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Cloud platform wars - SAP Hybris Chief makes the case for YaaS

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez February 16, 2016
Summary:
Hybris’ Chief Strategy Officer Brian Walker believes YaaS may attract developers away from Salesforce, as the Hybris alternative is more open and flexible.

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At last years’ Hybris annual user summit in Munich, I commented on how the company was keen to keep its individual identity separate from SAP after being acquired by the company in 2013. At the time Hybris’ priority was pushing its marketing capabilities and boasting about taking control of SAP’s front-facing assets.

I saw this as an attempt to calm existing customers that were nervous to be part of the SAP ecosystem, whilst simultaneously pushing hard into the SAP install base.

And it seems that this has worked. This year Hybris kicked off its summit by telling delegates that it had signed more than 750 new accounts this year, with over 300 going live. It made digs that its commerce competitor Demandware probably “only signed 20” customers over the same period.

However, whilst marketing is still a top priority for Hybris, it was evident from the opening keynote and following discussions that a lot more is being introduced into the fold. There was talk of new service and sales capabilities, as well as interesting customer profiling technologies. But most importantly there was a clear commitment from Hybris to enter the cloud platform wars and to make its case for YaaS - Hybris-as-a-Service.

YaaS is similar to other cloud platforms out there - such as Salesforce’s force.com - in that it hopes to encourage partners, customers and developers create a new Hybris cloud ecosystem that has a diverse range of products and services built on top of it.

However, Hybris claims that it is far more open and flexible than the other cloud platforms, as it is more of a framework than a locked-down platform, which offers freedom of choice in programming languages and sees Hybris providing SDKs, tools and documentation to help those build on top of it. For a technical breakdown of YaaS take a read of this useful blog post.

Diving deeper into YaaS

During the keynote Hybris president Carsten Thoma described Salesforce’s competitor platform as a “first generation” cloud software platform, which is a bold statement given the success to date of force.com.

I got a chance to sit down with Hybris Chief Strategy Officer Brian Walker to understand a bit more about how he sees YaaS playing out and to get a better idea of why he thinks it will attract developers. He had this to say about Salesforce:

I think honestly if you look at the Salesforce platform, and Salesforce itself, which whilst I have a lot of respect for them, really it’s not a flexible, extensible platform. You have vendor lock-in, the platform technology isn’t very contemporary, they’ve never really reconciled the different acquisitions they have made and they’ve basically taken what was on-premise software and created a cloud version of that. But not really evolved past that point.

I think what Carsten was referring to is that was the first generation of cloud solutions. That was taking what was on-premise software and just rebuilding it and making it cloud software. Demandware, which is a commerce competitor of ours, actually did the same.

But now we are into the next generation, which is more around creating flexibility and agility and helping businesses really transform. Not just ‘oh you used to manage your CRM data this way’ but now you do it with this tool in your browser, but the product is essentially the same.

Walker said that he believes the first set of ‘non-blue’ products (i.e. non-SAP Hybris products) being built on the platform will be those created by its partners. I got the impression from the event that Hybris has a fairly extensive ISV and partner ecosystem, with comments made on stage during the keynote that these account for most of the company’s sales.

We’ve seen with other cloud platforms that this is where the ‘creativity’ starts and it makes sense that to encourage a diverse ecosystem to start with those already engaged in selling Hybris. Walker said:

The first source sort of non-blue packages and services available through YaaS will probably be our existing ISV and partner ecosystem. We have systems integration partners who also build a lot of unique IP that today kind of lives as software assets or design patterns that they use when they are pitching their services to a customer.

With YaaS they can actually build those solutions in the cloud, much easier to support, faster to deploy. They will have an option as to whether to sell it through the marketplace or maintain it as their own private service. That’s another very rich source and both those communities are very eager to get involved.

Beyond partners

However, it’s the independent developers and customers that Walker is particularly interested

brian walker hybris
Brian Walker, Hybris Chief Strategy Officer

in - and to be honest this is a clearer indicator of success for the platform. Equally, we have seen with force.com, there has been motivation to create whole new companies around the the Salesforce platform (FinancialForce being the obvious one, but also the likes of Sage moving their cloud products to force.com).

Walker particularly sees the language agnostic nature of the YaaS platform as a big sell for Hybris. He said:

I think what will be interesting for us will be how quickly the small, independent developer community tap into this and starts developing services. I think that’s where things will really get interesting. Because it’s technology agnostic, it’s not like you have to develop in Abap, which is the old-school SAP language, or Java, or some other sort of enterprise class development language.

Maybe it’s a little harder to attract developers to Java today than it was even five years ago, because there are so many interesting web development technologies out there today. With YaaS they can use whatever they want. They can even use Ruby or .NET and deploy these services in the marketplace. It’s not like you have to be a certain type of developer or go through a certain kind of training.

Walker also believes that YaaS could serve as a useful revenue stream for enterprise technology departments that want to build and sell their own Hybris tools.

Customers also though, some customers are very eager. Some customers will participate. For a CIO it’s a very different equation if they’re going to spend X number of person hours and money developing this stuff. And it’s just the cost of doing business, they build an ROI case.

But now their ROI case can look a lot different if they say now actually they can sell this as software. There’s a value for us and we actually have a chance. That’s a little bit different, longer term disruption that can occur.

And can we expect new YaaS companies to spring up around the Hybris platform. Walker hopes so.

I do anticipate that could happen. I think what’s interesting about force.com is that it is kind of a proprietary environment. And so in a way those companies are locked into Salesforce. Those companies don’t even really work outside of the Salesforce ecosystem. What’s interesting about YaaS is that it’s not that way.

If you develop a service on YaaS, a package on YaaS, if you decided that that platform isn’t working for you, there isn’t that same vendor lock-in. So I actually think that entrepreneurs might gravitate to YaaS because there isn’t that lock-in.

My take

It’s an interesting pitch from Walker and Hybris. I can see the appeal of YaaS in terms of its flexibility and that developers will be fairly unrestricted. Hybris’s attempts to fill out its portfolio beyond marketing and commerce will also bode the platform well, with those wanting to take advantage of a diverse set of tools and capabilities.

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That being said, I don’t really buy into the whole force.com is a ‘first generation’ cloud platform. Whilst that may be technically true, it’s also true that force.com is one of the most successful cloud platforms out there at the moment and is leading the way in terms of creating a diverse ecosystem.

There are also questions that remain about what impact this will have on SAP itself. Will this become the platform of choice for SAP to promote? What about the HANA Cloud Platform? Hybris execs made some comments about the two being closely linked and aligned, but I don’t fully understand what that means in terms of go-to-market strategy.

Nonetheless it’s interesting to have a cloud platform out there that isn’t locked down and one that’s different from the rest. Will that attract people away from Salesforce? Time will tell.

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