Monday’s Musings: It’s The Relationship, Stupid! (Part 4) - Stop Under-investing In R&D

Economic Downturn Challenges Enterprise Software Executives To Uphold The Sanctity Of The Vendor - Customer Relationships

Conventional wisdom would assume that in a challenging economy, strong relationships would be a key success factor to retaining business and mitigating loss of revenue.  Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case for many companies, including vendors in enterprise software.  Blame it on the economy, fear of depending on their people, or plain greed, but a good number of executives have taken an approach that attempts to preserve shareholder value at the expense of their vendor - stakeholder relationships (i.e.employee, customer, and partner).  Now in their defense, these muckety mucks face dire times and hard decisions need to be made.  However, they are not in a unique situation and risk jeopardizing brand value, trust, and market credibility for short term gain. Let's look at five common value destruction strategies:

Part 4: Under investing in R&D and then repackaging existing content as new innovation
Back in the heady days of the 80's, custom dev teams faced challenges with primitive tool sets, constantly changing business priorities, and escalating costs of internal maintenance.  The cost to keep up with change seemed unsurmountable.  Consequently, packaged apps vendors offered businesses the promise of economies of scale so that the long term cost would be less.  Client would benefit from best practices in various industries.  In turn, the software vendor would provide the scale to take over bug fixes,  enhancements, new functionality, staffing, and future innovation. The promise of packaged apps appeared to solve the issues that custom development failed to address.  With Y2K in full force, everyone rushed to put their latest ERP system to beat the crunch.  Upon reflection, it may seem that we traded one set of cost for another.  Here are four customer examples as to what's been happening.

  • Forcing clients to re-pay for the same functionality " They delivered some supply chain planning capabilities in the old modules.  With each release and our input, the product improved.  One day they moved to an engine pricing.  When they launched XXX, they decided to come back and charge us for the new product.  We had access to 80% of the functionality already.   We had the old product for 10 years and should have been entitled to the new release after millions of euros in maintenance and our feedback.  This was the beginning of the downturn in our relationship.  Today they keep trying to sell us on their new suite and its just a repackaging of all their disparate products!"  EMEA Discrete Manufacturer,  CIO
  • Failing to deliver on promised roadmaps " We sat on these Vendor X Customer Boards (i.e. industry peer groups) where we worked out future capabilities with some competitors, system integrators, and other technology partners.  After 5 years of talk, we still have not seen 85% of the functionality requests we put into play.  Instead, the company has focused on the low end of the market segment and in other industries.  We spent all this time talking and now we have very little to show for it.  We've paid over 16M in maintenance in the past 5 years.   What happened to realizing the customer input into the product design process?  Its been an outrage!  We could have built everything on our own and maintained this for the same cost or less.  Yes, we could rebuild our ERP and be more successful and cost effective and just might as the tooling has significantly improved and PaaS platforms provide potential."  CPG,  Senior Director for Business Apps
  • Charging for technology uplifts. "After using Vendor X's Business Intelligence product for 7 years, we finally decided to upgrade to the next version.  We compared the upgrade and functionality wise, the new release had less capabilities than the old release.  They had built the product on a new technology platform.  While it could be more advantageous for us, we were shocked that they had the nerve to charge a replatform fee for us to use the new product.  They demanded additional money for the same functionality.  This is absurd!  We moved to Vendor Y a year later because they did not seem like they would be acquired and avoided this scenario. "  Global Financial Services,  VP Analytics and Business Intelligence
  • Responding at a snail's pace to innovative technologies. " I'm miffed that the large ERP vendors keep missing the boat on new technology.  Why can't they deliver a multi-tenant SaaS offering?  What's up with hosting and mega tenancy? We seek new cost effective deployment options and everything comes back more expensive each year.  We also can't understand what's so hard about improving usability.  Why don't they just take Adobe AIR and Flex and rebuild the screens?  We don't really care what's in the back end!  We just need something that is role based and carries the relevant data that are people need to make a decision.  After paying these guys over 100M in maintenance in 10 years, we could have built this faster, better, and cheaper.  How come they can't deliver better use of collaboration technologies?  At the rate we're going, we'll be using more SharePoint than Vendor X's portal"  Major Oil and Gas,  Director ERP Project

The bottom line - failure to deliver on promised functionality jeopardizes hard won trusted relationships

Clients made strategic bets with key software vendors to go with packaged apps.  Many shared with them their best practices in the development and improvement of the vendor's product.  These were trusted relationships.  In the end, vendors achieved economies of scale but under invested their profits back into the product.  Clients had a good start with some basic apps.  But with an average of 80% of all maintenance and support fees going back to profit and not the product, the client vendor promises may be too broken.
Initially, most clients took this in stride and gave the vendor some grace period in delivery of key functionality.   After a series of excuses, many vendors failed to deliver as they were distracted with satisfying investors or engaged in M&A.  In such cases, clients and vendor user groups should take action and engage in deeper conversations about what ratio of revenue goes back to R&D.  How quickly should enhancements be prioritized.  What ratio of R&D would the clients expect reinvested from license and maintenance fees?
For those clients, its time to apply some leverage on those vendors badly behaving to be more forthright with their commitment on promised roadmaps and more responsive to client enhancement requests.  Clients should be more proactive!  Clients may need to be more public.
Your POV
Got a success story where your vendor has bucked the trend and delivered more than expected.  Got a POV on how they are keeping good relationships? Or got a great story on the bone-headed thing your vendor or your employer has done to destroy value in the relationship!  Send me a private email to rwang0 at gmail dot com.  Posts are preferred!   Thanks and looking forward to your POV!
Copyright © 2009 R Wang. All rights reserved.