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The Worst-Kept Secrets of the Big 4

The Worst-Kept Secrets of the Big 4

Gartner's Dennis Gaughan recently said what a lot of people already know about the ways in which Microsoft, IBM, SAP and Oracle do business. He might have been stating what some would say is obvious, but the fact that he said it tells me that IT customers are getting restless and starting to speak out. The vocalized dissatisfaction rising in the market may indicate a turning point just up ahead.

By Denis Pombriant CRM Buyer ECT News Network
11/23/11 5:00 AM PT

On an otherwise slow news week, I spotted a story emanating from a Gartner analyst, Dennis Gaughan, at a recent Gartner talk in Australia. The article was on Business Insider, and I found it interesting.

The headline told the story, as good headlines often do. "What Microsoft, Oracle, IBM and SAP Don't Tell Customers" identifies, in Gaughan's opinion, the primary strategies or approaches to the market employed by the big four software companies. There's room to quibble with this, but there are also elements of truth. I hope you'll click the link and read the rather short piece; here are the major takeaways:

  • Microsoft mainly wants to protect its Windows and Office franchises.
  • Oracle products don't really work well together.
  • IBM wants to take over your IT strategy.
  • SAP confuses customers with pricing.

Got that?

Everybody Knows

I wonder how many readers came away from the article saying, so what? Didn't we already know this in our bones? And, more important, aren't these simply strategies for locking in customers and getting the maximum footprint in customer data centers?

IBM has been running IT strategies at its customers for a very long time. That's not new, nor is Microsoft's fetish over Windows and Office. Dynamics CRM has an Outlook interface because, the company tells me, that's where people spend their day and they already understand the interface.

Fair enough, but do they understand the interface primarily because they've been trying unsuccessfully to use Outlook as a CRM system all along? Client-server was a boon for Windows, and cloud computing is a major threat. Why else is Microsoft trying to sell their idea of an operating system for the cloud?

And can anyone take Oracle's claim of systems engineered to work together seriously? A few years ago, the company said that customers should use their products as they come to minimize breaking systems. And when Oracle bought Sun, they immediately extended the blanket to cover hardware. In last week's column, I quoted Dave Yarnold, CEO of ServiceMax, who wondered in print if the universal devotion to SAP's ERP (and I must say ERP in general) might be sapping companies' ability to creatively engage the marketplaces they serve.

Saying What Everyone's Thinking

Nope, sorry, nothing really new here. As they might say in court, if you're an IT executive, you knew or should have known all about this.

But what is new is that this kind of news or information is surfacing, and it is surfacing at a time when people are thinking differently about their futures and companies are trying to keep up.

The legacy systems of the 20th century that mediated the manufacturing economy have proven inadequate to the task of keeping up with the increasingly mobile and socialized customer. Moreover, the customer is increasingly turning to the cloud and to subscriptions for all manner of things that were once considered products but are now delivered as services.

The news in the article I quoted is not that the big four have tried for a long time to -- legally -- control their customers. The news is that Gartner said it, and the speaker acknowledged that the information was culled from Gartner's experience with its own customers. To the best of my knowledge, Gaughan has not been reprimanded for speaking bluntly, and Gartner has received no lawsuits for the honesty, but it's early.

Too Big to Fail?

No matter, what this indicates to me, combined with other things I've been reporting on, are two things. First, IT customers are getting restless and starting to speak out. This may be the beginning of a cascade. Second, the vocalized dissatisfaction rising in the market may indicate a turning point in the paradigm.

Paradigms are remarkably stable. They may crumble for a long time, accumulating pressure for change but never reaching a tipping point. But then, seemingly without warning, a catastrophic event causes a shift. There is nothing foreordained to the effect that today's big four will be tomorrow's. They have big installed bases and tremendous market presence, and that might delude some people into thinking that they are too big to displace.

Alternatively, though, major market shifts don't happen because the leading vendors fail. They happen when the leaders become irrelevant to the problems they provide solutions for. We haven't been a primarily manufacturing economy for a long time, yet our enterprise software is built to support it. Hand in hand with the irrelevancy of the old regime, the free market boasts a huge number of vendors with robust solutions that are more relevant to the moment.

Multiple economic drivers are in place and that should make the new year very interesting indeed.


Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant's research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and website. He is the author of Hello, Ladies! Dispatches from the Social CRM Frontier and can be reached at denis.pombriant@beagleresearch.com.


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