Recently two large software companies separately complained that I was biased against them in the other one’s favour, which was sufficiently ironic to amuse my British sense of humour. “Biased” is one of the worst accusations you can throw at an analyst, because we strive to be scrupulously fair, and ensure that what we write and say is balanced, and evidence-based. So it started me thinking about fairness, and prejudice versus analysis.
I hear a lot of horror stories from clients about outrageous treatment by software sales reps, so one might think that software marketing execs would be shame-faced and contrite. But, actually, they love their companies and believe that analysts are merely stoking up resentment that wouldn’t exist without us, or that it’s the other guys giving their industry a bad name. “You only hear from the minority of unhappy customers,” they say. “Clients don’t ring you up when they are delighted with us.” This is true, but I speak with hundreds of clients every year, so I think I’d have found more evidence of a silent majority of delighted buyers, if it existed. The problem is that the good corporate intentions don't always translate into sales' behavior, when it's a question of spiff or rif.
Liz Herbert and I will be speaking on this theme at Forrester's IT Forum on May 27 in our session: "Noughty" Software Licensing — Is The Obituary Premature? Andrew is absolutely right. In addition to the points he raises, there are other reasons why perpetual licenses aren’t dead yet, such as the financial results they generate. The new models haven’t yet shown they can generate both high levels of re-investment in R&D and high profits for investors. Many SaaS providers have to spend a large share of their income on sales and marketing to retain existing customers and renew subscriptions. That leaves less money left over to fund innovation or fewer profits than their old-model rivals whose entrenched installed bases guarantee high maintenance renewal rates.
But perpetual license vendors mustn’t be complacent. The SaaS model may prove equally remunerative to the license-plus-maintenance alternative when the providers get bigger. Software buyers can encourage the established companies to learn from their SaaS competitors by insisting on some of that commercial model’s advantages in their own contracts, such as low up-front commitment and cost flexibility.
I haven’t been blogging or tweeting recently because I’ve been on an unprecedented two-week vacation, but didn’t want any potential burglars to know that. Now, thanks to Eykanmuckyourlifeup or whatever its called, that vacation has turned into an extended business trip states-side (see #ashtag). So I’m taking the opportunity to meet more clients on the smoke-free side of the pond, to help them with their software negotiations.
This is a busy time of year, particularly for Oracle and Microsoft deals in front of their financial year-ends of May 31st and June 30th respectively. One of software buyers’ frequently asked questions is, “what extra leverage does a vendor’s year-end really give us?”
The answer is in the title above. On the one hand, if your deal would give your sales rep a Spiff, an extra bonus for selling specific products, then he’ll be very keen to prevent your order slipping into next quarter, when the spiff may not be available. Even better, he’ll be desperate to close your transaction now if he needs it to make his annual target, to avoid becoming part of next quarter’s reduction in force (RIF) program.
I get a lot of input into my research from speaking with software buyers and sellers, which I analyze and process to come up with firm conclusions and recommendations in my published research and forum speeches. I'm going to use this blog to air some work-in-process analysis, to solicit additional thoughts and information from you. Just recently, Ive been considering why people are talking about 'pay-per-use' a.k.a. 'utility pricing' for software, and to me, the disadvantages to buyers and sellers outweigh the benefits.
Software pricing should be simple but fair, value-based, future-proof and published (see The Five Qualities Of Good Software Pricing). Yes, a one-price-fits-all 'per user' fee isn't fair or value-based, but that doesnt justify the potentially horrendous complexity of tracking detailed usage. Role-based user pricing, such as SAP user categories, is a much better way to reflect diverse usage profiles.
Im not arguing against flexible, on-demand services, particularly for temporary needs, such as renting some CPU power for a few hours. I'm concerned about pay-per-use pricing models for regularly used applications. To me they would be:
Microsoft announced on Friday that it will stop selling new Select licenses from 1 July, 2011. Customers with existing agreements can renew them for another 36 months, as per their agreements, but the replacement Select Plus program is likely to be a better option. Microsoft launched Select Plus on 1 July 2008, and I wrote at the time that it was an improvement on the basic Select structure: Microsoft Simplifies Its Volume Licensing.
However, Microsoft's pricing team struggled to persuade its LARs to promote Select Plus over the more familiar Select agreement, and customer adoption was disappointing. So the decision to drop the older program makes sense for Microsoft, because it will force its channel partners to embrace the new model. And its no bad thing for buyers - you've one less choice to make, and there's little negative impact.
The biggest advantage of Select Plus for sourcing managers is that they no longer need to submit a three-year spending forecast - this is extremely difficult for central teams buying on behalf of autonomous business units that won't havent planned Microsoft technology adoption that far out. Instead, pricing works like an airline loyalty program, on the current and previous years' actual transactions, as the figure below from my report illustrates. My report explains some more advantages, such as the flexibility to opt tactically for software assurance on individual purchases.
Hopefully you’ve all read SAP’s co-CEO’s open letter to you (http://ceos.blogs-sap.com), and also some of the great responses such as this one: http://bit.ly/b5foPD . With all these open letters flying around, I thought I’d write a slightly different one. Unlike most of my fellow commentators, I’m not going to tell SAP how to run its business. Instead, I’m going to give you, its customers, a suggestion on how you can cut the cost of your SAP environment. You ready? The answer is “buy less stuff from them”.
Actually, it is not as facile as it sounds. Many companies that I speak with automatically favour their incumbent vendors for new projects, while their IT vendor managers complain to me about their negotiation impotence. You won’t be able to get the contractual protection you need, such as limits on CPI maintenance increases, unless you make them a condition of future purchases. Large software companies such as IBM, Oracle and SAP focus predominantly on license sales. It wasn’t customers’ unhappiness, resulting from the Enterprise Support blunder, that caused SAP to fire its CEO and rethink its approach. It was the fact that you showed that unhappiness by voting with your purchase orders, delaying projects, going to competing vendors, and causing SAP’s license revenue to plummet. When Jim and Bill promise to “accelerate the pace of the innovation we deliver to you”, the d word is a euphemism for ‘sell’.
As I live in UK, I tend to record major US sporting events and watch them the next day (the Superbowl doesnt start until nearly midnight). That means I have to avoid the internet, twitter, conversations with US colleagues, etc, for the whole of the following day so I can enjoy the game without knowing the score. One client nearly spoiled it for me by talking about the game in an inquiry, but I managed to shut him up. (I think he understood why).
January 26th, 2010 was a black day for the enterprise software business.Late yesterday, Oracle launched a lawsuit against independent support provider (ISP) Rimini Street, alleging 'massive theft' of its intellectual property. Industry analysts had been expecting something like this - Oracle is already suing Rimini Street's predecessor TomorrowNow and was clearly worried that a competitive market would force it to cut the price of its hugely profitable maintenance offering.
Along with its 2009 results, SAP today made another attempt to undo the damage of its clumsy attempt to hike its maintenance % up to Oracle-like levels, by announcing the reinstatement of Standard Support as an option for customers. “SAP’s new support model is a direct response to the many discussions we’ve had with our customer and user groups,” said Léo Apotheker, chief executive officer, SAP.
Software vendors like to claim that their sales proposals are highly confidential, For Your Eyes Only or even, if you prefer the Coen brothers to Bond, Burn After Reading. I help dozens of clients every year with software negotiations, but I cant do that unless they share with me the vendor’s proposal, including price details and contract terms. Many clients are reluctant to do this, worried that doing this might break confidentiality clauses in their agreement.