Kicking Off A Whole Lotta Research On Productization

A big part of my research agenda for this year is productization. Many app dev teams see productization as a way to innovate better, achieve more sustainable results at a lower cost, deal with some of the tough challenges downstream, and in general lead a happier and more productive life. The allure of productization varies across different types of organization, as do the approaches. Therefore, to do the product justice, we're going to look at five different settings in which app dev teams are striving to productize their work:

  • Companies that have customer-facing applications on their websites. The classic example is online banking, but there are plenty of others. Some of these applications are tools for existing customers, while others are mechanisms for interactive marketing.
  • IT departments. In this case, productization is a way to improve the long-term return on technology investments, by treating them as products and assigning them a product owner. 
  • Services companies. Productization may reduce inefficiencies in developing and delivering offerings, as well as marketing and selling them.
  • Embedded software. The ubiquity of software as a component of a larger product (car, medical device, etc.) creates new challenges in defining what the product is, and where software development fits into it. That's one reason why PTC, a product lifecycle management (PLM) vendor, was interested in acquiring MKS. (Other than their shared interest in TLAs.)
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Is SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 Worth The Wait?

SAP BusinessObjects (BO) 4.0 suite is here. It’s been in the ramp-up phase since last fall; according to our sources, SAP plans to announce its general availability sometime in May, possibly at Sapphire. It’s about a year late (SAP first told Forrester that it planned to roll it out in the spring of 2010, so I wanted to include it in the latest edition of the Forrester Wave™ for enterprise BI platforms but couldn’t), and the big question is: Was it worth the wait? In my humble opinion, yes, it was! Here are seven major reasons to upgrade or to consider SAP BI if you haven’t done so before:

  1. BO Universe (semantic layer) can now be sourced from multiple databases, overcoming a major obstacle of previous versions.
  2. Universe can now access MOLAP (cubes from Microsoft Analysis Services, Essbase, Mondrian, etc.) data sources directly via MDX without having to “flatten them out” first. In prior versions, Universe could only access SQL sources.
  3. There’s now a more common look and feel to individual BI products, including Crystal, WebI, Explorer, and Analysis (former BEx). This is another step in the right direction to unify SAP BI products, but it’s still not a complete solution. It will be a while before all SAP BI products are fully and seamlessly integrated, as well as other BI tools/platforms that grew more organically.
  4. All SAP BI tools, including Xcelsius (Dashboards in 4.0), that did not have access to BO Universe now do.
  5. There’s now a tighter integration with BW via direct exposure of BW metadata (BEx queries and InfoProviders) to all BO tools.
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What Should IT Do If Empowered BT Increases In Popularity?

An empowered BT model includes the idea that end users will take on some functions that are typically performed within an IT organization. These may include selecting and deploying applications, buying mobile devices, and contracting with services firms.

With factors such as increased availability of cloud applications, more IT-savvy businesspeople, and IT shops buried in maintenance of existing applications, there’s a lot on the side of increasing IT functions outside of IT. However, security and compliance concerns, the need to integrate apps and data, the complexity of these applications, and cost are just some of the constraints that are holding back this approach.

Whether there will be a trend towards functions moving out of the IT organization or the reverse, with IT taking on more control, empowered BT will happen in some organizations. When it does, there are things that CIOs can do to exploit this and minimize potential damage:

  • Shift senior IT people from “doing” to consulting and overseeing. Architects, for example, spend a significant amount of their time on projects (doing). Some of their time needs to be freed up to provide advice to businesspeople on how to make these functions scalable, secure, and integrated where necessary. Similarly, vendor managers need time to help businesspeople in the selection process for vendors.
  • Select for and build up negotiations skills. The leader of apps that speaks in technical terms, the security expert who generates every possible scenario as an argument for not doing something, and the architect who hoards information while making pronouncements on what the business should and should not do are working against you in an empowered BT world. With technically sophisticated end users and tools that can quickly build functionality, business requests leading to IT responses now become negotiations.
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Whither Application Marketplaces?

Everywhere you turn in ERP-land these days, up pops another app marketplace. The roster of ERP players large and small with online showcases includes Lawson, Microsoft, NetSuite, Openbravo, SAP (with EcoHub and its upcoming SAP Store), and xTuple.

Today’s ERP app marketplaces have a stronger focus on window-shopping than trying to be a software equivalent to Apple’s iTunes store. Vendors are using their marketplace websites to draw attention to an increasing variety of their own and third-party ERP app extensions as well as complementary products and services, segmented by industry, line of business, and product type.

What do you think is driving the move by ERP apps vendors to open marketplaces and what might those sites may evolve into? Here’s some of my current thinking on both topics:

Why have an app marketplace?

  • Reflected glory. By the scale and breadth of its offerings, an app marketplace can give customers a sense of a thriving ecosystem growing up around the vendor’s ERP software. At the same time, overstuffed marketplaces with limited ratings and segmentation can be confusing places for customers and partners alike.
  • Future M&A. ERP vendors can mine their app marketplace to gain insight into the extensions and apps of particular interest to their customers. The vendors can use that knowledge as a basis for future investment, either taking a stake in or buying outright the most popular third-party software.
  • Expansion of app usage and customer retention. ERP vendors are working to make their apps more usable and opening up the data they hold to a wider set of users. App marketplaces can help flag ERP-related extensions and apps suitable to non-traditional ERP users.
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AWS And OpenStack: An Interesting Contrast Worth Considering During Cloud Selection

 Having attended the OpenStack Design Summit this week and at the same time fielding calls from Forrester clients affected by the Amazon Web Services (AWS) outage, an interesting contrast in approaches bore out. You could boil it down to closed versus open but there’s more to this contrast that should be part of your consideration when selecting your Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) providers.

The obvious comparison is that AWS’ architecture and operational procedures are very much their own and few outside the company know how it works. Not even close partners like RightScale or those behind the open source derivative Eucalyptus know it well enough to do more than deduce what happened based on their experience and what they could observe. OpenStack, on the other hand, is fully open source so if you want to know how it works you can download the code. At the Design Summit here in Santa Clara, Calif. this week, developers and infrastructure & operations professionals had ample opportunity to dig into the design and suggest and submit changes right there. And there were plenty of conversations this week about how CloudFiles and other storage services worked and how to ensure an AWS Elastic Block Store (EBS) mirror storm could be avoided.

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A Gem of a Deal: SuccessFactors and Plateau Come Together

A major announcement in the human capital management (HCM) world occurred on April 26, 2011. SuccessFactors, a top vendor in performance management, announced its intention to purchase Plateau Systems, a leading learning management system (LMS) vendor. Although both vendors have competing products in the talent management space, Plateau had something SuccessFactors needed: an LMS. With the loss of GeoLearning, SuccessFactors’ former LMS partner, which was acquired by SumTotal in January 2011, SuccessFactors was left with a gaping hole in its solution set. Although SuccessFactors executives believe that the future of learning is more in the informal and social realms, organizations need and want LMSes to manage their increasing compliance training needs while keeping a close eye on the whole social and informal learning market. Organizations also have formal courses and simulated and role-play learning that the LMS tracks and reports on. The word is that SuccessFactors’ sales staff have been bemoaning the lack of an LMS to help them close deals. Today, organizations are much more interested in getting multiple HRM functionality from one vendor. Often this suite approach includes performance, compensation, learning, and even recruiting (for more details, see my “Four Pillars of Talent Management” research report). SuccessFactors now has a very strong and complete “four-pillar” solution.

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CenturyLink-Savvis: Is The Rush To Cloud 1 + 1 = More Than 2 For Enterprise I&O?

Hot on the heels of Verizon’s acquisition of Terremark comes today’s $3.2 billion purchase of Savvis by CenturyLink, signaling that the rush to be an enterprise cloud leader is on.

It seems that during every major shift in the telecommunications, service provider or hosting market there is a string of moves like these as players attempt to capitalize on the change to gain greater market position. And there are plenty of investors caught up in the opportunity who are willing to lend a few bucks. In the dot.com period, through 2000s, we saw major shifts in the service provider landscape as colo/hosting giants were created such as Cable & Wireless and Equinix.

But what does this mean for infrastructure & operations professionals looking to select a hosting or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud provider? The key is in determining if 1 + 1 actually equals anything greater than 2.

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CRM Meets BPM To Deliver Better Customer Experiences

In the midst of all the buzz in the CRM space about “social” and “mobile” CRM spotlighted in my recent reports, I am observing another important trend. There is a convergence of customer relationship management (CRM) and business process management suite (BPMS) solutions to support better customer experiences and deeper customer engagement.  

Our research shows that only 10% of companies deliver outstanding customer experiences. The laggards have a choice: They can either continue to whistle while passing the graveyard, or make a bold, sweeping stroke by focusing on deeper engagement with their customers. How? By taking a hard look at business processes that traverse organizational silos, bringing the back office closer to the front office while transforming strategic cross-functional processes.

Customer service managers in particular struggle to balance customer experience and cost: siloed communication channels, impersonal service, and an inability to enforce company processes or meet regulatory compliance negatively affect satisfaction and increase costs.

To resolve this dilemma, there is continued interest in traditional “record-centric” CRM solutions, but I also see more adoption of “process-centric” BPMS solutions. In fact, the characteristics of these two are converging in the latest releases from the respective vendors.

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The Application Server Bubble Is About To Burst

Traditional application servers such as WebSphere, WebLogic, and JBoss are dinosaurs tiptoeing through a meteor storm. Sure, IBM, Oracle, and Red Hat still have growing revenue in these brands, but the smart money should look for better ways to develop, deploy, and manage apps. The reason: cloud computing.

The availability of elastic cloud infrastructure means that you can conserve capital by avoiding huge hardware investments, deploy applications faster, and pay for only those infrastructure resources you need at a given time. Sound good? Yes. Of course there are myriad problems such as security and availability concerns (especially with the recent Amazon mishap) and others. The problem I want to discuss is that of application elasticity. Forrester defines application elasticity as:

The ability of an application to automatically adjust the infrastructure resources it uses to accommodate varied workloads and priorities while maintaining availability and performance.

Elastic Application Platforms Are Not Containers

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Poor User Experiences WILL Kill Your Customer Service App

There’s a  huge graveyard of failed customer service software implementations, and still others are on life support due to the basic fact that they are not usable.  Think of the world we live in, with products and services from Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, and the like:

  • Intuitive user interfaces that don’t require training to be able to use them
  • Touchscreens
  • One-click processes
  • Predictive type-ahead where suggested topics are displayed in a dropdown menu to help users autocomplete their search terms
  • Aggregation of content from different sources, all linked together so that it adds value to the user
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