Back to the Future.

Jim and I published a first take on the SuccessFactors deal with Siemens. Gartner clients see Siemens to Provide Important SaaS Talent Management Test Case (G00168920), 15-JUN-2009.

Last week I suddenly felt like one of those people you meet in IT who keep telling you that computing hasn’t really changed since punchcards or Fortran, and that everything just repeats itself. Either that, or I had stumbled upon the flux capacitor. I shuddered briefly.

Let me explain myself.

Just after I joined SAP in the mid-nineties, PeopleSoft won a significant deal at Siemens. This really shook SAP up, and led to significant investment in the HR part of R/3, especially for the global market.

Then PeopleSoft stumbled, sucked into the joyous complexity of German payroll.

A few years later, SAP won back large parts of the account. I didn’t really realise it at the time, but SAP was pretty agile in its response to the loss. It had long term positive benefits for SAP’s HR product.

At first sight this month’s win for SuccessFactors seems remarkably similar.

But history doesn’t always come around the same way. For history to repeat itself here, three things need to happen:

1. SuccessFactors stumbles.

2. SAP delivers a comparable offering via SaaS

3. SAP convinces Siemens to change back.

SuccessFactors today is more globally aware than PeopleSoft was in the mid-nineties, and it has the chance to learn from history. It has a broad European customer base, and well established operations here. It is also steering clear of German payroll.

In the mid-nineties, R/3 was already on the way to dominating the client/server ERP market. Today SAP is dabbling with SaaS in various forms, but I do wonder if it will react to this with the same agility and focus that it did back then. Also, the Siemens of today is different from the Siemens then.

Earlier this year I wrote a note about the SAP German HR congress ( Gartner clients see) Observations From SAP’s German HR Congress (G00165965), 06-MAR-2009 One of the things I said was.

“German organizations are in a good position. SAP perceives that it has significant competition in the talent management space and is strengthening its products, while best-of-breed vendors see an opportunity to gain an increased foothold in the market. There is nothing like a DAX 30 company selecting a best-of-breed vendor to focus the minds of SAP management and its development organization, as no organization likes to lose at home.

We will be watching with interest.