SAP in 2013: Five things to watch

HANA news could dominate the early weeks of the new year

It was a typically busy year for SAP, with the company making headlines for strong sales of its HANA in-memory database, high-profile acquisitions and aggressive moves into cloud computing.

Now, here's a look at five things to watch as the enterprise software giant enters 2013.

HANA's honeymoon phase winds down; will the magic last?: There have been no new products more successful, and more hyped, in SAP's recent history than HANA. Since the product went into general availability in June 2011, SAP has sought to place HANA at the center of its long-term technology plans, both in terms of messaging and the technical development necessary to make it a full-blown development platform and a replacement for Oracle's rival database.

There's no question that SAP's HANA hype will continue throughout 2013, but in order for sales to keep rising, SAP may need to pull off a few things.

A broader range of high-profile customer case studies will be crucial, particularly ones involving mission-critical workloads versus experimental projects. These may be easier to come by later in the year, since SAP is expected to announce soon that HANA has been certified for its core ERP (enterprise resource planning) modules.

Another crucial goal will be to show credible evidence of a strong developer and ISV ecosystem around HANA. Many startups are now building applications with the database; if they can bring impressive products to market soon, it will only help HANA's image as a viable platform.

SAP may reveal its HANA road map for 2013 on Jan. 10, when it is scheduled to hold a major news conference.

All eyes on the cloud strategy: SAP spent much of this year announcing a number of new cloud initiatives, including a PaaS (platform as a service) based on HANA and a cloud-based data integration offerings.

Both may become generally available fairly soon, with some announcements likely to coincide with SAP's big Sapphire conference in May.

Sapphire could also see the debut for additional cloud applications from SAP, focused on specific business use cases and lines of business, as well as news on how well ones already in the market, such as the recently introduced Financials OnDemand, are selling.

In addition, SAP watchers will be looking for potential new integration points and upgrades for the cloud applications SAP bought through the acquisitions of SuccessFactors and Ariba.

Will the game change yet again?: SAP co-CEO Bill McDermott is not shy about trotting out sports metaphors in his public remarks, such as his reference to SAP's $5.8 billion acquisition of Sybase in 2010 as a "game-changing transaction."

SAP kept spending big on acquisitions since then, scooping up cloud application vendors SuccessFactors and Ariba for nearly $8 billion in total. It's not clear whether more big deals are on the imminent horizon, but it's possible to take a few guesses at the sort of acquisitions SAP might pursue.

This year, it formed a partnership with NetBase for its social media analytics, but SAP may end up deciding that such technologies are better owned. That could lead to an acquisition of Netbase or one of the many other social analytics providers, such as Lithium and Attensity. Oracle and Salesforce.com have already bought into social analytics with their respective purchases of Collective Intellect and Radian6.

Oracle made a big splash this week with its acquisition of marketing automation vendor Eloqua for $871 million. While SAP already has such tools, so did Oracle. Its decision to acquire Eloqua spoke to how complex a task marketing automation has become in the age of social media and mobile devices. SAP could decide it needs to acquire a company such as Eloqua competitor Marketo in order to keep pace.

Another breakout product: Over the past year or so, SAP has retooled its research strategy around the notion of internal startups. Rather than having teams of white-coated scientists toil away endlessly in some ivory research tower, churning out experiment after experiment but nothing ready for commercial sale, the goal now is to choose ideas that SAP believes could represent a $200 million market opportunity within three to five years.

HANA is widely considered a success, and at the least, one of the biggest breakout products SAP has had in quite some time. Next year, it will be interesting to see whether SAP's revamped research program can produce something that sparks as big a fire as HANA. Like every company, however, the best ideas still need major buy-in from the top brass.

Movement at the top?: Speaking of which, while there have been no public indications or reports of tensions between SAP co-CEOs McDermott and Jim Hagemann Snabe, that's not to say either of them won't decide that a solo leadership gig is more their speed. McDermott in particular has been the subject of such rumors for some time; in 2013, he may make his move.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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