The Clash of Titans – The Great 2021 Players


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The year 2021 comes to an end. More than three years have gone by since the last look at the Clash of Titans, an analysis of how the then big 4.5: Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce, SAP, and Adobe – along with some other players, are shaping the greater CRM and CX arena. A lot has changed since Thomas Wieberneit published his 2018 series that consisted of 4 articles:

It is obvious that the commoditization of the business application continues, and the vendors’ focus on the underlying platform has even increased since 2018. CRM, and enterprise software in general, has always been a platform play although this has not always been recognized and sometimes even negated. Two obvious reasons for it being a platform play is that the creation of positive customer and user experiences needs a consistent technical platform, or we end up with engagements that are fragmented across interactions. This results in inconsistent and poor experiences. The second reason is that it needs a technological platform to enable and grow a thriving ecosystem.

Vinnie Mirchandani in January 2020 stated that Enterprise Software Platforms have so far underperformed. Mirchandani looked at Microsoft, SAP and Salesforce. He basically argues, without providing too many details, that the major enterprise software vendors’ platforms are all lacking ambitious goals and do not aim high enough. One of his major points is that none of these vendors has put enough emphasis in empowering, nurturing and growing their respective partner ecosystems to take advantage of the software platforms by augmenting the applications delivered by the platform vendor with meaningful software solutions of their own.

Another colleague, Denis Pombriant, in his January 2018 article Let the platform wars begin, proclaims platforms as the new battleground in enterprise software. Pombriant sees software platforms for customers as “key to making and saving money” and for vendors as a way out of commoditization, as it is “hard to find true differentiation among competing products, which naturally leads to price wars.”

In our opinion the enterprise software platform is not that new a battleground, but as part of the Clash of Titansit is becoming more evident as a battleground, even the main battleground. An enterprise software platform was always part of the battle for dominance in the customer engagement – or putting it into (marketing) industry lingo – the customer experience market. As a technology platform, the enterprise software platform is actually an integral part of it. As Pombriant argues, this is largely because of the ongoing commoditization of transactional business applications.

Until a few years ago, the technology platform was more associated with boring topics like security, user management, connectivity, systems configuration, measurement, alerting, and so on. Even analytics was, and often is, regarded as an application of its own, and not a part of the technology platform. And while topics like security, GDPR, privacy and secure data utilization are becoming more urgent, they still do not have “sex appeal.”

Consequently, it was sexier to talk about shiny topics like engagement and experience than to talk about the grease and the machinery behind them, that drives and enables the technical delivery of engagements. Please note the choice of words. There are systems of record, systems of engagement, but there is nothing like a system of experience. 

And now topics like chatbots, machine learning, AI, ambient computing, IoT, to name a few, make the machinery – the enterprise software platform – the new black.

With all this, an enterprise software platform is no longer optional, but has become mandatory, for vendors to have, and for customers to employ.

So far, so well known.

A bit less obvious is the fact that a platform market is generally a winner-takes-all market. In the end, there will be only a few dominant platforms. Vendors who want to become and stay successful on a grand scale need to be one of these few platform providers and attract partners as well as customers. 

This is the chief reason why we consult our customers that one of the very first IT strategy decisions that they need to take is the platform decision. Many of them have already taken it without being aware of it. This is a dangerous situation for them, as they might have chosen the wrong horse for their race or, moving forward, may choose best-of-breed or point solutions that do not harmonize well with the core infrastructure that they already run. The result of this is additional cost and frustration in the IT as well as business departments.

In our report The Clash of Titans we will start by explaining the framework that we will use, thus laying out the very definition of what we talk of when saying that the CRM market has evolved into a platform market or a platform play. In essence we will define what a platform is. 

The subsequent chapters then cover the big 4 – Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce, and SAP – the big infrastructure providers, which coincidentally also have been 4, plus a bonus one. It also covers some of the smaller and upcoming players like SugarCRM and Zoho. There are surely more players to be covered, like Creatio, Freshworks, or Pega, to name but three.

If you are interested in receiving a personal copy or a copy with distribution rights, please contact [email protected].

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Thomas Wieberneit

Thomas helps organisations of different industries and sizes to unlock their potential through digital transformation initiatives using a Think Big - Act Small approach. He is a long standing CRM practitioner, covering sales, marketing, service, collaboration, customer engagement and -experience. Coming from the technology side Thomas has the ability to translate business needs into technology solutions that add value. In his successful leadership positions and consulting engagements he has initiated, designed and implemented transformational change and delivered mission critical systems.


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