eService Market Update for Q2 (Sorry, Gartner, Web Customer Service Market)

Whatever you want to call it, my (mostly quarterly) aggregation-of-news-and-views as a service (if you are not interested in the eService market, you have my permission to stop reading… only time I will say this).

First, the market is doing quite well; Vendors finally got past their fixation with Social as a solution and came back to Social as a channel – good move.

We are starting to see deeper integration of Social into eService, where it just becomes another channel (someone should create an architecture for this and call it — oh, I don’t know — Customer Interaction Hub or something like that).  Clients and prospects actually welcome this, since this is what they were expecting / asking from the beginning.  We are starting to see some interesting movements from buyers (VP of Customer Service, Call Center or Contact Center management) who want to tackle Social Customer Service as part of the overall strategy, not just another stand-alone channel.  A few of the customers that deployed stand-alone social channels (mostly Twitter, a little Facebook) found out that 1) it is not easy to get out once you are in it, and 2) it is not what they expected or were told.

We continue to see attempts to move Twitter into queues (from my vantage point, Genesys seems to have the lead in doing this well – albeit, they lack the market momentum for it to be noticed), treat tweets as mere interactions, but the cross-channel transfer is beginning to get on managers nerves (mostly the lack of ability to track as one interaction, thus breaking the models in place for First Time Resolution and other operational, efficiency metrics).  That means that still over 70% of Twitter interactions across the board (some customers are reporting as high as 95%) get escalated to the Call Center or Contact Center for resolution via an alternative channel (the most common one, at 90% or more, is telephone – either inbound or outbound — outbound has been the easiest for customers to implement so far).

The area where most investment will be directed in the next 6-12 months is communities.  Communities not as Marketing does them (branded and controlled communities), but figuring out how to leverage communities better for two things: 1) to let users help other users (which reduces the costs of customer service dramatically – even if the agents are members of the community), and 2) to figure out how to get Social Knowledge (the knowledge generated and managed in the community) to become a critical part of customer service.  I was greatly surprised by NoHold (inactive client) and MindTouch (not a client) initiatives in this world, with Inquira (inactive client) having some interesting positioning as well.  From these two trends, we are having more and more conversations focused on Social Knowledge – early stage conversations, very few companies doing something about this (and then, mostly pilots and POC – proof of concept) but a growing trend.  Second area is Customer Analytics, a growing trend to merge all analytics initiatives into one common solution.  I like what Nexidia (current client) is doing with this and they seem to be ahead of the pack; Attensity, Netbase (not a client)  and Nice (not a client) seem to be going in the same direction.

On the demand side, customers are getting pickier on what they chose and from whom, eService has become so much more than a mere collection of features and functions.  Ability to track and report cross-channel transactions, integration (deep integration) with analytics, and flexible multi-channel management (that includes social channels as well) are at the top of the want-list for most organizations.  Community integration and leverage, not managed or branded communities, into the other channels is also at the top of the list.  Finally, customer-centricity and customer experience are perennial areas where progress continues. Organizations are continuing the evolution of their Contact and Call Centers at the same slow, but steady pace.

What is happening with eService vendors?

Assistly – Assistly is the smallest vendor in this list, but I am quite certain that they can grow their momentum in the market.  The first vendor to offer what I dubbed a “Customer Service 2.0” solution, totally based in the cloud, very focused on social channels, and very easily integrated with other solutions, they continue to make a name for themselves in the market.  I have done some reference checks for them and the solutions they deployed extend beyond the social channels to be full eService solutions.  I expect to hear more about them in the coming months as the focus towards the fourth quarter (historically, most eService deals close in the fourth quarter) rush continues in the market.  Assistly is not a client.

Attensity – Throughout the quarter they announced the launch of a Social Media Command Center, a new focus on Big Data, and a new version of their Analytics software.  While all these announcements were on the Analytics product, they maintained the tight integration between Analytics, Social Media monitoring, and eService Suite, resulting in a very interesting proposition for Customer Analytics.  Their focus is not in the world of Customer Analytics, but they have a foundation that, in my opinion, would be very interesting to explore.  Attensity is a current active client.

eGain – eGain launched their Interactive B2C Sales and Marketing solution recently, a solution that ties their existing components to create a new solution.  Using predictive analytics, chat and co-browse, chat-bots, and more of their existing functionality they aim to help their customers reduce cart abandonment rates and improve sales and marketing functionality and accuracy.  The intention is certainly in the right place, as we continue to see Customer Service departments extending beyond their traditional functions and requiring better leverage of existing technologies, and eGain always has been at the forefront of offering more functions from their existing suite for their customers.  The message needs a little tightening and am waiting to see customer adoption before making a judgment, but certainly interesting.  eGain is a current active client.

FuzeDigital – FuzeDigital continues to be the small-engine-that-could.  Certainly one of the smallest vendors (by revenue) in the market, their momentum into the market continues aided by their community and reputation engines, both embedded in a complete eService Suite.  They signed two deals for distribution that will certainly improve their presence in the market, and it is one of the vendors that can lead into eService deals with their community and social features well.  FuzeDigital is an inactive client.

Genesys Labs – Genesys continues to grow their product, if not their customer base.  They recently launched one of the more innovative new solutions I have seen in quite some time.  Designed, developed, and marketed almost exclusively by Charlie Isaacs (their VP of eService Innovation, or whatever his real-life title is – that is his role), ALUC-IT is a great new way to use QR Codes for Service, Sales and Marketing by embedding customized and ever-changing menus within the QR Code.  Instead of scanning a QR Code and being taken to a website, ALUC-IT codes (which are QR Codes to the naked eye) contains a custom smart-phone menu (which launches in any phone you may be using as native) that has customer service, sales, and marketing functions.  Call it a dynamic, interactive, visual IVR that is built in real-time according to the contextual needs – or look at it here for more details. I recorded a podcast with Charlie Isaacs where he explains it better, but have not had time to edit and post it – my fault.  Genesys Labs is an inactive client.

KANA – I wrote sometime ago that KANA was on the path to recovery, and this quarter seems to have strengthened that conviction.  They acquired Overtone (a social media monitoring product) and are already at work with it, extended their relationship with their on-demand provider, continued their expansion into the State and Local Government verticals with their previous Lagan acquisition, extended the work they are doing with their SEM (Service Experience Management) platform (new prospects and new launches this quarter, both too early to show much yet), and recently announced the hiring of a new CMO (which was very needed).  They are rebuilding the company and may just surprise everyone in the next 2-3 quarters if they continue in their current path.  Although they still have some road to travel on their way to recovery, I am encouraged by what I am seeing.  KANA is a current active client.

Moxie Software – Continues to build their solution for Convergence (that place where Social CRM and Enterprise 2.0 meet to create a Social Business) by making deeper integration between Spaces (Enterprise 2.0 product) and their eService Suite.  They are gaining traction with their message and are getting new customers to sign up.  Among the eService vendors, they are the ones that have extended themselves further into the collaboration and Social Knowledge world, both in message and product, and their work this quarter in how to build a better Knowledge Management with collaboration has been quite interesting.  Moxie Software is a current active client.

Sword Ciboodle – Continues to build and promote their experience continuum by extending the power of their community, and releasing a beta version of a sales module that would extend their presence deeper into their clients’ organizations (and shows great promise in their move to deliver end-to-end experiences, beyond just eService).  The big news of the quarter for them, Sword was acquired by a private equity firm in France, led to a restructuring of the US operations, which is now restarting their momentum.  With more focus on growing their US footprint, I expect to see and hear more from them in the next few months as they restart their marketing efforts.  Sword Ciboodle is a current active client.

Rightnow Technologies – Continues their march towards becoming a “Customer Experience” vendor, showing momentum in the market as indicated by their financial performance and their growth.  Still the largest vendor in the market, by far, it shows no signs of slowing down.  They continue to extend their integration of Social Channels with the rest of their suite and have proven that integrating Twitter into their queue management can yield results (via case studies they released).  They are still trying to find a way to enter into the Call Center world as this is their path to growing to the size they want to be.  Rightnow Technologies is not a client.

ZenDesk – I debated whether to put ZenDesk in this update, but they have greatly expanded their eService footprint this quarter, earning them a spot in the list.  Their deep integration with Salesforce yielded many large deals for them, and their newly announced feedback management module is as powerful as it is simple and functional.  They have shown great momentum in the market, both winning deals and mindshare among buyers.  No longer a helpdesk vendor that wants to be eService, they now offer a complete suite of channel and client management features that makes them competitive.  I am hoping to see more case studies and better positioning from them in the months to come, maybe a stronger presence in the larger deals in the market.  Zendesk is not a client.

Phew, that is a lot to read and assimilate – I know.  Hope you stayed with me.

Now, for the future.

I am going to work through the summer on two research reports: one is to replace this quarterly hoshposh with a real report on Customer Service.  It will go beyond eService and will feature much more detail than I can include in a post.  Expect it to be launched in October, and will be available (still trying to figure out how to distribute it) from my site, updated twice a year (worse part is putting the methodology in place).

The second report, more ambitious, is about Customer Service in the cloud.  I am still working through the details on that one, expect to hear more in the coming month and to be released in November.

Would love to hear what you think of these reports, what’s missing, and what else you would like to see.


tibbr 3.0: the missing screenshots

Apparently my prose lost a lot in the last few months of scant writing in this journal, as I saw this tweet earlier from the esteemed Stowie Boyd (in reference to my earlier post):

In deference to his, gentle yet firm, request for screenshots – find below the screenshots that TIBCO gave me to share, but I thought I could do without… sigh, aging and writing apparently don’t go well together…

Voice in tibbr 3.0
Voice Widget in Activity Stream
VideoConference inside tibbr 3.0
Exploring Sharepoint withi tibbr

There was one more item about tibbr 3.0 that I failed to note earlier in my post, and that is the availability of Smatwidgets – essentially a piece of code from another web-based application that is inserted into tibbr.  In this, as before, I saw a far better implementation from SimplyBox (disclaimer: not a client, but good friends there – still, an excellent product) – but I do like the way that TIBCO is thinking here.  The direction is certainly the right one for the integration story they want to tell.  Here is the screenshot, least I be yelled at again…

Using an Oracle Smartwidget

tibbr 3.0 launches, is this something?

First, the disclaimers: TIBCO is not a present or past client (well, I cannot disclose whether they were a Gartner client, so I am talking about my bitnez now), nor did I get anything for posting this. Since I was somewhat critical of their early foray into Social X, they decided to reach out to me last week and give me a preview of the new release (3.0 – what happened to 2.0? did I miss that one?) launched today.

What follow are my impressions.

There is something to like about what TIBCO is building in tibbr: An infrastructure to provide a business a new way of working (no relation to Jive’s New Way to Business) leveraging the social channels and the traditional channels in one.  There are indeed some built-in integration that come with it (MOSS – Microsoft Sharepoint is the most vivid example), but for the most part they stuck to what they do better: provide “the plumbing” for any application to leverage.  The early attempt (since I missed 2.0 I can only comment on version 1.0) was a lot like a “me too” version of Chatter and did not offer lots that was different.

This new version is a tad more interesting.

TIBCO managed to create more than an activity stream, although that is the way it is displayed.

They found a way to integrate Video, Voice, and virtually any application to the stream effortlessly (or almost effortlessly).  You want to have a conversation, even a conference call, as part of the collaboration stream? You got it.  Want to do a video-conference as part of the same collaboration project? Included in the product.  Do you want to make documents stored in your other collaboration platforms (e.g. Sharepoint) part of the collaboration – yet retain all their rights and priorities? Yep, there.  Virtually anything you want to do, anything you do as part of your job can now be programmed to be part of the Activity stream.  It certainly is more interesting.  There are a few connotations here that must be noted:

  1. This is what Chattter says they can do – but it is done in a broader scale (if Salesforce can effectively deliver on as promised, they would be close to doing this; IBM has a similar vision, but no product yet).
  2. There are certain components in here that I have seen elsewhere before. Tony Nemelka, a frequent contributor to this blog, is the CEO for Teleplace – a virtual-world collaboration platform.  A lot of the integration work Teleplace has done, for some time now, with Sharepoint makes me think of what tibbr is doing.
  3. Probably the most notable element here: this is a platform destined to adapt to the way people work.  It does not require people to change their method of work, nor does it require a different interface to be learned (in theory; in practice TIBCO wants to make tibbr “the social inbox” – not sure I am behind this idea, but it is certainly interesting.  Speaking of similarities, the work is doing is similar to this concept of the Social Inbox – but delivered via email, not as a platform to allow an organization to place it anywhere they want).

As I said, I was quite harsh (maybe not so much in my blog post as I was in conversations) about the value that tibbr could bring to the table.  I did left an open question as to where it was going and whether it would be better as it got there.

Is this there? No, not yet – but this is definitely something on the way there.  This is something indeed – almost like I was writing just yesterday, when talking about what Social Business needs to do.  A collaborative platform that is open to all, with secure tokens, rights, and privileges, accessible from anywhere for anything  by anyone.  If this is what businesses end up using tibbr for, then this is really something on the way there.

Have you seen it? Read about it? What do you think?  Would love to hear your comments…

(UPDATE: missing screenshots and one more feature can be found here)

The Confusing World of Social Business

I have the privilege of working with two gentlemen that put most “thought leaders” to shame.

I am referring, of course, to Emanuele Quintarelli and Sameer Patel.

They are not only very bright in their perceptions of Social Business, but very active in helping make the changes that matter.  While I spend my time figuring out how to write about “the convergence” (later dubbed social business) and try to make sense of it for my clients, they are in the front lines at their companies (Sameer as a partner at Sovos Group and Emanuele as a partner in OpenKnowledge) making Social Business happen.

A large part of what they are finding and doing every day made it into the events they put together the past few weeks, both of which I was invited to participate.  Emanuele is in charge of the International Social Business Forum in Milano, Italy and Sameer led the Sales and Marketing track at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston, Massachusetts.  Having attended both gave me some great insights into the current state of Social Business, which I wanted to share with you.

First off, the label social is not good.  It does no justice to what we are doing.  This is not about being social; this is about creating collaborative platforms for users and organizations to co-create value.  There is nothing social to that (well, maybe you can label the interactions social – but if so, what were they before? anti-social? immature social?  Interactions have not changed; the value derived from having them is what has changed).

The value of what we are building is NOT in the engagement or in interacting, that goes back many, many moons.  I have been working in Customer Service for 25 years, as far as I remember – we had interactions. Social interactions.  We are building value in collaboration, not in being social.  The whole purpose to “being social” is to collaborate, if you don’t see it that way – you are in the wrong place.  I have been endorsing the term collaborative enterprise, it is not mine, but I like it.  It identifies very well, IMO, what we are trying to build – an enterprise where collaboration makes things happen.

That brings me to point #2, and one that I have been espousing for some time, Enterprise 2.0 is a used, old term.  It does not identify or represent what we are trying to do anymore than Social Business.  This is business, or enterprise, evolved.  Call it Evolved business if you need a label, or just plain business.  And drop the idea that collaborating should only happen inside the organization – that is rubbish.  This is about collaboration that crosses the membrane, which brings business users and customers together.

I guess Social Enterprise is a bad name then – right? Yes, terrible – but we will address that later… something tells me in early August we will have plenty of time to go into those details.  Intuition if you may.

Third, the most important point: business users are getting it.  Truly.  I have had many, many conversations in both forums (as I had last year) and the conversation is finally shifting: we used to talk about collaboration and tools exclusively, now we are talking about business value and strategy.  We used to talk about inside-out concepts only (company in control), now we are talking about outside-in as well (customer-centric).  These are not conversations with vendors and fellow pundits, those always had the element of bet-I-can-predict-more-than-you-can to then, but the conversations with the end-users, the organizations that are deploying these collaboration networks.  This is what we were aiming for: enterprise users that are tying it all together.

Case in point: during the event Clearvale put together, “An Evening with Paul Greenberg”, we got to hear a lot of the traditional questions – what is SCRM, how does it work, who sells it — but this time around they were uttered by end-users, those people that would’ve consider buying them.  And there was a lot of conversation generated around those topics as well – interesting conversation talking about compliance, use-in-business, proven business value.  It was great to see people that are getting past the hype and telling me that even though they did not purchase (or did purchase, in some cases) technology to support their efforts they are doing some very cool projects. More on that to come.

Finally, vendors are piling up on the concept of Social Business (and now even Social Enterprise).  Just a quick look at my inbox, which is mostly press releases these days thanks to other communication tools available – thank you, shows me the names of the largest vendors in Enterprise Software talking about their “Social Business” this or that.  Among the startups and newcomers, those that are not dealing with Social Consumers are focused on how to incorporate Social into the enterprise.  Of course, there is no possible way that all these vendors are right – or wrong – so where do we go from here?

Here is my take.

The evolution of business, propelled by the customers becoming more interested in participating in communities, led organizations to the point of having to decide: should they make the move to work closer with their partners, prospects, employees, and customers to build better products that meet expectations now – or later? Make no mistake; there are very, very few (if any) corporations out there that don’t believe this Social evolution will affect them.  It is not a matter of whether, but when.  Smart organizations that recognized these societal changes for what they are investigating, testing, or deploying new platforms and infrastructures to allow freer collaboration.  The few that don’t know they will have to do it in the future.  This is one of those very interesting times in Enterprise Software that is marking a fundamental shift in the WAY we conduct business – not in business itself.

The adaptation to that new way of doing business is what is going to make it very interesting for the two-to-five years.

Know what I mean?


EFM? Far From Dead, Thanks for Asking…

In 2001 I wrote a paper for Gartner introducing Customer Feedback Systems (it is available from Gartner if you are a client, it is under Archive, but easy to find – ping me if you want more details).

In that paper I made the point that asking customers how they felt about specific experiences or interactions (surveys were the up-and-coming tool back then to measure customer satisfaction) was useless – unless you integrated that data with existing corporate data, with data collected from transactional CRM systems already deployed, and with data from market research projects.

Further, when introducing the concept of how to build these systems by leveraging existing components, I said that the goal for putting this solution together was not to collect and aggregate the data, that was the easy part, but to analyze it and learn from it deep truths we could not uncover any other way.  Mind you, we were already talking about Analytics and Business Intelligence, but my paper was the first time we tried to apply those concepts to managing customer relationships (at least, as far as I could tell back then).  This happened at the same time  organizations began looking at Analytical CRM – it was quite well received.

Fast forward three-to-four years, and a survey vendor called Perseus (with a very smart co-founder named Jeffrey Henning) was on a similar path, trying to build solutions like the ones I described.  Perseus came across that model on their own, almost on a similar timeline and direction that I had used to reach that conclusion (hey, this is how people win Nobel Prizes together while working apart, right?).

They did not like the name I had used to describe the solution; I don’t blame them – I am not good at generating acronyms, and they were using a more powerful and descriptive name: Enterprise Feedback Management.  After a few conversations we decided we were heading on a similar direction and collaborating would be good for both of us – and for the market.  I was not married to CFS, so we adopted EFM as the name for the new market.

As they say, the rest is history (in case you want a good working definition of what EFM does, I wrote this post in 2008).

Through the next four-or-five years the EFM market went through amazing growth: it tripled, doubled, and even grew at a far slower 80% year over year.  The market went from nothing in 2005, to around 250-300 million dollars today.  In the process, EFM (not surveys) became a very competitive and accepted solution for the enterprise – not for its ability to generate and aggregate surveys or manage panels, the easiest and less problematic aspects of the solution, but for the integration with other data, for working with analytics engines – but more important for the customer insights it generated.

EFM was never about surveys or panels, it was never about the technology – it was always about discovering insights about customer. The market proved that to be case by rewarding more generously those vendors that focused on that aspect (vendors like Allegiance, Mindshare, and Vovici) and less so those that were more focused on the operational aspects of it (vendors like SurveyMonkey, Zoomerang, and to a lesser extent others that focused on market research integration only).  It has been a great ride.

If you followed the story so far, you can imagine what happened to EFM when Social came about.  Those that were doing it properly, focused on the insight generated by the data, saw an explosion in the value they could deliver.  Social is, after all the hype clears, a provider of data.  Big Data.  One-hundred times or more the amount of data provided outside of s0cial channels – and more trustworthy than data provided by surveys and market research events.  Companies like Attensity and NetBase are also doing their part, significant part, to give organizations a way to replace costly, lengthy, and complex market research studies with online, automated solutions that leverage all channels – including social.

Social was the fire to the EFM gunpowder -it made it explode and carried the market to new heights.

I have had so many inquiries and helped so many customers in the past couple of years to understand what social brings, how it changes EFM, and what it does to the traditional model — it almost felt as if it was 2006 and I was back at Gartner telling organizations how to go beyond CSAT and Loyalty questions into generating value from the data they collected.  Social has been a rebirth for EFM, and proven that the model of focusing on generating insights from aggregated data was never more powerful than when we get great data to work with – and that is what Social did: proven the model for EFM.  It did not change it – or, as the naysayers say, kill it.

As I said earlier, there is a movement aloft to kill EFM (apparently they did not read my post when I said that nothing is going to die in 2010 and beyond). All it does is make it more confusing for end users, vendors, and consultants since it simply disseminates FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) in the market for the only purpose of furthering the agenda of a few anlaysts, consultants, and vendors that are looking to create and command a new market that will benefit them.  The new acronyms and solutions don’t offer any additional value over what EFM offers, they simply want something new, something they can sell.

This new movement is trying to reinvent the market by claiming that focusing on the insights generated is far better than what EFM does.  That claim, the core claim to what they are saying, is misguided since that is precisely what EFM does.  True, there are a few implementations (maybe more than a few) that have been incorrectly advised by analysts and consultants to focus more on the survey and panel management components of EFM, or that are too closely associated with NPS to really focus on what matters: customer insights.  However, the solution is not to call it something else and pretend that all the work that organizations have done to get here has been misguided.  The better approach is to help those organizations leverage the power of the solution they have acquired, focus on what matters, and plot a path to generating customer insights and walk away from the bad implementations they have.

Replacing a solution with another one that does exactly the same, only after paying large amounts to consultants to help you get there, is not what organizations need – but lacking true leadership they will chose the path.  I blame those consultants with confusing their clients on purpose, only to deliver the same solution they had before.  As my eight-year old says: Not Cool.

EFM is not dead, nor will it die anytime soon.  Those who have implemented and worked with it at length through the last few years can only see the goodness that comes from generating customer insights with well implemented EFM solutions, and how Social channels and Social data brings even more power to their efforts.  They have seen their results improve dramatically over the past couple of years as they continued the process or merging data from social channels in their existing models, and leveraged their existing analytics engines to generate even better and more powerful insights.  they have not seen how they can understand customers better and deliver to their needs.

Call it  what you may, but don’t confuse the market by “killing” a well established solution jsut for your own benefit.

EFM? Far from Dead, Thanks for Asking…

SAP and The Hoover Dam

First, I did not go to SAPPhire Now 2011.  Had to get that out of the way quickly (and to confess I am late in filing my report, I was busy – sorry).

I relied on the superb job that SAP did with the remote coverage (there were 7-10 sessions covered in real time, great video and sound, superb coverage – almost like being there).  Kudos to whoever ran that part of the event, I can honestly say that they are many steps closer to running virtual shows if they so desire.  Excellent job.

Yes, I missed many things by not being there.

Which is where collaboration and a phenomenal network of peers, friends, and fellow independents fills in.  I wasn’t there, but I go sufficient information from chatting with lots of them, reading their updates as they were going on and post-show, and chatting with SAP people on the phone and email that I actually feel that I was there.

Alas, before we get deeper into SAP, let me tell you about the Hoover Dam.  Yes, the Hoover Dam.

Some time ago PBS ran a documentary on the Hoover Dam (you can watch it online if you want, it is quite fascinating).  Long recognized as one of the projects that helped rebuild the country’s confidence following the great depression, it is mind-blowing to see what had to happen  to finish it early.  Yep, it was completed ahead of schedule — the project manager (a gentleman by the name of Frank Crowe, considered “the finest dam builder in the world”) wanted to avoid the penalties if they went over the seven years allocated.  The most interesting part was how many things were invented, circumvented, or done differently on the road to build the Hoover Dam.

Case in point: concrete.  Turns out that concrete needs time to cure once it is laid.  This is because the chemical reactions that make it hard first make it hot.  Very hot.  The elevated internal temperatures of concrete during the curing process means that to build the Hoover Dam it would’ve taken 125 years with techniques that existed back then.  Frank Crowe, committed to making that seven-year-deadline, designed a system that uses water pipes built into the concrete subsections carrying cold water, cooling down the concrete and helping it cure faster.  By dividing the entire dam into segments and using this water-cooling method, the Dam was done ahead of time.  Oh, yeah – he got that and many other tricks up his sleeve… This wikipedia entry gives you all the details (if you don’t want to watch the video above).

OK, back to the world we live in.  Why on earth am I talking about the Hoover Dam and SAP in the same post?

Because SAP has taken on building the Hoover Dam of the modern era;  In-memory analytics is the equivalent of building a Hoover Dam in our technological days – and it is going to need all the ingenuity, all the tricks we can master.

To those that doubt it, we are not talking about moving data from hard drive to in-memory and processing it there- nah, that is something that could’ve been done by MS-DOS 3.1 many years ago.  We are talking about revamping and redoing the entire way our programs today process data and make things happen.  It is not simply about speed (which, in all frankness – would be like reducing 125 years of curing concrete to roughly two years), but it is about working differently.  This is what SAP has committed to make happen.

Now, the question in all your minds? Can they make it happen?

Well, here is the deal.  Most of the nay-sayers are pointing to the departures at the executive level and saying that SAP is crumbling, that they cannot keep key people there and that is going to hurt them.  They are saying that the talent needed to make it happen is gone.  I think there is some true to that.  Some of the people that left were key in building components of the new SAP, the one that is going to use and leverage in-memory.  However, many more are left behind – and they are the ones making it happen.  For each John Wookey that left, there are teams of developers and database specialists that implemented the vision and the product he designed.  Those people are for the most part staying.  The same holds true for other areas of the company where executives and high-level visionaries have left: their teams and the experience are left behind.

Yes, but – can they do it?  Can they build in-memory in a timeline that makes sense for the company or their clients?

Frankly, I don’t know – I think so… but it would not be the first time that SAP comes up with some killer thought-leadership or innovative-feature and is unable to deliver fully. The SAP dichotomy (which I wrote about last time I wrote about SAP) remains: excellent thinkers, great technologists, poor exhibition.  My hope is that some of the people who left are the ones that were holding back the progress, that having less people signify fewer political battles, fewer egos to bruise and more focus on what matters: delivering what the customers want.

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah — cute, corny and all that… but, can they deliver?

Fine, if you won’t let me evade the question anymore – I hope so. I know that many at SAP hope the same and it is something that only time will be able to tell.  Next step in this Journey, as friend and excellent reporter Dennis Howlett reported, is SAP Europe in Madrid.  If we see the same message and some tiny progress, any progress, by then we know we have a game on.

Further coverage of the show was surrounding Mobile (ho-hum from my vantage point, but sure got lots of coverage). I know it is me, I just don’t get what SAP can offer there with Sybase that they could not deliver before, nor do I see what the whole bruhaha is about.  I know we are all going to be running in-brain computers with mobile browsers in 2 years – or whatever the latest hype is about mobile – but it is nothing to accomplish compared to HANA, in-memory analytics, and even putting together a good plan for the cloud. Yes – that cloud.

There were other feature improvements in products, new positioning and message for others (including analytics) – but none of them are comparable (even if you put them all together) to the massiveness of in-memory.  It was nice buzz-words, good hype-compliant alphabet soup or bingo card — but not where the money is.  Money in the future is going to be in near-real-time (you can never do real time, but that is fodder for another post), in-memory processing.

In-memory is what is going to make-or-break (as in be acquired) SAP in the next five-to-ten years (what? you thought it would take 18 months? dream on).  We shall see someprogress in 24-to-36 months if they are going to succeed.

From the (virtual) floor show, this is Esteban reporting – back to you in your office.  What says you?

Note: If you want to read coverage for SAPPhire (or however many capital and lowercase letters you need for branding it properly) read Dennis Howlett and Vijay Vijayasankar’s excellent Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 part series.
Disclaimer: SAP is an active client, they also offered to pay for my expenses to attend SAPPhire, which I had to decline on advice of my wife’s divorce attorney given my rate of travel recently.  I cancelled at the last minute, and I feel really bad about it, promise.