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Had an interesting email last week from the Senior Marketing Manager at Software Advice who asked me to read, comment on and link to his boss’s blog post about SAP’s SME offerings. My first thought was “if somebody wants to engage with me, why aren’t they talking to me themselves?” … my second thought was “so they want me to help them get some Googlejuice?”
This was last week – so I’ve thought about it a bit. And I’ve decided (against @dahowlett’s advice ☺) to write it up … for a couple of reasons:

  • The company seemed interesting
  • The post contained some useful information (for its intended audience)
  • The situation reminded me of something I’ve been thinking about SAP for a while

The company: Software Advice offers what is potentially a useful service to small to medium sized businesses – enquirers about business software can self-serve via a simplistic sequence of questions which lead to a suggested software package for their needs, and if that’s not enough they can ring up a consultant for more detailed advice. Or you can select a category of software (CRM, ERP, HRM etc.) you’re interested in, and check out all the vendors that have signed up for the “other end” of the service. The service is free to the enquirer – Software Advice gets paid by software vendors for qualified referrals. They’re up-front about that – it’s on their site, and the Marketing Manager was quite happy to explain the deal to me … it looks like a workable model.

The post: There’s no new information in it, and any analyst/interested party who follows the big ERP vendors will find nothing exciting there (in fact, SAP has a similar summary on its own site). But the cognoscenti aren’t the audience, and while it was easy for me to be a little dismissive, for a non-technical small/medium business person it was a concise and informative summary of SAP’s offerings – not a bad thing. It would possibly generate more questions, but that works right into the business model – any prospective customer who follows up with more questions will be a better-qualified lead.

What’s missing: While the post made good reference to the SaaS nature of Business By Design, it didn’t say anything about SOA or the “on-demand” aspect of Business By Design – not entirely Software Advice’s problem, in my opinion. I’m a services kind of guy, and sometimes viewed as “anti-ERP” (not an impression I argue against, either ☺). Business By Design is SAP’s opportunity to disrupt itself, rather than be disrupted by someone else. Their on-premise/hosted apps will still have a life – there are plenty of customers who won’t fit the BBD model (as it stands – there’s no particular reason why it couldn’t be scaled up to larger enterprises eventually), plus there’s plenty of customers who still have a long payback period for their current implementation and won’t be in any hurry for a replacement exercise. But the future is less likely to consist of on-premise installs, plus SAP needs to move to a more SME-friendly position if it wants to continue any reasonable rate of growth (or relevance, even).

And it’s NOT because they don’t have the ideas … as Ray Wang suggests (in his wrap of last year’s SAP Influencers Summit) SAP just aren’t making enough of their innovations … they’re caught flush in Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma.  Despite my “anti-ERP” stance, I believe that SAP is in a good position to change the way they approach the provision of business functionality, and BBD is the key to that (I certainly think it has a better chance than Netweaver, SAP’s previous attempt at SOA-type architecture). The question is … do they have the balls to disrupt their historical business model and commit to a service-based offering?

Somebody’s going to do it …