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Sapphire Now will focus on S/4HANA and cloud strategies

Industry analysts expect to get detailed information about the viability of the S/4HANA platform and SAP's cloud strategies at the Sapphire Now user conference.

S/4HANA adoption and cloud deployment strategies are two of the most prominent topics that will be on the minds of attendees at SAP's Sapphire Now conference. The annual gathering of users, partners, vendors and SAP insiders takes place May 17 to 19 in Orlando, Fla.

Industry observers are always keen on finding out more about SAP's roadmap and getting explicit details on where the company is headed and what kind of support it will offer to companies that are making the trip to Sapphire Now.

The need for clarity is especially germane with the advent of S/4HANA, various cloud platforms and the acquisitions of the companies that make up the SAP Business Network -- Ariba, Concur, Fieldglass and SuccessFactors. With such an array of product lines and deployment and integration possibilities, it's vital for SAP at Sapphire Now to provide compelling reasons why its customers should invest in its technology.

Industry observers share expectations

Holger Mueller, principal analyst and vice president of Constellation Research Inc., wants to see SAP address lingering questions about the viability of the S/4HANA platform. "Where does it stand, where is the customer adoption, where is the roadmap, and what is SAP comfortable in replacing and will push for?" he said. "Anything over 1,000 customers would be a positive surprise, and anything over 200 nonfinance customers would be a surprise, as it started with Simple Finance."

Mueller said he hopes SAP has a clear message at Sapphire Now for its customer base on how they are going to move to S/4HANA. There also has to be a clear message on SAP's cloud strategy.

"What is SAP doing to harmonize its many offerings, and what's the data center strategy?" Mueller asked. "SAP understands data residency requirements well, but what does it do to help customers to satisfy them? We know that SuccessFactors found a solution to satisfy the Russian [data sovereignty] requirements, but what about the other products?"

Carl Olofson, IDC research vice president, said he intends to look for information from SAP about current S/4HANA adoption rates and how the HANA platform is expanding in customer adoption, product coverage and third-party adoption.

"I plan to look for any limitations that HANA is posing to users in terms of scalability, performance and other issues," he said. "I'm also looking for information about other SAP database products, especially the ones from Sybase -- ASE, IQ and Anywhere."

More real customer success stories, less vision

SAP needs to get real about actual applications this year, said Paul Hamerman, Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst. "I believe that S/4HANA will be a major theme at the conference this year, focusing more on execution and customer success with the suite, and perhaps less on the vision behind the product," he said. "I also expect SAP to promote its vision of digital business, which ties together a number of SAP initiatives, including business networks, workforce solutions, analytics and customer-centric solutions. Some of the key announcements will be related to expanded partnerships with major technology players, such as Microsoft and IBM."

In addition to keeping up with product and partnership announcements, Jon Reed, co-founder of Diginomica Ltd., will be paying close attention to SAP's leadership at Sapphire.

"This is a big keynote for [SAP CEO] Bill McDermott, as this is his first big public exposure since his unfortunate accident, and I think observers are going to want to take the pulse of where he is," Reed said. "Because although SAP has a lot of competent executives, in my opinion, they don't have a CEO in waiting, so I think a lot is riding on [McDermott] and he needs to demonstrate that he can take SAP where it needs to go."

SAP, for its part, promises that attendees this year can expect a strong mix of product announcements, technology roadmap strategies and customer stories, according to Ken Tsai, SAP vice president of product marketing. SAP HANA will be the centerpiece platform, and there will be a lot of cloud talk.

"On the HANA side, you will see our typical release cycle, and HANA SPS 12 will be made generally available," Tsai said. "But the story of HANA is not just that incremental release story, it's about cloud and how we are thinking very differently about cloud. You'll hear a lot more about ways to integrate or embed cloud as part of your data management capabilities, and breaking the silos between on-premises and cloud."

Use cases will be front and center

Customer stories and use cases will be front and center this year, and Tsai said some of the most compelling of these will be on display at the SAP HANA Innovation Awards, which recognize innovative business applications built on SAP HANA.

"We had huge participation in the awards for 2016, with over 100 entries in four categories -- Analytics Wizard, Digital Trailblazers, Process Simplifiers, Next-Generation Apps," Tsai said. "These are customers who are not just running our suite or running BW, but they are building custom solutions that have a fundamental impact either on the revenue side with cost savings or a new business model that they created. You're really seeing the customers demonstrating their innovation success." One such award nominee is the hospital network Mercy Health, which was able to save up to $2 million to $3 million a year by using HANA to develop applications that simplified procedures and cut costs.

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