What’s happening to the next generation of the SAP ecosystem?

It seems obvious to me that the ecosystem of SAP is aging. I’d love to be told wrong, but I just don’t see much evidence of it. Where the heck are all of the young guns? Why is Silicon Valley kicking ass with talent straight out of school? There are CEO’s and CTO’s who are 23, just graduated, and solving real world business problems. Where are these guys in the SAP ecosystem?

Over at Bluefin, John Appleby was touting an incoming graduate application base of nearly 2000 graduates interested in getting into the SAP ecosystem. Despite this I get the impression that the highest skilled graduates are not trying to get into SAP’s ecosystem. (note – no discredit to Bluefin – 2000 applicants is unprecedented and surely they will find some top level talent in a pool that large) They’re still going to banking and now with the crazy valuations in Silicon Valley, they’re going to San Fran.

My personal opinion:

1. SAP is not sexy. ABAP is not sexy.
I just read this article (the article itself is kind of terrible): Tech Leaders Don’t Win By Saying They’ll Crush Somebody. The author mentions the following tech companies “Apple, Oracle, Microsoft, AOL, HP, Palm” as “Tech Leaders”. Yet, no mention of SAP? This is not new. Before the crazy marketing buzz that is HANA, when was the last time you read a tech blog talking about the technological excitement around SAP? The problem here isn’t SAP, but rather that enterprise business software is not sexy. It also doesn’t help that if you read the wikipedia article on ABAP one of the first thing it mentions is: The syntax is somewhat similar to COBOL.

2. Big data is sexy. Ruby on Rails is sexy.
Today, big data is about petabytes of data, not terabytes. In 2008 Facebook had 2-3 TB of photo data uploaded every day. I too lazy to research what it is now, but I think you can speculate. I’ve worked with multiple TB in-memory systems in SAP – they’re fun, challenging, and usually raise some eyebrows when you tell someone about them. However, they are peanuts compared to the servers and data Amazon and Google are working with. Where exactly is the data explosion in the enterprise? The younger generation likes these challenges and they like frameworks (like RoR) that easy to use and well documented – tools that make talented individuals deadly.

3. No openness
Do you know why it’s possible for someone like Zuckerberg to start a multi-billion dollar business or for Mark Bao to start up multiple companies by the age of 18? It’s because they could go learn something new very rapidly and implement it very rapidly with very low costs. SAP – not a chance in hell. And what’s worse is that even areas like mobility where this should be possible today, SAP is now asking for licences for doing the trial of SAP Unwired Platform. Yes, the trial. It’s well documented and well known that collaborative communities lead to innovation. I wish SAP was more open to this. Sorry, but SDN doesn’t cut it for me. SAP certifications and trainings are great, but as it stands right now nothing beats hands-on experience. I think the fact that a majority of the SAP mentors are not certified is anecdotal evidence alone.

The Potential Issue
So who are filling these jobs and why is this important? It’s obvious there is a continued trend to ship everything overseas. This means nearsourcing has less importance, less emphasis and will drive everything in SAP to become commoditized. This will lead to less innovation and less support for real technological innovation. Who the heck is going to implement HANA? India? Good luck with that one. SAP – you need partners and you need their help. I know it sounds radical, but why not deliver HANA to partners under a “AS-IS” warranty and let me us go wild implementing it on Mac-Mini’s, Amazon servers, or whatever? Let us build it, break it, hate it, destroy it. You thank us later when we can give valuable feedback. Face it, SAP technology is not vastly superior in a technical sense, nor does it have to be. It’s purpose to help business to be better at what they do – and it does. It has a robust ecosystem, with robust controls and a great customer base. But please if you want the ecosystem to support disruptive innovation be more open and you’ll get the forward looking talent needed to support. Otherwise companies will continue to ship it overseas and the aging population of techies in the SAP ecosystem will become managers. Then who’s left? The SAP ecosystem needs techies and the techies are hiding under a little rock called the university.