Thursday, October 30, 2008

Unpackaging ERP

A business associate asked me this week whether ERP systems have simply become too big and too bloated to implement.

My answer--the easy one--is that it depends on the customer's needs. Some customers need the wide breadth of functionality that the Tier I vendors, such as SAP and Oracle, offer. But now well-known analyst Judith Hurwitz comes along and questions the whole idea of packaged ERP software. Her premise? It just doesn't exist anymore.

Hurwitz tells the story of the CIO of a large corporation that decided to replace a number of legacy applications with a major ERP system (she doesn't mention which one):
The idea was correct – the company needed a system that would implement business process and best practices to support the business in a uniform and efficient manner. The problem, in my mind was two fold – first the cost. To purchase and then implement this software cost the company $500 million dollars. Obviously, a considerable part of this expense was for professional services. And maybe that is the point. The idea that a company can purchase a packaged ERP system that is really packaged software is a misnomer. In reality, packaged software is not really packaged. It is a set of tools, a set of templates and processes that are linked together based on marketing and promise. The CIO I was speaking with provided some insight into the complexity of this implementation. It required a lot more customization than anyone had anticipated. The promise of out of the box implementation was a myth. Once the customization was applied to this package, the concept of a packaged environment was gone. Therefore, it should not have come as a shock when the next time the base platform of processes and tools had to be upgraded; it cost the company an additional $50 million.
Her solution? She has five recommendations, but they basically come down to this: business software should be based on software components (services) that can be can be linked together to support individual processes, configured specifically to the organization's business.

Service-Oriented Architecture
What Hurwitz describes, quite well, is the essence of a service-oriented architecture (SOA), and it is at the heart of SAP and Oracle's current development efforts. SAP's Netweaver is simply an SOA platform, allowing functionality to be more easily deployed and composite applications to be built on the fly. And Oracle's Fusion middleware uses SOA to integrate its newly acquired products, and SOA is the foundation of its next-generation Fusion applications.

SOA is also the core strategy of other vendors, such as Lawson, Microsoft, IFS, and many others. For example, long before SAP and Oracle announced their SOA strategies, IFS had already built its applications on a component-based architecture--beginning in the late 1990's. When you drill down into IFS Applications, what you find at the bottom is not modules and programs but processes. These processes are then linked together to support specific business processes within the application. They can also be linked by the customer into other or different processes--exactly what Hurwitz is calling for.

Lawson, another Tier II vendor, is also transitioning its application portfolio to SOA, using its Landmark development environment, featuring domain-specific specific languages. The vendor has already released some functionality built on Landmark, including some HR and strategic sourcing applications, and it is working on others.

Microsoft is also incorporating SOA in its Dynamics line of ERP systems, and even Infor is claiming use of SOA as part of its strategy to link the many products in its portfolio.

An evolution in ERP
In years past, the winning vendor was the one that could check the most boxes on the customer's RFP. Today, many vendors can check most if not all of the boxes (though "how" vendors meet requirements often differs). The result is software that has enormous functionality but requires thousands of decisions to implement, especially in large companies. Today, customers have heard all the war stories, and they do not have an appetite for large, complex, risky, implementations--especially in today's economic climate. Speed, simplicity, and flexibility are the attributes that appeal to buyers today. Of course, the key requirements still need to be met. But the question to the buyer often comes down to, which system can we implement quickly and more easily?

The short-term approach of most vendors has been to simplify implementation through preconfiguring their systems for specific industries and so-called best business practices. SAP's approach is its "All-in-One" offerings. Oracle's is through use of "implementation accelerators." Both vendors have good references to demonstrate the success of their approaches, especially with small and midsize firms. These efforts are commendable.

But ultimately, the real answer is to transition completely to service-orientation--both by vendors and by customers. The good news is that most ERP vendors are already in this transition to, in effect, unpackage ERP. The transition will not be rapid, but it is taking place.

Update, Oct. 31. Floyd Teter gives his take on Judith's analysis. Floyd thinks there is a risk inherent with SOA--organizational stovepipes--and suggests social networking as a solution.

Related posts
Update on Lawson's strategy
Payback begins from SAP's Netweaver strategy
The death of packaged software
Blogging from the Lawson user conference
Latest from the IFS World conference

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Oracle layoffs, October 2008?

[Please see the more recent post on Oracle layoffs in November.]

Over the past two days, there are a significant number of search engine hits against the Spectator, searching phrases such as "Oracle layoffs," including some from within Oracle's own domain. Which generally makes me think that there may be a reduction in force (RIF) in process.

The number of such searches have increased today.

If you have any insights or experience, please email me, or leave a comment on this post.

Update, Oct. 24. The search engine referrals continue, including words such as layoff, firings, and pay cuts. It could be just rumors or gossip.

Update, Nov. 17. Search engine referrals increased sharply last week and continue. I am convinced that there were reductions in headcounts last week. The one comment on this post, dated 11/17 is consistent with this view.

Monday, October 20, 2008

SAP maintenance fees: where is the value?

Vinnie Mirchandani continues to hammer away on his theme that software vendor maintenance fees represent "empty calories" in the IT budget. In a post today, he revisits SAP's recent hike in maintenance fees to 22% of the software license cost.

His basic argument is two-fold. First, SAP's contention--that customers will save on testing costs by using SAP's Solution Manager to apply new enhancements--is bogus. He writes:
For a vendor which has made a ton of money selling Governance, Risk and Compliance the last few years, it is a naive statement at best. SAP is not the arbiter of what gets tested, in what regression sequence etc. There are plenty of auditors, quality assurance employees and outside experts who make that decision. And even if Leo is correct, it will take 3-4 years for early adopters to test the premise, share results before it is propagated across the customer base and there is material impact on TCO.
Second, SAP should be lowering maintenance fees, not raising them.
Then there is SAP's own cost base. They have offshored some of the support. There is more automation - more customers get self-service support answers through knowledge bases. Their community is handling many routine support questions (and customers are funding that community, not SAP). In the spirit of rollbacks, SAP support costs should have been declining for the last several years.

SAP knows that only too well. SAP offered Oracle customers cut-rate maintenance through its TomorrowNow unit, but steadfastly told its own customers they did not deserve a similar, low-touch offering.
Read Vinnie's entire post for more.

Dennis Howlett also has an excellent analysis of co-CEO Leo Apotheker's TechEd keynote, which included defense of SAP's price hike. Needless to say, Dennis is not convinced.

Related posts
SAP denies it is cutting spending on IT
SAP under the spotlight for "broken promises"
Mad as hell: backlash brewing against SAP maintenance fee hike

Thursday, October 16, 2008

SAP denies it is cutting spending on IT

SAP is trying to counter blogger reports earlier this week that it is cutting back on its own internal spending on IT.

On Tuesday, Ben Worthen at the Wall Street Journal posted portions of an internal SAP email in which co-CEOs Henning Kagermann and Leo Apotheker appeared to be ordering SAP employees to cut back on IT spending. I followed up with a quick blog entry calling attention to Worthen's post. A number of other tech bloggers did the same.

The excerpt from SAP's internal email seemed clear enough:
We will review all planned investments in IT equipment, hardware, software, facilities, and company cars, as well as internal IT projects....Do not order any new equipment at this time.
But today SAP wrote Worthen, to deny that it is cutting IT spending. Worthen today reports:
On Thursday, Herbert Heitmann, the head of SAP’s global communications, wrote us to let us know that our post “suggests an inaccurate portrait of our management decisions about cost savings while maintaining strategic investments into our own IT.” SAP is not halting its own tech spending, he wrote. Instead, the company “continues to make strategic investments in IT projects that directly impact our ability to grow our business globally and that assure we can provide world-class services to our customers,” Heitmann wrote. Furthermore, “we expect our customers and prospects to continue strategic IT spending over the next months, while somewhat narrowing their focus more to IT projects that deliver quick returns.”

Cutting costs in non-customer facing areas, he wrote “is what management is expected to do in times of uncertainty. Our call on employees to stop ordering “new equipment” for standard IT infrastructure like cell phones, photo copies, printers, laptops, etc. as well as an appropriate review of all planned investments and projects is a prudent and necessary step.

“We’ve even asked our CIO to identify strategic IT projects that would help us to optimize SAP’s business processes.”
So which is it? If this were not a tech company, the answer wouldn't be a big deal. But the last thing SAP wants to do is, by its own actions, encourage the idea that IT spending should be cut.

Unfortunately, that's what seems to be happening. Our survey now running at Computer Economics shows a significant percentage of IT organizations deferring the start of new projects in light of current economic conditions.

If you have insights, post a comment below.

Related posts
SAP in expense-cutting mode
IT spending pull-back: SAP warns on Q3 earnings

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

SAP in expense-cutting mode

SAP is joining Oracle, Epicor, Sage, Infor and other enterprise systems vendors in cutting back expenses in light of current economic conditions. SAP's action also follows its announcement of disappointing Q3 earnings.

Ben Worthen at the Wall Street Journal got hold of an internal email to SAP staff from co-CEOs Henning Kagermann and Leo Apotheker, and it outlines a number of immediate actions that SAP is taking to cut costs. Worthen quotes portions from the email:
There is a complete headcount and hiring freeze, and all existing job vacancies will be canceled. This includes any temporary workers, interns, and students. There will be no replacements for employees leaving SAP. No internal transfers may take place. Only those written offers sent to a candidate and/or internal transfers agreed to on or before October 7, 2008, will go forward.

Since we are not hiring, all engagement with external recruiters must cease immediately. We will discontinue engagement with management consultants and evaluate the impact this has on ongoing projects. Until further notice, all external training is to be canceled. Internal meetings must be held within SAP buildings, and you cannot rent external conference facilities for this purpose.

Cease ALL internal non-customer-facing travel in October…Any non-customer-facing travel already booked should be canceled immediately, even if this incurs penalties.
Worthen finds it ironic that--in spite of the public position of many in the technology industry that organizations will continue to spend on IT to become more efficient in the current economic client--SAP is cutting IT spending:
We will review all planned investments in IT equipment, hardware, software, facilities, and company cars, as well as internal IT projects....Do not order any new equipment at this time.
Over at Computer Economics, we're running a short survey to evaluate the impact of current economic conditions on the outlook for IT spending and staffing. If you'd like to participate in the survey and get a free copy of the results you can take the survey now.

Related posts
IT spending pull-back: SAP warns on Q3 earnings
Layoffs in Oracle Consulting unit
Layoffs at Infor and Sage
More layoffs at Epicor

Monday, October 13, 2008

ERP support costs: the offshore model

Vinnie Mirchandani has a good post on ERP total cost of ownership (TCO), referencing our Computer Economics study on ERP support staffing ratios. Vinnie and I have been corresponding on this subject.

He also points out the role of offshore service providers in ERP support. Although they have been able to demonstrate their ability to deliver some ERP support functions in an offshore model, the cost advantage of offshore resources has been mitigated due to cost escalation.
One way to manage that cost in the last few years had been to use offshore firms. In the run-up to Y2K they showed themselves adept at transitioning knowledge on a number of relatively steady, legacy custom developed apps. They have since extended that capability to ERP support, particularly around SAP and Oracle applications. But with the currency and wage inflation most Indian firms have experienced in the last couple of years, that support cost is re-emerging as an area that deserves significant CIO attention - and, of course analyst and blogger scrutiny.
If the cost-advantage of offshore providers is lessening (and Vinnie is in a position to know), it makes support optimization all the more important.

Our original study on ERP support staffing ratios examined and quantified the primary drivers of support costs--multiple ERP systems, instances, and versions, along with extent of modification and other factors. Simply minimizing salaries or hourly rates will not have as great an effect on support costs as optimizing these drivers. It's a tougher job, but worth doing.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Impact of current economic conditions on IT spending and staffing

Over at Computer Economics, we've just launched a new survey concerning the impact of current economic conditions on the outlook for IT spending and staffing. The data collected in this survey will be analyzed and published by Computer Economics in a research update in November 2008.

If you are qualified to answer the questions in this survey, and you fully complete the survey, we will send you a FREE copy of the final report, which will otherwise only be available to our subscribers or on a pay-per-view basis ($95).

Note to Consultants and Vendors: This survey is intended only for IT departments in companies with at least U.S. $50 million in annual revenue. If you are a consultant or technology vendor, please do not answer on behalf of your own organization, but refer this survey to an IT executive in one of your client organizations.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Speaking at APICS Orange County: ERP Support Staffing Ratios

On a personal note, I'll be speaking at the APICS Orange County professional development meeting Wednesday night, October 15, 2008, on the subject of Optimizing ERP Support Staffing Ratios.

From the presentation abstract:
The cost of supporting an ERP system goes far beyond the vendor's maintenance fees. The largest part of ERP total cost of ownership (TCO) is the cost of internal resources, such as applications programmers, DBAs, business analysts, administrative personnel, help desk support, and other technical support staff. This presentation provides typical staffing ratios for key ERP support positions, based on number of users and other factors, such as extent of modifications. Recommendations for improving ERP staff productivity will also be provided.
If you are in the Southern California area, come on by!

More information is on the APICS Orange County website.

This is a presentation of a study we completed earlier this year at Computer Economics, with the help of many Spectator readers. If you can't make the presentation, you can purchase the study, ERP Support Staffing Ratios, on the Computer Economics website. There's also a free executive summary there.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Oracle acquires leader in project management systems

Oracle's acquisition program continued this week with its acquisition of Primavera, one of the leading providers of software for project management and project portfolio management. Primavera claims 5000 customers worldwide.

Primavera is fairly well known. Its project management offerings are often viewed as a higher end alternative to Microsoft Project. Though they certainly can be used in this way, as a standalone tool for managing individual projects or groups of projects sharing common resources, the value to Oracle goes far beyond this limited use.

Although Oracle does have some good project-based functionality in its E-Business Suite, addition of Primavera really bolsters its offerings. However, the value will not be fully realized until Oracle integrates Primavera with its core ERP products. Oracle's announcements on the deal clearly show that this is the goal.

For organizations that are project-based, such as engineering and construction, public sector, aerospace and defense, and engineer-to-order (ETO) manufacturers, there is a great need to integrate project management with ERP. For example, for a true ETO manufacturer, the project schedule is (or should be) the master production schedule. Requirements for material, labor, outside services, and other resources are directly tied to the work breakdown structure. ERP systems based on a traditional MRP approach simply do not work.

Project-based organizations are relatively under-served by enterprise system vendors today, so Oracle no doubt sees a market opportunity. SAP has a strong presence in certain of these industries, such as energy and public utilities. IFS does a very good job in this sector as well, though its presence in Europe is greater than in the U.S. Baan used to be strong in this sector, though since its acquisition by SSA, and now Infor (renamed ERP LN), it is not being well represented. Other players, such as Glovia and Encompix (now owned by Consona), have the functionality but lack the scale.

So, the question is, how quickly will Oracle be able to fully integrate Primavera to work "seamlessly" with E-Business Suite? As noted recently, many vendor attempts to integrate disparate products wind up with a lot of seams. Oracle has the resources to do it right, and hopefully it will. But don't expect it to happen overnight.

There's more information on Oracle's vision for Primavera on Oracle's website.

Vinnie Mirchandani likes the deal.

Brian Sommer has a good post on the PM software space, what the deal might mean for Oracle, and for Primavera customers.

Update, Oct. 19.
Brian Sommer has an another excellent analysis of Oracle's acquisition of Primavera, the competitive landscape, and recommendations for organizations looking at a project portfolio management system these days.

Related posts
Vendor ecosystems: less than meets the eye

Layoffs in Oracle Consulting unit

A friend of mine reports layoffs on September 5 in Oracle's North America consulting unit. The reduction in force included 140 implementers specializing in Siebel, E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft, J.D. Edwards, and Hyperion products.

I can't seem to find any announcements or news reports on this small number of firings, but I have no doubt about the accuracy of this report.

He says that principal consultants appear to be hit the hardest, including some with high utilization rates.

Oracle's layoffs are baffling. Senior consultants with Oracle experience are reportedly in short supply. If Oracle's sales are as robust as Oracle says they are, they should be hiring such people, not firing them. Perhaps this is an early warning that Oracle sees softness in its new sales pipeline, and without cutting headcount it knows that consultant utilization will fall. In professional services, utilization is the key to profitability.

If you have direct knowledge or insight on this situation, please leave a comment or drop me an email.

Related posts
Is there really an SAP and Oracle skills shortage?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

SAP under the spotlight for "broken promises"

Ray Wang, a Forrester analyst, is speaking out on what he calls SAP's broken promises to customers. Ray is conducting a webinar this Thursday on the subject, and Dennis Howlett got Ray's permission to use his blog to comment on some of Ray's slides.

Ray (and Dennis) really lowers the boom on SAP, summing up a number of complaints from SAP customers concerning unilateral hikes in maintenance fees, lack of integration, constant pressure to buy more software, and aggressive sales tactics. His analysis is backed up by a Forrester survey of over 200 SAP customers.

Dennis comments:
Ray sets the backdrop by describing the partnership vision SAP customers have bought into. That includes:
  • SAP would deliver an integrated suite of solutions
  • Maintenance and support fees would be reinvested to fill out the gaps on the product roadmap
  • SAP would not ‘rape and pillage’ the customer like other ERP vendors of the day
He then goes on to show how most of those promises have been broken...
I won't reproduce all of Ray's and Dennis's points here, because I won't do them justice. Read Dennis's summary for yourself. If you want the entire story, you'll need to register for Ray's webinar this Thursday.

Update 1:27 p.m.
Vinnie Mirchandani is blowing the same horn. He also points out that in many respects Oracle is no better than SAP.

Update, Oct 11: Forrester is allowing free download of Ray's entire slide deck. Good move, Forrester! Visit this Forrester page and click the link on the upper right to download Ray's slides.

Related posts
Vendor software maintenance programs: top 10 wish list
Mad as hell: backlash brewing against SAP maintenance fee hike

Monday, October 06, 2008

IT spending pull-back: SAP warns on Q3 earnings

In what may be an early sign of cuts in IT spending, SAP is warning that its Q3 results will be below the firm's previous forecast. In the announcement, Henning Kagerman, SAP's co-CEO said:
The market developments of the past several weeks have been dramatic and worrying to many businesses. These concerns triggered a very sudden and unexpected drop in business activity at the end of the quarter. Throughout the third quarter we felt quite positive about our ability to meet our expectations. Unfortunately, SAP was not immune from the economic and financial crisis that has enveloped the markets in the second half of September, causing us to report numbers below our expectations.
Keep in mind, however, that SAP's revenue is not actually shrinking--just not growing as much as it previously forecast. SAP said that it expects non-GAAP revenue to increase of 16% - 17% compared to the third quarter of 2007.

Dennis Howlett quotes Kagermann during an analyst conference call accompanying the announcement:
Many customers felt the need to focus on shorter term concerns and put planned IT investments on hold for now. There was some hesitation on software purchases where financing was an issue. No company including SAP is immune from a sudden and serious economic downturn....We are not cutting out or downsizing, that would be too extreme at this time but we are in preparedeness mode....We remain in the middle of the range of our guidance for software and software related revenues.
SAP's warning will likely be followed by similar announcements from other enterprise system vendors. The easiest thing for buyers to do during times of economic crisis is to defer major spending decisions. ERP, CRM, and other enterprise system acquisitions are big ticket items. So far as other types of IT spending--hardware, services, infrastructure software--is pulled through by application software sales, IT spending overall is likely to decline.

Our analysis at Computer Economics earlier this year showed more organizations increasing IT spending in 2008 than decreasing. However, in light of the current situation, all bets are off. We hope to have a new projection in the next few weeks, and my guess is that it will show a severe drop off in IT spending intentions.

Update, Oct. 7. A Spectator reader wrote me this morning on a key point that I missed. He points out that SAP's announcement does not indicate how much of its Q3 revenue is from Business Objects, which was not part of SAP in 2007 Q3. So, SAP's revenue growth is certainly not 16-17%. Frankly, I think it is a little misleading on SAP's part to warn on quarterly results on not give the entire picture.

Update, Oct. 7. An article in Datamation points out that there could be an uptick in some IT spending as a result of the many mergers and acquisitions currently taking place in the financial sector. It postulates that consultants and systems integrators serving this sector may see increased demand for services as organizations are unlikely to have sufficient headcount for the integration effort. But I'm not buying it. The combined firms will likely have excess IT headcount that they would otherwise terminate. Any increase in integration projects just means that fewer of them will be laid off.

Related posts
2008 IT spending and budget metrics online

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Epicor facing unfriendly takeover bid

Elliott Associates and Elliott International LP, which together own over 10% of Epicor's outstanding shares, are making an unsolicted bid for Epicor. The $9.50-per-share bid is over 20% higher than Epicor's price prior to the news and values Epicor at about $566 million.

Who are the Elliotts? They are hedge funds--private investment groups that put money to work in any number of investment types, such as equity shares, debt instruments, precious metals, real estate -- even art collections. (The name "hedge fund" comes from the fact that these groups often use short-selling and other means to hedge downside risks in their investments).

Here's an interesting description of the Elliotts' business:
Elliott means action: Hedge fund firm Elliott Management takes an activist approach to investing, frequently amassing significant but minority stakes in distressed or underperforming companies and attempting to foment change. It manages hedge funds Elliott Associates and Elliott International, which together manage some $10 billion of capital for large institutional investors and wealthy individuals and families. Elliott Associates invests in corporate, real estate, and sovereign debt, with investments in North America, Asia, and Europe. Founded by Paul Singer in 1977, Elliott Associates is one of the oldest hedge funds under continuous management.
In other words, these guys are financial players, not a software company. They have a history of buying into technology companies with the intention of selling them to someone else:
  • Earlier this year, the Elliotts bought 5.5% of MSC Software, which develops engineering and simulation systems--based in Santa Ana, CA, just down the highway from Epicor's headquarters in Irvine (which is around the corner from my office, by the way). Elliott promptly told MSC that it should consider "strategic alternatives," including a sale.
  • In March, the Elliotts also bought a stake in Packeteer, a developer of telecom equipment and WAN optimization products. It then offered to buy the whole thing, but failed in its takeover attempt.
You get the picture.

The pattern is similar with Epicor. The Elliots recently bought 10% of Epicor and, true to form, were talking about forcing a sale. But it is doubtful that the most likely buyers (SAP, Oracle, Microsoft) would be interested in Epicor. SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft generally buy software companies that have specific products filling niche functions or serving specific industries. Epicor does not fit that description--it is a diverse collection of products that itself has acquired over the past decade. Sort of a mini-Infor.

So now the Elliotts are offering to buy all of Epicor, and Epicor is resisting. But what would the Elliotts do with Epicor, assuming they get it? They could sell it to Infor, except that if Infor wanted Epicor, it could have made an offer a long time ago. Or, the Elliotts could use Epicor as a "platform" to roll up other smaller vendors. Except that's what Epicor has been doing for the past decade--so how would the Elliott's strategy be different?

Regardless, Epicor's investors must be happy right now. Epicor's share price rose 13% on the news of Elliott's offer. Not bad in this market.

No word on how Epicor's customers are reacting to the news. If you are an Epicor client, let me know or leave a comment on this post.

Ned Lilly gives his analysis of the deal.

Related posts
More layoffs at Epicor

Layoffs at Infor and Sage

Update: news on Infor layoff on Dec. 9-10, 2008
Update: news on Sage layoff on Dec. 2, 2008.

The enterprise software market, which has so far held up surprisingly well in the current economy, may finally be taking some hits. There are two back-to-back emails in my inbox this morning tipping me off on layoffs at Infor as well as Sage in the UK.

The first source, regarding Infor, reports that Bob Aldworth, SVP of Finance (Revenue) is now gone. Infor reportedly also laid off one-third of the distribution sales team and 12% of the CRM development team. He indicates that it is not clear "whether this is just business contraction or due to balance sheet issues from a delayed public offering."

The second source says that Sage in the UK recently "laid off a significant number of staff in their mid-market business (formerly Tetra.)" He claims that Sage is performing poorly among companies in the £1M-$100M space and is losing deals in this space to SAP, Microsoft, and others.

I do not have confirmation of these two items, although the first source is known to me and has connections within Infor.

These reports follow news of layoffs at Epicor in August. No word on reductions at SAP and Oracle, which appear to be holding up well so far. If you have news on other vendors, please let me know.

Related posts
More layoffs at Epicor