I was fortunate to be invited to a phone hookup with Vishal Sikka very early (3:30am Sydney time) this morning.
The primary purpose of the meeting was for Vishal to provide an update on what has been happening with HANA since we last met at Sapphire in Orlando. The catalyst for the discussion is that HANA is transitioning from "Ramp-Up" to "GA" next week.
There is no doubt the HANA story is remarkable from many different angles. Not the least that after its' first real public outing at Sapphire in 2010 the product went into ramp-up just nine months later and is now becoming generally available seven months after that.
Many of us have been critical of SAP for slow delivery of product. The creep from product/feature announcement, development, ramp-up, to customer relevance and finally to customer adoption has traditionally been of ice-age proportions. This is not entirely SAPs' fault - after all there is still a significant number of SAP shops running good old R/3 4.6C (or earlier). Many of these customers view pretty much every SAP product announcement since 1995 as irrelevant for them as their existing technology stack wont support things like Web Dynpro, web services, etc. For them SAP is truly an organisation from the nineteen-hundreds and R/3 bears no relation to other applications they use every day like Google, eBay, iTunes or Angry Birds.
To develop and deliver a product like HANA which is so different from SAPs' traditional fare in quick time is quite an achievement. To do so and be able to demonstrate (as far as I can see) universal enthusiasm from the ramp-up customers is also amazing. Clearly this is no longer your Grandmothers' SAP.
I first detected a real change in SAP at TechEd in 2008. It was just the faint whiff of a shift in the breeze, and I certainly didn't go away convinced it was permanent change, but it was there.
This morning Vishal was keen to talk about "Intellectual renewal at SAP". And so he should be. In my view SAP pretty much wasted the first half of this century and they need to get out and convince us that they are on a new path. We need to be convinced the change is good, all encompassing, and irreversible.
I am convinced that it is good. I want a strong, vibrant and innovative SAP because my career depends upon it. And I believe in the "Innovate or Die" adage.
My lingering concern is how all encompassing, and therefore permanent, this change is. Apart from New Zealand I probably live in the country that is furthest from SAP HQ - no matter if you think that is in Walldorf, Philladelphia, Palo Alto or Bangalore. Even if you regard my geographical knowledge as suspect you have got to admit that if you travelled between all the key SAP locations you wouldn't get too near Australia.
I do not yet see the same enthusiasm and passion for the new innovative SAP that I see in Vishal, Hasso and the other key SAP leaders reflected in my local SAP office.
And don't get me wrong - I don't really expect to either. After all they are really just a sales office in one of the smaller markets in the SAP world. For them it is all about making their sales targets. Sure they have consulting, education and support services here but the success of the business is all about software licenses. If they don't make their target people get sacked. Hard to get too enthusiastic about that.
But a great way to measure the success and permanence of the cultural change happening inside SAP will be how easy it is to detect that change in far off places like Canberra and Wellington. When SAP employees, partners and customers in the farthest corners of the SAP world detect the same enthusiasm and passion that I see in those that spend their days physically closer to the mother-ship the transformation will be irreversible.
I look forward to the day when a junior SAP employee based in Dunedin actively engages in a debate about how cool in-memory technology is - and not just because it is fast.
HANA as a product is unlikely to be relevant for my customers for some time. But as a symbol of renewal at SAP its' relevance is immediate.