Leo Apotheker’s selection as Hewlett-Packard’s CEO is widely seen as a sign that software is strategically important to the very biggest technology players. Some people at software provider SAP, his former employer, say the high-profile hire will make their company particularly influential.
“We see it as a force multiplier for us,” says Bill McDermott, SAP’s co-chief executive.
The argument goes something like this: many companies sell computer hardware, software or services, or some combination of the three. But very few companies offer the business applications that are most critical to customers, tied to many years of their transaction data.
SAP–whose programs manage functions like finance, human resources and production planning–is one who does. So does Oracle, its arch-rival, which has been snapping up application providers and has now branched into hardware following the recent purchase of Sun Microsystems.
Oracle has chosen a different path, with an end-to-end stack” of software and hardware, McDermott says. “They’ve chosen to go it alone.”
H-P, though it has acquired some software businesses, does not offer a complete stack of applications. It has long relied on partnerships with application vendors like SAP, and the threat from Oracle will make it more important than ever for H-P to remain close to the German software company, McDermott says.
Apotheker knows all this very well, the SAP executive adds, and is a firm believer in an “open” ecosystem of such partnerships. “His open ecosystem is his best strategy,” McDermott says.
Not surprisingly, McDermott’s view of Apotheker is the polar opposite of that of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who criticized the appointment in an email to the Wall Street Journal. McDermott acknowledges that Apotheker’s stint as SAP’s sole CEO was short, ending early this year after seven months. “At that time our board felt they needed a new generation of leadership,” he says.
But that does not undermine Apotheker’s experience or credibility, McDermott contends. “He’s a very seasoned information-technology executive,” he says.
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