Stack Vendors vs. Pure Plays Round III, Continued…

Scott Francis
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Dennis Byron has picked up the torch for the stack vendors again in his latest missive on eBizQ. First we start with the fear (some call this FUD for Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt):
But for business process management (BPM) decisions in your company, the issue is pretty clear. Another leading BPM point product will bite the dust, raising the question whether there is a future for BPM point products. IT managers and staffers have to ask–again and constantly–do I want to bet my job and my enterprise’s success on BPM point products anymore? Or is it time to move to a BPM suite? (Forgetting the technical, functional or philosophical arguments for point products, I’m not sure that all the point product suppliers don’t want to be acquired anyway.)
Ah, so now we’re betting our jobs on these flighty little startups?  Well, and it turns out that the “Pure Plays” are, in fact, BPM Suites, not single point solutions – so perhaps he isn’t making a stack vendor vs. pure play argument?  I’ll leave it to Dennis to clarify.  In fact, during one sales cycle of a BPM pureplay against BEA, BEA attempted to convince the customer that the pureplay vendor was about to be acquired – attempting to scuttle the deal.  No more than 8 weeks later, Oracle announced their bid to take over BEA.  I’m not sure that the big boys are actually safer than the pure plays in this regard… Next, Dennis moves to close the deal in favor of the biggest integrated software vendors in the world:
Of course if you finally bite the bullet on the BPM suite philosophy issue (vs. BPM point product), why not go all the way and buy into the entire Oracle, SAP, TIBCO–and now Software Ag–stack (vs. a BPM suite from a BPM supplier that does not develop and market an entire stack)?
Well, of course the answer to this is simple:  None of these vendors has a compelling BPMS suite when compared with the so-called “Pure Plays”.  This isn’t just my opinion, it is backed up by the last 6 years of Gartner and Forrester research in the BPM space – where essentially they find that 6 years down the road, the big boys are still “just 2 years away” from having a real BPM suite.  And the touch points between BPM suites and “the rest of the stack” are really well-defined, and based on open standards (web services that can be auto-discovered, J2EE containers that are nearly commoditized). Finally, Dennis ends with something I really don’t understand:
But don’t compare the IBM deal Phil writes about with all IBM deals. As I said in my earlier blog post, don’t compare IBM with Oracle, SAP, TIBCO, etc. And don’t compare sales/marketing tactics with value.
I just have to ask the obvious question:  why not?  It isn’t the first (nor the last) time IBM will use this tactic on a deal.  In fact, it is probably IBM’s most common tactic against BPM suite vendors like Lombardi.  And why not compare this to the sales tactics of Oracle, SAP, TIBCO, etc. when we already know that they engage in similar tactics?  BEA did this with Fuego.  Oracle bought BEA.  Do we really believe they won’t engage in some of the same tactics?  SAP has a long history of doing this kind of thing as well. Apparently we’re just not supposed to compare them because… well, just because.  Or because Dennis says so.  That isn’t a good enough reason for me. Look, I’m not saying that it is immoral or evil to do these things – it is just a business tactic designed to outflank smaller competitors (and smaller competitors have their own sales tactics).  But the reason this outflanking maneuver is needed is because the product they are pushing is provably inferior.  If it wasn’t, the IBM’s and Oracle’s of the world would love to go head-to-head with the little guys and pound them to dust. Having been on both sides of this equation, I can tell you it was quite fun when you had the superior product AND financial resources to really take it to the little guy in a head-to-head competition.  When you don’t, the flanking maneuver can be effective so long as the customer values the other pieces you are selling, or so long as you can convince them that another product is actually the most important thing to focus on (preferably another product that the smaller vendor either doesn’t have or has very weak representation in). I think part of the challenge for the stack vendors lately is that most customers already own their raft-load of other software (J2EE containers and integration technologies and ERP systems), and so the customer doesn’t have a compelling reason to look away from the head-to-head value proposition of the BPM software evaluation…

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