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Weekend speculation - SAP, IBM and Accenture in 2015.

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy July 19, 2013
SAP is in the middle of a transformation of a kind we have not seen since the early 1990s. Many question where this leads. Here is one possible scenario. Please note it is heavily caveated.

sap 5 year comparison
I received a lot of back channel questions following my analysis of SAP's Q2 results. Most of them go something like this: 'I'm worried about SAP's cloud revenues. Do you think they've missed opportunities?' It's a fair question given the lumpiness in that area but cloud alone is not the whole picture by any means.

Regular readers will know that I have my eyes set on what happens after 2015. That is the time frame in which we will likely see the next major change among the top management at the company. At least that's what most people believe. In that context I am receiving increasing inquiries about what happens in a post-McDermott/Snabe era. Couple that with promises made over the years by SAP about its numbers plus the likelihood of a radical tipping point regarding the BusinessSuite and you can envision a very different picture from that which we see today. But even that is not the whole picture.

Some pundits also have their eyes glued to what's happening with IBM and Accenture. They are all part of the same broad market and what happens in one place has impact in another. So for example, SAP's results are thought to be leading indicators of impact on Accenture and IBM's results.

I suspect the real problem for many analysts is that the broad market picture looks so complicated that teasing out the piece parts and then re-assembling into a coherent whole is far from straightforward. I will attempt to lay down some guideposts in an effort to clarify what is really going on in the hope it provides buyers with some talking points.

Caveat: there is a significant element of speculation in what I am saying so please bear that in mind. Please also note I am ignoring the mobile element in this discussion as I don't have enough data points upon which to make any sensible assumptions.

Services and software background

The service market is in flux. IBM has a long term plan to significantly reduce its dependency on SAP implementations. That should be no surprise given that the secular decline in large scale on-premise implementations is in full swing. Holger Mueller pegs that decline at 20 percent year over year. He has that wrong because he ignores the inclusion of HANA revenue in the 2012 figures. Taking those numbers out, we see a decline more likely in the 10 percent range. That tracks closely with what I am hearing in the field.

Now...that decline could easily reverse if macro economic conditions in Asia Pacific improve. China in particular is not an obvious 'cloud' candidate yet it remains a huge and largely untapped market. SAP has confirmed that its investments in that region will continue - a sign that it believes there is long term opportunity. Back to services.

SIs struggling?

When you see SIs in a dog fight you know things are going sour. Right now IBM and Accenture are playing the blame game over a failed SAP implementation in Australia. In this case, Accenture is calling foul as it was shut out of the deal and believes it could have brought home the bacon where IBM allegedly failed. Elsewhere, IBM is calling foul with the CIA's decision to go with Amazon based upon alleged security concerns.

More broadly, SearchITChannel presents a picture that demonstrates a slow growing services market. I believe that headline assessment is too simplistic. While there is little doubt that services tied to large scale implementations are on a downward track, services related to cloud implementations are sky rocketing. What SearchITChannel doesn't say is that cloud implementations are often at much lower cost than the equivalents on-premise implementation. That of itself would drag down revenue growth. But even there, the big boys are getting it wrong.

According to the Redmond Channel Partner, the Veterans Association has just ditched a five year contract with HP to move its 600,000 Office users to Office 365. The contract, worth $36 million, doesn't sound excessively high given the per user 'cost' is $60 and runs over five years. However, and change management issues aside, it is folly to price large numbers of user transfers on what seems a simple multiple of a relative;y low per user cost. That doesn't reflect value at all.

I have consistently argued that the Big SIs will not see the revenues to which they are accustomed in a refactored cloud world. Some colleagues say they will - once the numbers become sufficiently attractive. That doesn't make sense unless you believe customers are willing to throw the same level of spend at cloud in services as they are to on-premise. More to the point, I can find no evidence that is happening. Rather, as SearchITChannel points out in quoting Jeffrey Kaplan, managing director of THINKstrategies Inc. it says:

"Just as you've seen in the past decade software and systems disrupted and decimated by the advent of SaaS and cloud, the same forces are at work undercutting the perceived value and, therefore, the demand for traditional consulting."

I regularly see this same sentiment coming from Bluewolf, Appirio and others. Now back to SAP.

The SAP quotient

Looking at SAP's results in detail, we see that cloud revenue from both SuccessFactors and Ariba tracked at an annual run rate of around €950 million. While the SI's will get a piece of this in implementation, my sense is that most of the work is staying with SAP's consulting group. Services popped six or ten percent depending on whether you prefer IFRS or non-IFRS numbers. In a declining ERP market, the balance of revenue must be largely attributable to cloud and HANA related sales with the likelihood that much goes to HANA.

As I have already noted, the SI multiple on cloud deals is much lower than on-premise. so if SAP is keeping much of that service revenue to itself for the time being then it is not only protecting revenue streams, it is providing pricing guidelines for the future that its partners cannot ignore. Factors in smaller players implementing vertical market solutions based on HANA and you soon see that the services market is not only fragmenting but at lower cost to the customer.

UPDATE - the maintenance equation

In my enthusiasm to get this done I neglected to add in thoughts around maintenance.

Last week, Rimini Street announced a blow out quarter. Andrew Nusca notes:

It's the thirteenth consecutive quarter where the company broke a financial record somewhere on the sheet—not a bad place to be as it looks overseas for growth with $15 million in additional funding in hand.

Coincidentally, the company ran a webinar featuring Embraer, a Brazilian aviation company. Since 2011, it has been on a quest to reduce IT spend. Ot has been sufficiently successful to warrant winning the 2013 Information Week Brazil's CIO  of the year for cost efficiency. Needless to say, Rimini Street made the most of this saying:

Embraer moved from SAP to Rimini Street in 2011 for support of its SAP system to achieve better value and improve the level of service received. As a result, Embraer immediately reduced its annual SAP maintenance fees by 50 percent. Furthermore, Embraer was able to significantly add to its overall savings by cutting expensive support and maintenance costs

Standard fare when it comes to third party maintenance alternatives. But here's the kicker. The savings:

...made it possible for Embraer to redeploy its substantial savings into new innovative initiatives that create competitive advantage in the marketplace and enable international business growth...

[My emphasis added.] Bingo! This is the kind of thing that customers who are in steady state with their ERP want to achieve. SAP says that as many as 70 percent of its customer portfolio have switched to the latest release of its core ERP. But...if the remaining 30 percent remain stubbornly wedded to older versions, which will be supported anyway through 2020, then that leaves a considerable amount of maintenance fees at risk.

How will SAP respond to the ongoing threat from Rimini and others? So far we have seen little to suppose that it will do more than throw the odd sop where the customer is clearly at risk. The threat represents a negotiating opportunity. Does SAP want 50 percent of something or 100 percent of nothing? Even at 50 percent it can still make solid margins of 90 percent on maintenance rather than 95 percent. But does it have the will to sacrifice margin? I think it will.

What of the future?

Financial analysts in particular hate this but SAP is playing a long game. It may have to endure the lumps of quarterly reporting but it is building both a platform (HANA) and subscription revenue streams (SuccessFactors/Ariba) that will see it keeping much of the overall revenue, i.e. software, subscriptions and services, to itself for the foreseeable future. Good news for customers as we shall see.

I argue that based upon its current course, SAP will reshape the SI world to one that is based more closely on delivering value rather than one that seeks to maximize billable hours. If it achieves that and keeps to its promise of delivering €2 billion in cloud revenues by 2015 then it is in much better shape than is apparent today. This scenario is not without complications.

Despite SAP providing assurances to IBM in 2012 that HANA is not competitive to IBM offerings as a database, SAP seems to be making an enemy in IBM. At the end of May, IBM issued a comparison between HANA and DB2 BLU in data mart scenarios. While SAP feigns 'surprise' there can be no doubt that IBM feels threatened. In a thinly veiled attack on IBM and Oracle, John Appleby lays out ten areas where he sees HANA FUD being spread by competitors.

Whatever the reality, my sources tell me that there is sufficient doubt over HANA's true capabilities to stall some deals. But that only works in the short term.


Picking apart the SAP ecosystem and reshaping it for a possible scenario in 2015 is far from straightforward. Macro economic factors in any major market could blow head or tail winds. Much depends on the extent to which SAP can convince the buying market that it is a value player and not just replacing old systems at what have to become commodity pricing. Much also depends on the degree to which SAP can entice third parties to build applications of the future on HANA.

Executive Board Member SAP Vishal Sikka has consistently said that HANA serves as the technical underpinning for SAP's renewal. If he is correct, then I can envisage HANA related revenue topping €2.5 billion by end 2015. Factor in promised €2 billion in cloud revenue (which I now think is conservative) but a continuing secular decline in on-premise ERP at a compound 10 percent. Net net, you still see growth for SAP but at lower levels than it has been accustomed.

The good news is that IF SAP delivers on all its promises then the company not only reshapes the business applications market but becomes more profitable while delivering genuine customer value. Many of my more cynical colleagues will see that as an over optimistic big IF. I see it as realistic based upon the manner in which SAP appears to be adjusting itself internally.

Plain sailing? No. Do-able? Absolutely.

As for IBM and Accenture, the two other dogs in this game? Much depends on their ability to get into software and reshape their own business models. They will likely get there but not before kicking and screaming about how unfair everyone else is. Those of us sitting on the sidelines will watch carefully for those crocodile tears.

In the meantime, it's worth studying the relative stock price performance of SAP, IBM, Accenture and Oracle. Notice any trends?


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