Disparate technologies potentially represent supportability and usability risks.

By Clinton Jones on May 25, 2012

iotAt face value, SAP’s recent acquisitions of Ariba, Syclo and Successfactors have little in common with one another.

The common denominator seems to be the the shift from on-premise technology to cloud based technologies and SaaS in general but with the twist of mobility enablement but they are all likely all built on different technology stacks. The fact that Ariba has been around for 16 years and has successfully demonstrated a viable market for Spend and Contract Management undoubtedly helps justify the $45 per share but perhaps even more interesting, is the synergies with existing SAP technologies. There seem to be very few. Integration exists but essentially Ariba is wholly external.

Looking back into a glimmering past, of course it was more than a decade ago that Ariba was duking it out with the now defunct CommerceOne. At the time they were considered two of the major contenders for the B2B market in the e-procurement and contracts space. Back in 2000, both were losing money. These days Ariba’s net income is far from stellar but then SAP’s investment in Ariba is a futures buy and clearly the decision to acquire has many facets that are not limited to buy vs. build and are probably more about client base acquisition and consolidation. There is significant product overlap but nonetheless Jason Busch gives a nice summary analysis of the existing functional gaps even after the acquisition.

Some household brands that use both SAP and Ariba are Unilever, Home Depot, Target, Nestle, Sony, HP across many industry sectors. Bringing 1100 buyer customers, 59000 supplier customers, and more than 730000 companies from the Ariba network into the SAP fold will undoubtedly ultimately lead to discrepancies in usability and single point of interaction results when the two companies and their technologies ultimately merge but that’s likely to be a few years out. Consider that even the BOBJ acquisition 5 years ago still leaves some technology gaps in the convergence of SAP reporting and BW and BOBJ.

These facets are important from the perspective of business users, they will need to consider that their UI experience for some time at least, is going to involve more than one interface; that the UI experience will be different and that some of the integration technologies will be imperfect. Certainly there seems to be little in common in the underlying technologies applied by Syclo, SuccessFactors and Ariba so the assessment process of technical diligence must have been entertaining to say the least. The support model will likely be even more interesting.

The acquisitions in some measure seem reminiscent of Oracle’s acquisitions of Siebel and Peoplesoft and more recently Taleo for talent management , RightNow and ATG for service and customer relationship management and Endeca for search and analytics. The mashup of those technologies and user experiences undoubtedly continues to be challenging to manage and support.

All of this should also be viewed in the context of supportability. SAP customers feel that the level of support that they get for BusinessObjects is less than stellar; this was the result of survey conducted by the SAP User Group.

In the context of Winshuttle products the message is surely a little more encouraging. The current options of on-premise installation with desktop application or SharePoint form based technologies allows SAP customers to completely control the process, the UI and the collaboration scenarios that they want to enable for their business users. Leveraging existing technology stacks that include Microsoft Excel, Microsoft InfoPath and SAP ERP users can leverage their existing security credentials and IT supported processes but apply a new face and augment the process with out of the box workflows or customized workflows that do not involve large teams of implementation consultants. Most Winshuttle customers ‘roll their own’ but do rely on Winshuttle Support for occasional technical assistance in understanding the nuances of working with different SAP transactions.

The message then, is pretty simple. If you can do it using the SAP GUI UI there is a very strong chance that you can rapidly improve the user experience or the entry speed by applying a Winshuttle interface bound to a spreadsheet or a form. HTML forms and Excel centric data gathering are user experiences that most business users are intimately familiar with and deployment requires little more than valid SAP credentials for those touching SAP and MSOffice or an Internet browser. For most business users there’s little or nothing to configure and for system architects and IT personnel there’s the opportunity for rapid deployment and little or no backend configuration or changes. More importantly, this approach facilitates delegation of the design and the business process selection to the individual business units seeking to improve the user experience and accelerate business data processing and analytics.


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About the author

Clinton Jones is a Director for Finance Solutions Management at Winshuttle where he has worked since 2009. He is internationally experienced having worked on finance technologies and business process with a particular focus on integrated business solutions in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and North America. Clinton serves as a technical consultant on technology and quality management as it relates to data and process management and governance for finance organizations globally. Prior to Winshuttle he served as a Technical Quality Manager at SAP and with Microsoft in their Global Foundation Services group.


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