Schisms in the CPQ world, Icertis scores an Apttus defector

Salesforce's acquisition of Steelbrick caused a tectonic shift, the ramifications of which are still being felt.

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When Salesforce acquired quote-to-cash vendor Steelbrick last year, many in the technology community were a little aghast.

Salesforce was a big investor in Apttus, a company with a similar product focus to Steelbrick, albeit at an arguably broader and higher level. Before the deal, many suggested that Apttus was a Salesforce acquisition target and industry scuttlebutt suggests that there were, in fact, acquisition discussions but that Apttus was greedy in its demands.

Even after the deal was announced, Apttus was quick to suggest that it still had a role to play: Steelbrick was, Apttus suggested, a lightweight tool for mid-sized businesses and couldn’t compare to the depth or breadth of Apttus-owned offerings. Since then, Salesforce has been quick to extend Steelbrick’s functionality and it very much feels like the company is at the forefront of Salesforce's strategy in the space.

This is a huge deal, I remember visiting the expo floor at DreamForce two years ago -- Apttus was one of the biggest exhibitors and had invested millions of dollars in the DreamForce event. Salesforce was it’s ecosystem of choice and DreamForce was where it attracted most of its deal flow for the year. Since the Steelbrick deal was announced, Apttus has moved fast to embrace other ecosystems, but when you’re built within the orbit of one player, it’s very hard to break out of that orbit.

All of which means that it is, undoubtedly, stressful times at Apttus headquarters, which makes the news that Nagi Prabhu, the guy who led the product development and management of Apttus’ entire quote-to-cash (Q2C) suite of products, (which is its primary revenue driver) has jumped ship to yet another player in the space, Icertis.

For its part, Icertis also plays in the contract lifecycle management space. (A quick aside here, while all of these vendors have different ways of describing their particular space, I tend to bunch them all together. Yes there are some functional differences, but at a high level, they’re all involved in helping manage revenue generation and collection.) Anyway, Icertis claims its product manages over 2.5 million contracts across 750,000 users in 90 countries. Suffice it to say that, despite the busy-ness of the space, Icertis is a legitimate player.

I sat down (well, sat down via email and with the help of an awesome PR intermediary) to quiz Prabhu on his decision to leave Apttus, and his focus at Icertis as the newly minted chief product officer.

Q: Why did you choose to leave Apttus at such an important time?

A: I would describe my choice as more of “going to Icertis” rather than “leaving Apttus”! As for why, I can say that throughout my 20+ year career, I’ve always been heavily focused on product innovation and engineering execution -- that’s what excites me. Over the last few years I have been deeply immersed in the contract lifecycle management (CLM) space and it has become increasingly clear to me that there is a lot of untapped potential for game-changing product innovations…Icertis is best positioned to incorporate those innovations and to create an unparalleled market offering. So in the end, the product strategy and forward-leaning market vision of Icertis aligns better with my personal ambition to build a truly innovative enterprise software product in the cloud.  

Q: What’s your first priority as CPO?

A: ICM already has strong product capabilities that clearly satisfy the needs of its impressive customers, like Microsoft, which just recently standardized its $60 billion volume licensing business on ICM. So, my first priority is to build on what the Icertis product team has already created and develop some of the new innovative offerings I mentioned earlier that hold the potential to deliver immense value for our clients. Machine learning, natural language processing and incorporating blockchain technology are a few of the areas I will be focusing on. 

Q: Where do you see Icertis this time next year?

A: I see Icertis continuing to be chosen as the partner by more and more major Fortune 1000 companies and becoming the indisputable leader in the CLM category, which is a $6 billion addressable market. The reason being, Icertis has invested in building a massively scalable platform that provides deep insights into contract operations all through a very easy to use user interface -- a key selling point for large, multi-national organizations who are looking for a solution beyond creating, executing and storing of contracts. As enterprises increasingly realize that contracts should be treated as assets and not just documents, Icertis is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the opportunity and will become the natural choice in the market for this broader definition of CLM by the end of 2017.

Q: Does Apttus have a future post SFDC acquisition of Steelbrick?

A: It can be tough to predict the impact of any one acquisition -- even one that has potentially significant implications such as SFDC’s acquisition of Steelbrick. But, I can say that at a high level, the overall CLM market is one that is changing rapidly and customers should look at the commitment, long-term strategy and vision of their CLM solution provider to make sure it is aligned with their business needs and goals. I know that Icertis’ focus on building the industry’s leading CLM platform aligns perfectly with what customers are looking for today and asking for tomorrow.   

MyPOV

Obviously I would have much preferred that Prabhu had dished out some dirt and given the inside story of what it was really like when Salesforce dropped the bombshell on Apttus. He is, however, too realistic to be quite so raw, and so his comments are tempered with diplomacy. His comments, however, about potential for innovation and long-term prognosis of players generally is a fair indication of what his views are. Add to that the fact that many claim Apttus will be an IPO candidate in the next few months and it is very telling that he has decided to jump ship.

One thing is for sure, it’s going to be an interesting ride for all of these players.

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