Microsoft Googles Apple in 2011

Diagram showing overview of cloud computing in...

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“It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.”

Babe Ruth (1895 – 1948)

The quote above is apt when you are up against a person but what happens when you encounter organisations that are trying to outdo each other? 2010 was certainly interesting in that respect. Hunter Richard’s blog post on Microsoft (MS) is “All In” for the Cloud, but What About Dynamics? outlined Microsoft’s dilemma that is not limited to just MS Dynamics.

Microsoft is still trying its best to innovate as its key visionaries, such as Ray Ozzie (View Ray Ozzies’s – Dawn of a new day OR BBC’s summary) were falling by the wayside. At face value, it could be argued that MS is reinventing itself, as it has done so quite successfully in the past (WordPerfect vs. MS Word, Netscape vs. Explorer,……list continues),  but this time around, there is a caveat. Is MS actually listening to its own visionaries and customers?

MS knows that history is repeating itself once again as it has done so many times before and MS is trying its best to change and adapt, as it knows very well that if it doesn’t, it could wither away and die, just as it had slain Netscape and WordPerfect in the past. The secret to Apple’s and Google’s success is that they listen to us, the customer. They are finely attuned to what, we, the consumer want and need, just as my previous blog post Leveraging IT for competitive advantage, has alluded to. Secondly, this battle is not just about the hardware and software anymore, as all three companies go after our hard earned cash. Even Apple overtook MS, in terms of revenue this year.

Microsoft is a giant in the software world and one of the penalties it is paying for its enormous success is that:

1.        Its products are now so diverse that only IT experts can make any sense of them. Need convincing. Ask any non IT personnel to visit any Microsoft site and ask them to explain a particular Microsoft site’s products and what they can actually do for them.

2.        Sheer confusion. As a business owner, for my Microsoft IT system, where do I start? Microsoft Licensing and its payment model – Again, this is an open challenge to Microsoft. How many Microsoft employees can explain Microsoft licensing without referring to a price model manual? The correct answer should be at least half its workforce. Why? You cannot sell what you don’t understand (Microsoft have actually done remarkably well then!). Ah, would an employee be able to explain it all in a pub, though?

3. Microsoft’s entire business model is built on desktop/laptop client installation and as long as it has enough businesses that utilise that legacy because they have no other option, for the short term, it faces no financial problem. Office365 is a step in the right direction but unlike Google, MS products were never designed to ‘run in the cloud’ whereas as Rajen Sheth, Google’s senior product manager for Google Apps said, “It will be tough to build up the cloud expertise that’s been built into Google’s DNA since day one.”

So, where does that leave Google, Microsoft and Apple? They should all acknowledge their key strengths, concentrate and focus on those and licence each other’s products. That can be hard to acknowledge by ‘massive’ organisations such as these three but the reality is that sometimes other organisations just do it better than you can.

Let’s take a brief trip down memory lane. Novell was the King of network software, had the opportunity to licence its NDS to MS for its Active Directory, failed to strike an agreement and MS ended up killing its business because they could do it better. So, in hindsight, an effective licensing agreement by Novell would have been better. Then, we have Apple. MS Office is one of the best sold software for its desktop/laptop equivalent and Apple decided years ago that it would not concentrate its efforts on a ‘war’ to decide who could create a better office type software suite. Google became the king of search and MS decided to ‘take it on.’

I would argue that all of these companies need to innovate more. Apple and Google innovate, quite successfully. I would argue though that as innovation is stifled at MS, MS have not released a single innovative product in 201o. MS did finally catch up with Apple (iPhone) and Google (Android) with a WM7 marketplace though! We even saw new releases of old software, such as Windows Mobile 7 and for those who want to argue and labour the point, did anyone release anything groundbreaking as Apple’s iPhone equivalent in 2007 or the iPad this year?

Oh and let’s not forget, Office365 still has no marketplace equivalent!

For more:

What is Cloud Computing? Its Pros/Cons and making it work

Microsoft announces Office 365 beta: test new cloud-based Office one year before its launch

Office 365 Beta: a first look

Steve Ballmer speech at UW: “We’re all in” for cloud computing

Microsoft Straightens Out Cloud Strategy — Finally

The 7 sins of Windows Phone 7

Apple iOS vs. Google Android

Top Tech Company of 2010: Apple

Will Google Apps survive Office 365?

The road to Office 365: The future

Office365 vs Google Apps

A guide to Office 365 versions and pricing

Windows Marketplace

Larry Ellison’s (CEO Oracle) management style and CIOs

Used iphone under a palm tree where I met android and formed a symbian relationship with a blackberry

Bill Gates (Chairman Microsoft) management style and CIOs

Choosing technology over customers

Google Apps – The myth, hype and reality.

Cloud based ERP. Fact or fiction?

Weather bulletin – Google Cloud and icy Microsoft downpour

Steve Job’s (CEO Apple) management style and CIOs

Back to basics Enterprise Resource Planning

Search wars – Past, Present and future – Bing, Google or new entrant?

Leveraging IT for Competitive Advantage – Myth or Reality?

Microsoft and Apple Tablets, pens and swords

The wonderful world of FREE Windows 7 applications

Houston, Windows is counting down 10,9,8,7…

The future is bright but is it mobile?

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Cloud based ERP. Fact or fiction?

“Don’t do what you know. Do what you don’t know about what you know.”

Mile Davis (1926 -1991) American Trumpet Player, Bandleader and Composer

Following my post on 19th May, Cloud based ERP is fast establishing itself as an increasingly dominant force within the ERP arena. Ubiquitous Internet connectivity combined with access to more bandwidth at affordable prices, both by businesses and consumers have propelled cloud based solutions as being commercially viable. Cloud based ERP solutions are also challenging existing licensing models. The larger providers such as SAP and Oracle are struggling to compete with this new model and are looking at ways to combat this new threat to their established revenue stream. Newer established entrants within the mid tier market continue to embrace cloud computing and are increasingly vying for competitive advantage.

In my view, Google Apps will increasingly challenge established players providing enterprise systems, such as Microsoft. The likes of Google Apps will also challenge established ERP players as more offerings become available. For example, Netsuite will soon be available on Google Apps and My ERP seems like a credible solution for smaller businesses and is FREE for the first two users! One of my readers, Houston Neal, recently had a roundtable discussion on the state of the manufacturing ERP software industry, including solutions popular among small and medium enterprises that provides an interesting insight into many facets of ERP software.

Cloud based ERP providers available at the moment are: Acumatica, Agresso, CDC Software, Consona, Compiere, DataXstream and virtualised SAP, DSP managed services – advisors for Cloud based Oracle E -Business suiteDynacom, Epicor, Global Shop Solutions, IFS, Intaact, IQMS, Lawson, Microsoft, MyERP, Netsuite, Oracle Cloud Computing Centre, Openbravo, Plex systems, Sage, SAP Business by Design, Salesforce and Glovia Cloud Solution, Syspro

ComputerWeekly, recently ran an interesting and complete 4 part Buyer’s Guide to ERP software that discussed quite intensely both the traditional and new, cloud based ERP models. Following are excerpts that I have used from part 1, glued together to form the following and then I will list articles that provide further in depth analysis and reading, courtesy of ComputerWeekly and others:

In Part I, Cliff Saran wrote, ‘The idea behind enterprise resource planning (ERP) is to provide the business with a single product that provides software to support the main business functions in a company. The major products such as SAP and Oracle claim to encompass the best ways to run business processes. But since they cater for large complex businesses, such systems are often too sophisticated for smaller organisations that may not have the same requirements in terms of scale and complexity of business operations.

SAP and Oracle may be great for providing enterprises with industry-standard business processes, but standardisation erodes the unique selling point in smaller businesses. George Lawrie, principal analyst at Forrester Research says, “SMEs are worried by the high maintenance fees and complex implementations associated with major ERP software.”This is why a market has grown for ERP aimed at SMEs. “Mid-market ERP tends to offer vertical specialisation,” says Lawrie.

Suppliers such as Salesforce.com have made it possible to put customer relationship management (CRM) systems in the cloud, but core enterprise resource planning (ERP) has so far remained untouched. If IT departments can make considerable savings switching from in-house systems to cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS), why stop at CRM? Businesses should consider using the cloud for ERP.

Andrew Vize, who as propositions director runs Computacenter’s CIO panels, says, “The efficiency of services from Google and Amazon is superb. They offer the lowest power costs and are five to 10 times cheaper than traditional small datacentres.”

It makes sense for an IT director, but the major ERP suppliers have been reluctant to move to cloud computing. SAP has been touting its Business ByDesign SaaS suite for smaller companies.

Meanwhile, Oracle offers its middleware and database products on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), but does not recommend putting E-Business Suite ERP software in the cloud.

Oracle states in a blog post, “Since Amazon EC2 uses a virtualisation engine that is not supported by Oracle and has not been certified with E-Business Suite, this environment is not supported for production usage of E-Business Suite. Using Amazon EC2 for hosting E-Business Suite may be suitable for non-production instances, such as demonstrations, test environments and development environments.”

In fact, it is far from clear how the major ERP suppliers will charge for cloud-based ERP. The significant ongoing revenue they receive from annual software maintenance from on-premise applications makes it harder for established ERP companies to offer considerably cheaper software licensed on a monthly subscription basis.

However, smaller software companies are making cloud ERP float.

Cloud computing company NetSuite has unveiled workflow management software, SuiteFlow, which enables users of cloud computing business suites to automate and streamline complex business processes. NetSuite says SuiteFlow allows businesses to customise workflows to support the way they need to work.

Companies can use SuiteFlow to develop and deploy new business processes. NetSuite says it can be used to support processes such as contract renewal workflows with tasks, reminders and customer notifications, sales processes that include mandatory data entry, follow-up tasks and rep notifications, and customer support processes, including inactivity reminders, escalations and service level agreement (SLA) enforcement.

Lawson Software, which has mainly focused on traditional ERP, has moved into the cloud by offering its core Enterprise Management Systems and Talent Management suite on Amazon EC2 infrastructure. The products will be included in the Lawson External Cloud Services offering, which is part of the company’s Cloud Services portfolio.

Lawson’s cloud ERP service is targeted at mid-sized companies and organisations looking for a more affordable, flexible and agile deployment option for full-function enterprise software.

“We are making it easier for our customers to license, use, keep current and even pay for Lawson full-function enterprise software. This should be great news for CFOs and CIOs who worry about lengthy and complex on-premise installations, the cost and inefficiency of their datacentres, the best way to allocate IT staff, and the complexity and difficulty of maintaining software versions and upgrades,” says Jeff Comport, senior vice-president of product management at Lawson Software.

Similarly, open source ERP provider Compiere, which is used by companies such as Specsavers, has developed a version of its product that works on Amazon Web Services in the cloud.

Some experts believe it is unlikely ERP will move wholesale into the cloud. The major ERP systems tend to be architected as large homogenous IT systems, which may not be such a good fit for delivery via the internet cloud. Licensing major ERP systems to deploy via the cloud is still immature. Instead, niche software companies are likely to build cloud-based services that do many of the functions of ERP.

“We will have much more specialist systems that do a slice of ERP,” predicts David Bradshaw, IDC research manager for software and services in Europe.’

Cloud-based ERP could be the way forward for small- and mid-sized companies. Both Oracle and SAP offer products aimed at smaller businesses such as JD Edwards from Oracle and SAP Business ByDesign. These may have a better fit with certain organisations, But implementing on-premise traditional mid-market ERP systems will be the most likely approach businesses take until cloud computing has matured.

Gartner sees an increasing availability of software-as-a-service (SaaS) ERP systems, and, unlike in large enterprises, where SaaS ERP use is limited, SaaS ERP is playing an increasingly important role in both back- and front-office applications for mid-market companies. Cost reductions in implementation and operation are one of the important drivers for SaaS ERP, and SaaS offerings avoid the need for upfront capital expenditures because they can be funded as an operational expense. However, when analysing the total cost of ownership of SaaS ERP over five years, Gartner finds that SaaS is not necessarily less expensive than on-premises ERP.

NetSuite is the largest example for a SaaS-based ERP suite. It offers a broad range of application modules, including financials and accounting, purchasing, payroll, order management, inventory control, and employee management, as well as built-in integration with its CRM and e-commerce capabilities on the same platform. Gartner has spoken to customers that expressed a high level of satisfaction with NetSuite’s offerings.

Other notable SaaS ERP players are Plex Online (previously Plexus Online) and Glovia. SAP has also announced an on-demand ERP solution called SAP Business ByDesign.

Open source has been used extensively in infrastructure components, but it has a limited impact on ERP at this point. In the past two years, however, some new open-source software ERP suppliers have emerged with a focus on leveraging open source software to reduce the total cost of ownership of business applications, and to enable customisations that would be difficult to achieve without access to source code. Although we have doubts as to whether open source software business models actually confer these advantages on open source software ERP, these early stage offerings are nonetheless promising and should be evaluated. Examples for open source software ERP suites include Compiere and Openbravo.

Although increasing in importance, none of the SaaS or open source ERP solutions met the inclusion criteria for this Magic Quadrant, because of their number of sales or product focus. Gartner’s ERP Magic Quadrant, (2010 Quadrant) criteria do not explicitly exclude SaaS or open source packages. The analyst firm is actively tracking their progress and expects their inclusion in future versions of its Magic Quadrant.’

For more:

Detailed research lists from the largest USA ERP installations

Search Manufacturing ERP

Part I Buyers Guide to ERP: Alternatives to SAP and Oracle ERP suites

Part II – Buyers Guide to ERP: the mid-tier market

Part III – Buyers Guide to ERP: Agile ERP

Part IV – A guide to ERP for small and large businesses

Putting ERP in the Cloud

How to achieve ERP success: part 1 – the A-Team

How to achieve ERP success: part 2 – the software

ERP software suppliers – Essential guide

Buyers Guide to ERP: Midlands Co-op case study

Make your ERP rollout succeed

Lawson’s New Amazon Cloud-Based ERP Supports Customization

Epicor Takes the Wraps off Cloud-based ERP Solution

Amazon.com Offers Compiere Enterprise ERP via the Cloud

ERP and Cloud Computing trends

Lawson Software Introduced Cloud-Based Services

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) – Past, Present, Future and successful implementation

Brief History and introduction

ERP’s origins can be traced to the beginning of the Database and Material Requirements Planning (MRP), in particular, relational databases and its founder Edgar Frank “Ted” Codd. Good current examples are SAP, Oracle (Click for Oracle Database History) and Microsoft Dynamics. The concept has evolved around Data warehouse functionality. ERP software attempts to link all internal business processes into a common set of applications that share a common database. It is the common database that allows an ERP system to serve as a source for a robust data warehouse that can support sophisticated decision support and analysis.

Data Warehouse design can also involve a process of Extract, Transform, load (ETL) that allows business intelligence software to perform its queries and predictive analysis.

Recently, Business Intelligence (BI) has driven the adoption of ERP systems due to its ability to sit on top of a data warehouse and perform intelligent querying of data through Data Mining, OLAP and Business Performance Management (BPM). In particular, it is the BPM aspect that MDs/CEOs utilise the most as it becomes a decision support system, providing dashboards for all sorts of performance indicators allowing management quick synopsis of any given situation, allowing quicker decision making.

For more information on ERP design, Click here

For more information on Data Warehousing and ERP, Click here

Current Consolidation, who owns who and how it will affect the future of ERP

The IT market is undergoing significant reshuffle and consolidation. This has led to a great deal of confusion on who owns who, especially if you are not actively following the IT industry. For the uninitiated and for the benefit of everyone, I will now clarify. ERP system supplier consolidation has meant that Microsoft has bought Navision and Great Plains. SAP now owns BI vendor Business Objects (BI). Oracle is the supplier that is the most influential as far as acquisitions are concerned as it has bought, Sun Microsystems, PeopleSoft (Therefore JD Edwards), Siebel, Primavera and Hyperion (BI). I will also mention that IBM bought Cognos (BI) as it is software for business intelligence (BI).

How this consolidation will affect ERP and the IT market in the future is uncertain at the moment. For example, Oracle has acquisitioned over 100 businesses in the last few years; the test for Oracle will be on how well it can leverage all these acquisitions for competitive advantage. Even with all this consolidation, a newcomer arriving with a new product that upsets the applecart is all too common within the IT arena.

The businesses of the future will be very different to the businesses of today and will have to think long and hard about other areas as well such as a mobile workforce and mobility (Smart phones), social networking and Cloud Computing.

Lessons learnt that allow future successful implementations

While challenges may exist, project leadership can mitigate risks with a strong plan that remains focused on the buyer’s goals and objectives. A spirit of cooperation between the vendor and buyer for mutual benefit is often quoted as the single most important factor for success. It is interesting that on average an ERP implementation takes approx 20 months and that only 7% of projects finish on time while 68% took “much longer” than expected.

I have studied many successful/unsuccessful ERP implementations, interesting statistics and as there is a body of existing knowledge, I am concluding this article by suggesting that a new ERP implementation is done by splitting the project into three discrete areas. Planning, Change and Review. The areas below will on occasion be conducted in parallel. Successful ERP is best done when the focus is to do it right, first time as in many cases by the second round the damage is often irreparable.

Planning –

The business needs to appoint a steering committee to conduct a thorough SWOT and STEP (PEST) analysis with a view to setting up an ERP capability. It can then be used to identify gaps that need to be addressed. For example, if the STEP analysis highlights that politically, many departments aren’t interested or do not know about the new ERP implementation, it needs to be addressed. It also needs to be recorded in the SWOT analysis as a threat. This will highlight how prepared the business is for the required change and the next step can take these findings and ensure:

  1. A senior Executive is appointed – Ensure project is top driven (Senior exec – CEO etc) and not bottom up (IT driven)
  2. Business strategy is clearly defined.
  3. IT ERP system fits within that strategy.
  4. Definition of goals/objectives of introducing the ERP system (Ensure questions such as what do we hope to achieve at the end? How will we know that we have arrived? – are answered, i.e. clearly define business requirements in detail and set realistic business benefits to manage expectations better.
  5. Processes in 6, 7 and 8 need to be aligned to the overall business/IT strategy by involvement from both senior managers of functions and experienced users who understand the processes.
  6. Processes are analysed for alignment to business vision and business/IT strategy and fixed accordingly.
  7. Processes that are not captured by existing systems are captured.
  8. Processed are improved.
  9. Resources both human and technical – Ensure miscalculation of time/effort is minimised, manage delivery timeframe expectations.
  10. The above steps have been completed and a realistic budget is assigned.
  11. ERP Package selection is according to business requirements/process mapping.
  12. ERP software is aligned to user procedures (May require new procedures)

Change –

  1. Ensure that all interested parties are engaged and feel involved (Business buy in) and that resistance to change is reduced and addressed accordingly. (This can be accomplished by creating a steering committee that has reps from both senior management (each function) and a super user who understands current processes. The super user needs to have taken the time to create his/her steering committee to analyse current processes and suggest improvements (See item 5 under planning).
  2. How do we communicate that this change is required (Education)? – On going communications with all stakeholders.
  3. How will training elements be addressed? What is the current process (Manual/IT based system and if it is an IT system, are there any problems in the way that the system is used?
  4. Reviews, for example, Gateway Reviews should be conducted to deliver a “peer review” where independent practitioners from outside the programme/project use their experience and expertise to examine the progress and likelihood of successful delivery of the programme or project.

Review –

Once the project has been delivered successfully, a yearly review should be conducted to enhance or improve the system allowing for continuous improvement. Minor modifications, tweaks and fixes can be performed as business as usual.