Turning the SAP TechEd messages upside down for the SME

This year’s SAP TechEd was the first to feature an SME (Small to Midsize Enterprise) track. As we wrap up Las Vegas (next stop Madrid), it is time to reflect on the real relevance to SME of the themes and messages presented at TechEd. Much of the event was an excellent presentation of technology, followed by some ideas and examples of how you might use that technology.  That is the way IT departments in large enterprises might approach their IT strategy and budget. And, after all the intended audience for the event was IT in general and developers in particular. But typically there aren’t any developers in small companies and most SMEs have very limited IT staffs. So really the SME audience at TechEd was the partners that service those SMEs.

While these partners were very well represented, can they effectively carry the message to their customers? In order to do that, those partners will have some translating to do, because that’s not how an SME “thinks.” SMEs don’t go looking for technology. They go looking for solutions to their business problems. So can we – and more importantly, the SAP partners turn the messages from TechEd upside down and still make them work for SMEs?

Fellow analyst Laurie McCabe did a great job highlighting the key themes for TechEd (HANA, mobility, cloud / on demand). None of these themes are new. While that makes it harder for those of us in the press and analyst community to find something new and different to “report,” this is actually a good thing for customers and partners alike. Instead of dealing with a different “message du jour” generated for each major even (which some vendors are known to do), SAP is continuing to firm up the foundation upon which they will deliver. The bad news is that some of these promises take a lot of time and effort to deliver, so sometimes it seems like we talk for a long time about what the future deliverables will be without actually seeing them. And while some SMEs might be slower out of the gate to embrace technology as part of the solution, once they do, they are no less impatient to get on with it than larger companies.

So let’s start with the mobility theme. An executive from an SME may not be orchestrating a large, multi-national global enterprise, but they are managing increasingly distributed environments. The Mint Jutras 2011 ERP Solution study found even small companies (those with revenues under $25 million) managed an average of 2.7 operating locations and this number grew along with revenues:

  • Small companies (revenues less than $25 million) : 2.7 operating locations
  • Lower mid-market ($25m – $250m) :                          5.0 operating locations
  • Upper mid-market ($250m – $1 billion):                     8.3 operating locations
  • Large enterprise (revenues exceeded $1 billion):     10.1 operating locations

And executives from smaller companies are just as likely to blur the lines between business hours and personal time, perhaps even more so because of the number of different hats they might wear in managing a small business. In our untethered world of mobile connectivity, we all become more tethered to work even in the “off hours.” And the older generation is now learning from younger generations and becoming more comfortable with specialized mobile consumer “apps.” So mobile access to enterprise data and functions is just as relevant for SMEs as it is for large companies, whether they realize it or not.  

And this access needs to be flexible. In the past large corporations were likely to issue standardized devices (usually a BlackBerry and usually primarily for email, phone and calendaring). Today employees in companies both large and small are buying their own devices and using them for both personal and business purposes and also expecting to do more with them. This creates a need for mobile device management and SAP has a solution for that (Afaria), but this is going to be a tough sell into a small company. Yes, they want mobile access, but they want “apps” not tools to build apps and manage devices and aren’t necessarily willing to pay for that.

In response, SAP is developing mobile apps and recognizes they must model consumer apps. That means they must be smaller in scope and more directly applicable to a particular function. No training required for the user interface and limited training required for the business process it is intended to perform. In some ways these requirements are similar to any business application intended for SMEs. Multi-purpose, horizontal applications, particularly ERP, must accommodate many different functions, and different types of businesses with similar but different business needs. This often introduces a level of complexity that SMEs simply can’t effectively cope with. Some respond by over-simplifying and implementing a solution with limited functionality. But this leaves the business underserved.

Many of these apps that we expect to see delivered by SAP in early 2012 will be mobile analytic applications. These should be of particular interest to SMEs, particularly those that have invested in ERP but have not ventured beyond traditional ERP reporting. By definition, ERP is neither a single purpose nor a simple “app.”  In forming the system of record of the business, ERP is the repository for potentially huge volumes of data that remains largely untapped.

Very often decision-makers themselves rarely, if ever, touch ERP directly, but instead rely on subordinates and/or traditional reporting from ERP for input to decision-making. Not only does this introduce latency, turning real time data into historical data, in relying on traditional reporting, decision-makers have a choice of looking at data in the aggregate at a summary level (that is too high for real conclusions) or wading through so much detail it is impossible to see the big picture. The ability to start at a summary level and drill down to successive levels of detail is becoming more common as a feature within ERP, but being able to do so through a mobile device is very rare. And that might just be the ticket to connecting the executive decision-maker directly to the data on which good decisions are based.

This is where SAP TechEd’s other big “theme” comes into play. HANA is SAP’s in-memory computing engine which is the platform on which these mobile analytics apps are being built. Often HANA and in-memory computing in general is associated with “big data”, which is in turn associated with big companies. But HANA is as much about speed as it is big data. And with speed, it is normal to add more and more data, reaching beyond that which is normally stored in enterprise applications. Think about the enormous potential of useful but unstructured data that is floating out there via the Internet and can be retrieved through search engines and the like. But rarely will you find an SMB that is willing to invest in in-memory computing.

As a result, HANA is not yet a reality yet for most SMEs.  Currently HANA is only available as an “appliance”, which means it needs to sit outside of the SME’s ERP solution. HANA will be certified for SAP BW (BW stands for Business Warehouse) in November but BW is most often found in large enterprises.

And then there’s the cost. While SAP is not disclosing pricing, another fellow analyst, Dennis Moore has pieced together some intelligence relating to cost. Dennis projects the entry level cost for software to be about $120,000. Purchasing HANA on an appliance today brings the projected total to about $250,000 plus services. So a pilot project might start at about $300,000, which is far more than the average small company pays for an ERP solution today.

But SAP intends to “fix” this by putting HANA “inside” both Business ByDesign (SAP’s On Demand ERP) and Business One. While adoption of ByDesign is still nascent, over 32,000 companies run Business One today. By replacing its current underlying infrastructure with HANA as a platform, SAP will have brought this powerful technology to the SME for the cost of their maintenance. Those upper mid-market companies running SAP Business All-in-One, which is built on the same ERP as the Business Suite, will have the option of upgrading to HANA as a platform, but it won’t be free. However, this is still “futures” so SMEs still have plenty of time to imagine how best to take advantage of this new technology, and unfortunately many will not. But they will at least experience some performance improvements as a result, once they upgrade.

Which brings us to the third theme – SAP’s On Demand platform. It is the underlying architecture of SAP’s Business ByDesign that provides this platform, bringing On Demand capabilities even to those that might be running ERP on premise. Software as a Service (SaaS) has made tremendous in-roads in certain functional areas, like Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Supply Chain Management (SCM) and Human Capital Management (HCM) for large and small companies alike. But most companies have a long history of avoiding SaaS ERP.

The barriers of resistance to SaaS ERP are breaking down slowly. One might expect the smallest companies to be most interested in SaaS ERP, but the Mint Jutras 2011 ERP Solution Study indicated just the opposite. When asked which deployment options they would consider if purchasing an ERP solution today, the willingness to consider a SaaS ERP solution actually increased with company size. While 44% of all survey respondents would consider SaaS, only 42% of SMEs (those with annual revenues under $500 million) would, compared to 59% of larger companies (revenues greater than $500 million). Although this is somewhat counter-intuitive, this implies SMEs are more likely to take advantage of what SAP calls its Line of Business (LOB) on demand solutions – applications like Sales On Demand that are more purpose-built for a particular functional area.

This also makes SAP’s plans for an “App Store” all that much more relevant. It is anticipated that this on-line store will allow customers to buy, download and deploy both SAP and partner apps based on the ByDesign platform. This should be appealing to both customers and the partner ecosystem that has grown to sell and support the Business One product, in addition to the ecosystem growing to support Business ByDesign.

And so it would seem there is an SME-specific message to all three of these themes. The challenge for SAP and its partners is to clearly articulate the value as well as the cost and the return on that investment to these smaller companies who continue to anxiously and cautiously watch every penny.

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