Beyond Apple and Google: 2012's key enterprise shifts

Oracle, SAP, HP, and VMware all began to reinvent themselves in the past year to better face the new tech landscape

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SAP: Looking to get out of the data center ghetto

SAP is largely identified with complex back-end business software for ERP, BI, and CRM. But in a significant shift, its focus has expanded to mobile computing and developing client apps that let business users access data in those systems to unlock more value -- and sell more client licenses. According to Sanjay Poonen, president of technology solutions and head of the mobile division, SAP's goal in the mobile arena is to create a brand in enterprise mobility like Apple did in consumer mobility. That goal will require investments in mobile security, the platform for applications, and in the mobile applications themselves.

The company obtained some of the technologies for this strategy through its acquisition of Sybase, although as InfoWorld's Galen Gruman points out, Sybase's Afaria currently barely registers in the mobile management space, despite its long history and SAP's backing. Gruman warns of the dangers of throwing point products at problems such as mobile security and thereby creating a new problem: "a cacophony of tools that overlap and don't integrate, creating huge management costs and new risks due to the gaps." Having a rational portfolio, not a bunch of one-off client and management tools, will be critical if SAP's "beyond the data center" strategy is to work.

SAP's other big play in 2012 was around HANA, its new in-memory database technology meant to make big data analysis possible at transaction speeds. That speed has impressed early adopters, who say it allows them to explore data much more fluidly and iteratively. Like every new product, HANA has its growing pains, but SAP is investing big time in the technology. The company is working on a number of next-generation BI technologies to exploit HANA, including a new version of the popular Explorer visualization tool, according to an internal document (PDF) posted on the company's website. In addition, SAP is developing a new Visual Analytic Language that would serve as the visualization engine behind HANA Explorer, the document says.

SAP also announced last month during the Sapphire and Tech Ed conferences that it is tying HANA to its CRM software and other applications. That package, dubbed SAP 360 Customer, will deliver "transaction, text, and analytics processing on one platform," according to Vishal Sikka, SAP's technology chief. The longer-term goal is for SAP's core ERP modules to also run on HANA, which could potentially allow SAP to displace the rival databases from Oracle and others that its ERP customers are currently using

Like ERP, HANA is definitely a product for the data center. But a fundamental notion of big data is that it lets businesspeople do all sorts of exploratory analytics. That means HANA is about getting lots of users -- and client licenses -- not just selling to IT. That's part of the new SAP back-end/front-end approach.

Hewlett-Packard: Can it do more than just fix its self-inflicted wounds?

Things haven't gone nearly so well for HP, which in 2012 saw a cavalcade of mistakes and bad strategies come home to roost. Former Apple exec Jean Louis Gassée delivers an excellent analysis of HP's issues in the Guardian. It's a gory, gossipy tale of mismanaged acquisitions and benighted leadership in every major business unit. As Gassée sums up: "HP was once a pillar of Silicon Valley, a shining example of technical and managerial culture at their best. Today, insignificance and mediocrity loom."

Gassée's conclusion is devastating: Everything that CEO Meg Whitman is doing is aimed at stemming the bleeding and cutting the hopeless parts of HP. That might make HP appear healthy in a couple years, but it won't make HP relevant where the action is. That's the hidden story about HP this year.

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