IT benefits from big vendors' slow on-demand plays

I won't exactly eat the words I wrote when I said the spate of BI acquisitions a several months back meant boutique vendors were on their way out, leaving IT with far fewer choices in the future. Instead, due to the fast maturing SaaS side of the software industry, I will amend those words, somewhat drastically. To refresh your memory, the accelerated pace of acquistions such as SAP's purchase of Business Object

I won't exactly eat the words I wrote when I said the spate of BI acquisitions a several months back meant boutique vendors were on their way out, leaving IT with far fewer choices in the future. Instead, due to the fast maturing SaaS side of the software industry, I will amend those words, somewhat drastically.

To refresh your memory, the accelerated pace of acquistions such as SAP's purchase of Business Objects, IBM's Cognos play, and Oracle's buyout of Hyperion led me to believe point solutions were fast becoming an endangered species.

Now, I have to agree with Josh Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting.

"The [SaaS] market has opened up tremendously to a rich infusion of on-demand business models, and that is a positive force in the industry," Greenbaum told me.

I couldn't agree more.

Add to this the fact that the three top vendors aren't fully in the game yet, and you can see how boutique-provider extinction remains a ways away.

SAP, for example, has backed off its proposed 2008 launch of BBD (Business By Design). SAP put a lot into legitimizing the concept for the enterprise but has been forced to slow down its delivery.

Oracle, on the other hand, has been in the market for many years, but it doesn't have a product comparable to what BBD promises. Oracle has instead more or less followed the ASP model of hosting. Moreover, CEO Larry Ellison has said Oracle does not intend to enter the smaller end of the SaaS market. See Bill Snyder's "Out in the cold: small businesses' ERP deficit" for more on what is unfolding in this space.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is just at the beginning of its real SaaS efforts, announcing only late last month that it will begin hosting its CRM solution.

Such hesitations and nascent efforts from the big players open the floodgates for a deluge of even more vendors.

Smaller, more nimble companies such as PivotLink, a SaaS BI vendor, now have the opportunity to show the world what they can do.

PivotLink was built from the ground up as a SaaS BI solution, and if Greenbaum is right, thanks to SaaS "we will see a lot of 'fun' solutions" like this.

PivotLinks customers include REI, Shakleee, and Rossignol -- not a bad list of midsize companies.

The secret behind PivotLinks' current customer list is probably the fact that its implementation, like many SaaS solutions, requires no major upfront investment, can be deployed rapidly, and is significantly easier to roll out than an on-premises solution. A company such as PivotLink can say to its customers, "Send us a simple flat file." The service allows customers to send unstructured data, which it analyzes and processes in memory for a real-time response. And PivotLink is just the first of many to come.

So what might be bad news for SAP is good news for companies that want choice and flexibility without tying up their budgets for the next year or two.

And, the key area where you will see major SaaS growth is in BI, says Greenbaum. Prior to SaaS, BI has always been expensive and hard to implement. With SaaS, BI lowers the TCO without sacrificing a lot of functionality.

BI and analytics in general are ripe for SaaS players because there is a great deal of synergy to pull in to an on-demand model.

So, let's just say I take back what I said. Companies will in fact have the variety of solutions they want without fear of major lock-in with a single vendor.

Then again, the giants don't give up easily.

If anything, Microsoft is emblematic of a company that refuses to throw in the towel. Redmond will keep trying until it gets it right. Maybe that's where the smart money should place its bet -- because I'm not so sure SAP has the same intestinal fortitude or that Oracle will ever decide that they just can't buy what they need.

We'll just have to wait and see.

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