M&A, IPOs, in-memory tech, and end of a feud mark top software stories

Emergence of human capital management software also marks year for enterprise tech

It's been another busy year in the enterprise software industry, marked by high-profile acquisitions and IPOs, the rise of in-memory computing, a red-hot HCM (human capital management) market, and even the apparent settling of a long-running Silicon Valley feud. Here's a look at some of the highlights.

In-memory databases going mainstream: SAP has been hyping its HANA in-memory computing platform for a few years now, but the clamor around in-memory got even louder in 2013.

In June, IBM introduced in-memory features for its DB2 database and the new Microsoft SQL Server 2014 also includes in-memory capabilities. But perhaps most telling was the in-memory option Oracle announced for its flagship database, which has long held the most market share, during the OpenWorld conference in September.

The in-memory option will provide "ungodly" database speeds, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said during a keynote at the event.

SAP has been attempting to migrate customers from Oracle's database to HANA, promising them better performance and simplified deployments, and the in-memory option certainly seems like a hedge against this.

While Ellison didn't attack HANA during the keynote, expect some chest-thumping from the CEO next year, when Oracle's in-memory option is scheduled for release. IBM, Microsoft and others won't be silent either.

HCM (human capital management) heats up: HCM (human capital management) was one of the hottest enterprise software categories this year, particularly in SaaS (software as a service) form. While much attention went to Workday's successful IPO in October, plenty of other HCM vendors had strong years, said analyst Ray Wang of Constellation Research.

Companies have been running their legacy human resources systems for 20 years, and the replacement cycle is revving up, Wang said. "There's a whole life around this stuff that didn't exist before. There's so much interest and pent-up demand."

Customer experience, not CRM: CEM (customer experience management) emerged as a defined category this year, as vendors made strings of acquisitions in order to build out software suites that combine sales automation with customer service, social media analytics and marketing.

The common goal: Sell these unified technologies not to CIOs, but to chief marketing officers that want to build stronger and ultimately more lucrative connections with customers.

"People realize the age of digital business is here," Wang said. "Every interaction is an opportunity to sell or impart an experience. We don't sell products and services anymore. Customers are buying experiences and outcomes."

Salesforce.com announces Salesforce1: During the Dreamforce conference in November, Salesforce.com announced Salesforce1, a new version of its development platform with a particular focus on mobile applications. Although partly a rebranding effort, Salesforce1 pulls together the company's original Force.com platform along with development tools from its Heroku and ExactTarget acquisitions.

It also provides coders with 10 times as many APIs (application programming interfaces) as before and a new mobile application that serves as a type of portal for not only Salesforce.com's software but also applications from third parties.

In a recent blog post, consultant and analyst Esteban Kolsky took a deep dive into the technical plumbing and strategic implications of Salesforce1, calling it a "well-developed concept with a lot of potential," albeit one only 60 or 70 percent complete. "It has the potential to change the way software vendors work with each other. It has the potential to change how organizations think about ecosystems, about systems of engagement, and about everything from personalization to revenue models," he wrote.

Shakeups at SAP: High-level executive changes at software vendors don't necessarily have an immediate impact on customers' day-to-day lives, but some key moves SAP made this year could over time.

In May, SAP shook up its development organization, putting responsibility for all products under the auspices of executive board member Vishal Sikka, who has been HANA's champion and is close to company co-founder Hasso Plattner. A streamlined development reporting structure could help SAP bring products to market more quickly, their ultimate success notwithstanding.

Then in July, SAP announced that co-CEO Bill McDermott would become sole CEO next year, after co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe departs the company. While SAP has had a single CEO in the past, McDermott will be the first American to hold such a role at the German vendor.

Also, the last sole SAP CEO, Leo Apotheker, had a rocky, short run at the top and was ousted within a year, only to later become Hewlett-Packard's CEO and subsequently lose that job rather quickly as well.

As sole CEO, McDermott will have to keep existing customers happy and attract new ones as SAP faces ever-stiffer competition from rivals such as Oracle, SAP, Salesforce.com, NetSuite and Workday. The strategy he chooses will be one to watch.

Ellison makes up with Benioff, or did he?: It was a watershed moment back in June: Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and Benioff holding a joint press conference announcing a partnership between their companies, and they were actually nice to one another.

The long-time rivals seemed to bury the hatchet as they announced Salesforce.com would recommit to using Oracle's software and hardware technology for the long term, and Oracle would work on integrating some of its products with Salesforce.com's.

Benioff, who once had a keynote he was scheduled to give at Oracle's OpenWorld suddenly cancelled by Ellison, went as far as inviting Ellison to attend Salesforce.com's own Dreamforce event, and Ellison accepted.

But Ellison was seemingly nowhere to be found at Dreamforce.

Benioff also announced a partnership at Dreamforce with Hewlett-Packard, under which Salesforce.com customers will be offered privately hosted instances of Salesforce.com software based on HP's Converged Infrastructure software.

The HP deal could be seen as a snub to Oracle, given that Salesforce.com said it would be using Oracle's own Exadata and Exalogic machines, as well as the high-profile legal battles between Oracle and HP.

So, was the June announcement just for show, with Oracle getting the rub from close alignment with the industry biggest pure SaaS (software as a service) vendor, and Salesforce.com getting a good deal on Oracle licenses?

An Oracle spokeswoman confirmed that Ellison didn't go to Dreamforce but declined to comment on his motivations as to why.

Infor emerges: For most of its existence, Infor has served as the ERP (enterprise resource planning) software's sleeping giant, despite being the largest ERP vendor after SAP and Oracle.

But under the leadership of CEO Charles Phillips, a former co-president of Oracle who came aboard in 2010, Infor has been steadily raising its profile through a series of new products, acquisitions and a focus on modern user experiences.

Infor launched its new user interface, SoHo, earlier this year. It was created with the help Hook & Loop, an internal design agency Phillips created.

Overall, Phillips' gambits seem to be paying off. The company added more than 3,000 customers during the past 12 months, according to spokesman Dan Barnhardt. It's also enjoying strong adoption of its ION integration framework, with the total number of customers using it nearly doubling to more than 1,700 this year, Barnhardt said.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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