A SaaSy SAP vs. Salesforce debate: Is Benioff overestimating his platform?

Summary:Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff and SAP Chairman Hasso Plattner dueled at the Churchill Club in a debate about the future of software and the generation gap couldn't be larger.

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff and SAP Chairman Hasso Plattner dueled at the Churchill Club in a debate about the future of software and the generation gap couldn't be larger.

Benioff brought the bluster, portrayed SAP as a dinosaur and prodded his much larger rival to develop in his platform. Plattner didn't take the bait. The happy couple is pictured at right courtesy of News.com. (Note: ZDNet will be posting audio of this debate in a bit). Dan Farber quotes Benioff:

"I want to figure out how to get SAP to build on our platform. SAP needs to write its new apps on our platform, and I need to help him do that because there is no way he can figure that out...we will be in a war to get more developers on our platform."

Plattner went with his familiar enterprise customization argument. The argument goes like this: Companies like to customize software for their needs. One size doesn't fit all. It's messy, but that's enterprise application reality. Plattner then questioned whether Salesforce could keep its on-demand interfaces consistent as customers write their own code on Benioff's platform as a service effort.

Benioff countered:

"All 41,000 Salesforce customers are on the same version. When we release the new version in June, we don't break the links. In some cases they have to re-implement, but you still have a managed environment."

Plattner noted that Benioff's statement could be seen as downright scary spread across an entire enterprise.

It's a valid point. Let's assume Salesforce's platform becomes dominant and the interface updates every six months. At a certain scale there will be broken links. I'd liken the Salesforce update cycle to a patch cycle. Updates are pushed. Some stuff inevitably breaks. This isn't a problem for Salesforce today, but it's not a big leap to see how it could become an issue.

For its part, SAP sticks with its customization theme--its SaaS effort, BusinessByDesign, has 2,100 service interfaces.

Plattner's money quote was this:

"We have many things in common. Let me give you some advice, but you might not take it because you are younger: don't overestimate your platform."

Also see:

Topics: SAP, Enterprise Software

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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