Enterprise software: A look forward to 2017

Will this be the year when customers really get what vendors promise?

Enterprise software: A look forward to 2017
Benjamin Nelan (CC0)

I spend a reasonable amount of time formally or informally consulting to large organizations about their technology choices. These engagements can be as simple as a quick discussion over a coffee or a long-term consulting gig. In either case, vendors seek to leverage the fact that, as an independent observer of the technology space, I can give a broader take on what is going on and what that means for their particular technology requirements.

Often technology practitioners within a large organization simply don’t have the time or bandwidth to look broadly, and while they may be deeply aware of what their own particular technology supplier does, they lack a more industry-wide perspective.

Recently I spent some time with a large (and rapidly growing) technology company that is looking to refresh its solutions across the breadth of back office administration tools they use. This organization is primarily a business-to-business vendor, and it has a significant amount of professional service work that goes alongside its product. Its back office processes are, therefore, fairly complex, and the systems it uses to plan and allocate these resources need to have a corresponding wide range of functionality.

Reviewing the documentation that the company produced to help with its decision making process, the list of potential vendors read like a who’s who of the enterprise software space: Salesforce, Microsoft, Workday, NetSuite, SAP, Oracle, SuccessFactors, etc. It included pretty much every big name in the (to use a fairly coarse description) legacy, on-premises age, and every rising star in the cloud age.

And what was the bottom line in the review documentation? None of the vendors could actually fulfill all, or even most, of the organization's requirements. Pause for a minute there to consider that. From this list, which constitutes a veritable who’s who of enterprise software, not one could tick all the boxes. That despite all the talk about “single platforms” that we hear so often.

The company in question, itself a software organization, is well aware of the difference between the promise software can deliver and the actuality, but even they were somewhat shocked at the gap between the spin “a single platform for all your organizational needs” and the reality, which is more of a hodge-podge of different solutions all stuck together with Band-Aids.

Sad. But true.

Is there hope for 2017?

I was thinking about this while winging my way half way across the world on a family vacation. Coincidentally, I got an email from ERP (and, for that matter, PSA) vendor FinancialForce wanting to give me their perspective on what 2017 will bring for the broader enterprise software industry. Per Jeremy Roche, FinancialForce’s CEO:

“The Cloud Tipping Point - Agility of the Cloud Will No Longer Be an Option - Upstart businesses know that their relatively small size allows them to quickly pivot and adjust strategy when needed. These companies generally have a larger appetite for risk and were among the first to jump into cloud CRM, while the large enterprise challengers tended to take a ‘wait and see’ approach. Holding off on adopting cloud platforms to run a competitive business will no longer be an option for most in 2017. Businesses will go all in on cloud at a faster rate as they seek new capabilities in financial management, professional services and human capital management apps over on-premise solutions.”

That is an awesome sound bite, but it is hard to justify when that claimed agility relies on an—at times—illusory notions of a common platform upon which all the component parts that an organization may need will sit. In Roche’s defense, his company, being built upon Salesforce’s platform, is arguably one of the more complete broad platforms. But to circle back to the organization I was helping out, it still is not broad enough to tick all the boxes.

Roche pointed to this when talking about the “Frankencloud” something FinancialForce came up with to critique its number one whipping boy, NetSuite. NetSuite was, of course, the first cloud-based ERP vendor, and it was just acquired by Oracle (somewhat ironically, since Larry Ellison, Oracle’s founder, was the original backer of NetSuite and has always been a major shareholder). Anyway, on the perils of this glommed-together quasi platform of disparate parts, Roche had this to say:

“The FrankenCloud Continues to Add Appendages - As competition in the ERP market continues to heat up, legacy players like Oracle and SAP will continue to bolt on a hodge-podge of appendages in a hasty attempt to meet the demands of today’s customers. In 2017, we expect to see even more major acquisitions that will fail to provide the tools for companies to run both their front and back office on a single platform that puts their customers first.”

Again, some might call Roche to task on this one, since FinancialForce has made a number of acquisitions over the years. Roche would counter with the assertion that since the companies he acquired are built upon a common platform (Salesforce), the critique doesn’t hold—they may be disparate, but they’re tied closely with a common data set, application structure and way of thinking about integration.

All of that is valid, but it still leaves the aforementioned company searching for a solution that meets all their needs without a lot of juggling. Their assessment, and mine, is that there is, as yet, nothing that fills that bill. And no real hope that there will be something any time soon.

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