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7/19/2010
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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.

Josh Greenbaum Big company battles, like real-world battles between countries, often center around obscure points of friction. The Austro-Prussian war had its Schleswig-Holstein, the Vietnam war had the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and enterprise software has application lifecycle management. ALM today is a relatively obscure point of friction between giants that holds the promise of igniting global conflict if... things either get out of hand or go exactly as planned, depending on one's perspective.

The warring parties circling around the issue of ALM can definitely promise global conflict if that is what actually happens -- no less than IBM, SAP, Hewlett-Packard, and Oracle, to name only the biggest, are angling for position in the ALM space as a means to not just make some serious money, but reap enormous benefits in terms of added account control. Oh yes, and do something positive for their customers as well.

What is likely to happen is a further refinement in the on-going coopetition derby now playing out in the enterprise software space. My guess is that some partnerships will be strengthened -- SAP and HP definitely, SAP and IBM maybe -- while other competitive lines will be drawn with an even thicker marker -- SAP vs. Oracle (of course), Oracle vs. IBM (in case Larry hasn't made it clear enough), HP vs. IBM (duh!) and, most likely as well, HP vs. Oracle.

Regardless of where the lines are finally drawn, it's clear that, even as the industry fears that industry consolidation means less innovation, the continually shifting sands around ALM are an example of how when allegedly big, slow, and indifferent industry giants start dancing, customers actually stand to benefit.

Here's the issue in a nutshell: It's increasingly expensive and complex to run large enterprise software implementations, particularly for global companies managing heterogeneous environments. Total cost of ownership is elusive, and the push for more upgrades from the vendors threatens to further increase TCO -- any potential functional benefits to end-users from upgrades notwithstanding.

ALM has emerged as a way to tackle the problem -- better lifecycle management, aided and abetted by better tools, means that companies can fine tune their implementations and upgrades to avoid waste, trim unneeded resources, rationalize overly complex portfolios, and otherwise run a tighter ship. Easy, right?

Like many things in life, ALM is great as a theory, but customers run into all sorts of problems trying to actually do something about it, so many that it's hard to find where to start. Heterogeneity is one of the big problems -- managing the lifecycle of one app is tough, dozens or even hundreds of interoperating applications is an absolute nightmare to manage. Vendor lock-in is another: SAP's Solution Manager is the premier tool for SAP, but doesn't do anything to manage how PeopleSoft HR or Siebel CRM interoperate with SAP. And SAP guards its SolMan interfaces carefully, so that using third party tools to access SolMan and thereby access the keys to the SAP ALM kingdom is not something that just any partner or product can do.

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