Sanjay Poonen brings his extensive executive history to a new analytics role at SAP.Sanjay Poonen has always seized challenges where he has found them, and he apparently has encountered no shortage of opportunities. Today, as the newly minted SVP and general manager of analytics at SAP, the youthful executive continues to build on an already impressive resume. A first-generation immigrant from Bangalore, India, Poonen came to America to study at Dartmouth and eventually earned his MBA from Harvard Business School. Along the way, he parlayed his education and background into a career that spans several well-known software corporations. From Microsoft, where he worked on early iterations of the Exchange platform, Poonen took a strategy role at Taligent, (spun off by Apple and IBM) where he learned, he says, "The lessons of a startup with great talent and a less-than-clear market focus." He went on to become one of the founders of AlphaBlox, which was, in turn, bought by IBM. Poonen gained greater visibility in his three years at Informatica, where he rose to become SVP of worldwide marketing. Following two years at VERITAS, where he witnessed the largest software merger in history, Poonen was drawn back to the data business, which he professes to be his calling. Just eight weeks into his tenure at SAP, DM Review editorial director Jim Ericson sat down for a chat with the well-traveled executive.

DMR: How did all of your experiences lead you to decide to join SAP?
SP: In part, I thought back to my experience at Informatica. Although we were on the pioneering edge and pushing what I believe was a state-of-the-art product for analytics, we just did not have the go-to-market presence that a larger company like SAP has today. Although we built a good product, if large companies like SAP got their act together, it was going to be very, very hard for the standalone players in analytics, largely because analytics is too tied to the core business process. It can't be treated as a bolt-on application. So, it was the inflection point of the technology at SAP becoming more mature, and my sense that SAP could win by what I call mass and class. By "mass," I mean the weight of our customers and our 60 percent market share. By "class," I mean two things, the first being the products and technology SAP began to develop in the last two or three years that were starting to become best of breed in many areas. The other part of the class aspect was the team that Leo [Apotheker] and Shai [Agassi] had developed, with Leo on the sales side and Shai on the product side. This was also attracting many of the most talented industry people I had met from Siebel, PeopleSoft, Oracle and others. We have got a big plan ahead of us, and I'm happy to play a part in orchestrating it.

DMR: Yet a large percentage of your customers have business intelligence programs and they're probably not using SAP tools. While transactional data has always been core to SAP, the company is not known for this kind of operational intelligence.
SP: I think that's a fair statement. Quite honestly, decision support has been around since the 70s, and business intelligence and their tools vendors have been around since the 90s because transactional vendors have been focused on getting the core infrastructure right. As the platform has matured, it is really about customer choice now. We're finding that thousands of our customers have adopted the BI stack and are starting to look at our technologies progressively, in many layers, from the bottom up. Thousands of these customers have deployed layers of the NetWeaver BI stack, whether it's BW [Business Warehouse] or our front-end BI tools. In some cases they're using third-party BI tools. But especially with some of the new analytics we have rolled out in the last year, we're finding customers like Whirlpool saying, "This could be the way in which we deploy." There will also be places where people do use third-party BI tools, and that's a market we're looking to target more and more.

DMR: Well, a lot of businesses seem to have one of everything already: Crystal Reports, Business Objects, Cognos and so forth. Do you see your customers wanting to consolidate and standardize, or do they think they'll need a variety of tools?
SP: I absolutely believe they want standardization, for a couple of reasons. First, there is going to be vendor consolidation. The CIO can't manage many different vendors in a way that lets him get a consolidated purchase process from one vendor in different layers of the stack. The second reason is that over time the integration between different layers of technology gets more and more complex with multiple vendors. Part of the reason we have our business process platform, NetWeaver, and our application story and then applications on top of that is because we seek to integrate those very tightly for the customer. Not just in a horizontal function like HR, but also in the 28-plus verticals we specialize in. Some of that we'll build, and it's also a real opportunity for partners to build best-of-breed vertical applications for micro-niche markets that we'll never target. But the core aspects of the stack that support BI and analytics will be a more important place where SAP plays in almost every layer.

DMR: Some of SAP's main competitors are also moving into the analytic application business. What does this tell us?
SP: One thing it tells us is that business intelligence is becoming much more pervasive and that we are in the first wave of making these technologies much more usable. We have done a disservice by inventing a whole bunch of acronyms: OLAP, BPM, BI, you name it. Products need to be understood by people who are not in the technology industry, people who care to look at metrics as part of their day-to-day life. If they're driving and using GPS, they want metrics to understand their fastest route from point A to point B. If they're booking travel, they want to know what is most efficient and least costly. Those are metrics and analytics, yes, but ease of use is extremely important. Second, do you believe that analytics are fundamentally going to be embedded in business processes? There are very few vendors who can make those two premises possible. One vendor that can make this powerful on the front end is Microsoft, and we're working with them. The other premise is [supported by] a vendor with a strong presence in the core business process. We have 60 percent share in the core business process for finance, HR, sales and so on. What we have to do as a company is make analytics a seamless part of people's everyday business-making decisions, whether it's analyzing spend or setting up a travel itinerary.

DMR: We heard the Duet deal with Microsoft mentioned several times at your Sapphire conference. What are your hopes for that agreement?
SP: I think we need more partners, and having Microsoft, Adobe and IBM on our side is all goodness. You combine that with customer choice. Office is the prevalent desktop presence for the majority of people who use Outlook and Excel for a combination of analysis and collaboration. A number of our customers have been very excited about the ability to have an Office-like interface for some of their common SAP transactions. In my previous positions where SAP or Oracle wasn't used on the back end, when I'd schedule a day off, I'd go to a separate Web site, schedule my day off, route an email to my manager who approved it and sent it back to the Web site. All this should be done within Outlook, where I can block out my calendar and my colleagues can see it. I should add that there will be many other situations where people will want to use the Web. When you create a portal with a dashboard of key performance metrics in a balanced scorecard, you're probably not going to use Excel because that's probably too much detail. So again, it's about customer choice. Roughly, I'd say 70 to 80 percent of the context of analytics will be on the Web, and 10 to 20 percent will probably be within Excel. Adobe is another company we're working with, and flash technology is really a nice pioneering way to get sizzle on the front end of our charts and make use of interactive forums.

DMR: What do you find interesting in the market today?
SP: We have many exciting developments at SAP right now, including our BI Accelerator appliance, which greatly improves data performance using search and other types of technology, and our new governance, risk and compliance practice. But I will finish with another example of how I think analytics delivered in a simple interface is going to change so many things. Think of using an interface that looks like an recommendation engine, but is backed by some very sophisticated data mining or other technology to find an anomaly in your spend or some other issue. Part of it is search, part is process. I watch my nephews play SimCity and wonder, how is a six- or an eight-year-old going to build this? But they actually simulate their way to build cities with very fancy rules. You negotiate with a city planner, and elsewhere a fire sprouts up and you've got to take action, make sophisticated choices. We've got to make analytics as simple as the SimCity experience is to a kid, so people can navigate through their decisions on a day-to-day basis in the context of a process they don't even think of as analytics. It is there; it is embedded into the business process for a HR manager or a supply chain manager. They see a few metrics and get a few suggestions, they act and go on with their life. That's how mainstream we're seeking to make it.  

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