Q4 2011 Financial Releases From Leading Tech Vendors Are Generally Positive

As I mentioned in my blog on January 10, 2012, on “The Ten Potential Developments That Could Shape The Tech Market In 2012,” I was watching closely last week and this week to see what the Q4 2011 financial results of IBM, Microsoft, EMC, SAP, and others were saying about the state of tech demand coming into 2012. Overall, they were about what I expected, which is to say, slower growth than in earlier quarters in 2011 but still positive growth. As such, they countered some though not all of the negative picture presented by Oracle's weak results in its quarter ending November 30, 2011 (see December 21, 2011, "Oracle Delivers A Lump Of Coal To The Tech Market, But It's Too Soon To Call It A Harbinger Of A Tech Downturn").

Here are my key takeaways:

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Is Software Pricing A Science Or An Art?

I’ve been with Forrester for just over a month now. It’s great to be involved with our clients and communities and to be helping businesses across the world evaluate the quality of software suppliers' proposals from a commercial perspective (e.g., is this a great deal or can the supplier do better?). One of the best parts of being at Forrester now is seeing the continuation of the work I did prior to joining Forrester — advising businesses on software contract and pricing negotiations. One thing I noticed then, and continue to hear about now, is the reluctance of software suppliers like IBM, BMC, CA, and Compuware to publish meaningful list prices or to explain how their price book worked or how discounts had been determined. Time and again I had to ask suppliers to un-bundle prices and confirm the basis for the net prices they were proposing. Does anyone else agree with me that pricing should be clear and transparent and not a black art?  

Here’s an example of an “art” that should be science: list pricing. While it’s logical to think list pricing is the same foundation upon which all bids are built, that’s actually not the case. Often, I found that my clients were being quoted “list pricing” that was different. Isn’t list pricing supposed to be the same by definition? Which is why you may with good reason doubt the validity of a list price or the competitiveness of a discount that you’re being offered by a software supplier. It’s why I love my work, and why you should make sure you get third-party validation of your deals.

How you do validate your software vendors’ list pricing and proposed discounts?

2011 Retrospective – The Best And The Worst Of The Technology World

OK, it’s time to stretch the 2012 writing muscles, and what better way to do it than with the time honored “retrospective” format. But rather than try and itemize all the news and come up with a list of maybe a dozen or more interesting things, I decided instead to pick the best and the worst – events and developments that show the amazing range of the technology business, its potentials and its daily frustrations. So, drum roll, please. My personal nomination for the best and worst of the year (along with a special extra bonus category) are:

The Best – IBM Watson stomps the world’s best human players in Jeopardy. In early 2011, IBM put its latest deep computing project, Watson, up against some of the best players in the world in a game of Jeopardy. Watson, consisting of hundreds of IBM Power CPUs, gazillions of bytes of memory and storage, and arguably the most sophisticated rules engine and natural language recognition capability ever developed, won hands down. If you haven’t seen the videos of this event, you should – seeing the IBM system fluidly answer very tricky questions is amazing. There is no sense that it is parsing the question and then sorting through 200 – 300 million pages of data per second in the background as it assembles its answers. This is truly the computer industry at its best. IBM lived up to its brand image as the oldest and strongest technology company and showed us a potential for integrating computers into untapped new potential solutions. Since the Jeopardy event, IBM has been working on commercializing Watson with an eye toward delivering domain-specific expert advisors. I recently listened to a presentation by a doctor participating in the trials of a Watson medical assistant, and the results were startling in terms of the potential to assist medical professionals in diagnostic procedures.

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Herculean Buyers, Lions, And Hydra — Do You Want One Throat To Choke, Or Reps That Understand The Products They’re Selling?

The proposed acquisitions of SuccessFactors by SAP, and of Emptoris by IBM got me thinking about the impact on buyers of market consolidation, in respect of the difference between dealing with independent specialists versus technology giants selling a large portfolio of products and services. Sourcing professionals talk about wanting “one throat to choke,” but personally I’ve never met one with hands big enough to get round the neck of a huge vendor such as IBM or Oracle. Moreover, many of the giants organize their sales teams by product line, to ensure they fully understand the product they are selling, rather than giving customers one account manager for the whole portfolio who may not understand any of it in sufficient depth. Our clients complain about having to deal with just as many reps as before the acquisitions. They all now have the same logo on their business card, but can’t fix problems outside their area, nor negotiate based on the complete relationship. It seems that buyers end up like Hercules, wrestling either with a Nemean lion   or with a Lernaean hydra.

The acquirers' press releases tend to take it for granted that customers will be better off with the one-stop shop. Bill McDermott, co-CEO of SAP, said, “Together, SAP and SuccessFactors will create tremendous business value for customers.” While Lars Dalgaard, founder and CEO of SuccessFactors, talks about “expanding relationships with SAP’s 176,000 customers.” Craig Hayman, general manager of industry solutions at IBM, said, “Adding Emptoris strengthens the comprehensive capabilities we deliver and enables IBM to meet the specific needs of chief procurement officers."

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Lotusphere — Business. Made Social.

IBM, as always, put on a really big show at Lotusphere this year. More than 5,000 attendees from all walks of IT and business came together to find out how IBM could help them execute their business strategies — and IBM promised to help them make their business social, and thus more personal and effective. Every IBM executive that I heard present or spoke with had one thing in mind: how to help customers evolve the culture of business from one where employees hoard information and rely on their own ability to solve problems to get themselves and their firm ahead to one where sharing information and insight enables better decision-making and better customer service.

Over two and a half days, I talked to (or heard presentations from) dozens of companies leveraging social technologies to accelerate their business, including:

  • A global management consulting firm that is using an internal social platform to enable project teams to find and engage process and industry experts for client work — rather than having staffing managers rely on their personal networks — and which plans to extend that platform to support document creation and client delivery processes.
  • A snack food company that created a public social platform to engage competitors in a process to eliminate a threat to raw material supply across their industry — rather than working on their own to solve the problem for their supply chain only.
  • A retail bank that uses an internal social platform to optimize routing of customer inquiries to banking products experts located at other branches or central sites — rather than relying on branch personnel who may not know the answer or promising to respond to the customer later.
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