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9/21/2007
09:35 AM
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IT Titans Take Manhattan

IBM, SAP and Microsoft choose the Big Apple for three big-time, industry-altering announcements.

After a relatively slow summer in the IT industry, September has been abuzz with big events and big news. The week of September 17 provided an end-of-quarter crescendo of sorts, with industry titans IBM, SAP and Microsoft each taking a turn in the limelight with major announcements from New York, bowing new products that may reshape desktop computing, enterprise software and the business intelligence market, respectively.

On Tuesday, September 18, IBM gathered hundreds of analysts, reporters and customers at the Museum of Natural History for the IBM Collaboration Summit, a mini Lotussphere of sorts within the sphere of the Hayden Planetarium. The announcements included a new hosted version of Lotus Notes, an upgrade to Lotus Forms 3.0 and a new Content Integrator that will make Domino.Doc repositories accessible through Lotus Quickr, the vendor's new collaborative environment with Web 2.0-style social networking features. IBM also announced plans for a Notes Traveler mobile client (for Windows devices) set for release early next year.

The headline grabber, however, was IBM's announcement of Lotus Symphony, a suite of productivity tools based on OpenOffice.org technology and made available as a free download to anyone from the IBM Web site. Symphony supports the Open Document Format (ODF) as well as Microsoft Office formats and PDF, and it's meant to offer a no-cost, standards-based alternative to Microsoft's ubiquitous Office Suite.

"IBM is committed to opening office desktop productivity applications just as we helped open enterprise computing with Linux," stated Steve Mills, senior vice president of the IBM Software Group. Earlier this month, IBM announced it had joined the OpenOffice.org, and speaking at the Hayden Planetarium, Mills said 35 full-time IBM developers will be contributing their time and intellectual property to the open-source initiative.

Even with the backing of IBM and Google (the latter supporting ODF and offering Sun's StarOffice as part of its Google Pack), the odds quickly unseating Microsoft Office in the Enterprise are remote. Microsoft claims more than 500 million users of its productivity suite, whereas 96 million copies of the OpenOffice/StarOffice suite have been downloaded. Use of the open-source product is said to be concentrated among educational institutions, government agencies, small businesses and consumers.

SAP Validates SaaS Model

Applications giant SAP walked a fine line with its September 19 announcement of SAP Business ByDesign (BBD). A comprehensive on-demand applications suite, BBD is the company's answer to fast-growing rivals such as salesforce.com. Yet SAP has placed rigid limits on the offering, with a 25-seat minimum, an implied 500-seat cap and an admonition, from company CEO Henning Kagermann, that "it's not a solution for larger enterprises... [or for] midmarket companies that have high demand for vertical solutions."

BBD's breadth is impressive, integrating everything from financials and HR to supply chain, supplier, service, project and customer relationship management. SAP also highlighted a slick delivery approach, with extensive user-configuration capabilities of real hosted systems (rather than demo software) through SAP's site. If customers are happy with the system after a free trial period, they continue using the same configuration. Subscription costs are $149 per user, per month. Basic time-and-billing entry clients are $54 per five users per month.

For every aspect that impressed, however, SAP left many questions unanswered during its two-hour presentation from the Nokia Theater in New York's Time Square. For example, few details were provided on channel development and partnerships plans. In addition, BBD won't be generally available until some time next year. For now, SAP is adding customers "by invitation" through the end of 2007 in a controlled registration and pilot process. SAP executives said they expect to serve 10,000 companies with BBD by 2010, and they put the total market potential at more than 100,000 companies and $15 billion in revenue.

While some might call BBD an affirmation of the SaaS model, its narrow targeting at companies with 100 to 500 employees seems more like a containment strategy. SaaS-based competitors salesforce.com, NetSuite and others are steadily pushing deployments into larger and larger enterprises.

At Long Last PerformancePoint

While SAP was busy announcing Business ByDesign, Microsoft was taking the final raps off PerformancePoint Server 2007. More than four years in the planning and in beta testing for more than a year, PeformancePoint Server 2007 is a performance management application platform built on the foundation of Microsoft infrastructure including SQL Server 2005, Analysis Services and Integration Services. Microsoft celebrated the launch in New York with a series of customer events including a launch dinner with top beta customers and a large-scale customer event at Chelsea Piers.

It's tough to compare a performance management product launch to announcements that could lead to shakeups in desktop and enterprise computing, but Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's Buisness Division, has predicted that the company's BI platform, with PerformancePoint as a cornerstone, will "bring BI to ten times the number of workers that are using it today."

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