screen-shot-2010-04-22-at-105058-pmA month or so ago I sat in a room with a small group of bloggers discussing the enterprise software space with NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson and one sentence he said stuck in my mind:

The same was is playing out in this space all over again. And just like last time, the suite’s will win

Nelson was answering a question I put to him regarding a best-of-breed API fuelled approach to business software versus a more platform-led suite approach.

On the one hand we have a bunch of independent vendors, building their own individual products and attempting to stick them together via a plethora of APIs, these vendors would have us believe that in this day of so many differing, and specific needs, no suite approach can truly meet the needs of an organization and an approach that lets them cherry pick apps left, right and center will always dominate.

On the other hand we have the players, in this space led by Salesforce, Intuit and NetSuite, who believe that the time, complexity and cost of integrating disparate applications, no matter how broad their APIs are, will result in organizations deciding that a platform approach, which integrate a plethora of applications at source, will be the best approach.

I wanted to reflect on this debate again, in light of some recent interesting posts. On the one hand we have Jason Busch who posted specifically about the difficulties some organizations are having integrate:

In P2P, the challenges of multi-system ERP integration can increase at an exponential rate when SaaS configuration looks more like customization and / or when a company has a heterogeneous back-end systems environment. Above all, be careful with making any integration assumptions in a SaaS environment. Just because it worked previously — and should work with SaaS — doesn’t mean it’ll work today. Perhaps down the road we’ll be able to take complex SaaS integration for granted (and even SaaS-to-SaaS integration). But today, you’ll cover your bases far more by being cautious rather than optimistic.

On the other hand Ray Wang wrote a post looking at an offering from SnapLogic, a company that seeks to solve a key piece of the Cloud integration problem with modern, pluggable, and reusable pieces of code called Snaps. Without delving into the intricacies of Snap’s offering, they offer a bunch of pre-built integration connectors built on:

  • Enterprise vendor API’s and ODBC
  • Web based REST and http
  • Cloud SOAP and WS*
  • Social Media RSS and atomsSnap is also developing a marketplace where organizations can acquire pre-built “Snaps” for popular applications. Similarly ISV’s can create their own Snaps and market them on the marketplace. Already Snaps have been built for such applications as ADP Employease, OpenAir, Intacct, Oracle PeopleSoft Enterprise, SugarCRM, QuickBooks, and Box.netI have to say that, although the promise of SnapLogic sounds attractive, I believe the reality on the ground for businesses is that a suite approach will eventually win. While this goes against the grain of the traditional view articulated by SaaS vendors, all the indications are that rich platforms with deep levels of common data will be the plays that gain traction going forwards. I believe this contention is supported in part by Google’s recent moves to build it’s application marketplace – Google has always been a proponent of “the web being the platform” but even they are seeing that providing a specific platform with pre integrated datapoints is a no-brainer when selling software to businesses.

    So yes – yet again we’re seeing another battle-royal like that of the past, and yes, I concur with those who believe that, once again, the suites will win.

    Disclosure – a number of the vendors mentioned in this post have a consulting relationship with Diversity Analysis – as always, refer to my disclosure statement to clarify and perceived conflicts of interest.

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Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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