Confusing Value Propositions: Cloud Platforms and Hosted Applications

it-balancing-actConfusing Value Propositions: Cloud Platforms and  Hosted Applications

When a service provider is in the business of selling computing resources – like bandwidth, processors and memory, and disk storage – it makes a lot of sense to also leverage the value of software products and systems which drive consumption of computing resources.  In short, they market and sell software that runs on the platform in order to get folks to buy the platform, no different from selling desktop and server software in order to sell the hardware to run it.  It’s just that these days the hardware and networking components are often referred to as the “platform” or maybe “the cloud”.

Let’s face it… cloud computing platforms are just no fun if there’s nothing to run on them, and a hard drive has little value when there isn’t anything stored on it.  Once there is something there – an application, data… something – then the part has actual value in terms of driving revenue.  This is the difficulty and the basis for confusing value propositions when it comes to offering and delivering services in the form of a hosting platform.  Once again: platforms are just no fun if there’s nothing to run on them.  Is the value is really about the applications, not the platform? Or is the value in the platform, because it’s necessary for running the applications?

The truth is that both are essential parts of the entire “solution”, and the value of how the solution is packaged and offered is purely up to the purchaser to determine in terms of applicability to the business.  When it comes to hosted application offerings for businesses, there isn’t a single one-size-fits-all approach that will work.  Sometimes people want to purchase from different vendors and put their own solutions together, and sometimes folks want turnkey delivery of whatever they need.  Even channel partners and value-added resellers are finding that, with diminishing margins and aggressive competition prevalent in the market, removing the time-consuming aspects of solution delivery becomes paramount to achieving some level of profitability on the work.

What this means is that providers are looking for ways to increase the overall value and usability of their solutions, and when it comes to platform services there are only two directions to look: automation to support self-service, and application software delivery to drive consumption and usage on the hosting platform.

So now we’re back to the applications again.  There’s no way to avoid them, but there’s no great way for platform companies to engage with them, either.  Working with business application software is sometimes complicated, often annoying, and can be exceptionally time-consuming and resource intensive. And there are few licensing models which make it really easy for hosts and ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) to work together.  Then, of course, there is the desire for exclusivity on one side or the other.

Software companies don’t generally want to select a single platform provider for their software for a very simple reason: they don’t want to limit their potential user base.  Now that Windows platform is available just about anywhere – on local computers, on mobile devices, from platform and infrastructure hosting providers – how does the ISV make a decision on a single delivery channel or model or provider?

Some lean towards working with hosting providers to create branded, point-deliveries of the application.  Too often, however, this approach removes the ability for customers to benefit from other applications or integrations, eliminating some of the value of the solution and certainly curtailing benefits for integrating partners of the ISV.

Host it themselves?  The last thing most software developers want is to be responsible for hosting and maintaining some other guys’ software products; they have enough to worry about with their own offerings.  If the solution is standalone, maybe this approach works.  But there are few solutions made for the desktop which don’t have some strange integration point with MS Office apps, Adobe reader, Internet browsers or other things prevalent on the user desktop.

There isn’t any proven or easy path for software developers, IT suppliers or small business customers looking to create mobility and managed subscription service around desktop and server applications, and there is likely never going to be a single story line that all will follow.  This is among the reasons for the popularity of the “hybrid” cloud approach and growing importance of managed application hosting and ISV-authorized delivery models.  Yet even key providers in those areas have a tough time really communicating what they do in a way that is meaningful to the buyer.  Are they selling a platform, applications, or both? Folks in the industry know the jargon and how to use it, and are often skilled at adjusting their language in order to obfuscate or confuse certain sticky issues regarding software licensing in the cloud and other similar aspects of hosting.  It’s no wonder that many customers remain confused as to what, exactly, they’re being asked to buy, and where the lines of flexibility and responsibility are drawn.

The applications justify the platform, and there are possibly multiple platform approaches to delivering the app. It is a confusing situation for business buyers of IT as well as for their resellers and suppliers, and the increasing number of options for how businesses approach purchasing and using information technology makes it unlikely that the process will become as simple as some suggest.

jmbunnyfeetMake Sense?

J

State of the Union: The Irrelevance of Good Accounting?

State of the Union: The Irrelevance of Good Accounting?

financeI’m a little concerned, and any professional in accounting and finance who works with small businesses should be just a little concerned, too.  Why?  Because there is a belief out there that some nifty software and Internet Of Things (IoT) approach to finance will ultimately eliminate the need for a small business to work with skilled, trained accounting professionals.  Remember the marketing slogan introduced by Intuit with QuickBooks – the one that suggested that, “if you can write a check, you can do your own books”?  Most accountants will tell you that it is not true, and the ability to operate a product like QuickBooks does not magically turn poor accounting and bookkeeping information into good business data.  In fact, it most frequently enables bad information to turn into bad business decisions – quickly.

DIY bookkeeping solutions have been around for a while, so why the distress about it now? Up until this point, it hadn’t been so overtly stated to small business owners that having less-than-great accounting data is very much OK, and that the role accounting professionals play in small business finances is more of a burden than benefit.  Consider the statement made by President Obama in his recent State of the Union address:

“Let’s simplify the system and let a small business owner file based on her actual bank statement, instead of the number of accountants she can afford”

If I’m an accounting professional, I am pretty steamed up about that statement because I know how screwy business accounting data gets when the work is done by folks without the proper training.  Incorrect or improper accounting treatment can make a big difference when it comes to filing those taxes mentioned…. and not in a good way.  That transaction on the bank statement… Is it a cost of goods sold or a regular business expense? Is it an asset or supply item? Is it a reimbursement or revenue?  Is the payroll deduction before or after taxes?  Is that even a viable payroll deduction item?  These questions and more arise frequently in a small business, and the treatment for these items is improper as often as not.

There is a big value in what a trained accounting professional can offer a small business owner, and the value often translates to eliminating unnecessary tax burdens and the delivery of accurate reporting – both of which are really important when it comes to actually trying to grow a healthy and sustainable business.

Small businesses are often considered to be the fuel powering our economy.  Doesn’t it make sense for us all to recognize that smarter businesses are likely to be more successful, and that more successful small businesses means growth in the economy?  The importance of good fiscal and financial management and reporting – in business and in government – is not something to minimize, and suggesting that it takes no intervention or skill to do the job properly reflects poorly not only on the person saying it, but on the entire establishment.

jmbunnyfeetMake Sense?

J