Big data – because it “can” deliver you huge value doesn’t mean it “will”


Big data is the talk of the town in social media, and has picked up some interest amongst customers too.I had a series of big data conversations this week with customers, colleagues and friends and thought I will share some here. As always – these are just my personal ramblings, not my employer’s views.

In social media – “big” usually means close to petabytes or at least several tens of  TB rushing at you from all over the place. At customer sites, the expectation seems to be much more modest – 50 to 100 TB is considered excessively big data even for some very large customers I know.

Cost of big data is bigger on all fronts compared to status quo volumes (and velocity and all other factors) of data in most shops. Storage is cheaper than few years ago, but it is not free – and when you talk about petabytes and all, it needs a LOT of storage. And then there is the multiples needed for HA/DR/Archiving etc. And this needs more data center space, cooling , power and so on.

What about the quality of data? As we know – poor quality is a big problem in all kinds of data related stuff. Quality becomes a bigger problem when volume and speed increases. Existing tools may be stretched to deal with that kind of data. But assuming tools can somehow do this – there is a question of the human effort to fix data. A lot of data projects fail to deliver value because no one owns data from business side. Big data will most probably make this problem worse, unless software improves by leaps and bounds in short order to make data quality a non issue. How many of us will hold our breath on that?

What about security? even with just 2 TB of structured data – there are companies who struggle to make sure everything is secure, and everyone is kept honest, and all the legal compliance is ensured. I have seen the amount of trouble they go through when status quo is changed (like an M&A , or even a small CRM system is introduced).   Most of them are not equipped to deal with more data unless they beef up on more sophisticated governance, and probably more staff.

Some companies love BYOD and others do not. The ones who do not, frequently worry about support cost and security. Imagine the effort they have to go through if BYOD will happen in their companies, and they have to protect much larger data than they are used to?

We are right now in the middle of a small POC for a customer – and the data in the datawarehouse is miniscule compared to what “Big Data” can be. We are talking about something only like 150 to 200 million lines per cube. The data comes back at lightning speed from database to appserver. But the user did not see this speed from his iPad connected from a starbucks wifi via VPN. He did see some improvement, but not enough for a big WOW.  And every drill down needs a roundtrip that also chokes up the network yet again.  Essentially, the bottleneck moved from the DB/App server side to the network/client side. These networks will need serious upgrades in capacity to cope with big data. And the mobile software should be smart enough to use the processing power and memory of the device to minimize the use of bandwidth when it is not required. Carriers will probably need big upgrades too, and if big data catches on – we should start seeing different types of data plans from them, dissimilar to the rates that we see now when we buy tablets and smart phones.

Then there is the cost of licensing – and the models of licensing evolving. But if licenses are tied to the quantity of data that is processed/stored – then that adds up quickly.  And even with sophisticated software – you need smart data analysts who can make use of it to generate value. These analysts – or architects, scientists, artists, artisans or whatever it is they are called this week – don’t come in big numbers, and they won’t be cheap either. And long term – I am not sure if this is given enough importance in universities.

The other side of the equation – the more important side, is the value that big data delivers. There is definitely value in big data – significant value – for sure. But it is not value that gets delivered overnight, and it is value that takes significant investment before reaping benefits. And this value will not be spread evenly across industries, or even companies across industries.  So it is a decision that needs to be taken carefully.  Given the cost, the insights from big data has to be not just “big” but  “BIIIIGGGG” – for the investment to be worthwhile.  And because it “can” deliver value does not mean it “will” – it is not a secret that several companies could not even make good use of much smaller quantities of structured data available to them readily all these years.

Several CXOs I have spoken to are willing to dip their toes despite the cost.  And they are all trying to find out where it is that they can gain competitive advantage by jumping in. Several are interested in a cloud offering for big data – mostly from a cost point of view. This is an area where SIs and SW vendors and analysts et al need to do a better job in my opinion. There seems – in my limited visibility – a serious shortage of  specific use cases to help companies make a business decision. There are a few – like in healthcare for example – where compelling arguments were made, and customers and vendors are partnering effectively.  Given the investment needed for big data – evolutionary change might not make it look appealing to the buyers.  It needs to be revolutionary . And as my ex-manager used to tell me –  almost every project that pays for itself will get funded irrespective of the economy.

PS: If big data catches on big time, then we can seriously expect a boom for the tech stocks across the board since several companies will benefit from the vendor side. The economy – at least in history books – will probably thank big data for the good that it did 🙂

IBM Watson – what better use of analytics than fighting cancer ?


From 1992 – when I joined the mechanical engineering degree class in TKM College, till today – I have been a fan of Analytics.In fact, I am pretty sure it is the engineering education that put this fascination in me. And it was my statistics professor Mr. Kalyanaraman who took it to the next level.

Nothing fascinated me more than numbers and making inferences based on them. It was not as if I didn’t realize that texts and pictures and all the so called “unstructured” data was very important – it is just that I always felt that there was plenty more to be done in the “small data” world of numbers, before any one worried about “big data” . I have kept on questioning the value of the insight that will come out of big data for most companies, since they cannot even make decisions based on relatively small and highly structured data from pre-defined sources.

And then, along came IBM Watson and it changed my perspective on analytics and big data completely. Although I work in IBM, I don’t work in the team that works on Watson directly. If I am envious of any one professionally – it is that group of colleagues who get to work on Watson. Watson captured my imagination from the first day I heard about its plans to play Jeopardy on public TV.

Now, god knows how I don’t suffer marketing . I attribute it to the compulsory marketing classes I had to take in B School. And the irony is that IBM has world class marketing. So when IBM trumpeted Watson from the roof tops, my natural instinct was to cringe. But as I thought through the implications – it became clear that Jeopardy was the perfect way for IBM to avoid evolutionary steps, and make a grand leap into the future of analytics. Jeopardy needed everything – ability to consume big data with no structure, ability to understand natural language, truly massively parallel processing, ability to work on commodity hardware, lightning speed, ability to make a decision, ability to learn and many more. And it was a safe test bed to see if technology can stand up to that stress in an environment that is not “life and death” types, but useful enough to make a determination if this has a future.

Right after Watson won Jeopardy against the “human” champions, the IBM team started focusing it on real world problems. And this is where I was most fascinated by the choices of that team and its leader, Manoj Saxena.

IBM has a huge army of smart sales people, who could have very easily sold Watson in some form to a large number of clients across the globe.It would not have been hard at all – my own clients have asked me multiple times how they can use Watson to help their business, without me having to bring it up. As we know, IBM is a publicly traded company with a published roadmap for earnings till 2015. But instead of taking a short term view of cashing in right away, they took a long term view of proving it out thoroughly in the real world with real customers.

Instead of trying to do too many things across all the geographic regions that IBM does business in, they chose to focus on a small number of very specific high value use cases in healthcare, insurance, banking etc. And they partnered with some of the best in class clients in those industries to do so – and in public,not behind closed doors. Now, that is good marketing – the kind I can relate to. Let the customers declare the vision and the success, not the vendor.

The use case that makes me most excited is the cancer treatment one where IBM is teaming with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Like everything else, there is of course a commercial angle to this – and I can imagine this to earn IBM good revenue. But that revenue could also have come from many other use cases. It is the humanitarian angle that impresses me the most. Cancer research and knowledge can now be spread across the world in very short time once this project succeeds. Doctors outside major research hospitals can reduce a lot of dependence on opinions and guess work and experience, and do a lot more “evidence based” decisions. Of course I don’t expect Watson to ever replace a doctor, but Watson has the potential to be the strongest weapon an oncologist has in the fight against the deadly disease. That is not evolutionary – it is revolutionary. It makes me wonder how many other big problems can be solved by the judicious use of analytics theory and technology.

Please watch this and listen to Dr Norton explain this

And finally, I like the sense of reality the IBM team and the clients who are partnering with them display. They clearly explain what Watson can and cannot do , and how long it will take to get there. Now, I know a lot of my friends like innovations to be out in the market quickly – and I understand where they come from. So on this cancer treatment use case, I pinged a few friends who are doctors in India, who I know from childhood to understand more. It sounded like on an average it takes anywhere from 8 to 12 years according to them for information on diagnosis and treatment to become common knowledge from the time it is published. According to them, they will be thrilled if they can cut that time by a third. So even if Watson can start being of help to cancer patients in couple of years, it will be a big deal, and quite fast in “time to market” .

I am sure the Watson team will have its ups and downs in this journey – but I think it will be well worth the proverbial blood, sweat and tears. I wish them the best. And tonight I will dream of doctors in my Grandom’s village having a pocket Watson with them when they help their patients fight their diseases.

 

Now I believe SAP is serious about collaboration


I had an unusually busy day today, and consequently missed out “officially” congratulating my buddy  Sameer Patel and SAP when he broke the news on twitter and on his blog http://www.pretzellogic.org/blog/2012/03/13/im-joining-sap-ag/.  Of course I knew about it for a while since he and I had discussed this a few times as he was considering the job. And I am very happy for SAP- they have a prize catch.

 

Collaboration is not new at SAP – just that I never got the impression that they were serious about it. Of course they have Streamwork as a collaboration tool. I even crashed a dinner with that team and Sameer, Jon Reed and Dennis Howlett in Palo Alto few weeks ago. It is just that I never took it very seriously, despite Mark Finnern and the SAP Mentors using it extensively. To me – it just did not make sense that SAP developed a collaboration tool that primarily stood alone, without being in the context of the world of business. It especially looked silly to me what SAP has the best business suite application and a pretty good BI platform – and yet did not capitalize on the opportunity to put collaboration in context of those business processes.

 

Over the last few months – a few of my customers have started asking me about collaboration capabilities . Some of them had seen streamwork demos – especially the ones with SAP CRM. But as I dug in to it a little more – it was clear that this was not “out of the box” , but more of a services offering from SAP PSO. Every time SAP comes out with something that only their own services arm can implement, I get a little disheartened – primarily since it raises questions on the maturity of the product, and the ability of a customer to support it after go-live. But since customers had started asking – I was ready to start taking collaboration a little more seriously than before.

 

Sameer is amongst the handful of people I know in the whole Enterprise 2.0 and collaboration and social business world who have a sense of reality in terms of what is possible today and what is not.  And he is very passionate about treating collaboration as a business problem, and less as a technical problem. This is EXACTLY what SAP needs in my opinion.  As much as SAP likes to be a technology or a platform company – its strength and leadership is more on the application side.  And with a guy like Sameer at the helm of the collaboration initiative – I am sure that team will find more focus in capitalizing on SAP’s traditional strengths in Business Suite and BI.  And of course, I am not discounting mobile – it is after all 2012, and no one will collaborate without a mobile device today, will they?

 

I think Vishal’s goals on HANA will come to faster fruition if SAP’s collaboration solutions can act as the glue – as in, an enabler. HANA has proven that it is genuinely fast and real time. The only thing standing between Hana and its future glory is in tethering this speed to several business use cases. I think Collaboration has the potential to be that secret sauce. I am looking forward to see what Vishal and Sameer will tell us at SAPPHIRE. I will honestly be disappointed if I don’t hear anything about this.

 

I don’t think for a minute that Sameer is going to have an easy time at SAP. It is a large and complex organization – and he will have to quickly learn how to navigate there. Everything at SAP is all about HANA – which is good and bad. Good since as I mentioned above, HANA could use a hand from collaboration. Bad because HANA will probably suck all the O2 in the room 🙂 . It is a great time for Sameer to be there though – Snabe already made it clear that Collaboration is high on SAP’s agenda. Something tells me that SAP might make an acquisition in this space  – and of course I cannot resist restating my long held view that they should buy TIBCO , and solve multiple problems in one shot.

 

And then there is the SFSF angle. SFSF has Jam, and SAP has Streamwork. There is some overlap – and I am curious to see which one will survive.  Other than for political reasons if any – I cannot imagine any good reason why customers will ever want to choose between two competing offerings from SAP. They already face that difficulty in SAP’s Planning solutions, and I am sure they don’t want an encore.

 

I am also not sure I understand Collaboration team falling under the Analytics organization, instead of applications organization under Sanjay. It probably does not matter – but just does not make sense to me at first sight.  But an even bigger question for me is if there is an engineering organization under Vishal’s group that works on Collaboration technology.  Given the nature of collaboration, I think it makes sense to treat it as a platform wide pervasive thing, rather than as a point solution. To say the least – I am super curious to get updates on how Vishal and Sethu are going to treat collaboration from the Technology & Platform POV.

 

Sameer, I wish you all the very best as you begin this new chapter of your career – and I am sure your leadership and passion will lead SAP to newer heights.

 

 

 

 

 

SAP’s Cloud Strategy – are they good on the 5 M s?


Many years ago, I went to B school in India to get my MBA. Everything there was 5 Ps, 3 Cs and so on. I have tried to stay away from talking in those terms – but then yesterday, Jamie Oswald started a facebook discussion on the use of MBA. That brought back a lot of memories of my time in B school , and I am going to try my hand at this and call it the 5 Ms of  Cloud.

The five “M” s of Cloud to me are Money, Multi-tenancy, Massive Scale , Mobile and Marketing . Lets see how they are doing on each of the Ms.

1. Money

Where is the Money? SAP is a for-profit business, and any strategy for Cloud must have a clear vision on generating profit. They have a HUGE revenue stream from perpetual licenses for Business suite etc. So, they have an advantage over other players like SFDC, Workday etc who do not have anything other than cloud.  SFDC and company are not short on revenue – they just cannot generate a profit now, since they are growing at break neck pace. I think it is the right strategy for those companies to not worry about profit any time soon, and grow as much as they can now – so that when they cut some spending on marketing etc, they will see huge profits in very quick time.

SAP has the opposite problem. SAP has the money to spend on cloud marketing and still show a profit to the street.  Their problem is lack of growth. A few years after Business ByDesign came out – they still have to keep a straight face and say they are close to 1000 customers.  Business One, which has a big customer base, is now going the cloud way according to this news http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/251354/sap_rolling_out_cloudsavvy_version_of_business_one.html.  It is not a big leap to cloud – B1 will still be available on premises. LOB on-demand solutions that SAP has are all well designed from what I have seen – but I wonder when/if they will bring the next billion dollars to the bank.

2. Multi-tenancy

The general idea here is for the vendor to use a shared database for multiple clients, with common schema for all clients using it. Then by some mechanism, vendor allows a given customer to add some custom schemas on top without affecting the underlying code base that affects every customers.

First off – I think customers don’t care much if the solution is multi-tenant or not as long as functionality provided by the application is useful. In some cases, like the data security legal issues in EU, they might even not be comfortable with the thought that their data is not physically separate from others.  However, if a vendor has to make money off cloud in a SaaS model – it is hard to imagine them doing so without multi-tenancy.  It is hard to force fit multi-tenancy on all layers of existing architecture without serious disruption.  The newer companies who went all out for cloud went for multi-tenancy right up front ( and some like Workday also went all in with in-memory too), and they have a distinct advantage.  I am not sure what SAP’s strategy is in this regard – will they force fit and make existing solutions fully multi-tenant , or will they build from scratch?

Successfactors, from what I could learn on internet, has a hybrid multi-tenant architecture. Now that SAP owns them, maybe SAP can use the abstraction techniques to build a similar model for all their applications.  Although SAP and SFSF both use java, there are differences in how they are architected beyond the usage of java.

Similarly, SAP wants to use HANA as the database for everything – and I do think they should do that ,and hopefully do it at a scale that doesn’t need customers to cough up a lot of extra money. Don’t ask me if HANA is multi-tenant. I am tired of asking SAP that question, since no two persons will say the same answer when I ask. if HANA is multi-tenant, now would be a great time to put it as the database for cloud offerings. It will help cloud solutions be faster, and take less cost for infrastructure due to compression etc. It will also help HANA mature sooner since it will get tested in mixed load conditions at massive scale. That will be enough proof for many on-premises customers to open their wallets and move SAP’s HANA revenue from 100M to a few billions.  Lets see what SAP does about that.

3. Massive Scale

Jim Snabe already acknowledged a few times that the only way to make money from cloud is by massive scale.  But how do you attain that scale? Many ducks have to be in a row to make it happen.

I don’t think SAP needs to cannibalize its on premises stuff heavily for massive scale. There are plenty of upsell/cross sell opportunities at existing clients, and many potential new clients for cloud to keep the perpetual licenses going for several more years.

Pricing obviously is one issue – it has to be affordable. Now that Greg Tomb has a cloud specific sales team, I am sure they have figured out some way of sensible pricing to cloud customers. And obviously SAP needs more aggressive targets to make sure they see a profit in some defined time frame.

Then there is the development issue. SAP has a large pool of developers – but they have competing priorities. Where will they focus between HANA, Cloud, Mobility and On-premises stuff? Will we see massive hiring? I have seen SAP hiring sales people, but not too many developers. But of course, because I have not seen it doesn’t mean that SAP is not doing it. And they need more support people if they need massive scale.  Also note that good developers are not easy to find – trust me, I have tried really really hard with that, with very little success, especially in Silicon Valley.

And then there is the question of data centers. In my opinion, it is not SAP’s core competence exactly to build and operate the kind of data centers it will need if they have to become a big cloud player.  It is a massive investment – and needs very specialized skills.  Not sure if they are going to do it all by themselves – or by buying out a hosting expert, or by partnering with some one. There is also a question on hardware. Will SAP buy a hardware company, buy HW from IBM, HP etc? or will they just contract to someone to build custom machines to spec? Massive scale comes with massive problems. Since SFSF has a lot more cloud customers than SAP does, hopefully they can help solve some of these quickly.

4. Mobile

If SAP is serious about cloud, they have to make sure their cloud strategy is hand in glove with their mobile strategy.  Amongst everything SAP has today – organic and acquired, I think the ones getting the least attention are cloud and mobility. It could just be an after effect of HANA sucking all the oxygen from the room. Hopefully – a combined strategy for both will make it easier for SAP to become a serious player on cloud. I know parts of SAP who are very serious about “mobile first” – but it remains to be seen how much traction it gets across the board.  Everything from Executive alignment to messaging to architecture to development to licensing to support needs to converge between mobility and cloud to make this work.

5. Marketing

This is where SAP has a definite edge – they have a great marketing organization under Jonathan Becher. For this time, I will resist the temptation of taking a dig at SAP’s use of Forbes Advoice :  So who is the target for marketing when it comes to cloud?  There are 3 main groups in my mind – existing customers will want to know what they can do with cloud and why they should care, there is the customer base of workday, SFSF etc that need to hear why SAP is a better bet and finally there are the partners/developers who will resell, host and extend the functionality of SAP’s base offerings.

For the existing instal base – there is already a bit of confusion that needs to be cleared up on overlap and general cloud strategy.  This can only be truly addressed one on one by the account executives, and the partners who are incumbent there.  SAP has a renewed focus on channel – so that will probably work ok.  On the developer front – traditional marketing is counter productive. For them, SAP needs to get them access to software, a licensing and revenue sharing mechanism that is fair and a good sales mechanism. Everyone from CEO to CTO and down the chain from SAP knows this, but the response has been in baby steps. Lets see how that works out when SAPPHIRE happens in May.

That is it – we are about to land in PHX, and I need to get off before the Flight attendant gets mad at me. Let me know what you folks think. never mind the content, I am just very pleased with my clever 5 M s of cloud 🙂

SAP Project Failures – it ain’t a binary issue


We all have our perspective on why SAP projects fail. Michael Krigsman, Dennis Howlett, Michael Doane , Vinnie Mirchandani et al have riffed at length on this topic. I am not sure what is left to be said, and then I saw this post today by Dennis.  Intransigent clients to blame for failed SAP projects?  . I wondered aloud on twitter whether I should just add a comment, or blog as a reply. Dennis said I should riff, and here I am riffing 🙂 . As always – this is just my personal view, not my employer’s view. Intransigent is not a word I have ever used myself, and I had to look it up. I will save you one google search as the prize for reading my rant – it means “uncompromising”.

Since Dennis is comparing the positions of Michael D and Michael K – you might want to read their pieces first (links in Dennis’ blog above) before reading further. Just as Dennis agrees and disagrees with the other 2 gents, I also agree and disagree with Dennis, and with both Michaels. I am sure readers will also agree and disagree with me and all the other guys and gals who opined on this topic. In short, this is not a binary issue at all. I agree with Dennis on that one.

Michael Krigsman deserves credit for his Devil’s triangle concept. SAP and Customers have some share of the blame when projects fail. Off late, I have started to say “Devil’s Polygon” – since there are other parties also involved in a failure, like the “buy side” advisers who originally told the client to buy software, or choose an SI, analysts who highlight failure, but not success etc.

Michael Doane is spot on talking about his reasons for ASAP not living up to its billing, and the problems of aiming for “just go live” as ultimate goal of a project. He is also completely correct on pointing out the failures of some kinds of COE set ups, and where he pointed out the problems of cutting training budgets. Like Doane, I am also not a fan of RDS in general. I already riffed on that here Rapid Implementation – is the promised land finally here ? . I already left a comment on his blog today with some thoughts. Racing to Mediocrity: The False Grail of an Accelerated SAP “Go Live”

Now on to where I beg to differ, and where I want to augment their view points.

Both Howlett and Krigsman both make one argument that is just not true anymore – they just use different words. (yeah, that is right – they actually have common ground after all 🙂 ).

Dennis says (emphasis added by me to show where I disagree)

Senior people I know at both Deloitte and IBM have told me they are committed to customer success. Snicker if you want but they are only too aware of the problems. Both tell me that customer expectations are never well aligned to what can be achieved as originally envisaged but claim they do their level best to make sure clients understand what is realistic during the blueprint phase. I have no reason to disbelieve their intent but we have to remember that they are employed by firms that are driven by the concept of the billable hour and not outcomes.

And Michael K says in his RDS blog that

Enterprise customers are weary of open-ended, hourly consulting arrangements.

I had a big smile on my face when I read these two statements. They are a misrepresentation of market reality . There was a period in time where most SIs did almost all contracts on Time and Materials (T&M) basis. I have not seen even 10% RFPs ( in last 5 years at least ) that will let an SI bid for a project on T&M. Vast majority of customers want the SI to be held to outcomes – based on fixed prices for well defined milestones. There are a handful of T&M projects where client generally runs the project, and just want specialized skills from SI for some roles. Essentially, the concept of billable hour is barely alive in the projects that the big SIs work on. It is still very much the concept for independent contractors.

 

When scope can be defined and bound, there is no reason to do it as a T&M project in general. And when scope changes there is an agreed up on change control process that uses change orders. That concept applies to RDS too. RDS is fixed price, but will need change orders if customer wants anything more. SIs follow the same model – so there is no substance to this argument at all.

 

Apart from the contract point of view – these SIs have a brand to protect, that will only work when customers are happy, and will do repeat business.So there is no good reason for an SI to make a client unhappy.  But like in every other buying situation – the customer should carefully consider all options and make a good business decision. SIs are not the only vendors customers deal with – most often, SIs are not even close to the top 5 vendors based on  spend for the whole company. So it is not as if the customer will just be fooled by a clever SI off the cuff . Even when they don’t have sufficient procurement expertise in house, they can get external help for that.

Dennis then quotes Vinnie

 It is Vinnie Mirchandani’s lamentthat after so many years and thousands of implementations, we still don’t have a good way of bringing projects in on time and at reasonable cost.

If IBM was truly innovative it would be automating and commoditizing much of that labor – its own and that of the rest of the market.

What I find disconcerting is that even at the top IBM confuses its nice margins from milking old software and old data centers and old partners like SAP as “innovation”.

Vinnie has the right ideas and he has a lot of experience, but I feel he is just not up to date on current state of affairs on how IBM and other big SIs execute projects. I think his expertise is more on the contract negotiation and deal management side, and less on execution side. I see from his bio that several years ago, he worked in outsourcing too. But just as deal management has changed from those years to today, project execution also has changed.  There is plenty of automation in projects – including SAP projects, and the percentage of automation tasks and accelerators are only increasing with time. And the fact that IBM is the leading SI for SAP implementations worldwide ( check SAP awards, Gartner and Forrester reports etc or just ask customers ) pretty much speaks for itself. I know from Vinnie’s blogs that he likes “new” technology and is a fan of consumer technology, and less of enterprise technology. I respect that – he is entitled to his opinion, although I couldn’t disagree more if I tried. I did try here Innovation and the Time dimension and Vinnie responded with this IBM: SAP, Sabre and Smart Systems

Dennis says about Krigsman’s Devil’s Triangle that

I don’t doubt that aspects of the analysis hold true but my experience suggests that there is always a root cause that can be identified which in turn leads to some of the symptoms Krigsman observes in hindsight.

Well – I have almost never seen a (as in one single) root cause in project failures. Project failures are multi-dimensional, and there is never “a” root cause. It is not just SAP projects – if your car and some one else’s car hits each other, the insurance companies will apportion the blame. It is just an academic fantasy to try to find one root cause. The one aspect of Devil’s Triangle that could be made better is to make it more quantitative in project failure analysis and apportion the blame based on data. I am sure Michael should be able to do this, since he has been following failures for a while now, and should be having enough data to quantify.

Dennis goes on to say

Where I believe both fall down is in the recognition that failure can almost always be traced to:

  1. Over eager salespeople minimising risks around complex solutions.
  2. Over eager buyers wanting to buy into the brand. I’ve seen entire customer panels talking about SAP Business ByDesign making this mistake.
  3. Customers not having enough information during the decision taking process. There is a lack of truly independent voices prepared to vigorously speak to reality. Way too many who know the reality are afraid of upsetting their paymasters.
  4. A lack of willingness by customers to acknowledge that they didn’t do all they could have to mitigate risk. There are exceptions to this acknowledgment – check SAP Me Sideways.

As I mentioned before there is no “always can be traced to” point of failure for projects – there are many other reasons other than the ones Dennis points out.

I agree with point 1 above. Sales people are paid to sell, and all I can say is “buyer beware”

I partly agree with point 2. But this is more true for newer products and less so for ERP and other business suite and BI software. Buying into a brand is not always a bad thing, since there is slightly less risk that the vendor will fly by night, or go belly up in short term. But on the flip side – using that as a sole criteria is a terrible idea. I don’t think customers are stupid – and what they say on panels is rarely indicative of how the majority views the world. Panels are usually organized by vendors and of course they will cherry pick a few that will speak well of their products.

I mostly disagree with point 3. Who has the independent voice ? A customer is best served by listening to multiple people and then making up their own mind . I expand on my thoughts here Let he who is without sin cast the first stone

I agree with point 4 as a general statement – but it is a lot more nuanced than how Dennis puts it. I also think SAP and SIs owe it to customers in educating them on what is possible and what is not, and then standing their ground on that.

Dennis responded to a tweet I made yesterday night from my cab ride home from the airport.

More prosaically this exchange between myself and Vijay Vijasankar, associate partner IBM last evening illustrates both the cynicism and playful snark that abounds around SAP projects:

@vijayasankarv: Landed in PHX to see note from one of my delivery project execs that she is going live successfully . Back to back successful projects yay!!

@dahowlett:@vijayasankarv you make that sound like a rarity…2 successful projects that is?

Do you see how in this example go live remains the primary goal? Doane would likely say: ‘Let’s take a peek in another year.’

I have no idea what made Dennis think “go live remains the primary goal”  or that “it is a rarity” when he read my tweet. He just jumped into a conclusion that fits his hypothesis without any basis. This go live is for a big application maintenance project that has been thoroughly planned and executed, and the go-live I mention is one of the many phases of a several year long program. And yes, we celebrate every success and we analyze every failure to the minutest detail to make sure we never repeat it.  The reason I tweeted out the back to back success is just out of sheer pleasure of watching my hardworking teams not missing a beat despite all the challenges that were thrown their way. I would have gladly explained all of this if he cared to ask before he jumped to the conclusion he arrived at. But since Dennis and I have great respect for each other, we can very easily joke about all of this – with plenty of snark mixed in 🙂 . I only bothered to explain since he put this in his blog, and I did not want readers to misunderstand.

Enough about the failures and its analysis. What about “how to prevent failures ?”.  Since failures have no one cause, prevention also does not have one silver bullet. It is a multi-dimensional endeavor that needs a lot of people with diverse opinions and backgrounds to play together. The fact that there are plenty of successes (of course less published because of poor news value) means it is not rocket science. And it is not – I have worked in and managed several successful projects, and can vouch that it can be done with sufficient common sense and patience. I just don’t have enough time and energy to go into the details of that now – since I promised to help organize my kiddo’s seventh birthday party tomorrow, and she is standing here with an annoyed expression. So off I go after I hit the publish button.