Friday, May 08, 2015

Moving Forward with SAP PowerBuilder

Dirk Boessmann, Senior Vice President for Mobile Development of SAP, spoke at the North Carolina PowerBuilder User Group Meeting on May 8th, 2015 in a talk entitled "Moving Forward with SAP PowerBuilder".  He was already in the US for the Sapphire Conference (May 5th to 7th) and actually had to miss the special event at that conference (a JLo concert) in order to make the user group meeting.

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Mr. Boessmann indicated that he became responsible for PowerBuilder in the beginning of 2014.  Since his entire background was in mobility he didn't want to lecture us on what PowerBuilder needs.  He needed a discovery phase as he thought PowerBuilder was in maintenance mode.  He thought something was wrong but didn't know the product and so didn't know what.

When he did his discovery he found that SAP had tried internally to do a lot with PowerBuilder, but the things that had been attempted were inappropriate.   He found that the installed base was so large that it doesn't make sense to do a disruptive change.  He talked to Vishal Sikka and Micheal Reh (both now at Infosys) about what happened.  He concluded that PowerBuilder is a solid technology and meets SAP's current emphasis on 'run simple'.

He looked into the PowerBuilder eco-system to determine how attached people are to the product.  He found that we had a good ecosystem.  He looked into the customer base.  Customers reached out to him to let him know that they have invested heavily in it, had mission critical applications running on it and that the future of their companies were dependent on it.

He then went into a scratch your head phase to find a solution.  They needed a solution that would survive in a company like SAP that reorganizes and changes focus.  The plan required a dedicated and focused team within SAP.  It also needs a partner who has PowerBuilder at its core.  Then you talk to a lot of lawyers.

Yesterday (May 7th, 2015) the SAP board signed a memorandum of understanding with Appeon to allow Appeon to access the PowerBuilder source code and sell the product.  However, SAP will remain involved.  It will be Appeon and SAP in partnership.  The engineering groups have already started information transfer.

At that point, Mr. Boessmann invited Armeen Mazda of Appeon to join him at the podium.  Armeen noted that Sybase fumbled with its attempt to modernize it.  Appeon has a large staff of engineers available to work on the product and effectively modernize it.

There was then a Q&A session:

Q:  Who will retain IP and how long will the transfer take?
A:  It's an outbound OEM contract.  SAP retains IP, but Appeon is in control and in charge of development and distribution.

Q:  How long will it take?  We are waiting for something new.  We've been waiting 5 years.
A:  They are working in parallel: engineering work going on even while contracts are being finalized.  Contracts will take an additional few months.

Q:  Want to make sure that SAP stands behind the product.  In particular, putting it on the SAP price list.
A:  Indicates that we really don't want it on the price list because it actually hampers what Appeon can do, and would take an additional year to get the necessary clearance.

Q:  What about EAServer?
A:  They are looking to extended engineering support to 2017 and providing a migration path to something else.

Q:  What about marketing?
A:  SAP really doesn't market products; it only markets brand or value.  SAP will be in contact with customers to reassure them that they are behind the product.  Armeen suggested that we're the best marketing for the product.  The best marketing is an enthused user base.  They need to focus on getting customers excited about new features in the product and then we'll carry the message.

Q:  What about support?
A:  Still working on details, but preference would be to have Appeon handle support calls.

Q:  Wondering if Appeon and PowerBuilder would be bundled.
A:  Armeen indicated that they haven't decided quite how to handle it.

Q:  Want to make sure that new features are added into PowerBuilder itself and not require Appeon add-on.
A:  Armeen agreed that there would be a roadmap for PowerBuilder itself and the new features would be in just PowerBuilder.

Q:  Will it be called SAP PowerBuilder or Appeon PowerBuilder?
A:  Not sure yet.

Q:  Asked about capital investment.
A:  SAP will not be funding Appeon.  Appeon has a large parent company and a large customer base that can fund the product.

Comment:  Indicated that having SAP in the name is important for marketing to large companies.

Comment:  Want to make sure that PowerBuilder continues to provide a Windows desktop deployment option.

Comment:  Suggested that maintenance fees paid over the last 5 years be given to Appeon for developing that version.

Comment:  One of the issues that companies face is a lack of PowerBuilder developers.

Q:  Did SAP consider open sourcing PowerBuilder?
A:  SAP looked at it and didn't believe that it would be successful in the long run.

Q:  What might be in the next version of PowerBuilder?
A:  SAP indicated that Appeon is in the driver's seat.  SAP only consults.  That's why you don't want PowerBuilder on SAP price list and may not want name to be "SAP PowerBuilder", because that restricts the ability to discuss roadmaps.  If it isn't, Appeon can talk more openly about what they are planning to do with the product.

Q:  Who controls pricing?
A:  Not decided yet, but it could be Appeon.

Q:  What about PowerBuilder.Net?
A:  Armeen indicated that he was not convinced it has a large amount of adoption.  Want customers to indicate who needs it.  .Net has to be addressed, but it might not be through the PowerBuilder.Net IDE.

Q:  What about SQL Anywhere?
A:  SQL Anywhere is an official SAP product and they have big plans for it.

Q:  What about a PowerBuilder book?
A:  Not sure there is really a market for books anymore, more focused on blogs and online videos.

Q:  What about the PowerBuilder Developer Center in SCN?
A:  It will stay in place.

Q:  Question about whether Appeon is big enough and financially stable enough to handle it.
A: Appeon currently has 100 people.  Downsized from 200+ in 2007, and has been cash flow positive since the downsizing.

Q:  What about support plan payments?
A:  Not finalized yet.

Q:  Will Appeon and SAP be doing revenue sharing?
A:   Not finalized yet.

Armeen asked people to go to www.appeon.com/future to indicate what they want to see in future versions of PowerBuilder.

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