Subba’s Serendipitous moments

February 10, 2010

SAP faces the moment of truth

Filed under: Business,Competition,Leadership — Subbaraman Iyer @ 10:58 am
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In a surprise move, SAP announced the resignation of Leo Apothekar as CEO of SAP and instituted a co-CEO model. In retrospect, the problems at SAP has been in the making for a number of years.

SAP’s financials fell in 2009, like many others but it was in a recovery mode. In the full fiscal year 2009, total revenue was down 8% to €10.67 billion ($15 billion) and net income was down 5% to €1.83 billion (€2.57 billion). Q4 revenue was down 9% to €3.19 billion or $4.8 billion. Net income decreased 12% to €727 million ($1.02 billion) or €0.63 per share.

Software revenue in Q4 declined 15% y-o-y to €1.12 billion but doubled from €525 million last quarter. Software and software-related service revenues were down 4% to €2.57 billion but up from €1.94 billion last quarter. For the full year, software revenues declined 28% to €2.61 billion. Software and software-related service revenues were down 3% to €8.20 billion.

In the SME segment, SAP has just  73,000 customers globally despite making multiple product offerings like Business ByDesign, SAP Business One and SAP All-in-one.  SAP defines SME as business with 100-500 employees and revenue of less than $500 million. This was a clear under-perform given that Oracle managed to penetrate this segment.

SAP failed to execute the SME strategy effectively, something that I clearly foresaw about which I commented here.

The moment of truth was not just the revenue decline, but the impact of the lack of strategy both internally and externally.

This can be attributed to SAP’s lack of commitment to the SaaS strategy despite making public announcements about its willingness to offer the SaaS model. SAP’s strategy that Business ByDesign would essentially serve as an ‘on-ramp’ to its on-premise customers rather than be a distinct separate offering is a flawed one. This created huge confusion in the minds of the customers (something I had told them in 2007). Further it seems that this confusion spread amongst the internal staff who never understood how to position the SAP’s offerings in the market place. Hence I am not surprised that 50% of the internal staff didn’t express confidence in the executive board.

SAP’s decision to increase maintenance fees in the midst of the economic slowdown didn’t win any friends amongst the customers. It has shaken customer confidence about SAP’s customer orientation.

Is the co-CEO model the solution to the leadership challenge amidst such strategic and operational challenges? I am not so sure. SAP has had several leadership challenges in recent times as listed here.

Hasso Plattner was his usual candid self when he said “ But to be profitable, we will have to be a happy company and our customers have to be happy as well”. .

So expect Hasso Plattner to be not just visible but with his hands firmly on the wheel.

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October 3, 2009

Salesforce.com into financial applications

Unit 4 Agresso has now teamed up Salesforce.com — the poster boy of SaaS to create FinancialForce.com that will produce SaaS based accounting, and financial management applications.

Well SaaS has been growing, but CFOs are mostly conservative and would not want to the data to be in the cloud. Hence the success of Financialforce.com will be keenly watched.

Now there are several interesting issues that come about with this joint venture.

For a start, it seems that Salesforce.com is a minority investor. Salesforce.com’s presence will undoubtedly create higher visibility for SaaS based financial applications. Hence other vendors will follow suit giving the SaaS proposition a greater momentum. Enterrpise software vendors who offer products in the mid market space like Oracle, Microsoft and SAP will have to respond quickly to this trend.

But with this association, Salesforce.com also seem to be sending mixed signals to its App Exchange partners who use the Salesforce.com’s Force.com platform to build new applications. Well, they could build an application only to realize that Salesforce.com might one day compete with them. Recent acquisitions by Salesforce.com in many of the App Exchange parnters’ businesses have not made Salesforce.com popular with many of the partners. Yet, there’s no compelling SaaS platform currently.

It looks like Salesforce.com needs to clearly clarify its positioning, strategic goals and its partnering model.

September 23, 2009

Dell seeks growth in Perot Systems

Dell made a surprise announcement to acquire Perot systems for close to $4 billion. Perot Systems in a IT services firms, predominantly US centric with government and the health care verticals accounting for over 70% of its revenues. By acquiring Perot Systems, Dell is just trying to follow the footsteps of IBM and HP by being a player in the IT services organization.

In my view, this is not a great step for Dell and I am disappointed. Here are the pros and cons:

Vertical presence: Perot Systems may have a great presence in the U.S. government and healthcare but outside of these verticals and outside U.S. it is a very marginal player. The healthcare sector may see some headwind thanks to the impeding reforms but the healthcare sector has been slow to innovate and have less appetite for new IT technology and services.

Margins: First Perot Systems doesn’t have great margins; in fact its margins are lower than industry standards and the last 6 months the results have been disappointing. For the 6 months ending June 2009, Perot made $59 million on a sales of $1.3 billion, which translates to a net margin of just 4.5%. Last year Perot Systems earned $117 million on sales of $2.8 billion.

Synergy: It is likely that Dell’s plan is to use Perot Systems to undertake IT services within its enterprise customers. This looks tough, as both the organizations have a different sales/engagement model. There is no significant synergy, and no integration issues as well. Dell is a $60 billion business and the Perot IT services business is relatively insignificant.

Strategic fit: While the acquisition gives Dell a services outfit, it is unlikely to be a strong strategic fit. Dell’s competencies are in supply chain, direct marketing, agility to respond and being able to sell volume products. The services business is an entirely different kettle of fish and the verticals where Perot is strong — the government and the healthcare are not noted for being agile. How this acquisition could become the “anchor” acquisition for IT services is difficult for me to understand unless Dell is planning on a roll up strategy to acquire other IT services firms.

With this step Dell also seems to be going on a different path. All trends and figures indicate that Dell’s position is becoming difficult with new areas like cloud computing, SaaS and other developments. Dell needs to bolster its offerings in that space to contend with the likes of Cisco and IBM and the Oracle-Sun combination as all of them are beefing up their offerings on the server space.

A strong product focused organization with its unique DNA and specifically strong organization culture will have to contend with several hiccups to make sense of this acquisition. IBM, HP and other It services organizations are unlikely to be impacted.

September 20, 2009

U.S. Federal government to use the cloud and the App Store

Vivek Kundra — the Federal CIO and who is actively promoting the innovation agenda announced Apps.Gov. It includes a variety of business applications, hosting and social applications all housed in a cloud.

All the federal agencies will be able to buy the cloud computing applications and services and this will surely bring the cost of IT services in the federal budget. It is also a very innovative way of standardizing applications.

What Apps.Gov also ensures is that the government enjoys the same benefits that technology changes and pricing models have to offer to the consumer. The government also can reduce the cost of IT infrastructure like building data centers a, servers, storage. Some applications may even be free.

I do not know how he is going to handle the privacy and security issues, but I guess given the size of the federal IT budget, many vendors will come forward to build the standards needed for the Government to be their customer. Google has already responded by announcing that it would dedicate a part of its computing infrastructure to serve the federal government.

Sure, other vendors will follow.

All in all, this is a great initiative and something that other Governments should also consider.

September 10, 2008

Cloud is confusing!

Filed under: Business,Model — Subbaraman Iyer @ 2:40 pm
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“Cloud computing” has been a buzzword and it means different things to different people. What started as the ASP in the early part of the decade, morphed to Utility computing and now everything is “Cloud computing”.

Generically speaking, the tern “cloud computing” is just an alternate  solution that doesn’t use the in-house data centre or any vendor specific hosting resource. It is a virtual huge infrastructure where both computing and storage resource is available on a pay-as-you-go on-demand basis. The compelling benefit is in its scalability  and the ability to access an application anywhere. There are clearly 2 distinct layers in the cloud:

Infrastructure: Amazon Web services is the poster child offering both computing and storage resources with a simple API interface. It has been a tremendous success gauged by the fact that Amazon’s EC2 and S3 in Q4 2007 exceeded all of Amazon’s web properties during its own peak time. See the impressive evidence here.

Platform: Google’s AppEngine and a few other platforms offer a development environment where the developer adheres to certain guidelines and the scaling is performed by the platform.

However Forrester in their latest report have expanded the definition of the “cloud computing” and in the process have even made the definition even foggier.

Clearly Software as a service and Web services cannot be considered as part of a cloud since the former is a specific end user software with a specific functionality focus. They outgrew from the traditional world of the application service provider hosted and are the least flexible. The Web services world again is a specific application for an organization.

If one takes the factors flexibility, scalability, ubiquity as the cornerstones of cloud computing, I fail to understand how SaaS or Web services or even App components-as-a-service become part of the cloud.

In my view it is only the bottom 3 layers that constitute the cloud. I would like to view the Cloud as just another way the IT infrastructure is being delivered and consumed.

I am just waiting to see how the other analysts define the cloud.

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April 27, 2008

State of the Business intelligence industry

Dave Hatch writes a good report on the expansion and contraction of the “BI” here.

He mentions three factors that inhibit expansion within the enterprise:

  • A lack of BI skill sets among non-technical business users

  • The inability to integrate data from all sources necessary to meet business needs

  • Poor data quality – end users do not trust the information.

I would add a few more based on my experience in Asia Pacific:

  1. Vendors tend to pitch solutions to buyers than to end users.

  2. There is often a big disconnect between IT and end users in terms of what BI applications to target. In most organizations BI tools often end up as mere reporting applications.

  3. End users often have little understanding of the analysis that they need that would enable them to do strategic planning. Barring the CFO community where the budgeting and consolidation process is often well defined, other functional areas rarely have a well considered view of the role of analytics as applicable to their functions.

  4. Many BI projects have failed to produce the necessary business outcomes and hence there is some kind of skepticism. This explains why despite BI being high on the priority list of CIOs, the actual usage has stagnated, something that you confirm.

I have long held the view that for BI to succeed, the vendor community has to invest in more awareness, education and process know how with users. Given that the BI industry has consolidated with Oracle’s acquisition of Hyperion, SAP’s acquisition of Business Objects and IBM’s acquisition of Cognos, (3 of the largest pure play BI vendors), this is unlikely to happen. These large software vendors are likely to bundle BI as part of their overall applications strategy, which could give users a standard template driven packages, but enterprises are unlikely to gain significant benefits or competitive advantage, as they have not been part of of the evolution of the analytics mind set within the organization.

David also talks of BI being delivered as a SaaS service. We evaluated its appeal, and found that a lot of standard reporting applications lend themselves to the SaaS model. The moment the analytics applications has to seek data from diverse data sources, organizations have no choice but to go for the on-premise model.

I don’t think that vendors have managed to integrate unstructured information into their BI solutions. Clearly there’s a need and there’s a market opportunity.

I just want to emphasize the fact that it is not often the problem with the BI tool set, it is the inability of end users to devise their analytics frameworks relevant to their organization that is blocking the growth of the BI industry. The vendors haven’t addressed this. They would have to establish a baseline literacy of BI tools and applications, and ensure more effective implementation, rather than merely focusing on selling standard applications.

The promise of BI is yet to be translated into actual performance. BI technology has no value unless one gains agreement from the users on how it is to be deployed, more so when unstructured data powered by people whose roles and interests vary has to be incorporated. Clearly a major rethink is required.

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April 21, 2008

Google and Salesforce.com partnership

Filed under: Business,Strategy — Subbaraman Iyer @ 6:22 pm
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Google and Salesforce.com have decided to enter into a partnership with the objective of accelerating their sales of CRM and office software.

The NY Times carries the announcement and makes the point that this collaboration effort is targeted to fight Microsoft. While it is good news for the buyers, I believe that this is more targeted at on-premise software vendors like SAP and Oracle. I am sure both SAP and Oracle will be feel the pressure and accelerate their on-demand offerings.

Further, it would be interesting to see how this collaboration develops as days go by since both Google and Salesforce.com are moving on different trajectories. Salesforce.com is spending significant effort and resources in aggressively promoting their sfdc.com platform, rather than just their CRM applications. Google still hasn’t made any clear strategic commitments towards offering a complete MS Office alternative and taking on Microsoft. At this stage, it just helps Google to deploy their consumer applications like email, calendaring, IM etc. to get into the enterprise.

Hence I think the NY Times piece was just being narrowly focused on the potential benefits of the collaborative effort.

It would also be interesting to see what would happen if salesforce.com gets acquired as is widely rumored.

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