SAP Holding Startup Forums To Develop Ecosystem For HANA — The Company’s First Ever Platform Play

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SAP is doing a series of startup forums that signal a significant change in the company. It’s a move unlike any we see from the likes of HP, Oracle or IBM. SAP is making a play as a platform company. It is building a developer community and backing it up with a special $155 million fund specifically meant to help build an ecosystem for HANA — the company’ s real-time analysis technology and new crown jewel.

SAP is doing its 10th startup forum on Thursday at its Palo Alto office. About 60 companies are expected to attend. The event is by invite only. Startups may register to request an invitation.  Forums have taken place in Beijing,  Seattle and Berlin. A forum is also scheduled for this week in Tokyo.

As part of the forums, the participants get developer licenses and training to help them get to a point where they can do something meaningful with the HANA technology. Alert Enterprise, for example, uses HANA to do predictive analytics for potential terrorist threats. Next Principles is using HANA to do advanced analytics on social media data. As a note, I am a mentor to Next Principles for the CRM Idol competition led by Paul Greenberg.

“We are in a unique position,” said Kaustav Mitra, who leads the startup program for SAP HANA. “It’s the first time SAP has a true platform story.”

SAP’s efforts to build a developer ecosystem started gaining more traction in April when the company announced plans for the HANA fund.  HANA, unveiled last year, is an “in-memory” predictive analytics technology. By calling it a platform, SAP is opening doors to developers that were not there before. By placing an emphasis on developing a platform, SAP will face the same community developer challenges as Twitter, Google or Salesforce.com.

The focus on HANA has revitalized SAP with hopes that it can regain the glory of its earliest days when it disrupted the corporate world with its comprehensive business software. In those days, SAP turned on customers to the idea that software could transform their business.  Those were mighty days. But in the past few years, as legacy software has lots its lustre and the cloud emerged, the company has had its struggles.  HANA gives SAP new hope that it can regain the leadership it enjoyed in its heyday.

Jon Reed is an SAP expert. He and others have been pushing SAP to become more of a platform company. But now that SAP is going down that path there are lots of questions. Fo example, HANA instances are available on AWS but you can’t download the software package.

Update: Reed says SAP has not taken the downloadable software route in general for developers and. SAP also believes there are some technical issues to ensuring HANA can run on laptops, it’s not as straightfoward as some other software downloads. it’s safe to say they are considering it but right now it’s not available whether you are willing to pay or not.

He added that “with HANA right now, you might or might not need to integrate it with the back end SAP system for the purposes of testing. Back end access might be important but in other cases it might not. For instance. a developer may be mashing up and analyzing data from third party sources such as medical records or social network sentiment data.

Reed is of the opinion, and he is not alone, that SAP should make the production software free to use. That would help bolster the ecosytem and potentially give reason for some of the young, hotshot developers, to give SAP HANA a try.

SAP needs to find two kinds of developers. Those who know how to build apps for business and the edgy young ones who want to make cool user interfaces.  If SAP can do that then they may actually be able to build a culture that gives the company a seat with the cool cats of the platform world.

Reed said thereare still all kinds of questions. How will SAP sell the apps? And how will sales teams respond? Selling apps is a different business model. Sales people know how to sell software suites — apps are a whole new ball game.

But this is a good start for SAP. HANA represents a small piece of what the company offers. But developer movements are known to take a life of their own.  SAP still has a ways to go before it has to start worrying about such a good problem to have. In the meantime, it will have to keep convincing the developer community that HANA is compelling enough to give it a try.