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How will software M&A shape up during the last quarter of 2009?

Activity will definitely pick up – but valuations will be lower than usual

Too tough to predict

Activity will slow further

Simplicity: What’s Next in Business Software

By Anthony Deighton, Senior VP of Marketing, QlikTech

There is a widening gap today between what software users experience in their work environment and what is available on the Web. As the line between work and home life blurs, people expect the applications they use at work to be as clear, simple and user-driven as the applications they use to run their personal lives.

Companies today are much smarter about purchasing software. They’re insisting on solutions that have a faster time-to-market, higher ROI and better end-user adoptability. Enterprise vendors must embrace the philosophy of simplicity in business software or risk being sidelined by innovative, emerging vendors in the near future.

Why Enterprise Software Is So Complex
Traditionally, business software had been purchased by senior executives focusing on automating business processes and solving performance issues without a priority of making the solution user-friendly or ‘fun’ for their end-users.

Take an enterprise vendor like SAP, Oracle or Microsoft, their job was to sell to a top IT manager. The pitch? “Our product will solve your business problem by giving you control over your business processes.” Reading between the lines, the sales message was also, “It will be easier to keep your users in a box and control them as well.”

Nowhere in the list of selection criteria was ‘easy to use,’ ‘makes it easier for users to do their everyday work,’ or ‘an enjoyable experience for users.’ Enterprise software was conventionally understood to be complex, so these requirements couldn’t factor into the decision-making process.

The top IT manager making the buying decision wasn’t terribly concerned with implementation times, either. Again, conventional wisdom accepted that deployments and time to value was measured in years. Integration was a big concern so it was critical that the vendor would have a large team that would deliver whatever integration or customization services that would be needed. This gave rise to the multi-billion dollar market for implementation services.

So enterprise buyers were often forced to choose between a solution that was extremely expensive and took a long time to implement, or a product that was inexpensive and could be implemented quickly. The scary truth is that buyers most always chose the more expensive option.

Software companies figured out this purchase process dynamic very quickly. Vendors realized they could raise their prices and actually increase demand because buyers associated a high price tag with high-value solutions.

A Divergence between Users and Megavendors
But the enterprise software world has changed dramatically. There has been a great divergence between the offerings of traditional vendors and the needs of today’s business software buyers.

The ‘consumerization’ of enterprise software is rapidly underway. In today’s Web 2.0 and Internet-driven world, consumers download applications and use them on their own. Their expectations are that the software they use at work will be equally powerful, simple and engaging.

It is easy to see evidence of this divergence by looking at the market for email. Microsoft Outlook is typically purchased by the organization and given to the user. It is very complex and difficult to use. Compare that experience to using any of the personal email products – Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, or others. These applications enable access to email from any computer on the planet via a simple interface. They have fewer features but are far easier to use than Outlook.

Today’s software users are driving the success of enterprise software deployments – because they determine if and how a product will be used – not IT, and not necessarily senior executives. The experience is very different for users than it used to be.

In QlikTech’s field, business intelligence, the traditional tools for analyzing a company’s performance were business intelligence or corporate dashboard systems. Most were created during the era of ‘Big ERP’ – and were designed to follow those same traditional buying process. Likewise, these products were very difficult to use, took a long time to implement and expensive. Again, they served as a form of corporate control.

But there’s been a sea change of solutions that make it possible for users to quickly access specific information on their own. It’s the same Web 2.0 dynamic which allows people to communicate with colleagues in any number of ways without needing Outlook.

Vendors of the ‘Simple’ Revolution
The revolution in user demands for enterprise software simplicity is driving a stake in the ground between innovative emerging vendors and the traditional ‘stack’ vendors. Platform megavendors understand the trend towards simplicity and pay lip service to supporting user demands, but the reality is that they simply can’t. Despite their attempts to offer new, simpler products, the fact is that their business models are predicated on keeping software complex.

It is the ‘Innovator’s Dilemma:’ If they make new products that are simple to implement and easy to use, they will lose their massive streams of services revenue. Their sales models are based on selling big deals. A switch to simplicity will crater their businesses.

It isn’t just happening in major ERP application markets. Even in our market – business intelligence – best-of-breed leaders such as Cognos, Hyperion, Business Objects and Proclarity have all been acquired in the last few years by megavendors. The acquisitions serve the megavendors need for long implementation times and the major revenue stream which accompanies it. The objective of these mergers is to protect their entrenched businesses, not to improve ROI for customers or improve the user experience.

Hallmarks of ‘Simple’ Software
As the chorus of enterprise demands for more simple solutions becomes louder, there are several characteristics which software vendors need to emulate in order to best serve customers today.
  • A Robust Offering
    ‘Simple’ is not synonymous with ‘lite.’ The functionality, interoperability and robustness of any Web 2.0 application must be similar to that of traditional offerings. The key is to leverage Internet-powered technology and new business model efficiencies to deliver a user-friendly, enjoyable software experience.
  • A Focus on the User
    For decades, enterprise software vendors have been focusing their sales efforts on the wrong buyer: the top IT executive. This buyer’s main concern is whether it is possible to install an application on 30,000 laptops in a timely and secure manner. Another big consideration on whether to upgrade to a new version of a product is how much of the release is ‘new.’

    Office 2007 was aimed at this buyer. Microsoft created the suite with an ‘over the shoulder’ criteria in mind: If a buyer looked at a user’s screen over his or her shoulder, it would look significantly different from prior versions of Office. As anyone who uses Office 2007 can attest, this is certainly true. But the functionality and usability of the suite changed to the point that many longtime Office users cannot use the new icon-driven menus. By ignoring the needs of the user and focusing solely on the ‘big deal’ sales process, Microsoft hampered the adoption of Office 2007.
  • A Revamped Value Chain
    The innovative vendors who are delivering simple software applications are building their entire business behind this concept. It’s not just about making the product less complicated for the user, it is also about making the business of the software business less complicated. If you focus only on the software, then you’re only solving part of the problem. It is critical to pick partner vendors and service providers who also believe in delivering simple solutions.
  • Fast Sales & Implementation Process
    For the innovative vendors operating in this new ‘simple’ software space, a fast sales and implementation cycle is critical. The products are designed to be easy for users to use but they also must be quick to deliver value to the business. At QlikTech, we operate on an average-32-day sales cycle and take 1 – 2 weeks to implement the product. This speed enables us to return as soon as two weeks later to offer follow-on products and services.
  • A Relentless Pursuit of Simplicity
    After the business is aligned, it is all about the software. ‘Simple’ vendors must have a relentless focus on making the products more usable and faster to deploy. In QlikTech’s history, there have been temptations to lose our ‘simple’ focus, perhaps by adding a feature that is difficult to implement or partnering with a traditional vendor. But we chose the ‘simple’ path at each fork in the road and have realized tremendous success for our vendor partners along the way. By building our whole company around this philosophy, the simple approach becomes self supporting.

Simplify or Die
For traditional enterprise vendors, the ‘simple’ revolution in business software isn’t like asking kids to eat their broccoli. It isn’t something they should do to improve their health; it is something they must do to stay alive.

In five years, we will not see the traditional vendors that buried their heads in the sand and didn’t accept this new reality. They may still be hanging on but their days will be numbered.

Today’s college grads are joining the workforce without knowing a world without high-speed Internet access. They’ve never used an application that couldn’t be used via a Web browser. They’ve never bought a physical music CD. They can access their friends within seconds via Facebook, IM, texting, email, telephone or any number of other vehicles.

With each heartbeat, user expectations get higher and higher. Traditional software executives can sit around pining for the old days of the business or they can accept reality and start making ‘simple’ changes which will ensure their company’s survival in the future.

Anthony Deighton is Senior VP of Marketing for QlikTech. Most recently, he was the General Manager of Siebel System’s Employee Relationship Management (ERM) business unit. Prior to joining Siebel, Anthony worked as a management consultant at A.T. Kearney in Chicago. For article feedback, contact Anthony at anthony.deighton@qliktech.com 

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