A customer's query at SAP's Sapphire User Conference forces a closer look at the two companies.
Coming down from the dais after a panel discussion on mobility, I was approached by an attendee with the following story. He was on the IT staff at a Fortune 500 company that was a wall-to-wall Oracle shop, and his boss, the CIO, had sent him to Sapphire with the following mission: Make sure that the company's planned upgrade of its Oracle system made sense. In other words, should the company consider switching over to SAP as opposed to sticking with a massive upgrade of its Oracle software?
With that as the premise, here was his question for me, which he half-jokingly gave me five minutes to answer: Of the two companies, which is the more innovative, Oracle or SAP?
To be fair, the comparison is profoundly unfair for the following reason: Sapphire 2011 represents easily the fifth public event I've been to that was hosted by SAP in the last year for the purpose of giving industry analysts an in-depth view of SAP's innovation vision. That doesn't include the dozen or so briefings I've had from SAP on different aspects of their products and strategy. Funny how all that input comes in handy when a customer wants to know the difference between a couple of competitors.
Contrast that with Oracle, which, since last fall's Open World, has had exactly zero analyst-level events to discuss their enterprise software strategy. As for briefings, I was able to get a short update on Oracle Fusion recently, after no small amount of prodding. But there's been really no attempt to keep me or my fellow analysts systematically up to date with Oracle's latest and greatest thinking on what once seemed to be a strategic focus of the company: enterprise software.
So, with that in mind, it was relatively easy to tell this customer the SAP innovation story and much harder to discuss the Oracle story. Here were my six major points about where SAP is innovating:
1) Hana in-memory database: SAP CTO Vishal Sikka's Sapphire keynote on Wednesday had almost an overabundance of customer testimonials on the value of Hana. I talked to a major consumer products customer who told me that with Hana he will be able to do sales analysis at the vending machine level for his products in real time, something that will make a huge difference to his company. This product is real, it's amazing, it changes analytics for any company with a lot of data and the need to understand that data's value in real time.
It's not just a piece of technology: There's a whole raft of Hana-based applications coming soon and in following years. And Hana is in a pre-beta test for a cloud deployment later this year as well. The term game changing is one I try to use as sparsely as possible, but when it comes to Hana, it seems uniquely appropriate. The buzz around Hana at Sapphire among customers was louder than any new product introduction in recent memory.
2) Mobile: The Sybase acquisition has brought the Sybase Unwired Platform and its associated technology and applications (including a set of iPad-ready mobile CRM apps that are quite slick looking) under the SAP umbrella. Marrying the billions of mobile endpoints that can be serviced by SUP with SAP's Business Suite has the potential to change not just the cellphone/tablet world but the relationship of every mobile and sensor-based device to the back-office. While the acquisition was an Oracle-like move and hardly indicative of organic innovation, SAP's plans to marry SUP and mobility to Hana and the SAP Business will provide a platform for some truly never-before-seen innovation. That marriage will be highly innovative, and SAP gets major points from me for making the whole significantly greater than the sum of the parts. (More on this in a subsequent blog post.)