LeWeb is one of those events I'd encourage any enterprise media/analyst to attend. I've been going on and off since 2005. It is always refreshing and challenging in equal measure. Loic LeMeur, CEO Seesmic, acts as ring master to an eclectic mix of industry veterans, Silicon Valley alums, European startups and VCs no-one state side has (mostly) heard of and cares even less, comedians, people from the arts and the occasional politician. It's a big show having grown from some 500 attendees when I first made the trip to 3,500.
This year I wanted to catch up with Robert Scoble and find out what happened after he ripped Workday a new one. It was particularly apropos following on the heels of the boring announcement that SAP had acquired SuccessFactors.
The back story goes like this. Scoble loaded a video on Building 43 roundly criticizing Workday expense handling. He compared it to the comparatively simple Expensify which he claimed provided a better way to manage this issue. The video was released right in the middle of Workday Rising, Workday's annual customer conference. If I didn't know better, I would have thought it malicious but I know Scoble well enough to know this was pure chance. Scoble may be many things but I have never seen him act in a deliberately malicious way. If anything, he is the epitome of the permanently glass half full guy. But at the time I just knew the video was going to cause problems. The video has since been taken down because as Scoble acknowledged, he made some critical errors of fact.
Knowing that he would be at LeWeb I wanted to walk through the situation with him and hear what might have changed for him. We recorded the conversation and it will appear at some point on Building 43 but the essence is that Scoble learned something that all those who follow enterprise discover: doing enterprise development is far more complicated and difficult than knocking out a social networking site. Oh yes - and he acknowledged getting a good spanking from his employer Rackspace.
We agreed to disagree that enterprise is boring but then he talked enthusiastically about GE's decision to issue all its management with iPads. I'll give him that one, especially as four years ago, I thought he was mad to think iPhone could become a dominant market player.
But then I pointed out that earlier in the week I met with Camelot, the company behind the UK National Lottery. They're trying to find ways to analyze some 4 billion transactions that go through their systems each year. My point was simple: 'Which of the startups you know would be able to provide high speed complex analysis on that size of data?' 'Not many,' he said, 'Not any,' I retorted. Yet Camelot has been working on a proof of concept with SAP's HANA that is very interesting. More to come on this but HANA is opening up opportunities for business analysts to ask hundreds of questions of the data they see where now they are highly constrained. That's not just a step change, it offers the possibility for Camelot to change the fundamentals upon which it operates. 'That's why us enterprisey types get to drink champagne while consumery people are mostly on root beer,' I jibed.
Back to LeWeb and a question that is hard for the consumer facing community to answer. How could such a show exist without the large enterprise players?
When I attended my first LeWeb, I was shocked to see that 99% of the audience were toting MacBook/MacBook Pros. Me and a handful of others were carrying IBM laptops. It was the pivotal event that put me on the road to becoming totally sold on Apple. At this year's event, I'd knock that number down to 65% though many will have also be toting an iPad. Back in 2005, LeMeur struggled to get much support from the enterprise IT vendor community. They simply didn't get it. The principle sponsors for this year's LeWeb are all large enterprises including France Telecom, Salesforce.com, Orange, Google, Renault, Microsoft, IBM and Nespresso to name just a handful.
The facts of business life are that LeWeb could not exist in its current form without large enterprise support. It could not attract or support the 600 applicants from the startup community. And when looked at through that lens, enterprise IT is anything but boring.
My view is that the time has come for both consumer and enterprise developer camps to think more seriously about co-existing. As Ray Wang, CEO Constellation Research tweeted:
Chris Selland disagrees but that's OK. While at the event, I spoke with Tim Barker who runs Salesforce.com EMEA marketing. He sees huge opportunity: "We are often a natural partner for startups, we've seen some great companies this week. The business to consumer space is very good for us at the moment as we see more businesses wanting to engage with consumers around social business." He isn't spinning - the Salesforce.com booth was packed.
Not everyone gets that disruptive message. Over in the startup tent, I met with Evernote. Like many colleagues, I love what that company does for me in helping to manage information I need for projects. I believe they have the basis for what could be a very good online backup and storage based solution that rethinks what that space looks like. Disappointingly for me, they don't seem interested in going in that direction.
On the other hand, The CurrencyCloud is operating in one of those highly technical areas where everyone from startups to large enterprise can win: disrupting the opaque foreign exchange transaction market. Their API is free and the solution has the potential to integrate with e-commerce platforms, accounting applications and treasury solutions. They offer a system where they win through transaction volume and everyone else wins through foreign exchange rate transparency and risk reduction. It's technical, it's boring but many startups would benefit enormously from using their platform.
In closing, I am glad I went to Paris for my LeWeb fix. It is a show that is morphing into one that subtly demonstrates how the consumer and enterprise worlds can happily co-exist and learn from one another rather than colliding. Heh - they even welcome people wearing ties (see image at top.)
Long may LeWeb thrive, attracting people from around the world and welcoming many from Silicon Valley who freely share their experience and knowledge. What's not to like?
Image credits - all taken on my Android device.
Disclosure - LeMeur provides me with a free entrance ticket. I pay my own freight to attend.