Thomas, Vinnie, Charles Zedlewski, SAP, SOA, and Brand Storytelling

June 1, 2006

WARNING: Some SAP-specific tech-speak involved!
Thomas Otter’s Sapphire (SAP’s big user conference) recap I agree with Vinnie on something. . . got me thinking. I went to Vinnie’s post to see what Thomas was agreeable to. And Vinnie took me to Charles – man, sometimes this blog thing can be a mess.

Charles was explaining (defending) all the good things about SOA (Service Oriented Architecture for my non-geek readers). I think he did a pretty good job. As I read his post, something resonated with me. No, it wasn’t that I understood it all, nor did it answer all of Vinnie’s questions, but it reminded me of a story.

In the marketing world, the idea of storytelling has been getting lots of press. If you Google “brand storytelling” you’ll get over 2 million hits.

SAP’s Story
Charles reminded me of SAP’s story and how SAP started. It’s pretty simple: The founders of SAP were working at IBM, constantly building similar applications over and over again for clients in Germany. They said, “Hey! We could standardize this.” They took it to their bosses at IBM and the bosses said, “I don’t think so.”

Well, IBM was wrong.
They (Hector, Plattner, Hopp, Tschira, and Wellenreuther) could and did.

35 years later. . .
Almost 35 years later, SAP is doing the same thing – taking code and trying to standardize it in reusable code. (NOTE: this assumes that the code is “useful” as well – performing something businesses want or need done.)

The Differences Today
The differences today? Numerous.

  • The network has changed – it’s the Internet (or local Internet technologies).
  • The rules have changed – partners are developing applications that will work together in what Kagermann calls “co-evolution” (if I recall correctly).
  • Business process innovation is now supported by more application providers and software is more adaptable (read “less rigid”). Fitting the applications to my/your company’s specific business processes is more plausible now than ever before.

Because of all these changes, SAP has had to do some “enablement” work, creating an infrastructure (read “NetWeaver”) on which all of these applications can play nicely with one another.

SAP – Continuing the Story
SAP – at its core – is really continuing the story they started in 1972. They are trying to reduce inefficiencies of one-off, custom development, while offering customers productivity gains. The manner is different today, but the story reads on.

If SAP can place the current chapter of SOA/ESA/NetWeaver (aka Business Process Platform) in context of that over arching story, the message could be more powerful. (Disclaimer: I don’t read everything SAP puts out, so maybe they are doing this already – although I doubt it.)

Now to Thomas’ Point
Thomas was basically ranting about how SAP talks too much tech (SOA, ESA, NetWeaver, etc.) and forgets the business side. He talks about what really “sells” SAP in his presentations – it’s showing them the impact on their work (by showing what you can do as a result of their latest innovations such as Duet, Virsa, Adobe forms, etc).

The Opportunity
The opportunity to really resonate is to tie this all together with the big brand story. SAP has three decades experience in cutting out inefficiencies at the code/architecture level and improving business processes as a result (not always improving the user experience, but that’s another entry).

A New Chapter
SOA/ESA/BPP is another chapter that can and needs to be translated for the business buyer (as both Thomas and Vinnie pointed out). SAP can do that by giving customers and prospects a taste of the story, a story that paints a picture of their business run on an SAP’s lean, efficient infrastructure and all the good things that come as a result of that. (Vinnie might argue that it’s not lean – but give me some grace, this is a marketing post!). If the story is cohesive and easy to understand, customers (with whom the story resonates) will get on board.

SAP has a good story underneath all the acronyms, they just need to explain it the way I imagine their founders did.

Clear, simple, and relevant.



  1. fine summary john.
    would be interested in your views on the XYZ runs SAP posters and billboards. what would you do next…..

  2. Oh, that’ll take a little time for me to consider – I do have something to say on that, though. I’ll write on that as soon as I get a minute. As for the future, I’d be happy to see SAP pay me and MK to lay out the next steps 🙂 But seriously, I’ll throw out something for you to chew on (and for NYC to ignore.)

  3. IBM supposedly now has a simple message on SOA – “shared services”…more back to the future stuff as I wrote here


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