I have had very technically focused roles throughout my career and thus have attended many SAP TechEds and not so many Sapphires. In fact, I attended my first Sapphire this year (2016). I would venture to guess that because of my involvement with the HANA Distinguished Engineer (HDE) program, that my first Sapphire experience is a bit unique. Reddy Venumbaka has been tremendous in helping provide exposure for the HDE program and Stacey Fish has enabled the HDEs to have SAP executive access at both TechEd and Sapphire.
I did have some expectations on what the Sapphire experience would be like. I always heard that it is a marketing and sales focused event with more than double the attendees of TechEd. Some things that I heard before attending: The show floor can be overwhelming, wear comfortable shoes, the conference is primarily for sales people. Some of these statements are true. I’d definitely recommend wearing comfortable shoes. Although, there was enough real technical content to keep technical folks satisfied. Sure, there was plenty of marketing speak, but also some cool announcements focused on the technical aspects. It is important for techies to remember that HANA, S4 and other SAP solutions are a way to enable businesses to run better and drive value. Understanding the business aspects of the various product line will help technically focused individuals get more value from the “marketing” focused conference.
I arrived on Monday evening after a long day of travel from the bay area, so I didn’t attend any of the Monday ASUG pre-conference seminars or partner events. One thing I forgot to do, which I thought was going to end up biting me, was pick up my badge at MCO. This wasn’t a problem, because there was a small registration booth in the Hilton. Stacey arranged for a couple of HDEs to attend the SAP Digital Breakfast with Jonathan Becher on Tuesday morning. Jonathan gave a talk about where digital is today compared to last year. The focus has been on enabling self-service and ease of use. He also gave us a preview on the SAP Digital Consumer Insight offering that was announced later in the week. There was good conversation at each table that included both analysts and SAP employees. It was interesting to hear different insights from the various analysts and the thought processes of SAP employees driving the digital initiative. There was discussion on how digital enables smaller businesses to leverage technology that was previously only available to large businesses with deep pockets.
I then made a beeline to the show floor. Unfortunately, I missed the first day keynote, because someone setup a partner meeting at the same time! No problem, I can watch the keynote online later, but building relationships and enabling partners is one of the most important aspects of these conferences. We walked away from the meeting with plenty of follow up items that will benefit both us and our partner.
I gave a talk at the Virtustream booth on what some things customers need to think about before moving SAP to the cloud. Here is a link to a short blog on SAP Insider that was the basis for the talk. I gave this same talk on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Then there was another session that Stacey arranged where a group of HDEs had a meeting with Mike Eacrett and Dan Lahl to discuss HANA and HCP. This discussion was under NDA, so I cannot reveal too much, but it is encouraging how open, honest and engaging the SAP executives are with the HDE group. This is only the case because of the numerous HDEs who provide feedback and content to the SAP community. In the evening, Reddy organized an HDE dinner at Opa, which was quite an interesting experience. Then I proceeded to the Virtustream after party right next door to mingle with customers and partners.
Wednesday, I decided to stream Rob Enslin’s keynote from the hotel room, while doing work for my day job. Unfortunately, I missed the HDE session with Bernd Leukert because I had customer meetings, but I understood it to be very productive with some focus on expanding the HDE program. Reddy set up six HDEs to record a video for a social media campaign explaining some aspects of the HANA Distinguished Engineer program, including what it is, the benefits and how to become an HDE. Keep an eye out for this video. I had Virtustream booth duty in the afternoon that I thoroughly enjoyed because I had the opportunity to talk with many customers that have interest in moving their SAP estate to the cloud. I attended partner social event in the evening.
Thursday was another full day of customer meetings and another HDE video. This video was professionally produced and they even put is on a makeup chair. I am by no means a wordsmith, but putting a camera in my face somehow makes me much less articulate than I’d normally be. Hopefully, the editors can work their magic to make me seem eloquent. In the evening came the concert. Sapphire tends to have a much more popular and well known musical group than TechEd. Coldplay rocked the house and put on a great show.
All in all, it was a terrific experience and I hope to be back in 2017. There was of course talk of HANA and S4. Cloud was also a very hot topic and Satya Nadella from Microsoft was on stage to discuss SAP’s and Microsoft’s cloud partnership. The SAP portion of the show floor was expansive and there were small booths for almost all products and services that SAP provides. From this aspect, it was easy to get the technical fix that some of us enjoy. There were technical experts at many of the booths that could engage in deep technical discussions. I visited many booths including Hybris, Vora and HCP and had discussions with the experts manning the booths.
One thing to remember is that Sapphire tends to be very customer focused. Most of the talks had a customer on stage or a customer story to share. For anyone with an idea to submit a talk, I highly recommend to either have a customer on stage or tie back to a strong customer story.