September 19th, 2007
SAP gets SaaS: can it run with it?
Posted by Phil Wainewright

When talking to software vendors about SaaS, my mantra is that SaaS is a journey. Having seen SAP unveil its Business ByDesign product today — formerly codenamed A1S — I have to say it is on the right road and it has hit the tarmac at an impressive pace. There are still some factors that could steer it off-course, but SAP seems genuinely determined to learn everything it can about this new environment, and that’s the right frame of mind for achieving success with SaaS.

Here’s what SAP has done right with Business ByDesign:

Start from customer need. There’s been no attempt to repurpose an existing software product or feature set for SaaS delivery. “This is no longer an ERP system,” said Peter Zencke, the SAP executive board member who has led development of the product. “It is no longer a departmental solution. It is something that runs behind the scenery and touches every workplace.” Providing end-to-end automation of business processes that are important to midmarket companies, it cuts across CRM, human resources, collaboration, supply chain management, and, yes, financials. Rivals like NetSuite and Workday will be irked at SAP’s claims that no one has done this before, but the completeness of the offering is impressive.

Get the infrastructure right. Actually, this is a work in progress, but that merely emphasizes that SAP hasn’t underestimated the scale of the task. There’s evidently been a lot of debate within SAP about the ideal architecture for Business ByDesign and what I find really impressive is that SAP seems to have realized the true answer can only be found from experience. Questioned on the platform it’s chosen and whether it’s gone for a multitenant architecture, Zencke explained that SAP has gone for “complete virtualization at every layer,” while implementing what the company calls “database isolation” for individual customers within that shared infrastructure. This fits cleanly within any realistic definition of multi-tenancy, although how effective it is depends on how sophisticated the shared infrastructure really is at managing service delivery across multiple customers. That the Business ByDesign team fully understands this latter point became clear when, answering a later question about profitability, Henning Kagermann said that general availability will only come once SAP has understood how to scale the infrastructure while keeping costs under control. In other words, SAP recognises it won’t find the optimum way to tune the infrastructure until it’s got some more live production experience under its belt. That’s very astute.

Offer try-before-buy. This is by far the most impressive aspect of Business ByDesign as demonstrated today. Customers will be able to go to a website, select the set of features they want to implement, and get an instance provisioned within five minutes. They will then be able to get a full trial version up-and-running and start creating their implementation. The website will also have extensive documentation, help, and access to the community of existing customers and prospects. Business ByDesign does this better and more comprehensively than many of the current leading names in SaaS.

True subscription pricing. SAP has resisted the temptation to fudge this. Business ByDesign is offered at a sensible, competitive $195 per-user per-month subscription price, with no automatic multi-year lock-ins. In answer to a question at the launch about whether perpetual licenses will be offered in the future, deputy CEO Leo Apotheker said, “the market will decide future licensing models.” Given the debate there’s been within SAP about how Business ByDesign should be licensed, that’s a sensible position to hold, just in case market conditions change. But at present there’s little appetite in the market SAP is currently targeting with the product for anything other than the low-risk subscription model it has chosen to adopt.

True shared-services SOA. SAP has taken NetWeaver, its SOA platform, and demonstrated how to implement SOA in a pure shared-services model that keeps business processes completely separate from the underlying services definitions, maintains a completely interchangeable user interface, and is open to bringing in third-party services for any component.

Keep learning from your customers. SAP has already set up an impressive dialog with its beta users and looks set to continue that through the community it’s setting up for Business ByDesign. Internet delivery makes it so easy to have a conversation with customers that it’s surprising more SaaS vendors don’t do it. of course provides a great object lesson in how to do it well. Business ByDesign may quickly come to rival its example.

So much for the good parts. Here are a few ill winds that could yet blow SAP’s Business ByDesign initiative off course:

A shortage of suitable partners. “Partners need to understand that their business model needs to change,” said Apotheker in answer to a question from fellow ZDNet and Enterprise Irregulars blogger Josh Greenbaum. “We are creating a new ecosystem of partners.” Another ZDNet and EI colleague Dennis Howlett picked up some concerns from CEO Henning Kagermann on this point. Finding suitable partners and building good relations with them is a journey of adventure that SAP has only just begun. Other more experienced SaaS players know how difficult this can be — and how easy it is to overestimate the capabilities of seemingly well-qualified candidates.

Lack of customization capabilities. There’s a lot of configuration flexibility in Business ByDesign, and a creditable acknowledgement of the role business managers need to play in configuring business processes. But I’m not sure that SAP really understands the degree of customization and verticalization that the SaaS market demands, even in the midmarket sector it’s targeting. And it may hold back from catering to that demand for fear of impacting the market for its existing products.

Fear of cannibalization. To a man, the SAP executives assembled for the launch stonily refused to admit so much as an iota of possibility that Business ByDesign might cannibalize revenues from SAP’s other product lines in any material way. This is such a clearly untenable position that one can only conclude they are simply doing their best to stem the tide at least until the evidence to the contrary becomes impossible to ignore. Were they to admit the possibility earlier, it would simply further accelerate the pace of cannibalization.

Economic pressures. Imagine for a moment that a slowing of enterprise demand leads to a downturn in license revenues from SAP’s established business lines. Meanwhile, Business ByDesign is ramping nicely, perhaps at the fringes even winning deals at the expense of some of the licensed products. What better way to restore SAP’s financial fortunes for a quarter or two than to convert some of those subscription deals into perpetual licenses? Even if the executive board won’t condone such actions, how can they be sure managers lower down the hierarchy — under pressure to meet sales targets — aren’t putting pressure on the Business ByDesign team to pass over some of those deals? Transitioning to SaaS from a licensed software model is a tough challenge, especially when trying to keep both forms of product alive in parallel.

Welcome to the party, SAP by ZDNet‘s Phil Wainewright — As the minutes tick away to the launch of SAP’s long-awaited A1S, my inbox has been filling up with emails from incumbent SaaS vendors, eager to pitch in with their own reactions

Digging beneath’s platform hype by ZDNet‘s Phil Wainewright — Even though the loyal fanbase of committed users and partners at Dreamforce had to wait while Marc Benioff pitched his vision to the outside world, their needs remain front and center of’s product strategy.

How can you make money from SaaS?

September 11th, 2007 · No Comments

(excerpts from ) Print E-mail
Monday, 23 July 2007

One of the things that I became very conscious of from my previous post is that in this instance the research showed a very limited view of the SaaS ecosystem by only analysing the core software elements. In looking into this wider ecosystem and the associated auxiliary services i was struck by the question

“where are the profit pools in SaaS?”

And of course, which part is the most profitable. It’s an interesting exercise.


The core application space has the potential to be the most profitable when you get scale (see this post by Smoothspan). Up till then it might not be the most optimal part of this ecosystem (13% EBITDA).

Right now, at this stage of the SaaS market maturity, it seems to me that the consulting strategy businesses are doing pretty well out of this. They get to double dip in some ways, helping the ISV with the what and how as well as the end customers. It’s easy to see the appeal and given by the amount of interest and trumpeted thought leadership coming out the big 4 this seems to be a large and growing profit pool. I am going on gut feel but it would say that these guys operate way over 13% EBITDA. I also think that there is a clear divergence going on here. You can see the big 4 doing the same old stuff here. Frameworks, sizing, BPO etc. You can also see specialists like Mural ventures emerging. Guys who actually done (and continue to do) SaaS and are monetising their experiences. (in my opinion one is eminently more valuable)

SI’s are a niche but growing business currently. I think in real terms they are only a small fraction of the SaaS market but will grow enormously. Mainly because businesses will still need technical help to get SaaS in, but will still face the traditional foes of being resource constrained. SaaS SI is in opinion the next evolution of technology implementation services, and when SaaS companies get this they will be dis-incented to make their stuff self provisioned. There’s an interesting post here by Dennis Howlett with the stunning take out of:

At Microsoft’s recent Worldwide Partner Conference, Tami Reller, corporate vice president for Microsoft Business Solutions said the predicted 2008 market opportunity for services is $93 billion. Set that against the software and enhancements prediction of $51.7 billion”

That puts the SI profit pool at nearly 2 times the application space. Wow!

Service industries like research and sales and marketing will make quite a bit out SaaS, at quite good margins i would guess. But in real terms this will be quite small. But if you are into niche, highly profitable markets this is a great play.

Network access. The telco piece of the pie. Unless they morph into being a platform provider like BT, then they run the very real risk of being sidelined to a pipe provider who will operate at ever decreasing margins. Regulation, elimination of value (public networks) and global competition from application companies all contrive to make the future of Telco quite bleak.

Platform providers (interesting debate about what a platform provider is to follow) have a good chance through scale to do very well. It depends on their model, the value they provide and their own success in winning over new ISV’s but platforms could be the big winner. Look at portal wars, Yahoo, MSN and AOL spring to mind. These could define themselves as content platforms of some sort. They got massive scale and have evolved their business models to a point where things are ok profit wise. Just ok because you could argue the value they provide is…limited? But if you look at APEX, Apprenda , Opsource and facebook, they are all seeing the value of platforms. The Platform play done right is one of those rare things as it has value up and downstream. If you get scale this could be the big winner. And as i said above if you get the model right it could be even better. Revenue share or stock in a start up, acquisition like, clip the ticket on a per transaction, SI and business level consultancy, additional services (we’ll even bill for you). And let’s face it, the success rate of SaaS companies isn’t going to be that great, so the chances of one of them being big enough to move to its own datacentre are remote so you got great lock in. There are also great customer benefits too, someone who knows about up-time and reliability managing the app. It’s a good story.

I think there is also money to be made from widgets, gadgets and supplementary applications. Again its niche, but if you make your little customisation available worldwide using someone else’s platform you could do very very well.

So where does the profit SaaS profit lie? Well if you are thinking scale, then in my opinion it’s in the platforms, core applications and SI business. All of these others get have a degree of focus that means their reach is somewhat more restricted.

Bringing Enterprise 2.0 to Morgan Stanley by ZDNet‘s Dan Farber — Adam Carson walks the halls of Morgan Stanley in New York preaching the Web 2.0 gospel. The 28-year-old former investment banker is focused on bringing the venerable financial services firm into social Web and Enterprise 2.0, which is about leveraging Web 2.0 technologies in corporate settings. Speaking at the Office 2.0 Conference, Carson said that Morgan […]

Oracle’s misconceived SaaS strategy by ZDNet‘s Phil Wainewright — Oracle president Charles Phillips’ remarks on a recent visit to London are full of … well, what can I say? — the most egregious misconceptions (or should that be misrepresentations?) of the SaaS model. I take issue in particular with four of Phillips’ assertions. Taking SaaS both ways by ZDNet‘s Phil Wainewright — Who’s kidding whom about SaaS success rates? Oracle blogger Anshu Sharma says SaaS lovers want it both ways when quoting market research figures. I say it’s the established enterprise software vendors who are trying to fudge the figures.

Vocus, an unsung SaaS success story by ZDNet‘s Phil Wainewright — On-demand PR applications provider Vocus announced its Summer ’07 release in an otherwise quiet week for the SaaS industry. Nasdaq-listed Vocus is an unsung SaaS success story, with annual revenues of around $50m and a 50% year-on-year growth rate.


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