Sterling Commerce folds into IBM - an Infy perspective
Ever since the IBM acquisition of Sterling Commerce (http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/31742.wss), the standard questions I get asked is essentially variations around the theme of suitability and impact on our practice - Wasn't this acquisition purely for the BIS B2B integration piece which suddenly gives IBM access to 18,000 customers? Was the SCM piece of Sterling Commerce some kind of an afterthought or collateral benefit, if you may? If at all, it would fit in, where would it be? And most importantly, what happens to Infosys next, being by far (by a few light years, if I may say so myself) the leading player in Sterling SCM package related services in the SI space?
Let's get to the last question first.
Overall, I am strongly positive on this acquisition because of multiple angles:
1. First & foremost, IBM is an IT company (and not a communications company) with a major software focus under five towering brands like Tivoli, Lotus, Websphere etc and hence the synergies are that much stronger for any software product acquisition.
2. IBM has always grown via partners, they have an excellent partner strategy (we've been beneficiaries of this on the Tivoli/Maximo side of the house) and have a large team specifically dedicated to growth via partners with KPIs purely around partner enablement and success.
3. I do agree that Sterling BIS fits like a glove with Webphere Business Integrator. That said, the SCM fitment to their Websphere business is strong as well since it plugs the gaps in back-end supply chain (MCF, COM-PCA, MCS for B2B) with Websphere Commerce Server.
But it's all not all going to be hunky dory either. I anticipate some challenges along the way as well:
1. While IBM has done a great job acquiring dozens of companies over the years and integrating them fairly well, they have by and large steered clear of a direct competition with the apps providers starting with SAP & Oracle. Apart from Maximo over 4 years back, I am not able to recall any noteworthy and substantial enterprise apps that IBM brought into their fold. Sterling SCM would the second in the list and considering they're blessed with a great client portfolio, especially in retail, IBM would need to put in some focus specifically on this side of the buy and prevent it getting overwhelmed in the middleware ocean.
2. Sterling Warehouse Management offering has been suffering from weak visibility, sales and focus over the last few years (for us, that's the legacy that stretches all the way back by 15 years to the company Infosys originally spun off as Yantra Corp). I am not sure how this piece would shape-up (revival or complete sunset) post the integration.
3. While DOM (or Multi-Channel Order Fulfillment) is a clean, non-overlapping territory, it would be interesting to see how the product strategy turns out for Sterling Multi-Channel Selling (Order Capture or the Comergent acquisition) or other front-end apps like Call-Center.
4. At this time, I do not have any clear info on where Sterling Professional Services team might end up at. Considering the fact IBM Ltd doesn't keep large PS teams, some may potentially get offloaded into IBM Global Services. If that happens, today's two-horse race (between Infosys & Sterling PS) for most implementation scenarios would get that much more interesting.
5. From an event participation & evangelization perspective, as by far the most dominant SI in Sterling SCM, we've always had a major presence in Sterling Connect and its predecessor Yantra Day. However, if Maximo experience is anything to go by, IBM typically does not allow its partners to showcase their offerings/solutions etc in customer events (eg: Pulse for Maximo), so there could potentially be an impact on Sterling Connect (or whatever its going to be called in the future, possibly Websphere Impact) in terms of our presence.
Overall, in terms of Sterling Commerce capability (and especially the DOM/MCF offering), we have built such a substantial lead over everyone else in terms of the kind of clients (most of the top names in the retail industry, for eg), breadth of projects, size of the CoE/practice, geo footprint etc, that most of our competitors (both Big-4 and Indian SIs) have tried building practices and have not progressed beyond 1-2 projects in the last 7-8 years. As the market leader, we would continue to take responsibility to "create the market" for Sterling as against taking a larger share of the pie, which is the strategy for most other packages. That would mean newer geographies (eg: continental Europe & Australia), newer customer segments (eg: B2B for manufactuers and $2-10bn retailers) and focus on solution-selling of pre-fab offerings for these new prospects.
Once the dust settles down, I'm sure the IBM alliance machine will get cranking and things would fall into the well-established groove out there. Net-net, it can only get better from here considering the criticality of the sell-side SCM function in an increasingly cross-channel world.