by Thomas Wailgum

The $16 Billion Software Company That No One Seems to Care About

Jul 11, 20083 mins
Enterprise Applications

I’m always amazed that people—even IT people—don’t know enough about what’s really going on with SAP or seem to really care about it. This is, after all, a $16 billion company whose software pumps the lifeblood of most large enterprises and, if SAP execs have their way, small and midsize companies in the near future.

A snapshot of SAP’s financial presence shows a market cap of some $60 billion. It has been the (or a) leader in the ERP (27.5 percent marketshare as of 2007), CRM and supply chain software markets for years.

Just recently, the German software giant proclaimed “a historic landmark in its product release strategy,” notes an announcement from SAP. “The latest release of its market-leading enterprise resource planning (ERP) application, SAP ERP, has been selected or installed by more than 10,000 customers.”

10,000 customers!


Maybe it’s because SAP doesn’t have a flashy or dynamic CEO, like its archrival Oracle’s CEO, Larry Ellison. Maybe it’s because ERP software is, in general, pretty boring stuff—a necessary evil at many companies (though everyone seems pretty jazzed about virtualization, and that’s crazy boring). Maybe it’s because back-office systems and software, no matter how critical to businesses, will never capture the buzz of, say, an iPhone or a new Facebook widget. It’s just reality.

In the past couple years of covering SAP, I’ve also noticed that there’s just not a lot of excitement in the SAP ecosystem. There’s not the fervent passion in SAP’s proponents or its detractors. Like with Oracle—people either love it or hate it. There’s passion there.

You just don’t seem to get that raw emotion, except, perhaps, from SAP’s executives, long-time employees or Kool-Aid drinking public relations staffers. (Though, in a couple of my meetings with SAP execs, they’re not the “Rah Rah!” types. More like: “Our software is very good. What else is there to talk about?”)

I’m not alone in this thinking. AMR Research’s Jim Shepherd, who’s the senior vice president of research at the analyst firm and has been following SAP for much longer than I, told me that he is continually amazed by just how little SAP’s own customers know about the software company and its future product and growth strategies in the enterprise software market.

“One of the things we find over and over again is that they are unaware of things that SAP has decided to do, and these things are publicly stated,” says Shepherd. “[The customers] aren’t thinking about it from a long-term perspective of what this means to me.” (To get up to speed, see “Five Things About SAP’s Strategy That You Need to Know.”)

But, of course, Shepherd and I both maintain that ignoring SAP is risky business. First, typical SAP engagement costs run into the millions or multimillions, and most companies believe that SAP will be a core system for 20 years or so. Going with SAP is a career-maker (or breaker). Therefore, Shepherd contends, any major shift in SAP’s product strategy, release schedule, target markets and partnership models, or license and maintenance fees can have a significant effect on a business’s future.

In talking with SAP executives during the last 12 months, I get the sense that they are well aware of their status, and maybe that they’ve been “too quiet,” and that they are now trying to raise the company’s profile.

Now seems like as good a time as any. But will you care?