21 February, 2014

Single-vendor versus best-of-breed

When it comes to buying software, most large enterprises have a defined strategy of buying all their software from a few big vendors. The whole idea really stems from the more generic idea of single sourcing. Companies can get much better deals by pooling similar purchases into one vendor agreement. This works great for commodity-like products with limited innovation such as office furniture and factory supplies. But in areas where innovation is ripe and newer and better options are continually becoming available, this strategy fails miserably. The problem is that the large vendors are less incentivised to build good quality products with validated functionality since they can sell it solely based on the "strategic vendor" argument. Another argument for the single-vendor approach is the ease of integration. In reality though, most vendor portfolios these days are a mishmash of acquired products that don't always play together as nicely as the vendor claims.

Buying best-of-breed applications is quite the opposite strategy. Rather than just buying whatever your "strategic vendor" is offering, you are scanning the market for the best-of-breed applications that will deliver the most value to your business. Often these applications are discovered by people close to the problems in the business. At the end of the day, the business will always prefer a best-of-breed application because it is, well, the best of breed. Best-of-breed used to be much more commonplace before the emergence of the all-singing, all-dancing ERP suites from companies like SAP and Oracle. Over time, however, the more the mega-vendors succeeded in pushing their "one suite for everything" message, the more best-of-breed as a strategy lost its legitimacy. This is changing again though. I am now seeing a trend where best-of-breed is fighting its way back into the strategic conversations.

I have observed this trend in two areas that I have been close to in the last 5-10 years: collaboration and data management. In collaboration SharePoint was on a long lasting winning streak by providing a "Swiss army knife" that could address a wide range of collaboration, content management and portal needs. It successfully spread like wildfire in most large enterprises, often driven by the business but also loved by IT because of the "one platform for many use cases" argument. However, speaking to many analysts, there is definitely a consensus that for SharePoint "the glory days are behind us." SharePoint is no longer perceived as the magic silver bullet and we're starting to see a best-of-breed trend where companies are mixing and matching different products for different purposes. E.g. using Box for file storage, WordPress for websites, Jive for collaboration, etc.

Another area where I have seen this trend is in data quality and management. Large enterprises have for a long time been buying whatever their large vendor of choice (e.g. SAP, Oracle, IBM, Informatica, etc.) would throw at them to fill these needs. But working for Winshuttle (bias alert!) has taught me that the single-vendor strategy leaves significant open gaps in many important areas. At Winshuttle, we've been very successful in providing best-of-breed capabilities for desktop data management and data governance process improvements, filling vital gaps in those areas.

It reminds me of what's happened in the grocery industry over the last 50 years. It used to be that we would shop for our groceries at individual specialty shops. We would buy our meat at the butcher, our fish at the fishmonger, etc. Then along came supermarkets, offering a much more convenient option where we could get everything under the same roof. But we are now slowly realising that we are actually getting sub-standard food products this way. More and more specialty shops are reappearing offering quality foods and collectively catering to a much wider variety of demands. Like with best-of-breed applications, specialty food stores offer exactly what we want and it's usually much healthier too!

The reality is that both strategies have validity in different areas. We're still going to the supermarket for commodities like washing powder and cling wrap. Companies will still be buying the "commodity capabilities" from their primary vendors. But companies are also increasingly selecting best-of-breed applications in areas that are strategically important to their business and where the need for innovation is driving rapid change. In other words, we shouldn't really be having a fundamentalist argument about whether single-vendor or best-of-breed is the better strategy. We should rather talk about how to best implement a hybrid of the two.

27 January, 2014

Speaking at Collaborate 14 in Las Vegas


The Oracle Applications Users Group is having their annual community event, Collaborate, in Las Vegas on April 7-11. I'll be there in the Winshuttle booth talking to attendees about solving master data problems. I also have the below session scheduled for Friday at 11 am.

Improve master data quality with Excel and SharePoint
Business user tools such as Excel and SharePoint can be utilized to improve processes for master data creation and maintenance. Power users in the business can create web forms and spreadsheets for data collection and validation. Combined with automated workflows, these provide the business with transformed processes for ongoing data governance. In this session, it will be discussed how to quickly improve data quality with lightweight and cost-effective solutions, employing a bottom-up approach that will yield immediate results.

13 January, 2014

Speaking at the ASUG Chapter Meeting in New York City

There is an effort going on to revitalise the ASUG community for the New York City Metro Area. If you are based in the area and work with SAP, it's a great community to get involved in. The next meeting will be on February 5 and you can sign up on the ASUG website. I'll be there delivering a session on improving SAP master data.

Improve master data quality and save your company millions of dollars
Poor master data quality costs businesses millions of dollars in both lost opportunities and having to rectify mistakes. With the increased speed of data access delivered by SAP HANA technologies, a high quality master data foundation becomes even more critical. In this session, it will be discussed how to quickly improve data quality with lightweight and cost-effective solutions, employing a bottom-up approach that will yield immediate results.

12 January, 2014

The best books I read in 2013

Cleaning out consumed books on my Kindle this morning, I got inspired to share which of the books I read in 2013 that I enjoyed the most and would recommend to others. It's a mixed bag of novels, business books and various non-fiction.
  • Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
    My favourite novel of the year explores what happened to Japanese Americans on the west coast of the US during World War II. It is a historically accurate book providing a fascinating window into life in Seattle in the 40s.
  • Among Muslims: Meetings at the Frontiers of Pakistan by Kathleen Jamie
    I love travelling and I love reading the accounts of other people emerging themselves in other cultures. My wife and I went to Pakistan in July and out of the 60+ countries I have spent time in, Pakistan is probably the most friendly and hospitable place I've ever visited. Unfortunately, not many travel there, but Kathleen Jamie did and she's written a beautiful book about her experiences.
  • K2:Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain by Ed Viesturs
    It's hard to beat the combination of adventure and drama that you find in mountaineering books and I'm a sucker to those books. One of the best I read last year is Ed Viesturs' narrative of the climbing history of K2. The fact that I was trekking into K2 base camp in Pakistan while I read the book only enhanced the reading experience.
  • Breaking Trail: A Climbing Life by Arlene Blum
    Mountaineering used to be a heavily male dominated sport. Back in the 1970s, Arlene Blum was determined to change that and led the first teams of women to successful summits of great mountains like Denali and Annapurna.
  • Fall of Giants and Winter of the World by Ken Follett
    These are the first two books of a historic trilogy which follows five interrelated families move through the 20th century. It's a very captivating way of learning about all the events that led to the world wars and the impact those had on people in various layers of society. Warning: These are big books! Although these days you don't realise until after several hours of reading and the progress bar hasn't moved much.
  • Drive The Surprising Truth About What Motivated Us by Daniel Pink
    When it comes to motivating people in the workplace, there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. Read this to understand why great companies should give their employees autonomy, mastery and purpose. I read this as part of a Friday book discussion group at work and I am grateful that I work for a company that sees this book as a blueprint for people management.
  • Whole Earth Discipline: Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, Restored Wildlands, and Geoengineering Are Necessary by Stewart Brand
    What does it really take to ensure a sustainable future for humanity? You may find some of these ideas controversial, but this is an eye-opening book written by a green activist turned realist.
  • 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann
    In short, new archeological evidence suggests that the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparse, primitive or living in a pristine wilderness. Populations were some of the largest on the planet, very sophisticated and they actively engineered the environment around them. Some great lessons on sustainable geoengineering.
  • Presentation Secrets by Alexei Kapterev
    If you do a lot of presentations, it's always good to get a few tips for improvements. This book is great because it's written by a guy who by his own admission used to be a lousy presenter. It contains some very pragmatic guidelines for story telling, building attractive slides and delivering with a passion.
  • I Am The Secret Footballer: Lifting the Lid on the Beautiful Game by Anonymous
    For a lifelong football fan (football with your feet that is), this is a rare insight into the "glamorous" life of a professional footballer. Written by a current player at the highest level, whose identity remains a mystery, this is an honest and fearless account of what goes on behind the scenes in the world of professional football.
  • Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
    Considering this book in the context of "Big Data" will give you some interesting perspectives on the future...

20 September, 2013

Slide deck from ASUG New England 2013 on improving master data quality with Excel and SharePoint

Yesterday I did a presentation at the New England chapter of the Americas' SAP Users' Group (ASUG). The talk was mainly about using Winshuttle to compose solutions for improving SAP master data quality, leveraging the widely deployed and familiar front-ends of Excel and SharePoint.

We discussed how power users in the business can create web forms and spreadsheets for data collection and validation. Combined with automated workflows, these provide the business with transformed processes for ongoing data governance. These types of agile and cost-effective solutions can quickly improve data quality, employing a bottom-up approach that will yield immediate results.

In the introduction, we also discussed how Gartner is expecting enterprises to move towards a Pace-Layered Application Strategy in the coming years. Ultimately this architecture is expected to better support business change, differentiation and innovation. I can only encourage you to research the topic. It makes a lot of sense and it is certainly driving our product investment strategy at Winshuttle.

03 May, 2013

See you at SAPPHIRE in Orlando

In a little over a week, it's time for SAPPHIRE NOW in Orlando. Apart from working the Winshuttle booth and meeting with various customers, partners and subject matter experts, I'll be facilitating a "microforum" discussion on master data:

Improve your Master Data following a bottom-up approach
Partner & SME Solutions Microforum 2
Wednesday 4:00 pm - 4:45 pm

During the conference, I'll be very interested in connecting with anyone who wants to share their experiences with managing and improving SAP master data. If I don't see you at the session above, you can find me at the Winshuttle booth or reach out to me on Twitter (@kalsing).

06 November, 2012

See you at the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas

Next week it's time for the biggest SharePoint event of the year, Microsoft's own SharePoint show in Las Vegas. I'm looking forward to catching up with many friends in the community from around the world. I'll be anchored in the Winshuttle booth talking about ERP integration and business critical processes with anyone who is interested. Swing by or reach out to me on Twitter (@kalsing).

I have a scheduled partner theater session at 7.20 pm on the Sunday night about how SharePoint can be a platform for delivering on Gartner's Pace-Layered Application Strategy. I'll barely be back from a visit to Winshuttle Labs in India, so my colleague Jeff Shuey is going to cover for me. Jeff's an awesome presenter so don't miss it!

A pace-layered application strategy around your ERP
For ERP-centric business processes, there is an increasing gap between business users’ need for optimization and innovation and IT professionals’ goals of reducing costs, maximizing security and standardizing technologies. Learn how SharePoint can bridge this gap and become your platform of innovation in business critical applications, enabling you to quickly respond to ever-changing business conditions.

10 October, 2012

Wrap-up from the ASUG Data Governance SIG in Houston

I've spent the last three days in Houston at the ASUG Special Interest Group (SIG) for Data Governance. It's an area that has been steadily growing and in its eighth annual incarnation there was 220 attendees and three full days of sessions, all focused on data governance. Certainly, a stark contrast to the Oracle conference I attended last week in San Fransisco which had 50,000 attendees with a very broad range of interests. Kudos to the organizers for putting on an excellent event with an intimate atmosphere where we all had the opportunity to connect with everyone else.

The content included lots of invaluable insights from various SAP customers and industry thought leaders, all about how to tackle data governance. One of many things I wanted to validate at this event was the case for using Microsoft tools as an important part of the tool bag for data teams. It was evident that master data management and governance are areas where using tools such as Excel, Access and SharePoint is very common. Data governance is often championed by technically savvy business people who want to be empowered to solve problems without lengthy and costly projects on the tool implementation side of the equation. Hence, it makes sense that these business user oriented tools are heavily utilised. However, it was also clear that the use of these tools needs to be managed properly to keep everything aligned with the long term objectives.

There was a lot of talk about best practices for executively sponsored governance programs with a well-defined long term roadmap. However, it was also acknowledged that a top-down approach does not, by itself, yield the short term results required to keep the movement going. As it was nicely put by Maria Villar from SAP when talking about SAP's internal data governance program: "Information governance is a team sport and everybody has to play" and "ownership should be pushed to the lines of business." Most speakers reasserted that process owners in the business should be accountable for their own master data. In one session, when the audience was asked whether they had a roadmap outlining their master data program, the majority responded that data management capabilities have been introduced on a reactive basis.

All in all, I sensed a consensus around the need for both top-down and bottom-up data governance initiatives. There needs to be a long term roadmap outlining the strategic goals which will ensure the continuous support from top management and alignment with the company's business goals. But there also needs to be more tactical initiatives where lightweight and cost-effective solutions will yield immediate results and measurable business improvements. It's the latter, I'm currently focused on at Winshuttle.

25 April, 2012

Wrap-up from Share 2012 in Atlanta

I’m about to shoot back to the Pacific Northwest after some great days amongst SharePoint peeps in Atlanta. For me, the Share 2012 show started on the Monday night, being a booth bandit for Winshuttle in the exhibition hall. We had some interesting conversations with people wanting to understand how to get their SharePoint environment better integrated with their SAP backend.

Tuesday kicked off with a triple keynote with back-to-back sessions by Dux Raymond Sy, Microsoft's Gideon Bibliowicz and finally Jody Billiard and Shawn Olsen from Coca-Cola. Dux was interesting and enthusiastic as always. One of his key messages was that in order to succeed with your SharePoint initiative, it needs to be intentional, business-driven and have the necessary sponsorship. It sounds obvious, but in too many organisations SharePoint is still being driven by IT as a secondary initiative without clear business goals.

Following Dux, Gideon provided an overview of Microsoft’s vision for the SharePoint platform. Microsoft’s fastest growing server product ever is still all about the platform-based approach coupled with an extensive and vibrant eco-system. Having been involved in the SharePoint community as well as other technology communities at various stages throughout my career, I can only agree that the SharePoint eco-system and community are second to none in the enterprise world when it comes to breadth, depth and most importantly, enthusiasm.

Jody and Shawn from Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated were next sharing their experiences with rolling out ‘RedCentral’ for the 2,000 users in their division. After a rather energetic introduction, even showing ads for Coke brands on the big screen, they focused on an interesting use case around using SharePoint to deliver tools to their sales force consistently. They have done a great job getting the most out of the standard capabilities. A piece of advice for everyone was that building a dashboard on SharePoint will get you a promotion!

I also attended the late afternoon panel discussion on governance which was moderated by Jeremy Thake. It was a lively discussion, but I couldn’t help thinking that it would have been even better if there had been more specific advice on how to implement governance. Governance conversations have a tendency to stay on an abstract level. There was some mention of best practices around site templates and other bits, but much more of this would have been great.

The closing keynote on Wednesday afternoon by Sarah Haase from Best Buy was a highpoint. Sarah went through various approaches to driving successful user adoption, providing lots of practical advice on how to get users engaged and excited. A key takeaway was that this is entirely possible and there are proven ways of tackling it. She also showed this hilarious video illustrating how a movement takes form.

From my perspective, it was interesting to spend the majority of my time speaking to customers on the exhibition floor. There was clear evidence of a growing interest in taking SharePoint beyond basic collaboration and document management. More and more customers are looking for ways to leverage SharePoint as a platform for solving more business process-centric problems, involving workflows and business data from various backend systems.

Kudus to The Eventful Group for putting on another terrific event. I’ve been involved in many of their events for the last five years and it’s always a pleasure. One of the really cool things they do is line up an off-topic motivational talk at the end of the first day. I was particularly excited about listening to Braam Malherbe’s story since I only just read his book, The Great Run. Check it out. This guy completed a 4,200 km run along the entire length of the Great Wall of China. It certainly makes any challenge with SharePoint look rather insignificant.

15 March, 2012

Speaking at SAPPHIRE NOW and the ASUG Annual Conference 2012 in Orlando

Time flies and we’re rapidly approaching May and the annual SAP bonanza in Orlando. Like last year, I’ll be delivering a presentation on how to empower business units to solve SAP challenges with SharePoint. I will have a particular focus on where to find the “low hanging fruit” and the characteristics of those use cases. This is the session abstract:

Leveraging SharePoint to Empower the "Business Developer"
Increasingly, business people empower themselves to create solutions that support their business functions. These business developers are here to stay and harnessing their enthusiasm and integral domain knowledge can provide the business with a vital competitive advantage.
Considering SharePoint's popularity amongst business users and its wide range of core capabilities aimed at business developers, it provides an immense opportunity for supporting business processes across the enterprise. Without writing code, it is possible to extend the use of SharePoint to include solutions that are fully integrated with SAP.
This session will outline what it takes to surface SAP transactions in SharePoint following an approach that is entirely driven by the business. In particular, there will be specific examples of how a business developer can utilize SharePoint to create forms and workflow solutions which evolve around SAP.

During the conference, I will also be conducting research interviews with subject matter experts in functional areas that can benefit from SAP/SharePoint integrated solutions. If you are going to the conference and want to share knowledge and experiences around surfacing SAP through SharePoint, I’d be keen to hear from you. You can reach out to me on Twitter (@kalsing) or send me an email.