Business ByDesign

SAP Launches Financials OnDemand

On November 14, 2012, in conjunction with the co-located SapphireNow and SAPTechEd events in Madrid, Spain, SAP announced the general availability of SAP® Financials OnDemand. The new offering is a stand-alone financial management solution, a derivative of its SAP Business ByDesign suite, now powered by HANA for speed and power. It targets medium to large enterprises and represents SAP’s desire to compete for mind share (and deals) in specific lines of business – in this case the business executives who manage the money within an enterprise. Based entirely in the cloud and offered exclusively as Software as a Service (SaaS) it makes two important assumptions: these enterprises are willing to entrust their financial transactions to the cloud and a good portion of them want to “mix and match” applications rather than run a single tightly integrated business suite.

What is it?

SAP describes SAP® Financials OnDemand as “a real-time, insight-driven financial management solution designed for the cloud.” However in spite of the fact that SAP describes this application as one that manages money (versus people, customers or suppliers), the breadth of the solution extends beyond strictly accounting. Unlike other stand-alone accounting applications that capture those all-important financial transactions, but nothing more, Financials OnDemand expands to also include sales orders and purchase orders. This is important in that it means it can support end-to-end processes like order-to-cash and procure-to-pay and provide a system of record for all business transactions.

Mint Jutras defines Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) as an integrated suite of modules that provides the operational and transactional system of record of the business. So in providing this system of record, is SAP Financials OnDemand really ERP in disguise? The answer to that: Not really.

Although at its core, ERP provides a system of record, in fact the functional footprint of ERP has grown steadily over the years, becoming far more complex. In manufacturing organizations it supports the planning and scheduling of production, the movement and storage of inventory, engineering and product definition and perhaps the servicing of products. It might also extend to managing the engagement with prospects and customers. It might support employees with human resource functionality. This list could go on and on. As a result, it is becoming more and more difficult to tell where ERP ends and other applications begin and it is this complexity that often presents a barrier to adoption.

The scope of SAP Financials OnDemand is more constrained, thereby reducing the complexity. But the solution also represents a different approach to enterprise applications. While ERP is tightly integrated, SAP Financials OnDemand takes a more modular approach (often referred to as “Best of Breed”) with cloud-based financials as a foundation. Using this approach, it is engineered either to stand alone or to play nicely (integrate) with other applications.

In the past, the trade-off between the two approaches was between functionality and ease of integration. Over the years the pendulum has swung between preferences for the two approaches, and as ERP has become more robust, the pendulum has tended to swing in favor of the integrated suite. But as integration technologies have matured, these trade-offs are no longer as easy to evaluate as they once were and perhaps the pendulum is starting to swing again. And while the preference for a single integrated suite has been most prevalent in smaller enterprises (with limited Information Technology (IT) resources), SAP sees the target market for Financials OnDemand as medium to large enterprises, particularly those operating across a global, distributed environment. But then, very few medium to large enterprises are not global and distributed today.

SAP has long been a powerhouse in terms of providing financial management applications for large multi-national enterprises. So it has the expertise and experience necessary to provide a robust financial application that will support a global enterprise. And the company is also smart enough not to reinvent the wheel, but instead base the solution on one that already exists. With the goal of providing a cloud-based solution, SAP Business ByDesign was the logical choice.

SAP Business ByDesign is most often referred to as a “business suite”, but it fits the Mint Jutras definition of ERP, as a tightly integrated suite of modules that provides an operational and transactional system of record, which of course, includes financials. It is also SAP’s newest ERP solution, designed for the cloud and offered exclusively as a multi-tenant Software as a Service (SaaS) solution.

Because it was designed and developed as a tightly integrated suite, accounting modules within Business ByDesign assumed other Business ByDesign modules to be the source of transactions that are ultimately recorded in the general ledger. So part of the process of bringing Financials OnDemand to market was to decouple the financial processes from that tight integration, creating a more “loosely coupled” and “pluggable” architecture. To integrate with Financials OnDemand, other applications simply need to map to its model of financial objects. For the layman, those financial objects might be customers, suppliers, orders, accounts, etc.

So we see that SAP Financials OnDemand is indeed a cloud-based financial management system, capable of standing on its own legs or fairly easily integrate with other applications. But what about the claim that it is “real-time” and “insight-driven?”

 

SAP Turns to HANA for Real-time Insights

To meet this goal, SAP turned to HANA. HANA represents some game-changing new technology. It has been described in the past as a database and also an in-memory computing engine and a platform for development. But to the business executive making a decision about a financial management solution, the underlying technology is only of interest in terms of the value it brings. The value of HANA is primarily speed and speed supports real-time data and decisions.

But there are several aspects of speed. One is the sheer computing speed. Volumes of data have increased exponentially over recent years. At the same time companies need to deal with a finer granularity of detail. For example, it is no longer sufficient for many companies to plan, forecast and manage at aggregate levels. Revenue and cost forecasts previously identified at a business unit or a regional level, must now dive down to the individual product or customer level, or perhaps even by customer and product. Think about how this inflates the volume of data and the granularity of the forecast and the speed at which the basis for decision-making changes. With traditional methods of storing and analyzing data we often measured elapsed time in hours and days. HANA has the potential of reducing that to minutes and even seconds.

But how does speed provide insight and support insight-driven financial management? If you can effectively deal with vast volumes of data, you can analyze performance that much more quickly and also more iteratively. First pass analyses often produce the need to dive deeper and possibly slice and dice the data a different way. When those iterations take days, decisions are made with the analysis at hand. There simply isn’t time for another cut, another way of looking at the detail. Insight is limited.

In the past the only way this type of analysis could be done in the proper timeframe was to anticipate how it would need to be summarized – by business unit, region, product line, etc. That meant more files and file structures. But what happens when that changes? How do you cope when the organization is restructured, the market changes, you introduce new products, or you experience a merger or acquisition?

If you have the technical power and speed to calculate what you need on the fly (ad hoc) then you don’t have to anticipate the levels of summarization, the different ways you might want to analyze the data. If all you have to do is capture the raw transaction and decide later how to summarize, slice and dice, then it makes it reduces the complexity of the setup, (no need to build in hierarchies that are hard to change later) and the file structures.

Admittedly, the elimination of the files is more value to the developers. But by making the developers more efficient, you can ultimately deliver more value to the consumer of the technology. And if you take it one step further and make it truly self-service for an astute business analyst, you remove an entire layer of delay and disruption in meeting new and changing needs of the business. This is what financial management solutions powered by HANA can deliver.

Are companies ready to put this in the cloud?

The willingness to consider SaaS and cloud based solutions has lagged the hype cycle that industry observers have created. Front office applications such as sales force automation (SFA) and customer relationship management (CRM) solutions led the way. These “engagement systems” lent themselves easily to a shared environment where instant access and collaboration are the keys to success. Yet accounting and other back office “transaction systems” seemed to be the antithesis, where control, privacy and security are paramount. But the resistance to putting transactional system of records in the cloud is disappearing and interest is not limited to small companies.

In a 2011 Mint Jutras enterprise solution study, the willingness to consider a Software as a Service (SaaS) deployment option for transaction-based systems of record increased steadily from 42% in small companies (those with annual revenues under $25 million) to 59% in large enterprises (revenue over $1 billion). The 2013 study results are now coming in and it looks like the interest in SaaS based solutions continues to grow.

Why is it that these companies are now more likely than small companies to consider a cloud-based solution? Chances are these companies are not single, monolithic organizational structures. Instead they are multi-divisional and multi-dimensional. What better way than a cloud deployment to get them all on the same financial page? While divisions or business units might have been left to their own devices in the past, today medium and large enterprises are defining standards and holding operating locations to these standards.

But will “Mix and Match” Work?

In taking this modular approach, SAP has made the assumption that customers will want to “mix and match” and pick cloud solutions that best fit their specific business problems. The further assumption is that customers will increasingly call for a cloud-based, modern financials “engine” to tie all these cloud solutions into a loosely-coupled suite with a common financial core. This approach won’t be for everyone. There will still be those that prefer the tightly integrated business suite approach. Those that find the financial management functionality of Financials OnDemand appealing but are looking for a single, tightly integrated suite might prefer the full Business ByDesign suite.

This approach is most likely to be viewed favorably in enterprises that have already ventured into the world of cloud-based solutions but not for all their needs. Perhaps they are running a cloud-based solution like Salesforce.com as a result of the sales organization feeling the enterprise solutions did not address their (sales force automation) needs. So they circumvented the IT department all on their own. Or perhaps it was with the blessing of IT. Either way, they already have experienced the (typically) lower costs, easier upgrades and better support for remote work forces that a SaaS solution can provide.

Now might be the time to offer them an alternative to existing legacy solutions or predominantly on-premise based solutions. In this case a cloud-based solution, particularly one that is loosely-coupled, might fit well into their existing environment without causing a complete rip and replace of all existing solutions. Add to that the speed and power of HANA for real-time insights and you might just have a perfect storm that results in a significant step forward for the progressive business.

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Shedding More Light on SAP’s Cloud Strategy

Last week I visited SAP’s US headquarters in Newtown Square, PA for an analyst event. During that event Sven Denecken delivered an update on SAP’s cloud strategy. Sven is SVP of Cloud Strategy and Head of Co-Innovation. While he reports to Lars Dalgaard, former SuccessFactors CEO and now SAP Executive Board Member in charge of all that is “cloud” at SAP today, Sven comes from SAP proper (i.e. not from SuccessFactors) and knows the ERP game quite well. As you might recall from my previous post from May, I walked away from SapphireNow with questions and concerns about SAP’s cloud strategy and feared that perhaps SAP had sacrificed its ERP DNA for cloud DNA. After speaking with Sven, I feel better, even though the story hasn’t really changed all that much.

To summarize Sven’s presentation, cloud is not only hype, but a reality at SAP. The goal is to bring the next generation of cloud applications to market. Next gen means a consumer-like user experience, with “mobile first” development, rapid innovation cycles and customer co-innovation to support greater business flexibility and agility. Social collaboration is not viewed as a separate pillar but as an embedded, integral part of the product design. And for added measure, toss in real-time data and content, B2B exchanges and analytics.

In keeping with the Lars party line, Sven also talked about “loosely coupled” solutions. Yet somehow when Sven, an ERP veteran, talked about “loosely coupled” it came across less like breaking ERP apart and more like a portfolio of applications, including ERP, which could be consumed at an individual company’s own pace. This is familiar territory since growing ERP footprints have made it increasingly difficult to determine where ERP ends and other applications begin. These solutions would be connected through open, cloud-based integration. Integration would be tight (perhaps seamless?) for SAP applications but also available to connect to 3rd party cloud solutions as well as existing on-premise solutions.

Perhaps because in the days before Lars, SAP Business By Design had been declared the go-forward platform for cloud development, and the SuccessFactors solutions were obviously not developed on it, the question of platform was raised at SapphireNow. But Lars downplayed it, saying customers don’t care about the platform; they care only about the user experience. And he was setting out to make beautiful products more beautiful. But beauty has to be more than just skin deep and let’s face it: Products developed on different platforms are harder to integrate than those sharing a common platform. And while in a pure cloud environment the customer is shielded from worrying about such things as platforms, it makes the supported environment inherently more complicated.

So while SAP will not be in the business of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and it already clearly plays in the Software as a Service (SaaS) game, it intends to offer a Platform as a Service (PaaS). While now it has multiple platforms, ultimately SAP will have one standard PaaS offering and it will be based on NetWeaver. Admittedly this will take time and acquisitions will continue to make this a challenge over time.  The platform needs to be open since customers have already invested in applications and these need to keep running. This has the potential of adding a huge degree of complexity for SAP, but it wants to “own” these connections in order to offer its customers one hand to shake for applications and platform, with end-to-end security, high availability and disaster recovery.

SAP intends to offer standard integration connecting cloud applications to the Business Suite (on premise), and also offer cloud-based (SaaS) fully integrated suites (ERP) for mid-market customers (with Business ByDesign and Business One).

A couple other points made that might be worth noting… Remember Sven referred to “mobile first“ development, meaning any new development must be able to run on a mobile device right from the get-go. This represents a big change for the development teams. If you initially limit the size of the screen, it forces the design team to simplify and think first about essentials. They can then add the complexities later, if at all.

The other point is hinted at with Sven’s somewhat unusual title. Not only is he SVP of Cloud Strategy, he is also the head of “co-innovation.” Co-innovation refers to the close relationship SAP has developed with its customers, along with the adoption of agile development methodologies. SAP’s promise of rapid innovation cycles and customer co-innovation translates to four releases per year, delivered through true multi-tenancy. That means customers all run on a single, shared instance of the software, and the solution provider decides when it will be upgraded. While some customers balk at this concept, preferring instead to control their own upgrades, in fact if innovation is delivered as optional features, there is little down-side to the forced march forward of a multi-tenant environment and a lot of upside. While the customer may not be entirely ready to adopt new features, the vendor bears most of the burden of the upgrade and innovation is there waiting when the customer is ready.

There are certainly many other facets to SAP’s cloud strategy, but this update was at least enough to lend more clarity to a cloudy solution.

 

 

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SAP’s Cloud Strategy: Striving For Clarity

Sometimes procrastination pays off. Whenever I attend an event like SapphireNow, I always write something about it. In the case of Sapphire in particular, I usually have several things I want to “say.” But it has been over a week since I headed out from the event (a bit early this year) and yet this is my first attempt to write anything. Why? First of all, I was on the road, but that usually doesn’t stop me. The bigger reason… I had been really looking forward to hearing about (and writing about) SAP’s cloud strategy.  With the acquisition of SuccessFactors and the reorganization of the teams, I had a lot of questions. Unfortunately the presentations (to groups both large and small) this year created more new questions than they answered and I struggled with how I could publicly voice my lingering questions and concerns constructively.

But before I resolved that dilemma, the picture changed.

Yesterday (May 22, 2012) SAP announced it would expand its cloud presence through the acquisition of Ariba. While I know Ariba quite well, I haven’t followed the company closely over the past several years. The SAP announcement said, “Ariba is the second largest cloud vendor and runs the largest global trading network, driving more than $319 billion in commerce transactions among more than 730,000 companies.” The acquisition will make SAP a clear leader in cloud Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) and also has a direct impact on some of my concerns.

My Questions

To put this in context, let me explain some of the questions I had after I heard Lars Dalgaard, former SuccessFactor CEO and now SAP Executive Board Member, speak about the company’s cloud strategy. During his keynote, and also in a press release launched during the show, cloud solutions were announced for four lines of business to manage people, money, customers and suppliers. That statement alone raised no red flags with me. Every company deals with those four elements in some form or another. But the comment Lars made next did cause concern. He added something along the lines of, “That covers everything any company would need.” With my own roots extending deeply in the manufacturing space, my first thought was, “Did I hear that right?” Those four elements are indeed critical to every manufacturer, but there’s also more to manage, like inventory, planning and scheduling, engineering and production. I Tweeted:

Didn’t hear @LarsLuv talk about #Manufacturing processes in #cloud #sapphirenow

So just to be sure, in the press conference that followed, I asked if this had been an oversight or had SAP specifically decided against competing in this market. The answer I got (from Lars himself) was that SAP thought the interest and demand for other solutions far outweighed the interest and demand for manufacturing solutions. This included solutions that surround ERP with functions such as CRM and HCM. History bears this out. Adoption rates for cloud solutions for these extensions far exceeds cloud-based ERP. But that’s more about what’s running in the cloud, not what kind of company is running it. So that implied (but didn’t specifically state) that other applications were a higher priority for the cloud than ERP.

OK, that’s a business decision and SAP appeared to be going where the easiest sell and the most opportunity was. I followed up with another Tweet saying it didn’t look like SAP was going after the same market as Plex Systems, a SaaS only ERP solution provider that markets and sells exclusively to manufacturers. Response in the Twitter stream went like this:

Hide conversation

 

William_Newman: RT @ERP_cindyjutras: Didn’t hear @LarsLuv talk about #Manufacturing processes in #cloud #sapphirenow > can already happen w/ @sapbydesign 11:46am, May 15 from Twitter for iPhone

 

LarsLuv: @William_Newman @erp_cindyjutras @sapbydesign that’s right, and we’re excited about this 2:23pm, May 15 from Twitter for iPhone

Now of course, having followed Business ByDesign since its very first coming out party in New York City in September 2007, I knew it had manufacturing functionality and I have spoken with more than a few manufacturers that use it today. That was partly why I asked the original question. But these exchanges left me more confused. I don’t expect the guy at the top to get mired in the details, but is SAP going after manufacturing with cloud solutions or not? I know it has a strong solution in on-premise solutions (the Business Suite and Business All-in-One plus complementary manufacturing and supply chain planning and execution applications), and I know partners strengthen the Business One offering for manufacturers. But I’m left thinking ByDesign will compete better against NetSuite’s solution for light manufacturing than it will against Plex Systems’ Plex Online or other mature ERP solutions for manufacturers now offered in various flavors of SaaS or hosting.

So what about ERP in general?

The second sentence of the cloud strategy press release continued, referring to the four lines of business, “These are planned to be offered in a consistent way and seamlessly integrated into enterprise resource planning (ERP) business software.” Now we already heard that SAP was responding to demand for other applications that extend and surround ERP (like HCM and CRM), and this statement implies these other applications will be fully integrated with ERP. Indeed Lars talked both about “loosely coupled end-to-end integration” and the press release states, “SAP plans to deliver its multitenant cloud solutions as a loosely-coupled suite of best-of-breed applications.”  But nowhere in the press release did it specifically talk about delivering ERP as part of the cloud strategy. Yet if Business ByDesign isn’t ERP then I wouldn’t know what else to call it today. And it is only available as a multi-tenant SaaS solution (i.e. via the cloud). Does this mean ByDesign will be transformed from ERP into a loosely-coupled suite of best-of-breed applications? Is there a difference?

Loosely Coupled versus Tightly Integrated

The difference lies under the covers. There is work to be done in order to make this transformation. SAP will be pulling different components out of ByDesign so they can stand alone. Finance will be first and in fact will be the solution to satisfy the “money” line of business referenced previously. This allows SAP to bundle different elements together like finance (money) and human capital management (employees). Other functions will be prioritized and extracted in the future, but finance is the logical place to start as it is probably the most marketable as a separate “best of breed” application.

Everyone needs general ledger, accounts payable and accounts receivable and many smaller companies are intimidated by the thought of implementing a full blown integrated ERP. And in offering these loosely coupled applications it provides the customers with more choice to keep other non-SAP solutions or even to buy new non-SAP solutions. While this provides more choice, it also encourages complexity and makes less business sense from a cross-sell and up-sell perspective.

The advantage of a tightly integrated ERP is the ability to eliminate redundant data and reduce complexity. There used to be an intrinsic functional advantage of “best of breed” applications over those included in ERP. The disadvantage (trade-off) of course was lack of integration. But those functional differences have shrunk over the years as ERP solutions offer more robust features and functions even in some non-core modules. And there is no integration required between the modules of ERP – it is all built in.

In terms of redundancy of data, with integrated ERP there is only one customer master shared by order management, accounts receivable and any other function that deals with customers. There is only one supplier master file shared by purchasing and accounts payable and perhaps manufacturing planning. This is one of the reasons most ERP vendors have moved away from selling individual modules in favor of a bundled set of core modules and charging on a per user basis. A customer using fewer modules will have fewer users and pay less. As they expand into new areas, they add more users (and pay more), but there is no additional license or installation to worry about.

SAP appears to be bucking this trend and moving in the opposite direction, moving from fully integrated ERP to loosely coupled best of breed applications. So in pulling out the finance function, SAP will need to bring the customer and supplier master files along with them. OK, that’s just a packaging issue. But those same customer and supplier files will also have to be bundled with best of breed order management and purchasing solutions. Then if a customer buys finance, order management and purchasing, will they have two copies of a customer master and two copies of a supplier master? Probably not. There are other ways to handle this – most likely by defining these masters as meta data. And it makes it easier to deal with multi-vendor solutions. Good for the customer, not as good (business-wise) for SAP. This isn’t especially difficult, but it will mean that developers will be working on this instead of working on innovation.

How does Ariba change the game?

Today all cloud offerings across these four lines of business: customers, money, employees and suppliers are managed in a single business unit run by Lars Dalgaard. When (and of course if) the acquisition is completed, Ariba will run as a separate SAP company. SAP has done this twice before rather successfully – first with Business Objects and then with Sybase. Eventually both were quietly merged into the SAP fold.  But in the meantime, there will be two business entities within the SAP corporate structure that together provide all the cloud offerings. When that happens the supplier area will land in the house of Ariba, as it should.

I actually think this will be a very good thing. Lars has great experience with Human Capital Management. He has a proven track record for delivering on a go-to-market strategy (something that has been lacking with Business ByDesign) and he has the necessary cloud DNA. He’s already brought energy and focus to SAP’s cloud strategy. But a global trading network and experience with supply chains and supplier networks is something that fits much more naturally into a manufacturing (and also a distribution) environment and Bob Calderoni (current CEO of Ariba) clearly has more experience on that front. Will Business ByDesign be divided up and shared or will it stay with Lars? I suspect had Bob been at Sapphire I might have gotten different answers to my questions about manufacturing and maybe even those about Business ByDesign.

Bottom line though… even as Bob and Lars manage different segments of SAP’s cloud strategy it is imperative that they work together as a single cloud team. The SAP co-CEOs said as much. And eventually SAP will quietly merge Ariba into SAP proper. At that point there may only be room for one of these powerful leaders at the top. Will this fact influence the journey up until that happens? Time will tell.

 

 

 

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SAP Business One Heads Into the Cloud

Many have their heads in the cloud today. This goes for both individuals, as well as companies. The interest in Software as a Service (SaaS) has been steadily increasing over the past several years, led by enterprise applications such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and elements of Human Capital Management (HCM) such as recruitment, talent management and benefits administration. Yet broader applications such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), which provide the transactional system of record on which a business is based, have been slower to warm to the idea. Today that is changing and as many weigh the pros and cons of SaaS ERP, the advantages appear to be winning.

On March 6, 2012, SAP announced that SAP Business One, characterized as its ‘most affordable ERP solution for small and growing businesses’, is now available “on-demand.” Previously only available as a licensed on-premise or hosted solution, this added deployment option launches Business One as a multi-tenant SaaS solution. The On-Demand version is available now in 18 countries (more to be added later) through selected partners. Subscriptions are competitively priced and offered on a monthly, named-user basis.

Responding to Market Opportunity

The fact that ERP has lagged behind other enterprise software with respect to SaaS deployment has led to conjecture. Has lack of acceptance of SaaS ERP resulted from few options being available? Or were few options made available because of lack of interest? While that may have been a valid debate in years gone by, the resistance to SaaS ERP appears to be breaking down while interest in traditional on-premise solutions seems to be waning.

The Mint Jutras 2011 ERP Solution Study, with over 900 qualified responses, found SaaS deployment is now more likely to be considered than traditional hosting options. Yet even more stunning is the decline in the willingness to consider on-premise deployments. A few years back the percentage willing to consider traditional deployments would have been in the 90’s while recent research pegs it at 56%. And the comparison is even more dramatic when we compare “World Class” ERP implementations where we see SaaS heavily favored over licensed options:

  • SaaS/On-Demand: 62%
  • Hosted by ERP vendor: 44%
  • Hosted by an independent 3rd party: 35%
  • Traditional licensed on-premise: 38%

Mint Jutras defines “World Class” ERP implementations as the top 15% in terms of results measured, progress achieved against company-specific goals and current performance. These are the implementations that have delivered the most business benefit to the enterprise, whether it is large or small. Installing ERP is a means to an end, and not the end itself.

So demand is definitely on the rise, and so is supply. With the launch of SAP Business One On-Demand, SAP is now one of several major ERP vendors taking to the cloud applications that are already well established as on-premise solutions. However, in evaluating these transitions, it is important to understand all the options as well as the limitations.

Often these transformations resemble hosted solutions more closely than they do software as a service. Some industry observers insist that a cloud offering be multi-tenant (along with other qualifications) before they will regard it as “true SaaS” and even go so far as to accuse vendors who offer single-tenant solutions (also known as multi-instance) of “cloud washing.” With its multi-tenancy for Business One, SAP avoids this label. But not all companies seeking a cloud-based solution want the same thing. It is important to look beyond these labels, understand your requirements and make sure they are met.

Not SAP’s Only Cloud Story

Often meeting customer requirements takes experience and practice. Note that this is not SAP’s first or only foray into the cloud. In fact, its cloud heritage dates back to 2007 when it officially launched its first SaaS solution, SAP Business ByDesign. Like Business One, ByDesign is part of SAP’s small to midsize enterprise (SME) product portfolio. Unlike SAP Business One, ByDesign is and has always been a SaaS only solution. Originally SAP segmented its SME portfolio only by company size, either by annual revenues or by number of employees.  Today SAP uses a slightly different positioning scheme. Business One is still viewed as the most affordable and recommended for small and growing businesses whether these companies are seeking an on-premise or on-demand solution. Business ByDesign, offered exclusively in a SaaS environment, is positioned as the best solution for mid-size companies looking for SaaS ERP. SAP Business All-in-One, which shares the same ERP as the Business Suite, is a scalable solution for mid-size companies looking to stay on premise. However, the earlier positioning by company size, combined with the assumption that SaaS was largely for small companies, often led to speculation by industry observers that ByDesign would cannibalize sales of Business One.

This never proved to be the case, in part because ByDesign was still a very “young” product and in part because SAP delayed unleashing its considerable selling and marketing engines to power sales. You see, unlike SAP Business One On-Demand, ByDesign was not originally released as a multi-tenant solution. While this did not adversely affect the value proposition, it did negatively impact the economics for SAP. It was not until Feature Pack 2.5 was released in mid-2010 that multi-tenancy was introduced, allowing SAP to reduce its internal cost by a factor of 20.

In the meantime, SAP had also announced other “on-demand” offerings, including what it refers to as “Line of Business” applications, as well as Business Intelligence (BI) On-Demand. While not originally the case, through evolution and performance improvements, ByDesign was announced as “the” platform of development for these on-demand solutions as well. SAP was getting more and more serious about its cloud offerings.

In December 2011, SAP went one step further and announced its acquisition of SuccessFactors, a SaaS-only HCM solution. However, it was quite clear, even at the outset, that this announcement was more about cloud than it was about HCM.  Amid the hoopla of the $3.4 billion acquisition, there was also speculation that ByDesign was dead. That prediction appears to be far from true. No, the latest cloud offering, Business One On-Demand, does not use the ByDesign platform but given the breadth of the entire SAP product portfolio, there appears to be room for multiple offerings and more than one platform.

So what does all this history have to do with Business One On-Demand? It’s really about the culture. Amidst all the merger and acquisition fanfare, there has been repeated reference to the ‘cloud DNA’ of SuccessFactors and the appointment of its CEO Lars Dalgaard, to take responsibility for all SAP cloud offerings. When an enterprise application has traditionally only been sold with an up-front license, like Business One has, shifting to a subscription based selling is a tough transition for the sales team (and sometimes Wall Street) to make. SAP management appears to “get this” and is proactively taking steps to address this. The first step last year was a conscious shift to sell all SME business through channels.  The acquisition of SuccessFactors and the appointment of Mr. Dalgaard to oversee cloud offerings is a second and important one.

Proposed Value Proposition

So what is the value proposition offered by SAP Business One On-Demand? In many respects, it is the same value proposition of any SaaS ERP offering. Survey participants in the Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study cited a wide variety of benefits to SaaS deployment, but three primary themes emerged: lower costs, more upgrades and the ability to support remote employees and locations.

Costs

Survey respondents anticipate lower total cost of ownership (TCO), smaller start-up costs and fewer Information Technology (IT) resources required in a SaaS environment. In order to deliver these benefits, SAP simply needs to price Business One On-Demand competitively. While SAP is not announcing the price publicly, (remember it intends to sell through its channel so prices are suggested) targets shared privately appear to be competitively priced and will necessarily fluctuate somewhat depending on geography.

There are still some that feel the cost of SaaS ERP is really not that much more inexpensive than on-premise, particularly over the longer term. Of course, this does not take into consideration avoiding the cost of hardware or internal IT resources to manage the installation. But even if you ignore the hardware factor, there is one advantage of purchasing SaaS ERP from a vendor that offers both SaaS and on-premise. That solution provider should be able to draw an apples-to-apples price comparison between the two deployment options.

SAP and its partners should be able to assist in helping the prospective customer in determining the break-even point purely from a software, services and maintenance stand-point. But don’t forget hardware, infrastructure costs and remember, often the larger costs from a TCO perspective are the soft costs of internal resources.

One cost concern expressed by 47% of survey respondents was that of escalating costs. What’s to prevent a software company from exorbitantly raising prices at the end of the term of the initial contract? Because SAP does not sell Business One On-Demand directly, it cannot guarantee, with absolute certainty that the price will not increase beyond reasonable expectations, but is relying on the competitive nature of its channel to keep escalating costs in check.

Upgrades

While lower TCO was the most frequently cited benefit of SaaS ERP, a close second was the reduced cost and effort of upgrades (48% of survey respondents). The availability of more leading edge technology through more frequent updates was also a significant factor for 39%. The frequency and method of upgrades do vary from vendor to vendor. Those with SaaS-only solutions, developed exclusively for an on-demand environment might have a bit of an advantage here in that they are not tied to a prescribed release cycle. Those which offer the same solution on-premise and on-demand may not be as fluid in the delivery of innovation. Existing customers of on-premise solutions often prefer a longer release cycle since the upgrade process can be disruptive. This disruption is minimized in a SaaS environment because much of the burden of the upgrade process is assumed by the SaaS solution provider.

SAP does not expect to accelerate the upgrade release cycle of Business One simply to compete on this front, but also points to the maturity of the product relative to newer products developed for SaaS only. With over 34,000 installations, the product is indeed mature. However, even mature products must continue to evolve to meet new business challenges, so SAP isn’t entirely off the hook for keeping pace with innovation. SAP intends to continue to deliver upcoming innovations including enhanced support and application management via its Remote Support Platform (RSP), enhanced mobile integration and complete partner initiated lifecycle management.

Indeed SAP is beginning to see the convergence of the three pillars of innovation it has been touting for the past two years: cloud, mobility and in-memory.  Many of the new mobile apps developed both by SAP and its partners, now (or soon to be) available through an “apps store” will have as much relevance for SMEs as for large enterprises. And in February 2012 SAP announced through “new analytics powered by SAP HANA for the SAP® Business One application and SAP HANA, Edge edition, SMEs will be able to leverage powerful in-memory technology from SAP.” The goal is to enable decision-making, dramatically increasing the speed of existing processes and speeding up access to potentially large amounts of data.

Remote Access

And finally, the third overall theme in terms of the appeal of SaaS ERP is in the support of distributed environments. There are several factors at play here. First of all, operating from multiple locations is no longer an issue only for large enterprises. The Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study found the average number of operating locations supported by ERP in small companies (annual revenues less than $25 million) was 2.5. This average grew to 5.5 as annual revenues grew to the $25 to $250 million range.

Secondly, large enterprises are often comprised of a network of small to mid-size divisions or subsidiaries. SAP has long referred to this scenario as an integrated business network. A very common scenario is to have a two-tier ERP strategy where one ERP is used at corporate (often called administrative ERP) and a second standard (often referred to as operating ERP) is used for units/divisions/locations. Because of its dominance in large enterprises, SAP is often the administrative ERP. While many other ERP vendors will make a concerted effort to interface to SAP at this level, nobody is better positioned to do this than SAP itself with one of its SME products.

Ninety percent (90%) of companies surveyed (and 97% of World Class ERP implementations) have defined standards for ERP implementations. What better way to control the standardization of solutions and processes than through SaaS deployment? In fact 36% of survey respondents cited the ease of remote access for a distributed workforce as a key advantage of SaaS and 27% noted the ease of bringing up remote sites.

Handling the Perception of a Down-Side

While SaaS ERP is gaining in acceptance, there is still a significant segment of the population who will not consider this deployment option and even those that will consider it still have some lingering concerns. Only 10% of the Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study indicated they had no concerns whatsoever in considering SaaS ERP.

In addition to the concern over the possibility of escalating costs, 46% expressed fear of down-time risk and unpredictable performance. Although a viable concern, due diligence can significantly reduce risk here. Prospective customers should ask for historical performance and they should also ask for guarantees of up-time, although appropriate caveats for natural or even man-made disasters may be negotiated in. Glenn Rhodes, IT Manager, DRIFIRE, a manufacturer of flame resistant clothing stated, ““Before we moved Business One into the cloud, I was concerned about performance impact but the impact has been minimal. Often you don’t see a difference at all.”

But the top concern, even with so much business being transacted over the World Wide Web, is still one of security, with 58% of survey participants expressing this concern. Mint Jutras would agree everyone should be concerned over security. But you should be concerned regardless of deployment option. And if you are a small company, without a dedicated IT security expert on board, chances are you assume more risk than you would in a SaaS environment, particularly one that has successfully completed an annual SAS 70 Type II audit. The SAS 70 certification was developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) to annually audit the effectiveness of operations, controls  and safeguards to host and process data. Indeed another 29% of respondents admitted that part of the appeal of SaaS was the comfort of leaving security and other IT issues to the experts.

Which brings us to the final and very important factor in considering consuming Business One as a service: Who is the partner that will actually be delivering the service? What is the partner’s track record? Fully assess its ability to deliver services.

A New Kind of Partner

With the introduction of Business One On-Demand, SAP is also introducing a new kind of partner. In the past, a typical Business One partner would be an ERP specialist, a company engaged in selling and servicing an ERP solution. Some also might have provided a hosting option. This is the type of partner that will be most likely to see an opportunity to expand their offerings into the cloud. Some (not all) existing partners may seek certification by SAP to deliver the cloud option. Often these partners specialize in extending the Business One solution. In these cases, SAP will insure that existing on-premise add-ons will run in the cloud without disruption.

In addition to these existing partners, new strategic partners will include telecom service providers. These types of companies are experts in hosting, cloud infrastructure, billing and support. Generally speaking they are not experts in ERP. Some may decide to invest in building an ERP practice, others may not. Those that do not will most likely be partnering with one or more of the existing Business One partners who are experts in ERP and Business One, but have no experience or desire to provide this cloud infrastructure and support.

Key Takeaways

SAP sees the introduction of SAP Business One On-Demand more as a bid for new-named business, although it will be possible for existing Business One customers to make the transition to the cloud. SAP’s Business One business has been steadily growing and the market for ERP in small companies is far from saturated.

On balance the advantages of a SaaS environment for ERP seem to outweigh the disadvantages. Cost savings, including TCO, startup costs and cost of IT staff can be substantial. Even if the subscription cost equals the cost of software and maintenance over time, there are still the savings achieved by eliminating the purchase or continued maintenance of hardware.  If you have no IT staff today, there is no need to hire any. If you have good IT staff on board, let them engage in more strategic, value-add activities than routine maintenance without sacrificing the ability to take advantage of upgrades and innovation.

If you operate in a distributed environment, the advantages of a SaaS environment can be considerable in bringing standardization across the enterprise, providing access to remote employees and in bringing remote sites up quickly.

As with any selection of ERP, fit and functionality should be foremost in the decision-making process, along with ease of use and TCO which will directly impact the return on investment (ROI). So it is still important to put Business One and the partners selling it through their paces during the evaluation process. Make a careful choice that is right for your business.

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Does SAP’s Cloud strategy reflect a convergence of trends?

For quite a while now, we’ve been hearing three major themes from SAP: in-memory, mobility and on demand. In-memory (HANA) seemed to dominate the discussion at Sapphire in Orlando and then again at TechEd in Las Vegas. Mobility took on a little more prominence in the discussions at the co-located (Sapphire and TechEd) events in Madrid. But it was the on demand theme’s turn to be front and center at the SAP Influencer Summit in Boston this week. Usually this is a one day event, with some follow-on special interest group meetings the following day. But this year, SAP felt its cloud strategy merited an entire day two for all.

Early on day two we heard Peter Lorenz, Corporate Officer and Executive Vice President of OnDemand Solutions say something that I think set the stage quite well: “We don’t have pieces of a strategy. We really have a cloud strategy.” This implies a re-think and a holistic approach. Cloud of course is not new at SAP. The company entered the cloud world several years ago with the introduction of Business ByDesign. But that product had some false starts and the installed base hovered at 40 “charter” clients for a long time before SAP was ready to really go to market. At the end of Q3 SAP claims 650 customers and is still confident in predicting it will reach 1000 by the end of the year (yes, only two weeks away). There is a lot of back story here, but the real turning point was when ByDesign became multi-tenant last year, allowing SAP to profitably scale the OnDemand business. Also a factor… the release of the ByDesign Software Developer’s Kit (SDK) to allow partners and customers to extend the solution.

So what is SAP’s strategy and how does this reflect a convergence of trends?

SAP’s Cloud Strategy

An important aspect of SAP’s cloud strategy is that it is at least partially a result of listening to its customers. SAP execs heard customers asking them to “protect cloud dynamics” while leveraging existing processes and investments. “Protect cloud dynamics” sounds bit like marketing spin to me, but I think it means that customers want all the benefits of cloud deployments and yet many are not in a position to abandon some, any or all of their existing solutions. SAP has heard that speed of deployment is what people like best about the cloud. My research indicates speed of deployment is certainly one very important factor but the top three perceived benefits are all about costs:

  1. Lower total cost of ownership (52% of respondents)
  2. Reduced cost and effort of upgrades (48%)
  3. Lower startup costs (46%)

Yet faster often equates to lower costs – because time is money.

Technology-wise SAP’s cloud strategy is based upon the platform it created in developing Business ByDesign. This too is not new news. Business ByDesign is part of SAP’s SME product portfolio and is an integrated business management suite intended to address the end-to-end business processes of a diversity of small to midsize enterprises. As such it fits my definition of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP): an integrated suite of modules that forms the transactional system of record for a business. ByDesign is delivered exclusively as Software as a Service (SaaS). It’s a good platform choice since the product was developed from scratch for the cloud. I think you will soon see SAP repositioning it in the context of company size. Even now, ByDesign targets both SMEs as well as subsidiaries of large enterprises.

Since SAP announced the ByDesign platform as the strategic platform of choice for OnDemand solutions last year, it has also been using this platform to develop additional “Line of Business (LoB)” solutions. I have always found the reference to LoB a bit confusing, because any enterprise application should be designed for the business. But in this context I have really found it to mean extensions to ERP that are designed for a single functional area of the business – I suppose you could say, a single “line” of business role. But (less intuitively) LoB here also refers to a cloud deployment model. Examples of these are:

  • Sales OnDemand
  • Service OnDemand
  • Travel OnDemand
  • Career OnDemand
  • Sourcing OnDemand
  • Carbon Impact
  • Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP) OnDemand

Streamwork and Crossgate round out the OnDemand portfolio, providing collaboration services. But SAP is not relying exclusively on its own development efforts to bring end-to-end OnDemand solutions to market. Today there are more than 40 ByDesign partners and 70  ByDesign applications that have been developed using the SDK. SAP expects to continue to round out the framework and the base product but fully expects its ecosystem to supplement that functionality, particularly to address vertical industry requirements and to provide localizations for subsidiaries in countries that are not yet on SAP’s three year roadmap.

SAP’s strategy is to have OnDemand solutions sold by a dedicated cloud “go-to-market” organization which will be direct for large enterprises and indirect (through a channel) for SMEs. SAP sees a huge opportunity for this dedicated sales force in selling to all its 176,000 customers, which also includes the Sybase installed base of customers.

Now of course the finer points of the strategy are subject to change because of SAP’s recent announcement of its intent to acquire SuccessFactors (SFSF). SFSF calls itself a “Business Execution Software” company, but I put it in the category of Human Capital Management (HCM) software. While employees are certainly critical to the success of a business, for a lot of types of companies (e.g. manufacturers), there is a lot more to manage than people.

But the category of software is far less important here than the fact that SFSF’s business is entirely SaaS and Lars Dalgaard, founder and CEO, is also part of the package. Technology is only one part of providing cloud-based solutions, which are designed, built, sold, delivered and serviced differently than traditional on-premise solutions. And those traditional solutions are what made SAP the giant company it is today, making it a relative newbie in the on demand world. Co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe was quick to point to SFSF’s cloud DNA as a driving factor behind the acquisition.

Spotting the trends

So how is this strategy reflective of both historical and emerging trends in the software world? Three different trends come immediately to mind: trends in cloud computing, multi-tier ERP and mobility.

Cloud trends:

The topic of cloud deployment of enterprise applications has been heating up for the past several years. While ERP has lagged behind in terms of interest and adoption, cloud-based applications surrounding ERP have trended upwards. Now the barriers to acceptance of SaaS ERP appear to be crumbling. The 2011 ERP Mint Jutras Solution Study found almost half (45%) of over 950 qualified respondents would consider SaaS/On Demand as a deployment option if they were making an ERP selection today. The companies with the top performing implementations were even more likely to consider SaaS (62% of what we defined as “World Class”). Even more interesting, the percentage that would consider a traditional on-premise deployment was down to 56%. In years past, this would have been between 85% and 90%. And only 38% of World Class would consider traditional on-premise.

Expanding the target for ByDesign beyond SMEs to include subsidiaries of large companies is also in line with trends. While many think of the market for SaaS ERP as primarily small companies, the Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study found the interest in SaaS deployment did not decline with increased company size. In fact it escalated from 42% in small companies (those with annual revenues under $25 million) to 59% in large enterprises (those whose annual revenues exceeded $1 billion).

And looking beyond ERP to those LoB solutions, it is very likely that even those with existing on-premise solutions are keen to extend those processes with cloud extensions to leverage cost savings and speed of deployment. While we found lower cost to be the primary appeal of SaaS, more frequent updates and ease of supporting remote employees and remote operating locations were also significant factors.

However, while SAP sees all 176,000 of its customer base a prime target for these LoB solutions, I am not sure I would agree. More than 78% of SAP customers are SMEs. Sure very small companies could benefit from the functionality, but they can also live without it and there are very cheap (sometimes free) alternatives that will be “good enough” for the low end of the market. Take for example Expensify as an alternative to Travel OnDemand – a solution to make the capture, submission and reimbursement of travel expenses simple for all your road warriors. Of course SAP’s solution is more robust, but will a small company pay for Travel OnDemand when Expensify is free?

Multi-tier ERP:

The ease that “cloud” delivers in connecting remote employees and managing remote sites brings us to the second trend: that of a growing need for a multi-tier ERP strategy. Once upon a time a company generally had to be of a certain size (think fairly big) before it had to deal with multiple operating locations. That is no longer the case. In fact in our same ERP study, 67% of all our survey respondents had more than one operating location (served by ERP) even though our survey sample included companies of all sizes from very small to very large. Even small companies (revenues under $25 million) averaged 2.5 operating locations. Of course this average escalated steadily to 10.7 in companies with revenues over $1 billion.

Another shift: “back in the day” even if there were multiple operating locations, different sites might have little to do with one another. But in today’s globalized environment that is rare. We have shared services, feeder plants, decentralized distribution for centralized manufacturing and centralized distribution for decentralized production; all creating a growing need for collaboration. With little interoperability, historically individual business units or divisions might have been left to their own devices to select and implement enterprise applications, including ERP. But as the need for interoperability grows, leaving everyone to do their own thing can create a nightmare.

Today 98% of top performers (and even 84% of all others) define standards for ERP implementations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a single ERP used at corporate headquarters and also at all operating locations. It might mean a single corporate ERP and one or more “standard” ERP solutions, depending on the level of autonomy or interdependence between sites. In fact we found that World Class implementations were more than 2 ½  times as likely to use a two tier standard (one ERP at corporate and a single different ERP at the divisional level) and 1 ½ times as likely to use a multi-tier standard (two or more “standards” are defined for business units).

What does this have to do with a cloud strategy? What better way to implement, enforce and control the “standards” at multiple, remote operating locations than through a SaaS deployment model? This is especially true if remote sites are in emerging markets where IT talent and ERP experience are rare commodities?

Mobility:

Which brings us to the final trend: an increasingly mobilized world. This is one area where emerging markets do not necessarily lag behind mature markets. Everyone carries some sort of mobile device today, sometimes multiple devices. By untethering ourselves from the wired world, we have actually tethered ourselves more to the business and expect to be connected “on demand” sometimes 24X7.

This is why mobility is at the forefront for the ByDesign platform, which currently supports BlackBerry, Windows Mobile 7, iPhone and Android. Mobile scenarios include sales, approvals, expense reports, and analytics. Feature Pack (FP) 3.5, due out in January will focus on the iPad, which seems to be emerging as the tablet of choice for executive management and sales. FP3.5 will deliver sales catalogs, account management, lead and opportunity management on the iPad.

Wrap-up:

Cloud strategies are a hot topic of discussion today.  However, sometimes the more vendors and industry “experts” discuss the topic, introducing their own definitions and requirements, the more confused the general audience becomes. So far SAP has resisted being dragged into the fray of accusations about “cloud washing” and “false clouds.” In evaluating SAP’s strategy, the reader would also be advised to evaluate the offerings based on their own individual needs rather than on any one person’s definition of “true SaaS.” After all, not all companies have the same needs or desires.

And in fact I believe eventually “cloud” as a topic will cool down significantly. One day in the not too distant future, deployment option will become just another check box. It won’t matter so much how it is deployed, only that it solves your business problems.

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Engagement vs Transactional Systems: Not a “from-to” especially for SME. SAP as an Example

I recently read Ray Wang’s Blog in the Harvard Business Review entitled “Moving from Transaction to Engagement” and something about it didn’t sit well with me. I wasn’t getting the “from – to” part. Recording transactions isn’t optional. Whatever tool you use to create your system of record (whether it is ERP or accounting applications or something else) is a necessary foundational tool. If you think tools that help you build relationships can replace transactional systems, then maybe you believed “eyeballs were everything” back in the dot-com boon and we all know how that story ended.

Since it troubled me I went back and read all the comments to Ray’s blog post and also a couple of pieces he referenced: Geoffrey Moore’s paper “Systems of Engagement and The Future of Enterprise IT: A Sea Change in Enterprise IT” and Dion Hinchcliffe’s “Moving Beyond Systems of Record to Systems of Engagement.” OK, I feel a little better now. But only a little.

I feel better because both Geoffrey Moore and Ray (in response to a comment) acknowledge that these transactional systems of record are necessary. And even Dion Hinchcliffe admits, “It’s safe to say that most firms would go out of business without the data within and automated capabilities of their systems of record.” But to say, they are all in maintenance mode, “ERP has hit its limit” and that “Transactional systems remain in a hard coded, rigid structured approach” ignore the change in how software is developed today and the real possibility of bringing better means of flexibility, engagement and communication to ERP. Yes, ERP must bring discipline and therefore must define data structures, but that doesn’t mean the application or implementation needs to be rigid.

I define ERP as an integrated suite of modules that form the transactional system of record for a business. So when we talk about transactions and systems of record, I assume we are largely talking about ERP. The trouble is, it has become harder and harder to tell where ERP ends and other applications begin. But that’s a good thing. It means software makers are providing added functionality and that ERP is seamlessly interacting with other applications. So why can’t we bring these characteristics of engagement systems (and maybe even experiential systems) to ERP? I’m not going to go down the route of “personal fulfillment” systems because we can’t lose sight of the fact that the purpose of the engagement is to generate transactions (because transactions mean revenue). I know I am over-simplifying but, I don’t think most executives want to discuss speed in the context of a time-space continuum and businesses can’t survive in a “feel good” environment where everyone gets a trophy for “engaging” regardless of whether revenue is flowing in.

SAP has gotten picked on a lot lately as a legacy application and as rigid, so let’s take SAP and its approach as an example of how transaction systems can be enhanced, not replaced by engagement systems. And let’s talk about it in a way that is not just for the large enterprise, because 78% (90,000) of SAP customers are small to midsize enterprises (SMEs). Customers are front and center of engagement, and to effectively engage you need to understand your customer. In order to understand your customer, you need data from a lot of different sources. Some of that data is structured and you are probably already sitting on a mountain of it from a variety of sources:

  • Your ERP system – what they bought, how much they paid, how well you performed in delivering product and collecting cash (all those pesky transactions).
  • Your support, contact or call center – including issues and resolution
  • Your Sales Force Automation solution – contacts, pipeline and quotes
  • Marketing Automation – how many times have you touched them?
  • Others might include document management, customer project management, engineering design and/or compliance specs, specific test results, etc.

SAP is approaching this by enhancing solutions from the outside in, rather than the inside out. What do I mean by that? I mean they are developing innovations SAP BusinessObjects Edge, business analytic applications and new dashboards and user interfaces that can be layered on any of their solutions, including those for SMEs like SAP Business All-in-One, SAP Business One and SAP Business ByDesign. That’s smart in two ways. First, they need only develop it once rather for each of their different ERP solutions. Secondly, by adding innovation in layers, they create the perfect environment for bringing data sources together from different applications. And in keeping these innovations on the “edge”, SAP can make them more “social” by tying in other sources of data, including “conversations” through chat and email, thereby supplying the “richer social orientation” of an engagement system. And once these new interfaces are placed on top of ERP, the user perceives them as a new and better ERP.

This also is the perfect opportunity to apply external business rules and event management, “smarter intelligence” that might otherwise be well beyond the reach of SMEs. Of course, looking beyond the conversations that might be shared between employees and customers, there is far more data out there about your customer than ever comes near your ERP and surrounding applications. There are Twitter streams and LinkedIn discussions and FaceBook pages. There are news feeds and stock watches. The list goes on and on. The trick is to put that data into the context of the data in ERP in order to put it into the context of your business.

And how you deliver it will be critical. Just constructing these focused dashboards is a good start. And perhaps good BI tools would be enough in the hands of a talented and well-staffed IT department, but SMEs won’t have that luxury. Part of “engagement” needs to be getting your employees, including business executives, to engage with the data that you have and that means engaging with applications -which is why it is more important for SAP to deliver business analytics as a configurable and ready to use application rather than just BI tools. But making these analytics accessible is also very important.

Business executives from large multi-billion dollar companies, down to the smallest startups want to be connected through mobile devices. And executives from smaller companies are just as likely to blur the lines between business hours and personal time, perhaps even more so because of the number of different hats they might wear in managing a small business. In our untethered world of mobile connectivity, we all become more tethered to work even in the “off hours.” And the older generation is now learning from younger generations and becoming more comfortable with specialized mobile consumer “apps.” In response, SAP is developing mobile apps and recognizes they must model consumer apps. That means they must be smaller in scope and more directly applicable to a particular function. No training required for the user interface and limited training required for the business process it is intended to perform.

SAP still has some decisions to make in making this type of mobility affordable to SMEs in a world increasingly moving away from corporate standards, producing a more “bring your own device” environment. But SAP has already delivered the SAP BusinessObjects Mobile app for iPad, in addition to the SAP BusinessObjects Explorer for iPad/iPhone , which is already one of the top downloaded apps for business with over 200,000 downloads from the Apple Apps store.

Of course no discussion of SAP would be complete today without mention of “in memory” but this is actually quite relevant in the context of both adding engagement characteristics to transactional systems and customer analytics. If you thought you were drowning in data before, once you open the door to capturing and channeling all these sources of public information, you will now be faced with a virtual tsunami of data. And make no mistake; this is not just a large enterprise problem. Once you open that door, you open the floodgates. So SMEs will need to deal with “big data” just as larger companies will. SAP is intending to bundle SAP HANA (its answer to big data) with SAP Business One for small companies, and SAP HANA will power SAP’s On Demand solutions, including By Design, but there might be a donut hole forming around Business All-in-One (BAiO). SAP HANA will be an option for both the Business Suite and BAiO and pricing has not yet been made public.

SAP is of course just one example, and I could have used other vendors as examples along the way. But SAP also has a very broad and deep footprint and has more irons in the innovation fire with more resources to bring to bear than your typical ERP solution provider. And SAP certainly touches a lot of SMEs (over 90,000).  But it also has a lot of history and a reputation of being rigid, in terms of both product and company. It hasn’t made the big splash about “Social” that Salesforce has recently. It’s been hard to miss Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff’s exhorting the virtues of the social enterprise.  But in the meantime SAP has been bringing more “engagement” to its transactional systems.

So the key takeaway here is that transactional systems can indeed take on some of the characteristics of an engagement system. While yes, they need to be structured, structured doesn’t necessarily mean rigid. I don’t think ERP has hit the wall – I think it still has a ways to go and many, including SAP still have the legs to take them there.

Disagree? Prove me wrong.

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Turning the SAP TechEd messages upside down for the SME

This year’s SAP TechEd was the first to feature an SME (Small to Midsize Enterprise) track. As we wrap up Las Vegas (next stop Madrid), it is time to reflect on the real relevance to SME of the themes and messages presented at TechEd. Much of the event was an excellent presentation of technology, followed by some ideas and examples of how you might use that technology.  That is the way IT departments in large enterprises might approach their IT strategy and budget. And, after all the intended audience for the event was IT in general and developers in particular. But typically there aren’t any developers in small companies and most SMEs have very limited IT staffs. So really the SME audience at TechEd was the partners that service those SMEs.

While these partners were very well represented, can they effectively carry the message to their customers? In order to do that, those partners will have some translating to do, because that’s not how an SME “thinks.” SMEs don’t go looking for technology. They go looking for solutions to their business problems. So can we – and more importantly, the SAP partners turn the messages from TechEd upside down and still make them work for SMEs?

Fellow analyst Laurie McCabe did a great job highlighting the key themes for TechEd (HANA, mobility, cloud / on demand). None of these themes are new. While that makes it harder for those of us in the press and analyst community to find something new and different to “report,” this is actually a good thing for customers and partners alike. Instead of dealing with a different “message du jour” generated for each major even (which some vendors are known to do), SAP is continuing to firm up the foundation upon which they will deliver. The bad news is that some of these promises take a lot of time and effort to deliver, so sometimes it seems like we talk for a long time about what the future deliverables will be without actually seeing them. And while some SMEs might be slower out of the gate to embrace technology as part of the solution, once they do, they are no less impatient to get on with it than larger companies.

So let’s start with the mobility theme. An executive from an SME may not be orchestrating a large, multi-national global enterprise, but they are managing increasingly distributed environments. The Mint Jutras 2011 ERP Solution study found even small companies (those with revenues under $25 million) managed an average of 2.7 operating locations and this number grew along with revenues:

  • Small companies (revenues less than $25 million) : 2.7 operating locations
  • Lower mid-market ($25m – $250m) :                          5.0 operating locations
  • Upper mid-market ($250m – $1 billion):                     8.3 operating locations
  • Large enterprise (revenues exceeded $1 billion):     10.1 operating locations

And executives from smaller companies are just as likely to blur the lines between business hours and personal time, perhaps even more so because of the number of different hats they might wear in managing a small business. In our untethered world of mobile connectivity, we all become more tethered to work even in the “off hours.” And the older generation is now learning from younger generations and becoming more comfortable with specialized mobile consumer “apps.” So mobile access to enterprise data and functions is just as relevant for SMEs as it is for large companies, whether they realize it or not.  

And this access needs to be flexible. In the past large corporations were likely to issue standardized devices (usually a BlackBerry and usually primarily for email, phone and calendaring). Today employees in companies both large and small are buying their own devices and using them for both personal and business purposes and also expecting to do more with them. This creates a need for mobile device management and SAP has a solution for that (Afaria), but this is going to be a tough sell into a small company. Yes, they want mobile access, but they want “apps” not tools to build apps and manage devices and aren’t necessarily willing to pay for that.

In response, SAP is developing mobile apps and recognizes they must model consumer apps. That means they must be smaller in scope and more directly applicable to a particular function. No training required for the user interface and limited training required for the business process it is intended to perform. In some ways these requirements are similar to any business application intended for SMEs. Multi-purpose, horizontal applications, particularly ERP, must accommodate many different functions, and different types of businesses with similar but different business needs. This often introduces a level of complexity that SMEs simply can’t effectively cope with. Some respond by over-simplifying and implementing a solution with limited functionality. But this leaves the business underserved.

Many of these apps that we expect to see delivered by SAP in early 2012 will be mobile analytic applications. These should be of particular interest to SMEs, particularly those that have invested in ERP but have not ventured beyond traditional ERP reporting. By definition, ERP is neither a single purpose nor a simple “app.”  In forming the system of record of the business, ERP is the repository for potentially huge volumes of data that remains largely untapped.

Very often decision-makers themselves rarely, if ever, touch ERP directly, but instead rely on subordinates and/or traditional reporting from ERP for input to decision-making. Not only does this introduce latency, turning real time data into historical data, in relying on traditional reporting, decision-makers have a choice of looking at data in the aggregate at a summary level (that is too high for real conclusions) or wading through so much detail it is impossible to see the big picture. The ability to start at a summary level and drill down to successive levels of detail is becoming more common as a feature within ERP, but being able to do so through a mobile device is very rare. And that might just be the ticket to connecting the executive decision-maker directly to the data on which good decisions are based.

This is where SAP TechEd’s other big “theme” comes into play. HANA is SAP’s in-memory computing engine which is the platform on which these mobile analytics apps are being built. Often HANA and in-memory computing in general is associated with “big data”, which is in turn associated with big companies. But HANA is as much about speed as it is big data. And with speed, it is normal to add more and more data, reaching beyond that which is normally stored in enterprise applications. Think about the enormous potential of useful but unstructured data that is floating out there via the Internet and can be retrieved through search engines and the like. But rarely will you find an SMB that is willing to invest in in-memory computing.

As a result, HANA is not yet a reality yet for most SMEs.  Currently HANA is only available as an “appliance”, which means it needs to sit outside of the SME’s ERP solution. HANA will be certified for SAP BW (BW stands for Business Warehouse) in November but BW is most often found in large enterprises.

And then there’s the cost. While SAP is not disclosing pricing, another fellow analyst, Dennis Moore has pieced together some intelligence relating to cost. Dennis projects the entry level cost for software to be about $120,000. Purchasing HANA on an appliance today brings the projected total to about $250,000 plus services. So a pilot project might start at about $300,000, which is far more than the average small company pays for an ERP solution today.

But SAP intends to “fix” this by putting HANA “inside” both Business ByDesign (SAP’s On Demand ERP) and Business One. While adoption of ByDesign is still nascent, over 32,000 companies run Business One today. By replacing its current underlying infrastructure with HANA as a platform, SAP will have brought this powerful technology to the SME for the cost of their maintenance. Those upper mid-market companies running SAP Business All-in-One, which is built on the same ERP as the Business Suite, will have the option of upgrading to HANA as a platform, but it won’t be free. However, this is still “futures” so SMEs still have plenty of time to imagine how best to take advantage of this new technology, and unfortunately many will not. But they will at least experience some performance improvements as a result, once they upgrade.

Which brings us to the third theme – SAP’s On Demand platform. It is the underlying architecture of SAP’s Business ByDesign that provides this platform, bringing On Demand capabilities even to those that might be running ERP on premise. Software as a Service (SaaS) has made tremendous in-roads in certain functional areas, like Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Supply Chain Management (SCM) and Human Capital Management (HCM) for large and small companies alike. But most companies have a long history of avoiding SaaS ERP.

The barriers of resistance to SaaS ERP are breaking down slowly. One might expect the smallest companies to be most interested in SaaS ERP, but the Mint Jutras 2011 ERP Solution Study indicated just the opposite. When asked which deployment options they would consider if purchasing an ERP solution today, the willingness to consider a SaaS ERP solution actually increased with company size. While 44% of all survey respondents would consider SaaS, only 42% of SMEs (those with annual revenues under $500 million) would, compared to 59% of larger companies (revenues greater than $500 million). Although this is somewhat counter-intuitive, this implies SMEs are more likely to take advantage of what SAP calls its Line of Business (LOB) on demand solutions – applications like Sales On Demand that are more purpose-built for a particular functional area.

This also makes SAP’s plans for an “App Store” all that much more relevant. It is anticipated that this on-line store will allow customers to buy, download and deploy both SAP and partner apps based on the ByDesign platform. This should be appealing to both customers and the partner ecosystem that has grown to sell and support the Business One product, in addition to the ecosystem growing to support Business ByDesign.

And so it would seem there is an SME-specific message to all three of these themes. The challenge for SAP and its partners is to clearly articulate the value as well as the cost and the return on that investment to these smaller companies who continue to anxiously and cautiously watch every penny.

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HANA, HANA, HANA! Can SAP prove the value to companies both large and small?

All the talk at SAPTechEd this week has been about HANA, SAP’s new in-memory computing engine. While there were plenty of “techies” at the event this week, you don’t have to be too much of a technologist to understand that processing data that is stored in memory is going to be a lot faster than processing it from disk. And results from early adopters have been more than impressive. Examples include Yodobashi who took the process of running incentive payments from 3 days down to 2 seconds. Or Nong-fu Spring who ran the same script in HANA and in an Oracle data mart and found HANA to be 200 times faster. In fact these results are so impressive, one SAP customer said to me, “It sounds too good to be true.”

I suspect many other SAP customers may have similar sentiments. This all sounds great but how does my company benefit? Indeed my colleague Laurie McCabe of the SMB Group summed it up with a question to Sanjay Poonen, President, Global Solutions and Go-to-Market. Laurie asked, “HANA, HANA, HANA. That’s all we’ve heard. Can you bring it down to earth for us?”

Sanjay did. Think of HANA as a platform that will power all that is SAP. You know that little sticker on your laptop that says “Intel Inside?” Mine says “Intel Pentium Dual-Core InsideTM”. I remember when Pentium processors first came out, eclipsing the performance of their predecessors. Today we just take Pentium processors for granted. And if you are like me, you probably don’t know much more about what’s inside, but you’ve come to expect a high level of performance from a brand that you know and trust. While making HANA an industry standard is an unrealistic goal, making it an SAP standard is not and SAP expects to boost performance in a major, game-changing way.

You won’t see SAP using the phrase “HANA Inside” (note the trademark symbol on my sticker and yours). But you will see it porting all its enterprise applications to this platform. Although with such a broad product portfolio, this is a huge task.  All on demand (SaaS) products including Business ByDesign and other “line of business” on demand products (e.g. Sales On Demand) will be powered by HANA. For Business Suite customers, it will become an option. For SAP Business One (SAP’s ERP solution running in over 30,000 small companies), it will be embedded. There won’t be any decision to be made and there won’t be a price tag attached. It will just come with HANA inside.

For existing Business One customers, it will be delivered through the upgrade/release cycle. As Sanjay put it, “It will be like taking your car to the dealership and driving away with a larger engine.” I suppose this analogy works for the Business Suite as well, but while that “larger engine” for Business One would be covered under an extended warranty (maintenance), there would be a price tag associated with it to power the Business Suite. And I would expect the engine embedded in Business One might not unleash the full power of the engine. That’s OK because I suspect many Business One and On Demand customers will simply benefit from improved speed and performance and never look beyond to take advantage of the full power of HANA. For that you need vision and a certain degree of creativity to see the potential. Indeed we’ve only seen a few glimpses of these so far.

Today HANA is only available in appliance form on hardware from several vendors and SAP still has a long way to go in terms of making its enterprise applications available on the platform. Even though we’ve been hearing about HANA now for a couple of years, it represents a major technology transformation and SAP is still in early stages of innovation.

Early projects have focused on analytics. This might be viewed as the low hanging fruit of in-memory computing, bringing speed and agility to big data. But while the power of in-memory computing might be intuitively obvious to IT, to be successful, it cannot be viewed just as a new and better toy for IT. IT needs to sell the value to the budget holders and SAP needs to win the hearts and minds (and wallets) of line of business executives.

SAP is open to performing proof of concept (POC) projects today, and the cost of the project can be applied against the purchase of HANA and a more extensive project. But also several purpose built applications represent a first step in proving that value. In fact two new applications were also released this week:

  • SAP Smart Meter Analytics: mines smart meter data to analyze customer energy usage patterns to improve system load forecasting
  • SAP CO-PA Accelerator: planned functionality includes real-time profitability reporting on large-scale data volumes , instant, on-the-fly analysis of profitability data at any level of granularity, aggregation and dimension and cost allocations

These join previously released Strategic Workforce Planning that supports analysis of the effect of changes to a company’s employee base.

These are all great examples that target specific use cases. But SAP wants the use case to be pervasive.  And in order to achieve that, the platform needs to make applications better and faster, easier to use at a lower total cost of ownership. These improvements will spur new ideas of how to take full advantage of the technology. That’s a tall order. So far the dramatic results of early projects have created a certain mystique, or what Sanjay calls “the halo effect” and with that comes differentiation. He welcomes the sentiment that it is “too good to be true.” Give him a chance and he’s anxious to prove it is not.

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SAP Business One: What’s New? What’s Next?

 Having recently posted updates on both SAP Business ByDesign and SAP Business All-in-One, I felt it only fair to also weigh in on the “other” SAP Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution for small to mid-size enterprises (SME) – SAP Business One. With almost 30,000 Business One customers, it enjoys a larger installed base than most all other ERP solutions vying for the attention of small businesses. Besides having featured it prominently on the main stage at SAPPHIRE NOW 2011, what has SAP been up to in terms of delivering innovation and what plans does it have for the future?

For those of you not familiar with the product line, SAP Business One is sold exclusively by over 1,100 partners in 40 countries around the world and is available in 25 languages. A Business One customer typically has fewer than 100 employees.  Designed for small companies, Business One is an integrated suite including:

  • Financial management  
  • Sales and order management, including the ability to support eCommerce through an on-line web store
  • Warehouse and production management
  • Customer relationship and service management
  • Purchasing
  • Reporting –using SAP Business One with SAP Crystal solutions

It is extendable with a Software Developer’s Kit (SDK) and indeed there are over 450 partner solutions, including some that are industry-specific. SAP also leaves more specialized functionality, such as Human Capital Management for example, to its partners.

While employee headcount is an important qualifier, it is not the only qualifier. Several years back I remember speaking with Mike Cornell, EVP of Bamboo Pipeline and a Business One customer. When I first met Mike in 2007, he had recently completed his initial implementation. His company had been a candidate for a new ERP because its existing solution couldn’t handle the growing velocity of transactions that accompanied the fast growth of its early years.  Bamboo Pipeline’s revenues had doubled on average every two years, making it one of the fastest growing suppliers of landscape materials in the USA. But Mike made a comment back then that stuck with me. He said something along the lines of, “When we hire employee number 101, I have no intention of ripping Business One out and implementing something else.” He was obviously in it for the long haul and would not have selected Business One had he not been confident that it would scale with him.

I recently caught back up with Mike for an update. Being in the landscape design business, selling directly to building contractors, Bamboo Pipeline was impacted by the housing bust that followed the financial crisis in 2008. At that point the role of ERP changed. Instead of fueling growth, it instead became a shock absorber.  Bamboo Pipeline preserved revenues throughout the downturn in the economy but improved margins each year. According to Mike, “We were in the midst of trying to manage change and a decline in revenue. However, because our technology platform [Business One] was configurable and adaptable, we were able to very quickly add a whole new line of business. While in the past we had simply sold to landscapers, our new Plants Express business (www.plantsexpress.com) allows us to sell direct to consumers through a partnership with Home Depot. We started with an eight store pilot and now we are in 130 stores and will be in 170 by the fall of 2011. This went from 0% to 30% of our business and we launched it with $0 investment in technology and one new employee. If we had needed to buy new technology we probably would not have been able to do it. Nobody was lending money. Having it in place allowed us to launch this new side of the business. It removed labor capacity as an obstacle and provided efficiency for bottom line survival.”

So beyond making the businesses of its customers more sustainable, what has the Business One team been up to? Like most of SAP’s products, it has been the beneficiary of new developments in Business Analytics, mobility and in-memory computing, and like the rest of the “new” SAP, has gotten much closer to its customers.

Reporting and Business Intelligence

Visibility into the business is one of the primary goals of any ERP solution and yet even today many companies, large and small, are still making decisions based on gut feel. Executives need to know their businesses better in order to make decisions and act boldly. One seemingly small, but deceptively important feature of Business One is a key here. That is its drill-down capability. To the left of any field on the screen you will see a little arrow. Want to know more? Just click on the little arrow and it will drill down to more detail. And you can keep drilling further and further. For super users that understand all the structure and relationships within the data and the application, this might seem like a nice little shortcut that keeps them from traversing a hierarchical menu and data structure. But for an executive that doesn’t have the time, patience or inclination to understand all those structures, it is the key to the kingdom. And that key unlocks a wealth of knowledge right at the touch of a button.

Then of course there is reporting.  The reporting mechanisms of ERP represent a key factor in decision-making and Business One relies primarily on the SAP Crystal Reports software for this visibility. There are Crystal Reports that come as standard fare within SAP Business One, pulling live data from all different parts of the solution, from accounting to sales to production and inventory. And SAP will continue to add more and more of these standard reports. However, I think the bigger value proposition will come from the release of SAP BusinessObjects Edge BI 4.0 for the SAP SME products (including Business One.) Adding the SAP Crystal Dashboard Design (formerly Xcelsius) is where the real added value lies, allowing you to create your own views and combine data from both SAP and non-SAP sources.

In SAP Business All-in-One (BAiO) Living Up to Its Name I wrote, “But perhaps where the BAiO user is likely to see the biggest change is in the experience of working with the product. You really have to see this to get the full effect because describing the new user interface as a portal or a mash-up really doesn’t do it justice.” The same kind of experience is available with Business One. Picture a screen that combines frequently used transactions or inquiries from your enterprise application (ERP or CRM), along with a Google-like search, maybe Microsoft Outlook and a few charts of key performance indicators. Maybe other widgets or Microsoft Office components would be added? It would be tailored by role, customizable by individual preference. It would be the equivalent of setting up a home base of operations from which a business user could comfortably operate all day long.

Unfortunately the typical Business One demo doesn’t show this off to its full extent. I can understand why. You don’t get this same experience without some add-on’s to the basic Business One. So I can see that the pre-sales folks don’t want to oversell the ERP product, particularly in selling to small companies that are typically very budget-constrained. And yet, for an incremental added cost, the additional value can be exponential, truly bringing the user experience to life.

Mobility

But decision makers aren’t just sitting in an office, at a laptop or desktop all day long. They are increasingly mobile and are far more likely today to stay relatively connected at all hours of the day and night. We hear lots these days about connecting to enterprise data through a mobile device. And there certainly are plenty of those mobile devices around. The mobile access Business One delivers today is largely for the purpose of securing approvals. Indeed my own research has found that approvals, authorizations, notifications and alerts are the top priorities of those using mobile devices today. So this really takes a “push” approach – pushing alerts to the mobile device in order to obtain approvals. The action to be taken might be a phone call or email in response, but it also might be a simple click.

 SAP sees mobile access as more of a push and pull in the future, allowing decision makers on the run to pull data on demand, rather than waiting for it to be selectively pushed to them.

In Memory Computing

If you have attended any SAP event, or even engaged in a sales presentation over the past 12 to 18 months, you’ve no doubt heard of “in-memory computing.” In the upcoming year, SAP plans to revamp existing SAP solutions with the power of in-memory computing and to release completely new applications such as Sales and Operations Planning, Trade Promotion Management, Smart Meter Analytics, Intelligent Payment Broker, cash and liquidity forecasting. SAP already has Business One running on the SAP High-Performance Analytics Appliance (HANA) in its labs. In memory computing usually equates to “big data” and big data is generally associated with large enterprises. So why is this significant? There are two scenarios at play here.

First of all, while we don’t ordinarily think of small companies as generating the massive volumes of data associated with in-memory computing, organizations of any size must deal with a proliferation of data. And while transaction volumes in small companies can’t compare to those in large multi-billion dollar multi-nationals, it’s not just business transactions that generate data. There is a plethora of other data ranging from quality and characteristic data collected on a plant floor, to consumer preferences that influence buying decisions of a retailer to smart meter readings in managing energy consumption and promoting sustainability. And then of course there are the massive volumes of data being amassed in social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Even small companies cannot hide from the influence of the masses today.

Secondly, sometimes those large enterprises are indeed comprised of business units, subsidiaries and divisions that run individually as small companies that interoperate as an integrated business network. Not only must the business unit handle its own data, but that of its sister divisions. And ultimately the parent company must make decisions by consolidating and analyzing data from a vast number of sources. But individual business units can also benefit from having this facility with managing and analyzing massive volumes of data at the speed of their business.

Business executives don’t know or care about advances in data compression, columnar data store, and in-memory computing technology, but they do care about the speed and power the next generation of enterprise data management can bring to decision making. Whether the goal is to dramatically improve data-intensive processes such as planning, forecasting, and pricing optimization or to analyze sales profitability or manage cash and liquidity, once this power is in the executives hands, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for them to go back to “business decisions as usual.”

Key Takeaways

While SAP is well known in the world of the large enterprise, a fairly well-kept secret is that 75% of all of SAP’s business is sold to SMEs. SAP Business One continues to play an important role in providing a solution to the low end of the SME market. The reporting and Business Intelligence strategy will continue to be important, as will mobility, bringing enterprise data to the mobile device in a very easy and consumable fashion. SAP also will continue to build out the Business Network Integration story in multi-entity corporations that operate much like a network of small to mid-size companies. And finally, the 2011 and 2012 timeframe will see more concentration on reaping the benefits from SAP’s in-memory computing technologies.

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SAP Business ByDesign Status, Momentum and Plans

My very first meeting at Sapphire 2011 was an update by Rainer Zinow on SAP Business ByDesign on its status, traction and plans for the future.  The briefing was also attended by other analysts who cover (exclusively or at least in part) the SME enterprise application market. Rainer started the meeting by throwing us a curve and asking us what we wanted to hear – a refreshing change from the usual, “Here’s what we want to tell you.” My question was essentially how SAP was progressing in building the volume business ByDesign is intended to be. It looks like a lot of progress has been made but momentum is still building.

SAP now has 500 Business ByDesign customers and says it is on track to meet its goal of 1000 by year end. After the briefing I tweeted that factoid and almost immediately got a response questioning, “How long does it take to go live on #SAP ByD? Can they mathematically get to 1000 implemented by year end?” My response was (in not so many Twitter words), don’t confuse selling with implementation.

SAP never said that 1000 customers would be live. In fact one of the ByDesign customers I spoke with today (Technodyne) actually went live in 16 weeks. But my experience from talking to ByDesign customers over the past several years is that there is the same variability in implementation cycles as there is for any ERP. I’ve seen ERP go in quick and dirty, fast and solid, well-paced and methodically, or slow and painful. The time required in order to go live often has as much, if not more to do with the company doing the implementation than the solution itself.  

That is of course providing the solution is a good fit and, in the case of small companies, not overly complicated. But the whole reason SAP started from scratch in writing Business ByDesign was to reduce the level of complexity that becomes inherent in a solution that starts out as a large enterprise solution, and grows more complex through evolution. Today ByDesign is still primarily targeting companies with 50 to 500 employees which do not require highly tuned industry-specific functionality. There is one industry in which it is particularly strong (professional services) and there will be more industry specific functionality developed, but SAP never sees it becoming an option for certain industries requiring certain select functionality. Don’t expect a version for pharmaceuticals or oil and gas any time soon.

So what else can I share with you about the status and momentum of Business By Design? If you have been following SAP’s “on demand” plans you will have noticed a major strategy shift over the past year plus. Originally there were really two on demand strategies – one for SME (small to midsize enterprises) and one for larger enterprises. SAP called this the “Line of Business” (LOB) on demand applications, presumably because these other on demand solutions were targeted to specific areas of the business such as sales, procurement or human capital management. But they weren’t ERP. They extended or surrounded ERP, which for the large enterprise was largely staying on premise, or perhaps being outsourced or hosted. Originally these LOB applications were developed using a very different infrastructure than that used to develop and deploy ByDesign, with some technology acquired through SAP’s acquisition of Frictionless Software.

But that all changed as SAP made some breakthroughs in the ByDesign infrastructure.  ByDesign became multi-tenant , which was an important step in turning it into more of a volume business. Then, the underlying technology behind ByDesign became the platform of choice for new on demand development at SAP including Sales On Deman, Career On Demand and Travel On Demand and others to come. Sourcing On Demand remains on Frictionless and Carbon Impact runs on a different platform (River). The development teams were consolidated under Peter Lorenz and development, support and management of the products moved to China.

The release of the SDK (Software Developer’s Kit) ByDesign Studio is also an important consideration. In the early days, while there were certainly ways to configure and tailor the solution, no customization of ByDesign was supported even though the software ran as a single tenant. But with the release of the SDK, SAP can offer customization in multi-tenancy, although with the stipulation that all customization is delivered in the context of the SDK. Additional business objects, and additional logic can be added and partners are also able to further monetize these efforts by publishing to an online SAP store. While available from the store, the customization or extension is purchased from the partner who develops it. Of course SAP takes a cut… after all it is providing the showcase and vehicle for purchase, as well as the SDK itself and it takes an active role in quality certification. And of course the software is hosted by SAP. Remember it is not licensed but sold as a service.

This ability to customize is important as Business ByDesign moves from being just a solution for small to midsize companies. SAP sees a strong market in large enterprises – not at the corporate headquarters, but perhaps in more of a tiered solution structure, satisfying the needs on divisions, business units, remote locations, etc. The first integration scenarios delivered with Feature Pack (FP) 2.6 were also important first steps in supporting this multi-tiered scenario. But even as ByDesign starts to penetrate these larger enterprises, SAP assures us it will also remain true to its heritage, as a midmarket solution. Indeed, even these larger enterprise implementations start off small, sometimes with 10 users, perhaps as a pilot. As they achieve some success, users still need to sell the solution internally. So it opens the door, but there is still the need to go back and do more selling. This is the only part that to me doesn’t lend itself to a real volume sales business. For very high volumes you need to get in and sell and then move to the next sale, and the next… all without losing the relationship with the customer that has become more and more important to SAP. The one redeeming factor is that in some cases this added selling has led to as much as an 80% penetration which is unheard of in the large enterprise (Business Suite) world.

Today SAP hosts the software in two locations: Germany and in the United States. And just this afternoon news broke of a partnership with China Telecom to provide the service in Asia. I’m sure we’ll hear more about that in the days and weeks to come. But in the meantime, SAP is fully certified to be SAS 70 Type II compliant, satisfying more stringent requirements than the Type I compliance achieved by most service organizations, including the ability to be able to sustain operation with power and with no air conditioning for 3 days. While this may not have seemed to be a requirement in the past, recent disasters and extreme weather conditions make this more relevant today.

All told, after getting off to a slow early start, momentum is building and SAP has a very good story to tell about progress made in turning the Business ByDesign business into a volume business.

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