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Microsoft’s Cloud Computing Strategy and Roadmap Evident at Convergence 2013

cloud-multi-tenancyKirill Tatarinov’s keynote this morning at Microsoft’s Convergence 2013 marks a subtle, yet very significant shift in how this technology leader is marketing itself to partners and the outside world.  They are humanizing their marketing, messaging and products.

Gone is the Spock-like precision of presentations packed with roadmaps, mind-numbing metrics and intricate feature analysis.  The Nick Brophy Band made the keynote complete by delivering excellent sets.

Microsoft is learning that telling a good story trumps terabytes of metrics. They delivered a strong keynote today starting out showing how attendees reached out to the local community and helped Habitat for Humanity.  Kirill then based the majority of his keynote on four customer success stories taken from the Microsoft Customer Excellence Award winners. Chobani, Shock Doctor, Revlon and Weight Watchers shared how they were able to better connect with customers and run more efficient businesses using Microsoft Dynamics.

The only aspect of these award winner’s stories that fell short was how the complexity of back office system integration was glossed over.  No mention of third party or legacy system integration was made, which could have shown how far Microsoft and its partners have progressed on this point, especially with the help of integration partners like Scribe Software.

Microsoft’s Cloud-First Strategy Playing Well With Partners

For Microsoft to succeed with Windows Dynamics and Azure, they are going to need each partner and reseller to believe in the vision of a cloud-first strategy, then translate their unique expertise into sales.  That’s going to be a challenge that Microsoft will have to deal with daily as it looks to further strengthen its partner and reseller base.  The recent Azure outage caused by an expired SSL certificate is on the minds of many partners and resellers here too.  Microsoft is promoting their Windows Azure Service Dashboard heavily here as a result.

Despite that recent outage, Microsoft’s ecosystem on Dynamics is flourishing , as is evidenced by the attendance and participation in this show.  The cloud-first strategy has infused a sense of hope and anticipation in many partners and resellers.  Walking the floor yesterday and today, nearly eight of every ten partners offered up how they are planning on the cloud without being asked about it.

Microsoft 2013 Roadmap Embracing the Cloud, Devices and Services    

Kirill Tatarinov’s keynote underscored how committed Microsoft is to becoming as cloud, devices and services company.  He cited the statistic that there are more devices connected to the Internet today than there are human beings on the planet.

Through several examples he also showed how Microsoft is moving full speed into being a devices and services business.  Microsoft Windows Azure is the foundational component to this strategy.  While Kirill did not specifically say that, it is clear from an architectural standpoint Windows Azure will be the foundational element of their devices and services strategy.  Microsoft is already competing with market leader Amazon Web Services, Google, Rackspace and many others.  For more information on the competitive landscape of this market, please see my previous post, Demystifying Cloud Vendors.

From a roadmap perspective this will also force Microsoft to support many more mobile operating systems and environments than they ever have before.  For their device and services strategy to succeed for example, they will have to support Google Android and Apple iOS device interfaces capable of integrating with SQL Server, at a minimum.

The following table showing recently announced updates to the 2013 Microsoft Product Roadmap first appeared on the Redmond Channel Partner website on march 18th.

Microsoft roadmap analysis

Source: Redmond Channel Partner Magazine  

Microsoft reports that Office365 will go to an accelerated release cycle, further capitalizing on the nature of a cloud-based architecture.  Resellers at this conference like the  Office 365 Open licensing program because it allows them to direct-bill customers for use of the suite, in addition to paying for the bundle of their services. Windows Azure-hosted versions of Dynamics NAV and Dynamics GP will arrive in mid-2013 according to the article as well.

For the cloud, device and services strategy to succeed Microsoft must also succeed in convincing enterprise accounts to migrate their applications to Windows Azure.  This is one of the most critical areas for the future of their cloud strategy in the enterprise, so expect to see customer stories and ongoing messaging on this point.

Bottom line: Microsoft is transitioning to a more humanized approach to marketing while embracing a cloud, device and services strategy. It will be the partner ecosystem that transforms that vision into a profitable reality.

Why Cloud Computing Is Slowly Winning The Trust War

Cloud computing Seeing skeptical CIOs agree to cloud-based pilots of Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and other applications is evidence of how cloud computing is slowly winning the trust war.

Further evidence can be seen from how skeptical many of these CIOs initially were, and how successful pilots led to their gradual trust.

This trust hasn’t come cheap however.

Every one of these CIOs spoken with, across a range of manufacturing companies, learned that Service Level Agreements (SLAs) aren’t sufficient to manage the areas of security, privacy and confidentiality on their own.  Cloud computing vendors have used SLAs as a means to imply security standards are met; one CIO told me he had an audit done to see if the SLA targets promised were realistic.  They weren’t and he moved on to another vendor.  That is the level of skepticism and lack of trust many CIOs initially have about the cloud today.  Add to that how much Europe doesn’t trust the cloud, and any CIO of a manufacturing or services business that has operations globally has ample reason to be skeptical about cloud computing.  The highly visible failures of Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft continues to fuel skepticism and distrust of cloud computing as well.

Despite these factors, cloud computing is slowing winning the trust war.  Here are the key take-aways from my conversations and visits with CIOs and their departments over the last two weeks:

  • Service Level Agreement (SLA) claims of security, privacy and confidentiality often only partially cover the unique needs of a given business – rarely all of them.  CIOs complained that the SLAs they were initially given for cloud pilots by vendors lacked any insight into their core business, how it operated, and how the cloud-based applications could contribute greater insight and intelligence.  Only after several revisions and additions of performance measurements tied to business strategies did these skeptical CIOs let the pilots go on.  Model contracts for defining privacy, for these CIOs, are also losing credibility.  These CIOs forced the issue of a highly specific privacy plan from vendors and got them.
  • For global cloud deployments, CIOs viewed the development a roadmap and plan for how to deal with transborder data flow restrictions and in-country compliance for data confidentiality, security and personal information protection as critical.  One manufacturing CIO is setting up a two-tier ERP system throughout Europe has to first define the global privacy regulations across each nation and province.  Depending on the European nation this could include defining the physical location, contents and specific configuration of every server used.  Germany has among the most intensive data protection rules and requirements, which further require intensive roadmap and plan development to stay in compliance.
  • The most skeptical CIOs run scenario tests of full data and record extractions during pilots.  This is a safeguard in case the relationship with the cloud provider goes badly, and also to make sure they can quickly get their data back and avert vendor lock-in.  As part of this many CIOs want to see proof that data deletion has worked correctly on the provider’s servers.
  • The most trustworthy cloud computing pilots quickly move beyond basic analytics including ROI to deliver expertise and knowledge specific to the clients’ business.  This is the most powerful dynamic of all in the victories cloud computing is having in the trust war.  When a cloud pilot moves beyond showing how it can automate a process – say payroll for example – and starts making contributions to the expertise and knowledge of a company, trust grows quickly.   At that point trust becomes an accelerator for cloud computing and the platform and applications become part of the IT strategy of a business.

Bottom line:  Trust is the greatest accelerator there is in cloud computing’s growing adoption, and that’s earned when cloud applications get beyond simple metrics to delivering insights and useful intelligence on secured platforms.

Thank you Cindy Jutras and Lisa Lincoln for your contributions and insights on this as well.

Additional Reading and References:

Demirkan, H., & Goul, M. (2013). Taking value-networks to the cloud services: Security services, semantics and service level agreements. Information Systems and eBusiness Management, 11(1), 51-91.

Khan, K. M., & Malluhi, Q. (2010). Establishing trust in cloud computing. IT Professional Magazine, 12(5), 20-27.

John C. Roberts, II , Wasim Al-Hamdani, Who can you trust in the cloud?: a review of security issues within cloud computing, Proceedings of the 2011 Information Security Curriculum Development Conference, p.15-19, September 30-October 01, 2011, Kennesaw, Georgia

Rodero-Merino, L., Vaquero, L. M., Caron, E., Muresan, A., & Desprez, F. (2012). Building safe PaaS clouds: A survey on security in multitenant software platforms. Computers & Security, 31(1), 96. Link: http://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/65/73/06/PDF/RR-7838.pdf

Intacct’s CEO Robert Reid On Growing A Successful Cloud Business

Robert-Reid CEO IntacctSelling software to accountants, auditors and Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) takes accuracy, precision and software quality to an entirely new dimension.

Having worked at a start-up selling hosted accounting and finance applications to small and medium businesses, I’ve seen first-hand how demanding these professionals can be.  And rightly so, the system of record they manage keeps their businesses financially strong and growing.  Intacct is one of the companies I’ve tracked for the last few years in this area, and I recently had a chance to speak with their CEO, Robert Reid.

While there are many cloud financial management and accounting companies creating interesting products and winning customers, Intacct is unique.   Rob has infused a passion for customer centricity into the company along with a mindset of continual innovation in their applications’ user experience.  Rob is a longtime veteran of the enterprise software industry, having served previously as CEO of LucidEra and previous to that, group vice president of Siebel CRM On Demand for Oracle Corporation managing the SMB sector.  He also served as president and CEO of on-demand CRM innovator UpShot, where Rob grew the company tenfold before it was acquired by Siebel.  He is also one of the executive founders of Documentum.  You can find his LinkedIn profile here.

I recently had a chance to speak with Rob regarding his perspective on cloud computing in general and regarding Intacct’s business specifically.  Here’s a transcript to my interview with him:

What are the three biggest challenges you see to Intacct’s growth over the long-term and how will you and the management team address them?

Our biggest challenge by far is finding great people.  People who are curious,  people who want to learn and continually grow while also being customer-centric.  We’re looking for great people with these attributes and those who want to do rewarding, challenging work.  That’s a high priority for us today.

Second, we’re looking to add more partners who have expertise in accounting and finance to grow along with us and help customers anticipate what they need to do today and in to the future to deliver value to their organizations .

Third, anticipating the growth of the business and being able to effectively plan for the pace and direction of change is critical to us.

SaaS-based applications have proved themselves very well in small and medium businesses.  How and why are small businesses adopting SaaS-based accounting and finance systems today?  How is this going to change in the future?

We’re seeing usability and excellent customer experience designed into cloud applications being essential for the growth of our business.  In fact we’ve done intensive studies of how our customers can save time and be more productive with greater usability improvements, quickly released into our applications.

Intuitive design of application workflows, in accounting and finance, is another key success factors we’re seeing today.  This is leading to a consumerization of financial management systems.

Accounting and financial professionals are after greater visibility into their financials.  Analytics and modeling from an accounting perspective is also a high priority for our customers today.  The 21rst century CFO needs to have these analytics and modeling tools with real-time data to do their jobs, and we’re very focused on delivering them.

A critical success factor for any SaaS-based accounting system is the ability to integrate with 3rd party systems and also migrate legacy data.  Can you speak to this aspect of your company’s product and service strategy, and what your plans are in this area going forward?

Our architecture includes Open Application Programmer Interfaces (APIs) that simplify the complexity of integrating with homegrown, legacy and 3rd party databases and systems.  Over the last decade we’ve fine-tuned these APIs, publishing them free for our customers.  We’ve learned much from listening to our customers, continually fine-tuning APIs to stay in step with their needs.  Our APIs are making it possible for our systems to have inbound and outbound data from systems throughout our customers’ businesses creating a reliable system of record.

With SaaS it’s possible to accelerate the release cycles to any pace a company chooses.  Right now Intacct is committing to four major releases a year.  Are there plans to accelerate the release cycle and do more?

We’re staying with four major releases a year out of respect for the change management aspects of our customers.  Doing releases more often than that would force our customers to continually be educating their accounting, finance, reporting and services teams of new features.  We do make tens of smaller releases a year to incrementally add features customers ask for.  And our customers can choose to enable these features as they are added to our applications.  We are finding that balance between agile development and quality assurance of configurable features, while striving to make usability and the user experience  paramount.

Much has been said regarding single tenancy and multi-tenancy. Can Intacct customers choose between these options?  Is there a price premium for choosing one over another?

We are exclusively multi-tenant as it makes the most sense for our customers economically.  If a customer chooses a single-tenancy solution it takes a ton of time from an operations team to run it; so it ends up being a bad economic model for the company.  Since the hardware, and resources aren’t being shared, a single tenant system ends up being the most expensive way to go. There is a tremendous amount of cloud washing going on out there, where software companies and providers are trying to put a glow on old technology by calling it single tenancy, when it is really just a hosted version of that old application. It is important to choose a cloud system that was built from day one to be in the cloud and deliver tremendous value.

Do you partner with a cloud provider or own your own hosting center?  Are your long-term plans to own your own data centers? 

Our global hosting partner is Savvis.  We manage the servers and have complete control over our Service Level Agreement (SLA) monitoring and reporting.  We’ve also provided every customer with 24/7 transparency into our applications’ stability and reliability.

What percentage of your sales are from North America relative to Europe and Asia?  How do you see this changing in the next three years? 

The majority of our customers are located in the United States, but have on average five locations around the world..  Our multicurrency, multientitiy, and consolidated roll-up features are heavily used by this group of multinational customers.

Intacct has done well selling to accountants and financial professionals, a community known for valuing accuracy, auditability and precision.  How has Intacct been able to both evangelize cloud computing and cloud-based accounting systems to this pragmatic, at times skeptical market segment?  

We’re selling to the 21rst century CFO really well, stressing the need to have real-time visibility into operations and the ability to define metrics and modeling of current and future financial performance of their business.  As we’re selling them more than a system of record, but a system of engagement.  Our approach is to show how they can accelerate their growth as a business with better insights for all of the knowledge workers into their overall performance.

In 2009 the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), and its subsidiary, CPA2Biz, chose Intacct as the only preferred provider of financial applications to CPA professionals and AIPCA members.  Intacct was given an exclusive five year agreement that was extended for another three taking the agreement to at least 2017.  In addition, the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) has chosen Intacct as their internal accounting and financial management application as well.  Much has been said about the role of trust in enterprise software in general and cloud-based applications specifically.  The AICPA and IFAC have given us the chance to be the trusted solution to customers as a result.

You’ve often said that Intacct is very focused on getting customers back their time.  How are you designing in greater usability and performance improvements to Intacct’s applications to make this happen?

We have a feature called dimensions, which gives our customers the flexibility to create and track the metrics that are specific to their business.  One of the most compelling cases of the value of dimensions is the example of a airplane leasing company that was able to grow their business 30% faster each year based on the increased insights gained.   Using our dimensions capability, the plane leasing company was able to track plane leasing data, track how many times a given plane had been leased, compare costs of other planes and also track the lifetime value of the planes as well.  One of the most fascinating aspects of this analysis is the finding that over time planes initial values drop and then increases  in value, just like a Ferrari.  Using dimensions gave the company the ability to analyze their data in new ways and, in turn, manage their assets more effectively and profitably than ever before.

The Intacct Accountants Program is one of the more unique in the industry.  Can you discuss how your company was successful in recruiting partners, and what your plans are for 2013 and beyond with this program?

This is one the top three strategic initiatives we continue to invest heavily in.  We’ve been able to build a successful program by concentrating on partners with strong accounting domain expertise, excellent command of billing and profitability analysis, and a broad base of accounting and finance expertise.  Our alliance with the AICPA has also helped in making our Accountants Program a success.

Do you use personas as part of your product development, product management and marketing strategies?  Can you comment on them briefly and how they are impacting your approach to product development and marketing?

We use personas extensively throughout our development, marketing and selling strategies.  Our personas include titles and roles, as well as problems and needs.  We also have a Follow Me To Work Program which is invaluable in fine-tuning the usability of our applications.  Intuit pioneered many of the advances in Follow Me Home research programs to fully understand customers’ needs.  We have much of the original Intuit QuickBooks product management and engineering teams working for us today, focusing on how to continually improve usability and our customers’ experiences with our software.

Where The Highest Paying Cloud Computing Jobs Are

jobs-are-in-cloud-computing-200x300Using analytics to better understand the cloud computing job market is fascinating.

One of the most advanced companies in this area is Wanted Analytics, who aggregates job postings from over 500 job boards and maintains a database of over 600 million unique job listings.  They specialize in business intelligence for the talent marketplace, providing insights into how one company’s salary range compares to competitors for the same position, also calculating the difficulty to hire a given type of candidate.  They’ve developed a unique Hiring Scale to accomplish this.

I recently had a chance to test-drive their analytics applications.  Using the parameters to analyze all cloud computing jobs that pay $100,000 a year or more for the analysis, I ran several queries.  Key takeaways include the following:

  •  San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA leads the MSAs with a salary range $118K to $144K and one of the highest Hiring Score index values of 81, meaning it is very difficult for employers to find candidates who are qualified for their open positions. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT is next with a salary range of $117K to $143K and a Hiring Index Score of 75.  The SMA for San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA shows a salary range of $114K to $140K and a relative high Hiring Scale of 88.  Salary range for cloud computing professionals charted by metropolitan  statistical area (MSA) is shown below:

  •  Professional, Scientific and Technical Services (31%), Information Technologies (30%) and Manufacturing (12%) lead the top ten industries hiring cloud computing professionals in positions paying $100K or more. Wanted Analytics uses the NAICS taxonomy to organize this area of their database.

  • A total of 5,299 positions are open today for Computer Software Engineers, Applications and Architects as is shown in the following graphic.  What is surprising is the rapid increase in Marketing Managers (1,076 positions),  Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing, Technical and Scientific Products (576 positions) and Sales Engineers (452 positions).   Wanted Analytics uses the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) taxonomy too organize this area of their database.  The results are shown in the graphic below:

How Cloud Computing Is Redefining the M&A Landscape

Cloud Computing M&AIn 2013, expect to see the pace of mergers and acquisitions for cloud computing, mobile and analytics technologies accelerate as software vendors look to fill gaps in their product and service strategies. This and other key insights of how cloud computing is reshaping the merger and acquisition landscape can be found in the latest Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) report published today.

The US Technology M&A insights: Analysis and Trends in US Technology M&A Activity 2013 provides an excellent overview of merger, acquisitions, private equity, divestures, cross-border transactions across the five key industry sectors.  The report, free for download, covers the Internet, IT Services, hardware and networking, software, and semiconductor sectors.

Enterprise Software Players: In Search of Sticky Revenue and Higher Margins

The major catalysts driving cloud deals forward in 2013 are enterprise software companies’ need to redefine their business models and find sources of sticky revenue that can replace for many of them, dwindling maintenance revenue streams.  Knowing that the annuity model of cloud computing works best with multiyear payments required at the beginning of a customer engagement, enterprise software companies are looking to strengthen this area of their product portfolios.  Third, the faster cloud acquisitions can be integrated into their legacy systems, the more upsell can be achieved with their large installed bases of customers.  The greatest challenge many of them face however is selling entirely new cloud applications to entirely new customers they’ve never sold to before.  The potential of these entirely new markets however is going to be a valuation multiplier in 2013 and beyond.

Here are the key take-aways from PwC’s report:

  • Software and Internet deals represented 57% of transactions closed in 2012, a figure that PwC has seen steadily grow over the last two years. Cumulative value for software and Internet deals represented 53% of total 2012 deal value, an increase from 51% in 2011. Software deals represented over a third of 2012 technology deals, generating 35% of deal volume and 36% of deal value for the year   A comparison of both years and technology sectors are shown in the following graphic:

Figure 1 PWC Report

  • PwC takes a cautionary, conservative tone in this report showing how overall IT spending growth finished the year at an anemic 1.2% while technology deal volumes and values dropped by just under 20% from the prior year.
  • The report cites Gartner and Forrester’s optimistic IT spending forecasts for IT growth predicting a recovery in 2013 followed by accelerating growth in 2014 according to Forrester.
  • PwC is seeing SaaS, mobile devices, analytics and Big Data as the drivers of current and future M&A growth and a fundamental shift in deal volumes to software and Internet deals based on these technologies.  The report says the most promising areas of M&A activity in 2013 are mobile application development start-ups who have the intellectual property it would take years for enterprise software companies to create on their own.
  • Analytics will move from being a differentiator to the cost of doing business, a key point made in the PwC analysis.  PwC claims that analytics M&A will accelerate across all enterprise software vendors as they seek to fill gaps in their product and service strategies, and position themselves for growth in specific areas of the emerging industries using Big Data.
  • PwC reports that monthly deal volumes for software remained relatively even throughout 2012, hovering at 8-9 transactions per month and averaging just over 20 per quarter. The average deal value of $433M for 2012 was slightly lower than 2011 levels of $438M but an increase in the number of deals in excess of $500M helped to keep average deal values high. The report also shows how 2012 saw 18 deals (21% of volume) in excess of $500M closed, the majority of which closed in the latter half of the year. Fourteen deals greater than $1B closed in 2012, an increase of 8 deals (133%) over 2011.  The following is a graphic comparing software sector deals by volume and value:
Figure 2 PWC Report

 Bottom line: The land grab is on for intellectual property in the fields of mobile application development, analytics and cloud computing as enterprise software vendors look to fill gaps in their product and service strategies.

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