Dazed and Confused: Product Roadmaps, Upgrades & Migrations in IT Software

by: Rick Sherman

(This is part of a series of posts on business intelligence & data warehousing trends for 2008.) 

Dazed and confused. Such is the fate of the thousands of BI customers of Business Objects (BOBJ), Cognos (COGN) and Hyperion as their respective acquirers – SAP (NYSE:SAP), IBM (NYSE:IBM) and Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) - decide how to shape their future product lines.

For the acquirers this future involves, obviously, integrating the newly acquired products with their existing products and service offerings. But they also need to determine how to blend in the dozens of other acquisitions they made in the last couple of years. For example, how do Business Objects, Cognos and Hyperion fit within SAP, IBM and Oracle, respectively?

And it gets even more complex: the acquired companies had been on acquisition binges of their own. For example, how do Applix and Celequest (both acquired by Cognos) integrate with Cognos 8 and IBM’s OLAP (via its Alphablox acquisition?)

Acquisitions begat acquisitions begat acquisitions. Change is good if it helps you. These changes will certainly help the software titans that acquired these terrific BI firms, but will they benefit existing customers or prospects? Of course, the titans will say yes but…

For the last several years, Business Objects, Cognos and Hyperion customers have lived through product line transitions as each of those companies acquired dozens of companies. Marketing presentations explaining multiple-release, multiple-year product roadmaps became the order of the day. Many customers struggled to keep up with the latest upgrade and product capabilities.

The acquisitions by IBM, SAP and Oracle will only exacerbate this situation. Sure, there was that marketing slide showing you the promised software nirvana, but it cost money, time and resources to keep up.

The product upgrades were beneficial to the software firm by expanding its offerings and most likely reducing its costs, but what about their customers? More upgrades, more expense and most likely little additional business benefits. No business ROI. In fact, it might even be negative.

Without making a value judgment as to whether the end result is worth it, it is clear the journey that existing customers will face just to keep up with the vendors’ product roadmaps and upgrades will be daunting.

I understand that the software vendors feel that each upgrade offers value to their customers. But they'd get a different opinion if they surveyed the customers, especially the people funding these efforts. Customers continue to extend the time between upgrades for obvious reasons (at least to them and their businesses.)

Regardless of whatever else happens this year, many BI/DW/PM customers will be presented with a product roadmap (with much fanfare) and will be faced with an upgrade to reach the product Holy Grail (as described in those slides.) In this era of constrained budgets, putting resources into an upgrade usually means postponing creating new uses of BI/DW/PM.

Proceed cautiously.