But the big money remains in SAP's on-premises ERP systems, which run many of the world's largest companies and aren't going anywhere anytime soon. SAP has started rolling out a series of specialized SaaS applications, including the CRM-themed Sales on Demand, that it is positioning as extensions to on-premise implementations.
At Sapphire, SAP needs to offer customers more clarity on when and how the software should be adopted, and pricing information wouldn't be a bad thing either, said Forrester Research analyst China Martens.
But SAP shops might also wonder where the divide is between what these extensions do and the features gained through regular product upgrades, for which they already pay handsome annual fees. It will be up to SAP to start making that distinction.
Hullabaloo about HANA
If SAP CTO and executive board member Vishal Sikka has a favorite topic these days, it's the in-memory database technology that powers SAP's new HANA (High Performance Analytic Appliance). Sikka and other SAP executives have exercised little restraint in touting HANA's performance and cost advantages over other databases. But the product remains in its infancy, and a series of specialized analytic applications that will run on top of it are only now starting to be released.
"I'm hoping they do a good job of forecasting the road map [for HANA], and take the hype out of it," said Bridgette Chambers, CEO of the Americas' SAP Users Group (ASUG), which is co-locating its conference at Sapphire. Chambers especially wants SAP to show how customers will be able to save money with the technology.
SAP may also use Sapphire to discuss its broader database plans, given the additional products it gained through the Sybase acquisition. For one, the company is expected to eventually port the Business Suite to Sybase ASE (Adaptive Server Enterprise), a move that could potentially save significant money for customers now running Oracle. Sapphire show-goers might receive a sneak peek of this scenario as well as HANA running the Business Suite, although the latter seems less likely.
What about the installed base?
As with any software vendor, sometimes it seems like user event keynotes, with their emphasis on new and upcoming products and strategies, resonate most with the media, analysts, and the customers who are the most aggressive about new product adoption.
"There are a lot of SAP customers who are a lot more cautious about what they're rolling out, and they're not even on the latest release," Reed said. "Will they have news that speaks to the installed base, and that doesn't involve opening their wallet to a lot of new initiatives?" This group is "sensitive to having hype-y stuff foisted on them, especially stuff that's not included in their licenses," he added.
Chambers echoed the idea. "There's a place for all that," she said. "You've got to have a platform, a stage for telling people why you're going to be relevant tomorrow. But they've got customers that invest millions of dollars in their software. It's important that they balance it with a connection to today."
For one, SAP would be wise to give some attention to its enhancement pack strategy for the Business Suite, Reed said. The packs were intended as a way for customers to get new functionality without the pain of a full upgrade, but in reality the process hasn't been smooth, and the packs themselves have experienced delays. Therefore, good news about the enhancement pack would likely go over well with the Sapphire crowd.