SAP’s shift to cloud may just be paying off

SAP’s cloud ambitions are certainly well-voiced, but the business software giant’s success in this realm is no sure thing. So, while it’s still early days, it’s heartening to see the shift making what looks like a positive impact on the German firm’s financials.

On Monday SAP reported a third-quarter adjusted operating profit of €1.3 billion ($1.8 billion), up 5 percent on the third quarter of 2012. That’s despite a 5 percent fall in income from SAP’s traditional software license business, down from €1.026 billion to €0.977 billion – a drop that was, you guessed it, offset by a 6 percent rise in software and cloud subscriptions (up from €1.106 billion to €1.174 billion).

Now, that 6 percent rise is actually understated – at least from the perspective of those watching for signs of cloud success – because it takes into account the strong euro. Take that out of the equation, and SAP’s cloud revenue was actually up 13 percent year-on-year, partly reflecting the fact that SAP now claims to have 33 million cloud users, “the largest subscriber base in the cloud market.” And again, if we were talking constant currencies, the overall operating profit would have been up 15 percent, not 5.

SAP’s in-memory HANA platform also seems to be doing just fine, up 79 percent to €149 million for the quarter (or 90 percent if you adjust for that pesky currency issue). As for SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud, “customers are showing strong interest.” Just as well — it also emerged on the weekend that SAP was scaling down development for its Business ByDesign suite, a NetSuite rival which could be described as the firm’s earlier, borderline-disastrous stab at the cloud thing.

All in all, SAP’s shares were up around 7.5 percent at the time of writing. And the almighty analysts are happy as they had been expecting a profit drop. Where might they have got that idea? As Oracle(s orcl) and IBM(s ibm)‘s recent results demonstrate, the shift to the cloud can hurt if you lose more than you gain – perhaps SAP might buck that trend.