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CloudAve Launched – and Thank You, Harry

(OK, I sinned. Mea Culpa.  I’ve just cross-posted an entire article, which is not the best behavior. But it’s not every day that I launch a new group blog – so consider this my shameless self-plug, and please subscribe to the feed.smile_wink)

We must be a crazy bunch on a suicide mission.  Why else would we launch a new blog focused on Cloud Computing and Business, when it’s just a fad that will collapse in two years?

Harry Debes, CEO of Lawson Software is a respected Enterprise Software industry veteran, but I’m afraid for all his achievements he’ll go down in history as the man who grabbed headlines with a fatally wrong call.  Of course not all wrong calls hurt one’s reputation: IBM’s Thomas Watson is still an industry legend despite the famous quote incorrectly attributed to him:

” I think there is a world market for maybe five computers“

The small difference is that what Thomas Watson could not fathom in 1943 ended up putting IBM on an amazing growth trajectory,  while Harry Debes’s view may just turn out to be fatal for Lawson – or to quote my Enterprise Irregular friend, Vinnie Mirchandani:

“That’s what American and Delta said about SW. And GM and Ford said about Japanese cars. And Sears and Wards said about WalMart.”

Another quote by Vinnie, closer to our industry:

“Dun & Bradstreet, which GEAC acquired for a song, was one of the most spectacular slides in the software market. In less than 5 years it went from dominant position to a distress sale as it missed the client/server wave in early 90s.”

I’ve seen that one close, fortunately for me from SAP’s side – the winner in that round.  We’re witnessing another tidal wave now, the shift to Cloud Computing.  It won’t happen overnight, but those who completely ignore it will vanish.  Some of my fellow Enterprise Irregulars elaborate more:

  • Vinnie Mirchandani points out that SaaS is what more and more customers want, and those who stop listening to customers inevitably hit the wall sooner or later.  Need proof?  How about this 100% SaaS customer, showcased at the recent Office 2.0 conference?
  • Jim Berkowitz  of CRM Mastery fame agrees,  adding that calling people, potential customers “stupid” never leads to any good.
  • Bob Warfield makes the case that even if we ignore what customers want and only consider profitabilty, Debes is wrong, Salesforce.com is almost as profitable as Lawson, but grows much faster, while Conquer, another SaaS success story is actually more profitable than Lawson is.
  • Jason Corsello adds that Lawson actually launched a SaaS offering last year, but experienced lackluster customer response largely to pricing and deployment issues … so now that they couldn’t pull it off, the declare the entire market doomed.
  • Josh Greenbaum concludes: “SaaS isn’t collapsing, it’s only just getting started“.

I can live with that… it’s only starting… so we’re not a suicidal bunch, after all.smile_wink But thank you, Harry Debes, for sparking a great discussion.

If you read just the few articles I’ve quoted above, you get a fairly good picture of the many benefits the Software as a Service model offers.  Let me add a few of my personal favorites:

  • Extended reach – small businesses can now have business functionality previously only available and affordable for large enterprises.
  • Commoditization of the software market – commoditization hurts most companies, except the few who drive it, but guess what – it’s great for customers.
  • End of Bloatware  – for the first time SaaS vendors can run stats and observe what features are actually used by customers, so they can cut out the fat and enhance the in-demand features.
  • New Business Models, like benchmarking – based on anonym aggregate data provide your customers with performance metrics.  Even newer business models we have not even imagined yet.
  • Dramatically changed Sales and Marketing model: pull vs. push.  Instead of the traditional sales model it’s all about transparency, information, letting informed customers find you.  The Product sells itself and your Customers are your Marketing team.

We’ll be writing about these and more. I’m a “business application guy”, so I mostly talk about SaaS – but our name is Cloud Avenue, not SaaS Avenue, for good reason: fellow blogger Krish will talk about it soon.  By the way, Krish and I got to know each other through our blogs – just like my fellow Editor, Ben Kepes, and just about all other contributors. We also have our CloudLab – for product / service reviews.  Yes, we will report on products, but do not strive to be a mini-TechCrunch: we have no intention to report about everything new.  We’re not a news-blog.  We’d rather sit back, analyze a market, find key players, then produce a series of reviews / comparative analysis.  Quality before quantity or urgency.

We’re believers in Cloud Computing, but  not over-zealous cheerleaders.  Just as I’m finishing this post, another SaaS debate erupted, which prompted Anshu Sharma to note: “there must be a Sky is Falling Support Group“.  The really notable part of the Cloud-Filled Debate @Forbes is Nick Carr’s responses: not because of the Big Switch author’s unquestionable “cloud-bias”, but because of how realistic he is:

Forbes.com: Is cloud computing over-hyped?
Nicholas Carr: At the moment, yes, and that’s typical for technological advances.

What’s your imagined time line of the adoption of cloud computing? Will it take years? Decades?
If you’re talking about big companies, I would say it will be a slow, steady process lasting maybe 15 to 20 years.

On what Gartner Research analysts call “the cycle of hype and gloom,” where do you think cloud computing is currently positioned?
It’s definitely near the peak of its hype. The doom period, when the media and IT managers realize the challenges ahead, is likely coming soon. But regardless of hype or gloom, the technology will only keep progressing.

Overhyped, slow process, doom is coming… has Nick Carr switched sides?  No, he is just being realistic – and that’s what we need to do here  @CloudAve, too. We will talk about integration problems, security issues, privacy concerns, even legal ramifications – many of these I don’t claim to know much about, which is why it’s great to have a diverse team of authors with complementary areas of expertise. And our door is never closed: we welcome guest posts, and who knows, you may feel inclined to join us as as a regular writer…

Finally, we could not afford to bring you CloudAve without sponsorship.  My regular readers know I’ve been an advisor to Zoho for years now – I’ve found them to be a showcase for a lot of my ideals.  Zoho stepped up as exclusive sponsor of CloudAve.  This does not make us a Zoho PR outlet, in fact they can expect less coverage here than they got on my personal blog.  We enjoy complete editorial independence.

What we do not have, and will not have is any form of advertising.  None of those flashy banners, boxes, making the site close to unreadable. Just pure content.  And since we are not dependent on page views, we can afford to offer our content under a Creative Commons licence.  Yes, it’s all yours, take it – just don’t forget attribution.

So here we are – welcome to CloudAve. We hope you will follow us.   And once again, thank you, Harry, for all the attention to Cloud Computing.smile_wink

P.S.  The CloudAve platform  is not exactly in nice order yet. It’s work-in-progress.

So for now, all I can do is apologize for the shabby appearance, like I did at a previous move – that one turned out quite well, didn’t it?

And talk about move – I am not abandoning this blog either, so I hope you continue to follow me both here and on CloudAve.

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3 Half-Truths about SaaS

I am a big fan of Software as a Service, but it frustrates the hell out of me to see industry pundits over-hype it without really understanding it.  Here are 3 killer (in the bad sense) half-truths about SaaS:

1 – SaaS is simpler, easier to implement than On-premise software (see update at the bottom)

2 – SaaS is for the SMB market

3 – SaaS is bought, not sold, it’s the end of Enterprise Sales

Let’s examine them in detail:
 

1 – SaaS is simpler, easier to implement than On-premise software.

The only part that’s absolutely true is the technical installation, which the customer no longer has to worry about with SaaS.  But we all know that this is a fraction of a typical implementation.  Implementations are all about business process and training, hence the difficulty / duration / cost of an implementation depends on the complexity of business and the size of the organization – these two tend to correlate with each other.

It just so happens that all SaaS solutions so far have started (and many stay) at the SMB level, so they are simpler not by virtue of being SaaS but by their target market’s needs. 

2 – SaaS is for the SMB market

Yes, traditionally all SaaS started with Small Businesses, but that does not mean it may not move upstream. Salesforce.com and several HCM applications have proven technical scalability, but they offer partial / departmental functionality. 
I am a strong believer that in 4-5 years most software developed will be SaaS, and that in 10 years it will be the predominant method of “consuming” software by large enterprises – but I can’t prove it.  There’s no empirical evidence, since there has not been any Integrated Enterprise SaaS available so far.  The closest to it is NetSuite today (but it’s still SMB focused), and SAP’s Business ByDesign tomorrow.  In fact despite SAP’s official positioning, driven by market focus and current limitations (functional and infrastructure), I believe that SAP will use BBD  to learn the SaaS game – i.e. BBD will be a test bed for a future Enterprise SaaS offering. But we’re not there yet.
(longer discussion here)

3 – SaaS is bought, not sold, it’s the end of Enterprise Sales

Hey, I’ve said this myself, so it must be true (?).  Well, it depends on the position of the sun, the constellation of the stars, and several other factors, but mostly the first two we’ve just covered.smile_wink

SaaS for very small business: that’s the clear-cut lab case for the click-to buy pull model to work.  In fact in this respect (sales model) I believe the business size is the no.1 determinator.    Some solutions will have to be configured and may even require pre-sales business process consulting.  This inflexion point will clearly be higher for functionally simpler solutions, like CRM and lower for integrated business management systems, like NetSuite or SAP’s Business  ByDesign. 

Once you reach that inflexion point, you’re in a more interactive, lengthier sales process, and that’s typically face to face.  At least that’s what we’re conditioned to: but it does not have to be that way.  That will be the subject of another post – to come soon.

 

Update:  Ben Kepes challenged #1 on his blog, and to some extent I have to agree.  My post here is continuation of a discussion we started at the virtual SAP Marketing Community Meeting, and my mind-set was still business process software, e.g. CRM, ERP..etc, but I forgot to specify that.  Instead of replicating the argument, why don’t you read my response to his response at Ben’s place.

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Zoho People: Will it Disrupt or Fail?

Zoho, best known for their Web-based Productivity (Office+) Suite today released Zoho People, a feature-rich On-Demand HRMS – Human Resources Management System. For the product introduction please read my previous post, while here I focus on business analysis, specifically on what this move means to software sales in general.

Today’s product announcement signifies a departure from what Zoho has been known for so far, in a number of ways. Their primary reputation is being the best Web-based Office / Productivity Suite provider – People is clearly a process-driven, transactional system with “enterprisey” features: organization levels, work-flow, permissions…etc.

It’s not an entirely new field for Zoho though, as their CRM solution has been gaining traction for years now – both in terms of new customers as well as converts from the market leader. (See chart with full list of Productivity and Business Apps). As a matter of fact, I’ve often stated calling it CRM is an understatement: with Sales Order Management, Procurement, Inventory Management, Invoicing it’s really more of a mini-ERP. Add to it Accounting and HCM and Zoho can come up with an unparalleled Small Business Suite, which includes the productivity suite (what we now consider the Office Suite) and all process-driven, transactional systems: something like NetSuite + Microsoft, targeted at SMB’s, perfectly rhyming with Zoho’s stated objective of becoming the outsourced IT for small businesses.

Except… well, Zoho People is not a small business system. All you have to do is look at some of the organizational setup, or processes, like holiday, training, leave requests, company policies to realize that this system is ideally suitable for organizations with a few hundred employees and more. (The “M” in SMB, whereas most of Zoho’s focus has been on the “S” until now). So it’s a departure from Zoho’s traditional target market, and by its very nature it’s not a system individuals or small groups would just start to use in an ad-hoc manner. It’s a system to be introduced by HR for the entire company.

Bringing an enterprise system to the market typically requires a different approach, a coordinated marketing and sales effort, supplemented by consulting and support – i.e. all the extra weight that makes enterprise software “big and fat”. Yet Zoho just throws it out in the open, like they did with Writer, Sheet or any one of the dozen or so productivity tools. They have no clue how to market enterprise software! – one might say… and do they, really?

Simply announcing enterprise software without marketing and sales is certainly a risky proposition. Any startup that does with their main product is doomed to fail. Yet Zoho can afford an experiment. The new HCM system is just one product in their portfolio, in fact the entire Zoho portfolio is just a big experiment of the parent company, privately held and profitable Adventnet. CEO Sridhar Vembu repeatedly stated his mission is to commoditize software, delivering it to large masses at previously unseen prices.

There’s all this talk about how SaaS changes the economics of Software – pull vs push process, try-and-buy vs. the expensive enterprise sales process; but it mostly refers to the SMB space. The try-and-buy, self-serve model is almost unheard of amongst larger organizations and more complex software. It traditionally needs more cajoling and hand-holding. But why not break away from tradition? Why should all innovation stay on the product side? Zoho goes the extra mile to make the new system more “consumable”: screenshot tours, demo videos abound. Of course disruptive pricing does not hurt, either.

If Zoho People fails to gain traction, so be it: the company will likely focus on their main avenue of becoming the IT provider for SMB’s, integrate features from People into Zoho Business and CRM, and figure out how to crack the HCM market later. If, however it starts gaining traction, it’s a good signal to the entire SaaS industry: an indication that transparency, online information and help works, the try-and-buy model may just be feasible even with larger organizations, which, for the first time will buy Software as a Service instead of being sold to by pushy enterprise sales teams.

(Disclaimer: I am an Advisor for Zoho.)

Related posts: Between the Lines, Zoho Blogs, Deal Architect, Centernetworks, Wired, SmoothSpan Blog, GeekZone, Webware, Venturebeat, Web Worker Daily, TechCrunch, Business Two Zero, Irregular Enterprise.

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Dream Job for a Software Marketing VP @ Atlassian

Atlassian, a fast-growing, successful enterprise software company is looking for a VP of Marketing. I don’t normally broadcast job searches here, but am breaking that rule now for I believe this is a truly exceptional opportunity with a truly exceptional company. (Disclaimer: I have no business affiliation with Atlassian, but admit to being positively biased, as the company exemplifies a lot that I stand for.)

They are best known for two products: Jira, the issue tracking & software project management application was their first hit, putting the company on the fast growth track and establishing a loyal fan-base in the IT community.  Their existing reputation in the IT community certainly helped the second product, Confluence, the enterprise wiki gain traction: it is now equally popular in the IT and business community.  Wikis in general  have become more commonly known in the past two years; once a tiny market niche, today a growing field where new entrants pop up left and right, claiming to be best in this and that….  But numbers talk, and the verdict is clear: Confluence is the undisputed enterprise wiki market leader. 
Atlassian is not sitting on their laurels: in the past year they diversified, acquiring several companies and launching new products on their own.  Frankly, I lost track, but I believe  their portfolio currently includes 8 products, all part of an “IT toolkit”, with the exception of Confluence, which is seeing fast adoption amongst business users, too.  

The customer list is impressive: IBM, HP, SAP, Citigroup, Boeing, BMW, Shell, McDonalds, Pfizer … just about all the Fortune 1000, as well as non-profits, Universities, Government Agencies, totaling over 9000 customers worldwide. (The chart is a bit misleading: Atlassian’s fiscal year starts in June, and the FY08 bar shows the current figure only, excluding projections.)

How did they achieve this?  They must have an excellent sales force.  Wrong! Atlassian has no sales force at all.  They don’t sell: customers simply buy their products on their own.   I often talk about  the pull-model that’s replacing the traditional, expensive enterprise sales process (6-9 months, high touch, flights, meetings, wine-and-dining, entertaining, in the end often nuked by politicssmile_baringteeth) – but that’s typically in the context of Software as a Service, and in the SMB (small business) market.  Atlassian’s products are mostly on-premise (although they now have a hosted version of Confluence) and their primary market is the large Enterprise.  Yet they pulled off what amounts to a small miracle:  essentially took the download.com, tucows style model we all know as consumers, and ported it to the enterprise space. 

Of course having customers try-and-buy through the Internet is not as simple as firing your Sales team ( or not hiring one).  It’s not a matter of a decision: it’ s a consistently applied philosophy, that you have to implement in every aspect of your business.  The key components are:

  • lightweight software
    • well-defined function set, meets specific user need, small user groups can get started
    • ease of use (both easy to learn and easy to use)
    • well documented, well supported
  • transparency
    • features (what you’re getting, no surprises)
    • issues (Atlassian’s bug tracker is open to the public)
    • pricing (simple, upfront pricing, no fill-out-contact-form-wait-for-sales-to-call-back BS)
  • low price (“expensable, not approvable” – to quote a former competitor)

The “pull-model” means customers will need to find you- which is why Marketing is a critical function.  With Sales gone, Marketing becomes sales (actually, Atlassian’s CEO proudly says everyone is in Sales, especially Support).  So if you are a marketing superstar,  or know one, want to be part of a successful team, work for celebrities , you owe it to yourself to apply.

Atlassian is not only about business – it’s about people.  I know, old cliche.. but here it works.  The unique culture this team maintained throughout their super-growth even now that they have 130 people is a large part of their success.

So what is this culture like?  Tough. When he doesn’t make his numbers, Atlassian President Jeffrey Walker is forced to make up for it as ticket-scalper on the street. smile_omg OK, joke apart, this photo was shot last August, when the entire San Francisco office went to see a Giants game together. (Incidentally, just a day before Jeffrey became cancer dude). This wasn’t a rare occasion, either: both the San Francisco and the Sydney teams have a lot of fun together:  Cutlassian, Mission: Atlassian, theme-filled staff events, abound throughout the year.   Their new office  building in Sydney is right next to a pub (hint: when will you guys realize you’d be better off buying the entire pub?beer)  I wonder when the San Francisco office will move into a winery…  Perhaps you get the picture by now: Working for Atlassian isn’t just a job  – it’s a lifestyle.  But don’t for a minute think it’s a bunch of rowdy kids having fun only:  they bring in $30 million a year.  And if you don’t perform, this is what awaits you.

So that’s the magic formula: combine business success with a fun, team-focused culture and you’ve got the makings of the ultimate job.  (Are you still reading, or have you alerted your Marketing superstar friend yet?)

Now, if this is the ultimate job, there’s one question unanswered: How come it hasn’t been filled yet?  I wanted to hear the answer straight from the horse’s mouse so to speak, so I asked Atlassian President Jeffrey Walker, who responded below:

We were inundated with resumes, and found a few excellent capable candidates. Unfortunately, one of the growing pains of companies like ours is we were not quite ready for the right candidate. Incorporating someone of the caliber we need takes preparation. Our search began prematurely. Lesson learned. After the founders and I took another few ‘long walks’, we came out aligned and ready. This time I fully expect to complete the search. Just need the right remarkable individual.

Well, I did not walk with Jeffrey and the Founders, but I certainly hope they will not change a lot:smile_wink.  I have a lot to say on the subject of hiring, but it’s not specific to Atlassian, so I’ll break it out to a separate post.  In the meantime, if you are that “remarkable individual”, what are you waiting for?