A few of us at Fortune’s Brainstorm event in Pasadena, CA took the opportunity to sit down over pasta with Vishal Sikka, CTO of SAP. We had to draw him back every ten minutes or so from meandering to scripted SAP messages (like “we are the backbone of world trade” - which makes them sound like telcos – no matter what businesses do, in the end they have to use our pipes for order processing, accounts payable etc) – in return we stayed away from too many unpleasant questions about clouds and BusinessByDesign.
It was good to see him talk about trends and technologies that he is excited about. Here is a man who day in, day out deals with some of the smartest technology executives at SAP, its partners and some of its largest and most sophisticated customers. He is also asked to react to moves and plans of every kind of tech competitor. As he said “Disruption is a way of life for us”.
In addition to smart meters and sensors, other areas he talked about:
Social Networks: “I am amazed to hear people spend an hour or more a day on Facebook. But clearly something is happening here and we need to leverage these emerging social graphs with more enterprise robust tools”
Mobility: “we run the iTunes administrative backbone. As Apple, RIm, other apps stores explode, think of similar opportunities for our engines” Also, moving several SAP analytical capabilities to mobile platforms.
Communities: SAP is building a contractor management solution. Not so much because that functionality is new or challenging, but to see how various communities of all kinds can be federated.
Processing improvements: He was most animated when talking about in-memory databases and multi-core architectures. A bit of a repeat of what Hasso Plattner presented at Sapphire
Analytics: huge opportunity still in helping customers cross-leverage existing transaction and Business Objects analytics. To my question about predictive and web analytics, his response : the average customer is not ready for “advanced analytics”. He is excited, though about visualization opportunity around large data sets.
The term “night-watchman” came up a few times during the session – my term for SAP’s responsibilities to provide industrial-strength functionality. I have commented before SAP takes that job very seriously. It was good to hear the dreamer and artist part of SAP come out during this visit with Vishal.
Update: Jeff Nolan's notes from the meeting