Transformation Should Focus On Improving Outcomes, Not Merely On Increasing Competition
I’ve spoken with many IT Procurement leaders in public sector organizations ranging from US county schools districts to national governments. Most are prevented from applying best practices such as Strategic Software Sourcing by their politicians’ ill-conceived edicts and directives, such as those included in this announcement by the UK’s Cabinet Office that optimistically claims “Government draws the line on bloated and wasteful IT contracts”. In related press interviews the relevant minister Francis Maude complained that “a tiny oligopoly dominates the marketplace” and talked about his intention to encourage use of open source alternatives to products such as Microsoft Office, to increase competition and to divert more spend to small and medium-sized IT companies. The new edicts include bans of contracts over £100 million or 2 years’ duration and of automatic renewals. Mr. Maude claims these rules “will ensure the government gets the best technology at the best price”.
Mr. Maude and his team have a laudable and important goal but their approach is misguided, in my opinion. Short term contracts, indiscriminate competition and avoiding sole source category strategies will deliver neither the best technology nor the best price, because:
Many of you will be in the midst of a negotiation with SAP at the moment, because SAP does about 40% of its license deals in the October to December quarter. It’s a sourcing cliché that software companies give their best discounts at their fiscal year end, but just because you are making a purchase in month 12 doesn’t mean that you are getting a good deal. I see a lot of SAP proposals and contracts, and I’m often surprised by the gulf between the actual deal on the table and what I would consider to be an acceptable proposal – one that sets the relationship up for mutual success, balancing price, flexibility and risk.
Buying software from powerful providers such as SAP is very different from buying hardware, services and non-IT categories. Unfortunately, many sourcing professionals seem to think that they’ll look weak if they engage expert help to coach them during a negotiation, but it isn’t a question of haggling skills, it’s a question of deep, current market knowledge. Unless you have that, you risk:
I’m part of a team called “sourcing and vendor management” (SVM). Forrester organizes its research teams by individual client roles, so my teammates and I all focus on helping clients who are sourcing and vendor management professionals. Wait a moment. Should that read “helping clients who are sourcing or vendor management professionals”? Aren’t they separate functions within a client’s organization? This is a frequent question from our clients, and one that causes a lot of internal debate within our team.
My view, formed from witnessing the experience of hundreds of enterprises, is that, at least in the software category, sourcing and supplier management should be very closely linked, but not via org structure and reporting lines. This is because:
· It is impossible to manage software suppliers effectively unless you can influence sourcing. The major players are so big and powerful that they usually have the upper hand in discussions about maintenance renewals and service levels. Even small software providers can build immovable, entrenched positions in their chosen niches. To have sufficient negotiation leverage to do a good job, the supplier manager must be able to credibly threaten to negatively impact the supplier’s ability to win future business.
· Sourcing is infrequent but intensive, whereas supplier management is continual. The former consumes huge amounts of time and effort for a relatively small period, which risks dropping the ball on monitoring while you’re immersed in a big negotiation, or missing opportunities on the sourcing side due to distractions from the ‘day job’. You therefore need different people handling each side, but collaborating closely with each other.
Sourcing professionals already understand the importance of monitoring financial performance to assess risk in their key suppliers’ ability to deliver commitments. Sometimes sourcing professionals can also find valuable negotiation leverage in the financial results of their key suppliers, as is the case with Oracle’s Q4 2013 numbers . In my opinion, the revealing aspects that you can use to increase your bargaining power over the next couple of quarters, include:
Many clients ask me for help in dealing with very large software companies who, in their opinion, always seem to have the upper hand in negotiations. "How can I make myself less dependent on X?" they ask, or "how can I cut the amount I have to pay Y each year?" They're CIOs or sourcing professionals who are used to being able to push suppliers around, threatening to kick them out if they misbehave, and they struggle to accept the reality that their normal tactics won't work with the likes of IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP. My advice is, get used to it. These companies have grown so big and profitable that they will dominate the business technology market for years to come. Yes, they will face competition from younger companies, but they generate so much cash and have such strong embedded positions in so many enterprises that they can always acquire the upstart, or develop a product that beats it in most deals.
However, the software giants' huge power isn't necessarily a bad thing. Their scale enables them to spend far more money on development than their smaller rivals, and this usally results in excellent innovative products. Yes, they can also be inflexible, siloed, frustrating, bureaucratic - but when it comes to software development, size matters. So there really isn't much point in questioning whether the world would be a better place if these companies were much smaller than they currently are. Instead, we should accept reality and learn how to survive and thrive under their rule.
Avoid the 2013 holiday rush – start your year-end software negotiations now! Have you just about recovered from several adversarial, transactional software procurement negotiations last month? Have you resolved to avoid a similar situation next year? Then Forrester’s Strategic Software Sourcing Playbook can help you.
Apparently 38% of Americans made weight-related resolutions in 2012, and 67% of people with gym memberships never use them. So my advice is to shun anything you’ve seen in a TV infomercial (“we called it Lunacy because you’d have to be mad to buy it”) and instead make your New Year's resolution to be more strategic and proactive in your software buying in 2013. Our Playbook, launched today, explains how to do that.
Reactive, adversarial software buying is ineffective in the new business technology (BT) world of self-provisioning, cloud deployment, and mobile access. IT sourcing professionals' colleagues bypass them in the sourcing process, while powerful technology vendors expect more revenue from them than they can afford to provide. Software sourcing professionals rarely have alternative suppliers that they can use as negotiation leverage, so you need something more than your natural charm and belligerence if you are to be effective. Forrester's solution is a strategic approach that aligns the commercial model for each supplier with its place in the enterprise's software sourcing strategy.
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:
Oracle reported its results for the three months to February 29th yesterday, and it beat analysts’ expectations. Software license sales were up 15% from last quarter, and up 7% on last year’s Q3. The blogosphere’s “Oraclefreude” delight at its disappointing Q2 appears to have been premature. Enterprises’ insatiable demand for processing power and Oracle’s excellent products ensure a continuing demand for more "per core" license capacity of its flagship database products.
“Oracle is on track to deliver the highest operating margins in our history this year,” said Oracle President and CFO, Safra Catz, in the company’s press release. “Oracle can achieve these record margins as an integrated hardware and software company because we are focusing on high margin systems where hardware and software are engineered to work together.”
What does this mean for sourcing professionals considering Oracle deals in its important fourth quarter to May 31st?
Despite Oracle’s financial rebound, I’m still confident that sourcing professionals with leverage will be able to get better prices in the next three months than they’ve gotten before, provided they use that leverage wisely. Here are three reasons why:
Microsoft recently announced that it will change to its European currency pricing policy from July 2012, and the effect could be a 20% price increase for UK customers. It didn’t publicize the change, preferring to let its resellers tell their customers as and when the change affects them, so I thought I’d tell my readers what you need to know. Firstly, here is some background. Most global software companies have one master price list in their home currency and reset price lists in other currencies every year or even every quarter using then-current exchange rates. Microsoft has always taken a different approach, having set €, £, and other prices in 2001 and continuing to use the same exchange rate ever since. There are pros and cons to this approach:
· Pro: local prices are stable and predictable. In contrast, € and £ prices from other US-based vendors may rise or fall by 20% from one year to the next as the currencies fluctuate. (This is one reason why SAP’s revenue rises and Oracle’s falls when the € weakens against the $, as these price changes affect demand.)
· Con: European companies pay more than their US-based peers. This doesn’t matter so much if you’re only competing with domestic rivals, but global companies see and resent the discrepancies.
I’m always searching for new negotiation best practices and tips when I’m speaking with Forrester clients, but it's not often I find one when I’m relaxing in bed with an old favourite, recently rediscovered book. But here’s one that I hope you’ll find amusing, and educational, from a book written over 80 years ago.
The current Mrs. Jones did some “tidying up” over Christmas — her euphemism for moving my stuff from its organized filing places in her office and dumping it as a jumbled pile on the floor of my office. In amongst a number of unwanted books and DVDs, now available at very reasonable prices on Amazon, I found my ancient copy of Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat by Ernest Bramah. It’s a wonderful book — set in China at some unspecified date in history — and written, so the preface claims, in that country’s classical convoluted style replete with analogies, adjectives, and apophthegms[i]. Read this passage about the ivory carver, Chan Chun, and his lowly assistant, Kin Weng, buying some new tusks from the merchant Pun Kwan — I hope you’ll love it as much as I do.
Pun Kwan and Chan Chun began slowly to approach, the former person endeavouring to create the illusion that he was hastening away, without in reality increasing his distance from the other, while the latter one was concerned in an attempt to present an attitude of unbending no-concern while actuated by a fixed determination not to allow Pun Kwan to pass beyond recall. Thus they reached Kin’s presence, where they paused, the sight of the outer door filling them both with apprehension.