Thursday, March 28, 2013

Does SaaS Save Money?

According to a soon-to-be-published survey by Computer Economics, IT decision-makers appreciate the benefits of SaaS, such as speed, agility, and scalability. But there is one benefit that they do not rate highly. They do not see that SaaS saves money.

Please read to the end of this post to see how I plan to quantify this issue with some hard data.

One Client’s Impression

This finding was reinforced in my mind last week, when I reconnected with a past client of my consulting firm, Strativa. We had helped this high tech manufacturer three years ago with a new CRM system selection, and the company had chosen Now the CIO wanted to pick my brain about options for upgrading other parts of his applications portfolio.

In the course of the conversation, the CIO made an interesting observation. “Frank, we think we made the right choice with Salesforce, and we believe cloud systems are the way to go. But I’ve got to tell you, they aren’t cheap.”

I indicated that I had been thinking about this subject recently and asked him to tell me more. “Well, when you count the per-user fees, plus the platform costs, plus the partner apps that you want to implement, it can add up to a lot of money year after year,” he explained. “And, of course, you still have the up-front implementation consulting fees.”

Changing the Subject

Later in the day, I posted a couple of tweets about this conversation, and the reaction from some of my followers was interesting. “The real benefits of SaaS are in flexibility and agility,” replied one follower. “You shouldn’t be looking at TCO,” replied another.

I'm always amused when analysts and consultants want to tell customers what questions they should be asking or not asking. As if some questions are off limits.

Now, as a proponent of cloud computing, I’ll put myself right up there with the best of them. However, I would like to know: how does the total cost of SaaS compare to on-premises systems? Moreover, if SaaS is more expensive, isn’t that useful information for IT decision makers?  Of course it is. If a customer is going to make a technology decision, the customer should have all the information needed. Certainly, cost is one of the factors he or she should be taking into account.

Four Theories

So, let's consider: why might a customer think that SaaS doesn't save them money? Off the top of my head, there are at least four possibilities.
  • Theory 1: SaaS does save money, but customers don’t realize it. In other words, perhaps customers do not fully appreciate the cost of staffing and supporting on-premises systems, such as the cost of implementing future upgrades. These are costs that are eliminated or greatly reduced with SaaS. But since customers do not fully recognize those costs, they do not count those savings. Or, because of the cost, they might be avoiding upgrades of on-premises systems and not recognizing the price their organization is paying by not staying current.
  • Theory 2: SaaS does save money, but you only realize those savings when you completely eliminate your on-premises systems. If you still have most of your systems on-premises, moving just one of them to the cloud doesn’t eliminate your data center or data center staffing. So, you are not able to realize the cost savings from eliminating the data center. 
  • Theory 3: SaaS does save money, but vendors don’t pass along those savings to customers. In other words, SaaS applications are cheaper to for vendors to develop, deploy, and maintain, but SaaS providers are just matching the prices of on-premises vendors and enjoy extra profits.
  • Theory 4: SaaS is more expensive than on-premises systems, but it’s worth it. Perhaps SaaS does not save money, but the value of SaaS in terms of flexibility, agility, and scalability are so overwhelming that it’s worth it to customers to pay extra.
Now, these four theories are not mutually exclusive. For example, SaaS may save money (Theory 1) and also allow vendors to appropriate some of the cost savings as extra profit (Theory 3). Or, a mix of on-premises and cloud systems do not save money (Theory 2), but its still worth it for customers in terms of agility (Theory 4). Furthermore, the answer may be different for different SaaS applications. For example, perhaps cloud CRM saves money, but cloud ERP doesn't.

More Data Needed

But, the general question is still unanswered. Generally, from the customer’s perspective, does SaaS save money?

To answer this question, Computer Economics has launched another survey. As part of our annual IT spending and staffing survey, we are looking for organizations that have moved most or all of their applications portfolio to the cloud. In other words, we are looking for customers that have no internally supported data center, or at least, a minimal set of on-premises systems. We are asking these customers to take part in our regular annual survey, and we will compare the IT spending ratios of these select customers against our standard industry ratios for IT spending and staffing. We will also interview these customers to learn more about their experience with SaaS and the perceived value as well as challenges.

Through this study, we hope to be able to answer three main questions. First, do companies that have gone largely to cloud computing spend less on IT than those that have not? Second, how does the mix of IT spending differ? Finally, where do customers see the business value of SaaS?

We already have a handful of respondents and the initial data is quite interesting. But we need more. If you are a company that has implemented all or most of your business applications in the cloud, please apply to take our survey. As an incentive, survey participants will receive $2,500 of free research reports.

Apply for the Computer Economics Survey >>

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Microsoft Dynamics Move Up-Market: What’s Missing?

Microsoft Dynamics logo
In December 2012, I wrote about four market forces that are pushing Microsoft Dynamics onto large enterprise turf. I also outlined several case studies in which Microsoft was having success with large multinational organizations. Now, more recently, I attended the Microsoft Dynamics annual user conference, Convergence, and had an opportunity to interview Microsoft executives and customers to see what further progress Microsoft was making in its move up-market.

Bottom line: Microsoft has many of the necessary elements in place to continue its move into large enterprises, but it still needs to fill several major functional gaps in its product offerings.

Continued Evidence of Success

In recent years, Microsoft has had several implementations of its Dynamics AX and Dynamics CRM systems in large enterprises. These include Carrefour S.A, the world's second largest retailer, Nissan Motor Company, Shell Retail, and others.

Now, at its Convergence conference, Microsoft highlighted two more large company success stories:
  • Dell Computer is the world's third largest PC manufacturer as well as a leading provider of a variety of IT products and services, with revenues of $57 billion. Dell is in process of consolidating its manufacturing ERP systems onto Microsoft Dynamics AX, with Oracle E-Business Suite continuing to run in headquarters and for certain corporate shared services.
  • Revlon is the well-known cosmetics company with worldwide revenues of nearly $1.5 billion. Revlon consolidated 21 ERP systems to a single instance of Microsoft Dynamics AX.
Another key success factor for the large enterprise market is the ability to provide direct support. In this regard, Microsoft's reliance on its partner channel is often not sufficient for large companies. To address this need, Microsoft has been building up its Microsoft Services unit, which provides consulting and premier support not only for its Dynamics business applications but also for Microsoft's entire portfolio of offerings. The Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) Dynamics unit has reportedly doubled its headcount over the past year, and it can provide everything from high level program and partner management services to hardware support in conjunction with its large OEM partners, such as IBM and HP. For large customers, Microsoft can even take responsibility for service levels of the deployed applications.

Three Major Functional Gaps

These case studies, along with Microsoft's direct services capabilities, indicate that Microsoft has had some success in the large enterprise market. But are these exceptions, or are Microsoft's offerings mature enough to routinely take business away from the Tier I ERP and CRM players?

The answer is, not yet. Microsoft as an organization has the global presence and the resources to do so, but the Dynamics business applications at present lack functionality in three critical areas. Until these are filled, Microsoft will be limited in the number of deals where it can be short listed against Oracle and SAP.
  1. Human Capital Management (HCM). Microsoft Dynamics AX today does have some HCM functionality for core HR, talent management, benefits administration, and employee/manager self-service. In addition, it does provide payroll for US and Russia. However, those who have studied this functionality do not view Microsoft's HCM offerings as competitive with SAP, Oracle, Workday, or other first tier HCM providers. In the SMB market, Microsoft could get away with these deficiencies, as many prospects either do not include HCM in their acquisition plans or are satisfied to work with a Dynamics partner for any gaps in functionality. In the large enterprise space, however, this is often not an acceptable strategy. This is especially true when the Microsoft partners for HCM are only regional players.
  2. Customer Service. The Dynamics team prides itself on the success of its Dynamics CRM offering, built from scratch to be a serious competitor to, SAP, and Oracle. However, Dynamics CRM is not a full CRM offering. Its functionality is limited largely to sales force automation and now marketing automation (thanks to the 2012 acquisition of Marketing Pilot). Dynamics CRM lacks a full set of functionality for customer service and field service. So, when prospects are looking for a solution that gives them a 360-degree view of the customer—both new customers and existing customers, for both sales and for after-sales services—they quickly scratch Microsoft from their short lists. If they really want to go with Microsoft, they look to Microsoft partners to provide the needed functionality. Again, this approach may work for Microsoft's traditional SMB market—although even there, the lack of a customer service module is still a limitation.  But in large global enterprise deals with thousands of users, most prospects take a quick look at Microsoft and move on to more robust providers.
  3. Supply Chain Management (SCM). Microsoft Dynamics AX today only offers traditional material planning functionality, so-called MRP and MRP-II systems. There are no supply chain execution modules for warehouse management, transportation management, or logistics. Neither is there supply chain planning functionality for demand forecasting, sales and operations planning, constraint-based scheduling, supply chain optimization, or event management. Again, in the SMB market, many prospects are doing well if they can implement basic MRP, and those who need more are often happy to consider partner solutions. But in the large enterprise space, prospects often expect this functionality to be part of the core offering.
Partner solutions work best when they address narrow industry needs—for example, law firm practice management from Lexis Nexus, or complex manufacturing functionality from Cincom. But for broad horizontal systems, such as HCM, customer service, and supply chain management, prospects expect the ERP or CRM system to be able to provide that functionality directly. Partner solutions at this point are simply a band aid.

The good news is that Microsoft recognizes these deficiencies and intends to deal with them over the course of the next few years, although, for the most part, it is not giving out details publicly. The one area where Microsoft has indicated specific plans is in the supply chain area. Later this year, it intends to announce new capabilities for Dynamics AX for warehouse and transportation management, along with demand management. This is a good start. In the other two areas—HRMS and customer service—Microsoft executives only indicate that they realize these needs and intend to address them in future releases of Dynamics AX and Dynamics CRM.

Priorities, Priorities

The large company case studies illustrate that Microsoft Dynamics has an expanding presence in the large enterprise market. Nevertheless, it would be unusual to see Dynamics fully replace Oracle or SAP for customers in this space. That said, Microsoft still can be successful in the large enterprise space, if prospects see SAP and Oracle playing a restricted role: pushing them back into a corral to serve only their core financials and perhaps core HRMS needs. Outside of this corral, Microsoft Dynamics can then become the operational system platform for such organizations.

If this is the case, the lack of HR functionality does not need to be an immediate impediment for further Microsoft progress up-market. Baring some major acquisition by Microsoft, it is unlikely that Microsoft Dynamics will have the richness of HCM functionality needed to displace SAP or Oracle in the HCM space. Any future Microsoft development in HCM will be more appealing to midsize organizations than to the large enterprise market.

Likewise, Microsoft’s lack of supply chain functionality does not need to be a major impediment. Manufacturing, distribution, and retail prospects will still need to fill their SCM requirements with a third-party solution. Fortunately, there are good offerings from Microsoft partners for warehouse management and transportation management. Furthermore, even many SAP and Oracle customers look to best of breed solutions, such as E2Open and Kinaxis, for supply chain planning systems. So, the lack of Microsoft SCM offerings does not need to be a show stopper.

The weakness of Microsoft’s customer service and field service features in the CRM product, however, is more problematic. When looking at CRM, most large enterprises want more than salesforce automation. Microsoft’s acquisition of Marketing Pilot for marketing automation fills one gap. A similar acquisition or internal development of after-sales service functionality is probably the most urgent need if Microsoft is to further succeed in the large enterprise market.

A Fiercer Battle

What could go wrong with Microsoft's up-market ambitions? First, SAP and Oracle are not going to let themselves be passively corralled within corporate headquarters. Both vendors have major programs to further develop and serve line of business system requirements: SAP with its acquisitions of SuccessFactors, Ariba, and its line of business cloud applications; Oracle with its Fusion Applications.

Second, there are other providers that have the same up-market ambitions as Microsoft. For example, Infor, which is headed up by former Oracle co-President, Charles Phillips, fully intends to be a credible alternative to SAP and Oracle, and it already has a much broader footprint of applications than Microsoft has. Likewise, Workday from the very beginning took aim at the large enterprise market for HCM, financials, and operations management for services firms, and it is already a major thorn-in-the side for SAP and Oracle.

Microsoft’s success in the large enterprise space, therefore, is not guaranteed. But its success so far is encouraging, and if it continues to fill out its functional footprint, it will become a strong contender.

Postscript: Other analysts have good reporting on the Convergence conference. Esteban Kolsky's has a good post on Microsoft Dynamics CRM as well as a good video interview with Dennis Howlett.

Update, April 4: I edited the paragraph on HCM, under the heading for "Three Major Functional Gaps." The original paragraph stated that Microsoft has no offering for HCM, which was not accurate. 

Related Posts

Four Needs Pushing Microsoft Dynamics into Large Enterprises

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Supply Chain Management Delivers Positive ROI Despite Challenges

Over at Computer Economics, I've just published a new report in our technology adoption series. The report, entitled Supply Chain Management Adoption Trends and Customer Experience, finds that the total cost of ownership for SCM systems often exceeds budget.

Nevertheless, the payback on SCM systems is so good that most companies achieve a return on their investment within two years, despite the challenges in managing costs.

As shown in Figure 1, the full report compares the adoption, investment, ROI and TCO rates of supply chain management systems against the rates for 13 other technologies from an annual Computer Economics survey on technology trends.

Based on survey responses, SCM and the 13 other technologies are given numerical ratings on the levels of adoption, investment, ROI and TCO. Then, SCM technology is categorized as having low, moderate, or high rates relative to other technologies in the survey.
  • Adoption Rate: SCM adoption is moderate compared to other technologies in the study. That means the percentage of organizations that have SCM solutions in place is within the middle third of the range, defined by the technologies with the highest and lowest adoption rates in the study. It does not include organizations that have plans to implement the technology for the first time but have not yet done so. The moderate-to-low adoption rate for SCM is due in part to the fact that this technology does not have widespread application in some industry sectors, such as financial services or information services.  

  • Investment Rate: The percentage of organizations investing in SCM technology falls just shy of moderate and earns a low rating. Investors include organizations that plan new implementations or enhancements to existing systems within the next 18 months. Once again, the relatively low investment rate is because the technology does not have relevance in some industry sectors.
  • ROI Success Rate: Among organizations that have adopted SCM, the experience is positive. The survey shows that, compared to the other technologies in the survey, SCM has a moderate ROI success rate, bordering on the high side. The percentage of organizations at least breaking even on their investments within a two-year period is at the high end of the middle range when compared to other technologies surveyed.
  • TCO Success Rate: However, compared to the other technologies covered in the survey, the TCO success rate for SCM is on the low side. As with many enterprise applications, there is a danger of underestimating total cost of ownership. We define TCO success as actual costs coming in at or under budget.
Interestingly, the ROI success rate is more positive than the TCO success rate. This indicates that the business case for SCM systems is strong: Some adopters must be achieving positive or breakeven ROI in spite of exceeding their budgets for SCM projects.

Competitive pressures, globalization and increasingly complex offshore manufacturing relationships are spurring organizations to expand their supply chain management (SCM) systems, which encompass a wide variety of technologies and capabilities.

The full study quantifies the current adoption and investment trends for SCM systems as well as the benefits that are driving companies to expand their SCM implementations. We assess these trends by organization size, sector and geography. In terms of economics, we look at the ROI and TCO experience of those that have adopted SCM along with current investment per SCM user. The report concludes with practical advice for those considering investment in SCM technology.

Cloud Confusion on The Motley Fool

As I've written in the past, financial analysts may provide good advice for investors in the tech sector. But their analysis is not very useful to buyers of technology products and services. It's not that they don't have insights, but they are writing for a different audience: investors, not customers and prospects.

Some parts of the financial press are another story. Some financial media reporters so poorly understand the tech industry that neither investors nor prospective buyers should listen to them.  

I saw an example of this today on The Motley Fool, in a story entitled, Is Oracle's Cloud Really Fake? In it the contributor, Richard Saintvilus, takes issue with an Infoworld article by David Linthicum that criticizes Oracle's most recent "cloud" announcement as "faux IaaS."

The Motley Fool is a website aimed at the individual small investor. It provides both free content as well as paid subscriber material. It also makes money from advertising. Therefore, generating page views is a key objective, with much of its content generated by freelancers, as appears to be the case here. So, the quality of its content varies.

Apologies to in advance to Saintvilus, who reached out to me on Twitter after I sniped at his story. He asked for specifics, so here you go.

Oracle Late to the Cloud

Staintvilus immediately starts with a misconception, that Oracle was an early proponent of cloud computing. Here is his lead:
Wall Street loves a hot trend and had essentially decided four years ago that the cloud was next. With corporations needing all of the cost savings/productivity benefits the cloud offered, the timing was perfect. Oracle was one of the first blue chip enterprise companies to realize this opportunity. [emphasis here, and throughout, is mine.]
Sorry Richard. Even as late as 2009, Oracle's CEO Larry Ellison famously mocked the term cloud computing, calling it no more than a fashion statement. Furthermore, he not only mocked the term, he mocked the concept. To this day, Ellison criticizes multitenant applications, which are the cornerstone of most large scale SaaS providers. Only recently, as Oracle realized it was losing the war did Oracle embrace cloud computing, albeit with its own twist (either hosted single tenant applications, or multi-tenant applications with single tenant databases.) Industry analysts can argue all day about the relative merits of each approach. But none would claim that Oracle was anywhere to be found at the beginning of the trend to cloud computing.

Oracle Market Share in Cloud Services

He continues with a comment on Oracle's rising revenues:
The company [Oracle] is providing a service, of which there has been very few complaints -- at least not according to the rising revenues, which suggest it's stealing share from rivals such as And Oracle is not the cheapest on the market, either. So, there's a reason why customers are willing to pay the premium. And it's not because these corporate CIOs are dumb.
Yes, Oracle's revenues are rising. But those of are rising also, up 37% in 2012. Furthermore, while all of the revenues of SFDC are derived from cloud computing, only a small percentage of Oracle's are. So to impute on the basis of revenues that Oracle is taking market share from is ludicrous. Certainly, in my own firm's work advising buyers in software selection, I do not see Oracle taking market share from In fact, in CRM, I see deals in which buyers want to look at Salesforce but do not even consider Oracle, especially in the midmarket.

As far as software pricing is concerned, neither do I see Oracle as commanding a premium price over, or over other application vendors for that matter. In fact, Oracle is notorious for competing on price when it really wants a competitive deal, as it knows it can make it up on maintenance revenue in the future.

But the author wouldn't know that, because he does not advise technology buyers, nor is he in a position to see actual deals going down.

Oracle's Engineered Systems Are Not "Cloud"

He then confuses Oracle's new Exa-boxes with cloud services.
However, David Linthicum of InfoWorld thinks [CIOs are] idiots (I'm paraphrasing that a bit), which doesn't make sense. CIOs are spending billions annually with Oracle. But in Linthicum's recent article, he insists they don't know what they're buying: "Oracle is continuing its faux cloud strategy, adding to its private-cloud infrastructure offering the ability to rent for a monthly fee preconfigured application servers to be deployed in customer data centers. The available application servers -- what Oracle calls 'engineered systems'"
The author can be forgiven for this misunderstanding, as Oracle itself confuses this issue, which is the whole point of Linthicum's criticism. The basic point is that cloud computing is a "service," whereas Oracle's computer hardware (whether old school Sun commodity servers, or Oracle's new "engineered systems") is a physical product. Renting Oracle hardware does not magically turn the hardware into a cloud service.

Oracle's Engineered Systems Are an Old Concept

He continues with the impression that Oracle's Exa-boxes are somehow a new concept. 
Linthicum clearly has an ax to grind. While he's going all-out on Oracle's product portfolio, rival companies have been working hard to duplicate Oracle's offerings. For instance, IBM has a rival offering called PureSystems -- launched three years after Oracle's Engineered Systems, or ES. And, after Oracle has already deployed ES to more than 1,000 customers in 43 countries, IBM followed. Big Blue has gained traction, but not to the extent of Oracle. And I doubt that IBM would have followed a model it didn't think had sustaining potential.
The author appears unaware that Oracle is attempting to return to the IBM era of the 1960s. In fact, Larry Ellison has said so himself. The IBM mainframe at the time was a single integrated platform of hardware, operating system, database, and applications engineered from the ground up to work together. IBM's AS/400 series of machines (now called Series i) took this concept even further. What broke up IBM's dominance in the mainframe era was the fact that these boxes were all based on proprietary standards, and eventually low cost commodity hardware (whether IBM personal computers, or later, Unix boxes from providers such as Sun) could do the job much more cost effectively. The downside was that the new approach led to challenges in system integration, in making all the layers of the technology stack work together.

Oracle's strategy with its Exa-boxes is to return to this single technology stack from hardware through applications, engineered from the ground up to work together. Will Oracle be successful? Only time will tell. And, certainly the 1,000 customer number that the author mentions is not yet enough of a measure of success.

Regardless, what does any of this have to do with cloud computing? Absolutely nothing. Oracle is launching a public cloud offering, with its Exa-boxes as part of the infrastructure. Other providers can do the same using commodity hardware, as Google, Amazon, Microsoft and others have already done.

But the Oracle offering that Linthicum is criticizing and that the author is defending is not Oracle's public cloud service. Rather it is an arrangement whereby Oracle customers can, for a monthly fee,  rent preconfigured Oracle application servers and run them in their own data centers. Linthicum is absolutely right: this has nothing to do with cloud computing.

According to the NIST definition of cloud computing, there are five essential characteristics of cloud computing, and Oracle's hardware rental offering does not satisfy four of them. (See the link in this paragraph for a more complete definition.)
  • On-demand self-service. Oracle's rental agreement does not allow the customer to unilaterally provision computing capabilities, such as server time and network storage, as needed automatically without requiring human interaction with each service provider.
  • Resource pooling. Oracle's rental agreement does not pool computing resources for multiple customers in a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand.
  • Rapid elasticity. Oracle's offering does not allow computing capabilities to be elastically provisioned and released, in some cases automatically, to scale rapidly outward and inward commensurate with demand. As Linthicum points out, the customer has to pay extra for spikes in demand and there is no provision to ramp down demand, and cost.
  • Measured service. Oracle's offering does not automatically control and optimize resource use by leveraging a metering capability. Customers do not pay as they go.  
Clearly then, Oracle's offering may use the terminology of cloud computing but it does not display the essential characteristics of cloud computing. You can call me a fish, but that doesn't make me one.

The List Goes On

I have neither the time nor the patience to go much further. Let me just list a few (and by no means all) of the remaining errors.
  • "Linthicum is pretending to be an expert on something that is still in its infancy." Cloud computing may not be a full grown adult, but it is certainly not an infant. Providers such as have been delivering cloud services for well over a decade, ancient history in the technology industry.  
  • "Oracle innovates at the technology layer, thereby giving customers more leverage and independence from consulting fees." What exactly is the "technology layer?" Everything from bare metal hardware to business applications are "technology." Furthermore, talk to Oracle customers: I doubt anyone will tell you they have less need for consultants. 
  • "Had Cisco contracted out its cloud services to Oracle, it could have remained focus on growing its business." The types of cloud services that Cisco offers, such as cloud network management, are not services that Oracle provides. Therefore, it would not be possible for Cisco to contract with Oracle to provide those services on behalf of Cisco. 
  • "Even if Linthicum's pricing claims were correct, then it means Microsoft's Azure, which has a pay-as-you-go model, is also fake. But Microsoft has been reducing its prices because it can't compete." If Microsoft is lowering its Azure pricing, it's not because it can't compete, but because it can deliver cloud services at lower and lower costs over time, as it scales and the costs of technology drop (see "Moore's Law"). Similarly, Amazon lowers its AWS prices multiple times per year and no one in his right mind claims it's because Amazon can't compete.
Parts of The Motley Fool article are nearly indecipherable, especially toward the end. But I think this is enough to illustrate: parts of the financial press are poor sources of information on enterprise IT. By that, I do not mean to imply that all financial reporters are suspect. One would not expect to see a story such as this one to appear, say, on the pages of The Wall Street Journal or Financial Times.

Furthermore, none of my criticism should be taken to mean that Oracle is not a good company from either the investor perspective or customer perspective. As the author tweeted me, "Oracle is one of the best tech names on the market and it deserves fairness."

Yes it is, and yes it does. And because of that, it also deserves accurate reporting.  

Related posts

Enterprise IT Buyers: Don’t Listen to Financial Analysts
Oracle's Behavior Undercuts Its Own Cloud Accomplishments
Cutting Through the Fog of Cloud Computing Definitions

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