I know I’ve been hard on some well established software vendors recently and to ensure that you know I am not on a crusade I thought it would be interesting to review some of the good stuff they’re doing. I am especially interested in Microsoft, Oracle and SAP.
A year ago I ditched my Windows XP machine in favor of a Mac and I have since bought three more Macs — I gave one to my mother-in-law and I have to say it and she have been great. She’s apparently gotten what she needed in the way of quick practical advice from their support team and only called me once or twice. She’s in her 70’s too.
All that aside, Microsoft may have disappointed me with Vista and XP — I wasn’t pleased that my old computer sank under the weight of all the Internet junk that crept into it — but Microsoft Office on the Mac is a very good product. So there.
Apple makes iWork, also a very good office suite, but I just wasn’t ready to go there. I dabble with it, especially Keynote, a presentation package that’s in some ways better than Powerpoint, but mostly I am a loyal Office user. I need to get familiar with Google apps but that’s another story.
Microsoft also just announced that they’ve got more than a million users on their CRM system. That’s good but before anyone makes claims of superiority, please recall that it was the first million and the second million users that made the market and they were harder “gets” than later millions. Microsoft’s CRM customers represent later adopters and while a license is a license is a license, it must be said that later adopters are in many ways easier to get than early adopters, especially if the vendor is also new like Siebel and Salesforce were.
Microsoft CRM has some interesting characteristics though I still see no point in offering hybrid solutions that can run on-premise and on-demand. I understand the debate about how some customers might not be ready to go on-demand and that’s fine. Just don’t tell me that on-demand is just a delivery option. On-demand is the future, the twenty-first century and the gateway to ubiquitous computing. That’s not just a delivery option.
OK, so I am trying to praise Microsoft, and I am. I look forward to their migration to all things on-demand like Office and I hope they get out of their funk of being fast followers. Following fastly works better intra-paradigm but we are in an inter-paradigm era and that requires real leadership not followership.
For a big company Oracle is remarkably agile thanks mostly to the exertions of Anthony Lye. He’s another fast follower and my advice for him is the same as for Microsoft.
Oracle is an interesting amalgam of companies and technologies but also of cultures and technology eras. That parent company and founder date back to the emergence of the relational database. That part of the company still does benchmarks and good for them— we still need speed, speed and speed in databases. Other parts of the company are a mix of applications and eras the two biggest being ERP and CRM or more generally back office and front office. It’s all there, a social archeologist’s dream. I think the big challenge that is taking many years to play out is streamlining all this, carefully winnowing some and backing the right next generation. A lot of that — but by no means all — is on Anthony Lye’s back.
Interestingly, under Lye’s leadership Oracle CRM has made some notable leadership strides. They’ve taken an approach to social CRM that I have not seen in many other places. Their Gadgets and Widgets for things like deal management, loyalty and lead discovery are clever. They have other ideas too, so I am less inclined to think of Oracle as purely a fast follower. They will be interesting to watch.
Of all the companies I know, SAP has one of the nicest array of broad-based CRM products but I don’t think they are effective at marketing it all. SAP appears to be selling to the installed base which makes sense since they’ve captured so many companies as customers. I recently met with members of their CRM team and was favorably impressed with the depth of software for the front office even in areas like social CRM. They’ve got a well thought out strategy for using video too — maybe the best I have seen. But it’s all premise-based. SAP’s challenge is to develop some better messaging around their existing products (I think) and to do something definitive on the SaaS front.
On that second point, SAP’s customer leanings and culture (not to mention current practice) indicate to me that they might have more time to get SaaS right. Their customers seem to me to be later adopters of things like SaaS. That doesn’t give them eternity to adopt a clear direction on SaaS, just a bit more time.
So there you go, praise for the big guys. They really have a lot of smart and sincere people doing good things under admittedly hard conditions. I speak of the difficult contortions one has to make to transition the technology and business paradigms from premise-based to on-demand. As I noted in the last post, it’s a tough nut to crack — like rent and alimony.