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Sapphire attendees take long view despite S/4HANA roadmap gaps

SAP Sapphire attendees expressed long-term confidence in the company's S/4HANA platform, but also said the transition will not be simple to make.

The announcements made in the opening keynote addresses at SAP's Sapphire Now 2015 conference may have been underwhelming to some observers, but attendees appear to be taking the long view of the journey to S/4HANA.

S/4 HANA is the new version of SAP Business Suite that runs exclusively on the HANA in-memory database.

"I don't really care about keynote speeches. They're important, but I've been to a lot of these events before and I've found that I'd rather sleep in," said Jason Hurliman, SAP Basis and DB2 manager for Medtronic, a Minneapolis-based medical devices company. "But I do like what I see here. I think this is a pretty well-run event, comparatively speaking."

Hurliman said that SAP Sapphire allows customers, vendors and partners an opportunity to see what SAP is doing now and where it's going. Compared to TechEd -- SAP's more hands-on technical conference -- Sapphire takes a more business-oriented approach. "There's a higher level of leadership from companies here," he said. "If you're a company and you are interested in what [Business] Suite for HANA is, the trends and what SAP is doing directionally, you come here to get that at a higher level."

S/4HANA business case looms large

Sapphire keynotes used to provide more details, said Lisa Mannion, enterprise architect at bioMerieux, a French medical device maker. Mannion once worked for SAP and attended Sapphire Now conferences for well over a decade, returning this year after a two-year hiatus. "I felt how I could not really see a clear value or what's really different about S/4HANA or that I could go back to my leadership and pitch it," she said. Mannion nonetheless expressed strong confidence in SAP cofounder Hasso Plattner's ability to reinvent the company, this time on the HANA in-memory database platform that he also played a leading role in developing.

James Shaffer, an SAP analyst at  Freeman Company -- a Dallas-based events production company -- was pleased with the conference. Interestingly, Freeman helps stage the Sapphire conference for SAP,  but Freeman is also a long-time SAP customer. Freeman has run HANA for a few years and recently implemented applications from SucessFactors and Concur, both SAP companies.

We would love to
do business intelligence on S/4HANA. But we need to build a case for it.
James ShafferSAP analyst, Freeman Company

He said the long-term strategy is to migrate to S/4HANA, and liked what he heard in the conference about that journey. "We would love to do business intelligence on S/4HANA," he said. "But we need to build a case for it. A lot came out of here to help us build the case. We got a lot more insight into it from all the meetings and sessions."

One attendee who is turning the SAP HANA roadmap into reality is Carl Bamford, vice president of retail applications at Luxottica Group, which is a partner with SAP on its Fashion Management Solution (FMS). The retailer, which owns Lens Crafters and Sears Optical stores, has already moved its SAP ERP system and Business Warehouse software to HANA, running it in Luxottica's own data center instead of the cloud.

Luxottica will move to S/4HANA after the FMS implementation is complete, Bamford said, perhaps as early as the end of 2016. He said the application he is most interested in -- financials and logistics, spotlighted in one of the keynote demos -- should be fully developed when Luxottica is ready to use it. "We'll get some efficiencies from some of the analytics. We'll probably consolidate some [existing ERP] applications."

Bamford added that he wanted more specifics on the S/4HANA logistics software and will be especially looking especially for strong reporting features.

In later comments, SAP officials appeared to back off board member Bernd Leukert's keynote claim that 25 S/4HANA vertical industry offerings were fast-tracked for the conference. 

"In principle, from a theoretical point of view, any software we have written on the Business Suite ECC 6 or any DB [database] runs also on HANA because HANA is compatible to any DB," SAP cofounder Hasso Plattner said in a press conference. "So, the software runs. Is every software rewritten to take full advantage of HANA? No. And this is taking place so they run. But could they run better? Yes. Which application runs best now? Simple Finance. Next is the majority of the logistics."

SAP Sapphire attendee reacts to S/4HANACathy Klein, a vendor-relationship
manager, at Sapphire

Cathy Klein, a vendor-relationship manager for an aeronautics and defense company, said she liked an SAP keynote demo of S/4HANA helping to integrate a manufacturer's financials and logistics, and of a HANA-based Internet of Things application for predictive analytics that a Texas utility is using.

A widely tweeted quote by a keynote guest, Wal-Mart Stores CIO Karenann Terrell -- in which she said she hoped to complete the company's SAP implementation in her lifetime -- resonated with Klein. "I related to when she made that comment. She was pretty honest about it." Klein added that SAP still needs to show use cases in the aerospace industry for her company to consider moving to the new technologies.

SAP says 'Run Simple,' but attendees have doubts

Although most attendees SearchSAP talked to shared the desire to eventually move to S/4HANA and someday "Run Simple," as SAP's latest slogan touts, they believe that the transition will not be easy, regardless of any roadmap from SAP.

"In all honesty, I think they are doing their best to silence any critics, but the adoption of S/4HANA is a major reimplementation, and that is not simple," said Darrel Wieberdink, senior systems analyst at the Nebraska Public Power District. The utility intends to implement S/4HANA -- but not for at least five years, he said. "We're still a ways out, so I assume a lot will change between now and then."

Ramesh Shanmuganathan, executive vice president and CIO of John Keells Holdings PLC, believes that the move to the digitalized future with S/4HANA at the center is inevitable for SAP customers. John Keels is a holding company based in Sri Lanka that manages more than 75 companies in seven industries, with a focus on hotels and transportation. The company developed an S/4HANA-based system for enhancing the guest experience at its luxury hotels that was a finalist for SAP's HANA Innovation Awards.

"The digital way is in a rapid phase. If we don't decide to change or innovate ourselves, we might get lost in the tsunami of the digitalized age," he said. "I'm not too sure it's going to be as simple as [SAP has described it], but it's a journey we're all going to go on."

SAP Fiori user interface also draws attention

Hurliman was also interested is seeing how SAP Fiori, the company's next-generation user interface, fits into Medtronic's SAP ecosystem. Fiori represents a big change in the way Medtronic's users will interact with the system, so Hurliman came looking for some answers on how to manage this change.

"We've been talking to some Fiori folks about change management -- how do we do that, because it's pretty big stuff," he said. "SAP says Fiori is the way of the future and that's what they're building [Business] Suite for HANA with, so how does that work for all these vendors? They've got products that are burned in, with sometimes decades' worth of products that know how SAP works."

Meanwhile, Freeman Company will roll out Fiori this month, Shaffer said. He attended SAP Sapphire in part to meet with the professional services team that helped with the implementation.

Executive editor David Essex contributed to this article.

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