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Saturday, September 20, 2014

SAP Buys Concur - Interesting Mix!

I have used Concur system for several years and had seen it evolve over time. Earlier this quarter, when I saw this announcement about Concur, Uber and AirBnb coming together, I knew that they are aiming big, given Concur’s active partnership with the likes of United, Marriott, IHG and Avis. There is definite meat behind the claim that “Concur has developed an open platform to connect the corporate travel ecosystem, such as airlines, hotels and car rental companies in new and innovative ways”. After all big things like industry disruption happens through convergence of forces and in the software and services industry could mean that either a platform or ecosystem interplay bringing in differentiated experience or results. And that Concur was looking for a buyer was there in the air for a while.

SAP buying Concur is a decent positive decision in my opinion. As someone who travels a lot on business, I can tell you nothing endears this class of users than an enterprise class application working with the smooth and suave ways of working with consumer applications. The number of people waiting for such application could run into huge numbers. The scope and reach of this application does not stop with the current outline that we see but can expand horizontally to cover many more things, with substantial scope for innovation and the ecosystem expansion. The target industry is seeing growth in multiple dimensions - players like Uber expanding internationally and the likes of airbnb seeing manifold increase in transactions routed through Concur,indicates which direction things can move -only up.

Look at the SAP enterprise cloud footprint- Success factors from HR angle, and along with Ariba on the supply side and their huge user base leveraging core budgeting and finance apps- SAP is building a rich portfolio. Plus, there’s a HANA angle to this.

- I think HANA powers the analytics for Concur, or else this can happen soon.

- The HANA approach that’s already pushed heavily with SuccessFactors and Ariba will add the non transactional part of Concur - its safe to expect that ConcurInsights will be an early target to move to HANA completely.

- Concur messaging embracing HANA would be an interesting possibility as well.

- At present, Concur has integration interfaces with various platforms -Netsuite, Salesforce, etc including SAP systems.It can be expected that Concur connectors for HANA Cloud Integration , a predictable path simialr to the standardized connectors for SuccessFactors, already in place, gets repeated.

- Concur has some wannabe solutions that could be replaced by larger Ariba network solution in the spend management space and together could become part of the business network solution for enterprises.

-The Concur App Store is impressive and has an impressive array of partner applications. That early vision of building such a tight ecosystem with big and small payers, am sure got Concur’s founders rich returns today, Its not easy as a small niche player to go and sell to large enterprise and consumer players to be part of an ecosystem driven by them.

- With millions of users, now leveraging Concur’s platform , their data analysis on travel and entertainment provides unique insights - such as ancillary expenses are more than main expenses. The range and depth of insights could be a powerful data set that could become a service and a reference benchmark as well.

- The combined power of 50 million cloud users coupled with API strategies that they can be exploited would mean that the platform can substantially expand and begin to create a new robust ecosystem of its own - much more powerful at one level than the traditional SAP core app user base.

While it’s clear that buying Concur may not add to SAP profits immediately while pushing its topline by 700 million USD ,they key to note is that this is cloud stream based revenue and typically would grow substantially faster and is more sticky and predictable. The range of services that can be extended to make user experience more rich, relevant and engaging is enhanced substantially helping launch and release of new features and functions more effective, helping in the process to earn more returns from the customers. This also expands on the impact of SAP Ariba acquisition as the value of the transaction handles increases to 600 billion annually, a very high number by any standard. This is a major fillip for SAP’s foray into digital business, an agenda being pursued for last several years, starting with Ariba. Let’s look at this form another lens - the enterprise software industry is undergoing such a massive change - the speed of the change and the range of the change in the business models are truly mind boggling.

The tech ecosystem is itself changing fast. The rapid convergence of forces make it more potent and the traditional boundaries and model of operation - centralized system to a more open and partnership based ecosystem makes building digital business systems more attractive commercially and more scalable in its reach. While the traditional challenges of integrating Concur teams and solutions will definitely exist, SAP is now wiser having digested the likes of Ariba in the past. 8+ billion dollars for acquiring a company at 10x projected sales is not small money, by any standards. Concur is also the owner of TripIt, a travel management tool that has widespread use. TripIt has been independently run post the acquisition by Concur, and is said to have grown rapidly ever since. The current SAP users or Concur users may not see any immediate benefit of this acquisition, given the evolved services that Concur and SAP have. SAP has made some bold moves to become a player in the cloud space. The greater opportunity for SAP lay in reimagining the complete ecosystem that it has built over the last 15 + years to help in redefining their positioning as the leading enterprise cloud player. Indeed, this is an interesting journey ahead.

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