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SAP TechEd 2008 - Awesome, Entertaining, Underwhelming

SAP TechE2008 at ICC BerlinI've just arrived back from a very enjoyable 3 days in Berlin at SAP's TechEd 2008 conference. The theme was "Connect, Collaborate, Co-innovate" and I could see plenty of connections, some good examples of collaboration, and one stand-out example of co-innovation (called ESME - more on that in a later post). It started with Community Day, a multi-threaded not quite "unconference" with sessions for the SAP Developer Network and the Business Process eXpert communities. I mostly followed the BPX oriented track and was struck by the quality of the people presenting, and the BPM execution tool project Galaxy that SAP has on offer. Craig Cmehill organizing for SDN, and Marilyn Pratt steering the BPX crowd did a great job of putting together a good program on the first day, as well as organizing, respectively, Tuesday's hackers night and the first Process Design Slam. The Slam was, effectively, a business game built around dropping an egg safely from a great height with a limited set of materials to help cushion the fall - great fun, although my team was one of the many who cracked under pressure.

Zia Yusuf with the Enterprise BloggersLast week, because of the current economic crisis, SAP implemented a series of cost saving measures including a headcount freeze, limits on travel expenses for internal meetings, and certain projects being put on hold. Speaking to Zia Yusuf, SAP's Executive VP in charge of the platform ecosystem, he told me, with some feeling, what it was now like to be travelling in economy seat 57E - the cuts being shared across all levels of the company. I agree with him that the cost cutting is obviously the right thing to do, but he recognizes that they will be criticised from many directions - some saying this is a corporate knee jerk reaction in panic, while others will think this is a necessary wake up call which will address some of the waste that goes on inside a company the size of SAP. Personally, I hope some resources get reallocated internally to things like support of SDN and BPX, because there is such good work going on there.

Some of that cost saving and panic showed through on that first community day, where there were some notable absences of people who hadn't travelled across the Atlantic, the dropping of "giveaways" that had been handed out in the Las Vegas version of the event, and a number of technical difficulties when PCs wouldn't connect to projectors properly. That's not like the slick, professional SAP we are used to at all. Sig Rinde and I noticed that, although there were a lot more senior SAPpers involved handling the somewhat nervous introductions at the start of the day, Craig Cmehill shone as the real leader on stage.

Zia's introduction to the main conference on Tuesday highlighted some veryimpressive statistics - 50% of the world's business transactions touch an SAP system somewhere, 1000 people join the SAP community each day, the conference has 308 sessions, is being attended by 4,500 people from 32 countries and 750 companies, including 32 partners. He noted that the SDN and BPX communities are democratizing innovation. The communities have 1.4 million members, who have asked 1 million questions in the forums, and created 4 million posts. That'squite acommunity, and the SAP team should be proud.

Leo Apotheker giving his keynote at SAP TechEd Berlin 2008The main keynote session from Leo Apotheker, SAP's Co-CEO, highlighted his sales oriented style compared to outgoing Henning Kagermann's studied, engineering approach from previous events. It was an entertaining presentation, but I was underwhelmed by the lack of content or new announcements. There were some good customer case study examples - Asian Paints transforming itself from just being a commodity paint manufacturer to an end to end supplier of interior decorating services , or Hugo Boss catching up with the likes of Zara in the fashion industry, using technology and rapid feedback systems to move from 4 collections a year to 52. SAP have a strong story, but it seems mostly incremental enhancements and more of the same. Because I'm particularly interested in Software as a Service, there was one thing that stood out for me. At TechEd 2006 in Amsterdam there was a fair amount of airtime given to what was then code named A1S. In 2007 in Munich, what had become Business ByDesign was a key component in the strategy for winning new names for SAP, and we had separate roundtable sessions on the product, and with key customers. In this year's keynote Business ByDesign appeared on one architectural slide diagram at the end of Leo's pitch, but wasn't even mentioned in the words. In a subsequent press and blogger conference, when asked about the product, Leo gave a primarily political sounding answer saying as little as possible and referring the questioner to announcements earlier in the year, and that there was no change. If I was a Business ByDesign customer or partner, I would be pretty worried by the lack of comment in the current strategy vision or compared to previous events.

Two very interesting initiatives mentioned, that I'll be writing some more about, are the SAP EcoHub and their collaboration with Innocentive to provide the SAP Innovation and Technology Pavilion. The former is an Amazon style marketplace for SAP applications - that sounds promising. The latter is different kind of marketplace where SAP Ecosystem members - customers, partners and the SAP organization itself- can post challenges and seek help along with their budget price for delivering whatever is required. Partners or individuals can then connect and make money providing solutions or expertise. You can also check out videos from the whole event to see some of what you missed.

Steve Winwood soloing at SAP TechEd 2008 BerlinLastly, a bit of fun. Wednesday evening culminated in a Steve Winwood concert in the main hall. Now I'm a fan, so this was a real highlight for me. However, considering that the vast majority of the audience were just SAP related guys and gals of varying ages who may or may not have even heard of Steve Winwood, remember Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, or Blind Faith, he did a fantastic job. There was much dancing in the aisles and down front of stage, and I don't know anyone who didn't have a really great time. He played early stuff, including a particular favourite of mine (Can't Find My Way Home from Blind Faith), to please the crowd mixed in with his current Nine Lives album. It was awesome. Particular thanks need to go to Mike Prosceno of SAP, who as well as doing a superb job of organizing the Blogger thread in the conference, managed to get us access to the VIP area down the front.
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