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SAP TechEd Las Vegas Preview with SAP Mentor Jon Reed

by Dave Hannon

August 25, 2013


The always enlightening Jon Reed provides his insights into:

  • The value of attending SAP TechEd conference to business-side SAP users
  • The value of case studies as an educational tool and what makes a good case study
  • What music he listens to in preparation for a podcast.


Dave Hannon: Hello, this is Dave Hannon with SAPinsider. Joining me now is Jon Reed, independent analyst and SAP Mentor and co-founder of Welcome Jon.

Jon Reed: Hey, welcome Dave, I’ve been listening to Imagine Dragons to get ready for our call.

DH: Great, great. Obviously, TechEd is coming up and we’re going to talk with John a little bit about that. I wanted to ask you first off, about the lines between TechEd and SAPPHIRE. I think that’s something a lot of folks talk about. I know a lot of people tend to think of TechEd as the more technical conference than SAPPHIRE NOW.

JR: Yeah.

DH: And it doesn’t tend to go much further than that. So I wanted to ask you, “How do you sort of characterize TechEd maybe to somebody who’s not sure if it makes sense for them to go to it or not?”

JR: Yeah, this is a really good discussion. I’m always big on trying to get every functional and business person to a TechEd and believe me it’s an uphill battle sometimes. I got a couple friends, like Jarrett Pazahanick, who’s a pretty well-known HCM guy, cannot talk him into going to TechEd. And, it is different because obviously there is a perception that TechEd is a technical show and to be fair, SAP is pretty clear about that. If you go onto the homepage, they’re targeting a technical audience. It’s right there in front of you.

But, it’s also, I think, the event that really captures first of all the SAP community spirit and you might think, well that’s… why would I travel a long way just to experience that community, sounds like a pep rally or whatever. But, in fact, you can really make the argument that the strength of our professional teams and of our professional careers is based directly on the strengths of our networks. So actually, community matters quite a bit and SAP, of course, has attempted to combine TechEd and SAPPHIRE as somewhat of an experiment in Europe. So in the EMEA, TechEd and SAPPHIRE they were combined for the last two years in Madrid. Now this year, that’s not happening and my personal feeling is that’s a mistake, but I’m not privy to all the aspects of what went in to that decision and in EMEA events have a lot of complexities because of regional needs that vary by region and stuff, but, to me the whole future of enterprise business and enterprise applications is about blurring the lines between tech and business and being able to speak the language of the other side and so I would strongly advocate for understanding that.

DH: So if you’re a business user of SAP, what’s in it for you at TechEd? Should you just go on your own or should you go with some of the folks on your technical team and sort of try to get the same sessions and talk together?

JR: Well first of all, when you, whenever you attend a conference in my opinion, if you’re, unless you’re going as an individual, if you’re going as part of a business you really have to build a business case for why you’re going and every case is going to vary based on the knowledge needs of that particular area. In many cases it probably makes sense for a business user to go along with a couple of technical folks and have sort of a combined agenda because there may be some technical deep dives like around HANA, for example, or around mobile platforms and infrastructure that might go a little bit too deep for the average business user.

But, the business user could go as well, I mean, the thing about SAP and really any ERP software right now is that transactional systems are just not enough, right? Customers are trying to derive genuine business value and insights from all that data that they’ve spent so much money on. You could argue that they’ve spent too much money on the transactional side, so what are you going to do about it? Analytics is a big part of it. Building customer-facing applications and use cases is a big part of it, so reaching out to your network of customers and suppliers, and let’s face it, we live in an apps economy. Mobile apps are proliferating and most of us consume a lot of our content via applications of various kinds so that’s all juicy TechEd themes right, so if you’re a business users wouldn’t you want to understand analytics trends in your industry, Dave? I mean I think you would.

There’s a lot of that kind of content at TechEd now. Some of it may be a little on the tech side for you, but, I don’t know about you, but for me I think in our daily lives we have to have some technical competencies. I feel like I’m a systems administrator almost every day, just managing my own virtual office. It’s important to understand some of that language even if ultimately you end up delegating some of it. You have to understand being able to look under the hood a little bit and I think TechEd is really, really great for that even if it’s not primarily designed for that business user.

DH: How about this year, in particular, are there any announcements or news or areas you want to get more clarity from SAP on at TechEd?

JR: Well, I think there are a few things that are sort of coming to a head a little bit. The BusinessObjects platform is maturing a lot with the 4.1 release and so there’s a lot to be learned around what SAP is doing with BI, and of course then there’s the “H” word and the HANA word and trying to better understand HANA use cases. And one of the big differences from last year is that there’s more HANA customers that are, if they’re not live on HANA, they have moved ahead to the point where they can speak about proof of concepts and they can speak about what they’ve learned so far and then some are actually live and I think those lessons learned are really important.

There are also a lot of companies that are getting more experiences with managing cloud landscapes and so again whenever you want to talk about whether it’s mobile or cloud or analytics there’s companies that are now actually able to speak to actual project benefits and results and obviously pitfalls as well. And, even if you’re not doing that stuff yet, I would just think that you would have your head in the sand if you didn’t want to learn more about how companies are handling these issues. And it’s not about buying SAP’s next generation products necessarily, it’s just more about understanding what are the values that customers are finding in these new applications and say “well, your pushing all this tech hype on me” it’s really more about improving user experience and extending enterprise software capabilities to more users and perhaps your partners and supplies via business networks, so we should be able to learn a little more, for example, about how Ariba fits into that picture and maybe Hybris as well.

So, why wouldn’t you want to learn that stuff? I just, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t because otherwise you’re stuck with what I would consider a legacy transactional landscape that is not interacting with customers and suppliers and it’s not giving you the insights you need to anticipate how your business is changing. And, so I think you gotta go to TechEd and you gotta make those connections and learn that stuff.

DH: Yeah. You touch on the value of a case study and I know you’ve been a long-time proponent of case studies as a way to educate folks on the technologies. I wanted to ask you, what do you think makes a valuable case study when you’re either reading one or you’re watching one being presented at a conference. What sort of things are you looking for?

JR: Yeah, well case studies are a big deal and if you, if you, one of the cool things about TechEd on the cast study front is there’s an ASUG partnership with TechEd so there’s a lot of ASUG content, which means a lot of ASUG members are presenting. And one of the things you want to pick up on on a case study whether you’re at TechEd or whether you’re just reading online or attending webinars. The real significance here and the reason I’ve become such a fan of the case study format is that’s about moving beyond the hype of “hey, check out this new tech” to “how did it actually work in a project setting” and so one of the cardinal rules of case studies in my mind is “I don’t want to hear about it until after you went live.” So, I want to hear your go live story. Because a lot of times what will happen with a go live is it has to be scheduled around long weekends and things like that, and so it might actually be a few more months after a project has been completed. But I don’t care, I still… even if it’s a matter of just flipping a switch, there’s always a few issues and things you gotta address at that point, so you gotta go live first. That’s the big thing.

But the next thing is, I need you to quantify the benefits you got from this investment. So, that’s a big part of the story and it’s not just financial benefits, though I think, obviously, most successful projects you should be able to speak to a numerical benefit. But there are definitely times where projects do overrun for legitimate reasons, for example, I ran into projects where you’re halfway through and the business injects a new functionality requirement, which requires and upgrade to a new release in the middle of the project, and so you end up going over budget but that’s because the business needed something from you. So it’s not always about budget. But you have to have metrics at the end that assess the benefits of what happened.

An example of an interesting metric is increased user engagement, increased user activity on a platform so that works really well for a sales enablement as well, like for a CRM project where, if your sales people hate the application, they’re going not likely to enter data. I had one manager tell me “this CRM project was a success because we tripled the amount of data we took in from our sales people” and that’s really valuable information for us and so increasing user engagement could be one way to evaluate, but that’s what I want to hear.

I want to hear what the success was and then also I want to hear some real honest talk around what the challenges were, right, and how you overcame those challenges because Dave, I mean, I’m sure you’ve heard these war stories before, but, no product is perfect, right? So you don’t want to hear something with too much polish, right? You want to hear about -- give some examples that include like losing your lead developer in the middle of a project because they got a new job or challenges with your SI or whatever it was that you had to overcome. That becomes part of the story as well. And that adds a lot of credibility to a case study when you can hear that.

DH: So, if folks are looking for case studies, you’d recommend TechEd as a place to find them?

JR: Well, I think TechEd’s a really good place.  Obviously user group memberships like ASUG are going to give you insight into a lot of those via webinars and also regional events also. So if you’re determined to find customer stories, there’s a lot of places online. I know that you guys profile customers on your web site so it’s really more a matter of figuring out what your agenda is. For some customers it’s about finding industry stories, for others it’s about a certain kind of theme like analytics case studies or whatever. Just start searching and start asking people where the good stories are and try to find them but there’s no better place to get that stuff than conferences and TechEd will certainly give you that via the ASUG presence.

DH: Ok. Any other advice, maybe for first time TechEd attendees if they’re somebody who is heading out there for the first time, maybe they’ve been to SAPPHIRE or maybe this is their first SAP show. Any advice to them?

JR: Well, you might want to listen to Imagine Dragons before you go and just make or come to a decision on their music because they’re the musical performer.

DH: It might change which flight you take home, right?

JR: For me, I need to listen to some more songs.  But, in all seriousness with the TechEd event, one of the staples of TechEd would be the Demo Jam experience. So I highly recommend taking in a Demo Jam, which is kind of an American Idol for geeks. Because you have these folks showing their wares but also SAP Labs folks will show off some new applications, but, in the apps world we live in, to get a chance to kind of see what’s hot and what’s new, I think it’s not just entertainment it will also give you kind of a window into some of the amazing things that folks are doing because the building blocks for this technology just allow people to do a lot of amazing stuff.

Also, in the fall we’re probably going to hear more about some of SAP’s next generation HANA activities and some of that stuff will be pretty interesting. I mean, before we saw the announcement around the NBA player stats thing, which obviously didn’t apply to everyone, but it was a really cool use case around real-time data and there’s some other stuff coming down the road with that. There’s an interesting project called Project Gonjas, which is a retail oriented thing, which I’m sure will be announced as some point this fall. So, some of that is just a chance to be on-hand and hear some of the latest stuff that happening. But yeah, some of the evening events are kind of a highlight, so whether or not you head to Demo Jam or not, you can definitely make good use of your time in Las Vegas. Just plan on not getting a lot of sleep.

DH: Yeah, goes without saying. Jon Reed, independent analyst and SAP Mentor, thank you for enlightening us as always.

JR: Yeah, sure. Enjoy it Dave. Take care.

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