Frank Scavo’s Computer Economics has a nice post about the the long, winding road – the slow customer march to cloud applications. Bill Kutik pointed to similar slow movement more specific to HCM cloud applications in a recent LinkedIn post.
My recent book and my advisory work provide an additional perspective to their data. I identified a large group of what I called Bystanders in the SAP customer base. They have not taken advantage of its growing portfolio of new products – S/4, C/4, cloud properties, SCP, SAC, Qualtrics etc. They continue to stay with ECC, BOBJ, B1 and other 20-25 year old products. I did not call them laggards or anything else pejorative for reasons that will become clear as you read further. I estimated 60% of SAP’s 400+K customers are in that group, especially those in Europe. If anything SAP is ahead of its on-prem peers. S/4 is maturing nicely and its coverage in functional and geographic areas is much wider. The competitors have even more Bystanders in their customer base.
There are three big gating factors for their lack of movement
Not enough functionality
I have heard from countless customers they do not see enough from individual vendors in the cloud, and they are afraid to add to their patchwork of already too many vendors. After 20 years of cloud applications, we have too little global or industry coverage. So, you have vendors like NetSuite brag they have users in 200+ countries and they support over 190 currencies, but their own site shows detailed functionality for less than 20 countries. You have vendors who claim to “do ERP” but have zero shop floor or warehouse or operational capabilities in the cloud. I got a nasty note from a vendor executive asking why I considered “back office” functionality “boring”. I responded “I was trained as a CPA so boring is a strong term but I am amazed the industry talks so little about operational systems and vertical functionality compared to all the talk of hcm, crm and core accounting.”
Too expensive and risky a migration
A number of customers have tested the waters and many have been shocked by the proposals they have seen from SIs. Many SIs are behaving like it’s 1999. Just because the S/4 or Workday software is relatively new, it does not justify a premium in consultant rates. The functionality is not dramatically different. Also, SI delivery models have not evolved much. Just not enough automation in data conversion, testing and other phases of projects they do over and over at clients. Finally, there is their age old FUD of “oh, there is so much change management”. And yes, they still cannot show predictable outcomes. The muscle memory of the overruns and failures of the last wave of ERP and CRM remains with too many customers for them to sign up. I was actually pleased to catalog many case studies of ECC to S/4 migrations in my book which minimized the organizational change and the SI role – they stuck with SAP GUI, stayed on-prem etc. They are postponing innovations, but frankly reducing exposure to the “change management” and other SI premiums.
Cloud economics are just not as attractive
In wave 1 of the cloud, the economics were compelling. The cloud collapsed 4 contracts from on-prem world – the software, the hosting, the AMS and that of SIs who did frequent upgrades. Multi-tenancy and simplified contracting explained why it was so attractive to look at a Salesforce or a SuccessFactors relationship. But in the last decade, reality has set in. I have heard from a number of customers their incumbent infrastructure is fully amortized – the cloud only adds to that cost layer. I have heard from others who have sharpened their pencils, that buying their infrastructure is still cheaper than subscribing in the cloud when it is annualized. Then there is the expectation that comes from their outsourcing experiences – when you hand someone a 3 or 5 year contract you have the right to expect CMM Level 5 or Six Sigma continuous improvements. Instead, too many SaaS renewals are turning into unpleasant head-butting experiences – no improvements, just massive cost increases.
Most customers I have talked to would love to modernize. Many, in fact are frustrated with the status quo. ABAP or Peoplecode are not exactly recruiting assets any more. Their significant customizations and technical debt are growing compliance and security risks. They realize they cannot leverage multi-tenancy, machine learning and other advances with their current set-up. But they are nervous. They want lots more operational functionality, and they want better economics and predictable results.
In the book, I called on SAP to “tilt its bell curve” and jar the Bystanders into action. Other on-prem vendors need to do that even more in their customer bases. Pure cloud vendors continue to have the opportunity to replace incumbent vendors. But they need to tackle the three big issues I highlight above.
Just calling the Bystanders “laggards” or something else demeaning is to ignore the reality of the state of cloud applications.
(Cross-posted @ Deal Architect)