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A recent post by Rajiv Kapoor on Marketo’s blog prompted me to think about the current tech cycle we’re in and how it might play out.

Specifically, I wonder if the new crop of hyper-fast-growing independent software providers led by marketing kings, Marketo, Hubspot and HootSuite wrestle the enterprise market away from incumbent full-suite software giants such as SAP, Oracle, NetSuite and

Now, you might find a funny pick for “incumbent full-suite software giant”, but as far as offering a large integrated suite of sales, marketing and customer service functionality – plus a complete cloud services offering – they certainly fit the bill.

Rajiv’s point of view is that the time for independent software vendors has arrived – primarily because application integration is so easy to do.

Hmmm, I’m not so sure about that. Some of what’s going on is eerily familiar to me.

You see, I’ve been in and out of the enterprise software business for more than 25 years. This means I’ve been through at least 4 major tech cycles like the cloud computing/SaaS cycle we are living through right now.

What’s Different This Time

There are many things different about enterprise software today, of course.

Most software today is sold on a service/subscription basis for example. A lot of it is also hosted in the cloud, so legacy license and hardware “hooks” into enterprise IT infrastructures aren’t as common as they used to be.

As Rajiv explained quite eloquently in his post, the most striking difference is that integrating applications is a lot easier to accomplish today than at any time in history.

APIs and open standards have greatly simplified the work it takes to tie two systems together – in real time if you want. What used to take your most experienced developers months to accomplish now takes a junior engineer a day or two.

This explains why leading independent application providers like Marketo, Hubspot, and HootSuite have taken a “platform” approach to growing their feature footprint by partnering with complimentary app providers, rather than building every conceivable feature themselves. It’s just that easy.

A “knit together best of breed” strategy certainly seems like the right thing to do at this stage of the tech cycle. And for customers who don’t need every feature available (which is all of us), the platforms that surround each ISV lets them have the few bits of extra functionality we care about right now.

That said, it’s important to remember that the current tech cycle hasn’t played itself out yet. And these cycles have a certain rhythm to them.

So, while cheaper technical integration is great, is it really enough of a reason for independent application providers to win against full-suite vendors, long term?

You see, I remember the promise of J2EE, SOAP, XML and CORBA…

Signs Say…


There are emerging signs in the market that maybe this time isn’t so different, after all.

For example, when big system integrators and analytics firms start ramping up staff fast – as they are right now – there exists a pretty clear opportunity for full-suite providers to step-in and ease the integration pain for enterprises.

Also, CFOs seem to be getting more engaged with marketing system purchases and asking more ROI questions. That means bigger-ticket, more strategic initiatives may be coming next.

Some Things Are More Important than Integration

The full-suite software providers – SAP,, Netsuite and Oracle – also possess a few big advantages that in my opinion just haven’t played themselves out yet in this cycle.

For example,back in the “year 2000” software cycle (1998-2002), I worked as an associate partner at Accenture and a VP at an independent application vendor, Aspect Development (we sold to i2 for $9B, but that’s another story).

Although they were relatively late to the internet software game, the full-suite vendors at the time, SAP and Oracle, eventually sold the following benefits very effectively to take share from independents like us:

  • a single vendor to hold accountable for implementation across functional areas (huge, big, ginormous)
  • cross-functional enterprise reporting (sells well to the C-suite)
  • unique business-wide analytics (as a standard feature)
  • a few high-value capabilities that you can only get through deep integration of apps

These benefits trumped new technology in pretty much every deal in which they were a factor.

Today, the advantages above are also available to the full-suite providers in this cycle. Can’t see why they’re not, anyway.

Given the M&A to-date, it seems clear that Oracle, SAP and are squarely focused on pursuing these advantages, right now 😉

With Size Comes (Big Data) Advantages

Having a broader application footprint also gives you a strategic advantage when it comes to analytics.

For example, here are three important and trendy analytics-based capabilities that full-suite providers could press to win deals in today’s marketing-heavy purchase cycle:

  1. A “full pipeline view” of sales & marketing activities for each major market segment/geo… from advertising to engagement (HootSuite) to post-sale support (Zendesk). Including rational attribution of marketing and advertising expense, which is a really big problem in the fragmented world of digital marketing today.
  2. A 360 view of employee communications and engagement… from internal communications (Jive) to external-facing apps (Hootsuite) to traditional HR and finance apps (Workday). Employees are online 24/7, so job performance can be measured today like never before. Improves outsourcing relationships, too.
  3. Big Data / predictive analytics that leverage many different data stores to learn, automate and optimize micro-marketing and customer engagement tasks. Doing this requires data from one or more of the following systems: CRM, marketing automation, social media, digital advertising, inbound marketing and online direct response.

While it’s true that you CAN integrate multiple independent apps to accomplish the capabilities above, many large companies WON’T WANT to do this if they can help it – especially when it comes to stuff like analytics where skills are thin to non-existent.

When companies do try to integrate systems on their own, they often lose time and miss some benefits/features. It can be downright career-ending for some.

I guess some things in enterprise software – like addressing your customer’s Fears, Uncertainties and Doubts – never change.




Room for Everyone?

Frankly, I think there’s probably room for every vendor to grow right now, especially in social media marketing, marketing automation and social CRM.  So perhaps the whole debate is moot.

Nevertheless, I find strategic shifts like this interesting to watch. Huge implications for investors and customers, as well.

How about you – where do you see the enterprise software market headed next?

Will Independent Apps Outrun Enterprise Suites? by