Here are some common threads:
a) We have entered the era of intelligent and autonomous applications
Whether it was Workday’s Prism analytics or Worksheets or SAP’s Digital Boardroom it was hard to miss the growing emphasis on data versus process in the enterprise apps world. Inspired by or perhaps threatened by specialists like Anaplan and Tableau, enterprise apps are getting much broader and prettier in the data they present. And more autonomous – Oracle’s Adaptive Intelligence apps and Salesforce’s Einstein emphasize Machine Learning. But that is just the beginning. If my sample of 50+ work settings in Silicon Collar is the harbinger, drones and 3D printing will reshape logistics, robotics and wearables will reshape shop floors, natural interfaces will reshape healthcare and most service industries – machines are changing the nature of work and as a result processes everywhere and enterprise apps are starting to reflect that.
b) There’s still plenty of white space around vertical functionality
Most vendors have competitive intelligence units. Either they have been asleep at the wheel or their analysis is being ignored. We have way too many new-age software products with core finance capabilities or those offering support for services businesses and hardly any for all variety of “books of record” for other industries. Utility billing, retail merchandising, electronic medical records in healthcare, travel reservation engines and countless others have been ignored by most software vendors as they develop their next-gen products. Customers in those markets are living with engines which are decades old and could benefit from today’s cloud, in-memory, micro-services efficiencies, but all these customers can find are boutique vendors many of which will not scale or survive the 20-30 years customers expect these engines to last. Ok, so you could argue those industries are outliers – but how do you explain that very few vendors can like Plex show that 50% or more of the data in their cloud originates from the shop floor? or like NetSuite can effectively support the megatrend of the last couple of decades – eCommerce? There must be safety in numbers with everyone offering their own flavor of General Ledger.
c) We are seeing revolving partner doors
Sure you still see a Michael Dell or Vishal Sikka on stage, but it is fairly noticeable that hardware, telecom and outsourcing vendors are not as strategic these days to software vendors. There is much more excitement around Google, AWS or Amazon Alexa, IBM Watson or Microsoft Azure. The exhibition floors still have plenty of outsourcing booths and the titanium/platinum sponsors are still many of the old brands, but ask most attendees what they remember of the sponsor and they will likely mention their social event! In fact you could argue that for some software vendors the event sponsorship is the biggest value many of the vendors are bringing them.
d) Customers are much savvier
In each of the events in the last few weeks I have been struck by how much more sophisticated customers are becoming. Customers have learned to ring-fence, two-tier, multi-source over the last decade and so you see the same marquee customer names show up in many vendor conferences. They are spreading their budgets. Many companies have also learned to embed technology in their own products and services and know quite a bit about platforms, subscription pricing, revenue recognition etc. Other customers have started their digital transformation without involving software vendors. It’s not all goodness – you still hear of spectacular project write offs but in general, a better educated customer is healthy for the industry.