What typically happens when one approaches 40? Major mid-life crisis? Life transformation? Yeah, something like that...
Well, apparently tech vendors are no different. Back in 2010 with 40 rapidly approaching, SAP undertook a broad new innovation strategy with an executive mandate for intellectual renewal. The goal was to transform the company through innovation – innovation that would reach billions of new users and humanize the brand through consumer app development. What?! SAP, a consumer app company. Yes, observing market trends of consumerization and the rise of “shadow IT” (technology purchases outside of the IT department), SAP recognized the need to expand its audience and improve its user experience.
They began with three questions:
How can we create applications that can potentially reach millions of users?
How can we design, build, and release these apps in 90 days?
How can we scale this to successfully deliver large volumes of these apps?
I recently had the opportunity to spend some quality time with NetSuite in San Jose at its customer forum — SuiteWorld. The event gave me a long, overdue deep-dive into their current strategy and the chance to speak with many of their customers one-on-one.
The big announcement from the event was the availability of its manufacturing solution. The evening before the event started I had a good conversation with our Sourcing Analyst Liz Herbert — who spends a lot of her life focused on the SaaS providers — and asked her why NetSuite was not growing more quickly. Her response was that its lack of a manufacturing solution is partly to blame. So when it was announced by CEO Zach Nelson the next morning, it certainly helped to fill me with confidence about its future.
After repeated false starts of trying to build its way into the enterprise eCommerce space, SAP has finally decided to do a U-turn on its strategy and buy its way in. For years there has been intense speculation that SAP might acquire hybris, and behind the scenes there has certainly been much umming and ahing over the enterprise software giant’s commerce strategy. Hybris has been on a tear recently, and until today was widely expected to file for an IPO in 2014; however, the firm’s destiny has for some time been in the hands of its VC investors (Huntsman Gay Global Capital, Meritech Capital Partners and Greylock Israel). The decision to sell to SAP was likely influenced by these VC firms who, between them, have a controlling state in the firm. The value of the acquisition has not been disclosed, but given hybris’ strong earnings over the past four quarters (the bulk of which was directly from license revenues) and with the looming path of an IPO, we can speculate that SAP paid a substantial price tag — although the terms of the transaction are likely complicated.
So the big surprise is not why, but why now? There is no single answer to this question — but we can look at the factors that have increasingly piled on the pressure for SAP to change direction and pull the trigger on this acquisition:
When I returned to Forrester in mid-2010, one of the first blog posts I wrote was about Oracle’s new roadmap for SPARC and Solaris, catalyzed by numerous client inquiries and other interactions in which Oracle’s real level of commitment to future SPARC hardware was the topic of discussion. In most cases I could describe the customer mood as skeptical at best, and panicked and committed to migration off of SPARC and Solaris at worst. Nonetheless, after some time spent with Oracle management, I expressed my improved confidence in the new hardware team that Oracle had assembled and their new roadmap for SPARC processors after the successive debacles of the UltraSPARC-5 and Rock processors under Sun’s stewardship.
Two and a half years later, it is obvious that Oracle has delivered on its commitments regarding SPARC and is continuing its investments in SPARC CPU and system design as well as its Solaris OS technology. The latest evolution of SPARC technology, the SPARC T5 and the soon-to-be-announced M5, continue the evolution and design practices set forth by Oracle’s Rick Hetherington in 2010 — incremental evolution of a common set of SPARC cores, differentiation by variation of core count, threads and cache as opposed to fundamental architecture, and a reliable multi-year performance progression of cores and system scalability.
A number of Forrester analysts from the Asia Pacific region attended the recent SAP analyst event in Singapore. Meetings with SAP global and regional executives and a large number of detailed breakout sessions over the 1½-day event all clearly indicate that SAP is continuing to try and reposition itself as a true generalized application platform player.
At the core of (almost all) initiatives is the HANA in-memory database technology. Whatever the problem, HANA will solve it (said with tongue planted very firmly in cheek). While the technology clearly has immediate performance benefits, particularly for existing SAP clients, net-new customers will likely need to compare the value of SAP’s offerings with others much more seriously.
Insufficient flexibility for business customization, poor ease of use, and long implementation have become major complaints about SAP’s core products by many SAP clients in China. Despite SAP’s wide adoption by large enterprises in China, including Nongfu Spring (the first one in APAC using HANA — in-memory computing platform — in production) and Sinopec (ranked No. 5 in Fortune 500 in 2012), these client issues are problems for SAP for its continued expansion into the China market. SAP uses its SAP Labs network across the globe to deliver local market-oriented solutions for different geographies. In my recent visit to SAP Labs China, one of the four hub labs that drive corporate product strategy and execution of global projects, I found that SAP is taking the right steps to integrate local requirements and deliver product capabilities that address the above issues:
Solutions customized for China regulations and business practices. SAP Labs China developed not only localized solutions for general purpose such as Golden Tax features, which is mandated by the Chinese government for its interfacing national taxing system, but also key solutions for local industries such as business real estate, international commerce, public finance, and healthcare.
More ease of use. To solve the ease-of-use problem, including the user interface look and feel and usage behavior of the product, SAP Labs China reinvented finance user experience and business processes for Chinese customers, and it also optimized the user interface for its human resource module.
SAP is advertising for a new Director Of Pricing & Licensing. The job description states “The Strategic Pricing Director is a key member of SAP’s Revenue Strategy and Pricing Group. Pricing is a critical component of SAP’s overall strategy and go-to-market activities.” Duties include:
· Develop and implement pricing strategies based on economic and competitive dynamics.
· Price products and services appropriately based on the value customers receive.
· Define and drive pricing strategy for new and/or existing solutions.
IMO, SAP does many things very well in the pricing and licensing domain. I cite it to other publishers as an exemplar of best practices in a couple of areas, such as its pricing by user category, use of business metrics for parts of the suite that deliver value independent of manual use, and tying maintenance volume discounts to conditions such as centers of excellence that filter out users’ basic support calls. However, SAP does have room for improvement, in terms of Forrester’s five qualities of good software pricing, namely that it should be value-based, simple, fair, future-proof, and published.
Considering those goals, and as an advocate for software buyers, here are some things that I’d like SAP to add to the job description:
Just three months after SAP acquired SuccessFactors, a cloud leader for human capital management solutions, for $3.4 billion, it has now announced the acquisition of Ariba, a cloud leader for eProcurement solutions, for another $4.3 billion. Now, $7.7 billion is a lot of money to spend in a short amount of time on two companies that hardly make any profit. But it’s all for the cloud, which means it’s for the future business opportunity in cloud computing services. So far, so good; SAP has invested and acquired quite a number of cloud companies over the past years: Frictionless, Clear Standards, Crossgate, etc. The difference in this most recent acquisition is the big overlap with existing solutions and internal R&D.
Following the first wave of cloud acquisitions, SAP was sitting amid a zoo of cloud solutions, all based on different platforms: ePurchasing, CRM-OnDemand, BI-OnDemand, Carbon Impact, ByDesign, Streamwork . . . They all used very different technology, resulting in big integration and scale challenges behind the scenes. The market welcomed with open arms SAP’s announcement 1.5 years ago that it would consolidate its cloud strategy on the new NetWeaver platform for both ABAP- and Java-based cloud solutions.
The big news in the ePurchasing software market yesterday was SAP’s acquisition of Ariba. This blockbuster deal will extend SAP’s position as the largest software vendor in the ePurchasing market. It also brings into the SAP fold one of the most innovative companies in this market – a company that has a fair claim to having begun the whole market in the late 1990s.
Still, as my title suggests, I’m not convinced that this acquisition makes strategic sense. I think there’s a real risk that this turns out to be a deal where one plus one equals 1.75, not two, let alone a multiple of two. Reason one: the tremendous duplication of products between the two firms, and thus the problems of product rationalization and internal competition. Reason two: the Ariba Network, which is the main rationale for the acquisition, is based on an idiosyncratic pricing model that in my view is unsustainable at current rates and thus will not generate the kinds of revenues that SAP is expecting.
Let me first state the case for why this could be a good deal:
SAP has a goal of significantly increasing the portion of its revenues that come from SaaS subscriptions, so adding a projected $342 million in subscriptions revenues in 2012 (on an annual basis – SAP’s share for the year will be about half that) helps SAP reach its target of $2 billion in SaaS revenues.
Ariba has correctly recognized the economic value in operating a supplier network that stands between corporate buyers and suppliers and facilitates their transactions. SAP’s acquisition of Ariba now gives it control of and revenues from the largest of these supplier networks.
At SAP SAPPHIRE (SAP’s biggest user conference, May 14–16), SAP announced that it has deployed more than 1,400 instances of Rapid Deployment Solutions (RDS) at more than 1,000 unique customers. These solutions help customers deploy SAP modules in as short as a few weeks at a reduced price point by productizing typical configurations. SAP boasts cost savings typically in the 20% to 40% range versus similar deployments that do not utilize RDS.
SAP has more than 70 of these solutions currently available. Additional solutions are available through partners like Accenture and TCS. RDS solutions are available in a wide range of areas like CRM, Sourcing, Financials, and even SAP HANA.
SAP positions these solutions as “lego-like,” meaning that customers can build one on top of the other and can customize and extend as much or as little as they want.
Our take? These RDS solutions are a great way for companies to quickly realize value out of SAP, an issue which has long plagued the SAP community. Even clients who need to go far beyond what an RDS offers and create a much more customized deployment might be able to jump-start their project with an RDS. However, these offerings are not available in all horizontal or vertical areas. SAP customers who want a complete solution heavily tailored for their industry-specific needs will likely need to turn to SAP’s ecosystem of pre-built solutions, rather than lighter-weight RDS offerings.