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FUD in the House of SaaS – More on Suites

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.

(Cross-posted @ CloudAve)

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Salesforce.com: Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

Is Salesforce.com’s glass for SMBs half full (of lemonade)  or half empty?  I borrowed the lemonade metaphor from Venturebeat’s post announcing Salesforce.com’s new Contact Manager offering for (very) small businesses.

On second thought we should use orange juice as a metaphor – as in disappearing orange juice, by Tropicana which offers less juice in a redesigned pitcher for the same price, and even tries to sell it as a benefit to consumerssmile_angry

Salesforce.com “pulled a Tropicana” with the announcement of their $9 Contact Management edition, and the funny thing is, nobody seems to have noticed it. No, the media duly buys what Salesforce.com PR sells, welcoming the new edition as “giving something back to the little guy” , “breaking through a price barrier”, “making it affordable for SMBs to get in the Cloud”.

Nobody bothered to do some fact-checking, which would have unveiled that in the new Edition is in fact offering less for the same price, a’la Tropicana.  Salesforce.com has pulled off a price increase and it went largely unnoticed.

sforce1Prior to this announcement the lowest-priced edition of Salesforce CRM, the Group Edition was priced at $9 per user per month, and it is now increased to $35.   The few media outlets that noticed this refer to it as temporary promotion for August, that has now expired.   Let’s see just how temporary it was: the “promo” started not in August but in June, and not in 2009, but 2008.

sforce2

This promotion was supposed to expire in July of last year, but it did not – and I correctly predicted it would transition into a permanent price-cut, without much fanfare.  Indeed the $9 pricing lasted over a year.  And just for the record, prior to dropping the price to $9, CRM Group Edition had cost $20 – so the $35 new price is definitely not just ending a promotion, it’s a price hike of several notches.

But forget history, let’s look at value: having a Contact Manager functionality is certainly useful, although I suspect Google Apps (which is integrated with this Salesforce.com offering) will also offer enhanced Contacts functions.   Still, nice – for 2 users only, as that’s the maximum number  allowed for this edition.  Talk about 2-person companies, let’s remember that Salesforce.com used to offer a free single-user Personal Edition CRM.  I’ve just checked my dormant account, it’s still working – but the offering is no longer available for new users.

So let’s see: from free CRM for one user, later $9 CRM up to five users, we’ve gone to $9 Contact Manager for two users.  Quite an improvement.smile_sad

Now if you have 3 users, the lowest entry point to Salesforce.com is now Group Edition at $35 per person = $105 vs. the previous price of $27.   And if you have 6 users, you no longer qualify for Group Edition, your entry point now is Professional Edition at $65 per user.

Oh, well.  Math lesson over, it’s a nice sunny morning, time for my glass of OJ ( not half full, not half empty – just full.smile_tongue)

(Disclosure: I’m Editor of CloudAve, a group blog sponsored by Zoho.  This article is cross-posted there.)

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Spirit (-less) Airlines Charges Flight 1549 Survivors Cancellation Fee

Ouch, this airline badly needs Customer Service training.

Spirit Airlines is trying to charge passengers extra fees after canceling a flight, which forced the passengers to be on the plane that landed in the river Thursday.

Rob and Jeff Kolodjay were scheduled to fly on Spirit Airlines to a golf vacation with four other friends on Thursday out of LaGuardia in New York City. Their flight got cancelled, and they were rebooked on to US Airways flight 1549.

While the Kolodjay’s have good things to say about US Airways, they are less pleased about the policies of their original carrier. When they tried to cancel the return tickets on Spirit they could not use because they never made it to Myrtle Beach, the company representative insisted on charging them a cancellation fee.

Source: Fox61,   Consumerist, and soon all media outlets.  I doubt Spirit has even a clue about the magnitude of the PR Nighmare they are getting into…

Update: The story is making the rounds.  Her’s an interesting reaction:

You know, in some cultures the response to this would be to lock the customer service representative in a room with a gun and expect him to do the honorable thing. I’m not saying that this is the right solution – but it’s probably the one that Spirit Airlines might end up wishing that it could pursue…

(Photo Credit: CrunchGear)

Update:  Somebody who thinks woke up @ Spirit, reversing the earlier decision:

Spirit Airlines has given the Kolodjay family a full refund and have issued credits to their credit cards.  They will not be charged anything by Spirit Airlines..  We applaud everyone involved in bringing these passengers to safety wish the family the best.

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If Scoble Thinks He Found Bad Startup Marketing, He Ain’t Seen Nothing

If Robert Scoble thinks he found examples of poor startup marketing (Startups: your web site sucks) he ain’t seen nothingsmile_eyeroll.  How about picking a name that almost actively drives visitors away?

A few months ago Ben Kepes drew my attention to Viisibility, and I promptly called out their really poor naming:  how can they call their supply chain company Viisibility when there is already an ERP business named Visibility?

Now a friend who’s watching TechCrunch50 on site tells me he likes FairSoftware.  OK, let’s check them out… what is so innovative about Fair / Trade Show management software, and it does not even appear to be a  startup!

Hm… but Crunchbase says:

FairSoftware is the place to start and grow a virtual online business. It only takes a few clicks for software developers and website publishers to incorporate, hire and share revenue with other project members.

Bloggers, designers and developers can use FairSoftware to grow their business by working together online, without having to deal with the complexity and limitations of traditional corporations.

What’s wrong here?  They picked a name with only the .net domain available: fairsoftware.net .  Not too good… but perhaps not the end of the world – unless the .com version belongs to another software company.  Now it’s a disastrous choice.  Unless, of course if they already have a deal to acquire that domain.smile_omg

Update: iCharts is another one with the .net domain only, but it’s by far not as bad as FairSoftware.  icharts.com does not appear to be a real business, just a parked domain whose owner is probably holding out for a high price.  Hm… will they buy it?

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How Brian Solis Invented the Conversation Prism

First I really could not imagine how PR Maven Brian Solis came up with the Conversation Prism: Chrysanthemum: (clarification by Susan Scrupski)

But then I got enlightened by fellow Enterprise Irregular Brian Sommer, who introduced me to the creative process:


Creating A Stop Sign – Watch more free videos

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Have Some Class, PR People!

Yet another PR email about a startup launch at Demo – that’s OK, some are actually interesting.  The email itself was a fairly standard one, what ticked me off was the signature block:

Jane Doe
Public Relations Consultant
[email protected]

www.customcardsbyme.com

Ebay UserID: idunno

Obviously I changed the specifics, to protect her privacy.  And on second thought, I am not the one hurt here – the startup is.

Please, please, when you spend megabucks to attend Demo, could you not find a real PR rep?  (If you can’t, I’m sure my friend Brian Solis will help you).  And for you, so-called PR Consultants: please, have some class!  You have to decide if you’re promoting your Client or your eBay deals.  You can’t do both.

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The Nothing New Announcement

Ever get the feeling that some tech firms have run out of anything new to say?  So does fellow Enterprise Irregular Brian Sommer, so he offers a template for such companies:

XYZ Announces Nothing New

Nothing New to Become the New Industry Standard  

January 9, 2008 – Chicago – Today, XYZ Corporation is announcing ‘Nothing New’ a revolutionary, industry-leading approach to stall-ware, procrastination and marketing waste. “We believe this is the most important announcement we’ve made this year – maybe this decade”, says Jim Bigwind, CMO of XYZ. 

“This announcement is nothing short of extraordinary. It is, in fact, nothing” says XYZ customer Getz Fleeced Oftin at SoftTouch Ltd.

Blithering Media represents way too many tech firms and amazingly enough has no one on staff that understands the space. Blithering Media personnel are expert though at crafting press releases on just about anything (or nothing as in this case). For more info on Blithering Media contact us [email protected] blitheringmedia.com

I’m not giving away the full announcement – click over to Software Safari and enjoy. smile_tongue

Update (1/11): Wow, Brian is on fire: his next piece, Acronym Shortage to Adversely Impact Tech Sector is a must-read. smile_teeth

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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.

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