Business ByDesign: an Irregular verdict

Summary:After a long day and intense series of discussions with SAP executives, the Enterprise Irregulars parsed immediate impressions of Business ByDesign. The general mood was one of quiet approval for a product set that is, as the company claims, a complete on-demand offering.


After a long day and intense series of discussions with SAP executives, the Enterprise Irregulars parsed immediate impressions of Business ByDesign. The general mood was one of quiet approval for a product set that is, as the company claims, a complete on-demand offering. Our generally positive view was however tempered with criticism. As a reminder, Jason Wood sets out the top level modules:

  • Compliance Management
  • Executive Management Support
  • Financial Management
  • Customer Relationship Management
  • Supplier Relationship Management
  • Project Management
  • Supply Chain Management
  • HR Management

Hidden from the end user view is a wealth of configurable options. On the day, SAP chose to show us a few of the CRM and HR related functions. They also showed the underlying process maps. Impressively complex was the first thought in my mind. I sat with James Governor and when the help screens came up we both mouthed: "What no Ajax?" On his blog James said (and I agree):

The UI represents a missed opportunity, in my opinion and shows how SAP’s Not Invented Here approach can cause problems for the firm. I kept wondering where is the real AJAXy goodness? Hitting F5 repeatedly is hardly the key to few clicks.

And what happens when you make a process change but forget to hit the refresh button? Doh. Afterwards I had a quick word with Bruce Richardson, AMR research analyst who has had the privilege of watching BBD development. He reckons the UI is in something like its sixth iteration. I think it has a few iterations to go.

The UI (and product name) has founder Hasso Plattner's stamp all over it. Clean, simple and easy to follow all get good marks. But crushingly boring. No Web 2.0 pastel shades and large fonts here. That shouldn't be a surprise as Plattner said to a group of us earlier in the year that simplicity is necessary for this type of application.

Charlie Wood, who knows well thinks BBD will have a profound impact on other players in the on-demand market:

This could kick where it really hurts. They're going to look at this and realize they can't compete on the depth of functionality SAP is showing us today. I'm glad SAP is giving the small developer an opportunity to build widgets and small pieces of functionality on top without necessarily being sucked into the SAP ecosystem. It gives people like me access to a huge potential audience.


Charlie also noted the stark difference in market styles. While SAP quietly detailed the different parts of it BBD strategy and rolled out customers to talk about their experience, Charlie reckons:

If Benioff [SFdC CEO] had something like this you can be assured it would be announced in tones that give the clear impression we'd be witnessing the Second Coming.

Jason Wood was heartened by SAP CEO Henning Kagermann's view that in its current form, BBD is where R/3 was three years after initial launch:

The price point is compelling, it's the most complete solution they've ever delivered but I'm just not sure how they're going to preserve margin. The downside is that at these starting prices, if I'm thinking about All-in-One, I'll have to consider whether BBD meets my needs. If enough customers do that then SAP runs the risk of cannibalizing a part of its business.

All of us are concerned about performance. Prashanth Rai summed it up when he said:

100 users on a single blade? That's not exactly good use of resources and it was obvious during the demo. They really need to ramp up performance or otherwise they run the risk of not being able to optimize cost for the customer.

Earlier Zoli Erdos predicted that SAP would show us a game changer and nothing he saw changes his mind:

This morning my fellow Enterprise Irregulars jokingly asked: "Has the world of Enterprise Software really changed?’ We did not know the answer than, but now we do: Yes. SAP Business ByDesign is really a game changer. Key reasons:

  • Breadth of functionality
  • Fixed, Trasnparent pricing (which, I might add will put the squeeze on and NetSuite)
  • All this coming from SAP, the recognized leaders in automating business processes.

Brian Sommer and I are both skeptical about SAPs ability to create the right kind of channel for BBD. I'm saving that for a following post because the ramifications are deep and wide.

And with that, the Irregulars who were in attendance settled down to watch some soccer and parse the beer on tap at a Manhattan sports bar before heading to our respective homes.


Topics: SAP, Enterprise Software, Mobility


Dennis Howlett has been providing comment and analysis on enterprise software since 1991 in a variety of European trade and professional journals including CFO Magazine, The Economist and Information Week. Today, apart from being a full time blogger on innovation for professional services organisations, he is a founding member of Enterpri... Full Bio

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