Designer Jeans and Enterprise Software
One of the biggest problems with industry analysts is our desire to bucket technology into CRM, ECM, ERP, etc. There is sound logic to this, in that there are standard functionalities and capabilities that can compare and contrast between vendor X, Y & Z. But how those systems get used in the real world will differ enormously. The technologies share common characteristics, but one size does not fit all. So the danger with this bucketing is to imagine that the technologies’ uses and adoption will somehow be consistent across different organizations.
Recently I was talking with a senior director at IFS, who said “I am seeing different speeds of technology adoption in different verticals, and maturity of the companies within those verticals”, others in similar positions say the same. To put it another way, there has to be a burning reason to adopt or upgrade technologies within a competitive environment. Otherwise, it’s not a priority, or maybe not even worth doing. In the real world, if your competitors aren’t doing it, then you likely won’t either. That is why we see different technology adoption curves in different sectors.
We can also argue that adopting new technology always comes down to people’s issues rather than technology issues. Is it worth the effort, will it work for ‘us,’ we do just fine, why change, etc.? Some years ago, I was advising a client that was building out a nationwide online package tracking system; the technology shortlist they had come up with included CRM, Web Content Management, ERP, and portal software. None on the shortlist would live in the same Gartner MQ or Forrester Wave, yet surprisingly, all of them could meet the client’s needs by taking differing approaches. Which approach best met their skills, requirements, and customer needs? In the end, they simply chose to develop on top of their existing CRM system, and it all worked out well. The lesson here is that none of the tools the analysts would have recommended to do this job, products that are specifically designed to meet the needs, was chosen. More and more buyers are now taking a step back and asking themselves, what is our goal, and what internal resources, infrastructure, and skills do we have to meet that goal? Once they understand that, then they chose a product to work with, they find something that fits their needs, rather than fit themselves around the product.
Product leaders do exist in the enterprise software world, in so far as some vendors sell more than others do, or have more sophisticated products than their nearest competitors. But buyers have specific needs, not a generic market need. Just as Levi 501’s looks great on one person; on another, they look like a sack of potatoes. Likewise, ‘7 For All Mankind’ or ‘Paige’ jeans are a ridiculous and expensive splurge to one person but worth every penny, as they are perfect for another. If you look at our reports on Dropbox, Citrix & Egnyte, you will see three products that reside in the same ‘analyst world,’ but a closer look shows three different products designed to meet different needs.
At Deep Analysis, we use industry terminology and we are well aware of who competes with who in which bucket. But that’s not of great interest to us; we are looking instead for the elements of innovation, the differences that set them apart, rather than what they have in common. If you read our Vendor Vignette Reports, you will find all sorts of products examined in some detail, from Cognitive Capture to Blockchain and beyond. As from our point of view, you should never be limited by an imaginary shortlist of products that look much the same as one another. All this is not to say that Magic Quadrants and Waves are without value; far from it, the analysts work hard at those firms to generate interesting and useful research. We know many of them well and have great respect for their work. Instead, it is to point out that if you are having challenges or want to reinvent your customer management, supply chain, document management, etc, don’t think for one moment, that you are restricted to choosing between CRM, ERP, or ECM products. You have far more choice than you think, and somewhere out there is a near-perfect fit waiting to be found.
Alan Pelz-Sharpe is the founder of Deep Analysis. He has over 25 years of experience in the IT industry, working with a wide variety of end-user organizations like FedEx, The Mayo Clinic, and Allstate, and vendors ranging from Oracle and IBM to startups around the world. Alan was formerly a Partner at The Real Story Group, Consulting Director at Indian Services firm Wipro, Research Director at 451, and VP for North America at industry analyst firm Ovum. He is regularly quoted in the press, including the Wall Street Journal and The Guardian, and has appeared on the BBC, CNBC, and ABC as an expert guest.