Can SAP CRM break out of the SoSaaS box?

Everyone seems to expect that SAP's on-demand CRM will be just another ho-hum reprise of the SoSaaS concept that's been tried and failed for so many other vendors.

Everyone seems to expect that SAP's hosted CRM announcement, due Thursday, will be just another ho-hum reprise of the Same old Software, as a Service (SoSaaS) concept that's been tried and failed for so many other vendors. Certainly that was my expectation six months ago.

SAP CEO Henning Kagermann
But I'd much prefer it if SAP were to pull something really exciting out of the hat, perhaps drawing on some of its emerging technologies such as the service-enablement of its core applications suite or the Mendocino interface to Microsoft's Office suite — or even announcing the acquisition of RightNow Technologies, as I suggested back in October.

SAP so much needs to do something dramatic on Thursday. SAP executives from CEO Henning Kagermann (pictured above)I would love these expectations to be proved wrong to technology chief Shai Agassi have trailed its hosted CRM announcement as something quite different from what's currently on offer in the on-demand market. That's fair enough, but I shall despair if it turns out that SAP's idea of being different is to come out with just another stale old SoSaaS play.

All its prospective on-demand competitors have been accumulating boatloads of ridicule to unleash in response to a predictable debut by SAP. ZDNet blogger David Berlind wonders why he hasn't yet heard any "chest thumping rhetoric" from Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff. I'm sure the email has been drafted — it's just waiting on the details of the announcement before it goes out.

Unfortunately for SAP, the omens are not good. All the evidence seems to be that the hosted version will be as similar as possible to the existing on-premise CRM package, with an emphasis on how well it integrates into a customer's existing installation of the core SAP suite. I can see why that might appeal to the IT management at an existing SAP customer, but it's unlikely to make inroads among typical on-demand buyers.

For example, most on-demand CRM implementations are up and running within 30 days. According to a recent searchSAP.com report of a SAP CRM implementation, such a rapid timescale is unlikely if the hosted version is anything like its on-premises stablemate. Here's a sample of the obstacles encountered and overhead incurred by Varian Medical Systems, which completed an 8-month rollout of SAP CRM in December 2005, sixteen months after first viewing a demo of the application:

"The project team ... had to overcome some hurdles to get it in place ... MySAP CRM is a complex system ... The Varian team struggled in the initial stages of their project ... Varian used four users in the pilot deployment and the group was able to resolve all system bugs within a month ...

"Varian chose key internal employees from the IT department to work full time on the project, including three business employees and two consultants ...

"In addition to the IT team, Varian's business team appointed a project manager and one former helpdesk agent and dispatch agent who were dedicated full time to the project. This group evaluated out-of-the-box functionality, identified gaps, came up with detailed specifications and completed testing. They also communicated with the rest of the users and were responsible for creating training materials and executing the training sessions for all end users."

By the time any knowledgeable user of on-demand CRM gets to the end of the above paragraph, they will probably be rolling in the aisles with gleeful amazement at the contortions some people will go through to get the same functionality that on-demand vendors deliver as standard.

A throwaway phrase at the end of CRMBuyer's summary of its coverage summed up for me the general feeling about how much of a threat SAP's CRM plans are likely to pose to incumbent players (my emphasis added). As I said above, I would love these expectations to be proved wrong, but I'm not holding out much hope:

"Vendors such as Siebel OnDemand, Salesforce.com and Salesnet are expected to be the most affected, assuming they are at all."

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