A self-described developer at heart, Plattner brought up the notion of how a company such as SAP AG innovates when it has developed just about all of the basic application functionality it needs.
As an example, he said one project team, after looking at ways to improve an accounting application, came back and said it didnt know what else it could do to improve the applications besides adding fraud detection—something it would add already as a normal enhancement.
"So, are we at the end of innovation with invoice management?" asked Plattner, whose approach to application development has changed in trying to answer that question.
Since stepping down as CEO last year, Plattner has taken on the role of SAPs chief software adviser. His goal is to evolve new products out of what he calls rapid prototypes springing from conversations outside the developers arena—a departure for SAP.
"Programmers, programmer-designers, architects—theyre in the center of the process because theyll do what every programmer does: They fall in love with the code," Plattner said.
"[But] you dont want to give it up. You love the code, hug the code, go to bed with the code. You wake up with it, because you dreamt about the code the night before."
What he found is that the people who actually use the applications should be involved in the process, as they provide a much-needed perspective.
SAPs new technique is to gather as much input from different groups as possible, at the earliest stages of development, Plattner said.
"We use a multistage, multitier approach. We tried to get some outside input, write some scenarios, build a mock-up—a visual markup of what we want to do," he said.
"We get some sense of what is possible, what is not possible, and then we have enough stuff to build a real prototype. Thats working."
Using a near two-minute demo to illustrate the concept, Plattner laid out an invoice verification prototype now under way at SAP that lets users verify an invoice from millions of different records within a second.
At the same time, the system ferrets out any difficulties, presents them in an actionable format to an accounting clerk and allows the supplier to view the same information as the clerk as they work through an issue.
If you had asked him 30 years ago if it would be possible to go to a billion records and search in seconds, Plattner said he would have thought it technically impossible, and that it would always be technically impossible.
But a lot has changed. And some of that change is being reflected in NetWeaver, SAPs integration and application platform, Plattner said.
"To be effective, it is necessary to have a large number of these technologies preassembled and prebuilt on one platform—NetWeaver," Plattner said. "That leads to the next question" of composite applications, an area on which SAP is putting a huge focus.
Plattner predicted that many in the audience would build composite applications—applications that sit on top of other applications and draw functionality based on a specific business process—and that those composite applications will, to some degree, become packaged apps.
"We have a vision—customers, you will do this; partners, you will do it. There is enough room for innovation. There is enough technology. You should start now," Plattner said. "If this is all possible with an old application like invoice verification, imagine what we can do with a more complicated nature than invoice verification."