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Thứ Ba, 23 tháng 7, 2013

Key figure in SAP's technical revamp - Financial Times

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The last time so much influence over SAP’s technical future was concentrated at its research base in California, things didn’t end well.


Shai Agassi, an Israeli entrepreneur who had shot to prominence while still in his 30s, was on the fast track for the chief executive’s office before his rise as head of the German company’s Silicon Valley operations was derailed in the middle of the last decade.


Vishal Sikka, who has since replaced him in California and who emerged from the latest SAP management shake-up this week as a key figure at the company, conceded that there had been personality clashes between the ambitious Mr Agassi and other senior executives.


Mr Agassi quit in 2007 when his ascension was put on hold, leaving a vacuum at the top of the German software company’s technical organisation at a critical time. Hasso Plattner, co-founder, long-time product visionary and supervisory board chairman, has since said that the sclerosis that set in in SAP’s technical thinking threatened its future, requiring a revolution from within.


“SAP is a lot different than it was back then,” said Mr Sikka, referring to the challenges of running SAP’s huge German development organisation from far away in California. The range of products and people in the company have expanded greatly, he added, turning SAP into a very different company as it has made acquisitions in areas like cloud computing and data analytics.


Mr Sikka has also been instrumental in new approaches aimed at breaking down the embedded culture that has been both a strength and a liability for SAP. That culture enabled its monolithic systems to dominate the enterprise resource planning market, but at the same time prevented the kind of rapid-fire innovation that has crept into the edges of the business software market.


A new, experimental approach to organising developers in more flexible teams – labelled “Apphaus” inside SAP and based on work done at the new design institute that Mr Plattner funded at Stanford University’s engineering school – has since been extended from the Silicon Valley headquarters in Palo Alto to seven SAP development centres.


New tools to promote real-time collaboration and feedback among developers are also being spread through the company, said Mr Sikka, adding: “We are changing the development process.”


One thing hasn’t changed since 2007, however. Mr Plattner, who had backed the young Mr Agassi for the top job at SAP, still calls the shots when it comes to choosing who should set the technical agenda for Europe’s most important software company. And this time Mr Plattner’s mantle has fallen on Mr Sikka.


The Indian engineer, who came to the US in the 1980s to study for a computer science degree and stayed, has emerged rapidly this year as the key figure in SAP’s technical organisation, as senior management departures have transformed the top ranks.


The May exit of cloud computing head Lars Dalgaard led to all of SAP’s product development being consolidated under Mr Sikka. “It’s clear we have to bring all the software development together in one organisation,” he said in the wake of that change; only that way could the innovations of cloud and mobile computing spread rapidly through the company’s core products.


Now, with Sunday’s news that co-chief executive Jim Hagemann Snabe is to step down next year, Mr Sikka’s influence over the company’s technology future seems complete.


The loss of Mr Snabe’s “technical skills and detailed product vision” will mean that Mr Sikka will “need to take an even more prominent role in SAP management in the wake of this announcement”, Rick Sherlund, software analyst at Nomura Securities, wrote in a note to investors on Sunday.


It was work on Hana, SAP’s technology for bringing real-time data into business applications, that brought Mr Sikka close to Mr Plattner and produced the partnership that has gone on to reshape the company’s leadership group.


“It was the breakthrough the company needed to get it out of its doldrums,” Mr Sikka said of the Hana launch in 2011. Being able to analyse and make decisions on data in real-time will have a major impact on SAP’s customers, he added, echoing the expansive Mr Plattner in predicting a surge of interest in the new technology.


Mr Sikka is now racing to get all of SAP’s core enterprise applications to run on Hana – a task that he said should be substantially completed this year.


Quarterly figures released last week, however, suggest that the renewal of SAP’s technical base is far from complete. While sales of its newer products are climbing fast from a low level, demand for its core software has waned, forcing it to cut guidance for new licence sales for the rest of the year.



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