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Is SaaS Dead? No. Neither is Debate.

cemeteryWe’ve had email dead, resumes dead, wikis dead themes, now it’s apparently time for the SaaS is Dead meme, thanks to a recently published Gartner report.   My favorite quote from the report:

SaaS is not a panacea, and companies need to evaluate and understand the trade-offs that SaaS presents

Indeed. Here’s another quote from Gartner VP Rob Desisto:

If you’re a small business with no IT staff then the math is a lot easier. You need to buy the hardware. With a larger company, the math doesn’t always work out in favor of SaaS.

Now, where have I heard that before?  Wait… I said it, 4 years ago:

…While it’s easy to declare that for small businesses without their own IT resources there is no better option than SaaS, there is no clear “winner” for large corporations. There shouldn’t be. This is not religion; it should be business decisions that these organizations have to make individually. Analysts fighting the SaaS vs. On-premise war often forget that software exist to resolve business problems. As Charles so eloquently points out, it’s the complexity of these business processes, the need for customization, the number of user seats..etc that matters, and as we move up on this scale, increasingly “traditional” Enterprise Software is the answer. I happen to believe that eventually SaaS will grow up to meet those requirements, but am not going to guess how many years it will take. In the meantime the SaaS-fans (admittedly I am one) can claim that SaaS is the future – but that does not mean Enterprise Software is dead.

OK, ego trip done, let’s look at some of the specific points that sparked a debate between Krish  @ CloudAve and Ben Kepes:

The TCO Myth

Gartner argues that long term TCO of on-premise software can be lower for businesses that don’t upgrade often. Krish’s counterpoint is that businesses that stay on obsolete versions of their systems will fall behind competitors.  Ben argues that many businesses are simply satisfied with their current system functionality and would derive little value from upgrades (well he refers to moving to SaaS, but that was not the original point by Gartner).

My take: sorry guys, it’s not so black-and-white.  Yes, many businesses avoid software upgrades like the plague, but not necessary because they would not benefit from it: it’s all about avoiding the major cost and business disruption traditional Enterprise Software upgrades bring about. (As a background, I spent the 90’s selling and implementing SAP solutions. I still chuckle when I hear there are SAP consulting teams at my 1990-93 clients: the upgrade cycle never ends)

SaaS typically comes with more subtle and more frequent updates that don’t disrupt business.  Now, let’s be fair: the SaaS market is still quite nascent, despite the fact that Gartner is ready to bury it. Our experience is with seemless Google and Zoho upgrades, or not-so-seamless but still not disruptive Salesforce.com, NetSuite ..etc upgrades.  There is still nothing on the same magnitude of a SAP or Oracle Enterprise Suite, so we really do not have a lot of realistic comparison on that level…

For further details I suggest Ray Wang’s excellent piece on How To Compare Total Ownership Costs.

The Pay as You Use Myth

Gartner says the old enterprise practices are seeping into the SaaS market and we are seeing push for long-term, multi-year deals with upfront payments.

Krish argues that many enterprise customers actually prefer to pay long term to avoid the hassle of monthly billing, while Ben points out the root cause of the issue is SaaS vendors not having the right tools for more granular use-based billing.

Both are right, I don’t even see this a debate (?).  Years ago I had been a NetSuite customer, and was given several choices, with multi-year contract carrying significant discounts.  But still, the plans were mostly seat-based, with no chance to adjust downward and not enough flexibility to account for functions used / not used.   But let me say this: a lot of what we’re saying today is just business decisions, SaaS providers have better technical bakcground to offer very granular, real-usage based pricing for two reasons:

  • They can actually monitor what is being used (unique vs concurrent users, actual functions not just major modules)
  • They can invoice accordingly – the systems are now available, and I think competition will push them t create the business framework.

Coincidentally, NetSuite just announced their integration with Zuora, the billing system for the subscription economy. This is an offering for subscription-based businesses who uses NetSuite – in other words NetSuite’s customer.  Now, what I really wonder about is whether NetSuite will take this opportunity and consider themselves a customer / user of Zuora’s services: i.e. step up the plate and offer true usage-based subscription models – most likely as an alternative to the current ones.

The Shelfware Problem

No, for this to come up as a SaaS-specific problem is just pathetic. Shelfware is as old a concept as Software licencing: it’s the phenomenon of being locked in to more user seats and entire modules you don’t use, often without knowing about it.  Here’s a choice quote from Gartner VP Rob Desisto again, although he used it in another context:

many organizations have CRM already because it was bundled with their ERP licenses

There is nothing inherent in the nature of SaaS that would promote shelfware, in fact as I‘ve just pointed out above, technically SaaS vendors have better ability to monitor actual usage than the major nightmare of software audits in the on-premise world.  There are good initiatives, like RightNow promising to end shelfware, and I trust competition will lead to more of this.

Again, I offer two great pieces on the subject by Ray Wang:

The debate is on – feel free to chime in.

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NetSuite vs SAP … Round #n. A Game Changer?

elephant-flea In my recent Suites post I said there were exactly 1.5 (one and a half) integrated full business solutions (SaaS Suite, SaaS All-In-One, SaaS ERP, SaaS SMB ERP – take your pick or  create a new one) offered as a service.   The one in that equation was NetSuite, and the half is SAP’s Business ByDesign.

The half is getting close to becoming full, bringing the total number of solutions to two.   SAP’s ByD, originally launched in 2007 was a functionally rich solution already at launch – in fact I called it the most complete SaaS Suite not available customers. And therein lies the rub.  Functionally rich, but a phantom product that only a few selected early customers could get their hands on.  And it wasn’t simply a marketing / segmentation blunder as some analyst thought, it was all about architecture: SAP missed out on the economics of multi-tenancy, and realized they could not profitably operate and scale what they referred to as “mega-tenancy” – so they went back re-architecting ByDesign.

The lost 2 1/2 years were a gift to competitor NetSuite, and they milked it every possible way.  SAP announced entry to the SaaS SMB space validated their market, and their own delay was an open invitation to NetSuite. As CEO Zach Nelson said at their recent earnings conference:

I’d like to thank SAP for being our IBM.

NetSuite never shied away from aggressive marketing (I guess that’s the Oracle blood in their veins), starting from pranks like the SAP for the Rest of Us Party during SAPPHIRE 2006 to staging a shootout at the anti-SAP Conference or releasing edgy videos a’la Mac vs Windows.  But the biggest coup, one with definite gains was the Business ByNetsuite program which we covered here:

The aptly named Business ByNetsuite program guarantees at least 50% savings to current SAP R/3 customers relative to  – watch this! – the annual maintenance fees they are now paying to SAP.  Yes, it’s not a price-to-price comparison.  With the perpetual licence model customers pay upfront, but are still forced to pay annual maintenance fees – with SaaS there is only a subscription fee, and now NetSuite proves it can be half of only the maintenance component of traditional software’s TCO.

Yes, NetSuite took deals from SAP and of course amidst all the chest-thumping they did not particularly emphasize the fact that that these were often divisional deals:  smaller divisions of large companies, often replacing legacy systems as a result of an acquisition with the parent company running SAP.  NetSuite even developed  NetSuite-to-SAP connectors for enterprise reporting, fully recognizing they won’t be replacing SAP on the corporate level.

Now of course these were relatively easy wins when NetSuite was the only game in town – and that’s about to change, as SAP is getting ready for General Availability of a new Business ByDesign in July.  And SAP CEO Bill McDermott fired a few salvos over to NetSuite in his announcement, as quoted by Reuters:

McDermott said he believes Business by Design’s sales will be able to quickly surpass those of NetSuite, which last year posted $167 million in revenue.

“When Business by Design is coming at them like a 99-mile-an-hour fastball, let’s see how tough they are,” McDermott said of NetSuite.

Winning against SAP when they had no relevant SaaS offering was one thing, going up against a functionally strong product will be another.  NetSuite is changing tone, comparing the two offerings, as show by this slide I received from NetSuite:

NetSuite SAP

This must be the first time SAP finds themselves on the wrong side of the David vs. Goliath equation (or is it the elephant vs flea?  – but who is the elephant and who is the flea in the long run?).   I have an issue specifically re. the functional shootout, which was rigged at best.

As for the rest of the comparisons, a fair summary is that neither side is a newcomer.   SAP is the granddaddy of business processes with 30 years of experience, but they are new to operating / scaling a cloud environment – something NetSuite has a head start on them.

I have reasons to believe (more on that in another post) ByD will not be a failure this time around, and NetSuite will have to adopt to competing with a real product vs. a phantom.  It will be a healthy change, with customers now having a choice of (at least) two well integrated SaaS offerings.  In the end, customers win.

(Keep an eye open for the next post on ByD and beyond…)

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Multi-tenancy, the Holy Grail of SaaS. Do Customers Care?

Two recent posts by Enterprise Social Software  vendors Jive and Atlassian set up a huge debate amongst my fellow Enterprise Irregulars.  Here’s the money-quote from Jive:

It’s not so long ago that it felt embarrassing to say the words "SaaS" and " single-tenant" in the same sentence. For years, it’s been an industry mantra that it’s  simply impossible to have a scalable SaaS business without multi-tenancy.

Both Jive and Atlassian went single-tenant. That’s a red flag with many SaaS purists.  But there’s more then just tenancy. What if customer data stays behind the firewall, while the application is still provided over the web?  Is that still considered SaaS?    Do customers really care about such issues, or do they look for innovation in features and services?

And a bonus: the #1 SaaS icon supposedly delivers on-premise, if the deal is big enough…

Read more here

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Netbooks Resurfaces from Hibernation as WorkingPoint: SaaS for SMB with Nicer UI but Much Less Functionality

I’ve previously covered Netbooks, provider of an Integrated SaaS Business Suite for Very Small Businesses.

The company had an affordable On-Demand integrated business management solution for the   VSB – very small businesses, the “S” in SMB / SME: typically companies with less then 25 employees, sometimes only 3-5, and, most importantly, without professional IT support, in which case Software as a Service is a life-saver.

NetBooks tried to cover a complete business cycle, from opportunity through sales, manufacturing, inventory / warehouse management, shipping, billing, accounting – some with more success then others.   The process logic, the flow between various functional areas was excellent, but it was rendered almost unusable by a horrible UI. And it didn’t scale… so the company disappeared for a long year, completely re-building their code base.

Read on

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SAP Discusses SaaS Strategy

John Wookey has a tough job. The former Oracle Exec, currently EVP @ SAP, the Enterprise Software leader is supposed to charter SAP’s foray into On-Demand – in a company whose bread-and-butter is clearly in installed applications and which still largely considers a threat to its traditional lucrative business.

He spent the first 6 months crafting the new strategy, which he first announced at the SIIA OnDemand Europe conference in Amsterdam.

Continue reading

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“SaaS as Recession-proofing Software” Theme Picking Up

It looks like I may have started ( actually, just re-started) a trend discussing How Software Can Be Resilient to Recession.

Sramana Mitra @ Forbes talks about ‘SaaS-ing’ Back At The Economy:

Some of the robustness of SaaS companies comes from the fact that the sector caters heavily to small businesses….

Fellow Enterprise Irregular Ismael Ghalimi makes the case that:

Some will gain, but most will lose, and some to be really affected by the downturn are enterprise software vendors selling expensive perpetual licenses for their products…

He than takes the oppurtunity to turn the analysis into a cocky offer to his competitors.smile_wink

Read more here

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How Software Can Be Resilient to Recession

Are we heading into Recession?  The “Big R” talk of early this year quickly subsided, economic growth returned, the markets appeared to vindicate the optimists.  US Presidential Candidate John McCain repeatedly said the economy was fundamentally strong… until just days ago, when he quickly switched to declaring a crisis.  The Wall Street Journal says we’re in the Worst Crisis Since ’30s, With No End Yet in Sight.

I don’t claim to be an expert economist, so whether the Big R is looming is not my call – but if you believe we’re in a strong economy, I have a bridge to sell you.  Let’s just focus this discussion on how Software businesses can survive in a financial crisis, which is undeniably here.

Not all will survive, and it’s probably healthy they won’t.  Tim O’Reilly, Father-of-all-things-Web-2.0, asked the question at the Web 2.0 Expo last week:

Global warming. The U.S. losing its edge in science and technology. A growing income gap. “And what are the best and the brightest working on?” O’Reilly asked, displaying a slide of the popular Facebook application SuperPoke, which invites you to, among other things, “throw sheep” at your friends.

“Do you see a problem here?” he posed, showing another slide of the popular iPhone app “iBeer,” which simulates chugging a pint. “You have to ask yourself, are we working on the right things?”

The poster-child of the Web 2.0 boom may very well become the symbol of what went wrong:

  • useless
  • consumer-only
  • ad-driven

Actually, the problem is not what they do, but how seriously they were taken.  Will Price, a very smart VC said long ago:

It may well be that Slide raising $55m from mutual fund companies at $500m+ pre-money will be the “what were we thinking” moment of the current cycle.

I’m glad they did not go public, at least not a lot of people will get hurt holding the bag.   But enough of what’s wrong, here’s what works:

  • go where the money is, and that’s businesses (“Enterprise” vs. consumer, even if it means small business)
  • deliver value – useful functionality that improves business
  • charge for it – companies actually prefer to pay for reliable, good service.

The last point brings up the price issue.  Credit will dry up. Whether we’ll officially declare Recession or not, the fear of the Big R is enough for corporate budget cuts, the disappearance of any CAPEX spending. Even worse, an entire sector almost disappeared as IT buyers.  Did you know that Lehman Brothers spent over $300M on IT in just the last quarter, right before declaring bankruptcy?   How do you sell in this environment?

The after-bubble nuclear period of “no IT spending at all” found me at a startup in 2001-2003. We did not exactly hit it big, but did not go under, either, and that’s because our model allowed us to get in the door way below the threshold that would have required higher authorization. Not classic SaaS, rather SES (Software Enabled Service), we were essentially data providers and often got into an “enterprise” account at $3k for the first month … eventually ramping up to annual $60-$100K.   Anyone familiar with Enterprise Sales knows the term Economic Buyer:  typically getting involved later at the sales cycle, approving or nuking the deal.  Well, we saw no Economic Buyer: being under the threshold, we sold to the User directly.

Of course my little business is not the only proof: Salesforce.com & WebEx thrived during the last recession. The secret is the business model: pay-as-you-go.  SaaS offers lower risk to enter, no initial cash layout, the subscription fees come out of OPEX vs. CAPEX, and is often approved by the User, not the mysterious Economic Buyer.  The barrier of entry is much lower: once you’re in, it’s up to you to grow.

In fact I suspect the looming downturn will accelerate the structural changes in the software industry: SaaS players will thrive,  traditional on-premise vendors will shrink, many will disappear.

That leaves a final point to discuss: financial solvency.  For startups, it will be increasingly hard to find investors.  For larger businesses the lack of late-stage investment, the credit crunch may be a serious impediment to expansion.   Discover the beauty of bootstrapping – you actually get to do what you believe is right for your business, not what your Board tells you.  Do less, take small steps.  Frugality is key to survival.  Small is beautiful will get a new meaning.

In summary, Software businesses that combine good old business sense: frugality, spending wisely, delivering value to businesses and getting paid for it, with a new business model, SaaS are likely winners in the downturn.  The rest are playing musical chairs. (Oh, and the bridge is still available)

(This post originally appeared on CloudAve.  Keep informed by grabbing our feed here.)

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CloudAve: the First Week

Ah, the end of the fist week!  The new baby, CloudAve is 7 days old!  (..and I’m alive…smile_wink)

We launched with a discussion on Harry Debes’s famous prediction, i.e. the imminent collapse of the SaaS market in two years.  I doubt he realized just how much he re-energized the entire SaaS business, analyst obeservers – he certainly sparked a healthy discussion, even including Software Icon Dave Duffield, who refuted Debes’s argument.  He should know, having been on both sides of the fence. (The podcast is available on CloudAve).

On my personal blog I don’t have to be as politically correct as on CloudAve, so here’s my summary: they tried SaaS, could not crack it, so concluded the market as a whole did not matter – a strategic mistake.. or… well, as they say, a picture says a thousand words.  Ironically, the collapse of the US financial markets may just put things in a new prospective … more on this soon.

Ben compares the advent of Cloud Computing to corporate cars being replaced with allowances, while I present frustrating personal experience that could have gone smoothly using On-Demand tools.

We often talk about Cloud Computing and Software as a Service interchangeably, but are they really the same?  Krish answers in a mini-series discussing the differences, i.e. segmenting out Infrastructure/Hardware as a Service (HaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS).   In the second part of his mini-series Krish goes on a myth-busting mission, clearing up several common misunderstandings.  His piece on Governor Palin’s email hijack episode could very well be considered myth-busting, too.

Dan Morrill addresses why Anti-Virus in the Cloud can offer more efficient protection and is also major relief to owners of slower computers, whose resources can be completely bogged down by the frequent Av updates and scans.

Ben, so far the most prolific author reviews Oprius, an online productivity tool for sales professionals, then proves that the second “S” in SaaS is the most important, presenting two service / help desk oriented services: Zendesk and HelpStream.  He discusses NetSuite’s launch in Australia, then starts a discussion on Channels, largely triggered by another NetSuite related move – this may very well become an ongoing thread.

Talk about threads, next week we are launching a new daily feature, CloudNews – the title says it all.smile_wink

If you’ve been reading CloudAve, thank you, if not, why not head over and try … or perhaps just grab our feed.

See you on Cloud Avenue next week.

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Google Gears-powered Offline Mail, Application Marketplace by Zoho

Planned releaseLeak?  it doesn’t matter anymore, InformationWeek has just pre-announced two planned major Zoho upgrades:

Zoho Creator 3 will come with an apps marketplace, something I asked for a while ago. The App Store will allow developers set their own prices and keep 100% of the revenue.  It will also become a code-to-order marketplace: if you don’t find an app you need, spec it out, and receive offers from developers.

Now for the fun part: since the Chrome Comic Book, what better way to introduce a major new offering then by a comic video?

(Update:  Since the news was indeed unintentionally leaked, not released, I took off the embedded video.  The 356 of you who saw it: consider it a preview.  An updated version will be back @ Launch)

The other major announcement is making Zoho’s Web-based Mail service available off-line, based on Google Gears.  This will no doubt give Zoho Mail a competitive edge for a while.

It’s somewhat ironic that Zoho is always first to implement Google Gears (is Zoho doing Google’s testing?)  but if the past is any indication, Google’s own Gmail should follow suit soon.

Both upgrades are expected to go live in the coming weeks.

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SaaS and the Commoditization of the Software Market

Office 2007 Reaches a New Low – reports Joe Wilcox @eWeek.  He means low prices:  while Office Standard is still above $300, the Home and Student Edition can be purchased for as little as $89.99.

He then speculates on the reasons for this “Crazy Eddie”  pricing, with percentage of likelihood:

  • It’s end of the back-to-school buying season, when Microsoft and retailers often discount consumer Office (50 percent).
  • Microsoft is seeding the consumer market with the Home and Student Trojan horse for supporting Web services such as Office Live Workspace (25 percent).
  • The low pricing is way of psychologically preparing the consumer market for $69.95 Office Equipt, which packs 12-month subscription versions of Office 2007 Home and Student Edition, Windows Live OneCare, Mail, Messenger and Photo Gallery. (20 percent).
  • Microsoft is shoring up marketshare as proactive response to freebees like Google Docs. (5 percent).”

I strongly believe in the last one, which is way underrated at 5%.  With freely available OpenOffice, Google Docs and the Zoho Suite, people have little reason left to purchasing Microsoft Office.  I’ve said this before, while discussing the perfectly rightful clampdown on piracy:

The danger for Microsoft is not the direct financial impact of these users turning away from their product, since the never paid in the first place. It’s losing their grip; the behavioral, cultural change, the very fact that millions of people – students, freelancers, moonlighters, small business workers,  unemployed – realize that they no longer need a Microsoft product to work with MS file formats.  Microsoft shows these non-customer users the door, and they won’t come back – not even tomorrow when they are IT consultants, corporate managers, executives.  That’s Microsoft’s real loss.

But this post is about commoditization, and there’s more to it than putting price-pressure on Microsoft. Yes, SaaS disrupts the traditional software market, but there’s another equally important trend happening: some of the early pioneers who evangelized SaaS but retained a 1.0 business model are being squeezed by more nimble competitors. 

Days after my post on SaaS and the Shifting Software Business Model I received an email from Salesforce.com, announcing new, promotional pricing for Salesforce Group Edition.  The promo was supposed to end July 31st, but I suspected this would become a permanent price cut.  Why?  Group Edition is where Salesforce.com feels intense price pressure – see the comparative matrix here.  Today I checked again, and what a surprise (not really) –  the promo deadline is now gone, Salesforce.com silently turned the promotion into a permanent price-cut

No wonder there wasn’t much fanfare: price cuts are a red flag for the Street.  Commoditization can be a death-spiral to businesses – except for the few that drive it. But it is beneficial to customers, and in the end, that’s what matters.

(Disclaimer: I am an advisor to Zoho, the company with a mission of Deflating IT).