February’s Collaborative Commerce event saw contributions from many of the biggest names in the industry. The most interesting thing is, different vendors’ current visions of the future lie poles apart. Datamonitor’s Martin Atherton considers whether the way forward is Internet-only, ‘fourth-tier’, or pretty much the same as the present…
Feburary’s big name sponsored Collaborative Commerce event in London was an interesting experience, for several reasons.
In the first instance, it was an early effort by PeopleSoft to remind us that its aspirations to repeat its US success in the EMEA region are real – hence the attendance of CEO Craig Conway. PeopleSoft is generally acknowledged to have a reasonable head start on the client-server vendors in the enterprise applications space, thanks to Mr Conway’s decision to move into the ‘Internet only’ space in 1999.
Given that the company has posted record revenues for the last five quarters, it is clear that the message is getting through – in its domestic market at least. The competition is beginning to catch up, but currently, most are playing mix and match with legacy installed bases running older versions of recently web-enabled enterprise applications. That briefly sums up the enterprise applications space.
eXcelling through customization
PeopleSoft promotes ‘no code on the client’, and its rivals are in the process of web-enabling their own offerings. But another vendor found close by at the event has a very different story to tell – not so much different from PeopleSoft, as from the general industry consensus held in the industry.
Revolving around the phrase of the moment, ‘business process’, eXcellon believes that taking business logic into a fourth technology tier will create a device and platform-agnostic environment in which to model and execute business processes.
The company’s vision of the future of enterprise applications is an XML-based, services oriented environment, where source of data and flavor of hardware are irrelevant, and applications are designed in-house with vendor provided tools.
It believes that rather than being constrained by pre-packaged functionality, users’ technology experience will be increasingly dictated by business logic, rules and company-defined (if not user-defined) functionality. As a vendor, it says, unless you are playing in the highest tier of the technology architecture, commoditization will prevail – and future success will not.
Good for users, less so for most vendors
There is indeed evidence that the user community is open to the promises of a service-based future, perhaps even regarding enterprise applications. What functionality is left in-house (rather than outsourced) is likely to be of a nature that requires some degree of personalization – at the very least a degree of vertical specific expertise.
This area would be a good base for future competition – leveraging domain expertise to fulfill a users highly specific requirement through using business rules and process to assemble web enabled components into ‘semi-bespoke’ applications.
If this version of events is indeed the rightful path to everlasting collaborative joy, there will have to be a radical shift in vendor strategy. It will be interesting to see how this will, or even could, manifest itself, since a future era of universally accepted standards and communication protocols simply will not need the same number of vendors selling platforms and functionality.
Slowly does it…
Yet amid all these seemingly incompatible messages comes one view expressed that all might do well to take notice of, as it could foster increased understanding between the user and vendor communities.
Paul Strassman, the economist and author, made the point that the evolution towards the collaborative enterprise (read seamless real time connectivity, transparent supply chains and customer-centric manufacturing) could well take at least several decades.
Sure, this may not be an earth-shattering observation – but it’s one the casual observer would certainly not consider had occurred to the majority of parties involved. Hopefully, the vendor community will take notice of the truth that there is no rush. The majority of the user base is nowhere near as advanced as the vendors seem to think.
There could well be much to be gained from stepping back and a lot of value in an approach which acknowledged the users perhaps need a bit of time in which to catch up, catch their breath before catching the next, and possibly rather radical, wave of change.