by Thomas Wailgum

The Lighter Side of…SAP’s Influencer Summit 09

Dec 16, 2009
Enterprise Applications

From impromptu dancing to furious tweeting, here are the unofficial moments that mattered at the SAP Influencer Summit.

At SAP’s Influencer Summit 09 last week in Boston, I was treated to a daylong technological smorgasbord of all things SAP: executive presentations and interviews, strategy sessions, and copious mingling with SAP employees, analysts, consultants and others living and working in the SAP ecosystem.

So with a nod to Mad magazine’s Dave Berg (the creator of “The Lighter Side of…”), here are my observations of the gathering as well as links to five must-read blog posts from the event.

• Where’s LEO the CEO? SAP’s head honcho Leo Apotheker was nowhere to be found at the Influencer Summit, leading to tons of attendee speculation, innuendo and rumor as to the real nature of his absence. The official SAP response: There was no expectation that Apotheker would have been there—and that previous CEOs hadn’t always attended in the past. This wasn’t Sapphire, after all. (Maybe he was busy writing another letter to Larry Ellison?)

• Surely an awkward moment to be recounted at the next SAP Board meeting: During Jim Hagemann Snabe’s keynote, he talked about changes at SAP during the year, including the organizational changes at the top: “We have a new board. I don’t want to comment on the quality of the board….” Um, I think you actually might want to comment on the quality of the board, since you’re a member, and say something like: It’s of good/fine/excellent quality? Just a suggestion.

• “ERP,” the term, is persona non grata for SAP now. One of the few times I heard it uttered: “We are no longer just an ERP company,” said board member John Schwarz. Funny how that works.

• The #sapsummit Twitter feed flew nonstop, with attendees riffing and ripping on everything from the Wi-Fi signal strength to the particulars of each presentation. (Tangent: It dawned on me that using Twitter at an event like this is just like passing notes around the classroom in high school. What’s similar: The teachers—the presenters—know it’s happening. What’s different: The principal—the marketing honchos—are reading every note being passed.) (Here’s the link to all the tweets that day.)

• Tuesday brought four keynotes. All before noon. I said it before and I’ll say it again: When EVERYONE’S presentation is labeled “Keynote,” the term loses all of its meaning.

• SAP, as a whole, gives off an air of restrained, quiet confidence at events such as these. Which, not surprisingly, pales in comparison to how its competitors (namely Oracle) like to thump their chests. But when an SAP exec does actually take a shot at a competitor, the dig is usually so subtle, so masked, that it’s really easy to miss.

• At times, Hagemann Snabe sounded rueful and contrite during his keynote and at a Q&A with the media. Two of his quotes stood out to me, both getting at the heart of SAP’s dual-pronged challenge today: “We have not done a good enough job explaining to [customers] all the innovations we have done.” And: “We do not believe that the world will run only SAP.”

• Fact: If you attend any SAP event, you’re guaranteed to hear many, many mentions of two companies that use (love?) SAP products: Colgate-Palmolive and Valero Energy.

• A day before attending the summit, I had just posted a slideshow of 8 More PowerPoint Train Wrecks on—a new assemblage of the best of the worst PPT slides that corporate American presenters had to offer. Let’s just say I could have added a couple of the PPT slides that I saw on Tuesday to the slideshow.

• SAP Execs: “We don’t want to own the stack. We don’t want to own the stack. We don’t want to own the stack.” My question to you, SAP: Are you at all interested in “owning the stack”?

• Not only did SAP banish “ERP” from the nomenclature, it very rarely spoke directly to CIOs—whereas CIOs would have been the focus of discussions in the past. Like the “consumerization of IT” trend that has happened, the Influencer Summit theme could have been the “businessization of SAP.” When I asked Schwarz about that, he cautioned: Line of business managers definitely have more voice in IT decisions now, but “we will not walk away from our best partner, the CIO…. IT is still key.”

• Of the power outlets that one could actually find to recharge laptop batteries at Boston’s Park Plaza Hotel, many appeared to be relics from a previous century—and I’m not talking about the 20th.

• Not one mention of Siemens.

• When I told Richard Campione, SAP’s EVP of Business Suite solution management, that I felt there was a lack of “passion” about SAP in the marketplace, his eyes flared a little but remained polite. He respectfully disagreed.

• There’s always this strangely competitive “one-up-manship” among those “influencers” attending the event as to who got the best “one on one” sessions with SAP executives. “I got 30 minutes with Snabe—alone! What did you get?” “Oh, um, well…I got 10 minutes with Josef Somethingorother, a SME reseller partner from Venezuela.” “Oh. Sorry.”

• Is SAP’s Business ByDesign abbreviated BBD or ByD? Consensus says ByD, but I heard SAP execs and plenty of others “in the know” say it both ways. And then my media relations contact told me SAP prefers not to abbreviate it. FWIW: I say ByD.

• BTW, ByD will not be achieving SAP’s previous goal of 10,000 customers by 2010. But I bet you knew that already.

• During the reception on Tuesday night, all the sudden a bunch of people—who, best I could tell, were staff of the hotel—appeared and began dancing together like they had been working on the choreography for weeks. I could be totally wrong, but was it that Bollywood-type song from Slumdog Millionaire? The guy with the chef’s hat on was so into it, I was afraid he would never return to his (and my favorite) meat-carving station. (Note: Jonathan Becher, SAP marketing SVP tweeted that those weren’t hotel employees; they were “excited customers.” Hmmmmm.)

• Not only was Apotheker absent, but so was “Demo Boy” Ian Kimbell.

• SAP spares no expense at events such as these—with unparalleled executive access and digital media savvy, helpful and friendly media and analyst relations staffers, plus ample food and drink. SAP is a model of how a 21st century company connects with customers, partners, media, analysts, bloggers and each other.

Now, here’s my list of 5 Must Read blog posts coming out of the summit:

Event Report: 2009 SAP Influencer Summit – SAP Must Put Strategy To Execution In Order To Prove Clarity Of Vision, by Ray Wang

SAP: Out with the Old, Shrugging Off The Tag, by James Governor

SAP Business Influencers Summit – A Clear Path Forward?, by Paul Greenberg

Reactions to SAP Influencer Summit 2009: Conversation Meets the Bottom Line, by Peter Russo

Observations From Our One-on-One Meetings With SAP Executives, by Bruce Richardson

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