SAP Co-founder Discusses Competitors, Potential Buyers

Hasso Plattner says IBM, Microsoft or Google could acquire SAP in the future.

ORLANDO, Fla.—Hasso Plattner, co-founder of SAP AG, the worlds largest software developer, said he views three companies as potential competitors in the next five years: Oracle, Microsoft and Google.

"I still regard Oracle as a competitor," said Plattner during a news conference at SAPs annual Sapphire user event May 16-18 here.

"But sooner or later, someones going to ask the question [to Oracle CEO Larry Ellison]: What did you do with my $20 billion dollars [spent during an ongoing two-year acquisition spree]? Its shareholders money, not his. Then theres Microsoft. Then Google… If Google buys Oracle, Im shaking in my pants."

In 10 years, Plattner said there will be an Asian company in the top-tier competitive mix—a main reason SAP is focusing its energies on the Asian market.

Plattner said there was a similarly diminutive group of companies that could potentially acquire SAP: IBM, Microsoft and Google.

"I dont see any more," said Plattner, stressing that SAP is not involved in any merger discussions.

Plattner, who is the chief of SAPs supervisory board, spent much of his time at this years Sapphire user conference discussing innovation—and the necessity of innovating through design.

During a keynote address May 18, Plattner discussed how companies—particularly SAP—have to stimulate creativity in order to innovate and prosper.

"We have to do more, do breakthrough innovation to differentiate ourselves," said Plattner.

"What we create today might become a commodity in the future."

/zimages/5/28571.gifTo read more about SAPs mySAP suite, click here.

To this end, Plattner said companies have to think of production in a holistic way—laterally as opposed to systematically—starting with users (watching, learning and reading to figure out their daily experience).

Plattner said it is also important to add expertise from different disciplines to a design concept team.

"We have to look at one subject from as many angles as possible," said Plattner.

The other means of achieving creativity is through rapid (and cheap) prototyping—starting on a sheet of paper with different colored pens works well—and enabling that process to evolve, said Plattner.

"When I hired years ago designers, they always remain a little outside, they became artists," said Plattner. "Then I said, what is the purpose of that? Then they became very focused and that was wrong. We should have kept them free."

The goal: To build products that captivates customers.

"It sounds ridiculous to talk about delight and SAP," said Plattner.

"But why not? A door handle can be elegant. Everyone can handle an iPod (because of the elegance of its design) but not everyone can handle a piece of software. There is some work to do."

Plattner said it is imperative to apply creativity and design concepts not only to softwares user interface, but also to the platform, applications, hardware and the network.

While Plattner never really mentioned the intense development efforts under way at SAP as it moves from a monolithic structure to a much more open, services-based architecture, the implication was there.

When asked later if he thought SAP has struck the right balance between innovation and the work at hand keeping its customer base happy—between the right brain and the left—Platter did not hesitate.

"We did it very well in the first phases of SAP," said Plattner, referring to the early days of the company when he and three others left IBM to start SAP.

"We had the luxury of no home, no garage. We were living at the customer site. When we developed accounts receivable we were monitoring those [people]. It helped tremendously. Now we are embarking on a road to get better."

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