Tag Archives: IBM

Opportunities for channel partners in unified communications

In every downturn, there are always sectors of innovation that do spectacularly well. With companies cutting travel and with the growth in flexible working and dispersed teams, corporations are turning increasingly to unified communications to reduce costs, improve productivity and raise job satisfaction. According to IDC’s latest research,  the European UC market will grow from its present size of $2.6 billion in 2008 to $13.5 billion in 2013, an annual growth rate of 39%.  IDC believes that presents a significant opportunity for service companies.  Their value is enhanced because they can be a single point of contact for voice vendors and IT suppliers such as Cisco, IBM and Microsoft. As any UC systems integrator will tell you, getting pilots off the ground involves multi-disciplinary teams within the customer. It is a complex, political sale, one where channel partners can add significant value.  All three of the top UC vendors have made significant strides in growing their UC partner ecosystems to help address the demand.


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Filed under Cisco, IBM, Virtual Teams

Power Relationships and Cloud Computing

Last week at the London leg of Lotusphere Comes to You, a potted version of the January Floridian Lotus Love Fest, I re-visited LotusLive, IBM’s SaaS offering.  While the astute Nick Shelness neatly summarizes the set of services and though there are teething problems,  and aside from my belief it is too pricey, I believe IBM is paying heed to how a third party ecosystem can help promote and support cloud computing.  There have been doubts, but unlike Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS),  Microsoft’s set of cloud services, at least with IBM’s, partners are able to white label and bill.  

It is a matter of power.  IBM cannot reach SMB without indirect channel support, unless it does much more to promote a direct route to the SMB market.  Post the Lotus acquisition, the company did not have strong brand equity in SMB.  Microsoft, though it had used indirect channels exclusively to transact, always had a strong brand relationship with SMB, enabling it to transition easily to a direct route to market via the cloud.  That isn’t to say that partners can’t play in BPOS, in fact Microsoft is encouraging it, but a partner’s added value is diminished.

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Filed under IBM, Microsoft, SaaS

Partner value chains vapourizing in the cloud

The arguments for SaaS or “cloud computing” are compelling.  By sharing the infrastructure of a service provider, the customer is able to make significant savings as compared to the buried labour costs of on premises software incurred when testing, integrating, securing, installing, backing up, customizing and upgrading.  Occassionally, and this usually depends upon the size of the company and the available resources inhouse, they call on external companies to assist with those tasks.  Only when they do that, do some of the costs become explicit.  As I have mentioned before, both Microsoft and IBM claim that for every $1 of software sold, there is between $7 and $8 of services opportunity for partners.  Put another way, the customer has to spend up to 9 times as much as the license price to extract value out of the on premises software they buy. 

Cloud computing throws a spanner in software economics.  While at the Salesforce.com event in London this week, I asked partners who specialize in Salesforce.com implementations where they derive their revenue from.  It is mostly around the same areas that Microsoft and IBM partners operate in – implementation, integration, training, customization, development and helping clients redesign their business processes.   And it seems to be in the same SMB sweetspot – between 20 employees and 1000, with occassional engagements in enterprise accounts, though enterprises are more likely to hire Salesforce.com’s own professional services arm.  The big difference is in the size of the engagement.  A large one for a partner might be 80  man days.  Most are a lot less than that.  Take for example one slide that Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com’s CEO, put up.  Titled “Fastest Way to Build Apps”, it portrays force.com, the branding for the company’s platform delivering an 80% reduction in development effort.  For partners, what might have been a 20 man day engagement becomes a 4 man day one.

Squeezed by SaaS and Indian outsourcers, traditional on premises software partners who do not differentiate themselves by aligning with a vertical niche or application have felt the pinch.  Cloud computing is changing the value dynamics as more value is concentrated in a cloud’s shared infrastructure, a change that has been accelerated by the downturn in the economy.   The traditional partner value chain is much more tenuous.

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Filed under IBM, Microsoft, SaaS

IBM moving away from Sun

IBM has backed off buying Sun, so where does that leave Sun? This may be a negotiating tactic on the part of IBM. Presuming it isn’t and Sun must go solo, it is worth re-examining Sun’s announcements of last week. Sun is laying off staff and announced a channel re-organization. Was that re-org a strategic choice, or a tactical one? Last week the company announced that its primary route to market would be via its indirect sales channel. On the face of it, it looks smart. The company already has a good partner program. Sun said that it had put into place a new inside sales organization in North America to generate leads, a new lead distribution system, training for partners and better partner access to technology. Under the new program, direct sales people will focus on the top 300 accounts. Provided those accounts are named and the direct sales ring fenced, channel partners will be happy – good fences, good neighbours.

In addition, the old sales organization was too complex with too many in-house fingers in a single customer’s pie. An account will now have fewer people involved in selling into an account. That is often the problem with large sales organizations that matrix the customer into confusion – one person for the geographic territory, one person for the customer’s industry, one person for each product line – all commissioned in some way for the sale into that customer. One ends up with an N dimensional sales force and the customer, by being overly served is poorly served through poor coordination and communication. Internally, you can end up with competing fiefdoms.

In the light of all the recent turmoil, are these changes enough to turn the company around or by adopting a more indirect strategy during a downturn, will it accelerate a demise? Anything that involves a major route to market change is going to have a short term negative impact on revenue. No-one can accurately predict the depth or breadth of that dip. Will that Sun be able to ride out the short term to see the long term gain?  Personally I hope so, because the industry is more interesting with an independent Sun than without.

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Filed under Direct, IBM, Indirect, Sun

SaaS and routes to market

It is important to heed the growth of software as a service or SaaS since it is having an effect on how customers buy software.  It is not directly a route to market.  The customer doesn’t necessarily purchase the service through the web without the involvement of a direct sales person.  Indeed in enterprise SaaS sales, especially in the credit crunch, special deals cut through major account people are the rule not the exception.  But in SMB where web purchases are routine, it is both a delivery and purchase route. 

It is not a new phenomenon.  Throughout the 1970’s service bureaus were the norm for many organizations that needed specialist applications, leaving the internal computing function to concentrate on accounting and payroll.  It suffered when time to productivity, accessibility and cost swung in the favour of the PC. In the mid 90’s the model reared its head, as application service providers (ASP’s) started grabbing the spotlight – if not any significant software  share.  Most went out of business. They lacked a sufficiently compelling proposition.  Now that businesses look for new ways to drive out IT costs, coupled with the drive of salesforce.com  to create a something out of market that had been tainted, SaaS is once again a force to pay attention to for its influence on how people buy technology.

There are dissenters. In  August 2008, ERP vendor Lawson’s CEO, Harry Debes said “SaaS is not God’s gift to the software industry or customer community. The hype is based on one company in the software industry having modest success. Salesforce.com just has average to below-average profitability.”

In the coming weeks I will write in more detail on SaaS, but first let me define it and try to back up the assertion that it is a growing phenomenon.  Gartner characterizes it as:

  • Delivery of multi-tenant service (i.e. though a customer only sees their data, that data lives on the same machines as other customers’ data)
  • From a remote location
  • Over an internet protocol (IP) network
  • Via a subscription-based outsourcing contract

The delivery of a multi-tenant service is how it is done, arguably not part of a customer proposition only to the extent that it keeps costs low. Perhaps a simpler definition might be a remotely provided application sold via a subscription. 

I have never been a big fan of large analyst firms and when employed in Big Blue (and Little Yellow), I had a mean habit of keeping old analysts’ predictions then comparing them with actual results.  Often that was made impossible since market definitions would change en route and I suspect there was a degree of covering one’s tracks at play.  Take this statement from two years ago, “The worldwide SaaS market reached $6.3 billion in 2006 and is forecast to grow to $19.3 billion by year-end 2011, according to Gartner, Inc.”   Then this from October 2008, “Gartner predicts it (the worldwide SaaS market) will surpass US$ 6.4 billion in 2008, a 27% increase from 2007 revenue.  Moreover, the market is expected to more than double with SaaS revenue reaching US$ 14.8 billion in 2012.”

Notwithstanding the difficult tasks of quantifying revenues and selling headline grabbing reports, there are indications that SaaS is taking hold. IDC predicts that SaaS revenues will grow by 40% this year over 2008.    They claim that next year, 45% of US firms will spend at least a quarter of their IT budget on SaaS.  Takeup is considerably behind outside N America.   Within the IT Management software segment, Forrester estimates the SaaS delivery was 1% in 2008 and will reach 10% in 2013 with HP, CA, BMC, IBM and Symantec as the main players.  A recent Gartner survey of enterprises found that the major purchase drivers are cost effectiveness, ease of deployment, followed by underperforming on-premises solutions and changes in sourcing strategy.  They also found that in the US, a fifth of enterprises had been using SaaS for over 5 years and 60% had adopted it in the last 3 years.

SaaS is a significant delivery route in the US and is growing rapidly though from a much smaller base outside the US.   And that delivery does change the way consumers and businesses make brand decisions,  purchase and upgrade, something I will expand upon soon.

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