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Yes, the Enterprise Software World Changed Today

Yesterday I went out on a limb predicting that SAP’s new On-Demand mid-market offering, codenamed A1S will be a game-changer. ZDNet quoted my conclusion:

My bet is on SAP: they may stumble a number of times, which will effect their quarterly numbers – but in the end, I believe they will succeed. They will become the dominant SaaS player in the mid-market, forcing smaller players like NetSuite down-market. In the next 2-3 years while SAP flexes their On-demand muscles, we’ll see just how pervasive SaaS proves in the large corporate market, and that will determine whether A1S remains a midmarket solution or becomes the foundation of SAP’s forey into that market – their natural home base.

This was the day before the announcement. This morning my fellow Enterprise Irregulars jokingly asked: “Has the world of Enterprise Software really changed?’ We did not know the answer than, but now we do: Yes. SAP Business ByDesign is really a game changer. Key reasons:

  • Breadth of functionality
  • Fixed, Trasnparent pricing (which, I might add will put the squeeze on Salesforce.com ad NetSuite)
  • All this coming from SAP, the recognized leaders in automating business processes.

I will soon have more details, but suffice to say the Enterprise Irregulars contingent here came to the same conclusions. Here are the initial reactions:

ZDnet/Software, Rough Type, Redmonk, Computerworld, WSJ.com, ZDNet/IT Project Failures, The Ponderings of Woodrow, ZDNet/Software as a Service, Between the Lines,

Photo: the Enterprise Irregulars with Henning Kagermann, SAP CEO. Credit: Prashanth Rai

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The World of Enterprise Software Will Change Tomorrow

I really would have liked to be at TechCrunch40, temporary HQ of all-things-Web. Instead, I’m in New York, where the world of Enterprise Software will change tomorrow. That’s when SAP will unveil A1S, the new generation SaaS solution for the SMB market. Incidentally, this may be the last time we hear A1S, as SAP is expected to reveal a new name.

I suspect after Wednesday there will be a lot of talk about the new system’s features, but for now, very few people have actually seen it, and they are all under rock-solid NDA. So for now, just a few preliminary thoughts.

SaaS and Enterprise Software

I am a big fan of Software as a Service, have repeatedly written about it, but mostly in the context of the small business or consumers space. My own passion comes from the time when I switched from “sell side” in the SAP business to actually being a customer in a small business (Sales VP, NOT IT type!) and was shocked at the sorry state of infrastructure and systems (more lack of) available to most SMB’s. I became convinced that for small businesses that don’t have IT staff at all, On-Demand solutions are the only way to go.

Does this mean SaaS is for small businesses only? Not at all. 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. SaaS is not a religion; adopting it should be a business decisions that these organizations have to make individually.

SAP and SaaS

On-demand “purists” (the religious types;)) have long criticized SAP for being laggards, taking a half-hearted hybrid approach to SaaS – but why would they do anything else? After all, SaaS is still only 10% of all enterprise software sold, although growing fast. Even if we believe “the future is SaaS” (which is of course unproven, but I happen to believe in it), there is a lot of mileage left in the “old” Enterprise model, and market leaders like SAP have certainly no reason to turn their backs to their huge and profitable customer base. Protection of the legacy market is largely the reason behind the segmentation, i.e. A1S being strictly a small- and midmarket solution – but I don’t believe this segmentation is cast in stone.

Anyone who saw one of Hasso Plattner’s numerous “new idea” presentations will have to realize he is talking about a lot more than just a new SMB product. Plattner “gets it” and if he does, so will SAP. Clearly, for now the product is slated for the SMB market – new product, new markets – but it also allows SAP to get their feet wet in SaaS, before fully plunging in.

This also explains what may appear as inconsistency at the low-end of the market (less than 50 employees) where SAP continues to offer Business One, their on-site solution. I fully agree with Dennis , for all the above reasons it’s exactly these businesses that would be better off with SaaS, so perhaps Busiess One should be replaced by A1S. But if SAP considers A1S as a test-bed, eyeing the Enterprise Market, they need a certain minimum organization size, and level of complexity. Complexity, after all, originates in the organization, not the software – but this brings us to the next point.

So why is it such a Big Deal?

Believers of the “SaaS Religion” should be happy when a behemoth like SAP throws in it’s weight – and the $400M it expects to spend on marketing A1S. But let’s dispel with a huge misunderstanding here. I literally go nuts when analists (even my fellow Enterprise Irregulars) mention SaaS players like Salesforce.com, Netsuite, Succesfactors, Constant Contact on the same page, as one category. For the purpose of a specific analysis, like Charles did, it makes sense, but please, please, let’s remember, the so-called SaaS market is an artificial aggregation that eventually will make very little sense.

Companies do not buy software just for the sake of having it: they buy it to solve problems. They need inventory management, order and billing systems.. etc – not simply SaaS, just like in the past they could not care less if their software was delivered on tape, CD or DVD. Yes, I know I am simplifying to a great degree, but remember, It’s all about the functionality, not the delivery method.

So labeling Salesforce.com the “market leader” is misleading – yes, they are the the largest pure-play SaaS player, but a relative point solution with a fraction of the functionality enterprises need – and the Appexcange / Force.com attempt to become a platform has not changed this picture.

There is no market leader in On-Demand, complete integrated solutions, because so far no company has offered anything comparable to SAP’s functionality. Granted, I have not seen the system yet, but when SAP puts three tousand developers to work for 3 years, you know you are getting something significant. (In comparison Salesforce.com has less than 200 engineers.)

It’s all about Execution

The SaaS model allows for largely simplified business execution: marketing, awareness, “pull model”: instead off direct sales, the customer comes to the vendor, buying solutions on the Net. Consulting, Support all happens online. The reality of this pull-model is still debated, but I think waht’s often forgotten in the debate is that the “pull-efect” really works is the “S” part of SMB, (in fact, VSB), which are typically green-field businesses, often first-timers to transactional business software, without their own processes carved in stone, so they can test, configure and use software “out-of-the-box”. As we discussed, with size comes complexity, and since SAP targets the high-end of SMB, they will face such complexity, and that requires a “hybrid” model.

So far their Go-to-market strategy appears to be largely based on telesales and leaving support to a network of partners. Where these partners come from: existing All-in-One or Business One partners, or new ones – and if the first, how they will not cannibalize their existing business is a huge question.

A1S is a big bet for SAP,” said Gartner analyst Dan Sholler. “This has to succeed or they will have a whole host of business challenges ahead of them. No one has ever proven they can sell this type of business technology this way. SAP is betting the profitability of the company that it will be able to do it.

My bet is on SAP: they may stumble a number of times, which will effect their quarterly numbers – but in the end, I believe they will succeed. They will become the dominant SaaS player in the mid-market, forcing smaller players like NetSuite down-market. In the next 2-3 years while SAP flexes their On-demand muscles, we’ll see just how pervasive SaaS proves in the large corporate market, and that will determine whether A1S remains a midmarket solution or becomes the foundation of SAP’s forey into that market – their natural home base.

SAP understands New Media

Last but not least, a word on how SAP “gets it”. Part of Hasso Plattner’s “new idea” sounds like a Web 2.0 pitch: he embraces social networking, wikis, videos. How much, if any of these have made it into the first incarnation of A1S remains to be seen.

But SAP as a company themselves actively embrace new media. They have the best bloggers’ program, originally started by Jeff Nolan and now enjoying continued support by Michael Prosceno. I’m heading to the Big Show on Wednesday, but first tonight I’ll be in a group of 8 bloggers to meet SAP CEO Henning Kagerman. Two weeks later I will attend SAP TechEd, which, for the first time includes a full Community Day – an event certainly to be popular by bloggers. Oh, and who is the first keynote speaker? Mr. Web 2.0 Tim O’Reilly himself.

Not exactly dinosaur-like behavor, if you ask me.;-)

Off now, time to play tourist in Manhattan. And, in the meantime, I’ll be kept more then up-to-date on TechCrunch40 thanks to fellow bloggers on the scene.:-)

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Software 2007: Plattner to Turn the SAP Mothership Again

Photo Credit: Dan Farber, ZDNet For half an hour or so I felt I was back at University at Software 2007 – in Professor Hasso Plattner’s class. That’s because his keynote was a compressed version of his recent SAPPHIRE 07 speech, which in turn was an “offsite class” for his Stanford students – literally so, he flew the entire class out to Atlanta. To make his point, he used the blackboard-metaphor, with chalked handwriting (and dressed in matching blacksmile_shades).

I don’t normally enjoy keynotes, but found this one fascinating: it was about a lot more than most in the audience thinks – more on this later…

The “lecture” was about his New Idea for enterprise software – more than an idea, it started as a side-project about 5 years ago, then about 3 years ago they realized they can’t do it with one codebase.. so it became a completely separate system from SAP’s current business suite. They kept the project secret as long as they could, but this year they started to talk about it: it’s code-named A1S, and currently 3000 people are working on it (For comparison, Salesforce.com has less than 200 engineers). It will be On-Demand, and not a point-solution, but a full-featured, integrated business solution, as one would expect from SAP.

Some of my raw notes on the key concepts:

  • On-demand: Google, Salesforce.com showed it works. Time now for the whole enterprise to run in the cloud. Very small footprint at customer.
  • New markets: small business customers.
  • Key difference: user-centric design. Iteration, version 7 of user interface already, it will be 8 or 9 before it launches. Every single functions delivered either by browser or smart client. They look 100% identical. Office (MS) client, Mobile, too.
  • Separation of UI, App, Db – physical sep, multiple UI’s for same App. Front ends very specific to industries. Portal based. Company, departmental portal. User roles. Multiple workplaces. In smaller companies users have multiple workplaces. High degree of personalization.
  • Event driven approach. Model based system. Instead of exposing source code, expose the model. Not just documentation, active models. Change system behavior through models. Very different from SAP’s original table-based customization. Completely open to access by/ to other system. 2500+ service interfaces exposed.
  • The future of software design will be driven by community. SDN 750K members, 4000 posts per day. We’ll have hundreds of thousands of apps from the community. Blogs, Wikis, Youtube.
  • In-memory databases. Test: 5years accounting, 36 million line items. 20G in file 1.1G compressed in memory. Any question asked > 1.1sec. There is no relational database anymore. Database can be split over multiple computers. Finally information will be in the user’s fingertips. Google-speed for all Enterprise information. Analytics first, eventually everything in memory.

For a more organized writeup, I recommend Dan Farber’s excellent summary, and for the full details watch the original SAPPHIRE 07 Keynote (after a bit of salesy intro).

As it became obvious during the post-keynote private press/blogger discussion, most in the room thought Plattner was talking about the mysterious A1S, SAP’s yet-to-be-seen On-Demand SMB offering – although he made it clear he intentionally never used the A1S moniker. I think what we heard was a lot more – but to understand it, one has understand Hasso Plattner himself. No matter how his formal position changed, the last active SAP Founder has always been the Technology Visionary behind the company – the soul of SAP, it there is such a thing.smile_wink He is not a product-pusher, not a marketer: he sets direction for several years ahead.

SAP has an existing (legacy) market to protect, and they clearly don’t want the On-Demand product to cannibalize that market. But Plattner knows On-Demand is coming, and I bet the SMB space will be the test-bed to the new system eventually “growing up” to all of SAP’s market segments. Hasso Plattner gets the On-Demand religion, and when he gets a new religion, SAP typically follows. Plattner oversaw two major paradigm changes: the move from mainframe to client/server, which was entirely his baby, and the move to SOA/Netweaver, where he embraced Shai Agassi’s initiatives. The ‘New Idea” will likely be the last time Plattner turns the Mothership around. Next he will need to find “another Shai” to make sure there is a strong tech DNA in SAP’s leadership, as the Sales/Marketing types take over at the helm.

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Freshbooks Launches Benchmarking Service: SaaS Will Never Be the Same

Way back at the Office 2.0 conference FreshBooks CEO Mike McDerment dropped a bomb in the last 20 seconds in his presentation: being software as as service, they can aggregate customers’ data, categorize it by industry, size ..etc, and once they do that, why not turn it into a service, providing customers with their own performance metrics as well as benchmarking them against their peers.

A few months later, the Small Business Report Card service will launch tomorrow at the Web 2.0 Expo as well as online. The service will be free to all Freshbooks customers, who will:

  • all receive their own performance metrics, and
  • if they select their peer group based on (currently) 80 types of business / professions, geography and several other business criteria, they will also receive their relative position, “score-card” within that group.

The sample below is a mock-up of the actual Report Card, but is shows the initial metrics reported. Clearly, as they further enhance the program, there will be more and more criteria, and FreshBooks customers will have a say in what performance metrics they find valuable.

Remember, FreshBooks’ customers are mostly small businesses who don’t have an army of MBA-types crunch the numbers and look for business (in)efficiencies. In fact it’s probably fair to say some would not even know how to interpret the numbers, until they are put in prospective – hence the value of relative benchmarking.

But why will SaaS never be the same? This isn’t just about FreshBooks and its customers.

It’s *the* hidden business model enabled by SaaS. An opportunity not talked about, but so obvious it has to be on the back of all SaaS CEO’s mind. Benchmarking is a huge business, practiced by research firms like Forrester, Hoovers, Dunn and Bradstreet, as well as by specialized shops like the Hackett group – none of which are affordable to small businesses. More importantly, all previous benchmarking efforts were hampered by the quality of source data, which, with systems behind firewalls was at least questionable. SaaS providers will have access to the most authentic data ever, aggregation if which leads to the most reliable industry metrics and benchmarking.

Being pioneers always carries a risk, and clearly, Freshbooks will have to keep an eye on their customers feedback. There may be a backlash due to data privacy/ownership concerns; some customers will not opt in, they may even lose some customers entirely. But I believe the majority will see the light and benefit from the service. If Mike’s blog post on the subject is any indication, the feedback there was overwhelmingly positive, with 13 comments for, 3 against.

I suspect a year or two from now benchmarking based on aggregate customer data will be standard industry practice, and little (?) FreshBooks will be looked upon as the pioneers who opened up the floodgate of opportunities.

Last, but not least a word on the creative launch – or a lesson on how to launch from a conference you don’t officially participate atsmile_wink:

Yugma is a web-conferencing company and an exhibitor at Web 2.0 Expo. What better way to demo a web-conferencing product than by showing real-live use… without Yugma having to move a finger to create content. They created Stage 2, a platform for companies to showcase their products remotely at the Yugma booth and simultaneously to the World through a Net broadcast. Both the presenters and Yugma win – congrat’s, and my personal Creativity Award to Yugma thumbs_up

Update (4/19): read Jeff Nolan’s comments.

Update (10/8/2008):  Congrat’s to Freshbooks for getting on  Fox Business.

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24SevenOffice Acquisition Rumors

24SevenOffice, the European SaaS provider of an integrated, All-In-One system for small businesses may be in acquisition talks with a major US vendor. The news went almost unnoticed, partly because it leaked just before Christmas, partly because the company is largely unknown outside a few European countries – not for long if a deal comes through.

I covered 24SevenOffice, a very promising SaaS provider for the SMB (SME) market several times. Their system is modular but integrated with a breath of functionality I simply haven’t seen elsewhere: Accounting, CRM (Contacts, Lead Mgt, SFA), ERP (Supply Chain, Orders, Products, Inventory), Communication, Group Scheduling, HR, Project Management, Publishing, Intranet. Essentially a NetSuite+Communication and Collaboration.

About the only thing I did not like was the lack of availability for US customers – this might change soon. The news release and blog post mentions three names: Salesforce.com, WebEx and Google, but adds a somewhat cloudy remark: “the companies here are only examples of what the rumors have outlined.” It does not explicitly confirm one of these specific companies as the potential buyer. I should also add that while I had in the past been in touch with Management, at this time I have no information whatsoever from the company, so the ideas below are purely my speculation.

Salesforce.com as suitor: A well-integrated All-In-One product would come handy to Salesforce.com which could dramatically expand their customer base this way. However, they’ve gone a long way in the other direction, trying to become a platform and extending their reach via the ecosystem built around the AppExchange. Acquiring 24SevenOffice would be a huge about-face for Marc Benioff, and essentially would mean admitting that archrival Zach Nelson of NetSuite was right all this time about the superiority of the integrated All-In-One approach.

WebEx: Their original market, the web conferencing space is being commoditized, they clearly are looking for more lucrative markets, as evidenced by the recently launched WebEx Connect (their “AppExchange”). I haven’t heard about much activity since the announcement – certainly owning a product like 24SevenOffice (btw., it really should be called 24SevenBusiness) would allow WebEx a powerful entry into the SMB applications market.

Google: No way, you might say. Google and business process / transaction oriented software are lightyears apart – at least today.

Yet unlikely as it sounds the deal would make perfect sense. Google clearly aspires to be a significant player in the enterprise space, and the SMB market is a good stepping stone, in fact more than that, a lucrative market in itself. Bits and pieces in Google’s growing arsenal: Apps for Your Domain, JotSpot, Docs and Sheets …recently there was some speculation that Google might jump into another acquisition (Thinkfree? Zoho?) to be able to offer a more tightly integrated Office. Well, why stop at “Office”, why not go for a complete business solution, offering both the business/transactional system as well as an online office, complemented by a wiki? Such an offering combined with Google’s robust infrastructure could very well be the killer package for the SMB space catapulting Google to the position of dominant small business system provider. Who’d benefit from such a deal? Google, millions of small businesses, and of course 24SevenOffice.

I admit I would feel somewhat sorry for 24SevenOfice though, as I clearly think they could have a shot of becoming a billion-dollar business on their own – the next NetSuite. Either way, if they make it to the US market this year, they’ll likely see explosive growth. When they are a well -known brand, remember, you discovered them here.thumbs_up

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The "Hidden" Business Model in SaaS: Benchmarking

(Updated)

While we saw a lot of exciting products at the Office 2.0 Conference, the biggest “surprise” was not a product announcement, but FreshBooks CEO Mike McDerment letting the cat out of the bag:

“He basically announced the hidden value proposition enabled by SaaS: competitive benchmarking. All previous benchmarking efforts were hampered by the quality of source data, which, with all systems behind firewalls was at least questionable. SaaS providers will have access to the most authentic data ever, aggregation if which leads to the most reliable industry metrics and benchmarking.

Two months later FreshBooks published the first set of raw data. It includes stats on payment methods, invoicing by email vs. regular mail, browser an operating system usage. It’s a rather limited set, and only covers two months, but it’s a start, certainly to be followed with more business-critical data. CEO Mike McDerment also takes a first cut at analyzing the data, for example:

“Browser Usage

- Internet Explorer 7 – October 5.02%, November 9.68%

- IE 6 – October 37.64%, November 36.77%

- Firefox 2.0 – October 6.61%, November 24.51%

- Firefox 1.5 – October 44.26%, November 22.07%

Analysis

Both IE and Firefox have new versions out. Clearly the Firefox community is quicker to switch to new versions. Remarkably quick in fact.”

I’m not sure I’d agree with the analysis: certainly Mike is right, the Firefox community appears to be quicker in switching to new versions, but aren’t we missing a bigger picture? I’ve dropped the data into Zoho Sheet, the web-base spreadsheet app which generated this chart:

Browser Usage - http://sheet.zoho.com

The “bigger picture” is that IE gained market share vs. Firefox (something that as a FFox user I’m not happy with smile_omg). Clearly, the majority of new IE7 users are not IE6 upgraders, they came from the Firefox camp.

But I’m not here to discuss browser use, nor do I intend to ridicule Mike’s analysis. I picked this example to make a point: the same data set may carry different meaning to you and me. The art isn’t so much in the accumulation of data, but the proper aggregation and analysis allowing customers to benchmark themselves against industry peers – that’s where the real value is, not in raw data. So much so, that I probably wouldn’t entirely give it away; rather market it as a for-fee premium service.

SaaS providers may become the benchmark specialists themselves, but think about it: businesses will likely end up using a few systems from different providers, and if your purchasing, sales, invoicing, service ..etc data are all in different systems (and consequently aggregated by the different providers), wouldn’t you have a better competitive picture benchmarking yourself based on all those aspects? Does this mean we’ll have independent benchmarking consultants in the SaaS world? If so, will there be a secondary market for raw aggregate data?

But wait … whose data is it anyway? Trust in your data being secure, not lost, published, traded with is the cornerstone of the SaaS model’s viability. But we’re not talking about original customer data, rather its derivative – does that change the picture? There’s a potentially huge market opportunity here, yet SaaS veterans like Salesforce.com, NetSuite, RightNow …etc haven’t explored it yet. Why? I suspect for this very trust/ownership issue, which can be a potential mine-field. In the early days of SaaS it simply would not have been appropriate to address it, but now with mainstream SaaS acceptance (MicKinsey predicts 61% of $1B+ corporations will adopt one or more SaaS applications over the next year) it’s high time the industry starts addressing these issues.

Kudos to FreshBooks for being a pioneer in building the service as well as bringing a major industry dilemma to the forefront.

Update (01/04): Jeremiah is thinking along the same lines, discussing how storage companies will (?) eventually pay for your data. Yes, he talks about storage while I talk about applications, he talks about advertising while I talk about benchmarking, but in the end it’s the same: user data being processed to deliever business services.

Update (9/28/2008): Here’s another showcase of benchmarking turned into action messages on CloudAve.

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Betting on the NetSuite IPO

(Updated)

Phil Wainewright at ZDNet is running a poll on whether NetSuite will have a chance to go ahead with the long-awaited IPO or it will get folded back into the Empire.

I’m somewhat surprised by the above results, but since this is an early snapshot, please check the live poll for the current vote count.

Surprise or not, acquisition by Oracle is a realistic scenario, considering Larry Ellison’s close to 60% stake in NetSuite. This is certainly fellow Enterprise Irregular Jason Wood’s take.

I tend to believe that NetSuite is better off being an independent business; there are just too many differences for a merger to work well, and I don’t mean only technical, product-related differences. NetSuite is still largely a small business (SMB) player, and that’s a market that requires an entirely different Sales and Marketing approach, amongst others, and Oracle with it’s current “legacy” salesforce just can’t reach this market profitably. If your products are different, your target market is different, your organization, corporate culture are different, where’s the synergy? Big behemoth Oracle would kill NetSuite – Larry is better off with a portfolio approach, cashing in a 10-digit returnsmile_tongue

Talk about the SMB market – there really is no such thing. “SMB” was sufficient to describe the market to avoid, but now that the software industry is getting ready to actually address the needs of this segment, it’s too heterogeneous to be lumped together.A $100M business is just as different from a ten-person startup as it is from a Fortune 1000 company. When analysts talk about SMB, they really have the mid-market in mind; when SAP is announcing new SMB initiatives, it targets $100-$200M companies.

The forgotten “long tail” represents a huge untapped opportunity: millions of (very) small businesses that can now directly be reached, sold to, serviced inexpensively over the Net – classic SaaS style. Different markets require different organizations – NetSuite serves this segment much better than Oracle (or SAP, for that matter) ever could. In fact SAP would be wise to copy this chapter from Ellison’s book: it should get it’s own “NetSuite” by investing in (not acquiring) an up-and-coming small-business focused All-in-One SaaS provider, like European 24SevenOffice. The next NetSuite.

Update (12/11): NetSuite Gets Ready For Its Close-Up by BusinessWeek.
Update (12/19): TechCrunch is running a story titled NetSuite’s Going Public, Looking for $1 Billion Valuation. I don’t know if it’s based on new information or …. (?)


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How SAP Ended up Promoting NetSuite

NetSuite, the provider of perhaps the best hosted integrated software solution for the SMB market tried to rain on SAP’s parade during SAPPHIRE 06 in Orlando. They planned to host a cocktail party in a hotel suite right across the Convention Center. The party’s theme was “SAP for the rest of us” and the email invitation posed a question/answer: “Who will become the SAP for the midmarket? (It Ain’t SAP),” Cute.

Of course SAP got p***ed and enforced it’s contractual right to cancel competitive events in any of the SAPPHIRE venues. SAP’s Spokesman Bill Wohl called NetSuite’s move “guerilla marketing“.

Now, what’s wrong with Guerilla Marketing? It’s fun … if you have humor to appreciate it. Last week SAP didn’t. The result? NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson laughed off the “loss” and will hold a web-conference instead. This being a juicy story of course it got picked up in the media and quite a few blogs – the media blitz lasted a few days, then will start again around the web-conference … so basically SAP’s decision to kill the party provided NetSuite with a fair amount of publicity – exactly what it needs as it ramps up for its IPO planned later this year. Zach should send a thank-you note to SAP.

Here’s what I think SAP should have done: let it happen, and set up their own counter-party. Had it been allowed to proceed it would have been a noon-event. Not that NetSuite is a negligible company, in fact they have an excellent product. Some say Salesforce.com is just a glorified contact manager relative to NetSuite, and I tend to agree. (I put my money where my mouth is: in my last corporate job I became a NetSuite customer, after careful comparison to Salesforce). That said, NetSuite is targeting strictly the SMB market, in fact more the “S” than the “M”, while SAP despite all their SMB initiatives is still largely the Enterprise Company – SMB is just not their sweet spot. SAP had their own SMB people in Orlando (I interviewed Gadi Shamia, SVP for SMB Solutions, and intend to write about it soon) – they should have set up their own party right next to NetSuite, and present SAP’s vision for that market segment. In fact they could have embraced the NetSuite event (steal their show) and make up SAP logo’d signs pointing to both events.

The impact of the NetSuite party, especially in an environment where most participants are already biased towards SAP would have been minimal. In fact NetSuite had more to gain from the cancellation and the resulting media blitz then actually proceeding with the party … so much so, that I wonder if NetSuite intentionally leaked the news to SAP – a brilliant PR coup, if you ask me.

Related Posts:

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SaaS vs. Open Source for SMB’s? A No-Brainer.

(Update)
I have to take issue with Paul Gillin’s approach as he discusses whether SMB’s are better off with SaaS or Open Source Applications. If we equate Open Source to downloadable, on-premise installed software, I have no doubt, and have stated it before that the only good answer is SaaS. But, hold on, a few minutes later we’ll see these two options may not be mutually exclusive for long.

Paul analyzes several criteria:

  • cost
  • speed of deployment
  • customization
  • reliability
  • data ownership
  • vendor viability

These are all issues well-discussed on the web, and although Paul does not explicitly say, my reading is that he also leans towards the SaaS conclusion. The problem is that this criteria-by-criteria approach works well with a typical (mid-size) company where some level of IT expertise is present. Small Business America is very different from the web-savy geeky software startups; the majority are more traditional businesses with no CIO, IT department, in fact often without any IT support whatsoever. While the two main obstacles SMB’s face with any on-premise implementation are cost and (lack of) IT expertise, you can’t just translate the latter into cost – i.e. the cost of hiring full-time IT support. The opportunity cost of Management venturing into IT hiring and project decisions instead of focusing on their primary business makes this an impractical approach, leaving us with only one choice: SaaS.

Another issue not discussed in the article is integration. Open Source or SaaS, getting several packages work together requires IT and business process expertise, which typically means hiring expensive consultants. Therefore, I would go one step further: not only SaaS is the best choice for most SMB’s but they should seek to minimize the number of providers, i.e. the best choice is to use integrated All-In-One solutions.

The current undisputed leader in this field is NetSuite, but as they follow Salesforce.com’s footsteps and move upstream chasing midsize businesses, they leave an opening for up-and-coming challenger 24SevenOffice, which focuses solely on SMB’s, and covers a wider range of business functionality than the incumbent.

This is the situation today. Now, let’s revisit the original question: SaaS or Open Source? A tiny startup named SQLFusion is working on making that question obsolete. The dilemma with Open Source: a lot of good applications are available, but they are written by geeks for geeks… you really have to be quite knowledgeable to download and implement them. Example: at one of the startups I am advising I use SugarCRM over the internet. Starting to use it was a no-brainer, but when I looked at the prerequisites and the process of installing it myself, my head started spinning. No way, this is not for me! Open Source Fusion, which I hear is within days of opening for a limited beta will bridge the gap between availability and usability of Open Source Programs, by offering such apps to be used over the Internet. In true On-Demand fashion, maintenance, upgrades all happen in the background, one can start using the programs without implementing them. So it will no longer be SaaS or Open Source, but SaaS and Open Source.

The first incarnation of Open Source Fusion will provide access to individual applications, still leaving the integration dilemma for SMB’s, but the technology under the hood enables the company to later offer an integration layer between the key applications it serves up.

So the future is Open Source Software as a Service. Hm, here’s an ugly acronym: OSSaaS (?)

Update (3/6). Releated posts:

Update (5/23): Stefan over at The Small Business Blog discusses the issue; his company, WinWeb is expected to offer Open Source apps as a service soon.


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Web 2.0 & Enterprise, Round 3: Enterprise Software for Small Businesses

(Updated)

This post is a continuation of Web 2.0 in the Enterprise – Round 2 in which I reflected on some thoughts brought up by Stephen Bryant in Five Reasons Web 2.0 and Enterprises Don’t Mix.

The Web 2.0 in the Enterprise TIE event I previously referred to was hectic, trying to cover way too many subjects in 90 minutes, with one common underlying assumption: Enterprise means large corporations. The theme of the night was how these Web 2.0 technologies and business/communication approaches will “seep in” to the large enterprise from the bottom up.
What is then Enterprise Software? Typically SAP, Oracle et al come to mind, and I can hear the roar “Enterprise Software is Dead” – well, is it?
If we define Enterprise Software as the traditional heavyweight, expensive, pay-huge-license-fees-upfront, then try-to-implement-forever model it is certainly challenged from two ends, by Open Source and the SaaS model. But there is another definition that is largely being overlooked:
Software that allows a company to conduct it’s everyday business, supporting most of the core, fairly standard business processes any company performs repeatedly.

With this definition, Enterprise Software has a whole new, largely unpenetrated market to enter: that of small businesses, referred to as the SMB or SME segment. Such enterprise functionality has traditionally been beyond reach for a typical small business, for two major reasons:

  • Cost (license, hardware, implementation, maintenance ..etc)
  • Lack of IT resources (integrating applications, designing processes, dealing with multiple vendors ..etc)

SaaS is the right answer for both, since it allows the SMB user to start using the functionality without an upfront investment, does not require implementation, upgrades, maintenance, worrying about backups and security ..etc.

Of course several Open Source packages are available completely free, which is a perfect solution for the cost problem, but I think most of these packages are by geeks for geeks; i.e. you really have to be quite IT-savy to implement, integrate, upgrade them, and as we stated most small businesses simply do not have that type of resource. Yes, that means the Silicon Valley tech-startups are not a true representation of the SMB world
Likewise, I don’t believe SOA, best-of-breed packages working together are an option for the SMB market, for the same reason. They will play an increasingly critical role in larger enterprises with a professional IT organization, but for a few more years SMB’s are far better off with integrated, All-In-One type On-Demand solutions.

Of the Web 2.0 companies Stephen mentions in Five Reasons Web 2.0 and Enterprises Don’t Mix two are offering Integrated On-Demand solutions:

  • NetSuite
    Stephen lists NetSuite along with Salesforce.com, and while they are in the same club, the significant difference is that Salesforce.com is only CRM, while NetSuite offers an integrated CRM+ERP package. They both are trying to become a “platform” via NetFlex and AppExchange, respectively. Both companies are definitely pushing upstream, going after the Enterprise market as in the first definition, i.e. large (or midsize) corporate customers.
  • 24SevenOffice
    Coming from Europe this company is lesser known. They focus on the SMB market and offer a modular but integrated system with a breath of functionality I simply haven’t seen elsewhere: Accounting, CRM (Contacts, Lead Mgt, SFA), ERP (Supply Chain, Orders, Products), Communication, Group Scheduling, HR, Project Management, Publishing, Intranet. Essentially a NetSuite+Communication, Collaboration. I’ve taken their test-drive (currently IE only) and liked it. I would debate how they structure their menu-system, as functions like Product, Inventory, SCM are all hidden under Financials.

Back to the economics: if SMB’s could not in the past afford Enterprise Software, the same held true for the Software Industry: they could not afford SMB’s, since there was just no way to make the numbers work. The cost of customer acquisition vs. the very low license fees made it an uneconomical model, whether via direct or channel sales.
Once again, technology comes to the rescue: the Internet, and largely Search Engine Marketing changes everything. Joe Kraus, Founder of JotSpot and previously Excite sums it up:
“ Ten years ago to reach the market, we had to do expensive distribution deals. We advertised on television and radio and print. We spent a crap-load of money. There’s an old adage in television advertising “I know half my money is wasted. Trouble is, I don’t know what half”. That was us. It’s an obvious statement to say that search engine marketing changes everything. But the real revolution is the ability to affordably reach small markets. You can know what works and what doesn’t. And, search not only allows niche marketing, it’s global popularity allows mass marketing as well (if you can buy enough keywords). “

Another benefit of SEM is that while traditional advertising can pick the right demographic groups, it cannot pick the right time, only a fraction of the target audience is in “change mode”, looking for a solution. That’s the beauty of Search Engine Marketing: obviously if you are searching, you have a problem and are looking for a solution, which is half a win from the vendor’s point of view.
Small Business Trends recently published a survey on “Selling to Small Businesses”, which supports the increasing importance of SEM: “A full 73% of vendors attract small business customers through search engine results”

Finally a quote from Ziff Davis again: “Products for the long tail and SMB market, where 72 million businesses spend $5k or less each year, are a much easier play” Wow, I don’t know where those numbers come from, but if I were a SMB-focused software vendor, I’d certainly like them … there’s a goldmine out there.

Update (2/22): Perfect timing for this report to come out just now: U.S. SMBs to Spend $2.2 Billion on Software in 2006, Says AMI-Partners

Update (4/17): Interprise Suite (recently debuted at Demo 2006) claims to be “The FIRST Accounting / ERP / CRM Solution to Bring the Power of the Internet to Small and Mid-sized Business“. While I take issue withe the claim to be “first”, considering the breadth of functionality it’s definitely an option to consider for SMB’s .

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