A few weeks ago, I made some people at Lawson unhappy, because I criticized their inscrutable demo of a new interface and search tool. (See the post, below.) I have to admit that my irritation level with what they were doing was pretty high, since they had not invited me to their conference, and their virtual sessions for analysts were abysmal.

The basic point of the piece, though, had nothing to do with my irritation. Basically, Lawson had demoed something that purported to make a big difference to customers. But you couldn’t actually tell whether it would make a difference or not. I argued that these days, for middle-aged apps, the burden of proof is on the vendor. They can’t just show us something that you can’t even make out and then expect us to stand up and cheer. They have to make what they’re doing persuasive.

Now this point applies to every vendor of middle-aged apps, not just Lawson. Whether you are Oracle, SAP, Infor, Epicor, Dynamics, or Lawson, you can’t just wave your hands, announce that you’ve created something awesome, and leave the audience befuddled about whether what you’ve got is worth anything at all. If you have something great, prove it.

Isn’t this just common sense? When there really was a lot of new stuff you could do with these apps, just showing it off really did garner some deserved oohs and ahhs. But those days are over. These are commodity products; for the most part, their technology is well behind the curve. To get an ooh and an ahh, you have to show that something about what you’ve been doing for ten or fifteen years has really changed.

I happened to pick Lawson to make this point, but it could just as easily have been SAP. It’s just
that their user conference came later.

So now, turnabout’s fair play. Let me show you how this argument applies to SAP.

First, some context. For the past three months, SAP has been making a BIG deal over the release of Business Suite 7, its “new” software package which for the first time gave all the latest software at SAP the same version number. (Until the announcement, the main part of the suite was called ECC 6.0, and the version that was relabeled 7.0 was ECC 6.0 EhP 4, which stood for enhancement pack 4.)

Now I admit, I’m not exactly being fair. That wasn’t quite all there was to Business Suite 7. Business Suite 7, SAP told us, changed the model for delivering software, because in Business Suite 7, you would be able to add SAP software to your current installation at a click of a button. No more sending for disks or downloads or whatever. If you needed any piece of software, you could look at the menu in your administration panel, select what you needed, and there it would be.

In an earlier age, that would have been “something amazing,” as Auden put it. These days, however, the idea is pretty familiar. The SaaS vendors do this routinely, more or less, and so do most consumer apps. So you kind of want to see just what this big, big, big advance really amounts to.

At the original announcement, to which I was also not invited, you couldn’t tell anything about what they were providing. (The broadcast was even worse than Lawson’s.) At Sapphire, though, we got a chance to see it. The inimitable Ian Kimbell, a man I greatly admire (though I must confess I can well imagine him playing Uriah Heep in some amateur theatricals in the Midlands, without a change of costume), gave us a demo.

The context was the Jim Hagemann Snabe/Bill McDermott keynote, which was devoted to product news. In the demo, which you can view yourself here