I have a serious case of writers block, and a more serious case of insomnia. I wrote an blog on Tuesday entitled Why TechCrunch is boring, SAP is not, and the world has gone mad, and it went viral. I received more page views in a day, than my combined page views on my blog, ever. It was read by people from individual developers and the SAP management team alike. And now, like a musician writing a second album, I don’t know how to follow it up.
15 years ago I was studying Computer Science at Cambridge. These were heady days. We theorised on Richard Stallman and The Cathedral and the Bazaar. The open source community was starting to rear its head and we felt on the cusp of a revolution. We installed Linux by hand and RedHat was just starting to emerge. We hacked code until 5am, drinking Jolt Cola and listening to 80s rock, exposing vulnerabilities in Windows NT. I had a Digital Alpha running Linux under my bed. Microsoft was the devil. Times were good.
And I remember the process of leaving college and receiving interviews. CSC, Oracle and Microsoft would woo us with their graduate programs, offering booze, pens and the promise of the good life. We scorned them and took the junkets. Colleagues went off to banking, software development. The lucky ones went off to startups where they applied their Linux skills and programmed in ML. Some sold their soul to the devil and went to work for Microsoft, SAP or Oracle.
In the meantime, I went through a career where I have done many things. I spent some time in Analytics, I’ve programmed C++ and perl and 20 other languages. And now, I’m a parody of myself, running a consulting practice in SAP Enterprise IT. I’m sitting here wondering what my 19-year old self would think of me now.
So it came to pass that for some reason, my article hit Hacker News and it went viral; as a result I got a very different audience reading my content. When I write about enterprise, I get a small but engaged audience reading about SAP. They say nice things about what I write and I feel warm and fuzzy. On Tuesday, I found a new audience, and some of what was written is akin to hate mail:
“Get a life, stop wining about how a tech b2b company that you are more interested in isnt getting the same amount of press… it is a boring company. and seems like less profitable too.”
I know why this is and I’m pretty certain my 19-year old self would have chimed in with the accusatory language. But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that I believe – like in 1996 – we are on the cusp of another revolution; one where the Enterprise IT and tech communities can – if they want to – meet in the middle ground of the Consumerization of IT. Here’s why:
From what I can gather, the tech and open source communities hate SAP for a number of reasons; the worlds evil and antichrist came up a lot in my blog comments. My inner hacker knows exactly what they are:
1) Idealogical. SAP protects software patents, has an army of suited sales executives and lawyers. It’s not cool.
2) Community. SAP is implemented by armies of consultants charging high day rates. It’s a boys club and the community is hard to get into.
3) Integration. SAP is an information silo and it is hard to get stuff in and out of it.
In order for any of this stuff to change, there have to be socioeconomic factors which are a catalyst; I think in 2012 we will be in exactly a time where an inflection point is possible.
1) Economy. Let’s face it, the global economy is screwed. Budgets are tighter than ever and there is no end in sight. It will be business as usual to work to get Even More for Even Less.
2) Pervasiveness. SAP is here to stay; 65% of the world’s business transactions touch SAP. It is the most successful Enterprise IT software. Even if SAP becomes irrelevant like IBM AS/400, many SAP environments will be around for 20-40 years.
3) Consumerization of IT. We all expect Android and iPhone user experiences. We want it for our business interactions. I use my personal MacBook Air as my primary business machine. The dam has broken on this and we can’t fight it. This is a real pain as SAP’s user experience traditionally sucks.
4) Business Networks. Much of the world now operates as a living breathing business network. Invoices, sales, supply chains – many of these operate automatically and electronically. Integration is necessary.
5) Big Consulting. SAP want to break up the Big Consulting Systems Integrator model of the 1990s. For every $1 of SAP license spent, there is $7 spent on consulting and hardware. The big consulting houses have been ripping off customers for years. Customers clench when they hear the words “change request”. There is an irony that SAP and IBM created this business model, but the world has changed.
You may be able to see where I’m going here. If you are in the main tech industry let me tell you what is going on in the SAP world that makes it relevant:
1) Open Standards. SAP’s relatively recent CTO, Vishal Sikka, has been championing open standards. The new in-memory database, HANA, only runs on Linux and on commodity x86 hardware. The modelling tool is Eclipse-based. It supports ODBC, JDBC and MDX for integration. The new Gateway integration layer allows REST-based integration with any SAP function.
2) Developer Ecosystem. Work is afoot to cut red tape and open the ecosystem. This is very hard in a big organisation and I don’t envy them, but it is happening. I challenged the SAP management team to measure how long it takes to become a SAP developer from start to finish – and make it as good as Apple and Google. The new developer website – SCN – will be launched on Monday 12th December. It too supports open standards.
3) Technology. SAP have produced technology with big developer potential. The Unwired Platform allows secure integration for mobile devices and supports open standards like REST, Apple, Android etc. Plus, systems will be available in the cloud for developers to use without having to install gobbing great big SAP systems at home.
You may get the sense that I’m pro-SAP here; I am. And I think, with good reason. Because, SAP have – unlike any of the other Enterprise IT players like Oracle – listened to the advice that they have been receiving over the last few years. And I think this dramatically plays into the hand of the wider tech community.
Because, if you are willing to put aside your ideological problems with working along side The Antichrist, there are enormous and interesting opportunities out there. For instance, you could write a Ruby on Rails web app that exposes a web shop – continuing to use an existing SAP ERP system for sales order processing and pricing. Or mobile apps for time and expenses that run on iPhone and Android. Don’t let me constrain you – you can do anything your mind can imagine.
And the wider tech community already has the skills and will be able to get into the SAP Ecosystem easily. The issues around community and integration can evaporate. And we can do away with some of those awful legacy interfaces that people have to put up with. SAP has embraced design thinking and is making much better looking solutions lately, but imagine the power of a community which is 10 times the size that it is now?
The question is – are people willing to put aside the ideological problem? I’m not sure what the 19-year old John would have said. Bring on the hate mail.