Friday Rant: SAP – Betting on the Half-Life of the Frictionless On-Demand Platform

I've written about SAP's Frictionless acquisition countless times on Spend Matters -- what it meant initially, the advantages it provided SAP, its disadvantages, and how the platform would ultimately become part of a broader On-Demand strategy encompassing a range of business applications. Now, it appears, a number of sources indirectly tied to -- though not employed by -- SAP are suggesting that the venerable ERP provider will soon kill off the Frictionless platform in favor of its home-grown Business ByDesign SaaS platform (originally aimed at just the SMB market). I reached out to SAP this week, and the contact I spoke with suggested that this is unequivocally not the case (when it comes to e-sourcing), and that we can expect to see the Frictionless platform continue to serve as the foundation for a range of On-Demand initiatives for some time. However, not everyone is convinced.

Spend Matters has heard from multiple SAP partners in both the SI and BPO realms that SAP plans to change to ByDesign as soon as possible. (Two went so far as to suggest that the only reason the e-sourcing product remains on the product slate for 2010 is that its sales team would be in open rebellion if it were taken away.) My source at SAP again denies this rumor, insisting that the legacy platform is still very much alive; however, this source also said that when it comes to delivering a defined set of functionality and underlying capabilities, the ultimate choice of platforms is irrelevant.

At the end of the day, despite all this rabble-rousing, I also believe that it doesn't matter whether or not SAP keeps the Frictionless solution; Frictionless' fundamental strength was always its underlying architecture and configurability, rather than any functional superiority (or usability, however much it's improving today). What SAP customers and partners should be more concerned about is whether SAP ends up swapping out a solution in 2011 -- or whenever -- that is not yet at the functional level of the previous product. This would be just the type of boneheaded corporate move that large software companies are known to make, and it would, without question, cause open rebellion among partners and those in the field engaged in sales cycles (not to mention customers, if forced to switch prematurely).

Enough analysis here. What are your thoughts on how long SAP will end up keeping the Frictionless platform alive? (In getting in a final word this morning, I must commend the Frictionless team for originally building out a SaaS platform that was way ahead of its time.)

Jason Busch

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