SAP’s Journey to Cloud – An Honest Viewpoint
Devashish Bharti
By Devashish Bharti
Blog

Some people working in SAP space might agree with me when I say that our world has been rocked by this digital age.

Journey_Cropped

 

I have been working on SAP EIM Platform (Enterprise Portal, Business Process Management, Master Data Management, Master Data Governance, Data Services and Information Steward) for more than a decade. And to be brutally honest, I “got used” to working on customer sites with their on premise software on a 3-5 year transformation programme. Not to say these programmes didn’t add value – but time to get the desired value was long (for the business). It was a sign that something had to change as the stakeholders paying money were unable to see the value immediately.

We could sense change was in the air, and one of the mediums of this change was through “Cloud Enablement”.

SalesForce came in early 2000s and showed the business (as well as System Integrators) that hosting and running a productive solution on Cloud which adds value in days and weeks is not just a hype but a reality. As with any innovation, challenges need to be managed and Cloud was no different. Concerns, such as Data Privacy, came to the fore but standards were developed (and evolved with time) for Data Centres which will store business critical data. With time these concerns were addressed and all of us have witnessed more and more customers embrace cloud as part of their strategic initiatives.

I firmly believe SAP should have been in this space a few years back. Looking back in time, as Partners and Customers, we should have done more to push SAP towards that channel. But the good news is that SAP seems to be getting into the game now.

If we think on what the options are for a company which has not innovated in a certain space while others have moved forward, there are 2 possibilities:

  1. Invest time to develop internal capability to quickly learn from others, propel faster through the innovation curve, and be disruptive in the future.
  2. Demonstrate to the customer base that intent is now to capture lost ground quickly – through acquiring companies.

This is precisely what SAP did – it commenced building of Cloud platforms (e.g. Neo, HCP) while acquiring Cloud companies such as Success Factors, Ariba, Hybris and many more.

Also, not being the first one to innovate does mean that market share is not as great as it could have been but it also provides one with an opportunity to learn from others, adapt and come back with a powerful proposition.

This is where SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud (HEC) and SAP HANA Cloud Platform (HCP) come into picture. These are products from SAP’s internal development team and not via an acquisition (or external party). SAP HCP offers opportunities for customers to procure a platform to rapidly build and deploy business solutions, and it also offers opportunities to System Integrators to build enterprise apps and sell them.

Both these offerings are managed on the cloud by SAP. While HEC is available as a Private Cloud offering and is used to run SAP systems under Managed Service model, HCP is available as Public Cloud offering and is used as a development platform to extend and run cloud or on premise applications.

From my personal point of view, these products are a good example where SAP has tried to learn from others in the market and offer a product which has the potential to become a game changer.

Let’s see what SAP learned from others before and while embarking on HCP journey:

  1. Benefits of Leveraging / Providing Open Source: SAP did learn about the critical role that open source plays in today’s IT world, and tried to embed all those good points into HCP. Although not technically an open source tool, HCP offers a trial version which is free to use for developers and enables collaboration, and has lots of features packed into it (e.g. use of open source UI5 to develop user interfaces focussing on delivering excellent user experience).
  2. Support for Multi-IaaS: Let me ask you a simple question and this point might be self-explanatory: Should IT solutions behave differently if running on AWS, MS Azure or SAP Cloud platforms? From a business perspective absolutely not!

SAP became part of CloudFoundry’s PaaS movement which enables solutions to run on IaaS supported by CloudFoundry (which is quite a good number!). In the past, companies have tried to “lock in” customers for commercial benefits in terms of restricting customer to a single IaaS. SAP has obviously made a note of this and instead of locking in, it is trying to create an open environment where focus is on one goal: what’s best for the customer.

3. Multi framework and languages: When I began my SAP career, I used to work on Java. And everyone within ABAP community used to see Java as an “external piece” which is potentially unstable. With time, everyone has realised that Java has taken the world by storm across all products, solutions and business scenarios while ABAP still remains the backbone of pure SAP ERP systems.

But this poses an interesting question: Should a JAVA person be forced to learn ABAP if the underlying engine is ABAP? Or vice versa? Beyond SAP, should a Ruby developer need to re-train on HCP as the platform doesn’t support the Ruby development environment or runtime?

Thankfully, SAP saw the benefit of supporting multi-frameworks and multi-languages and SAP HCP supports many frameworks and languages (incl. Docker), with the number set to increase.

Some analysts say it is too late for SAP to make a significant impact on the Cloud market. There are powerhouses at play in this sector – Amazon (AWS), Microsoft (Azure), Google (GAE, GCP) and others. We are all aware that SAP has a huge global customer base (across a multitude of business verticals) to look back upon but it remains to be seen how soon SAP can pose a serious challenge to the competition.

I believe that some things can be addressed which will help SAP’s cause – specifically around Simplicity. SAP need to keep the messaging around HCP clear and simple as in the past they have been guilty of leaving customers confused on product roadmaps and solution offerings.

  1. Simple Naming: My view is that having HANA labelled on every SAP offering has not helped and has led to customers to become a little jaded with this message. HANA is a fantastic application platform which can deliver real business value but the SAP marketing machine has reached a stage where every question raised by a customer has one answer: HANA. Customers have come to believe that HANA is only really relevant for organisations with deep pockets to address issues of big data and performance which is not true. Taking SAP HCP as an example, why can’t we have the name as: SAP Cloud Platform - as actually HANA is not the only database platform supported?
  2. Simple Messaging: When SAP launches a new offering, its messaging needs to be simple – What is it? What specific use cases does it support? How does it deliver value to customers? How does it differentiate from other existing offerings which have overlapping features? What is the roadmap?
  3. Simple Commercial Model: I appreciate that SAP has a huge portfolio to consider but when it comes to licensing, things are not crystal clear. If SAP HCP offers HCI (HANA Cloud Integration) as an integration service, is the product available by default under HCP license? If not, under what circumstances is it available – questions such as these are always raised during customer discussions and they are never easy to answer. If you compare this to a more traditional cloud provider a simple menu of what’s included between different solution options is readily available – on line!

I am relatively new to this cloud world, yet I am excited to drive SAP HCP within my organisation and for my customers. These are interesting times – I can see a positive change in SAP’s direction. I believe in the “Start Small Think Big” philosophy and I can see SAP’s Cloud as that first step. Whether or not SAP will win against other enterprise grade cloud companies remains to be seen, but as long as they remain focussed to this initiative and keep the messaging simple I believe they have a good chance to succeed.

Devashish Bharti
By Devashish Bharti

Dev is an enthusiastic leader with extensive experience in leading IT Programmes across sectors - Consumer Products and Goods, Manufacturing, Healthcare / Pharma, Retail, and Public Sector. His speciality is in the areas of Enterprise Information Management, Cloud (SAP HANA, AWS and Azure) and Enterprise Mobility (B2B, B2C, and B2E) incl. User Experience. He is a keen follower of tech and keeps himself busy during his spare time working on IoT projects (Arduino). E.g. Soil moisture monitor for indoor plants, fitness dashboard etc.

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