Expert Analysis: Application Lifecycle Management and Lower TCO - InformationWeek
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Expert Analysis: Application Lifecycle Management and Lower TCO

In a heterogeneous IT world, the IBM/SAP/HP/Oracle struggle for control leaves you somewhere between Hell and the catbird's seat.

Cost and complexity is another major problem: ALM approaches are traditionally people-centric and therefore expensive, and therefore form a hugely profitable business for the global systems integrators that do the lion's share of the ALM work. The historic price tags have been eroded by the emergence of a panoply of tools -- IntelliCorp and Panaya in the SAP space, for example -- but getting customers, and more importantly, global SIs to adopt the most effective of these tools is like getting a government bureaucrat to sign off on eliminating his own budget. Never very easy, however much sense it might make in the long run.

So, enter the four horsemen of the ALM world. SAP has the customer base and the toolkit, SolMan, that its customers and partners love to hate. SolMan is big, complex, expensive to implement, and amazingly effective if only more customers would actually use it to its fullest. Oracle has another big, inherently heterogeneous customer base and a weaker set of tools -- and therefore a much more open approach to ALM that invites partners to dig inside the inner workings of its eBusiness Suite in ways that would make SAP blanche.

IBM is in ALM in the dual role of tools provider -- the Rational toolset, born like WebSphere from myriad acquisitions and technology roll-ups, is one of the best in the business -- and as systems integrator, the latter role being the much more profitable and strategic and therefore influential inside IBM. HP plays in the ALM sandbox in two roles as well: tools provider (its testing tools are considered the industry standard as well) and systems integrator in the form of its EDS subsidiary.

What all these companies are jockeying for simultaneously, and in contradiction to each other, is the right to be the go-to-partner of choice for tools and services, and at the same time use their ALM efforts to maintain or expand whatever level of account control they currently hold. Wherein lies the complexity of the conflict.

Let's start with IBM. If you're IBM's Rational tools group, you want everyone -- SI partners like Accenture as well as IBM Global Services -- to use your tools to work with SAP and Oracle, and anything else. But, as a good partner, particularly to SAP, you want to make sure that SAP's Solution Manager is also in the mix -- otherwise SAP would try to shut Rational out of the SAP market.

But if you're IBM Global Services you want to use Rational and SolMan and anything else you can get your hands on to "rationalize" the SAP customer base, commoditize SAP's Business Suite, and drive all innovation through Global Services in the form of custom applications, thus obviating SAP as an innovator. The less the customer ends up seeing of SAP or Oracle, the better. This Global Services vision is similar to conservative Grover Norquist's infamous (IMO) vision for shrinking government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." And to the survivor goes the account control.

Needless to say, this plays really poorly in SAP land. One of the tricks to IBM GS' vision is getting access to the interfaces used by SolMan to manage an SAP installation. SAP has continued to rebuff attempts by IBM to have this access, for fear that once those interfaces are open and available, IBM (or anyone else) can pretty much obviate the need for SolMan, and thereby undermine SAP's account control and its entire ALM and global support strategy, both of which place SolMan front and center as the key to the kingdom.

But, and there will be many more buts in this story, SAP and IBM need each other more and more, and the reason is a determined competitor named Oracle. Until the Sun acquisition, I had always assumed that Larry Ellison had wanted to get closer to IBM -- and indeed most of his major acquisitions have included a huge IBM customer base. Now the blush is off the rose, and Larry's full-throated attacks on IBM are helping to drive Big Blue closer to SAP, even as the plot in the ALM conflagration thickens. So, SAP and IBM, even as they are dancing around the ALM question, are convening summits and getting CTOs together to talk about strategic interests, among them what to do about Oracle.

In this light, don't expect Oracle's position in the market be simple and easy to understand. Clearly, Larry hasn't left a lot of doubt whom he sees as Oracle enemy number one (today). But, meanwhile, IBM Rational is courting Oracle's eBusiness Suite (EBS) customers with a similar rationalization/TCO message that it has for SAP's customers. With a twist: there is no gatekeeper SolMan equivalent at Oracle, and Oracle's more open architecture means that Rational is able to do its work inside the EBS customer base without some of the problems it has inside SAP's market. And, at least according to IBM Rational, Oracle is responsive and interested in further collaboration in ALM.

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