Monday, February 27, 2012
My friend and associate Vinnie Mirchandani has written his second book, The New Technology Elite: How Great Companies Optimize Both Technology Consumption and Production. I asked Vinnie if I could write a review, and he provided a pre-release copy of his book.
I’d gotten bits and pieces of the book from Vinnie’s blog posts and excerpts he released on LinkedIn. But getting a look at the entire book is a whole other experience.
In this post, I'd like not only to review the book--I'd like to also review the author.
A Curious MindFor regular readers of the Spectator, Vinnie needs no introduction. I’ve been quoting and linking to him for years, even before I met him in person, around 2007. Since then, we’ve become friends. Among industry analysts, Vinnie is someone I consider like-minded.
At the same time, though, Vinnie is something of a strange cat. As a former Gartner analyst and PwC sourcing executive, his background is in enterprise software and vendor management (his blog title, Deal Architect, gives that away).
But over the past several years his focus has shifted to technology innovation more generally. Ever restless, he launched a second blog, New Florence, New Renaissance, I suspect, to help him on his flights of fancy outside the walls of enterprise IT. This has taken him far afield into areas such as nanotechnology, healthcare IT, sustainability, consumer electronics, mobility, and dozens of other corners of technology innovation. From time to time I try to scoop him, by sending him a link to some cool new application of technology, when I spot it. But generally, he’s not only spotted it himself: he’s also written about it. I still try, though.
Vinnie’s interests led to his 2010 book, The New Polymaths: Profiles in Compound-Technology Innovations. There he chronicled dozens of case-studies of organizations that are leveraging a wide range of technologies to solve the world’s grand challenges and improve our lives. Now in his second book, The New Technology Elite: How Great Companies Optimize Both Technology Consumption and Production, he weaves more case-studies into a larger story.
In Vinnie's view, some organizations that are, historically, buyers of information technology, are now turning into technology providers—as they embed new technology into their products and services. Virgin America, 3M, GE, and UPS are examples. At the same time, leading technology providers, such as Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook are becoming examples of best business practices, such as in their data center operations, retailing units, and supply chains. He then presents a framework for understanding what these organizations have in common: their 12 key attributes.
He concludes by examining the outside influences affecting these organizations, including the regulatory environment, their impact on society at large, and the ability (or lack thereof) of sell-side financial analysts to understand it all. Lest one think Vinnie is an unabashed technology enthusiast, these last three chapters strike a counterbalance—it’s not all positive.
A Disorienting ExperienceReading the book leads to one overriding impression: the pace of technology change is unprecedented. Sure, we all know this, generally. But, most of us really don’t.
The danger for anyone in a business leadership position today is to not recognize new entrants arising from outside traditional markets. At the same time, it’s no longer enough to look at best business practices within one’s own industry. Often, it’s players in other markets that are setting the bar higher. This is a problem for today’s market leaders, their customers and suppliers, and the analysts that cover them.
Vinnie’s fast-paced writing style matches his subject matter. Just one example: in Chapter 15, Vinnie discusses how quickly GPS technology evolved from in-auto dashboard systems, to standalone GPS devices, to smartphone apps—in less than a decade. He then launches into a discussion about technologies that are being embedded in home appliances, enabling them to connect to smartphones, tablets, and other devices and how this is leading to Samsung—a consumer electronics company—to take market share away from appliance market leaders, such as Whirlpool and Kenmore. He then jumps to an analysis of how difficult it is to forecast demand for new products such as Amazon’s Kindle, or Nintendo’s Wii.
If you have attention-deficit disorder, Vinnie’s book is for you. He piles on examples one after another, barely giving time to take a breath. For the rest of us, it is disorienting. But it serves a purpose: to give the reader overwhelming evidence of the magnitude and pace of the changes taking place in all industries.
A Positive ExampleAlthough his book is on new technologies, Vinnie’s research style is definitely old school. Today too many so-called industry analysts take the lazy way, getting nearly all of their information from vendor briefings and press releases, writing analysis that regurgitates vendor PR talking points, and rarely speaking directly to customers. As a result, they have no original insight.
Vinnie’s way requires more work, but it’s more rewarding: Do your homework, pick up the phone, talk to those at the center of the action, and learn something new.
Then, take a position. Those who engage with Vinnie on Twitter or in blog comments know that Vinnie doesn’t hedge his views. From time to time, I get into debates with him. Although sometimes I don’t agree with him, I respect that he doesn't arrive at a position lightly, and that his opinions are research-based. He doesn’t shoot from the hip. (At the same time, though, I do see an evolution of his thinking in the final version of the book, as compared to some of his earlier blog posts on the same subjects.)
So, there’s much to learn from The New Technology Elite. Moreover, there’s a lot to learn in imitating the author’s example.
The New Technology Elite can be pre-ordered from Amazon. My copy is already on order. It is now scheduled to ship in March, 2012.
Monday, February 20, 2012
In an SAP-sponsored post on ZDnet, SAP employee Eric Lai attempts to identify "four big problems" with multitenancy in cloud applications. As I am writing a soon-to-be published research report on cloud ERP, I was interested to hear Eric's take on the subject.
By way of definition, in a software-as-a-service application, the term multitenancy refers to an application architecture where a single instance of the system's application code and database serves multiple customers.
Please read Lai's entire post, as, in the interest of space, I will not quote from it extensively.
Lai gets off to a good start:Anyone can see how much more efficient [multitenancy] is versus the old server hosting model, where the ratio of server:customer is 1:1. Even using today’s Red Hat-type virtualization, each server can cram fewer users/customers onto itself than a true multitenant service.No argument there. But then he quickly goes downhill. He first draws a distinction between consumers and enterprise customers, which have "much more rigorous requirements." He then presents his four objections to multitenancy.
Besides their efficiency, multitenant services can scale easily. Both of these mean lower costs for the hosters/software vendors, and, potentially, lower prices for customers.
1. "It's Inflexible."Here, Lai doesn't really make a flexibility argument as much as a security and privacy argument. He points to privacy laws in some European regions that require data in some circumstances to be stored locally. But this is not an argument against multitenancy--it's an argument in favor of local data centers. A single-tenant system provider will need to build local data centers in the regions it serves, just as a multitenant provider will need to do so.
He then argues that multitenant systems might allow competitors on the same system to see each other's confidential information. I agree that IP theft is an increasing problem, especially with organized gangs of cyber-criminals in Eastern Europe and Asia, who in some cases may have the endorsement of their governments. (See, for example, this report.) But I do not know of a single cases where one tenant on a multitenant system was able to access the data of another customer on the same system. Tellingly, Lai provides not a single reference of such a confidentiality breach.
2. "It's Less Secure."He now makes the security argument again, from a different angle. Here he argues that a multitenant database gives a careless database administrator, or a malicious hacker, the opportunity to compromise, with one breach, the data of multiple customers rather than just a single customer. He overlooks the fact that if a DBA is careless with one database, he or she would probably be careless with multiple databases. Likewise, if a criminal is able to gain access to a single customer's database in a secured data center, he or she will probably be able to gain access to many or all of the customer databases in the same data center.
3. "It's Less Powerful."Here the argument is that the capabilities of the platform-as-a-service providers do not match the capabilities of traditional database tools. He points to Salesforce.com's database.com, Google App Engine, and Windows Azure as examples. Here, I find Lai's argument similar to that of Larry Ellison, head of SAP's arch-rival, Oracle.
In response I would point to the testimony of the head of development of one new enterprise SaaS provider. This individual came from a traditional enterprise software development and has now built sophisticated enterprise applications on both NetSuite's platform and on Force.com. He told me recently, "Frank, you wouldn't believe how easy it is to develop on these platforms. Things that used to take us months [at vendor X], we can now do in weeks or days."
Although I am no longer into software development, I am willing to stipulate that the newer cloud platform-as-a-service (PaaS) environments do not have all of the features and functions of traditional on-premise application development environments. (So also, in the old days we couldn't do as much with third-generation procedural languages, such as COBOL, as we could in assembler language. And, we couldn't do as much in 4GLs as we could in third generation.) But a PaaS removes an enormous amount of development work, by abstracting database, middleware, and user-interface functions, allowing the developer to focus on business logic. Furthermore, if (as I believe) PaaS is a disruptive technology, we should expect its capabilities to improve over time, and increasingly able to take on jobs that formerly could only be done by traditional tools.
4. "It May Be More Costly."Here he doesn't mean the cost to the customer, but the cost to the ISV who wants to move from a traditional on-premises software product to a cloud offering. He is arguing, in essence, that it is cheaper for the vendor to simply host his traditional product as a single-tenant offering (i.e. changing nothing) than to rewrite it as a true multi-tenant SaaS offering.
As an advocate for enterprise IT buyers, I have to ask, will that hosted offering will be less costly for customers? Lai doesn't say. But in his introductory paragraphs (quoted earlier), he indicates that multitenancy offers "lower costs for the hosters/software vendors, and, potentially, lower prices for customers." So he has contradicted himself in his own post.
A Puzzling PositionFinally, what I find strange about this SAP-sponsored blog post is that it seems to contradict SAP's own position relative to Business ByDesign (ByD).
ByD is a full multi-tenant ERP offering for SMBs. It is a well-known fact that SAP's first attempt at ByD employed a single-tenant architecture, similar to that proposed by Lai in his blog post. That iteration was not successful in that, according to SAP spokespeople, they could not get that approach to scale cost-effectively. So, SAP took an extra two years or so and rewrote ByD as a completely multi-tenant application. The system is rolling out in multiple geographies worldwide, in local data centers where required, presumably with security and privacy measures commensurate with SAP's high standards for customers. The system is cost-competitive with other SaaS ERP offerings and has grown quickly to over 1,000 customers at the end of 2011.
SAP now has such confidence in its ByD platform that it has made it the platform for developing its line-of-business applications, such as Sales OnDemand and Travel OnDemand, for its large enterprise customers--presumably the ones with the most demanding security and privacy requirements.
Now, at the top of the post, ZDnet does make the disclaimer, "Eric's views are his alone and do not necessarily represent those of SAP." Still, as I mentioned, I find it puzzling that Lai's views appear to be closer to Larry Ellison's than those of his employer.
I am waiting for SAP's rebuttal to its own sponsored post.
Update: Eric Lai responds in the comments below.
Update, Feb.23: Please read the more detailed response on SDN by Sybase's Eric Farrar.
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Monday, February 13, 2012
An ERP sales professional, whom I've know for many years, recently called to let me know he'd taken a new job with Glovia International. I indicated that I hadn't heard anything about Glovia recently. Maybe now I could get an update.
So he arranged a briefing with James Gorham, who heads up Glovia's North American business, for me and two of my senior associates at Strativa, Bob Gilson and Nick Hann.
A Long HistoryGlovia's roots go back to the 1970s, when Xerox Computer Services launched a time-sharing application for manufacturing companies. The product went through several iterations and was eventually relaunched in client-server form in 1990 as Xerox Chess. The company was acquired in 2000 by Fujitsu, who renamed it Glovia.
For many years, Glovia has been a well-respected mid-market ERP solution for automotive manufacturers, aerospace and defense contractors, capital equipment makers, and other industries. In the past, when I was looking for solid functionality for project-based manufacturers, Glovia would be one of the first to come to mind.
But, as just mentioned, that changed about two or three years ago, when Glovia suddenly fell off my radar. I knew they were still in business--I just never saw them in deals or even in press releases. They wouldn't even respond to my inquiries.
In our briefing with Gorham, we soon found out why. Glovia had undertaken a deliberate strategy three years ago to pull back, abandon all new sales efforts, and invest in rewriting the entire product.
Retrenchment StrategyGlovia system had been developed in McDonnell Douglas's PROIV 4GL language, which though a good language, was not a platform with a wide developer base. They spent two years to rewrite the product with a service-oriented architecture, migrating the business logic to .NET, developing a new user-interface in Microsoft Silverlight, and providing a full deployment of web services with over 140 integration points. The latest version of Glovia runs on Oracle's database and is being released for Microsoft SQL as well.
Now here's the interesting part: during this retrenchment period, Glovia was profitable and actually grew, through organic growth of its existing customers adding new plants, new acquisitions, and new users. So, retrenchment turned out to be a good strategy during recessionary times: kill off marketing and net-new sales, redouble your service and support for your installed base, and invest in rewriting the product for a relaunch.
This retrenchment strategy (my term) could only work because Glovia had an enviable position as the incumbent for some very large and loyal customers, beginning with its corporate parent, Fujitsu, which deploys Glovia in 43 factories. Fujitsu had the resources to support any fall-off in Glovia's business, but as it turned out, Fujitsu's deep pockets weren't needed. Xerox (Glovia's former parent) is still a customer, as are several other large and well-known global brands, such as Panasonic, Dell, Carrier, Bridgestone, Avery Dennison, Honda, Honeywell, Phillips, and General Electric.
So, now the rewrite is complete. The functionality offered by Glovia for its target manufacturing industries--which was already well established--has grown even more impressive.
The rewrite also gave Glovia the opportunity to build mobility apps, which appear much further developed than many larger and better known competitors. Apps include work orders, financial apps such as expense reporting, purchase requisition approvals, and executive dashboards. Glovia even provides device management capabilities. Apple's iPhone and iPad are supported, as well as Android devices, Blackberry, and Windows Phone. Everything is developed in HTML5 and available through the appropriate apps store (e.g. iStore).
- It offers heavy visualization, with real-time graphical information flow.
- There is support for assemble-to-order and engineer-to-order, with "available to X" planning calculations, such as available-to-order, to-make, to-buy, and to-service.
- Production scheduling and optimization is granular down to the minute.
- There is load-balancing at all levels of production: the plant, cell, machine, skill, and person.
- The supply chain planning capabilities allow synchronization of supply to demand or demand to supply.
- Lean thinking permeates the execution functions, with the Toyota Production System natively embedded in the product.
- For defense contractors, there is the necessary "borrow-and-payback" functionality as well as pegging to contract.
There are even some nods to social business: Glovia gives engineers at different links in the supply chain the ability to collaborate. Planners also have visibility into customer and supplier engineering changes and inventory positions. Integration with Microsoft's Sharepoint is also provided.
What about the Cloud?These days, no briefing is complete without asking about cloud options. Glovia offers an on-premise deployment (of course) as well as an on-demand option. Although the on-demand version is currently a simple hosting arrangement, when Microsoft Azure is ready for enterprise applications, Glovia will be able to host its system on Microsoft's cloud, assuming customers demand it.
Separately, Glovia has built a set of manufacturing modules on Force.com to inter-operate with Salesforce.com's CRM system. These are full multi-tenant SaaS applications that provide functionality for product configuration, order management, inventory, manufacturing, invoicing, purchasing, and returns. These are separate and independent from Glovia's flagship G2 system.
My own view is that Glovia's current support and stated direction for cloud computing is probably sufficient for now in light of the industries and size of organizations that it targets.
Where is Glovia Headed?Behind us in Glovia's conference room was the obligatory "customer wall," with logos of Glovia's largest and most well-recognized customer names. My associate Nick Hann asked, "Three years from now, what will that wall look like?"
This led to an interesting discussion. Customer attrition during the retrenchment period was surprisingly low: a loss of any of these large customers would have been huge, and in fact none were lost. The sales team is now expanding to focus on new deals in addition to incremental sales into the installed base. There are also some resellers being added strategically for certain vertical industries.
Will Glovia be successful as it transitions from retrenchment to new sales? So far, some signs are promising. There are some big names in the sales funnel, including one Fortune 100 company. Interestingly, many of these new sales opportunities have come out of introductions by existing customers.
But will that be enough? The market is crowded, as Gorham noted, with SAP and Oracle gunning for the top tier of customers and Infor, Epicor, and IFS hungry for the mid-market and individual facilities of large multi-nationals. Syspro, Consona, and QAD also play in some markets and industries.
The markets that Glovia competes in are not under-served. In addition to the traditional players that Gorham identified, I would be concerned about newer cloud ERP providers: specifically Plex, which has a big bulls-eye on the automotive sector, NetSuite, and SAP's Business ByDesign.
Nevertheless, circling back to the retrenchment strategy: I like Glovia's story. How to leverage a recession to retrench and recover. In warfare, retreat is sometimes a good strategy, and in Glovia's case, the retrenchment appears to have paid off.
I hope Glovia's success continues, because buyers can only benefit by having a greater number of well-qualified choices.
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