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SAP on-demand honcho cites growing demand for hybrid deployments

In this Q&A, the new head of SAP's Line of Business OnDemand division talks about the future of SAP’s on-demand portfolio.

SAP named Kevin Nix the new head of its Line of Business OnDemand division following the departure of predecessor John Wookey earlier this year. Nix, who first joined SAP in 2009, oversaw SAP’s mobile applications unit before the company acquired Sybase, and he was heavily involved in developing SAP Sales OnDemand. spoke with Nix about how  his plans for the unit will affect customers, if his applications compete with SAP’s Rapid Deployment Solutions and how in-memory computing might play a role in future on-demand applications.

How is your style different from John Wookey’s, and how do you intend to leave your own mark on the position?

Kevin Nix: John had very strong vision around building this new category of applications that were really geared around making people very productive, very collaborative and quite honestly, making the application experience an enjoyable one and a productive one. I one hundred percent agree with that philosophy. I think what you’re going to see is a lot of consistency and continuity [in that vision] moving forward. We have a vision for those products; now we’re executing on that vision. 

What is that vision?

Nix: The vision is somewhat different for each product domain, because the products have different characteristics. With SAP sourcing, [that vision] is to really provide a higher degree of productivity and collaboration for procurement individuals as they deal with suppliers and to take advantage of [functionality] around source-to-pay. 

The common themes you’re going to start to hear [around these product lines] are these common ideas of people-centricity and collaboration. Some people call it social computing.

"Customers aren’t religious about one model or the other. What they’re really looking at is the best combination to meet their needs."

- Kevin Nix, head of SAP Line of Business OnDemand

So far, your division has released Sales OnDemand and Sourcing OnDemand. What has the reaction been to these products and how will that influence future releases?

Nix: What we’re consistently hearing is [that customers are looking for] hybrid solutions. [That means] core application software, which very often is the [Business] Suite, combined with line-of-business applications which may be on-demand, on-premise, or both. Our Sourcing OnDemand product is also sold on-premise, for example. This is sort of the new model that we’re seeing. Customers aren’t religious about one model or the other. What they’re really looking at is the best combination to meet their needs.

SAP is developing on-demand applications for travel expenses and career management. What other products do you have on the horizon?

Nix: [SAP has a core ERP] product in environmental health and safety. However, we can help manufacturing companies manage the complexities of all the different environmental health and safety regulations through a [separate] subscription-based [on-demand] application. Data changes on a pretty dynamic basis. So rather than having to deliver data that is then uploaded into a database, our customers have that content immediately accessible in the cloud, so that we can update it in one place, and everyone can see it.

This is a great example of a hybrid [model], where you have the content as a service, but you have the on-premise component of environmental health and safety that’s part of the core SAP suite.

Do you see areas of crossover between your division and SAP's line of Rapid Deployment Solutions, which addresses some of the same issues around targeted functionality and speed of deployment?

Nix: This is about what the customer wants and what’s valuable for the customer. If a customer wants an on-premise deployment of CRM, and they want to use some of our Rapid Deployment Solutions as a part of that on-premise deployment, we’re thrilled. So, it really lets the customer choose what’s best for their needs. I think what you’ll see as well is the pace in which we innovate in an on-demand model and get customers to adopt us much faster. That’s probably the other slight difference you’d see between a rapid deployment, on-premise model, and an on-demand model -- a faster iteration rate on innovation.

What role will HANA and in-memory technology play in on-demand applications?

Nix: One that immediately comes to mind is when you deal with complex forecasting and basically demand and revenue. Those are typically large amounts of data, highly volatile data, and it’s changing all the time. The old-school model of forecasting is [that] every sales rep would build their forecast in Excel, feed it up to their line manager, who would put it in his or Excel spreadsheet and so on. A classic, transactional CRM system with a relational database doesn’t do a great job of that, because you have lots of roll-ups and lots of adjustments. The ability to deal with that, leveraging a HANA-based solution, has huge advantages, not to mention the ability to slice and dice revenue based on territory, based on product line [or] whatever category you want to pick.  

What role will SAP’s partners play in its on-demand strategy going forward?  

Nix: Some of our key SI [system integrators] partners who have practices around CRM and sales effectiveness help educate customers on getting the most out of the software. Our plan is to very closely partner with these key ecosystem partners, because, in essence, they can really help maximize the innovation that we’re bringing to market.

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