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SAP Simplification: an exciting development

sap run simpleIt’s tough to miss a 3 page, full color spread in the Wall Street Journal. And if you miss it, it slaps you on the head a couple of days later. Dr Hasso Plattner’s conversation with Dennis Howlett provides more clues. Slowly but surely, SAP “Run Simple” is moving from marketing tagline to action.

It’s about time.

My book, SAP Nation, due out middle of December, shows its customers spent over a $ trillion since the recession. This when cloud, mobile and other trends and front office innovation opportunities would suggest a significant slowdown in back office IT investment. The book provides a detailed inventory of inefficiencies that SAP should tackle.

The even more positive development the book profiles is a number of “simplification” efforts at SAP customers. They have not waited for SAP and they are seeing 20, 40, 60% lighter IT budgets and agility and other benefits.  I profile 12 of their strategies – some are consolidating instances, some are changing outsourcers, some are “ring fencing” SAP with clouds etc. The customers I talked to are the “canaries in the coal mine”. These early-movers will inspire other SAP customers to similarly simplify.

Between what SAP does and what its customers do, we should see a nice reduction in the $ 200+ billion a year SAP Nation. That means money for all kinds of new innovation projects – HANA and much else.

How can you not be excited with that?

(Read this and other articles @ Deal Architect)

Intacct: User conference offers clear advantages

I genuinely enjoy going to events where upwardly trending (think “growing”) vendors are involved. I get no joy in writing soon-to-be obituaries for vendors whose time has come and gone. Intacct, a cloud financial/accounting software vendor, is one of those upwardly trending firms.

Intacct Background

Intacct is a Bay Area firm more often seen in competitive software evaluations against NetSuite,FinancialForce and others. Their products are clearly oriented around the mid-market. They possess a multi-tenant solution set that’s built around a proprietary PaaS (platform-as-a-service). The company has approximately 8,500 customers.

Intacct targets several vertical sectors — notably not-for-profits, software firms and a couple of others. More verticals are being targeted. The software sector is a noteworthy vertical as many of their customers have experienced rapid and considerable growth. But, rather than outgrow the Intacct solution, Intacct has continued to enhance the core financial, managerial and accounting functionality within its suite.

Oh, and one more background point: about 65 percent of Intacct’s customers are also users of salesforce.com’s CRM (customer relationship management) solution.

This week’s Intacct Advantage conference

For decades I’ve recommended that software buyers attend the user conferences of any vendors that they might seriously consider. At a user conference, you can assess:

  • The culture of the vendor – this can presage the attitude you’ll get when you try to negotiate a contract
  • The quality of the vendor’s leadership
  • The level of forward-thinking found in the product and market leadership
  • The mood of the installed base (e.g., are they hostile/upset or deliriously happy?)
  • The quality of the vendor’s product and subject matter experts. If their best and brightest people aren’t especially brilliant at their user conference, can you imagine the goofs you’ll get on your project or support calls?
  • The level of service and customer attention other like-sized customers have experienced
  • Whether the products are chock full of bugs and issues
  • The product roadmap of the suite – are there specific capabilities you’ll need asap?
  • If this vendor is customer intimate, process excellent or a product innovator.

Analysts look at a number of the same factors. To us, it’s a great validation experience for our research.  It’s like doing due diligence but with scale.

So, when Intacct opened up its user conference to analysts (this was the first year they did so), I jumped at the chance.  Here’s what I experienced:

  • Intacct’s got a lot of partners in its ecosystem. I’ve known for some time that they have independent software vendors (e.g., Host Analytics , Adaptive Insights, and many others) as partners. I’ve also known that they have a special relationship with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), too. As a result, there were representatives from several accountancies in attendance. Intacct has additional functionality just for accountants so that they can easily service (via the cloud) multiple clients simultaneously and easily. Tuesday’s reception in the partner expo hall was quite crowded.
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Intacct partner inventory – Copyright 2014 Techventive, Inc. – All Rights Reserved
  • Some of the accounting firm partners are killing it. Armanino was frequently mentioned as a firm with an especially vibrant Intacct practice. Another firm out of Houston was also the subject of much positive praise.
  • Intacct’s core accounting functionality, which was already strong, continues to improve.Company executives clearly see their accounting depth as a key differentiator. Knowing some of their competitors’ products, I believe they may be right on this point (but others can best them in specific niches like Professional Services Automation functionality).
  • Intacct enhanced some of their core accounting functionality. Revenue Recognition functionality got a notable boost. Likewise, improvements in reporting and user experience were also showcased.
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Revenue Recognition – Intacct Advantage User Conference Nov. 2014 copyright 2014 TechVentive, Inc. All rights reserved
  • Intacct’s users, like Workday’s at their recent Workday Rising event (Link), were a happy, mellow bunch. Being at both events felt like I was at a 1970s love-in. While I’m not old enough to have attended one of those, I felt like I would have blended in better at both events if I had ditched my tie and sport coat and donned a tie-dyed t-shirt instead.
  • This was Intacct’s first time to open the event up to analysts. This action, gentle readers, scares the proverbial willies out of most vendors. Vendors live in mortal fear that we’ll have a bad flight to the event and take out our frustrations on the vendor instead. That said, Intacct gave us pretty fair access to their execs and were quite forthright in answering our questions. I like to see how well a public relations firm has prepped their client executives prior to meeting with analysts. I can’t stand it when I ask a top exec what they thought about the conference weather and I get an on-message reply like: “Brian, I glad you asked that as our products are integrated, cloud-architected and designed for the modern business”. Thankfully, we weren’t getting that pre-packaged, on-message dreck.
  • No one thanked each other for their leadership. I almost went through marketing buzzword withdrawal at this event as none of the speakers were shifting paradigms, omni-channeling their websites, or, getting ‘all-in’ with the cloud. It may have been the most jargon-free conference of the fall season. Thank you Intacct.
  • I never heard any of the speakers preach about the cloud (vs. on-premises). Now this was interesting. Cloud financial software products (and other cloud-based solutions) are assumed to be the way and the light to this audience. They don’t need to be converted. I kind of hate going to a conference where some flat-earth, cloud-denying vendor has finally gotten the cloud trend and thinks we all need to be converted now. Yes, cloud won the financial accounting software war – Intacct customers already know this.
  • Integration of social technology with accounting software was a big discussion item.Intacct has integrated salesforce.com’s Chatter product within their solution.
  • The Chatter integration may just be the beginning of deeper connectivity between Intacct and salesforce.com.
  • Mobile got some discussion. Reporting enhancements were frequently shown in the new mobile UX (user experience).
  • Intacct has been (and is continuing) to update the UX (user experience) of its products.Critical data fields and stats now show up at the top of many screens. Data visualization techniques appear all over, too. Sidebar technology is also prevalent.
  • American Express has agreed to provide a check printing/processing service for Intacct customers. Like the salesforce announcement, I suspect this is only the beginning of what these two firms will do with each other. There may be some future, positive synergies here.

Next Year’s Conference

For next years, Intacct Advantage event, I’d recommend to Intacct management that they:

  • Pour on some big announcements re: big data, analytics, and, in-memory database technology. Several Intacct partners (e.g., Adaptive Insights) have this and some of their competitors (e.g., Workday) do too. It’s time to see some big direction from Intacct in this area.
  • Light a fire under some of their integrator and accounting firm partners.  I think Intacct has a few really great partners and a bunch of partners who haven’t really poured it on. Maybe these partners are still trying to milk everything they can out of their on-premises solutions before making a full commitment to cloud solutions. Regardless, they need to close the gap between high and low performing partners.
  • Amplify the intensity and training of accounting firm partners. Too many of their accounting firm relationships may be with firms that still sell in an out-of-date way (via personal relationships and golf outings). Accounting partners that simply want to maintain their lifestyle business are not the future of Intacct. Intacct should send every one of these partners a copy of “The Challenger Sale” and then offer to teach these firms how to create executives who are practice builders, modern marketers and subject matter experts. I could write for a week on this topic.
  • Continue to expand their finance functionality plus make a foray into a non-financial area. I’d like to see Intacct prove it can repeat its success in areas other than accounting. Big data will certainly stretch their thinking but so too could supply chain, HR, etc.
  • Communicate a multi-country expansion plan. Intacct is going to bust out of its North American base before long. With virtually all of their customers involved in some manner of multi-national work, they’ve got to localize products (and open offices in new countries). Next year, I believe they need to have their story ready on the globalization of Intacct. It will be time for that move.
  • Open up their PaaS to developers and partners.  Intacct built their product line on a singular platform-as-a-service years ago. They’ve kept the platform close to the vest all this time. However, it feels like Intacct should take a page from the salesforce.com play book and open that platform up to third parties. Creating a rich ecosystem of vertical and horizontal enhancements could create more monetizing opportunities for its partners and provide richer functionality to its customers.
  • Expand into more verticals. I already know this is being planned. By next year’s event, I want to see real traction in two to three new verticals.
  • Expand their AMEX relationship. American Express could help Intacct customers with more than check processing. I suspect this arrangement could broaden into offering more payment options, credit management, float and other services.
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Intacct/AMEX relationship Copyright 2014 TechVentive, Inc. All Rights Reserved
  • Expand and deepen the Chatter integration using the Intacct process/workflow tools.Intacct actually has a pretty interesting set of workflow/process management tools embedded within its products. Adding Chatter at a superficial level helps with basic collaboration activities but deeply embedding it within accounting processes makes the solution more productive, better controlled and improves documentation.
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Salesforce/Intacct Relationship Copyright 2014 TechVentive, Inc. All Rights Reserved

 Well, let’s see what the next year brings.

 Disclosure: Intacct covered my travel expenses to their conference.

(Cross-posted @ ZDNet | Software and Services Safari Blog)