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SAP Does The Cloud Revenue Shuffle

SAP's Vishal Sikka is stepping up, Jim Hagemann Snabe is stepping away. But is SAP changing its business fast enough?
SAP Co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe said he wanted to step away from a demanding job at the right time. Soon-to-be sole CEO Bill McDermott said that executive board member Vishal Sikka will step up his leadership role and that SAP is a global company, not a German company. And SAP Chairman Hasso Plattner said SAP will now "move into the cloud with all we have."

These were the key points that SAP's top brass offered on Monday during an analyst briefing in which the company discussed when and why Snabe is leaving. The explanations made it clear that SAP's leadership structure, the character of the company and the nature of its business are all changing.

Snabe won't be stepping down until May 2014, but Plattner, chairman of SAP's supervisory board, said he was obliged by public-company regulations to announce the changes once Snabe told him he wanted to transition out of his role and be released from an employment contract that extended to 2017.

Snabe's explanation that he wanted to spend more time with family didn't curtail speculation that Vishal Sikka's expanding role contributed to Snabe's decision. In the wake of Lars Dalgaard's departure from SAP in June, all development activities were placed under Sikka's control -- despite the fact that product strategy has been a key focus for Snabe as co-CEO.

[ Want more on SAP's changing priorities? Read SAP Sees Cloud Growth Accelerating. ]

"Now that Vishal Sikka is responsible for all innovation topics, were there simply not enough duties left for you to stay co-CEO?" a financial analyst pointedly asked Snabe.

"I've always felt that leadership is about... developing leaders around you that take on bigger challenges," Snabe responded. "I'm proud that we were able to convince Vishal to take on a big, big role...but that had nothing to do with my decision."

As if Sikka's role wasn't big enough -- with 20,000 developers now reporting to him -- McDermott said the executive's role will "grow in a huge way" once Snabe departs, as will the roll of Rob Enslin, president of SAP global field operations.

Questions from German analysts focused on what some described as the Americanization of a German company. McDermott, who leads from SAP's U.S. headquarters in Newtown Square, Penn., is SAP's first U.S.-born CEO. Vishal Sikka is based at SAP Labs in Palo Alto, Calif.

McDermott and Plattner both offered soothing words about SAP's German heritage and key German executives remaining, but they also stressed that SAP is a global software company, "not a German, American or Chinese company," as McDermott put it.

"We pick the people in our global company by talent and promote them to the right positions regardless of where they sit in the world," Plattner said, adding that 46% of SAP's employees are in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, 30% in the Americas and 24% in the Asia-Pacific region.

As for the changing nature of SAP's business, the question is whether SAP is moving fast enough. Last week the company reported second-quarter results that fell short of financial analyst expectations. Cloud revenue grew sharply, but on-premises software sales fell for the first time since McDermott and Snabe became co-CEOs.

SAP executives insisted that the company is ready to move into the cloud, yet the vast majority of the company's current annual run rate of $1.2 billion in cloud revenue comes from SuccessFactors and Ariba, cloud businesses acquired last year for a combined $7.7 billion.

SAP's says it's ready to bring its core Business Suite applications into the cloud on the Hana Enterprise Cloud, but this managed services (private cloud) platform was only introduced in May, and it's not the type of software-as-a-service platform that many would-be buyers associate with "cloud."

SAP, like many vendors, is stretching the definition of cloud to make that business look as large as possible. But given than more than 90% of SAP's revenues are still tied to conventional on-premises software, it will get harder for SAP to keep reporting the double-digit gains it has been reporting during the last three years -- barring more expensive cloud acquisitions.

The fastest growth among apps vendors is being seen by multi-tenant service providers like NetSuite and Workday. SAP's innovation strategy is all about moving into the cloud and onto the Hana in-memory database. But cloud is on track to hit about 7% of SAP revenue this year while Hana will represent about 5%.

Can the tail wag the dog? By the time Snabe steps down in May 2014, we'll have a better idea whether these bets are attracting enough customers to sustain strong growth.