As the top executives of an enterprise software company best known for large, centralized, on-premise installations, SAP AG co-Chief Executive Officers Bill McDermott and James Hagemann Snabe were talking a different game at this year’s Sapphire Now, the company’s annual user conference. The event, held simultaneously in Orlando, Fla., and Frankfurt, Germany, on May 17-19, featured various simulcast events, including second-day keynote addresses by the two executives.
SAP (www.sap.com), based in Walldorf, Germany, remains committed to delivering on-premise solution suites for companies that want it, Snabe assured an on-site and online audience pegged by SAP at 50,000 customers, partners and employees. But Snabe, speaking from Frankfurt, also pledged to extend the SAP product platform to two additional “pillars” or “strategies,” with the addition of “on-demand,” or software-as-a-service (SaaS), solutions, as well as “on-device” applications for use on wireless mobile devices. “And on top of that,” he added, “we are committed to orchestrate across these three layers of software, so that data stays consistent and the process integrity is kept, end to end.”
Whether the company can successfully pull off the transition to remain king of the enterprise hill in an era of “cloud computing” and ubiquitous mobile-device connectivity is a topic of endless speculation by analysts and other industry watchers. And for manufacturers that have made significant investments in the SAP architecture, it’s a question of major import.
But McDermott, speaking from Orlando during his keynote, provided various examples of how SAP is moving to meet current customer needs in the new era. Connectivity is creating data at an explosive rate, he said, noting that the amount of data in the world doubles every 18 months.
As one way to deal with this flood, the company’s “in-memory” computing technology “allows billions of records to be analyzed at the speed of thought,” McDermott declared. The in-memory technology—which benefits from today’s low cost of random access memory (RAM) as well as SAP data compression techniques—relies on moving large amounts of data from disk into main memory to speed up performance.
"Multi-touch interactive walls" on-site in both Orlando and Frankfurt were big attractions for conference attendees. To view a video of the wall in Orlando, visit www.automationworld.com/video-7087.
In-memory computing is already playing a role at Procter & Gamble, where top executives gather weekly in a “virtual boardroom” to make real-time decisions about the business, McDermott said. And SAP said in a press release that it is working with hardware partners to extend in-memory technology further to a hardware appliance optimized for real-time analytics using data from operational systems, data warehouses, real-time events and the Web.
McDermott also declared that, “at SAP, we’re taking bold steps to unwire our customers.” The company’s planned, $5.8 billion acquisition of Dublin, Calif.-based Sybase Inc. (www.sybase.com), announced on May 12, will strengthen SAP’s hand in the mobile market, he maintained. “This combined company will be the only company in the world to offer a full suite of enterprise software and next-generation business intelligence on any device, any place, any time.”
For the “on-demand” pillar of its strategy, SAP announced at Sapphire Now that version 2.5 of its Business ByDesign on-demand solution for small to mid-sized companies is now ready for prime time. This technology has been discussed by SAP for years. “I am confident that we will ship the next version of Business ByDesign by the end of July this year, which will be a volume-ready product,” Snabe pledged. With about 100 customers already running the product, SAP now has the necessary feedback to make the product a success, he added. “Now, we go for volume.”
Another major theme at Sapphire Now was sustainability, with more than 50 presentations devoted to the topic. SAP itself reduced its carbon emissions last year by 15 percent, and currently has close to 2,000 customers who are using SAP technology for sustainability, according to Peter Graf, SAP sustainability officer and vice president of sustainability solutions. The company recently published its 2009 Sustainability Report as an interactive vehicle on the Web. “Sustainability is about profitability,” Graf said during one Sapphire Now session. He cited companies such as Valero Energy Corp., San Antonio, which has used SAP software to drive $230 million of savings annually to its bottom line by managing energy more competitively across its 15 refineries.
During an interview with Automation World, Vivek Bapat, an SAP vice president in Product, Supply and Manufacturing Solutions, cited “significant demand” for sustainability solutions among SAP’s manufacturing customers. The company has embedded sustainability modules into a number of its current product portfolios, including supply chain management and product lifecycle management, said Bapat. “We’ve really tried not to present sustainability as a separate category, but…as a normal part of business,” he noted, as a way to help customers demonstrate a valid business case for sustainability profitability.