Large Enterprise On Demand comes to SAP

Most of my 2007 was spent working on the foundation of SAP’s large enterprise on demand strategy, so it was gratifying to that John Wookey was brought on to lead the effort.  His mission will be to organize SAP’s on-demand product road map for large enterprise customers under a single strategy.  It is always nice to see something concrete come out of one’s work!

I had heard the rumors for a while, but confirmation just came last week.  Josh Greenbaum’s take (here) is as good as any I’ve seen.  I like that he redirects folks away from the technical challenges of the cloud — which are real, but trivial (in the technical sense of “hard, but knowable and solvable”).  My take parallels Josh’s: the product portfolio challenges will be the hard bits.

The most telling section of Josh’s piece has nothing to do with On Demand/SaaS per se.  For me, the Wookey “acquisition” is a signal about SAP’s optimism about the future.  The current cost-control measures get the headlines, but:

SAP clearly sees that there’s no time like the present to invest in the future, and bringing John Wookey on board is a remarkable vote for future success that SAP is willing to make at what otherwise might look like a pretty bleak hour for the global economy. 

This downturn’s test for SaaS/On Demand

This almost-inevitable downturn will answer one of the open questions about SaaS/On Demand: How “recession-proof” is Saas, really?   Already, an number of SaaS vendors have seen their forecasts taken down, just like normal enterprise vendors (here and here, for example). 

Of course, many still believe that SaaS is recession-proof (see Jeff Kaplan posts and comments here and here).  I certainly don’t believe that as a blanket statement.  In fact, I believe that on demand vendors that focus on edge processes will be in deep trouble.   That’s because one of the benefits of SaaS to customers is the ability to stop consuming whenever they like — and edge applications will get stopped first. 

It is funny how we don’t hear about the benefits of “consumable” services now that consumability doesn’t exactly match the “SaaS is immune” narrative.  Per my earlier rants on this topic (here and here):

The ease with with one can consume services — which certainly does promote usage — is matched by the relative ease with which one can stop consuming services.  If one can get in easily, one can get out easily…. Also, trying to mitigate that risk by locking-in revenue with longer subscription periods sounds good, but it makes SaaS/On Demand too strongly resemble an On Premise relationship.

That last sentence is one example of the On Demand catch-22: as SaaS gets more embedded in the enterprise core, the more it behaves like on premise (e.g., SFDC’s lengthening sales cycles). 

Maybe Harry Debes isn’t so crazy after all (here and here)!

On Demand — is it just “one damned thing after another?”

The struggles of on demand make that old Churchill chestnut seem appropriate.  Especially since they’ve made it to Business Week (here), which should be a buy signal according to my “Business Week Reverse Lock” theory.  It is a Sarah Lacy piece, so I figure that it has to be somewhat plugged-in to the Valley’s, ummm… wisdom.  And I sure have my doubts that on demand/SaaS will “immamentize the eschaton” as well (here, here, here). 

However, while this news isn’t “news”, there was one passage that struck me as telling:

Not every startup has the patience—or funding—to stick on demand out for 10 years and $100 million-plus in sales. Those mid-slog are feeling it acutely.  [Bruce} Richardson {of AMR] says he increasingly hears about “founder fatigue,” entrepreneurs being ground down by the endless travel and ever-ballooning marketing costs. It’s worse for the publicly traded companies constantly under Wall Street’s what-have-you-done-for-me-lately scrutiny.

An “aha” moment (for me at least).  How many entrepreneurs — never mind SV folks — have the patience for a ten year “Long March“?  On demand places such a premium on execution that it seems unlikely that the very same “swaggering, elephant hunter-style salesmen [who] would drive up in their gleaming BMWs” could wait out on demand’s growing pains.  No wonder they’re fatigued…

Your Platform-as-a-Service Racing Form

Well, not really, but Charles has next best thing: a strong post Handicapping PaaS.  If you’re into noodling about the future of the on-demand “great game,” it is worth a close read. 

Go to the comments as well, some good back-and-forth as well as my take (comment five).

SaaS/On Demand not immune to the downturn

Per Joe Panettieri’s article (here), I’ve never agreed with analysts who believe that the SaaS/On Demand players would somehow be recession-proof (read my earlier rant here).  There’s a lot about the business model that’s compelling, but not this.

The ease with with one can consume services — which certainly does promote usage — is matched by the relative ease with which one can stop consuming services.  If one can get in easy easily, one can get out easy easily (sure, there are caveats, especially if one has been hooked for a while).  Also, trying to mitigate that risk by locking-in revenue with longer subscription periods sounds good, but it makes SaaS/On Demand too strongly resemble an On Premise relationship.

I agree with Joe that this period will shake out the SaaS/On Demand players.  Those who don’t have a truly “sticky” value proposition will be gone or acquired.

Enterprise SW value, complexity, and R&D

Dennis Howlett’s extended response (here) to Vinnie Mirchandani’s post demanding more simplicity — or begging Steve Jobs to find it — in enterprise apps (here).  Dennis effectively boils down Vinnie’s argument to this:

Why is it that despite all the interest in SaaS and Enterprise 2.0 that the industry offers so very little apparent bang per buck for business as a whole?

Way too much to comment on comprehensively, but here are three:

  1. Behind the simplicity of iTunes lies the complexity of SAP ERP.   Every time you hit iTunes, you’re hitting SAP ERP.  Tell me again that the iTunes/iPhone model would work without ERP and that Apple’s not getting value out of its investment. 
  2. Enterprise software is modeling a business in real-time — a non-trivial, complex task that evolves in time.  Per Dennis’s comment about the process approach, once you try to take enterprise SW beyond implementing functions you’ve gotten into the business process management business whether you like it or not.
  3. Brian Sommer‘s comment is spot on: modern portfolio management is just getting introduced to the SW business.  Perhaps it should be a bit more ruthless.  Vampire/zombie projects, rampant cross-subsidization, and derivative products litter the R&D landscape in both commercial and in-house software development. 

Platform as a Service (PaaS) and complexity

When discussing the emerging complexity topic, we assume that initiatives will have to manage “platform<>component” relationships.  In other words, we will have to lead the construction/upgrade of a platform and lead the construction of components that plug into the platform.

Platform as a Service (PaaS) turns this assumption on its head.  Larry Dignan posts on an interview with Bill Appleton, CTO of DreamFactory (here).  Appleton looks at cloud platforms less as technical toolboxes and more as distribution channels:

There are a lot of differences in what they do, but there are also different audiences. We look at four main issues: How viral is the platform? How open is the platform for new users and building new apps? What’s the pricing model? And what is the anchor tenant of the platform. What will bring people there?” says Appleton.

These factors imply that instead of having one platform<>many application; it will be multiple platforms<>one application.  That implication is explicit in Appleton’s mind:

A company that solely makes “cloudware,” DreamFactory’s term of choice, has to be available on multiple clouds. “We look to publish the application widely,” says Appleton.

 

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