Business ByDesign: the Irregular verdict

I've hung back on posting my thoughts on Business ByDesign for several reasons. When I wrote my pre-Sapphire08 conference story, it was clear this would dominate the Irregulars' questions.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

I've hung back on posting my thoughts on Business ByDesign for several reasons. When I wrote my pre-Sapphire08 conference story, it was clear this would dominate the Irregulars' questions. I needed to get through meeting with all the key executives and view the latest iteration of the product to gain a clear understanding of the current position.

Larry Dignan, Brian Sommer, Bob Warfield and Vinnie Mirchandani each provide different and nuanced perspectives on the situation. Informally, Charlie Wood, Sandy Kemsley, Jevon MacDonald and Zoli Erdos each took positions.

The cognitive problem was one of teasing out the elements contributing to what appears to be a stepping back from what SAP calls 'accelerated go to market.' In reality what we're seeing is a confluence of factors that demonstrate SAP's cautious move into the market.

Today, SAP believes the economic impact of a race to grab market share would not be financially viable in terms of the likely negative impact on the next 4-6 quarters' earnings. The main issue is SAP's internal TCO requirements, something Bob believes needs to go further. Brian Sommer has signalled he will work up a rough financial model to figure the cash bleed rate but in the meantime it's safe to say SAP is working hard to conserve and grow the general business bottom line and doesn't want to unnecessarily upset institutional investors. It doesn't feel it needs to bleed an extra $100 million on an as yet to be general released product. At least not now.

In talking with Peter Zencke the man who led BBD development along with the BBD direct marketing team, it is clear there is more work to do, for the markets SAP has chosen to initially address.  There is for instance the need to include support for EDI. Time based resource billing for projects is another piece of functionality that's required. Then there's the question of integrating third party systems at the edge - something that was not in the immediate plans some six months ago - but which is very much in SAP's mind today. Finally, there's the UI question which James Governor and myself flagged up as in need of urgent attention. None of these issues is trivial and to its credit, SAP is responding directly to customer feedback.

However, when I saw the demonstration I couldn't help but feel there is little reason why SAP should not pull the marketing trigger and get skin in the game before competitors occupy the vacuum. In the version I saw, BBD looks like a great product for upgrading Sage MAS 90, Intuit and low end Microsoft Dynamics customers. It ticks all the right boxes - including the ability to create UI mashups - and offers a smooth pathway for those willing to bend a little around business process.

But...I sense the invisible hand of God - aka Hasso Plattner - orchestrating development in a way that hinders rollout. The design effort has drawn from NetWeaver but is returning functionality back to the top end Business Suite. That's all very well but slows the rate of BBD progress. That should not be read as a signal SAP is developing a cloud based solution for the much larger suite. It may come, but isn't on the horizon.

Fundamentally, I detect the company is deeply concerned about 'getting it right.' SAP has a long history of advance notification and then delivering late or flawed product. There seems to be an overwhelming desire to reach some sort of development nirvana yet that's a pointless exercise. On the basis of what I saw, BBD is ready to go. Performance may not be as good as SAP would like though I understand they have recently achieved the server round trip timings Plattner demanded. BBD may not contain all the bells and whistles some customers want. But it is far and away more comprehensive in functional scope and depth than anything else I have seen in the on-demand mid-market.

I have long felt SAP struggles to understand what it needs to do to build a mid market channel and even now that remains a challenge. It's puzzling because that expertise can be found and rewarded. Given recent progress by NetSuite and today's launch announcement by CODA, I can't help but conclude that SAP is letting a market opportunity slip by.

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