Accelerating (and Fast-Starting) the SME Business at Oracle (and SAP) - Part 4

Part 1 of this blog series outlined Oracle’s recent (and seemingly genuine) change of heart and approach towards partnering and catering enterprise applications to small and medium enterprises (SMEs). The analysis then moved onto the Oracle Accelerate program, which was launched about three years ago to allow partners to sell more of smaller projects in a fixed time and price manner.

Oracle Accelerate is not only a partner program but also Oracle’s go-to-market approach to provide business software solutions to midsize organizations. Part 1 described the main constituent parts of the approach, while Part 2 talked about the program’s current state of affairs. Part 3 of this blog series analyzed the program’s latest partner-enablement developments as well as the inevitable room for improvements.

This final part will analyze the offering that Oracle Accelerate is most likely to face in the market, which is SAP Business All-in-One. The series will end with analyzing mid-market enterprise resource planning (ERP) incumbents with an innate industry focus (i.e., without the need for templates and pre-configured approaches) as well as with general conclusions and recommendations. 

SAP Business All-in-One for (Upper) Midsize Companies

Similar to Oracle Accelerate, SAP Business All-in-One is a comprehensive integrated offering for midsize companies with up to 2,500 employees looking for a scalable industry-oriented solution. Since being unveiled in the early 2000s, SAP Business All-in-One has garnered over 12,000 customers in over 120 countries via over 700 qualified partner industry-specific solutions (with so-called “best practices”).

As said in previous parts, Oracle has over 12,000 midsize ERP customers and over 25,000 midsize applications customers. Since Oracle Accelerate does not compete at the level of SAP Business One, Oracle believes to compare favorably against SAP Business All-in-One.

The All-in-One offering is a template-based and configurable derivative of the flagship SAP Business Suite and is available in over 50 countries. It can be deployed on-premise and licensed in a traditional manner (with options for hosting by partners), with typical reported go-live timeframes of 8 to 16 weeks.

SAP touts as the SME “secret sauce” its globally harmonized baseline, which is the SAP Business All-in-One foundation, replete with packages of industry best practices for SAP and its partners to build upon. With this foundation SAP delivers a holistic, integrated service-oriented architecture (SOA)-based application built on a single code base.

Conversely, the Oracle Accelerate program is assembled from different products without complete integration between them. Oracle points out that its Accelerate solutions are complete bundles and come with all necessary integrated components. Oracle has solutions for different ERP products (i.e. Oracle JD Edwards EenterpriseOne and E-Business Suite [EBS]), but these are complete solutions and do not require integration to each other. 

For solutions with so-called Edge products like Hyperion Enterprise Performance Management, the solution providers are experts in integrating them to JD Edwards, EBS, or even SAP. Some Oracle Accelerate partners and customers will still have to acquire skills from multiple product lines and/or adopt Oracle Fusion Middleware (OFM) as a means of cohesion.

The SAP Business All-in-One foundation contains templates for rapid implementation with the methodology, documentation, and preconfigured scenarios (business process libraries) for 24 industries and over 50 country localizations. The foundation not only embodies the collective experience of SAP and its partners over 40,000 deployments in three decades, but also empowers SAP and its partners to capture and deliver new knowledge cost-effectively.

While SAP and its partners across multiple industries and geographies all develop from the same base, customers get to choose from a library of world-class processes. The goal is for SME customers to enjoy capabilities of large enterprises with lower risk, cost, and implementation time.

Explaining Best Practices

When a project involves a deployment of an SAP Business All-in-One instance, the project team must configure the system via a process of "flipping switches" and providing data that will dictate how the system conducts a business process. This system setup procedure involves entering settings and data into the system setup tables, whereby some settings and data can be commonly defined for all processes.

But some settings and data can only be commonly defined for groups of processes, while some settings are data unique for specific processes or variations of a process (e.g., "procurement with quality management" vs. "procurement without quality management"). SAP’s best practices accelerate this configuration process in two steps.

Step one is to define/specify how the process "should" work after the system is configured. This is done by working with SAP’s industry development teams and partners based on their vast experience (so that customers don't have to reinvent the wheel). Customers get the tried and true processes, or, “industry best practices.”

In step two, SAP’s industry best practices organize and bundle these settings in a way that can be flexibly "picked" based on a “scenario" and then copied and activated in a system fairly quickly in a batch manner (instead of manually going in and flipping each setting one by one). Based on which business process scenarios users pick, they can activate only the processes/scenarios that they need.

Although people describe SAP's and Oracle’s SME packages as “templates” this is not quite correct, since a template could be perceived as rigid and fixed. With SAP’s Best Practices and Oracle’s Leading Practices, users are able to flexibly pick and choose how they want their processes to work based on which scenarios are selected, and they can flexibly overwrite and personalize the scenarios prior to activationin in either SAP’s Best Practices Solution Builder or Oracle Business Accelerator (OBA).

The Fast-Start Foundation

While SAP single global All-in-One baseline has its advantages in terms of achieving a corporate-wide standard, to Oracle’s advantage comes a much wider functional footprint of its Accelerate program (albeit from disparate Oracle products). Namely, until 2008, SAP Business All-in-One functionality involved only core ERP functionality, while the customer relationship management (CRM)product lifecycle management (PLM), or business intelligence (BI) modules had to be implemented in a traditional manner (without best practices).

CRM capabilities were added to SAP Business All-in-One in late 2008 and have since been rolled out to over 30 countries across all regions. The CRM best practices are available in 17 languages, and SAP cites over 190 CRM-enabled partners.

In early 2008, SAP introduced the SAP Business All-in-One Fast-Start Program for smaller midsize companies. The idea behind the program is to offer even more pre-tested and preinstalled solutions with a predictable project scope to get customers up and running in 6 to 8 weeks.

SAP’s Fast-Start program targets the software acquisition process and captures prospective customers’ interest much earlier in the sales cycle than Oracle Accelerate does. To that end, prospective SAP customers can use a localized online Solution Configurator that is built on top of SAP’s industry best practices to choose the processes that are critical to their business and industry. The SAP Fast-Start Solution Configurator is an intuitive online tool that simplifies configuration choices, and provides the prospective customer with an immediate ballpark cost estimate in terms of software, hardware, and implementation services to be acquired.

Cost Estimates as a Door-opener

The Solution Configurator also delivers a report that can be shared with others in the company. The Web site acts as a matchmaker with local SAP Business All-in-One partners or SAP branch office that can advise the company on the next steps leading to the implementation phase.

Not everything is done online as self-service, though. Namely, SAP and its All-in-One Fast-Start partners can use a Demo Assistant tool, which, based off the configurator data and customer interviews, can assemble a personalized demonstration of the prospect’s business-specific scenarios in person.

The ability of customers to select their industry relevant business processes, scope, and price a solution ahead of purchase (using the solution configurator) has proven to be a good mechanism to open doors. In early 2009, SAP announced added innovations to its SAP Business All-in-One Fast-Start program by more broadly deploying its online Solution Configurator to now include partner offerings and SAP’s CRM modules.

The Fast-Start program has seen a strong momentum since it was launched in early 2008. The offering is available in 25 languages and has been rolled out to 47 countries across all major regions. Selected channel partners are participating (currently at about 20 percent participation) and the offering is supported by the following 6 major hardware partners: Novell, IBM Wipro, Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard (HP), and Fujitsu.

But while Oracle admits to SAP’s solution configurator’s great lead generation capabilities (and the attraction for customers to know that both SAP and its partners in the SAP Business All-in-One Fast-Start program are committed to the estimated costs online solution configurator), these ballpark cost estimates are subject to up to about 20 percent variances when the implementation begins in earnest. Therefore, when an Oracle Accelerate solution manages to get to the final showdown, Oracle’s ability to virtually begin the instance configuration (and implementation) during the sales cycle (as mentioned in Part 2) often helps to keep the fixed-cost project in check.

SAP might also have more incentives for partners by letting them provide industry-specific solutions (and their intellectual property) as needed on top of the SAP Business All-in-One baseline. SAP Business All-in-One partners provide industry-specific processes, qualified partner solutions, and pre-built integration with expert partner solutions in SAP’s Industry Vertical Network (IVN). Oracle Accelerate still has a limited collaboration and brokering with partners to deliver pre-built solutions.

Adding a BI Edge

In 2009, SAP Business All-in-One was bolstered by the integration of SAP BusinessObjects Edge BI/business performance management (BPM) solutions for midsize companies with up to 2,500 employees. These companies need scalable BI/BPM tools designed, packaged and priced for the mid-market. The offering, available in 12 languages and sold by over 2,200 SAP BusinessObjects-focused local partners, can be deployed on-premise and licensed in a traditional manner (with options for a free trial), with typical reported go-live timeframes of 4 to 8 weeks.

Comprehensive functionality, including flexible reporting, ad-hoc querying and analysis, dashboards, extract, transform, load (ETL), and data quality assurance, were packaged so that SME’s can start anywhere and grow as required with minimal IT support. Smaller companies can benefit immediately from pre-built reports and dashboards for SAP’s Financials and Logistics modules tailored to midsize companies.

Forget Not About Mid-market Incumbents with Innate Industry Focus

Let us not forget that there is still an abundance of incumbent mid-market ERP providers that have long designed their products for fit within specific industry segments. Their argument is that there is no need to pre-configure or “template-ise” a product if it already fits certain industry requirements like a glove.

For example, Deltek and IFS offer functionality for project-driven organizations (services- and manufacturing-oriented, respectively), CDC Software targets process industries, Epicor Software has a retail-oriented division, Consona and Infor have acquired a number of vertically-oriented products, SYSPRO, QAD, Lawson Software, Plex Systems, NetSuite, and IQMS have always targeted only a select few sectors, Microsoft Dynamics gets many industry flavors via partner add-on solutions, and so on and so forth.

To keep implementations in check, these vendors offer methodologies like SYSPRO’s STARS (Structured Technique to Achieve a Rapid Solution) or Microsoft Dynamics’ Sure Step. These implementation methodologies introduce structure, predefined documentation, and benchmarked time frames for certain implementation tasks. They also help to introduce structure to the user training and application acclimation process, but are only involved once the customer has signed the contract, not really in the early sales cycle.

Likewise, although long targeting a few industries, Lawson recently introduced QuickStep preconfigured solutions developed on a foundation of Lawson industry-specific knowledge and industry best practices. Again, one should think of these solutions as prototypes that can speed software implementation by pre-configuring 70-90 percent of specific processes within the applications. At the same time, these applications are fully functioning – not "light" versions and can be easily added and integrated to other Lawson applications. 

To Accelerate (Fast Start) or Not?

Thus, one conclusion would be that accelerated solutions are suitable for organizations that want to implement without major modifications, yet still expect continuous improvement over the long term. Other types of companies that might find a rapid configuration approach appealing include the following:

  • Companies divested from larger companies or autonomous divisions of large companies

  • Companies facing the need for quick action to respond to industry or market pressures

  • Companies with hodgepodges of legacy and other non-integrated (if not even disintegrating) systems

Companies that don’t fit into the above categories will not necessarily benefit from template-based, accelerated solutions. Rapidly configurable products’ deployments require a deep understanding of the prospective customer’s business and any possible constraints of both the business and the suggested solution. The project has to be led by business users rather than the IT department, with a large degree of internal consensus and the ability to agree on standardized processes, which means no extensive system modifications or scope creep.

There may also be some restrictions on the eligible number of users and/or transaction throughputs (volumes) in some prepackaged and/or accelerated deployments.  For more details on "pro and contra's" of fast-tracked implementations, see TEC's previous article entitled "Fast-path Implementations - Are They Good or Bad?"

To be more accurate, this limitation is not true of accelerated implementations for JD Edwards EnterpriseOne.  OBA's do not limit or constrain the number of uses or transaction volume throughput of the system, as they are simply assisting with the parameterization of the system.

At the end of the day, from a deployment perspective, success should come from not only providing good enough vertical functionality to the customer, but also from communicating and committing to the deployment time frames and costs upfront. This is critical for easing buyers’ habitual concerns regarding enterprise applications implementations.

Dear readers, what are your views, comments, opinions, etc. about Oracle’ and SAP’s partnering approaches, and about the Oracle Accelerate and counterpart SAP SME programs per se? If you are these programs reseller and/or recipient, I would appreciate you sharing your experiences with the offering and the provider. How about solutions from the abovementioned incumbent mid-market ERP providers’ offerings?
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