Have you ever been to a car show? If not, imagine for a moment a wife and husband spending a Sunday browsing the current crop of gleaming machines.
Bill the husband sees a slick black wonder, muscular curves and wide tires and drags his wife over. The well dressed representative greets them, seeing Bill's obvious interest in the magnesium rims, the air intakes, and coaches him over to the bonnet that slides open with a "psshh".
"This engine uses the latest double injection, preheated booster turbo technology producing a whopping 600 Nm at 2,000 RPM." the salesperson goes.
Then nudging Bill into the driver's seat switching on the ignition so the graphical displays gently lights up doing a dance of little information distribution wonders before settling into the usual speed and RPM mode while Bill smiles and goes "Oooh, cool!".
Mary his wife tries the back seats, and even though she's rather petite her knees touches the front seats. Pushing a button a wide armrest slides forward disclosing a set of more buttons that Mary have no idea would be for. Rather impractical she thinks being the one delivering and picking up three kids every day.
Armed with a stack of brochures from exhibit number one they plod over to the next exhibit; slightly higher, slightly less aerodynamic, but looking slightly more purposeful in the transport department.
This time the sales person opens the rear gate, pushing a button initiating a sequence of "psshh"s here too. This time two comfortable looking seats magically appear out of the floor. No big fat armrest to separate the passengers, but a console with a large space for loose paraphernalia and deep wells for drinks and bottles. "Hmm, interesting" Mary goes. Bill likes it too seeing the fastening mechanism for his bike in the rear compartment.
The salesperson goes on: "Given that your kids will start learning to drive soon we have already built in snap on extra mirrors and a full brake mechanism overriding accelerator in the hand-brake, accessible from the passenger seat. Taking into consideration that you might try other sports, men in our age often do, the bike mounting can be replaced with diving compressors, shoe dryer and... here's the list of available sports that you might consider."
"Never thought of that" Bill thinks, adding "but that's pretty darned cool, I wonder if I should try paragliding next Sunday... hmmm".
Back to reality. And enterprise software.
Late afternoon on Tuesday, our first day at the SAP shindig, following six keynote speakers, four fireside chats with executives and a couple of in-depth workshops some kind of demurring feeling started to emerge.
Composition layers, stacks, service layers, SOA, SOA, five year plans for the technology, and more technology. Sometime a slide or two on the business user's benefit of course, but still a sense of technology rules. And never doubt it, they have amazing technology, and they're darned proud of it.
But I started to feel like Mary at the first exhibitor above. Amazingly cool, solid technology, powerful - but what does their buyer get out of it, what about the business value for the buyer? It's there, no doubt, and the user, the corporation installing it, was given time and slides so it was slightly hard to pinpoint why I had this Mary-esque doubt in my belly.
It's about focus. All about what comes first. What the driver is. Is it horse or carriage first in every presentation, in every discussion, in every answer, in between the lines... I think I heard carriage first most of the time.
If a five year plan lists technology steps and version releases - then it's "me and my technology", that is the focus.
If the 2008-10 roadmap reads More functionality, Open business process platform, All sizes, All roles - a tad "me and my technology" again methinks.
The theme of the Influencer Summits last years: Netveawer, Business Process Platform, Ecosystem, Deliver value of enterprise SOA... pretty much "me and my technology".
Innovation is high up there this year, and during one of the executive fireside chats Brian from our EI group suggested SAP in an "innovation" grid as delivering enablement, not necessarily for breakthrough innovation nor ideation. That sparked immediate protest by the executive, mentioning some examples of SAP's latest products and technologies as breakthrough innovation.
Sure, he was right, but the question was about innovation at the customer's; enabling him to innovate - not about the innovativeness of the product itself. We simply had different frames of mind and the arguments passed each other mid-flight there. Innocent as such, just another brick in the wall.
A further executive fireside chat, now about the CRM product: "I almost never see a CRM system configured to take care of existing customers, it's always about prospects and new sales" said one of my fellow EIs. And I think we all know that, once signed most big corporations shifts from charming to ignoring. The CRM induced existing-customer-invisibility-cloak.
Bob Stutz, chief of all CRM in SAP and as knowledgeable as any in this field sighed loudly and said that "I fully agree, and our product is built for taking care of existing customers as well, but the user adds a function at a time and tend to stop after having added the prospecting feature". And Bob's probably right.
But, if SAP really, really is 100% focused on the business value for the customer, they might have done what the second car manufacturer above did; pre-enable the existing customer handling, or in some other way make it clear that "even if you're not aware of it, Cluetrain and social media and whatnot give the existing customers immense power that will only increase! Accept that as a given, add other features later".
And do not get me started on the number-of-employees method to target customers. Why not target and conceive products according to business value drivers? What on earth makes anybody think that a 1,000 employee candy producer is driven by the same values as a 1,000 employee hospital? Yes the number of employees to be handled by their HR system would be the same, but certainly not the dynamics and needs they'll face in four years.
Hang on a second you will say, beyond size there is verticalisation; specified systems for one and the other industry segment. But again, would not some in very disparate industries or services be closer to each other value-wise than to fellow verticals?
It should not be about "what product you deliver", it should be "what your product delivers"!
Let me stress that this is a lightweight observation from a humble outsider, albeit I did sniff around and aired this with other attendees and even SAP employees, and nodding ensued in the corridors and elevators - I was not alone in having this feeling about the overall message. The perceived company focus more than the specific bullet points from the messages as no PR or marketing strategy will ever be able to hide the real love and focus of any firm.
Being the proud owner of a spanking new iPhone I tapped around and found the "Stocks" application. If you have one, try the 2 year curve for the stock price of SAP and ORCL!
The latter one looks like one side of a mountain, the left side, a nice ascending curve. The SAP 2 year curve looks like the alps in silhouette...
It cannot be the sales, the market share, the financial performance, the new product pipeline - SAP excels in all departments. Could it be too much focus on their own tinkering inside the garage?
I'm sure SAP know their customer's needs, and hopefully what they think their customer's will be needing in five year's time - that is and should forever be the engine, so why not bring that back onto the stage so nobody looses sight of it?
If I'm ever invited again I'd love to see slide after slide of "what drives and will drive the business value at our customer's and what will we create so they can deliver even more value."
I'd like to see the same enthusiasm and love for the amazing value their customers will be able to deliver as I see today for the amazing solid technology.
I would love to hear about the technology also of course, but now played down and delivered as "and obviously we have the very best technology, never doubt that". They do carry a big technology stick, no need to speak loudly about that. It's the business value vision that rules at the end of the day, that is what the market buys, that is what makes customers return, that is what makes business interesting, that is what could transform the alps silhouette into an ascending ramp!
[Bonus: Paul sent me this link after reading above :)]