Every year, SAP has a massive conference in Orlando for clients, prospects, partners, media and probably also to cross-train SAP employees in what the Walldorf-empire is up to. The range of products and the size of the venue is immense -- in fact, you could probably roll half-a-dozen ISM shows into the SAPPHIRE format and there would still be room left.
SAPPHIRE is a well-run event, with few expenses spared -- this year they had Van Halen as their closing act (something I had to pass on, unfortunately). There aren't many other software companies out there who can match that level of wow factor.
The marketing drum was beating powerfully throughout, and I found myself in the middle of a PR blizzard on many occasions. Not that SAP really needs to turn up the hype volume: they have seriously cool products, and more is coming.
The main feature is their HANA database -- an in-memory computing approach which simplifies the typical multi-tier structure of high-end enterprise data warehouses, brings all the data into direct memory, and cleans up and significantly compresses data at the same time. This results in what can be a stupendous performance increase. Some clients see over 10,000 times performance increases. Generally speaking, the bigger your BW database, the greater the boost. The caveat is that you typically need at least one billion lines or more to cost-justify the transition. For two billion lines and greater, it's a guaranteed win. From that point on, the performance boost can be very significant. In the spend analysis area, for example, companies should expect at least a 10X performance increase.
The HANA next generation DB solution isn't just about working with structured ERP data. It is also at the center of a range of SAP solutions to enable fundamentally new applications. For example, it is now an intrinsic part of SAP's Infonet solution, the massively multi-tier early warning risk analysis and forecasting tool we gushed over after last year's SAPPHIRE. Infonet relies on relational data sources and is now far more mature, with better heuristics, enabling better fine-tuning of alert triggers without creating too many false positives. Still an amazing product, if you're in one of the verticals where this has attained critical mass (or close to it), go for it!
Similarly, the HANA technology is being added to SAP solutions across the spectrum, and while it is too early to tell which applications will be HANA-fied next, the SAP roadmap looks a lot more interesting now than it did last year. Spend Performance (i.e., spend analysis) on HANA will be out this month.
I have seen most procurement related SAP solutions and the latest revisions have not only a fresher feel, but solidly updated functionality as well. Nearly all are iOS enabled, since just about every SAP demo that I saw was backed by iPads in some way, even keynote presentations by the top brass. More about these new versions later.
Much is going on elsewhere -- outside traditional procurement apps, that is -- within SAP's product suite, that is bound to impact the procurement tools. Take the recently acquired Successfactors Jam tool. This is a "private cloud Facebook" of sorts that is currently a quite unique HR app, but could just as easily be flipped into an amazing tool to engage with strategic suppliers. It's just a matter of time before this novel technology will permeate the rest of the SAP suite.
Another non-ERP example: SAP now has a social media analytics tool (OEM by NetBase) which enables analysis of how a given company is perceived by the world, based on Internet and other public source information. I ran through an analysis exercise with this tool (based on the Spend Matters property) and was amazed at how it picked apart how various topics caught on and how our site has strong presence in areas that I had not expected. I can see how this tool could become quite addictive -- a marketing junkie's dream.
So, for those using SAP as ERP -- especially if that is all you think that SAP does -- you really need to visit SAPPHIRE. The company has so much up their sleeves these days that you need to reevaluate them as an ERP provider. They do so much more. In fact, many of the best-of-breed solution providers would be well advised to go to SAPPHIRE as well. In many areas, SAP is now on par with what you have to offer. As always with SAP, it will probably take some time before their network of implementers fully leverage the new features, but when they do, providers across the source-to-pay spectrum should be concerned that SAP will be able to out-innovative them. What a change -- and what a breath of fresh air.