Who's The Top Innovator: SAP Or Oracle?

A customer's query at SAP's Sapphire User Conference forces a closer look at the two companies.
3) On-demand applications: SAP is in the market today with its Business ByDesign SME suite and a pending ByDesign SDK that will let partners and customers build unique on-demand applications that use ByDesign's full business functionality as a set of building blocks. While this is the vision of and the reality of Microsoft's xRM SDK for Dynamics CRM, ByDesign's palette of building blocks is significantly broader and can function as a platform for innovation, that is, until Microsoft's own AX ERP suite becomes similarly enabled and provides SAP with some hard-to-beat innovation mojo.

SAP is also rolling out Sales On-demand. While late to market, it's a legitimate fast-follower for the SAP customer base. SAP also has a collaborative on-demand tool, Streamwork, that's quite innovative as well. Then there's Carbon Impact, Sourcing On-demand, and on-demand apps for travel management, talent management, and service management will be hitting the market later this year. While SAP hardly created the on-demand market for enterprise software, it's following fast with a steady stream of on-demand applications for specific vertical industry requirements.

4) Application deployment and upgrades: SAP's enhancement packs, which effectively upgrade the Business Suite without actually forcing the customer to go through an upgrade, have been around for a few years and are an example of SAP's innovation in the customer-critical application lifecycle arena. The company has followed up on these with its Rapid Deployment Solutions, which, as the name implies, deliver fixed-price industry-specific functionality wrapped in best practices that are intended to get the customer up and running quickly and cheaply. SAP has RDS for CRM, SCM, IT management, finance, and sustainability, with more on the way. These approaches to the application lifecycle are truly innovative at a time when total cost of ownership has never been more critical to customers.

5) Enterprise Performance Management and analytics: SAP is also pre-packaging its analytics offerings in order to make them more consumable at a lower TCO. I attended an early morning session at Sapphire with a group of customers that highlighted how valuable they think the EPM strategy is. Again, some of these products, like planning and consolidation, are the result of an acquisition (OutlookSoft, in this case), but many of the newer ones, like disclosure management and spend performance management, are homegrown. Hats to SAP for raising the bar on delivering analytics value while minimizing the need for consulting services.

6) The Sapphire User Conference: Then there's the Sapphire conference itself. SAP has made a virtue out of designing a show floor and conference layout that's so impressive it deserves special mention. The way SAP positioned conference keynotes, booth space, communications, and customer spaces was really unique, and made for a conference unlike any other in the industry. This is the second year SAP has used this layout, and it recently won an event industry award for last year's show. The user experience at Sapphire represents an enormous contrast to the admittedly much larger Oracle OpenWorld, which is crowded, crammed, and exceptionally user-hostile by contrast.

I stopped at six. There were others, but the customer had only given me five minutes to pontificate. What did I tell the customer about Oracle? Well, there's the company's new stack strategy, which is sort of innovative from the sales side (it has great revenue potential for Oracle), but I don't believe that most companies will truly benefit from buying the entire stack from a single vendor.

Then there's Fusion Applications, which are coming out later this year. Fusion has a great user experience, and some nice functionality. But while that user experience looked good the first time I saw it more than two years ago, the time it has taken to move towards general availability has taken a lot of the luster off Fusion. There's also lots of innovation in the individual components of Fusion, like Distributed Order Orchestration and Compensation Management, and the overall deployment model (on-demand, on-premises, hosted) is an innovative approach in and of itself.

That's where I sort of run out of steam in discussing Oracle's innovation strategy. If I dust off my eight month old notes from Open World, I don't see a whole lot more. While it's hard to believe that Oracle hasn't moved the innovation needle since then, if they have they've told no one about it. What's clear is that the departure of Charles Phillips and the acquisition of Sun have shifted priorities at Oracle, and one of the casualties seems to be innovation in enterprise software.

The moral of the story is twofold: SAP has been doing a ton of innovation. And while it may be hard keep track of all the pieces--even for SAP--the company has gone out of its way to build an influencer program that's top notch for the simple reason that it provides an on-going infusion of updates and knowledge about what SAP is up to. That helps everyone--analysts, and through our myriad interactions, customers--know what's happening.

Oracle, by contrast, may have been innovating its enterprise software strategy over the last eight months, but if it has, the company has chosen not to communicate about it. The result of Oracle's poor dialogue with the market may be deliberate--if you have nothing nice to say, then perhaps it's best to say nothing at all--but, knowing the people on the applications side of the house relatively well, I remain convinced there's a there there.

But if you ask me, I couldn't tell you, even if I wanted to.

Josh Greenbaum is principal of Enterprise Applications Consulting, a Berkeley, Calif., firm that consults with end-user companies and enterprise software vendors large and small. Clients have included Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and other firms that are sometimes analyzed in his columns. Write him at [email protected].