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SAP Sapphire Now 2019 affirmed HANA, public cloud commitment

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Qualtrics experience management shared the spotlight with a more open, affordable HANA database platform and a declaration that apps -- not infrastructure -- are SAP's cloud priority.

The SAP Sapphire Now 2019 conference saw the vendor reaffirm its HANA in- database as the foundation of its flagship products and technologies, including experience management tools from recently acquired Qualtrics.

SAP also laid down a clear commitment to public cloud as the deployment model for applications, while largely relinquishing the infrastructure layer to cloud specialists Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure. At the same time, SAP seemed challenged to prioritize, let alone explain, the various flavors of cloud available to run its applications -- notably its next-generation ERP system, S/4HANA.

In a podcast recorded at the conference, Brian McKenna, business applications editor of ComputerWeekly, and SearchSAP editors Jim O'Donnell and David Essex gave their take on the news from SAP Sapphire Now, as well as an interview with SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner.

Game X's and O's

Cloud software for gathering profile data and feedback from customers and employees – experience data, or X-data -- has been a priority for SAP since its $8 billion purchase of Qualtrics last fall. CEO Bill McDermott emphasized the opportunities in exploiting these pillars of the so-called experience economy in his SAP Sapphire Now keynote. He also tied it to SAP's relationship with its own customers and employees, later calling it the "elixir of cultural change" in a discussion with media and analysts.

Combining X-data with operational data, or O-data, processed in SAP systems is the trick to many of the slickest new capabilities highlighted on SAP Sapphire Now stages.

However, Geoff Scott, CEO of ASUG, the biggest user group, said SAP software purchases were traditionally driven by IT and finance departments and often seen as a control mechanism -- not an enabler -- of creativity by marketing and sales, the departments to whom Qualtrics appeals the most. Such cultural issues could challenge SAP's ability to integrate Qualtrics, its technology and its customers -- something even some SAP executives acknowledge.

New HANA database and cloud offerings

SAP announced new features and products designed, in part, to make HANA "a cost killer in the enterprise," in McDermott's words. He and other SAP leaders admitted HANA's price might have hurt its popularity.

The biggest reveal was of SAP HANA Cloud Services, a database-as-a-service offering that Plattner, in his keynote on the second morning of SAP Sapphire Now, said will open HANA to more data sources and make it more accessible and affordable.

Plattner also said SAP has been good at strategy, but now needs to focus on the details of what customers want. He used the analogy of automaker Porsche, which redesigned aspects of its cars, such as clutches that are easier to operate and cup holders, to appeal to a broader audience. He said doing so will require SAP employees to work harder.

SAP also strengthened its commitment to cloud computing on several fronts, with Plattner declaring "the only way forward is the cloud. We are all clear about this."

An implementation program called Embrace, led by Jennifer Morgan, president of the SAP cloud business group, will tap hyperscalers. These public cloud partners, including AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure, will give SAP customers more guidance on the best deployment options for S/4HANA migration.

Morgan said the initiative aligns with SAP's deemphasizing of its HANA Enterprise Cloud and decision to move away from the infrastructure business and focus on applications.

However, interviews with SAP observers and executives indicate a subtle shift in how SAP refers to public cloud, with on-premises S/4HANA called cloud when hosted by a public cloud hyperscaler. S/4HANA Cloud also comes in a true multi-tenant SaaS version that differs in features and customizability, but also runs on a public cloud.

Other podcast topics from SAP Sapphire Now include indirect access licensing, a surprise appearance in McDermott's keynote by Apple CEO Tim Cook and recent executive changes at SAP, which Plattner said were motivated by a feeling that the company needed to get younger at the leadership level. "We are dancing again," he said.