This week has seen diginomica team members in Orlando for SAPPHIRE Now and San Jose for NetSuite SuiteWorld. I was in San Jose at the SuiteWorld event but had contact with colleagues over in Orlando. Which was better? That depends on your point of view. Holger Mueller, VP Products at NorthgateArinso provides his candid assessment of the keynotes delivered on day one and day two. He scores day one to NetSuite and day two as honors even. I agree based upon what I saw and heard from both locations. However, it is the nuance from people on site that matters more.
The video above was recorded at the end of day one at SAPPHIRE Now. It provides an assessment of co-CEO Bill McDermott's opening keynote. It's interesting because the cultural differences between a US and non-US audience are immediately apparent. US types loved the sporting references, while non-US types felt they had missed out. John Appleby's comment is acerbic, if accurate: "There was a lot of male testosterone on the stage." The underlying message though was that while glitzy and designed to give customers the 'we care' message, it failed to talk to the kind of meaty content that people expect at these events.
In contrast, I was far more satisfied with what I saw at SuiteWorld where customers were brought on stage in largely unscripted mode while product direction was clearly laid out.
You can argue that NetSuite has a lot more to prove to its customers than SAP because it is far less mature as a business. That would be a misreading of events. Advances in technology allow vendors to bring product to market much more quickly than they could in the past. Even so, NetSuite revealed that it has taken two years to get to the point where it can release a modestly complete manufacturing solution. In short - there are no short cuts if you want to be talken seriously.
More telling to me was the jibe that Zach Nelson got in early: 'We're here talking about applications, they are talking about a database.' It clearly riled SAP. Time and again I saw Tweets quoting various SAP executives disavowing that epithet. What does that tell you? I am surprised that SAP rose to the bait. Rather than simply explain SAP HANA's capabilities AND provide solid examples in applications, it fell into the same trap it always fall into: act defensively.
My sense is that SAP is concerned about NetSuite. That is a new dimension to the market and one that will encourage customers to think beyond short listing SAP as a given. As one analyst told me: 'Other than ByDesign, my interest in SAP is diminishing.' When pressed for a reason, he said that customers are no longer asking for on premises solutions but those built upon cloud technologies.
Equally telling was the fact that key influencers like Vinnie Mirchandani, Brian Sommer, Paul Greenberg, Estaban Kolsky and Ray Wang chose to attend NetSuite for day one rather than SAPPHIRE Now.
Hearing that, Zach Nelson must be jumping up and down. But before cracking the champagne I believe the company needs to accelerate the user experience refresh that is clearly underway. This is important because by everyone's reckoning, the UI is looking decidedly stale. I'd also argue that NetSuite should be far more aggressive in its messaging about the extent to which it protects its customers against the ever present security threats. Nelson told me that it is always a balancing act and I got the impression that the company would rather not draw attention to this topic. That's a mistake.
Without going into the details (Nelson asked me to be vague), NetSuite's security armor is impressive and should easily stand the probing of the most intrusive (sic) negotiation lawyer.
All in, SAP should be concerned about the new boys (and girls) on the block. Older vendors often struggle to reinvent and SAP is no exception. Trying to look hip and cool is great for the one day of the year when a company gets to strut its stuff. The reality is when we see those same cool use cases repeated over and over again. For its part, Netsuite should not be too smug. It might have won the battle of the conferences but it is still a small vendor in comparison to others. It still has much to prove.
Bonus points: (videos)
Disclosure: both NetSuite and SAP covered most of diginomica team travel costs. SAP is a premier partner.
Image credit: Thomas Insel via TED