Archive for conference

Apple’s WWDC Keynote Was Strange To Me

I never bothered with Apple products, let alone the Worldwide Developer Conference. Seriously, in 32 years in the IT industry and 6+ years as an analyst, I regarded Apple as mostly a consumer business and spent very little time tracking them. My overall impression was that they were long on style (which is good) but short on real technological substance (which, to me, is not good). The best Apple products happened when they took someone else’s idea, such as the music player or smartphone, and made it palatable to the masses. Personally, I never saw the appeal of Apple. Sure the products were easy to use but that was because you had to do things the Apple way. With Linux, there is a dozen ways to do anything. With Microsoft Windows, you have a limited number of choices. With Apple, there is one and only one way of doing anything and you will like it, so help me Steve Jobs. So, I ignored them.

As I waited for my next gig to begin, I found myself with a bit of time on my hands and said “What the heck! I’ll watch the WWDC livestream.” I’ve been to hundreds of industry conferences and livestreamed many more. Apple’s WWDC was not very different. Lots of loud music, hyperbole, and unbridled enthusiasm for incremental feature enhancements. Seriously folks, do tech companies think we are “really going to love…” a different color or small increase in performance? Is it true that they “can’t be more excited…” about small changes over and over again? Judging by the insane applause at WWDC at the smallest announcement, that might be the case. I’ve seen more sedate crowds at rock concerts and religious gatherings.

Two things struck me about the WWDC keynote that was different than the many other conferences I’ve been to. First, there was almost no blockbuster announcements. The most interesting announcement, to me anyway, was the ability to cut and paste between Macs and iPads. That’s pretty useful and wish I had an easier way to do that in the Windows/Android world. However, that’s not exactly a life changing event. Other than that, everything seemed incremental or catch up. The fanbois went nuts over the idea of Siri for the Mac. Whoopee do da. Microsoft has had Cortana (basically an edgier Siri) on the PC for at least a year, as well as Windows and Android mobile devices. The Apple cognoscenti seemed to utterly lose their minds over the renaming of what is now watchOS. Come on people, watch devices are a tiny niche. Their big, expensive, and poorly duplicate some of the functionality of a smartphone. They are the equivalent of sports car for geeks. No more useful than a cheaper version but an object of desire just the same.

The second big difference between WWDC and other tech conferences is the level of weird. Suer, I’ve seen sad, aging rockers, trampoline artists, and other strange entertainment at conferences but that was just to warm up the crowd. Then it was all business. Apple, on the other hand, spent considerable time introducing a new app called Breathe. Yes, Breathe! As in inhale and exhale. I get controlled breathing and meditation are a way of reducing stress but this is a technology conference not a health or yoga event. If anything will elicit California/New Age/naval gazing jokes, Breathe will. Another popular announcement was the introduction of a Minnie Mouse watch face for the watchOS. Apple positioned it as some kind of feminist statement when it’s obviously the opposite. It is whimsical and cute but it’s still just Minnie Mouse. The speaker kept talking about how much their daughter was going to love this as if they were going to buy a $400 Apple Watch for a little girl. Personally, I would start with a $10 Minnie Mouse watch until they were in, oh, college! I can’t imagine a Google, Microsoft, or Dell conference keynote featuring Minnie Mouse and meditation as important parts of the opening keynote.

WWDC taught me that Apple developers and fans live in a different world than the rest of the development community. It’s a culture all its own, sort of a mashup of techno, geek, fashion, and religion. Technologically, Apple is a follower but from a design perspective it’s a leader. That seems to violate one of the basic precepts of IT culture which is to push the envelope technically and worry about making it pretty later. Yet, this seems okay for the Apple community. The want the sizzle more than the steak.

Listening in on WWDC was like visiting an alien culture. It wasn’t what I expected. I was sometimes delighted but much of the time simply confused. And like many places I’ve visited, I was glad to have done it once but have no plans to return. It’s simply not my tribe.

SAP States the Obvious But That’s Alright

The recently concluded SAP’s SAPPHIRE 2016 conference left me with an odd feeling. On the one hand, I really liked much of what I heard – machine learning, microservices, design thinking, and API catalogs. On the other hand, these are all topics that are well-known to SAP’s customers, even though they were presented as if they were brand new. In addition, SAPs competitors have been talking about these subjects for a long time and most already have products in the field. That left me thinking that SAP is moving in the right direction but just a little behind the curve set by their competitors and the market.

To be honest, that’s not necessarily a problem. It’s not so much that SAP’s customers are overly conservative. SAP’s software, however, runs the most important, mission critical, functions of many of the world’s largest companies. These companies need to have software that is rock solid, all the time. The bleeding edge is not for them. Viewing SAP’s announcements through this lens, it seems that they are following an old pattern of releasing software only when it’s completely thought through. A great example of this approach has been SAP Jam. SAP was not, by any means, the first company to release social collaboration or enterprise social network software. There were dozens of competitors who had developed or acquired solutions in this space long before what has become SAP Jam truly crystalized. SAP took the time to get this right, especially with introduction of work patterns. It’s why SAP Jam is a successful product with solid customer implementations.

What gave me pause most was the way these new technologies were presented. Company executives acted as if these were new concepts, insinuating that SAP customers are unaware of what is going on in their industry. I doubt that. More likely, SAPs new product announcements were driven by the demands of customers for the kind of useful and important technology that many of their peers already had. I’m pretty sure that the emerging needs of their business had something to do with it as well. In some cases, SAP seemed compelled to talk about technology they don’t quite have yet. For example, there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of machine learning technology that is actually in the field or even in products. It was discussed quite often but always in the future tense.

Something that was clear was that SAP is finally getting around to integrating the products of their recently acquired companies, such as FieldGass, their contingency workforce applications, and Successfactors’ human resources software. This was an obvious integration that creates tremendous value but, understandably, takes time to get right. The same is true of Successfactors and the Concur travel platform, and SAP Ariba’s procurement platform and S4/HANA ERP. This series of interlocking, mutually supportive but independently deployable applications allows customers to recognize the most leverage from SAP purchases. By integrating the operating units’ products, they create value for the customer that has been just waiting to be unlocked.

In the opening keynote of SAPPHIRE 2016, SAP CEO Bill McDermott stressed empathy with customers. In that spirit, I’m trying to have empathy for SAP even though they seem to be trailing behind their competitors. I get the impression that SAP is willing to appear to lag behind the market if it allows them to deliver unbreakable and more relevant solutions to their customers. Hopefully, this is an example of good things coming to customers who wait.