Interview with SAP’s Agassi

Excerpts from a Steve Gillmor interview with Shai Agassi, “SAP executive board member [who] has positioned the company in a leadership role in the emerging event-based, real-time architecture.”

In ‘IT doesn’t matter,’ there was a comparison between the IT and the railroad business, where we got into the Gold Rush of railroads and overbuilt infrastructure. At some point you didn’t need any more tracks, and the railroad business disappeared.

The one thing they forgot to mention is that the IT businessespecially an enterprise-applications businessreflects the business processes and the best practices in the business. And those keep changing all the while. It’s as if you have a train, but it takes a different route every year or so.

That’s the big shift that is happening. We have to assume that the business will change every year, two years, three years, and we have to build a track that knows how to move itself. We’re in the transportation business.

The first thing we said is, ‘Give me a platform where I can build thingsand reconnect them on the flyas I go through my new strategy, my new plan.’ Second, we went to the applications guys and said, ‘Service-enable your pieces so I can actually connect them easier. I don’t need to service-enable every time, I want you to do it once. And yes, I know it’s hard and I know it’s expensive, but you’ve got 20,000 customers who are paying for it through their maintenance.’

And then we said, ‘What can I innovate as a result of that, what can we build new that we couldn’t do before, which kind of processes can we do?’ There’s a whole family of end users and roles in the business that are almost ignored. And we’re targeting them now with this innovation.

We looked at the guys who did the repeatable, mundane, transactional business on a day-to-day basis, the guy who puts the data in financials into the GL [General Ledger], the girl who puts the accounts receivable into the accounts payables. What about the strategic knowledge workers in financials? The guys who do analysis of which companies to buy?

We’re shifting from different drivers for why the businesses are building their fabricthe infrastructure. Whereas before it was about management of resources, then it shifted to management of information, [now] we’re shifting into management of time.

The biggest driver is time to change. It could be a small event: Somebody writes me a note, and I need to respond to that note. A customer is calling in and their product is not there. Or an XML message comes in that says, ‘I’m doing an RFP, and I have 30 minutes to respond to a TI or an AMD.’ Can you respond to this in 30 minutes?

It’s beyond identity management. It’s now: Who deals with this event, the systems and the people? And the relationships exist already in the information space. They are the drivers for finding these pieces of information. The first thing I do Is that product in inventory? It’s an exception. Who deals with this exception? What’s the relationship between this product and this customer and the people that I have in my business, and how do I drive that event to resolution within 28 minutes and counting.

And you look at these short eventsthey happen so often in business. We’re dealing with millions of events a day. They propagate and they will create more and more events.

The fundamental engine underneath this I call the business event network. It’s the fundamental engine that drives events at all layers, propagates them and aggregates them.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.