So much is being written and discussed about collaboration today that it would be easy for the more cynically minded among us to dismiss the topic as yet another selection of the business “Fad-of-the-month” club. Not surprisingly, it is similarly convenient for proponents of the collaborative way of doing things to dismiss SAP as a vestigial dinosaur of business models of the distant past. When it comes to realm of all things collaborative, there are two different perspectives to consider. The first is collaborative social-the active collaborating to create an idea for product or service utilizing social technology. The second involves creating a company or business model that exists within the collaborative economy, addressing the creation of value through the shared use of products and services for mutual benefit and greater economic efficiency. The two flavors of things broadly labeled “collaborative” vying for the attention of SAP community, Collaborative Social and Collaborative Economics, both require your attention. You have the responsibility to place the appropriate emphasis on the path that intrinsically enhances your role in the organization and the roles of those who you lead and/or support directly. Although they may be wholly independent in your current operating environment, the chances of convergence within 5 years are pretty close to 100%. The economies of scale derived from even the most elemental levels of interdependence are simply to compelling to ignore. The simple truth is that collaborative is real. It has a measurable and growing impact on social and economic trends reflected in hardcore regional and sector GDP growth. Collaborative is also one of the primary internal investment and development focuses for SAP and they fully intend to be a major player going forward.
Social Collaboration was definitely an acquired product skill set at SAP. This is most emphatically evidenced by the fact that all of the SAP Social Collaboration tools came to the company via acquisition most notably, Streamwork and Success Factors. SAP may not have been built on a foundation of collaborative cinder blocks, but they certainly were among the earliest and most dedicated large-scale enterprise providers to adopt it as a core strategy. The functionality of the now discontinued Streamwork has been rebuilt under Success Factors umbrella and is now being offered as SAP Jam. Although the initial marketing focus with Jam has been as competition to salesforce.com, the bigger picture is hard to ignore. Jam may be integrated into any ABAP-based application and will facilitate collaborative features for business processes as well as more traditional social collaboration functionalities. SAP will certainly have competition in this space, but their leadership role on the business process side and direct access to critical data provides them a potentially formidable advantage.
When citing the vanguards of Collaborative Economics, SAP doesn’t come to mind anywhere near the top of the list. Of course the list tends to be heavily weighted towards disruptive startups such as Airbnb, Uber, LiquidSpace, Odesk, and LendingClub rather than the typical SAP user. But SAP has a reasonably solid record in the realm of fostering supply chain collaboration, which has been galvanized by their acquisition of Ariba. Although Ariba itself is an amalgam of many acquisitions, they have forged a fairly unique space by placing themselves close to the money in almost every conceivable type of enterprise financial transaction. This provides the linchpin of SAP’s strategy. SAP will be an enabler for large companies with legacy business models to adopt collaborative practices on a measured basis with the requisite real-time view of financial impact that such organizations expect. This in turn unlocks perhaps the greatest, under-explored aspect of the collaborative economy – the ability to collaborate on SAP development across organizational boundaries. While sharing and expert modeling are robust in the current SAP developer environment they do not genuinely fulfill the promise of true co-development and co-work constructs. Remember, the Collaborative Economy is predicated on both economic necessity and empowerment of the crowd. Enterprises seeking measurable cost savings who have squeezed just about all they can out of the “do more with less” school of austerity management will be adopting elements of co-work and co-development to spread cost and risk more evenly and predictably throughout the life-cycle of a given product or service.
Collaboration has been a bit of hard sell in most enterprise environments primarily due to the lackluster performance of poorly conceived pilot projects with a the lack of buy-in from the perspective user base. Those who suffered through poorly designed initiatives that were meta-tagged with ‘collaboration’ may sputter and cough at the very mention of the term, but in the end the realization of an economic climate that requires core level disruptions to ensure survival will rule the day. So, if you’re a member of the global SAP community, you need to pay attention to what’s happening in the world of collaboration because it is bound to affect you sooner rather than later.