Dennis focuses in on speed of deployment, citing Groupon's ambition in summer 2011 to go live with NetSuite across twenty-six international markets in under three months — a goal that, by the way, in reality proved to be over-ambitious and was not achieved. But here's his main point:
Contrast this with multi year deployments that are the bread and butter of large scale SAP and Oracle deployments but which, with cloud, are going away.
I'm not sure that the timespan of deployments is the key issue — or rather, it's a symptom not the root cause of why cloud deployments need a different approach. My main takeaway from what enterprises were saying at SuiteWorld last week about their NetSuite deployments was that they go cloud when they want to move fast to achieve business goals. Or as Florida Crystals CIO Don Whittington told ASUGNews about his reasons for putting SAP in the cloud, it's all about "business agility for fast time-to-market."
So what matters goes beyond merely an ability to complete deployments in 6-12 week timespans. SIs must offer nimble processes that support the wider goal of business agility. Rather than taking time to craft and deliver a comprehensive, one-time solution, they must be able to implement an out-of-the-box deployment that can then rapidly adapt to changing business needs. These deployments also happen to consume less time and cost, but that is a side-effect of the business objective.
Last week at SuiteWorld, I met with Andrew Peddie, managing director of FirstHosted, the most experienced NetSuite partner in EMEA, with eighty deployments under its belt since it was founded in April 2006. A representative customer is document management software vendor Alfresco, which is growing at between 35-50% a year and already preparing for an IPO. Peddie said that FirstHosted generally begins a NetSuite deployment with out-of-the-box functionality so that the client can get up-and-running quickly.
"You can do that very, very rapidly," he said. "We don't want to lose that strength by getting the whole project bogged down. We go for a bare-bones implementation and then we stack additional functionality afterwards." What then happens is that the SI continues to work with the client as they grow into the product and adapt it more closely to their needs. "Generally speaking there is an ongoing relationship over a number of years," said Peddie. So the engagement is still multi-year, even if the deployment happens early on in a matter of weeks.
The need for speed also means that cloud SIs tend to reuse experience (and indeed custom development) from one customer to another. FirstHosted has a deliberate strategy of developing expertise in specific markets that it can leverage across customers. This is not dissimilar to the vertical strategies of traditional SIs, but with one key difference: on a multitenant cloud platform, custom code does not have to be rewritten for each customer's separate implementation, enabling cost-effective, timely reuse.
The reusability of code written to a single, shared platform inspired cloud integrator Appirio to found the CloudSpokes developer community, where development challenges are solved by crowdsourcing. Appirio regularly uses it in projects on Salesforce.com, Google, AWS and other cloud platforms. "We're using it in roughly 25% of our projects now," Appirio's CEO Chris Barbin told me earlier this month.
Barbin sees its use of CloudSpokes as a clear differentiator for the firm against larger, traditional SIs, who he feels would be reluctant to adopt the same approach because it would not suit their business model: "We believe that the next generation of evolution in the services vertical will be crowdsourcing. It's difficult for an IBM or a Deloitte to embrace crowdsourcing because it's taking food off their own plate."
Last week, e-signature provider DocuSign teamed up with Appirio to add a DocuSign-specific Spoke to CloudSpokes, as file collaboration provider Box has previously done. In a statement released with the announcement, Neil Hudspith, DocuSign's chief revenue officer, commented that in its customer engagements, "Appirio has figured out how to blend speed with business impact." There's that emphasis once more on speed and business outcomes.
It's usually taken as read that speed of execution is not in the DNA of the GSIs, from where it's a short hop to conclude that they don't "get cloud." But enterprises don't want speed if it comes at the expense of business impact. I recall being impressed by CSC's deployment of Microsoft's cloud-hosted Exchange and Sharepoint suite at Royal Mail Group a couple of years ago. The roll-out to 30,000 users was achieved in just a few weeks, but it had taken nine months of preparation to have everything in place for such a rapid roll-out. Legal approval of the contract had taken even longer.
Cloud applications are often advertised as simple and easy to deploy, but that doesn't eliminate the change management overhead that enterprises must plan for. "There's a level of change management process that is critical," Barbin concedes. "What's critical for our industry is to make sure it's not ten dollars per dollar of license cost. It's evolving in an integrated, agile approach. You have to be thoughtful about how you do it in parallel."
3 key questions
In summary then, it seems there are three key questions to ask about any SI when evaluating who to partner with for a cloud project. Not just whether they "get cloud" but:
- Is the SI capable of rapid execution to support the project's business goals?
- Does the SI have experience — better still, access to reusable code — that's relevant to this project?
- Will the SI provide properly for change management needs?
Often, the best answers to those questions will come from a specialist cloud SI. But relevant enterprise experience and understanding of change management needs may on occasion tip the balance in favor of a GSI.
Disclosure: NetSuite funded travel and accommodation costs for diginomica personnel attending SuiteWorld. At the time of writing, Box is a diginomica partner.
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