Hana champion Sikka steps down in management shakeup at SAP

Vishal Sikka is leaving for personal reasons, shortly before co-CEO Bill McDermott is expected to be named sole CEO

SAP technology chief Vishal Sikka, champion of the company’s Hana in-memory computing platform, is leaving the company in a major management shakeup shortly before co-CEO Bill McDermott is expected to be named sole CEO.

Sikka, who oversaw of all of SAP’s product development, is leaving SAP effectively immediately for personal reasons, SAP said late Sunday.

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“No company in the industry can do what SAP can do in the cloud with the SAP Hana platform today,” SAP co-founder and supervisory board chairman Hasso Plattner said in a prepared statement. “I would like to personally thank Vishal for his contribution to take SAP to this stage. We will remain friends as he pursues the next step in his journey.”

That last comment underscores the close personal and working relationship Plattner and Sikka had over the past several years as SAP introduced Hana initially as an in-memory database, ported it to run SAP’s flagship ERP (enterprise resource planning) software, and then fleshed it out with a variety of platform services.

Today Hana is at the center of all SAP’s development efforts, particularly in cloud computing, which makes Sikka’s abrupt departure all the more surprising.

SAP is appointing global sales chief Robert Enslin and application development executive Bernd Leukert to the company’s executive board. Enslin will continue running sales while Leukert will head up the global development organization, SAP said.

In addition, Helen Arnold and Stefan Ries have been appointed to SAP’s global managing board, according to a statement.

“Our SAP HANA platform is established as the global standard, its roadmap is in full effect”, said McDermott and co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe in a statement. “Now is the moment for leaders like Rob Enslin, Bernd Leukert, Helen Arnold and Stefan Ries to step up.”

SAP announced last year that Snabe would step down as co-CEO this month and take a supervisory board seat.

Sikka's departure may signal a strategic shift by SAP from focusing on HANA as a platform to a growing set of applications with Leukert’s appointment, said analyst Ray Wang, founder and chairman of Constellation Research, via email on Sunday.

It also indicates changes in thinking at SAP’s board level, he added. Founder Hasso Plattner’s “influence may be changing as at one point Vishal was supposed to be a candidate for CEO.”

Comparisons will undoubtedly be drawn between Sikka and former SAP executive Shai Agassi, who held a similarly high-profile role at the company.

Agassi had been seen as next in line for the SAP CEO job but then left after then-CEO Henning Kagermann's contract was extended a couple of years and Plattner offered Agassi a co-CEO role instead.

It's possible Sikka hoped to ascend to the CEO or co-CEO level at some point and recently learned this was not to be, or at least not anytime soon.

Whatever the case, Sikka leaves a strong legacy at SAP, Wang said.

“At a time when SAP needed a direction around future platforms, Vishal did a great job,” Wang said in a follow-up phone interview.

Now with Leukert in charge, the stakes are different, he added.

“That’s the big challenge for SAP, can they build apps quickly that people will want to buy?”

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com