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A new enterprise study indicates that the updraft of cloud-based application adoption is dramatically altering who senior technology buyers consider strategic partners for enterprise applications, increasingly away from companies like Oracle and SAP, and toward Microsoft and Salesforce.com.

The study, conducted by InformationWeek Reports [Disclosure: I used to work there] surveys customers only in North America. The research didn’t list every possible enterprise software provider, and showed little movement among companies fast-growing companies like NetSuite and Workday (not generally considered strategic providers in the enterprise anyway), for example, but it did show Oracle’s perceived strategic value dropping. Where 30 percent of the audience viewed Oracle as strategic in 2012, 23 percent did so in the 2013 results. SAP went from 16 percent to 15 percent. Moreover, when asked about actual enterprise software in use, Oracle went from 50 percent in 2012 to 32 percent in 2013.

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When examining solely the kind of software enterprise buyers are looking to deploy in the cloud these numbers make more sense. The majority of cloud deployments involve the technologies that have largely emerged as pure play cloud software from the get go, or matured as cloud software over time, notably social, email and collaboration systems, and CRM.

A 2012 Gartner analysis estimates that SaaS (software as a service) accounts for almost 40 percent of CRM buying. Both Microsoft and Salesforce saw CRM growth rates of 26 percent in 2012, according to Gartner’s data, while SAP grew its CRM business by less than 1 percent, and Oracle grew CRM by 7.8 percent (IBM grew CRM by 39 percent, highest in Gartner’s rankings). Gartner also reports that CRM has overtaken ERP as the top enterprise software priority.

The point: a core, run-the-business application like ERP is still finding its way to the cloud. Sometimes that happens opportunistically, like when an organization’s ERP software is in need of a major upgrade, and the enterprise decides to consider all of the alternatives, including a cloud-based deployment. Or sometimes it happens little by little, like with just the manufacturing piece (logistics, inventory and supply chain business process, for example), or strictly at a departmental or divisional level of a large multinational corporation. The study indicates that 19 percent of buyers will implement some form of ERP in the cloud in the next 1 – 2 years.

But Human Capital Management (HCM) has become the logical follow-up cloud application after CRM. Its strategic value has skyrocketed, but most of the modern twists on HR software have been born in the cloud.

Many organizations haven’t adopted cloud software because of risk, but those concerns are diminishing in key areas, according to the research. Security is the top concern still, but less so than in past years. The complexity of integrating SaaS applications with on premises apps has also receded as perceived stumbling block, and cloud-based integration technology like SnapLogic and Dell Boomi have helped ease those challenges.

But fears around auditability and compliance, big issues for heavily regulated industries like government, healthcare and financial services, which combined make up almost 30 percent of the survey respondents, have risen slightly.

As these fears diminish, and customers grow more comfortable moving edge applications to the cloud, the market for traditional, mission-critical business processes will likely also grow, and the likes of Oracle and SAP will be given the opportunity to recapture their overwhelming positions as strategic enterprise partners. Indeed, many organizations like the idea of slowly migrating applications to the cloud by keeping some business processes on premises, and others in the cloud, shifting that fuel mix over time. Oracle, SAP and Microsoft all stand ready, even now, to support this more cautious approach.

Make no mistake, in much of the research around customer adoption of the cloud, despite all of the well intended hype, the revenue growth rates actually do reflect this buyer caution.

But in this particular study, which focused specifically on enterprise-class applications, the numbers are looking brighter overall. For instance, the study showed that 46 percent of respondents have enterprise SaaS, up from 38 percent last year.

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While most analysis suggests that cloud migration is happening more frequently at small, or medium-sized businesses, primarily because those companies don’t have the funds to support big IT infrastructures, this particular study found that 52 percent of companies with more than 1,000 employees use SaaS; only 31 percent of those with 50 – 99 employees use SaaS.

Almost one third of responding companies have more than $1 billion or more in revenue, and of that, 16 percent have $5 billion of revenue or more.

One other interesting finding from this survey: most organizations have not adopted alternative database platforms. Not just in memory database architectures from the likes of SAP (HANA) and Oracle, but also NoSQL alternatives. In fact, 65 percent of the survey respondents say they aren’t considering NoSQL at all, while 50 percent aren’t considering in-memory architectures.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]