Shai Agassi is leaving SAP because, in essence, the old guard didn’t want to turn over the reins to him as fast as he would have liked.* Often, this kind of departure is a bad thing (e.g., Ray Lane at Oracle). But I suspect that SAP may actually be improved by Shai’s leaving.
*His other stated reasons include two very good and highly admirable ones – working on energy technologies and improving matters in Israel.
SAP’s technical strategy has three core elements:
- Automate business processes.
- Provide the technical infrastructure for automating business processes.
- Encapsulate process and data at the object/process level.
This strategy has been heavily developed and refined on Shai’s watch, with major contributions from lots of other folks. The issue isn’t vision any more. What SAP needs to do better is execute on the vision.
The problem hasn’t exactly been technology implementation. Rather, it’s been technology implementation anybody cares about. SAP has a huge potential advantage in analytics due to its ability to integrate operational and analytical business processes. But has that gotten past the “potential” stage? Dennis Moore’s’ composite apps strategy is brilliant. But has it much affected anybody’s life? Meanwhile, application functionality is so mature that added development may have diminishing practical returns. So I have to ask: Just where exactly does SAP still have a significant product advantage?
SAP is doing plenty of things well enough to mine its massive installed base. But preserving and increasing the size of the base? For that, vision needs to be turned into more substance. And of senior SAP execs I’ve talked with and listened to — in Shai’s case mainly the latter — Shai wasn’t necessarily at the top of the substance list. Indeed, he’s the only one who routinely left me shaking my head about a gap between rhetoric and actual technological fact.
Bottom line: SAP may do better getting out from underneath Shai’s overarching decision-making.
- The official press release. (March, 2007)
- Some coverage of the Shai Agassi news. (March, 2007)
- My two-part take on SAP’s excellent architectural vision. (December, 2005)
- My overall view of SAP’s consistent strategic focus. (April, 2006)
- A white paper illustrating SAP’s erstwhile potential to dominate analytics. (November, 2004)
- The dark side of SAP. (January, 2007)
- My own take on future energy technology. (April, 2006)