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Is there beef behind SalesForce.Com?

May 29, 2008 3 comments

I have been following Salesforce.com since its founding in the mid-1990s. Initially the company started by creating a contact management system which evolved into the sales force platform it offers today. Last month I attended a small dinner meeting in Boston hosted by Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO of SalesForce.com, for some partners and customers. I met the Steve Pugh, CEO of CODA Financials, a subsidiary of Coda, a UK based developer of accounting software. I was intrigued that the company had built its new generation financial application on top of Salesforce.com’s infrastructure. In my next post, I’ll talk about Coda and why they made this decision. But before that I wanted to take a look at the Salesforce platform.

What is most interesting about Salesforce is that it intended to build a platform from day one. In my discussions with Marc in the early days he focused not specifically on the benefits of CRM but rather on “No Software”. If you think about it that was a radical concept ten years ago.

Therefore, It goes without saying that Salesforce has been a Software as a Service pioneer. For example, in June 2003 launched sforce, one of the first web services based SaaS platforms. It offered partners a published SOAP-based API. Rather than viewing Salesforce as an application, it views it as a “database in the sky.” It interprets this database as an integration platform. Likewise, from a customer perspective, Salesforce has designed its environment to “look like a block”. What does that mean? I would probably use a different term maybe a infrastructure blackbox.

Salesforce’s approach to creating its ecosystem has been incremental. It began, for example, by allowing customers to change tabs and create their own database objects. Next, the company added what it called the AppExchange which added published APIs so that third party software providers could integrate their applications into the Salesforce platform. Most of the applications on AppExchange are more like utilities than full fledged packaged applications. Many of the packages sold through the AppExchange are “tracking applications” for example, there is an application that tracks information about commercial and residential properties; another application is designed to optimize the sales process for media/advertising companies; still another package is intended to help analyze sales data.

But this is just the beginning of what Salesforce has planned. The company is bringing in expertise from traditional infrastructure companies like Oracle and BEA — among others. It’s head of engineering came from eBay. Bringing in experienced management that understands enterprise scalability will be important — especially because of Salesforce’s vast ambitions. I have been reading blogs by various Salesforce.com followers and critics. Josh Greenbaum, whom I have known for more than 20 years has been quite critical of Salesforce and has predicted its demise (within 18 months). He makes the comparison between Salesforce.com and Siebel. While any company that has risen as fast as Salesforce.com has will be a target, I do not believe that Salesforce.com is in trouble. There are two reasons I believe that they have a good chance for sustainability: their underlying SOA architecture and the indications that ISVs are beginning to see the company as a viable infrastructure.

So, what is the path that Salesforce is following on its quest for infrastructuredom (is that a real word — probably not). One of the primary reasons for my optimism is that Salesforce.com has a combination of traditional development through a procedural language it calls Apex that is intended to help developers write stored procedures or SQL statements. While this may disappoint some, it is a pragmatic move. But more important than Apex is the development of a standard XML based stylesheet interfaces to a service designed for use with Salesforce applications. This allows a developer to change the way the application looks. It is, in essence, the interface as a service. A third capability that I like is the technique that Salesforce has designed for creating common objects. In essence, this is a basic packaging that allows a third party to create their own version of Salesforce for its customers. For example, this has enabled Accenture to create a version of Salesforce for its customers in the health care.

But what is behind the curtain of Salesforce? First, Salesforce uses the Oracle database as a technique for serving up file pages (not as a relational database). But the core Intellectual Property that sits on top of Oracle is a metadata architecture. It is designed as a multi-tenancy service. Salesforce considers this metadata stack as the core of its differentiation in the market. The metadata layer is complex and includes an application server called Resin. The Resin Application Server is a high-performance XML application server for use with JSPs, servlets, JavaBeans, XML, and a host of other technologies. On top of this metadata layers is an authorization server. The metadata layer is structured so that each organization has a unique access to the stack. Therefore, two companies could be physically connected to the same server but there would be no way for them to access each other’s data. The metadata layer will only point to the data that is specific to a user. The environment is designed so that each organization (i.e., customer) has a specific WSDL-based API. In fact, the architecture includes the approach of access APIs through the WSDL interface. There are two versions of WSDL — one general and one for a specific customer implementation. If a customer wants to share data, for example, they have to go through the general WSDL interface.

Salesforce’s approach is to use XML based interfaces as an integration approach. It has used this to integrate with Google Apps. Salesforce has already begun partnering with Google around Adwords. This move simply deepened the relationship since both companies are faced with competitive threats.

The bottom line is that I think that Salesforce.com is well positioned in the market. It has an underlying architecture that is well conceived based on a SOA approach. It has created an ecosystem of partners that leverage its APIs and rely on its network to build their businesses. Most importantly, SalesForce.com has created an application that is approachable to mortals (as opposed to software gods). Companies like Siebel, in contract, created a platform that was complicated for customers to use — and therefore many purchased the software and never used it.

Salesforce.com is not without challenges. It needs to continue to innovate on its platform so that it does not get caught off guard by large (Microsoft, SAP, and Oracle) players who aren’t happy with an upstart in a market they feel entitled to own. They are also at risk from upstarts like Zoho and open source CRM players like SugarCRM. If Salesforce.com can collect more packaged software vendors like Coda to build their next generation applications on top of Salesforce’s environment, they may be able to weather the inevitable threats.

And the winner is Cognos

November 12, 2007 Leave a comment

This has certainly turned into an exciting M&A season. First SAP announces that it will buy Business Objects and now IBM announces that it will buy Cognos. I am actually not surprised. While Cognos does sell traditional business intelligence tools (i.e., reporting tools), it has expanded over the years to offer a wide array of solutions focused on performance management and financial analytics. For example, the company offers six different solutions for various aspects of financial reporting and analytics including Planning (a solution for real-time visibility into resource requirements and future business results), Controller (a solution for managing the close, consolidation, and reporting process finance), workforce performance (an analytical application that offers over 100 measures and 1,000 workforce-related attributes to support cross-organization reporting and analysis), performance management (analytics for customers, finance, and supply chain), and Cognos Now! (a family of operational business intelligence and performance management solutions available as appliances or hosted software-as-a-service (SaaS) models).

Clearly, this is part of IBM’s overall strategy to strengthen its position in the increasingly important information management sector. It is in keeping with IBM’s horizontal software strategy as well. All of Cognos’s solutions mentioned above are focused on solutions for analytics of the financial aspects of corporations.

IBM has had a strong partnership with Cognos over many years. In fact, the two companies have worked closely together on some key deals that have been focused on Cognos’s performance management analytics capabilities.

I think this deal makes a lot of sense for IBM (even at the $5 billion price tag). It fills in some gaps both in terms of solutions and basic analytics. It enables IBM to compete against both Oracle with its Hyperion acquisition and SAP’s acquisition of Business Objects.

Who is next? I expect to see HP begin to target some acquisitions in the BI space to both complement is Neoview data warehousing platform and to strengthen its software play.

Can you measure and monitor your user experience?

November 6, 2007 Leave a comment

Since the web has increasingly become the platform for interacting with customers, partners, and the like — the notion of managing the online experience has skyrocketed. The term “user experience” is confusing. I have traditionally thought about this in terms of how the user interacts with software.  But I am finding that the more interesting definition is around the idea of actually measuring and monitoring the performance of the web environment from the user or customer experience perspective.

I met with an emerging vendor called SYMPHONIQ that was founded in 2003 by Hon Wong, CEO. Wong is a veteran of the management space, having been one of the founders of NetIQ in 1995 and of EcoSystems (purchased by Compuware in 1994). Therefore, although SYMPHONIQ is a relative newcomer, it’s management team has lots of experience under its belt.

The company is just introducing its second product — TrueView Express. This product is intended to provide performance measurement and monitoring. The product measures browser response for any HTTP application. Therefore, the company says that it can track performance from the browser through to the database. The product monitors actually user transactions in real time, isolates performance problems, and includes service level reporting of transaction performance.

Because TrueView is instrumented with HTML it does not require the downloading of an agent. In addition, performance data is collected behind the firewall.

In a way, this product is a sort of trojan horse (I love trojan horses since they provide a quick value to customers) for the company’s higher end products. For example, its flagship product called TrueView provides end-to-end diagnostics.

Clearly, the company has some interesting IP and some traction in the market. It made a smart move by partnering with F5 Networks. F5 Networks provides a platform for Application Delivery Networking. This relationship should help the company gain traction with customers that might otherwise look towards the big players — CA (Wily), EMC (NLayers), Compuware, and HP — and a host of others.

The company seems to be making some progress in the market with two products under its belt and a couple of dozen customers such as Lockheed, Starbucks Coffee, and AMD. The reality, however, is that the company is in a space dominated by big companies so it will have to partner with some big players that will be attracted by its ability to correlate and aggregate actual transaction data. Its reliance on HTML and HTTP means that it provides a lighter footprint than some of its competitors. This is definitely a company to watch.

Five cool things about Master Data Management

October 18, 2007 1 comment

Ok, so you never thought that Master Data Management (MDM) was cool. Well I just returned from IBM’s Information On Demand conference and found that IBM has gotten MDM fever in a big way. In fact, they were handling out cool MDM buttons. Now, MDM has been around for a long time. Customers are always trying to get to a “single view of the customer”. But because there are so many sources of data that are stove-piped and disconnected across departments, it has been nearly impossible. One of the approaches that was popular a few years ago was Enterprise Information Integration (EII). I hereby declare EII dead! What is taking its place is true MDM.

Now that MDM is starting to mature it has the potential to become the authoritative way to manage the single trusted view of the customer. I got some valuable insights into MDM from Dan Wolfson, a Distinguished Engineer and MDM expert at IBM. His view is that MDM has to be constructed as a hub. Through this federated view it is possible to understand the context of data. I really like this concept and think that if we are indeed going to move to a model where there is a single view of the customer it will be because companies can have a single way to manage their information about customers, products, services, and the like.

Let me digress for a minute and tell you a little about IBM’s new approach to MDM. The company has come up with a strange name for it: multi-form MDM. Despite this name, I actually think they are on to something. The idea behind this is that rather than having a different platform for each type of MDM focused application, there is a single platform that can be used no matter what type of approach is at issue. For example, there are customer centric MDM applications that focus on the details about customer, location, relationships, etc. Another application might focus on products such as a company’s product portfolio, billing details, sales territories, and the like.

There is a lot more to say about this MDM hub approach but that will have to come later. Check out our monthly newsletter. I will probably write a more in-depth article about that later.

But as I promised, here are five cool things about MDM:

1. A Master Data Management platform can help avoid a thousand versions of the “truth”

2 . If implemented from a holistic perspective, MDM can actually solve problems

3. MDM can actually become an information integration standard

4. MDM could become the lynch pin between metadata, semantic web, and registry/repository

5. MDM is cool because it really matters to the business

Will Oracle win BEA? And what next?

October 12, 2007 1 comment

It has been quite a week. First, SAP sets its sights on Business Objects and now for about the same amount of money, Oracle is ready to swallow BEA. Indeed, it looks like the world of enterprise software is continuing to consolidate. So, what do I think? I actually think that Oracle’s decision to buy BEA is a smart move. Oracle needs the depth of middleware and business process software that are two strengths of BEA’s platform. I have spoken with Oracle customers who have not been happy with Fusion middleware. Therefore, the BEA acquisition should strengthen Oracle’s infrastructure assets. Remember that one of BEA’s original assets was AT&T’s Tuxedo distributed transaction processing software suite.

AcquaLogic , BEA’s services integration and business process management platform is well regarded among customers. A few years ago BEA bought Fuego, a very well designed business process management engine.

I could go on for a long time talking about the depth of the BEA software environment. Both its transaction management and business process platform are the jewels in the crown that will benefit Oracle — especially in its Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) strategy.

So, let me get to the bottom line. Here are my conclusions about the Oracle move:

1. Oracle is moving to pick up a strong middleware platform. It has the potential to fix some of the problems with the Fusion platform.

2. It will be a more complicated integration task than some of Oracle other acquisitions. Oracle will have to rationalize its work on Fusion middleware with BEA’s offerings. This will take some time.

3. The comparison between Oracle and SAP’s acquisition moves are very interesting. While SAP has bought a BI platform that will have to be kept separate from its ERP business, Oracle’s purchase will be much closer to its core strategy. The money isn’t that different.

4. BEA was in an uncomfortable position in the market. It has been a player with some impressive acquisitions and leadership. However, it was never able to break out as a leader in terms of revenue. It made its mark with WebLogic — the leading application server. However, it was never able to break out to be viewed by customers as a overall leader — despite some very nice acquisitions.

I expect that this acquisition will go through. I do not expect any other company to come up with an offer. HP, for example, that has been mentioned as a suitor, is unlikely to move in this direction.

I thought that Dana Gardner’s blog today was a well constructed analysis. I agree with many of his points. But don’t think that an HP counter offer is likely. I do think that his view of the interactions between other players will be impacted by this move.

My bottom line: I think that there will be major ripples from this move by Oracle. IBM will not sit still for long. Will IBM increase its alliances with other players — I think so. What does this mean for Tibco? I have talked to customers lately who have been buying Tibco for both its business process and scalable SOA middleware platform. Is Tibco in play? Will SAP and IBM strengthen their relationship?

Why is SAP buying Business Objects?

October 10, 2007 2 comments

The first time I made contact with Business Objects was in 1992 when I was hired by a venture capitalist to conduct due diligence on Business Objects. At that time the company was still emerging. At that time Business Objects was a tiny Paris-based that offered a windows based reporting product designed for use with the Oracle database. My advice to Atlas Ventures was that it would be a wise idea to invest in the company. I recommended that they improve their user interface, add more databases than Oracle, and learn how to partner. And as they say, the rest is history. So, more than 15 years later is to become part of the SAP empire.

So, what do I think? I have a mixed reaction. Here are my first takes:

1. Business Objects has a diverse and interesting base of technologies. For example, it has its traditional reporting platform that is a huge source of revenue (especially maintenance). Over the years it has added lots of products to its bag of tricks including the low end Crystal Reports to text analytics (acquisition of inxight Software ) and Cartesis for financial reporting. It appeared that the company was on a path to positioning itself as a full service information management player.

2 . Today, Business Objects is about $1.5 billion in revenue. While it is growing at about 20% a year in many areas, new license revenue is only about 9% of revenue. Many companies in the information management space are finding that it is hard to grow into a major player organically — or even with solid acquisitions.

3. SAP is paying a lot of money; making this a big gamble. Unlike Oracle, SAP has not made a lot of big acquisitions. Perhaps the company felt that Oracle was simply getting a bigger piece of the information management pie than was comfortable. SAP will have its work cut out for it as it tries to learn to sell at the low end of the market. Yes, it has introduced its mid-market platform but it still has a steep learning curve. It will also have to rationalize its existing offerings with those from Business Objects. For example, now SAP will have two financial reporting systems — Business Object’s Cartesis and Outlook Soft, a company with a similar product that SAP purchased.

4. I think that integration is very tough to full off. The plan mentioned in the announcement is to integrate the Business Object suite with SAP’s NetWeaver middleware. While this might be a good long term strategy, it might not be a high priority for customers who just want to get their reports done.

I plan to keep an open mind. My old friend, Josh Greenbaum, who is one of the most knowledgeable SAP watchers around is pretty bullish on the plan. So, it is definitely worth a second look as the acquisition moves forward.

I’ll make an obvious prediction right now — business intelligence vendors will continue to be targeted for acquisition by the big players. As this happens, the strong vendors that do remain independent will be attractive to customers who want to work with an independent player and to vendors who are looking for good ecosystem partners. Who is on my list as attractive independents: Information Builders and SAS Institute. Ironically, both companies are around Business Objects size and neither are public. Now there is some food for thought…

My View of the World of Software

September 26, 2007 Leave a comment

I have been in the software world for several decades now. The purpose of my blog is to provide interested readers with my view of what’s happening both with customers and vendors in various areas of enterprise and collaborative software. I will provide insights into my meetings with various vendors. I will also report my conversations with customers of various technology platforms — although sometimes I will have to leave off their names (to protect the innocent). I have been around long enough to see the difference between posturing and the genuine thing.

Categories: Meta data Tags: ,

E-Commerce Gone Bad: How Orbitz Lost My Business

March 30, 2007 1 comment

“There are always consequences to our mistakes,” No this is not a saying from a fortune cookie. It is, in fact, the answer that a member of our team received when trying to correct a mistake made in a hotel reservation made through Orbitz, the online travel service. She had made a hotel reservation and decided that another hotel might be more convenient so she went online to cancel. After doing the cancellation she discovered that there would be no refund allowed. She immediately got back on the site and tried to reinstate the hotel reservation that had been paid for. I don’t have to tell you what happened – she was told, sorry, you are out of luck by the very sweet supervisor who imparted the words of wisdom about consequences and mistakes.

Now let me say that I have been using a variety of ecommerce services for many years with a great deal of success. What a pleasure to be able to log onto Amazon.com and have a book show up in three days – even one that has been out of print for years. But I would put travel sites into a whole different category.

This was not the first experience I have had with Orbitz. Before I tell you my additional sad tale, I would like to put this in perspective. I think a lot of us assume that it makes sense to do business with the big commerce site. After all, there have brand and name recognition which makes them seem like a sure thing. I remember in the early days of on line travel sites that there were organizations that would sell you a ticket and forget to send it. When you tried to track them down, their phone would be disconnected. Big sites like Orbitz, Expedia, Hotwire, and Travelocity spend a tremendous amount on advertising and marketing to create the persona of a large respectable entity – and some of them are indeed everything they say they are. However, there is a dark side to ecommerce that will have to be solved or the whole industry will suffer.

While I am not traditionally a complainer, I will be one today and tell you my story and how customer service responded.

I had a trip planned that I needed to change to the following week. I had planned the trip at least a month in advance and had gotten a pretty good price for a package of hotel and airfare from Orbitz. When my trip had to be changed, I tried to change it online but was unable to do so, so I called. (Have you ever tried to call an online site – is that an oxymoron??) Without causing you to relive my pain let me just say that after at least two hours on the phone with a variety of agents and their supervisors I lost my hotel reservation all together and had to pay a hefty fee to change my flight. I was told that the policies were clearly listed on the website.

Right…well maybe. In fact, if you look at Orbitz’s website under “canceling or changing reservation” you are told to follow a process. You are not told, “give up, all is lost”. Some sites, do in fact tell you right up front that if there are no changes allowed. Not so at Orbitz…

I think the problem is that these commerce sites make money by automating as much of their customer service as possible and adhering to very strict policies. I think these companies have a long way to go before the level of on line customer service is up to what many of us expect from a company we pay a lot of money to. I for one will think twice before I order a hotel or plane ticket from one of these guys – at least until they learn to improve the customer experience.

HP ready to rock and roll with a new improved software strategy – bound for Australia

February 27, 2007 Leave a comment

I am about to embark on a trip tonight to Australia. My first time. I will be speaking at HP’s Asian Software Universe conference. The first one since the newly constituted software group that now includes Mercury Interactive. There is clearly reviewed energy and excitement around the HP’s software organization these days. It will be interesting to watch the new strategy unfold that brings together HP’s traditional strengths in network and systems management with the Business Technology Optimization, and quality portfolio from Mercury. The combined strategy definitely has potential – especially now that the company is moving quickly into the business intelligence market with its NeoView data warehousing platform, its KnightsBridge consulting organization and a bunch of acquisitioning in the data management area that we expect to happen within the coming year. But more about that after I return.

An Encounter with Enterprise Architects and the SOA Journey

I have been on the road quite a bit lately (including a brief vacation with my husband to Puerto Rico). Last Wednesday night I spent several hours with a group of enterprise architects outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The talk was part of a forum sponsored by SOA integrator and consulting firm, LiquidHub. While I enjoy presenting, I really enjoy the interactions with smart people. With a group of architects you might expect that the conversation would get really technical and get into a focus on interfaces and which enterprise service bus is the most fun to work with. To my surprise, and delight, the conversation focused on the cultural issues of moving organizations away from their traditional mode of fighting fires and political battles to thinking about a different approach to building value. The issues that these companies are grappling with are universal to early adopters. First, how do you get upper management to understand that moving to a service oriented approach to development is something that benefits the business? In fact, these architects are facing a two front war! While they are trying to get the attention of upper management (who tends to think that this is just another wild plan to spend money); they are struggling to get their development organization to think differently about software development. Is there enough time between upgrading to the latest rev of the database and the operating system, or the ERP system to think about writing business services? On the other hand, developers who are starting to think about SOA want to get started by coding. The real world is just not that easy.

Can business management understand the value of SOA?

I’d love to say, just do it (but that only happens in the movies). The reality is that you need to start by demonstrating to management that SOA is, in fact, a business strategy supported by technology. I used the following analogy with this group. Imagine starting a new division of your company. Clearly, management will need to do some hiring and provide accounting practices. In the old days, that organization would hire its own human resources team and group of accountants that would focus all of their energy on customizing business practices on the needs of that business organization. Today things are very different. Today, there is a human resources department that has organized itself to meet the needs of a variety of different departments. They clearly will employ specialists that will understand some of the specialized needs of some of the departments. The human resources and the accounting departments are service organizations that support all departments within the company. Today, there are no arguments about how the company should pay for HR or accounting – they are shared services that everyone supports. The alternative – direct ownership of these functions would be much too expensive. This will be the way SOA service development evolves. It should be an interesting journey.

Assembling the pieces of SOA – is it really child’s play?

One more thing before I get on the plane to Australia…I have been thinking a lot about the problem companies face in implementing SOA. Here is the analogy I have been using lately. Imagine that you are a parent and just bought a present for your kid. You pick up the box that has a picture of the toy. It is exactly what your child has been begging for all month. You get it home and everyone is excited. You open the box and you are faced with hundreds of parts of all sizes and shapes. In addition, there is a 50-page manual that gives you directions about how to assemble the toy. After the first 20 hours the floor is filled with the pieces in various stages of assembly. Your kid is crying and you are no closer to the picture on the front of the box. I think this is what many IT organizations are contemplating when they imagine getting started with SOA. I am waiting for the vendors in this market to stop making and selling kits and start selling products.

Categories: Meta data