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Chuck Schaeffer SAP Sales On Demand Initial Look

3 stars Average rating: 3 (from 164 votes)
 By Chuck Schaeffer

New SaaS and Social CRM Solution Provides Gateway to the Cloud for SAP Install Base

SAP today announced its Sales OnDemand is Generally Available. Sales OnDemand is the newest software as a service offering, and in contrast to SAP's history of delivering broad business suites, this on-demand product is laser focused on sales people and their need for a social injection to sales force automation (SFA).

SAP made its cloud debut last year with Business ByDesign—a broad software as a service ERP suite—and like that much delayed initial release, Sales OnDemand has seen its false starts and re-starts. The social sales solution was initially developed on the Frictionless Commerce platform, however, migrated to the Business ByDesign framework late in the game. While a costly move that delayed product launch, the technology switch looks like a smart move as many of the future line of business On Demand solutions will inherit ByDesigns broad suite of business processes, SDK, improved NetWeaver architectural support and facilitated integration with SAP Business Suite 7. The Frictionless platform will continue to support e-sourcing but not anything else.

Sales OnDemand is targeted at the software company's on-premises ERP install base—those customers who aren't ready for a wholesale transition to the cloud, but are looking to extend their solutions with a cloud option that lowers cost and increases flexibility with a hybrid delivery model. Inching into the cloud, steadily adopting increased cloud services over time and coexisting on-premise and on-demand business apps is a trend that will push SAP and its customers into cloud adoption pursuant to a systemic plan; while at the same slow cloud CRM pure plays such as from further penetrating SAP's customer base.

A Social User Experience

In addition to a new product in a new delivery model, Sales OnDemand brings some much needed creative thinking from SAP. The company says this solution is part of its new "people centric" applications strategy. While I think Microsoft already coined that phrase years ago, one look at the product reveals a big shift from anything SAP has done before. In typical social fashion, the user interface (UI) sports consumer-like concepts such as live feeds and social streams integration which correlate to sales activities to highlight relevant information and simplify content consumption. This design may finally deliver the ease of use that counters the all too frequent sales adoption challenges.

The UI is far more interactive than any SAP page past or present – with horizontal navbar menus extending across the top, vertically stacked icons with quick-access functions extending down the left column pane and vertical menus with hover-over pop-out displays extending down the right column pane. The dynamic left and right side panes use slider controls which further permit users to drag and drop objects (such as employees, products and tags) into the body area for quick insertion. Overall, the UI minimizes the number of screens necessary to complete sales processes, however, does require up front training.

The social adaptation is impressive – and takes several lessons from Facebook, Twitter and other popular social networks. For example, the Feed view is predominantly displayed and acts as a subscription based messaging system to push relevant updates to extended groups. Virtual teams can subscribe to feeds based on the context of CRM objects such as accounts and opportunities as well as follow people and groups. Text entry within the Feed window is social-like, for instance, to enter a customer name into a Feed update, simply precede the customer name with the @ sign and then select the auto-complete feature. The customer name then displays as a hyperlink which permits either a hover-over display of salient information or drill-down to the account profile. To direct message a colleague within the Feed tool, precede the employee name with the * symbol, and select the auto-complete listing.

Feed settings permit users to configure behaviors such as to automatically accept follow requests, designate the types of events or updates to trigger feed messages (i.e. inform me of new customer activities, but don't inform me of customer address changes) or receive end of day email feed summaries. This is helpful in filtering out noise that otherwise clouds more important messaging. Another social feature is custom tagging – or folksonomies. Tags are easy to insert and link keywords to accounts or other CRM objects to group or categorize items for retrieval. Individual feed records can be Flagged for future recall, Stared as Favorites or reposted (think retweet) in order to push a Feed message to followers. A few mash-ups such as integration with location based services like maps are also present.

In future releases, I hope we'll see more advanced social capabilities such as social monitoring, integration with social networks, and integration with data services to append sales contacts with behavioral and preferences data from the social web. I'd also like to see some ability to rate or rank content in order to deliver the most useful content first.

Analytics are simple and few, but include the basics of (closed) revenues, sales pipelines and win/loss analysis. Reports permit semi-flexible configuration, including designating rows and columns, filtering by key fields and choosing sort selections. Re-configured reports can be saved with a new name and added to personal dashboards. Like other views, the Report Explorer dashboard allows users to drag and drop the reports they want to see on to the canvas.

Mobile CRM is supported on iPhone, iPad and Blackberry devices. Notably absent is Windows mobile. Mobile device text entry is accelerated with features such as drag and drop placement, symbols preceding names, auto-fill and type-ahead capabilities.

Outlook integration includes updates to accounts, contacts, activities and appointments from either the desktop browser or mobile device. Interestingly, the Outlook integration includes a new pane which displays Contacts, Feeds and Shelf data (favorites, flagged items, etc.) From within the Outlook Contacts view, SAP delivers additional information such as Opportunities, Leads and Activities. The fairly complete data snapshot eliminates a lot of the toggling back and forth between Outlook and the OnDemand SFA app. It also acts as a convenient offline tool.

Overall, functionality is quite good for an initial release. Key capabilities missing at this early stage include more advanced SFA or CRM features such as workflow automation; more sophisticated capabilities such as quota/compensation management, quoting and sales order processing by sales staff; analytics which include OLAP, data mining and predictive modeling; and API's to better support mixed (and non-SAP) environments.

Sales OnDemand Not For Most

Despite the SFA product's strength, Sales OnDemand is limited to the existing SAP ERP install base. To use Sales On Demand, you must also be using SAP ERP—an on premise solution—in order to support key back-office integration with customer files, customer (contract) pricing, inventory/products, quotes and sale orders. Despite Sales OnDemand being developed on the Business ByDesign framework, the app does not integrate with ByDesign—and therefore Sales OnDemand cannot be used in an all-cloud environment. This rather surprising limitation holds back Sales OnDemand from growing outside the SAP ERP install base.

While innovative, the on demand app also carries the limitations of a first version release. For example, conversation threading resembles more of a bulletin board system than a multi-tiered online social network conversation and the overall process scope is quite small. Nonetheless, melding consumer technologies into mission critical business applications is an iterative process that takes some time.

Pricing is based on a named user subscription pricing model, and in the range of $40 to $80 USD per user per month depending on the number of users and length of contract. The next set of On Demand line of business apps will include Career OnDemand and Travel OnDemand among others.

Look for Sales OnDemand to accomplish two key goals for SAP. First, it will slow the predatory tier 2 and SaaS CRM players such as from making continued inroads to its install base and second, it will provide the existing SAP ERP install base a gateway solution to the cloud, and in doing so seed a path to evolve its customers into hybrid (private/public) delivery models.

Concluding Remarks

While the product is really an extension or at best a point solution, Sales OnDemand actually earns the often touted but seldom earned moniker of being a disruptive technology release. This is not an SFA or sales tool with social features; it is a built from the ground up social selling productivity engine. It is designed to maximize sales team collaboration, benefit the sales person more so than the sales manager, intelligently integrate social streams as part of each sales pros working processes, operate on mobile and tablet form factors, and leverage simple analytics.

But to achieve these goals the company will have to execute in five areas. First, with the cloud market SAP needs to show more innovation. Sales OnDemand is a good start, but in reality, SAP hasn't introduced anything not already pioneered by others. Second, continue to improve the user experience. I personally think Silverlight should be abandoned as it provides no advantages over HTML5 and several disadvantages associated with browser heavy plug-ins and downloads. Further, the promise of Silverlight to deliver ubiquitous browser and device support appears unlikely. Third, increase integration with the broader ByDesign suite. Sales OnDemand is hamstrung to SAP ERP and deserves to be part of a total cloud solution. Fourth, the company must show meaningful updates in frequent (preferably quarterly or no more than semi-annual) iterative releases. Customer expectations for first version releases are reasonable; they become less so with maturity. Lastly, expand the scope of the product footprint and continue to enhance the Studio SDK in order to accelerate the ISV/developer ecosystem. A robust ecosystem is essential to scale customer acquisitions and achieve market success. End

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Comments (6) — Comments for this page are closed —

Guest Jeff Whitman
  Your point that SAP must show some innovation is on the money. It's understandable although not justifiable that the company originally trash talked the entire software as a service movement in a transparent attempt to protect their cash cow software licensing business. Once they realized they couldn't downplay or spread SAAS FUD they ultimately came around to play in this market, however, are merely following the innovation delivered by start-ups years ago. I recall then CEO Kagermann telling a reporter that SAP intends to change the on demand marketplace. In reality, the on demand marketplace changed SAP. Sales On Demand sounds interesting, but even with this product release they are boldly going where a large number of SAAS vendors have already gone. They need to show they're not an old dog incapable of learning new tricks.

Guest TylerT
  We use SAP's Business Suite and after the investment we've made there is more likelihood that our politicians will extinguish our massive debt than my company will switch business systems. We're now investigating sales on demand and so far like what we see. This type of solution allows us to protect our investment and still leverage the cloud where it makes sense.

Guest Rob Chapman
  I'm glad to see SAP has gotten with the cloud/saas/social media program. It's hard for these big companies to get out of their comfort zone and take on new technologies but SAP is a great company and once they jump in, they generally slog their way to a leadership position.

Guest Harold McGladrey
  I think the recession accelerated a systems procurement trend that was well underway. Companies are tired and increasingly less willing to continue with their money sucking rip and replace software projects. SAP recognizes that IT purchases are now more incremental, and that offering a cloud extension lowers barriers. It's a good strategy.

Guest Frank James
  Your perspective that sales on demand looks good but is limited in scope is a complete role reversal for SAP, whose history is to build business software which does everything but is breathtakingly complex. If all this is true, this software must come from SAP's not-so-evil twin brother. Looking forward to checking it out.

Guest Chris Nichols
  At the 2011 CeBIT technology conference in Germany, I got to hear SAP co-chairman Jim Hagemann Snabe describe Sales OnDemand as "Facebook for the enterprise". IMHO, after hearing him speak, I think he understands the need to simplify business applications, and in fact cited Apple as a prime example. But describing Sales OnDemand as Facebook for the enterprise is an odd statement that doesn't do the new app any favors and clearly shows that he's not well schooled in the social arena. He made another statement that caught my attention, which was "Within three to four years, 80% of usage of business applications will be on mobile devices." He commented, "I have a tablet and I rarely use a PC myself today." I agree that mobile is clearly on the way up, but largely for CRM and front office applications, and not as much for ERP. I think SAP has underestimated the cloud while possibly overestimating mobile.


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Inching into the cloud, steadily adopting increased cloud services over time and coexisting on-premise and on-demand business apps is a trend that will push SAP and its customers into cloud adoption pursuant to a systemic plan.


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