SAP's Web 2.0 strategy makes way for social networking in business apps

As SAP tries to makes its software easier to use, users can expect to see social networking tools in their enterprise software. Learn more in this podcast.

"The users have changed," Apotheker said at Sapphire. "The digital generation … are joining the workforce, and they expect enterprise software to be easy to use, to be rich, and to be collaborative. They even want enterprise software to be fun."

In that light, SearchSAP.com sat down with Zia Yusuf, executive vice president of SAP's global ecosystem and partner group, and Mark Yolton, senior vice president of SAP community networks. In addition to managing strategy for SAP's social networking sites like the SAP Developer Network (SDN), the two men play a role in what social networking tools may be integrated into SAP's own software.

In this podcast, Yusuf and Yolton talk about SAP's internal Web 2.0 strategy, including why sites like SDN have been successful and how SAP's employees are using tools like Jive and CubeTree in their daily tasks. In turn, they discuss possible business scenarios in which tools like Twitter and LinkedIn could be integrated into SAP software.

The enterprise software world's all "a-Twitter" about how the newest generation of workers will change the face of business software, and how social networking tools will play a bigger role in everyday work. SAP CEO Leo Apotheker himself made SAP Web 2.0 one of the themes of his keynote address at Sapphire 2009.

  SAP's Web 2.0 strategy  
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  Program highlights  

  • 1:25: How does SAP leverage tools like Twitter and Facebook in reaching customers and developing software?
  • 3:29: What are some of the keys to the success of social networking sites like SDN and BPX?
  • 5:47: How will SAP integrate tools like Twitter and LinkedIn into its Business Suite and SAP BusinessObjects software?
  • 11:00: How is most of the software development around social networking taking place within SAP now? Is there still a department devoted to it -- i.e., the Imagineering Division?
  •   Read a full transcript of the interview on SAP's Web 2.0 strategy  

    SearchSAP.com: How specifically is SAP leveraging Facebook and Twitter?

    Yolton: For example, on Facebook, one of the things that we do for our communities of individuals, specifically the more technically oriented folks in our ecosystem, is that we hold a series of events every year called SAP TechEd. We have, of course, SAP TechEd pages and fan pages on Facebook so that people can keep up with … the latest. For example, earlier this week, registration went live for our Phoenix and Vienna events, and through the Facebook pages, the members of our community were alerted.

    Another example would be when we do blogs within our communities -- and we have almost 5,000 people who are authorized to blog, [two-thirds of whom] are not SAP employees -- every time one of those people blogs, a Tweet goes out over Twitter to anybody who subscribes to the SAP community network, and they're notified of a blog.

    On LinkedIn, one of our hopes is to be able to show SAP community network status in their LinkedIn profile…. If you are a top contributor to our communities, if you're known as an expert in a certain area -- maybe it's portal, or HR management or some area of ERP and master data management -- that reputation would follow you ... on your public profile in LinkedIn. As a hiring manager is considering your interest in joining his company, he will see you really do have expertise, and it's expertise that's demonstrated within the SAP community.

    SearchSAP.com: So, overall, what would you say is the key to the success of SAP's social networks, specifically around communities like BPX or SDN?

    Yusuf: I think first of all … an internal recognition in SAP and SAP's leadership.… That opened up the gate for Mark and [me] to really go out there and honestly expose SAP into uncharted territory, to leverage all of these new capabilities.

    The second one, I believe, is that we listen to the voice of the community. We are continually trying to improve the experience of the community. We make changes on our policies and procedures. We try and ensure that we truly understand what an individual wants from that community.

    Third, I would say, is having a team on our side that consists of individuals who understand what's happening in the social media world, who understand and keep up with all of the latest capabilities and are able to bring those things into this. [We] combine those individuals with other people who really understand SAP's business and how this can help customers and partners.

    The fourth one was the speed of innovation and the connectivity to the rest of the ecosystem. This is not just a community strategy in isolation. It's a community strategy that's embedded into everything that we're doing from an ecosystem perspective ... and that ecosystem effort is [connected to] the overall corporate strategy of SAP.

    SearchSAP.com:How will SAP start to build social networking tools into its software? Are there plans to integrate Twitter and Facebook?

    Yusuf: There are certainly plans to do that. I can't comment on the timing right now -- we're looking at various social networking capabilities on our Business Objects platform.... Some of these we already include.... We're looking at them in our [Business] ByDesign product.

    I think the question that still needs to be answered is: What are the scenarios and what is the context in which you can leverage these capabilities to really run your business?

    Integrating Facebook, we do that today. You can go from an SAP app and take certain content from Facebook.… The interesting question becomes, is there a [business] scenario?

    Twitter is used pretty effectively in a first-responder-type situation. Some disaster happens, the Twitter-stream starts, it provides real-time, interesting information for the people involved in this. Is there a way to capture that information back into an enterprise system so decision-making can be enhanced? Is there a mechanism by which a Twitter feed can go into a CRM system as you leave a customer and you can include certain information in there? We're doing a lot on the mobility side with our partners like RIM and Sybase and others that leverage some of these capabilities.

    So I would say, given the experience with these social networking capabilities on the ecosystem side and the community side, we're looking at a whole range of scenarios. But you really have to look at it, in my view, from a scenario perspective, and you have to get to the second and third level of detail. What is a type of business scenario in which this kind of a capability works?

    We have other collaborative platforms that we have built or are building. Internally, we're using things like Jive…We're using a company called CubeTree, which is kind of your internal Facebook.

    Yolton: In the normal workday of knowledge workers, applications like the ones SAP provides are very transactional, and you can anticipate the workflow and the people who need to be involved in that workflow.… And then what knowledge workers tend to really focus on is the interrupts -- it's really managing by exception.

    If we take the 80/20 rule, and say 80% of a company's operation is predictable and it's a process-oriented thing and it can be embedded in application software like our own ERP or CRM systems. But then the next 20% is where you're really going to spend a lot of time, because those are the exceptions and the interrupts and the things that don't fit a predictable pattern.

    I think those are the places where these social media tools are going to be most important. So you're going to need to embed social media capabilities in order to respond to the emergency or the interim or the exception. That's one of the ways Zia's describing this -- where in the transaction flow or where in the workflow would you need to quickly ramp up, the way Twitter does, a quick work team to approve something or to provide a workaround?

    And then the other way these social media tools will be embedded is really in project work. And SAP is a good example. We're a very global company. When we have a project team, it's typically people from all over the world in different time zones with different skills all joining together to add their expertise to a particular project.

    SearchSAP.com:What happened to the Imagineering division and some of the social media projects like Harmony that SAP had been working on?

    Yusuf: [Harmony] was our own experimentation with social networking internally. Simple thing with Harmony, there was no need for us to continue development … on something that was completely available out of the box. So [now] Facebook and CubeTree are providing that capability.

    The Imagineering team, I believe, is … continuing its work. Keep one thing in mind. Even though it's an interesting name, it's not that Imagineering is only being done by the Imagineering team. The benefit of SAP and our approach and our culture is that we're pushing the envelope ... across a range of product groups and businesses. We have the design team, which I started, which in fact is still there. We have the Imagineering team, so we have some specialized groups. We have a full research arm here in the U.S. [SAP CTO] Vishal Sikka is working on a range of things. Our general approach is how to take each of the teams and ensure that a portion of their activity is as forward-looking as possible.

    This was first published in June 2009

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