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What do analysts expect from next-gen tech at SAP Sapphire Now 2017?

SAP Sapphire Now always showcases the latest technological advancements from SAP. Here's what some industry experts expect from this year's conference.

SAP Sapphire Now 2017 will feature lots of cloud talk, with a great deal of next-generation technology on display. The annual conference of users, partners and vendors devoted to all things SAP takes place May 16 to 18 in Orlando, Fla.

SAP Sapphire Now usually showcases the latest technological advancements, which, in the past, has sometimes generated a "Where's the beef?" response from some attendees.

SearchSAP asked a number of long-time industry insiders what they would like to see at this year's conference, and what they expect to see in terms of next-gen tech. For the most part, almost all the respondents believe that SAP Cloud Platform, SAP S/4HANA Cloud and the next-gen technologies of machine learning, the internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) will dominate the proceedings.

Here's what some experts are looking for at SAP Sapphire Now 2017.

The innovation trio

Joshua Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting

There's going to be a lot of discussion about the innovation trio (machine learning, IoT and AI) I think, as part of the exciting innovation that SAP wants to show to the customers. There's certainly going to be a continuing emphasis on the push to the cloud, as that's the future of the company, and the future for the customers. S/4HANA Cloud is going to get a big push, as well. We'll hear a lot about that.

I think it's pretty much execution mode for SAP; there's a lot of stakes in the ground already, and the cloud momentum in general is good. I'm hoping that they'll do something similar to what they did last year, which [was] to put all the line-of-business heads and general managers on stage to emphasize the integration.

The real challenge for SAP as a platform player is to show customers the advantages of the platform. Those advantages are very much focused on this breadth of functionality that they can provide in the cloud and what that means when you cross that with some of the deep industry experience embedded in the company's DNA. It's a powerful message, but the strategy starts to look a little lame if the customers aren't buying it.

I have concerns about the innovation trio because, by themselves, they're not strategically compelling. These are commodities almost and, in every platform, you've got some machine learning, some AI, some IoT. So my concern is that the feature function message about these tools, interfaces or products overshadow the larger story of, what else do you have that makes it almost reflexive to go use these?

The customers are living in heterogeneous environments, and they've got at least three cloud platform players that want them to do the exact same thing. So they have to break out of the bubble of feature functionality and start describing the service and solutions at a higher level.

Build the SMB case

Ray Boggs, vice president of SMB research at IDC

Sapphire tends to be a big customer and big technology show, but I'll be interested in seeing the continuing SMB [small and medium-sized business] efforts in aligning the marketing and positioning of SAP Anywhere, SAP ByDesign and SAP Business One.

The work of Steve Singh [Singh, who is the former CEO of Concur, and was head of the SAP Business Network, was named CEO and chairman of Docker on May 2, 2017] and Barry Padgett in bringing resources together to build the SMB case has been progressing. 

I'm also interested in the SAP Digital effort, which I think will be something to keep an eye on.

The transformation of ERP

Cindy Jutras, president at Mint Jutras

I expect to hear a lot about the transformation of ERP, both S4/HANA and to the extent they will be addressing the SMB market with Business One. 

I don't think SAP has been terribly clear on the benefits of simplifying the data model. The world still doesn't really get the benefits of HANA. But now, Business One is incrementally being transformed through the use of microservices architecture, and also in moving to become a real SaaS [software as a service] solution. This impacts large multinationals from a two-tier perspective, so I hope to see and hear more clarity. 

I also hope they try to dispel the myth that ByDesign is dead. I've never believed that, but as all the naysayers disregard this, SAP has still remained quiet. I have told them they need to increase the volume, and I hope they take that to heart.

I'm most interested in seeing the microservices architecture that supports loosely coupled innovation. This alone could make ERP far more agile and innovation easier to consume. There's also the transformation to a more agile environment, delivering more innovation. Cloud and multi-tenant SaaS are a big part of that, but not the whole story.

This is critical today, given the risk of disruption caused by new innovative technology products, new ways of selling/pricing/packaging existing products and even entirely new business models (think the subscription economy). This and the looming ASC 606 financial accounting requirements could very well break many older ERP solutions in production environments. 

Business focus in the cloud and blockchain

Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions

Here's some of what I expect we will see at SAP Sapphire Now:

  • More positioning of SAP Cloud Platform as a business-focused alternative to both AWS [Amazon Web Services], Azure and other SaaS ERP and biz apps providers, as well as SAP's on-premises versions. I also expect to see more detail on the API-driven use of cloud and business services, and more on the end-to-end automation of business processes.
  • A further introduction of blockchain as relevant to business apps and processes, and why that makes sense. Also, the ability for SAP to build business apps and services on top of blockchain ledgers, and the new levels of extra-enterprise digital trust that enables. It also helps with [the] new levels of app-to-app and core-to-edge business security enabled by blockchain.
  • SAP Cloud Platform as relevant to more IoT and operational technology uses, partnerships and alliances.
  • More forward-looking ways that data analytics, machine learning and AI can be used in conjunction with SAP S/4HANA and SAP Cloud Platform. This means contextualized intelligence that is more cognitive and predictive via bigger data sets. This is all to improve historically inefficient human-based processes.

I would like to see better explanations of how large and small businesses can use SAP's various offerings to help them better reach and service new types of customers. A major common imperative for businesses globally now is to explosively extend their value, which means leveraging digital business capabilities and intelligence to take their core business assets and skills and monetize them in wholly new ways. SAP needs to market to this level of business innovation and solutions, not just to the apps and services that support business processes.

SAP can project a whole greater than the sum of the parts from their own acquisitions and development. The trick now is to show how SAP's customers can cash in on a whole greater than the sum of their parts, enabled by SAP.

The most interesting technologies to me are AI, machine learning, IoT support and blockchain, and I'd like to see technical ways that help businesses attain them, and their need to explosively extend their value before their competitors do.

I'd like to see more on visualizing and making data analytics democratized, so more dashboards, like the SAP Executive Dashboard, but for more types of workers in more context roles. The need is to drive the analytics down, as well as up.

SAP will need to show that it is an effective and predominant herder of ecosystem constituents, industry by industry, region by region. So, as more businesses seek automated and trusted ways of finding and engaging with partners and supply chains, SAP should be top of mind for them as the best means to achieve that.

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