There was a robust program of customer presentations and keynote speakers on offer at the annual congress of the VNSG (Vereniging Nederlandstalige SAP Gebruikers) held in Maastricht, the Netherlands from April 8-9. Nearly 1,900 members of the Dutch-speaking SAP user community gathered to share knowledge and network with their peers. Business cases and implementation stories presented by such major corporations as Philips, Heineken, Tommy Hilfiger, and Unilever were tangible proof of the VNSG’s commitment to helping its traditionally technology-focused attendees gain a competitive edge on the business side.
Many aspects of the congress were doubtless familiar to the attendees. But with established players taking on new roles, there were several marked differences to conferences past. In January of this year, VNSG head Tonnie van der Horst was appointed as chairman of SUGEN (SAP User Group Executive Network). And with the appointment in February 2010 of Jim Hagemann Snabe and Bill McDermott as co-CEOs, there’s new leadership at SAP as well. Both van der Horst and Snabe were among the speakers during the opening plenary session at this year’s congress, offering complementary insights into the relationship between SAP and its growing user community.
On the change in SAP’s top leadership, van der Horst observed: “We’ve seen active support for interaction with the user communities from both Jim and Bill in the past. We know they have a vested interest in aligning with customers – and a vested interest in doing so through user communities. So we are very confident that we can continue working collaboratively with them in their new roles.”
A Shift in Balance from Partners to Users
Turnout at the VNSG Congress 2010 was slightly down as opposed to 2,100 attendees last year. But a breakdown of these figures reveals that the balance has shifted from partners to end-users. Due to the still difficult economic climate, SAP partners economized both on sponsoring and attendees this year. “We understand that partners are still concerned about the economy,” van der Horst acknowledged. “But it’s most important for us that we saw a stable turnout among the end-user community.” The program this year reflected this balance shift. Compared with last year, customer presentations outnumbered those given by partners and SAP employees.
Instead of just giving keynotes during opening plenary session, Tonnie van der Horst and Angelique de Vries, Managing Director of SAP Netherlands, were joined on stage by two customers (Jan Reeuwijk, BU Director of Information Management with Akzo Nobel Decorative Paints and Ton Ketelaars, CEO of Heliview Research) for a lively panel discussion about industry trends and developments, as well as such topics as sustainability and collaboration with SUGEN.
The four pillars of SAP’s product strategy
It was a strong message that SAP co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe sent to SAP customers in the Netherlands, and by extension, to customers worldwide: SAP’s product strategy is based on four pillars – on premise, on demand, on device, and orchestration.
Even as software moves into the Internet, SAP will remain a strong fixture in the on premise world. “Many companies will continue to have on premise software for decades to come, because with on premise software you get the opportunity to decide your own destiny,” said Snabe, adding that the key pillar in that part of the strategy is the SAP Business Suite.
On top of the on premise pillar is on demand. In this scenario, Snabe pointed out, customers don’t need to install any software at all, but only need tap into already-running software and consume the functionality. “We believe this market is big and that many applications will move into the cloud,” said Snabe. “We are now accelerating our pace to get there.”
Snabe went on to explain how the third pillar, on device, was a direct response to the fact that people want to use mobile devices to get more information and to be better decision makers – and not just for games. On device offers the logic of a business suite both on premise and on demand, allowing SAP and its partners and customers to build their own user experiences on handheld devices while retaining the consistency and process integrity found in the SAP Business Suite.
Critically important is the fourth pillar of SAP’s product strategy: orchestration. As businesses and people become network-oriented, increasing amounts of software are used on premise, on demand, and on device. The challenge facing IT organizations is to orchestrate all these pieces. “We need to make sure that processes can flow through an on demand world into an on premise world, be supported by on-device-type applications and yet stay consistent end-to-end,” stated Snabe).
He closed out his keynote on the topic of in memory, a new way of building software whereby data is significantly compressed and placed into main memory, thereby eliminating the need for a database altogether. Snabe hailed in memory as “a revolution” and a “technological breakthrough”, which would make it possible to run through an entire database containing millions of records in a mere second.
SAP Demo Jam fires up the crowd
Though it only had its debut at the VNSG last year, the crowd-pleasing SAP Demo Jam has already become a high point of the congress. Five organizations competed this year, presenting innovative demos that energized the audience. The winner was Redwood Software for its demo “Manage Business Processes from your Armchair.” Using the iPhone as an example, the demo showed how to remotely manage business processes to stay informed of progress during an implementation.
Getting close to customers
Last year saw a renewed commitment by SAP to work more closely with its customers. With the help of several SAP user groups and active participation from SUGEN, SAP embarked on an experiment to change the way it builds software. Jim Hagemann Snabe acknowledged that it is a time investment, but pointed out that customers who are willing and able to spend time with SAP early in the development process will reap the rewards – and play a significant role in ensuring that SAP builds the software that best meets their needs.
Before the congress had even drawn to its close, van der Horst received strong feedback from attendees about SAP’s product strategy. “What’s very important is the fact that the SAP user community knows SAP can build good software in the core. And having a keynote from Jim, Snabe who has been within that field at SAP for a long time and who has this natural connection with the development DNA within SAP, was an important comfort factor for the users.”