A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Ultimus User Conference in Munich, Germany. The conference was quite refreshing and encouraging from many different perspectives, starting with its unique theme: Empowering People, Driving Process. Why do I say it’s a unique theme? Every single BPM conference I have ever attended over the past 15 years has always zeroed in on one thing — how to use workflow or a BPM suite to automate the predictable and structured part of a business process. In other words, most business process management conferences explore how to drive business processes while ignoring anything about empowering the people who participate in business processes.
What a shift in thinking and maturity this get together demonstrated. Empowering people ran the gamut from the need to integrate collaboration, business intelligence and content into business processes, all the way to addressing user acceptance and people management issues that always surface whenever companies embark on changing or continuously improving their business processes.
Another real eye-opener at this event was the significant number of large, medium and small sized companies throughout western, central and eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa that are getting tangible and measurable benefits from business process management suites. BPM clearly isn't just a US trend or a large enterprise only trend — it’s clearly gone global and also moved into medium size businesses in a big way.
Oracle has addressed a major gap in its application portfolio with its announcement Tuesday to buy Product Lifecycle Management vendor Agile (a deal Forrester predicted way back in 2000). Relative to Oracle’s other notable acquisitions like PeopleSoft and Siebel, the Agile buy looks to be less about acquiring customers and more about countering archrival SAP who has been steadily advancing its own PLM offering in recent years. The Agile acquisition puts Oracle back in the PLM game with a proven cPDM offering — particularly for high-tech & other discrete industries operating in fast development clockspeeds and heavily-outsourced manufacturing models. And Agile’s collaborative visualization offering (through its prior acquisition of Cimmetry) will further position Oracle against the CAD-heritage players like PTC and Siemens (UGS) in select industries.
SAPPHIRE this year is in the historic city of Vienna, famous, among other things, for waltzes, psychoanalysis and Orson Welles’ classic film. The film is actually showing at the local cinema, in a double bill with “Mr. Bean’s holiday,” which makes you wonder exactly what market they are targeting. Next week Ingmar Bergman and “Are You Being Served?”
Sometimes A Cigar Is Only A Cigar
The key theme, as it was a couple of weeks ago at SAPPHIRE US in Atlanta, is the Business Process Platform, SAP’s positioning of NetWeaver as the basis for their customers’ IT architecture. Leo Apotheker echoed our Business Technology concept with his keynote statement that “IT is All About Business”, as described in their press release “SAP’s Apotheker Puts Crowing Touch on Customer Conferences”. Well, this is where they invented the Freudian slip!
SAP has addressed a major gap in its business planning performance management offerings with the acquisition of Outlooksoft today. The internally-developed SAP offerings known as SEM had seen limited traction among its customer base do to usability and complexity issues. SAP has been vulnerable to competitors (e.g., Hyperion, Cognos), particularly in the planning and budgeting domain.
Outlooksoft’s offering, by contrast, features a native Excel UI that appeals to finance and business users, and has integrated capabilities for planning, financial consolidations, and business performance analytics. It has seen good traction as a best-of-breed offering, with a base of approximately 700 customers. Its newest release (5.0) incorporates SOA and Web 2.0 technologies, making it compatible with SAP’s technology directions. Also, Outlooksoft has begun to move away from its sole dependency on the Microsoft BI platform.
SAP's annual Americas user conference was held last week (April 23-25), with impressive attendance of approximately 14,000. The abrupt departure of Shai Agassi a few weeks prior to the event was well covered, as Hasso Plattner stepped in to handle the technical vision keynote slot. A key message of the event was progress in adoption of SAP's NetWeaver platform and the latest release of the ERP suite, renamed ERP 6.0 from mySAP ERP 2005. ERP 6.0 adoption was announced to be approximately 2,600 to date, but upgrades from the older 4.6C and 4.7 versions continue to be a challenge for customers. SAP is looking to have 75% of its ERP base upgraded by mid-2008. Besides relief from rising support costs under the 5-1-2 maintenance plan, customers who upgrade to 6.0 can take advantage of a series of forthcoming enhancement packs as incremental add-ons (a strategy reminiscent of Oracle's family pack releases).