Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Oracle’s acquisition of SUN – what about the software?

Surprisingly, it was discussion about Oracle/SUN and my postscript about Business Objects that raised most comments in my post Microsoft to acquire SAP? – in particular, what will happen to the many software products that Oracle acquires with SUN?

Top of the list of products at risk must be the MySQL database. Personally I can’t see Oracle putting much investment in here – however, fortunately, there is a complete community of developers out there that will, I suspect, ensure that the product is not killed off entirely.

Top of the list of products to survive must be Java – Oracle remains a big supporter of Java and I believe we will see continued development and support and, despite rumours to the contrary, I believe that Oracle will continue to keep Java entirely free.

What about SUN’s operating system Solaris? – Oracle has always run best on Solaris, but with Linux seeming to have greater volume and presence in the market, I can see that Oracle will find a way to retire Solaris as the year’s pass by....

Then there’s OpenOffice.org - Larry has always been anti-Microsoft and looking for a product to attack the mighty MS – so perhaps this is a weapon in the great Oracle-vs-Microsoft war. But does OpenOffice really fit into Oracle’s toolbox? – particularly for the types of corporate customers Oracle aims at? I think OpenOffice could be at risk but – like MySQL – I believe that its long term future will be secured by the existing user community, and that it’s not in Oracle’s interest to kill off the products, but to limit its exposure to ongoing costs. No, I don’t see Star Office re-appearing as an Oracle product....

P.S. Every comment I received agreed that Microsoft would aim to take over SAP, although several felt that the timing would not be until next year....

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Microsoft to acquire SAP?

Rumours have abounded for the past few years about Microsoft bidding to acquire SAP, and now Microsoft has raised $3.75bn in the first bond issue in its financial history, refuelling those rumours. (Microsoft already has a formidable cash mountain of around $25bn, even after last year’s special dividend of $32bn).

Would SAP make a good acquisition for Microsoft?

In the past, Microsoft has focussed on selling volume products to smaller customers; in the business area, typically focussing on the SME market for ERP-type applications. Through several acquisitions it has built a Dynamics business around primarily its Great Plains, Navision and Axapta product lines. I believe that the AX ERP product is extremely strong in the mid-market for businesses, but Microsoft has continued to suffer from its “small company” image, and had found it difficult to make significant inroads into larger companies.

Microsoft has also suffered from the same problems with its database, SQL Server, easily the best technical product in the marketplace and, in my mind, far superior to Oracle. Although SQL Server is at long last making some inroads into larger organisations, it has been a long and steep slope that has taken many years more than such a good product deserves.

So one can see why Microsoft is considering SAP. Its acquisition would immediately put Microsoft onto the same level as Oracle in the battle for ERP market share, and open up the top end of the market - although one has to wonder what Microsoft will offer to SME’s – Dynamics or SAP Business One? I believe that the Dynamics AX product set is the superior offering in the middle market, although SAP may have more market share. In the short-term I would expect Microsoft to support all products, although it must aim to converge towards one or possible two products in the long term.

With Oracle continuing down its acquisition route, with SUN Microsystems its last major buy, and Microsoft failing in its bid to acquire Yahoo, Microsoft needs a big acquisition to move forward, and SAP seems perfect.

However, I can see problems ahead if the acquisition is made - my experience of cultures of the two companies is that they are significantly different. In addition, despite its protestations to the contrary, Microsoft remains a technology company, and has never fully understood the business applications software market – if Microsoft tries to impose its own culture and processes onto SAP, then I hate to think what the result may be. But perhaps SAP will be allowed the upper hand in the business applications area, and Microsoft will benefit from their different approach....

P.S. What about Business Objects, SAP’s last large acquisition? Although it comes with Crystal Reports, the reporting engine of choice for many Visual Studio programmers, the Business Intelligence (BI) software would compete directly with Microsoft’s own BI tools. Again, I see the two BI products co-existing in the short-term, but, I suspect that Microsoft would aim to see convergence towards a single BI product set – in this case I’d put my money on the Microsoft tools winning in the long run....

Monday, 11 May 2009

What about IRACIS?

Following on from my post on bringing back Systems Analysts, and continuing a theme related to grandmothers and eggs, I received a comment about development teams not understanding the true objectives of a new system – a comment I agree with - indeed, in my experience, there are situations where many directors/managers cannot explain nor quantify why a development is taking place (although I’ve found that this latter symptom is much more prevalent in the public sector than the private sector).

Back in my analyst days (admittedly a long time ago) we had the acronym IRACIS drummed into us to define the benefits of new systems –
Improve Revenue,
Avoid Cost,
Improve Service

Personally, as well as bringing back Systems Analyst roles, I believe it’s time to re-emphasise the importance of IRACIS to ensure that the benefits of new systems are better defined and understood across the whole organisation – from sponsoring Director, through managers and down to the most junior of the development team.

(Fortunately, many developments do have the expected benefits defined well, but it’s amazing how many don’t - and also how many projects that have their expected benefits defined don’t try to quantify those expected benefits, nor measure them post implementation, to see if the benefits have been realised).

Friday, 8 May 2009

Time to bring back Systems Analysts?

I’ve had a number of discussions with directors and project managers since my posts on Agile vs. Waterfall methods of development (see Agile vs. waterfall methods and Agile methods for package enhancements?) and there has been two common themes of those discussions – the capture of requirements and production of an overall design.

For developments using Agile methods, it would appear that where these go wrong is, typically, in the collection of an overall set (not necessarily 100% complete) of requirements. Where development teams include senior end users (full- or nearly full- time) who understand the overall requirements fully, the risk of problems diminishes (but definitely doesn’t disappear) – but when the end user involvement is limited (either in time or level of seniority/experience), the risk of problems increases greatly.

Meanwhile, in waterfall developments, whilst the capture of an overall set (again, not necessarily 100% complete) of requirements usually seems fairly good, it is the next design stage that seems to be skimped on, and in some cases even not carried out. (If necessary, see my post
Requirements vs. specifications for an explanation of the difference).

Several of my contacts have rued the passing of the old “Systems Analyst” role, pointing to the current rise in the use of Business Analysts who focus more on requirements rather than system design, and “Analyst/programmer” roles who really focus on the programming and technical aspects, rather than overall system design – leaving a systems design gap between requirements and coding stages.

Perhaps it’s time to re-emphasis the systems analysis and systems design role, and bring back good old fashioned Systems Analysts......

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

NPfIT moving in the right direction?

Last week, the Department of Health announced an initiative that seems to be moving the NPfIT forwards in the right direction.

DoH has announced the development of a new toolkit which will “allow new products to be developed locally, accredited centrally and linked to existing deployments of information systems such as Cerner and Lorenzo.” However, it is envisaged that work on this toolkit – “a pioneering initiative to take advantage of the latest technological developments” - will not be available until March 2010.

The Department of Health's Director General for Informatics, Christine Connelly said:

"We now want to open up the healthcare IT market to new suppliers and new technological developments, to inject more pace into this programme. Working together we can help Trusts configure systems to best meet their local needs as well as take advantage of market developments to make more use of the information held in the core systems.”

I just hope that this initiative is used to truly open up the market for new and existing software developers, and not used to restrict access and constrain developments to protect incumbent system suppliers. Early indications seem to be positive – I just hope that this initiative is not stifled by a bout of protectionism similar to that encountered by several of the Government’s e-government interoperability initiatives of the past few years.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Capita IBS decision delayed

Decision day for Capita was due to be no later than 5 May, but the Competition Commission “now considers that the completion of its investigation, including the remedies process, and the publication of its final report, will not be possible within the original reference period and has concluded that an extension is necessary because of delays in the provision of information necessary to carry out the inquiry and the need to consider the effectiveness of both a full and a partial divestiture of the IBS business.”

Accordingly, the CC has
announced that the “reference period” has been extended by 8 weeks, and now the CC report is expected by 30 June 2009.

Unfortunately, due to reasons of confidentiality, I can currently only comment on information in the public domain, but I would not advise anyone to hold their breath whist awaiting a final decision on the remedies – this could be a long drawn out process.....

For my previous comments see:
Capita/IBS – Competition Commission progress (February)
Capita/IBS – Northgate notes published (March)
Capita's acquisition of IBS is ruled anti-competitive... (April)