have that responsibility and chafe at having processes “pre-integrated.”  Again, I don’t think that is a great default position — one ends up automating non-differentiating processes nearly from scratch — but many pharma and financial firms in particular have tried to “grow their own.”  It is a legitimate strategy if you are truly creating competitive advantage via custom development and integration.

What SAP has done with the Business Suite and its business process platform strategy is to accommodate that desire to be different.  Enterprise SOA allows such customers to get the benefits of process integration without forgoing the capability to differentiate (by assembling or building enterprise services on top of the platform).

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