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Courier & Foldable Tablets are Neither Innovative Nor “Different”

courier This is a sad “I’ve told you” moment, as I predicted the death of dual-screen tablets, be it the one by MSI or Microsoft’s Courier, which has just been canceled.  Says Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s VP of corporate communications:

At any given time, across any of our business groups, there are new ideas being investigated, tested, and incubated. It’s in Microsoft’s DNA to continually develop and incubate new technologies to foster productivity and creativity. The “Courier” project is an example of this type of effort and its technologies will be evaluated for use in future Microsoft offerings, but we have no plans to build such a device at this time.

Tech blogs are mourning the innovative, “different” device:

Courier was one of the most innovative concepts out of Redmond in quite some time.

I think dual-screen, foldable tablets are neither innovative nor different.  Well, different from other, truly innovative devices, like the iPad, but not different from good old books.  And therein lies the rub.  Hardware manufacturers rushing to the opportunity to follow Apple thought these tablets are mostly reading devices, so they imitated what we’re all used to: books.

Having two small pages side-by-side is not necessarily the ideal format for reading, it’s just the one we got stuck with for centuries when bound paper was the only way we could record / consume textual information. When we liberate information from paper, there’s no point in replicating the poor paper (book) experience. True innovation means embracing the paradigm-shift, rethinking the basics and maximizing readability, comfort, ability to interact as enabled by the new technology.

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FUD in the House of SaaS – More on Suites

saas myths

Recently I wrote about the evergreen Best-of-breed vs. Integrated All-in-One Suite debate again, arguing:

Call me “old school”, but I also believe in the value of having one tightly integrated system for most business needs, and I believe it’s true not only for large corporations but much smaller businesses.  I don’t have CIO’s to back it up, but that’s exactly the point: I am talking about small businesses that don’t have CIO’s at all – in fact they  likely don’t even have full time IT stuff ( a good reason for SaaS in the first place), so they clearly lack the bandwidth to deal with integration issues and multiple system providers.

It wasn’t just hypothetical speculation, what really prompted my post ( and hence the reference to CIOs) was a study conducted by Brian Sommer who contacted several large corporate CIOs about SaaS implementations, and found that despite improvements in technology, and easy integration by firms like Boomi, Pervasive ..etc, CIOs still prefer to buy an integrated suite of applications and deal with one vendor for most of their needs.   It’s not what we think, it’s what they do – and they are the customers.  Says Brian:

But, customers will do what customers want to do.

Amen. But my post attracted a detailed comment from a PR professional (a fact that took a little digging to discover):

… the Suite approach requires the business to make compromises in areas of the business, and only works if you can run your whole business on that one suite – as soon as you need some other specialist system, or acquire another operation that you need to integrate, you’re in trouble because Suites, by definition, are not designed to make integration easy…

…Force.com essentially brings cloud apps together as a Suite by offering exactly the combination of tight integration, common interface and flexibility. Many businesses can already find everything they need on the platform, even the last critical element required for a serious business system: enterprise-class finance ;-) Many companies, especially smaller ones, don’t need a full ERP suite. They need a handful of critical applications that can grow with them.

Wow… where do I even start?   Perhaps by the only statement I can agree with:

Many companies, especially smaller ones, don’t need a full ERP suite. They need a handful of critical applications that can grow with them.

Yes, of course I agree.  In fact I am a small business myself, and guess what, not only I don’t need ERP, I don’t even need or use a CRM system, or one for business accounting.  The only lightweight business system I use is invoicing (happens to be Zoho Invoice), but frankly, I could get away without it.  Yes, some small businesses will want Accounting, and Accounting only, others will need CRM and nothing else – there are many good choices for them. And yes, FinancialForce.com (which the commenter represents) is great, and we’ve given it ample coverage @ CloudAve.

But that’s where reality ends, and plain old FUD begins. There’s nothing inherent in the “Suite approach” that would prevent customization, integration with additional systems, extension by third party apps.  In fact the key difference between an integrated Suite or discrete  point applications is just how much of the core business they cover natively before  add-ons are required.

And here’s the ultimate irony: I was reading these “ex-cathedra” statements (that’s nicer words for BS) while sitting at NetSuite’s SuiteCloud conference, that was all about working with development partners, releasing a new version of SuiteCloud, the app development and integration platform along with SuiteFlow, a graphical modeling and customization tool, and a bunch of other  announcements all geared to making and maintaining a thriving partner ecosystem, that builds on the core NetSuite functionality and delivers additional value to customers.

In fact the evening before the conference, CEO Zach Nelson spent an hour busting industry myths.  Now look at the slide above: he did not talk about NetSuite specifically, he was advocating Cloud Computing / SaaS in general.  That’s the somewhat usual formula:  myth spread by defenders of the “old model” busted by the innovators – who would have expected the old-time FUD served up by a PR flak for another SaaS provider… :-(

At the conference itself I saw several customers presentations, like that of Campus Villages which replaced 38 instances of MYOB + Intuit MRI with NetSuite OneWorld, including extensions like Nolan Fixed Assets and Electronic Payments, Celigo Smartclient, and are currently evaluating Adaptive Planning.   Those are functions not provided by NetSuite, so guess what – they add third party apps, just like they would to Coda or any other system.

The key criteria for any software company trying to penetrate the SMB market will be vertical industry epxerience, and NetSuite has clearly stated their industry experience is Software and Services – everything else is open to the ecosystem.  Case in point is manufacturing:

NetSuite RootStock MRP

Suites are not customizable?  Just look at  Rootstock, a third-party developer house that created an entire MRP system on the  SuiteCloud platform.  If that’s not living proof of the system’s expandability, then I don’t know what is…

A key difference between the Force.com / Appexchange and NetSuite / SuiteCloud approach is that the former facilitates the creation of any product / utility that you can pick up from a marketplace, while programs developed on SuiteCloude all tie into the NetSuite system very closely – not only on the data but also on the UI level – i.e. the additional business functionality becomes available within the NetSuite UI. In other words they run so smoothly, the fact that parts of the system were written by a 3rd party is hardly transparent to the end user – which is just the way it should be.

So in the end, there is no hard rule that says Suites are inflexible, non-expandable: there only well-written and poorly written Suites, just like well-written and poorly-written point applications.  There will be businesses who only need a few point apps, and should not think of a Suite, and others who will benefit from the All-in-One approach.  It’s their choice.  What they need is honest information, not FUD.

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Are Suites Really Sour? The Best of Breed vs. Integrated Suite Debate.

The evergreen Best-of-breed vs. Integrated All-in-One Suite debate is back again. This will be a somewhat long post, so let’s sit back and start with some entertainment first.

Episode 2, “Suites Are Sour”  is from the mini-series SuiteMates, which I admit I find hilariously entertaining, albeit rather pointless.  Why?  It’s run by supply chain solution provider Kinaxis, but I don’t see much direct benefit to them. I’m reminded the Bill Gates – Seinfeld commercials: what’s the point?  But hey, we’re being entertained:-)

Now, back to those Suites.. are all Suites really Sour?  Fellow Enterprise Irregular Brian Summer clearly does not think so, his money is on the Suites, here’s why:

One of the biggest value drivers behind a customer’s move to SaaS is the reduced internal IT support cost a company has when using SaaS products. In the SaaS world, the vendor maintains the application not the customer. But, in a best of breed SaaS world, the customer is back to maintaining interfaces and integration aspects across a number of (SaaS) applications.

If the argument sounds familiar, it is – it was the same in the good old on-premise world, but much of it holds true in the Cloud, too.  Besides, this isn’t simply Brian’s own opinion, he has conducted a poll of large corporate CIO’s and most expressed strong preference for integrated business solutions, a.k.a.  “one throat to choke” (well, not exactly with those words…).

Call me “old school”, but I also believe in the value of having one tightly integrated system for most business needs, and I believe it’s true not only for large corporations but much smaller businesses.  I don’t have CIO’s to back it up, but that’s exactly the point: I am talking about small businesses that don’t have CIO’s at all – in fact they  likely don’t even have full time IT stuff ( a good reason for SaaS in the first place), so they clearly lack the bandwidth to deal with integration issues and multiple system providers.

This is not a popular view, after all the Millenial World View is all about open standards and APIs where best-of-breed cloud services that can seamlessly integrate and work together well.  I’m all for innovation, and hope we will get there one day – but for now the existing examples are all one-off, individual integrations between specific systems, or at best, ecosystem “satellites” centered around force.com, the Google Apps Marketplace and the like.  These are great solutions, but not enough to run a complete business on them.  In the meantime businesses are looking for available (Cloud-based) solutions NOW.  So yes,  I admit, my view is less visionary, more constrained by market realities today.

Brian cites WorkDay as a potential SaaS Suite provider: they have the right DNA, coming from the Founder who built once-successful PeopleSoft, and they are building truly Millenial Software from the grounds up as Phil Wainwright eloquently points out – but for now they still have a Human Resources / Finance focus only.  Far from a complete solution, just like the other successful SaaS players in the Enterprise arena, like SuccessFactors, RightNow, ServiceNow, and the like.

Yes, I hear you… I missed a big name: Salesforce.com, the GrandDaddy of SaaS or the Cloud or whatever the next fashionable name will be.  An amazingly successful company, and true innovators – having started as CRM company, moving on to as Platform provider, and who knows, tomorrow it may be a Media company? :-)  As long as the keep on moving to hot new areas, always picking the low-hanging fruit, the company and it’s stock price will remain hot.  Again, a great company from an Investor’s point of view.  Just not a Complete Business Solution.

One and a half SaaS Suite players

I can count the number of SaaS Business Suites that actually reached significant traction on one hand.  In fact the exact number is 1.5.  Yes, one and a half – and for now they mostly cater for the SMB segment, with undeniable ambitions to “grow up”.

netsuite The “One” in  that 1.5 is NetSuite.  Having started as NetLedger, the company has developed an integrated All-in-One solution, encompassing ERP, CRM, e-Commerce .. you name it.  Those acronyms are becoming quite useless – in that respect I agree with Dennis Howlett who says we should “dump the  disciplines formerly known as CRM/SCRM/SCM/ERP/3PL/HR/HCM/E2.0….etc” – hence I stick to the term All-in-One. Or Business Suite:-)  It’s been a long (and winding?) road for NetSuite: developing a full suite of apps you can run a business on is by far more complex than throwing out point applications.

The company also learned the hard way that with business complexity (please note, I am not talking about Software, but Business complexity) comes a more difficult, stretched out sales process.  The fact is, as much as I am a fan of the click-to-try-click-to-buy pull model, the more business areas (and stakeholders) are involved, the less feasible the fully pull model becomes.  A Business Suite is not something you simply pick up from an App Store:-)
So NetSuite experimented with more direct sales model first, gradually building towards a more channel-based model, to the recently announced SP100 program in which partner VARs get the entire first year subscription revenue.  Along the way they grew functional richness as well as market penetration, to the point that they often compete with Enterprise giant SAP directly.  Now, let’s quickly qualify that: NetSuite is not comparable to the SAP Business Suite, but it is often an ideal satellite solution for smaller divisions of large companies, many of which just got acquired and are facing the choice of a long SAP implementation vs. a SaaS solution from NetSuite (see Ray Wang’s post on two-tier ERP strategy)

I should probably mention that way back, before their IPO and the fame that came with it (from the times of NetWho?) I was an early NetSuite customer, picking it over the market leading CRM (and I mean that as a stock symbol), simply because it had a better process flow, even for Sales, which I was heading at the time. (Yes, we got p***ed learning we’d have to create Sales Orders outside the other system, even though we had quotes in the system, only to come back and re-enter the data manually).  NetSuite was simply a better CRM system, even before considering other business areas.

Parallel to our NetSuite implementation we introduced a Wiki, JotSpot, which just launched in those days (since acquired by Google) and soon we realized a lot of the support information for Sales could either reside in NetSuite or in the Wiki.  This has been bugging me ever since:

Why do structured, process-oriented systems and unstructured  collaboration tools live in different worlds?

Like I’ve said, I’m all for Suites, but the true Suite in my definition includes integrated collaboration and communication tools – I’m still waiting for that … perhaps not for long :-)

Now, if NetSuite was the “one”, who is the “half”?   It’s SAP’s very capable, but dormant Business ByDesign – which may just come to life later this year.  But I’ve been torturing you long enough, so let’s leave that to another discussion.

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Crunchies 2008: Whatever Happened to Startups?

There were two Golden Globes ceremonies this weekend: one for movies, and one for Technology.  The latter, the Crunchies took place in San Francisco

At the first Crunchies I asked: whatever happened to business software?

This year the question is: whatever happened to startups?

Continue reading

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Nokia? Forget it …Kim Basinger’s Lifeline Would be an iPhone Today.

The 2004 thriller Cellular features three stars: Kim Basinger, Chris Evans, and a Nokia 6660 video-phone. The kidnapped school-teacher played by Kim Basinger pieces together a broken phone and reaches a random dude, Ryan (Chris Evans) on cell-phone – this call literally becomes her lifeline.

Ryan effortlessly uses his Nokia miracle-phone in the middle of a wild race in his (stolen) Porsche, even produces the video evidence that will put the bad guys away at the Happy End.

But are Nokia phones really so easy to use in real life?   Read on to find out

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Finally Some Common Sense: Business Methods Not Patentable

Reuters reports:

A U.S. patent appeals court ruled on Thursday that business methods, such as Amazon.com Inc’s  one-click to buy goods on the Internet, cannot be patented.

This is great news for innovation.  Why?   I leave the analysis to Techdirt’s supersmart Mike Masnick: Court Greatly Limits Software And Business Method Patents

(Cross-posted from CloudAve)

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Come to Defrag

Next week I’ll be in Denver, attending Defrag, a boutique, intellectual, intense, very participatory conference.  I’m attending despite the fact that I’ve cut down on conference attendance, not because of the current economic turmoil, but largely due to burnout.  After a while they just all feel the same: empty session rooms, bored exhibitors, people just enjoying ad-hoc hallway conversations.  But there is something intriguing about Defrag: friends and smart minds I respect keep on tweeting about Defrag, and the agenda just looks exciting.

  • I’ve always enjoyed reading Paul Kedrosky, whose posts deliver the punch in just a few words – or an image.  I’ve never met him, so I’m looking forward to his keynote.
  • Howard Lindzon’s keynote, titled It’s Always a Good Time to Start a Web Business will no doubt have a very special meaning in the current economic situation.
  • I’m really, really looking forward to the next keynote, Getting Into the Flow Applications – a subject I somewhat touched upon, and likely will re-visit before heading to the conference.
  • The first breakout session will be a huge dilemma: I literally should split myself in two halves, I badly want to attend both Dis (and Re)-aggregating the Web with Disqus, Intense Debate and my6sense, but I can’t miss Re-imagining the metaphors behind collaborative tools with Atlassian, Mindtouch, Liquid Planner, One Place either.  (Update: now I really can’t miss it, as I’ll be moderating this session.)

I could go on, but I’ve just realized I’d literally have to duplicate the entire Agenda here.  Have I just discovered Defrag’s secret sauce?   Conferences are never about sessions, it’s all about the ad-hoc networking, even lobbycon-ing – yet I find myself wanting to attend most sessions, in fact two of them in most of the breakouts.  Defrag promises amazing intellectual content, and if I just follow Twitter, an extraordinary group of innovators plan to attend. From what I hear, this is the conference where the attendees participate just as much as the speakers.

Do yourself a favor, check out the Agenda, read Eric’s 10 reasons to come to Defrag and register. (Use discount code “zoli1” to receive $300 off).

Update: Microsoft’s PDC is in full force today, and guess what, the conference wi-fi is failing.  This seems to be the fate of all conferences, including ironically Web 2.0 Expo.  The only exception I’ve seen so far is the Office 2.0 Conference, which teamed up with Swisscom to build rock-solid wi-fi.  What is less known though, that they got the tip and contacts from Defrag organizer Eric Norlin.  Yes, Defrag, working with Swisscom was the first conference to provide industrial-strength, reliable wi-fi throughout the entire site, including rooms in the conference hotel, the Hyatt Regency.  So if you come to Defrag, you’ll be connected 24/7.  (OK, just 24/2: Nov 3-4thsmile_wink)