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...