Systems Integrators and the New Garage

Posted: February 7, 2007 in CRM

Salesforce.com issued a press release last week that by now looks rather ho-hum by their standards.  They announced that Deloitte-Touche had signed on as a systems integration partner and that got me thinking about how many things have changed, and how many have not.

It wasn’t that long ago that Marc Benioff was comparing Salesforce with Siebel and the different amounts of integration resources it took to get the respective solutions up and running.  His point was about the complexity of client-server and the simplicity of on-demand.  That was then, today there is still plenty of complexity in the IT department with all of its legacy systems and integrating with them can be a challenge, so why not teaming up with the integrators makes as much sense now as it did then.

Almost three years ago I forecasted that the integrators would have to become involved in the on-demand market for the simple reason that the market was pulling them in that direction.  The integrators have great relationships with the largest corporate IT users that go back many years and multiple implementations—if you plan on integrating your on-demand solution with the rest of the legacy applications in the glass house, they are necessary.

Nonetheless, the association was not a slam dunk for the SI’s for the simple reason that there isn’t as much to be gained for them in deploying an on-demand solution.  The turning point has been the need that users have for both lower cost of ownership and the reality of their legacy systems.  As I said at the time, and still believe, there is still a lot of work for the SI’s to do even if they never take on another traditional integration project.

SI’s could probably make more money sticking with conventional software deployments but the number of customers willing to take on conventional software is in decline, hence the apparent rush to hook up with the on-demand players.

To be sure, on-demand vendors have done a lot in the last two years to make their products appealing to the integrators.  Platform technology, open architectures, and openness to custom coding are all responsible for the SI’s interests and the openness comes down to the same basic motivation.  It will be years before any enterprise goes to a 100% on-demand IT profile, if ever. 

In the long interim, there is real money to be made hooking up modern on-demand solutions with increasingly archaic solutions that originate from enterprise software vendors and internal IT shops.  Someone has to manage all that spaghetti and the logical choice is the systems integrator.

The New Garage

Integrator involvement with on-demand is the last part of the roll out of what I called the “New Garage” in 2004.  I am still waiting for the term to catch on but idea was that innovators needed more control over their destinies and it needed to become possible once again to build software in your garage or spare bedroom and eventually build a company around it without all the high stakes games played with venture capitalists. 

Venture capital is good and necessary but I think we got into a mode during the bubble years—and since to a great degree—of thinking that if you couldn’t get funding for your idea that it wasn’t good enough to pursue.  Just looking at all of the emerging companies that are working from the AppExchange makes you realize that not having capital is no reason to scuttle a dream.

On the flip side, a lot of companies that got funding back in the bubble years crashed and took a lot of money with them.  There had to be a more efficient way for the market to work so for a lot of reasons it made sense to me that the next move would be back to basics.

VC’s are still an important part of the picture and like SI’s they are morphing.  For example, Salesforce.com launched its incubator a few weeks ago with which it hopes to provide “garage” space for innovators using its platform. Incubators like this should enable innovators to make less expensive mistakes and enable the investors to see more before they put serious money into a venture. 

This also signals a new kind of VC model evolving too.  Rather than investing in myriad companies, investors might begin looking for themes such as specific business processes to support.  That approach worked well in the back office and I think it might be time to examine how it works in the front office.

We have already seen the beginnings of a transition from conventional software to SaaS even for the largest enterprise software vendors.  SAP recently announced its investment in a new business model for the mid-market, which surely will grow up to take over the company’s largest customers, and Microsoft has been dabbling with various on-demand models for a while, not wanting to put all of its eggs in one basket.  Oracle has its own ideas that range from Siebel On-Demand to a hosted facilities management option.

For all that though, it’s the business models of the major software companies that need to change most.  It’s one thing to tell the world you can offer an on-demand solution and quite another to handle all the details of a successful partner community which is a necessary part of it.

Comments
  1. Hi Dennis,

    I believe that you are right on-the-money with your note regarding the SI’s but I think your new Garage is a manifestation of a bar-bell industry configuration. We’ve seen this in the AppExchange already – rapid commoditisation of applications produces near perfect competition and a race to the bottom so that price becomes an irrelevantly small part of selection criteria. Similar forces are acting on the SI market but producing different outcomes (since the time value of a person on-site is unlikely to tend to zero).

    With the AppExchange, I think there are only two models to pursue: One which will be successfull with 100 users and another that will be successfull with 100,000 users. Anything that requires numbers between those may fail to attract economic returns.

    The Garage companies are joining a plethora of similar companies with similar products all serving different blocks of 100 customers. While they can be successfull doing that if they keep overheads down (and want to pursue life-style businesses), only a very select few will be able to break-out to the 100,000 user point. These companies will require capital. I think we will see living-dead companies languishing in the space in-between being neither fish nor foul and making sub-optimal returns on capital in the mean time.

    With SIs there will be an echo of this – there will be 10,000 small-independents (1-10 people companies) who will tackle small specialised jobs and 10 large-company SIs who can handle a broad-range of technology – anyone trying to move to the middle ground will, again, be destined to make sub-optimal returns.

    In 2006 I have seen projects emerge from global 5000 companies that require the range of skills normally assoiciated with the the top-SI’s and there has been a klondyker feel as 1-10 people companies rush to assemble the resources to address the need. As soon as the Deloitte’s of the world have the resources available then the new-kids-on-the-block will not pass pre-qualification.

    Perhaps the exit strategy of “bought by google” now is “bought by Accenture?” but what would they buy? They have the contacts and customers already, and – once they decide to – they can train their people in the new technology as demand for the old ones wane.

  2. Cary Fulbright says:

    Denis,

    I think the Deloitte announcement is much more significant than many people recognize. Salesforce.com always had trouble getting the time of day from the Big 7/6/5/4, because the implementations were so much smaller than a client-server or on-premise CRM implementation. And to the extent that the SI’s influenced the decision among large enterprises on which CRM system to adopt, this slowed salesforce.com’s success in large companies. With Accenture and now Deloitte capitulating to the inevitability of on-demand, this should benefit both salesforce.com and other on-demand providers enormously.

So, what did you think?

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