Right about now, Jeremy Roche, CODA's CEO should be standing up explaining to the Dreamforce crowd why he's betting the next stage of his company's development on Salesforce.com's not-quite-finished Apex platform. CODA is slated to become SFdC's preferred partner financial engine that complements its CRM presence.
CODA has been around since 1979 and makes one of the best financial transaction processing engines on the planet. It's unified database design means that unlike others, it has never been plagued with developmental and upgrade complexity. It scales extremely well and is capable of handling complex business structures. However, it plays in a tough part of the general ERP market, where its relative minnow size means it has struggled to get on the mega-enterprise agenda, despite counting Caterpillar and Avis Europe among its marquee customers. Given these market factors, partnering with SFdC makes a lot of sense but represents a significant risk.
This is the first time CODA has created a product from scratch since 1992 and it will be using the as yet largely untested SFdC Apex platform. Josh Greenbaum thinks Apex is less than optimal but regardless of Josh's opinion, CODA and SFdC are no strangers as CODA has already developed an integration between the two products. Greenfield development is different but having prior experience should smooth the path.
According to Dave Turner, CODA's group marketing director, the company is planning to roll out business processes in similar fashion to Workday, with an order-to-cash module available sometime around Q2, 2008. The next step will be to flesh out core financials followed by procure-to-pay. Direction on analytics is unclear though Turner said CODA expects to take advantage of SFdC's existing analytics capabilities. Given the company is developing directly for SFdC style CRM integration, that's a no brainer.
Like SAP, CODA is in the process of building out a complete business unit to address the market. Unlike SAP which has said its sweet spot is the 50-user business, CODA will address the 25 and up user segment. CODA is happy to accommodate a surround strategy for its larger customers but in the initial stages this will only be for UK/US customers. The typical CODA target customer will be one that is international, has process complexity and is in a services industry.
CODA seems confident that picking up the Apex toolset is not going to be a stretch and it is already in development mode. Time to market looks aggressive but again, the company sounds confident.
I foresee a LOT of challenges. While development is one thing, getting a new service accepted into the market is another. CODA has experience of the SMB market with its Dream product though to be frank, it's not seen much visibility. Creating a business model that revolves around existing customers is a natural move, provided those customers don't drive the company into early development for outlying territories.
There are a number of win-wins.
- Having SFdCs street cred behind it makes a difference for the US market in which CODA must succeed.
- It saves Marc Benioff, SFdCs CEO the embarrassment of explaining why talk about the Apex platform has been muted.
- It makes SFdC look like it's on the road to having a credible ERP style platform even though it will be riffed as a best of breed play, while at the same time leaving the development risk in CODAs hands.
This will be disruptive for the UK mid-market which has a different demographic to that in the US. None of the UK's established players has a recognizably declared saas strategy, unless you count Microsoft's software-and-services play. There is a perceptible change in attitudes towards this model. A year ago nobody cared, today everyone I speak with is at least in 'information gathering' mode. It will certainly give Sage something to think about as it is already under attack from Microsoft on its home turf.
Despite the halo effect this move bestows on CODA, it is not alone in the UK market. Twinfield has established a UK presence. Twinfield's Microsoft-centric approach could represent a significant challenge for those who like the idea of saas but want to play safe on the technology front. Netsuite is also there though it barely registers on my radar. By the time CODA is ready to hit the street, SAP's A1S should be making its presence felt.
If I didn't know better, I'd say we're experiencing a period of deja vue with an expanded vendor presence and everything to play for.