Monday, October 13, 2008

Running The Rodeo

So I'm sitting here on the train platform at 5:00 a.m. on Columbus Day. It's dark, cold and windy in Southern Cal this morning (the Santa Ana winds are raging), but my mind is racing at hundreds of miles a minute (again...a common occurrence at this time of the day). It's the economy that's on my mind, especially the impact of the economy on Enterprise Apps customers. I have several thoughts on the matter. They make make sense or they might not be worth the time it takes you to read them. Take a read and let me know what you think.

I think we have a "Black Swan" situation evolving in the financial markets. The shut-down of world-wide credit markets, to the point where lenders won't even lend to each other, is definitely large-impact, hard-to-predict, and a new experience for all of us. The impact is even greater than it would have been in the past due to huge recent advances in the integration of global markets. In the short run, the past two weeks have been a mess - early international indicators are that today will be substantially better today (October 13, 2008), but it's hard to say what happens after that. While I don't believe this is an economic melt-down by any means and that the global economy will recover in due time, I also believe that we're in for slower economic conditions over the next little while.

It's also important to note that we really haven't yet felt the disruption from the market uncertainty and upheaval of the past few weeks and months. It typically takes about six months for the waves from the financial markets to ripple across the pond and really start to make waves where you and I do business. That's not to say that some of us are not feeling the impact already; I just think we'll see a much bigger impact later on. I'd suggest that many of us will begin to feel the real impact during the first quarter of calendar year 2009. For Enterprise Apps customers, that will likely include a slow-down in the purchasing of new apps and technology...probably okay to anticipate that same slow-down in upgrade licensing too.

My folks were both children of the Great Depression (no, I don't think we're doing that again now...just stop thinking that way! This is more like a big pothole on the highway of life than a Great Depression-type of event). Whenever faced with uncertain times, their mantra was "Let's do the best with what we have." The idea was, rather than replacing a car or an appliance when the economy got a little tight, they would simply make the extra effort to squeeze the maximum value out of the things they already owned. I suspect we'll see quite a bit of this behavior in the enterprise apps space over the next few months - a slow-down in spending for new apps and technology until things start looking better.

So, if we're apt to see a slow-down in purchasing new apps and technology, how will customers continue to leverage IT in making progress of their various initiatives? By squeezing more out of what they already have (customers will also working to reduce post-implementation ownership cost, but that's another story told by my friend Vinnie Mirchandani). This is where talent time kicks in: the game over the next several months will be less about buying what software vendors are selling and more about customers getting maximum value out of what they already own. The latter requires access to talented people, either in-house or through carefully selected partners.

Where I grew up, it's a big event when a rodeo comes to town. Everyone in town shows up and it's a big event that takes all weekend. While the wranglers and cowboys are the stars of the show, it's the folks behind the scenes (the rodeo clowns, the event manager, the handlers, etc.) who really make the whole thing work. A rodeo event offers enough prize money, the wranglers and cowboys will show up. Assembling a good team behind the scenes...that's the trick to a successful rodeo. For the next little while, it's the folks behind the scenes in IT - those that can keep the environment running and extend functionality without investing in new tools or technologies - who will be the stars of the rodeo.

Put another way, those who can use underlying apps technology to extend the functionality of those apps will likely be busier than those whose skills are simply in implementing those apps. In the Oracle apps space, someone with skills and experience in building new XML/BI Publisher reports or BPEL-based business processes will likely be more in demand that someone whose skills lie in implementing specific application modules or suites. Premium skills in leveraging Fusion Middleware to extend the functionality of Oracle apps will be in high demand. Overall, apps customers (regardless of whether they're Oracle customers or not) will be competing to trade out skills on their respective teams, replacing apps implementers with those skilled in extensions, enhancements and maintenance...the folks who probably work in your enterprise right now "behind the scenes" or "out of the spotlight".

If you manage an enterprise IT organization, you might want to think about ways to make those employees or partners who do the enhancement and maintenace work feel valued right now. If you are one of those people who really runs the rodeo...rise up, straighten your ties, polish your shoes, and get ready for your day in the sun.

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