Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
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1/26/2010
05:16 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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Oracle Cramdown Vs. SAP Kumbaya?

In a phone conversation today, SAP CTO Vishal Sikka contrasted SAP's acceptance of customers' heterogeneous IT environments and its consequent focus on widespread interoperability versus a certain competitor's alternative approach of "making lots of acquisitions and buying more and more pieces and cramming it all down their customers' throats."

In a phone conversation today, SAP CTO Vishal Sikka contrasted SAP's acceptance of customers' heterogeneous IT environments and its consequent focus on widespread interoperability versus a certain competitor's alternative approach of "making lots of acquisitions and buying more and more pieces and cramming it all down their customers' throats."Sikka didn't mention the competitor by name (Oracle) so I won't assume which one he was talking about (Oracle), even though SAP's major competitor (Oracle) certainly makes lots and lots of acquisitions and will tomorrow lay out its strategic roadmap for the all-in-one offerings it'll be able to make via its imminent acquisition of Sun Microsystems. (You can read all about it at Global CIO: Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's Top 10 Reasons For Buying Sun.)

Sikka was broadly describing the convergence of four fundamental technologies and the profound impact that convergence and those technologies will have on the future of business technology, and I'll be writing about that soon.

But in light of SAP's rather intense competitive position vis-a-vis that other company that Sikka did not name, I wanted to share a couple of Sikka's comments about that competitor to illustrate what Sikka and and SAP and perhaps even some CIOs feel about that competitor:

"Lately we are hearing a lot about the resurgence of 'the stack' and how as an IT vendor some companies think you have to own not just the application but also the middleware and the database and you need to own it all right down to the hardware," said Sikka.

"But we've always believed that for customers with heterogeneous environments-and that's what they all have-it's all about interoperability and helping everything work together, rather than making lots of acquisitions and buying more and more pieces and cramming it all down their customers' throats."

That philosophy of openness, Sikka said, extends to SAP's partner network as well:

"We have a long and successful track record of working with partners-if we want to do new things in the mobile area, we don't feel we have to go out and buy a mobile-device company or mobile-platform company and force our customers to accept our one monolithic approach.

"We achieve that with our partners-we have a large ecosystem that's always eager to work with us."

Sikka is a brilliant and personable guy and I have no doubt that he fully believes every word he said, but I'm not sure all of SAP's customers would agree unilaterally with his sentiment, no matter how sincerely Sikka himself embraces it. The problem, I think, goes back to one that has dogged SAP for the past couple of years: the messages and policies that are expressed and embraced by top SAP executives do not always get transferred effectively and accurately throughout its field organization and on to its customers.

Lots of SAP customers feel the company falls short of the ideal Sikka expresses. But the good news is that Sikka is putting forth the type of customer-centered message that SAP customers need to hear, and that SAP's field organization and marketing teams need to embrace.

So while Sikka's cramdown-versus-kumbaya image is compelling and humorous, it's not quite how the market really works. But Vishal Sikka is working hard to make sure that at least the open interoperability part becomes reality.

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