SAP conducted its annual Sapphire NOW users conference in the U.S. and utilized this customer forum to once again communicate significant changes and implications concerning future direction.  The prime theme that SAP management delivered to customers was the SAP Run Simple message, which for many day-to-day users of SAP, is a message that is received with some cynicism. None the less, the implications are rather profound and real. Supply Chain Matters penned a prior commentary regarding the implications of SAP’s new strategies focused on integrated business planning that has since received significant reader and social media activity.

Among the keynotes delivered at Sapphire was the often anticipated talk by Hasso Plattner, one of the original founders of the company and existing Chairperson of the company’s Supervisory Board. While Hasso’s annual talks to SAP customers tend to sometimes be academic and lengthy, they often contain candor and important insights regarding SAP direction or missteps in the market.  This year was no exception.

One of the most significant messages delivered by Hasso was that enterprise software running on-premise is going to the cloud, no matter what.  That is why SAP’s new strategic emphasis is now all about reengineering for “the cloud.” The message from Hasso was that it is no longer a matter of if but rather a matter of time. That alone is a significant message coming from SAP’s founder and most influential investor.  He further indicated that four years ago, SAP leadership was initially very apprehensive regarding the challenge to change 400 million lines of code within its ERP backbone system, but has now come to the conclusion that it would have no choice but to do so. Software that was designed many years ago under different assumptions related to business processes and existing technology at the time, now has to better match the realities of today’s new business and technology paradigms. Hasso’s drumbeat message remains: “simplicity beats complexity”.

A very significant implication of SAP’s ongoing re-engineering towards leveraging HANA and the cloud is the goal to eliminate “aggregates” within its internal system’s functions.  Aggregates are when the system calculates for instance, gross margin, income statements or a supply chain planning optimization. Long-time SAP APO user teams can best relate to this concept by considering APO’s in-memory or former “live cache” design concept, where all planning related transactional and master data is drawn into the planning engine to formulate optimized supply chain plans.

Instead, the new HANA based cloud or on-premise technology will store all of SAP transactional data in memory (column-store) and will respond to information needs and reporting requirements by assembling models and algorithms on top of transactional data. The implication is a system with a far smaller footprint that users will eventually have the infinite freedom to re-arrange information hierarchy’s on-the-fly in a matter of a few seconds. By Hasso’s description, that opens opportunities for the system to perform all functions via models and algorithms and the ability to perform more predictive and simulation based analysis capabilities based on system-wide data.

Other significant implications will be the even more critical importance to accurate master data, internal skills in modeling and simulation of supply chain related data and the ability of supply chain planning and fulfillment teams to perform multitudes of what-if or target supply chain goal fulfillment analysis.

Of course, this broad and sweeping scope of SAP focused change is going to take additional time, perhaps years in scope. There will be critical decisions that customers will need to make over that time period.  At Sapphire, SAP further communicated its increased dependence on select key partners to assist both SAP and its existing customers to more quickly and successfully navigate this ongoing and significant transition.

Existing SAP customers need to seriously think about the implications of this shift in technology direction, especially as it relates to supporting today’s and tomorrow’s broader and more complex supply chain management needs.  While complexity and frustration may rule today’s mindsets, start seriously thinking about what these new changes imply for integrated supply chain and business planning support needs under the SAP HANA enabled banner. Such changes involve a changing mindset, new and different skill needs as well as a reliance on a trusted external consulting and support partner.

It is no secret that SAP APO, while designed as a bullet-proof supply chain planning system built around SAP master and transactional data, is somewhat difficult and inflexible in its ability to provide a means to support rapidly changing supply chain business processes or to support a new data paradigm where the majority of supply chain related data exists in an external demand or supply network. In a prior Supply Chain Matters posting, we noted that the structural design rigor and tight internal system linkages has led to many work arounds, including spreadsheets and supplemental systems. In many cases, the full potential of supply chain optimization, such as optimized supply planning is avoided because of the complexity and lack of understanding of innards of SAP APO. However, those teams that have taken the dedicated time and patience to learn and understand such innards with supplemental tools have managed to leverage APO functionality and subsequent benefits.

As noted in prior commentaries, as SAP continues to build out its described muscle platform, organizations need to focus efforts on the further mastering of broad-based supply chain planning and fulfillment process modeling, optimization, simulation and master data management capabilities. There are available tools and knowledgeable partners who can help you to re-focus your current efforts and direction and better respond to line of business needs, customer fulfillment or product management requirements, while helping to facilitate the skills and new capabilities roadmap that prepares for what will come in the new world of SAP.

Key SAP strategic partners such as Intrigo Systems, are not only focused on SAP APO, but the broader SAP Supply Chain Management, both today, and in the realities of the SAP HANA enabled environment. The Intrigo Systems Optek tool suite consists of modules that have been designed to place the planner more in control of the process while making SAP APO functionally more effective today, and in the future capabilities of SAP Supply Chain Management.

Bob Ferrari

© 2014 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters Blog. All rights reserved.

Disclosure; Intrigo Systems is a current client of the Ferrari Consulting and Research Group.