The Caution Behind Business ByDesign
Coming into SAP's Sapphire conference this week, a number of bloggers, tech analysts and Wall Street researchers were looking for answers around recent decisions on SAP's Business ByDesign product line. Business ByDesign is a relatively new offering from SAP and represents a huge investment by SAP in the Software as a Service (SaaS) space. During a recent earnings call, SAP executives indicated a more cautious approach to the continuing rollout of this product line.
After three meetings today with senior SAP executives, there is now more clarity around SAP's recent moves. We spoke with Henning Kagermann (outgoing CEO), Leo Apotheker (incoming CEO) and others. What we learned was:
- The product is not performing to the cost expectations the company had set for it and, as such, was not operating at the level of TCO (total cost of ownership) that the firm needed for it to be a profitable solution. A high TCO is not something investors or Wall Street would appreciate.
- The root cause of the higher than expected TCO was apparently related to two major items. First, the version of NetWeaver (SAP's development and execution software stack) being used by the Business ByDesign solutions is out of date and needs to be updated to version 7.1 once it's completed. When that's accomplished, the solution should run more cost effectively. Second, the upgrade process (e.g., the upgrade from Version 1.0 to 1.1) turns out to need more automation so that fewer errors are made and human intervention is reduced. Human intervention triggers added costs and introduces potential errors. This creates quality and cost problems.
SAP executives admitted that their new on-demand solution encountered challenges the company had previously never encountered. First, SaaS was an entirely new space. Second, the company couldn't fully 'leverage their 35 year experience' in application software as these customers were not the typical SAP customer and the solution would be used differently than its prior on-premise solutions. One SAP executive said they "thought they knew this market" but that wasn't exactly true. Lastly, their development staff was caught by surprise as the they did not have the same level of control with this product as they have had with other product lines.
Business ByDesign has been an expensive development exercise for SAP. One source indicated some 2000 persons were involved in the creation of the product. While further development efforts are being scaled back, this has more to do with a planned development deceleration and a need to wait for the NetWeaver architecture to be implemented. In creating the product, one executive commented that the company made hundreds or thousands of assumptions (e.g., how quickly customer deals would occur, what response rate is needed for acceptable performance, the targeted TCO, etc.) and some of these assumptions now require a rethink.
Bottom line for Business ByDemand is that:
- sales will continue in six countries: France, US, UK, China, Germany and India but not beyond these for now
- the company will continue to focus its TCO reduction efforts on cutting the cost of hot-patching, hosting, upgrading and on-going operations. Moving their hosting centers to low-cost countries (for a labor arbitrage) is not being considered for now.
- the $149/user cost figure is being held. TCO will be reduced while customer cost will not be increased.
- adjustments by SAP should take 12-18 months to complete