The company will change its approach in developing new technology, moving from simply updating existing products to boldly developing entirely new lines of software, Plattner said.
"Incremental improvements were once one of the favorite styles for development. This is OK where it makes sense," he said. "But radical changes have to take place where the opportunity presents itself. We are at a crossroads in technology. We will see radical changes on the horizon. SAP is more than prepared to take advantage of super-large in-memory systems with a high number of parallel cores."
In order to make this innovation happen, some reorganization will be necessary.
"We will have changes in management style," Plattner said. He promised fewer hierarchical levels of management and more agile software development teams "with a flat structure," he said.
Plattner admitted that customer trust and employee morale have suffered of late. "I will do everything possible to make SAP a happy company," he said.
He addressed head-on one of the most heated issues in SAP's recent history: Its 2008 decision to move customers to a richer-featured but more expensive Enterprise Support service. The plan rankled users worldwide, particularly those with older, stable systems and little need or desire for additional support.
"I was part of the decision that we had to raise maintenance fees," he said. "That is not something we can put in Léo's shoes. This was done by SAP. We made a mistake and we have to change course here, and regain trust from the customers who were more than upset. Unfortunately, the head of the company takes the blame, whether it was just or not."
Plattner would not discuss why Apotheker's contract was not extended, but admitted that it was his idea, although it went through board approval. "I decided that I will only make forward-making statements," he said.
Plattner did offer reasons why Apotheker was not fired. For example, it was not because of problems with Business ByDesign, SAP's on-demand ERP (enterprise resource planning) suite for the midmarket.
SAP has scaled back the roll out of the software while working to ensure it will be profitable enough. A broader launch is expected later this year. "Léo was the one who really was instrumental in turning it around," Plattner said.
Plattner's remarks "are going to go a long way in having SAP restore trust," said Forrester Research analyst Paul Hamerman. "He was very candid on the call. He admitted mistakes. His candor and his accountability will go a long way toward getting SAP back on track."
Although Plattner will leave the day-to-day operations of SAP to Snabe and McDermott, he will remain visible for some time, said Jon Reed , an independent analyst who closely tracks SAP. "I think he's going to stick around ... until SAP's on the right track, in his view," Reed said. "He doesn't want to endure the reputation hit of tooling away in his lab while the company he created goes to pieces."
Apotheker's legacy at SAP in one sense helped foster his demise. Prior to his ascension to CEO, he built "a very successful" global sales organization, Hamerman said. But Apotheker carried that emphasis forward as CEO, to the detriment of technology, he said.
Meanwhile, McDermott and Snabe "complement each other well from both a business standpoint and personality standpoint," Hamerman said. The gregarious, sales-driven McDermott stands in contrast to the soft-spoken but more technical Snabe.
But it's questionable whether a co-CEO approach is sustainable, meaning further changes may still come to SAP's leadership, Hamerman said. "At some point there needs to be a clear CEO in charge. Will it be one of these individuals or someone from the outside?"