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Showing posts with label NetSuite. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NetSuite. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Use and Misuse of PaaS

One of the key advantages of modern cloud systems is that they often come with rapid development platforms that allow the vendor, partners, and even customers to build extensions and customizations to the system without affecting the underlying code or architecture of the base system. These are generally known as Platform as a Service (PaaS).

Examples include the Salesforce Lightning (formerly Force.com) platform, the SuiteCloud platform of Oracle’s NetSuite, Acumatica’s xRP platform, Sage Intacct’s Platform Services, Microsoft’s Power Platform, and many others.

However, as with so many good things in life, PaaS can be used and abused.

Read the rest of this post on the Strativa blog:
The Use and Misuse of Platform as a Service 

Friday, May 04, 2018

Big Shift: NetSuite Moving to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure

In recent years, Oracle has been intensely focused on its cloud strategy as the key to its growth. At Oracle Open World 2016, with the announcement of Oracle’s second-generation cloud infrastructure, Larry Ellison said, “Amazon’s lead is over.” It was an ambitious goal: At the time, Oracle’s cloud infrastructure (OCI) business was bringing in less than $200M per quarter.

Uptake of Oracle’s cloud applications is great, but when it comes to Oracle really competing with Amazon or Microsoft as a platform for independent software vendors (ISVs), the story is different.

The absence of multitenant ISVs on OCI is not because of a lack of capabilities. Oracle’s flagship database, since v12c was released in 2013, has built-in multitenancy in the form of database containers, which allow multiple tenants to share a single Oracle database, with individual containers assigned to each tenant. This approach puts the multitenancy into the infrastructure layer, allowing developers to focus their efforts on application development, not on the mechanics of multitenancy.

Oracle’s lack of commercial SaaS providers building on OCI is about to change.

Read the rest of this post on the Strativa blog:
NetSuite on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure: What It Means for Customers

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Manufacturing Is a Huge Opportunity for Cloud ERP

In many markets for enterprise software, the battle between cloud and on-premises (or hosted) systems is over. Salesforce, the market leader in CRM, will soon pass the $10 billion mark in annual revenue. Workday, with its cloud HCM offering and growing financial management applications, expects to hit the $2 billion mark in 2018. Traditional Tier I providers, SAP and Oracle, are certainly not out of the race. But the only way they have been able to compete is by building, or buying, their own cloud services for CRM and HCM. Cloud has won.

Nevertheless, there is no cloud ERP provider the size of Salesforce or Workday, and there is certainly no cloud ERP provider for the manufacturing industry with that scale. NetSuite was founded in 1998, around the same time as Salesforce. But it only reached the $741 million revenue mark in 2015, before being acquired by Oracle. Claiming more than 30,000 companies, organizations, and subsidiaries in more than 100 countries as customers, it is by far the largest cloud ERP provider. Although it has done very well with professional services firms, software companies, and other services-related businesses, manufacturing companies form only a small part of that number. Plex Systems has a pure cloud ERP system for manufacturers dating from 2000 and has been rapidly growing over the past four or five years. But its customer count is under 600. After NetSuite and Plex, the number falls significantly: Cloud-only systems such as SAP’s Business ByDesign, Rootstock, and Kenandy,  each have even fewer manufacturing customers.

To understand how great the market opportunity is for cloud ERP in manufacturing, consider that, according to the U.S. Census, there were about 63,000 manufacturing firms in the United States in 2014 with 20 or more employees, as shown in Figure 1. Considering that the estimated customer counts by vendor in the preceding paragraph include customers outside of the U.S.,  it is safe to say that manufacturing cloud ERP probably has less than 2% market share in the U.S. The market opportunity going forward, therefore, is enormous.

Read the rest of this post on the Strativa blog: Manufacturing Is a Huge Opportunity for Cloud ERP

Monday, January 23, 2017

New Customer-Facing Systems Extend the Reach of Small, Midsize Businesses

Small businesses play a vital role in the economy and are often the leading innovators in new products and services. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, organizations with fewer than 500 workers account for over 99% of businesses, and companies with fewer than 20 workers make up nearly 90%.

But small business doesn’t always mean simple business. Like larger companies, small and midsize businesses (SMBs) need to reach new markets, develop new products, satisfy customers, and control costs. The main difference is that SMBs need to do these things with fewer resources.

In recent years, however, software vendors have announced new products to address the challenges facing small businesses. This post outlines two of them.

Read the rest of this post by Strativa consultant Dee Long: New Customer-Facing Systems Extend the Reach of Small, Midsize Businesses

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Oracle Acquisition of NetSuite Is a Mixed Bag

Oracle took another step in its strategy of growth by acquisition by announcing a bid for NetSuite, the leading player in the cloud ERP marketplace in terms of number of customers. At $9.3 billion, the deal is the second biggest in Oracle’s history, after PeopleSoft in 2005 for $10.3 billion.

The deal was long expected, for several reasons. Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison was NetSuite’s original investor, and Evan Goldberg, NetSuite’s founder came out of Oracle. CEO Zach Nelson was an Oracle marketing executive. Oracle’s database is an integral part of NetSuite’s infrastructure.

But apart from helping Oracle in its race with Salesforce.com to get to $10 billion in cloud revenues, what are the benefits of the deal to Oracle? How does it help NetSuite, and what does it mean to the broader marketplace? Looking at the big picture, there are certainly benefits, but there are also several concerns.

Read the rest of this post on the Strativa blog: Oracle Acquisition of NetSuite Is a Mixed Bag

Monday, May 18, 2015

Web Commerce: The Great Equalizer

Since the mid-1990s, it’s been easy to see how web commerce has disrupted many traditional business models. Early on, Amazon disrupted traditional bookstores, and Netflix disrupted video stores. More recently, Uber is disrupting the taxi industry, and AirBnB is threatening the traditional hospitality industry.

But what’s not so apparent is how web commerce has become the great equalizer for small businesses. This is true in at least three ways.
  • Market presence. Traditional marketing channels, such as broadcast media, print advertising, and direct mail, required substantial budgets. Today, a small supplier with a well-designed and well-functioning e-commerce website and good natural search results can rank right up there with major brands. 
  • Global reach. Prior to the commercialization of the Internet, it took substantial investment for a supplier to grow its business internationally. But today, even the smallest manufacturer can be found by prospects in overseas markets. Using international distributors and third-party logistics, small suppliers today can more easily serve buyers around the globe.
  • Cost efficiency. Economies of scale still count in making and distributing physical products. But a well-functioning e-commerce site that is integrated with back-end systems, such as ERP, can cut costs for small suppliers. Combined with cloud systems on the back-end, small businesses can enjoy productivity gains from information systems without having to support a large IT staff.
In other words, an entrepreneur with a business concept or a fresh product design can start a business and scale it in a way that was not easily done twenty years ago.

Small Companies Acting Bigger

In NetSuite's most recent user conference, CEO Zach Nelson touched briefly on this point. He said something to the effect that, with its integrated ERP and e-commerce capabilities, NetSuite was helping small companies act bigger. (He also said that it was equally important to help large companies act smaller, but that’s a thought for another post).

I made a note of Nelson’s remarks, and didn’t think much about them until I attended a reception for press and industry analysts later that evening. There, I found myself chatting with John Baker (CEO) and Alan Blackford (COO) of Thos. Baker, a supplier of outdoor furniture. They told me that NetSuite was working on a video about their business. After the reception, Baker sent me the pre-publication video link and I found it an inspiring story.

In the video, Baker tells how he had been commuting to his tech industry job in Seattle for many years, but he aspired to do something interesting that would allow him to work close to his family on Bainbridge Island. So, he started his outdoor furniture business to combine his interest in technology with his interest in design.

Baker points out that setting up web commerce for this sort of business is quite complex. His operational strategy makes extensive use of outsourced manufacturing, with furniture frames stocked in the warehouse on Bainbridge Island, the cushions from a supplier in Alabama, the umbrellas from California, the fire pits from Tennessee. Though the supply chain is complex, but the integrated system allows the firm to appear to its customers as if it were a much large company. When we are talking to our customers, they are comparing us to companies that are somewhere between 40 to 400 times our size,” he said.

Click the image below to watch the video. It’s a promotional video for NetSuite, of course. But it’s an inspiring story nonetheless.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhQxrA29XBM

Just how small is Thos. Bros? I believe the firm has just five employees, and all of them appear in the video.

Related Posts

NetSuite Enhances Its Manufacturing Functionality
NetSuite Manufacturing: Right Direction, Long Road Ahead

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Infor’s Most Urgent Initiative

After more than a decade of acquisitions, Infor is now the world’s third-largest enterprise software vendor, following SAP and Oracle. In the past, it’s been easy to characterize Infor as a roll-up of older ERP products and point solutions. But that view is no longer fair.

Beyond Acquisitions to Innovation

Under the leadership of CEO Charles Phillips and his mostly-new team of senior executives, Infor is now moving beyond acquiring other products to innovation on several fronts:
  • Hook & Loop: an in-house design agency, which has brought a fresh modern user interface across all of Infor’s products, embracing mobile devices as well as desktops. With Hook & Loop, Infor can now also provide design services to its clients, an unusual competency among enterprise software providers.
     
  • Infor ION: a light-weight middleware capability, which allows quick integration between Infor’s many products as well as third party solutions.
     
  • Ming.le™, a comprehensive solution for social business, process improvement, and analytics.
     
  • Deep vertical functionality, covering dozens of industries, sub-industries, and micro-verticals. For example, where some vendors might list “Food and Beverage” as a vertical, Infor makes a distinction between “Beverage,” “Bakeries,” and “Confectionery.”
     
  • CloudSuite: Industry-specific suites of Infor products pre-integrated and deployed as cloud services,  comprising five industries today with more on the way. It also includes the newly-announced Cloudsuite Corporate, which covers horizontal applications such as finance, human capital management, and purchasing.
     
  • Data Science Lab: a newly formed group, which will develop advanced analytics capabilities across Infor’s product suite as well as offer data analytics services to Infor customers, which might otherwise be out of their reach. The group is based near MIT and includes data scientists, mathematicians, economists and other analytical skills that are beyond the reach of many Infor customers.
These strategic initiatives go beyond market messaging. In fact, until now, Infor has been deliberately muted in its market communications on these innovations, waiting until it had substantive product and capabilities to deliver. Expect to hear more from Infor in its public messaging on these innovations. 

But Infor is Losing Customers

Nevertheless, while Infor is newly invigorated around innovation, the majority of its customers are stuck in the past. Many of Infor’s products were originally developed over 20 or even 30 years ago, and it is safe to say that a good percentage of the customers of those products have not upgraded them since Infor acquired them.

The first and obvious risk to Infor is that such customers may be lost to competitors. Infor does not publish attrition numbers, but some simple arithmetic shows that Infor has actually lost customers over the past four years.

Here’s the calculation. When Charles Phillips was named as CEO in October 2010, Infor indicated that it had over 70,000 customers. At this year’s Inforum, exactly four years later, Infor gives its customer count as 73,000. However, during these four years, Infor has made a number of acquisitions. The largest of these was Lawson Software, which Infor acquired in 2011. At that time, Infor said that Lawson had more than 4,500 customers and that 9% of Lawson’s active customers were also users of use Infor products. That would be a net addition of approximately 4,100 customers. 

So, if we add the 4,100 customers from Lawson to the 70,000 customers Infor claimed in 2010, we come up with 74,100, which is 1,100 more than the 73,000 customers that Infor now claims. The loss of customers is undoubtedly greater, as Infor has done four smaller acquisitions since 2010, apart from Lawson. Bottom line: Infor’s new customer wins are not even keeping pace with existing customer attrition.

Two recent examples from my consulting business, Strativa, illustrate the problem.
  • An aerospace and defense manufacturer contacted us last year about doing a new ERP selection. This customer is running an older version of an Infor product that was installed in the early 1990s. The company customized that product with changes to deal with the Y2K century-dating problem, and it has not upgraded since. The company may consider a migration to the current version of their Infor system, but it also wants to look at other alternatives.
     
  • We recently completed an ERP selection for another company, a mid-sized manufacturer, which is running an older version of another Infor product, again, highly modified. Although we short listed Infor products for consideration, there were few advocates among users to continue with Infor. This client has tentatively decided in favor of Microsoft Dynamics and has started a proof-of-concept as the next step.
In briefings with other vendors, nearly every one of them lists Infor’s customer base as a target for new business. In fact, Phillips noted during his recent keynote at Infor's user conference that NetSuite had sent people into the audience to recruit Infor customers. (What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander. Infor apparently had gotten wind of NetSuite’s tactic and had inserted a slide with a special offer for NetSuite customers to migrate to Infor.)

Personally, I think NetSuite's guerilla marketing tactics are more for show than for real prospecting. If NetSuite wants to target Infor customers, the best targets are not the 6,000 attendees at its user conference. Conference attendees represent those customers who are actively engaged with Infor. They are those who are either on current versions or considering to get there—or they are new prospects altogether. The Infor customers that competitors should be targeting are those who stayed home.

Customers Unable to Benefit from Infor’s New Stuff

There is a second problem with so many Infor customers being on older versions, and that is that they are in no position to take advantage of all of Infor’s new innovations. Because they are on older versions, they cannot get Infor’s new user interface, they cannot take advantage of ION for integration, their users cannot collaborate with the capabilities of Ming.le™, and they cannot benefit from the deep industry functionality that Infor has been adding to its products over the past several years.

From Infor’s perspective, these are lost opportunities to up-sell and cross-sell additional Infor products to these customers. From the customer’s perspective, there is diminished value from their past investments in Infor products, making them question why they are paying maintenance. This again opens them to abandoning ship for competing products.

Upgrading Customers Is the Critical Path to Success

If it is not apparent by now, getting customers to upgrade to current versions is absolutely essential to Infor’s success. Infor realizes this, and over two years ago it launched an initiative it calls UpgradeX.

The features of UpgradeX are aimed at making version upgrades a no-brainer for customers:
  • Value engineering: Infor will analyze the customer’s existing deployment and quantify the business value of eliminating modifications and upgrading the applications.
     
  • Version upgrades. The service will move the customer to the current versions of its Infor products, which can be a daunting project for customers that are behind many versions. Infor’s website doesn’t make it explicit, but I believe Infor will allow customers to switch to a more appropriate Infor product.
     
  • Cloud deployment. Infor uses its cloud to bring up a sandbox version of the new system quickly for the customer to prototype and understand the new version. Infor then migrates and deploys the target solution as a cloud service, assuming day-to-day responsibility for operating the system.
     
  • Bundled professional services. Infor provides all the consulting services required to accomplish the upgrade or migration. User training is provided online. The website does not make this clear, but I believe that Infor does all this as a fixed price contract.
     
  • Ongoing upgrades and support. UpgradeX will not be a long-term solution if newly upgraded customers fall behind again on upgrades. The offering therefore includes services to keep customers current on new versions.
The UpgradeX program has recently been assigned to Lisa Pope, Senior VP of Infor CloudSuite, who appears to be a great pick for the job. She came within the last year to Infor from QAD, where she was VP of Strategic Accounts. Interestingly, QAD was earlier than most traditional ERP vendors in offering a cloud or hosted deployment option, beginning in 2007. According to my research, QAD’s ERP subscription revenue now is in the neighborhood of 10% of its total revenue, which puts it at the high end of what most traditional ERP vendors have been able to achieve to date. In her role at QAD, Lisa was instrumental in this transition. She will need to build on her past experience and move even more aggressively to accomplish an even greater transformation with Infor’s installed base.

Infor Customers Should Consider UpgradeX

Some Infor customers on older versions are determined to go with a different provider. When I speak with such customers, I encourage them to take a look at UpgradeX. In many cases, they are not familiar with the innovations Infor has introduced, and they do not understand that they may be able to get upgraded quicker than they think.

Even Infor customers who have gone off maintenance should consider UpgradeX. Vendors hate to lose customers. If there is a way to recapture a customer that has gone off maintenance, a vendor is likely to make an attractive deal to do so, especially if the customer is also looking at competing products.

It is often simpler to upgrade a system that users are familiar with than to migrate to a completely new system, which reduces implementation risk. Moreover, with Infor’s value engineering services, the opportunity to eliminate or reduce modifications can also lead to longer term savings, as the customer will no longer need to support those customizations.

One word of caution: I was not able to interview any UpgradeX customers during Infor’s user conference, so I’m not able to verify the results that Infor promises. In any event, UpgradeX so far has only touched a small percentage of Infor’s installed base. For Infor to really move the needle, UpgradeX needs to be rapidly scale up to thousands of customers, not the hundreds it has now. I don’t know of any vendor that has ever been able to make such a massive impact on its legacy customers, but Infor's UpgradeX program certainly has all the pieces in place to do so. For Infor’s sake and its customers, I hope it is successful.

Related Posts

Infor's Two-Pronged Cloud Strategy
[Infor] Drilling Deep into Healthcare IT
New Details on Infor's Lawson Acquisition
A Guide for Cloud ERP Buyers

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

ERP Customer Deployment and License Preferences

As we all know, a major transition in the ERP market is underway, from traditional sales of perpetual licenses deployed on-premises to subscription services deployed in the cloud. But not all buyers are ready to make the switch. Some prefer to stick with the traditional model, while others are going whole hog to the new model. Others still, are somewhere in the middle, sticking with a traditional vendor offering but having the system hosted by the vendor or a third-party partner.

Customer preferences are complicated by what is offered by their chosen vendor. When a new customer selects a cloud ERP vendor, such as NetSuite, Plex, or Rootstock, are they doing so because of the cloud subscription model, or in spite of it? Likewise, when a customer selects a traditional vendor with on-premises or hosted deployment, is it because they are opposed to the cloud model, or is it because the functionality of the traditional vendor was a better fit?

Acumatica as a Test Bed

As it turns out, there is one vendor’s experience that can help us answer these questions: Acumatica. Acumatica is a newer cloud ERP vendor, and it has some interesting characteristics that make it a good laboratory for testing customer preferences.
  • It is a fairly new provider, founded in 2008, that built its product from the ground up as a multi-tenant cloud system. It now has about 1,000 customers--a good sized sample--in manufacturing, professional services, and a variety of other industries. Moreover, there is no legacy installed base to influence the numbers.
     
  • The system is sold exclusively by partners, and—this is the key point—partners have flexibility in how they deploy the system. They can deploy it as a multi-tenant cloud system, with multiple customers on the same system instance, or they can deploy it in the customer’s data center or a hosting data center as a single tenant deployment.
     
  • The licensing model is also flexible: customers can buy Acumatica as a subscription service, or they can buy it as a perpetual license.
The combination of deployment flexibility and licensing flexibility yield three main groups of customers that I’ll refer to as follows: 
  1. Perpetual License Customers: these are customers choosing the traditional license model with on-premises deployment or hosting by a partner. (Acumatica refers to these as “private cloud.” I think that term is confusing, however, as when deployed for a single customer, the system loses its cloud characteristics, such as pooled resources and elasticity.) 
     
  2. SaaS Customers: these are customers choosing cloud deployment along with a subscription agreement.
     
  3. Subscription On-Premises Customers: these are customers that choose traditional on-premises or hosted deployment but pay according to a subscription agreement.
In theory, according to Acumatica, there could be a fourth category: a customer could choose cloud deployment with a perpetual license. In practice, however, no customer has asked for this. If a customer were to choose this option, they would pay the license fee up-front, plus traditional maintenance fees, plus a hosting or cloud services charge on a monthly basis.

What Deployment and Licensing Options Do Customers Prefer?


Richard Duffy at Acumatica was kind enough to share with me the customer counts for each of these three categories for the years 2013 and 2014. This allowed me to calculate on a percentage basis what options customers are choosing and—just as importantly—how those preferences are changing.


As shown in Figure 1, perpetual licenses (either on-premises or hosted) form the largest category of customers. This group accounted for 63% of new Acumatica sales in 2013, but it is falling dramatically to 42% of new customers in 2014. The SaaS customer group is picking up some of the difference: 29% in 2013 rising to 33% in 2014. But the largest increase is coming from the so-called “Subscription On-Premises” group, which accounted for only 8% of sales in 2013, rising to 25% this year.

A Trend to Cloud, But Even More to Subscription

Although I am an advocate for cloud ERP, these results indicate that—at least for some customers today—the attraction of cloud ERP is more in the subscription option than it is in cloud deployment itself. Acumatica’s experience shows from 2013 to 214, the majority of Acumatica’s sales shifted from perpetual licenses to subscription agreements. But a significant percentage of those did not deploy in the cloud: they chose the subscription agreement with on-premises (or hosted) deployment.

Duffy is quick to point out that the choice of licensing and deployment options are influenced by Acumatica’s partners. Some are accustomed to selling perpetual licenses and appreciate the up-front cash that comes from license sales. Others are accustomed to on-premises deployments or hosting in their own data centers and unless challenged by the customer may steer them toward those options. But if this is the case, the trend in Figure 1 is conservative. Without partner bias toward perpetual licenses and on-premises/hosted deployment, the trend toward subscription and cloud would be even greater.

What Does This Mean for Buyers and Vendors?

As outlined in other research from Computer Economics, the benefits of cloud ERP are clear: speed of implementation, ease of upgrades and support, agility, and scalability. But do not underestimate the benefits that come from subscription pricing—whether or not it comes with cloud deployment:
  • Up-front cash savings. Unlike perpetual licenses, subscription agreements give customers pay-as-you-go pricing. Some vendors may require customers to commit to an initial contract term (e.g. one year) and pay for that up front. But even so, this is significantly less than customers would pay up-front under a perpetual license.
     
  • Risk mitigation. Under a perpetual license, if the implementation fails, or the customer decides to switch systems after two or three years, the customer loses its entire investment in the software. With a subscription agreement, the customer only loses subscription fees paid prior to cancellation.
     
  • Alignment of vendor’s interest with customer’s. Closely following the previous point, under a perpetual license, a failed implementation does not cost the vendor anything (assuming there is no legal action requiring vendor concessions). With a subscription agreement, in contrast, vendors must continually satisfy customers, lest they lose the ongoing subscription fees. This tends to focus the vendor’s attention more closely on customer success. 

The combination of cloud deployment and subscription agreements is, no doubt, a powerful combination. But notice that the three benefits outlined above are the same, regardless of whether the system is deployed as a cloud system.

Does this mean that all customers should go for subscription pricing? Based on interviews with some Acumatica customers that chose perpetual licenses, it seems the answer is no. Some customers do not like the idea that they will be paying subscription fees for as long as they use the system. They like the thought that, if they implement successfully, they have lower out-of-pocket costs for the long run.

Personally, I think such customers are underestimating their ongoing costs, including maintenance fees and the cost of money. I also think they are under-appreciating the risk mitigation and alignment benefits of subscription agreements.

Nevertheless, Acumatica’s experience shows where customer preferences are today and where they are heading. Cloud deployment is the future of ERP, and subscription agreements are attractive, even without cloud deployment.

These findings also suggest that traditional vendors that are slow to adapt to cloud deployment may be able to benefit in the short term simply by offering and promoting subscription agreements.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Guide for Cloud ERP Buyers

In working with clients over the last decade, I've watched as cloud ERP vendors have been steadily encroaching on the territory of traditional ERP providers. As a result, ERP selection projects today are more and more becoming evaluations of cloud ERP providers.

However, buyers need to realize not all ERP systems that are labeled “cloud” are the same. To help buyers better understand these differences, I've just completed a new report for my research firm, Computer Economics, entitled Understanding Cloud ERP Buyers and Providers, based on my experience in selection deals as well as extensive analysis of vendor offerings over the years.

Figure 2 from that report sums up the differences:

In brief:
  • Cloud-Only Providers: These are the “born-in-the-cloud” ERP vendors that do not have an on-premises offering and include such companies as NetSuite, Plex, Workday, Rootstock, Kenandy, FinancialForce, Intacct, and several others. These tend to be newer, smaller vendors (although Workday and NetSuite are each in the range of $500 million in annual revenue). Because cloud-only vendors have a single deployment option, they each can focus their entire business—from product development to sales to implementation and ongoing support—on the cloud. As a result, they make fewer compromises and tend to deliver the maximum benefits of cloud solutions in speed, agility, and scalability.
     
  • Traditional ERP Vendors: These are larger, more established providers such as SAP, Oracle, Infor, Microsoft, and a number of others. They are growing more slowly than cloud-only providers. They have more complex businesses as they have to support their on-premises customers as well as their hosted or cloud customers. Because they have developed their solutions over many years or even decades, their functional footprint tends to be more complete than those of cloud-only providers.
There is much more in our analysis of the cloud ERP market, which describes these two major categories of cloud ERP providers in more detail. In addition, the report also segments cloud ERP buyers into two categories: first-time buyers looking for their first ERP systems and established companies replacing their legacy systems. As it turns out, generally speaking, these two categories of buyers have different pain points and different criteria driving their decision-making. 

At this stage of cloud ERP market maturity, each of these provider categories has its advantages and disadvantages, and there is no one right answer for a given buyer. Organizations considering cloud ERP need to carefully consider their requirements, their choices, and what tradeoffs they are willing to make. We, therefore, conclude with recommendations for buyers looking at cloud ERP. We also have some advice for providers that seek to serve these two types of buyers.

As a practical aid to buyers, the full report includes two lengthy appendices, which provide profiles of the key ERP vendors of hosted and cloud solutions today, along with an assessment of their market presence. Cloud-only ERP providers profiled include Acumatica, AscentERP, FinancialForce, Intacct, Kenandy, NetSuite, Plex Systems, Rootstock, and Workday. Traditional ERP providers with cloud/hosted solutions include Epicor, IFS, Infor, Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle, QAD, Sage, SAP, Syspro, and UNIT4.

Related posts

The Cloud ERP Land Rush
Computer Economics: Choosing Between Cloud and Hosted ERP, and Why It Matters

Thursday, July 17, 2014

SAP's Revamped Strategy for Small and Midsize Businesses

Dean Mansfield
SAP announced today the launch of a new division focused solely on sales of its systems to small and midsize businesses. The SMB Solutions Group will be headed up by Dean Mansfield and will focus on companies with up to 500 employees. Moving against the tide, Mansfield comes to SAP from NetSuite, where he headed up global sales and operations.

Product Strategy: Simplified Suite on HANA and Business One

What I find most interesting in the SAP press release is its ambiguity on what products Mansfield will be selling into the SMB market. The first part of the announcement appears to be saying that SAP will target the SMB market with a cloud version of its Business Suite, though it does not say so explicitly: 
Mansfield will execute on a board strategy to redefine the SMB business solutions market by creating the next generation of simplified, integrated business applications powered by SAP HANA®, delivered via the cloud that will solve tomorrow's complex SMB business challenges. 
The announcement then explicitly mentions Business One (a separate system from SAP's Business Suite), which will continue to be sold and supported through partners. It also refers to a push to move those partner offerings to hosting on HANA, as a separate deployment option for SMBs:
In addition, Mansfield will lead the current SAP Business One application portfolio, which will continue to operate through the Global Partner Operations organization, and plans to accelerate the adoption of SAP Business One, version for SAP HANA, as well as the SAP Business One Cloud solution, version for SAP HANA. 
What's missing from the announcement? Any mention of SAP Business ByDesign (ByD).

This lack of clarity about the products that SAP will offer to SMBs was also picked up by one analyst in SAP's quarterly earnings call. Adam Wood from Morgan Stanley, noting that SAP appears to have deemphasized ByDesign, asked SAP CEO Bill McDermott what would be the main product focus in SAP going to market with SMBs.

McDermott responded, in part:
ByDesign is still part of our product portfolio and we now have ByDesign on SAP HANA, which is absolutely a game changer because everything is faster and better on HANA as you know. [Emphasis mine.]
McDermott is a careful speaker, and his use of the word "still" is revealing. He wouldn't dream of saying, "The Business Suite is still part of our product portfolio," or "SAP HANA is still part of our product portfolio." The word "still," therefore, indicates that ByDesign is not part of SAP's core strategy.

McDermott continued:  
We also believe strongly that Business One has been going through an indirect channel now and has proven itself to be a very successful, high growth, double-digit business with good margin. So we will continue that. But we also put B1 up on HANA in the Cloud and we go global and we think that can be a very serious category killer.

Once it get into the market place and people see what it can do on HANA and we will continue innovate in that space now with a defined agenda underneath Dean Mansfield. So it's a combination of things we are going to go after the market with.
So, this confirms the implication in SAP's announcement that, in contrast to Business ByDesign,  Business One is strategic to SAP's SMB strategy.

Without directly using the words "Business Suite," McDermott then implied that the Business Suite itself, running on the HANA Enterprise Cloud, would also be a product offering for SMBs:
Related to the HANA Enterprise Cloud and the multi-tenant debate, the bottom line is the HANA Enterprise Cloud and each customer wants their solutions. They want it beautiful. They want them to work and yes, we can make money on it because HANA is the great simplifier.

When you radically simplify the IT stack--I mean SAP
[in context, the SAP Business Suite--ed] used to run on eight terabytes of data. Now it's like closer to 1.5. You dramatically lower your cost of operation and improve the speed of everything in the operation. So it's perfect for "Run Simple." It doesn’t matter whether it's single- or multi-tenant. What matters is the customer gets what they want at the price point in the performance and the user experience they're looking for, and that's precisely what we intend to give them.

Will SAP's SMB Strategy Work? 

I would interpret SAP's strategy as two-fold. For really small businesses, starting at even five or 10 employees, SAP wants to continue its reseller channel strategy with Business One. For small divisions of larger companies, especially those already running its Business Suite globally, SAP will also position Business One, whether on-premises or hosted by partners.

For midsize companies, especially those that are growing and need more comprehensive functionality, SAP wants to position its flagship Business Suite. But this product has not performed well for midsized businesses in the past, even when packaged with preconfigured industry templates as SAP All-in-One, due to its size and complexity. SAP is betting that it will be successful with its "Run Simple" strategy to turn this product into a "Simple Suite." This is what McDermott was talking about when he mentioned going from 8 terabytes to 1.5. And, by running it as a managed service on the HANA Enterprise Cloud, SAP hopes to simplify the implementation and ongoing support experience for SMBs.

In my view, there are two risks in SAP's strategy and they both involve the Business Suite. First, even if "simplified," will midsize businesses find the Suite simple enough? The early signs with SAP's Simple Financials are promising. But is that possible with the rest of the Business Suite? Second, will the experience of the HANA Enterprise Cloud be as friendly as the cloud-only ERP providers, such as NetSuite, Plex, Rootstock, FinancialForce, and others?

In recent years, SAP had a cloud-only solution in Business ByDesign that was more directly comparable to the competition. That's no longer part of the plan. Rather, SAP believes that a combination of Business One and a simplified Business Suite will be a winning strategy. Time will tell.

Update, 5:22 p.m.: Removed references to Business One on Hana Enterprise Cloud (HEC), which does not appear to be part of the solution. Thanks to Dick Hirsch for the clarification.

Update, July 18: Dennis Howlett picks up on my post and provides more analysis, including a history of ByD.

Related Posts

Fighting Complexity: Can SAP Run Simple?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Moving Forward with DDMRP at Lightspeed

I love it when I'm proven wrong. 

Back in 2011, I wrote a post on a new development in material planning: Demand Drive Material Requirements Planning (DDMRP).  Read the preceding link for the full story. But to summarize, DDMRP builds upon and extends the concepts of MRP while borrowing the best features of lean manufacturing and the theory of constraints. In my opinion, its most attractive feature is that it turns the focus in material planning from reliance on sales forecasts, which are always wrong, to positioning buffer inventory at strategic points in the supply chain, allowing material plans to be based largely on actual demand. Early adopters of the method show dramatic improvements in order fill rates with lower levels of inventory--the dream of every manufacturing executive.

Shortly thereafter  the product management team in charge of manufacturing systems at NetSuite saw my post and expressed to me their interest in learning more. I pointed them to the thought leaders behind DDMRP--Chad Smith and Carol Ptak--and left it at that.

Fast forward two years later, at the NetSuite Suiteworld conference, where I arrive to find Chad Smith giving a breakout session on DDMRP and thanking me for the introduction.

Oh Ye of Little Faith

Here's where it gets interesting. I sat through Chad's presentation, which was fast-paced and thick with concepts and terminology. At the end, he opened for questions, and the room was nearly silent. Looking around the room, I thought, they don't get it.

Afterwards, I spoke with two members of NetSuite's product team and told them, "I think you are jumping the gun. Your customers aren't ready for DDMRP. Better to spend your time on more basic functionality and leave DDMRP for some point in the future."

I found out later that NetSuite pretty much had already decided the same thing.

A Seed Takes Root

Fast forward 12 months later. Arriving at this year's Suiteworld, I notice that there is another presentation on DDMRP.  But this time it is not from someone promoting the concept, but from a NetSuite customer that is already applying it.

The customer is Lightspeed Technologies, a midsize manufacturer of classroom audio systems, and a NetSuite customer since 2005. Carl Cox, the firm's VP of Operations and CFO, was one of those in the audience at Chad Smith's DDMRP presentation the previous year, and he was intrigued by the concept. Although NetSuite itself was not going to pursue development of DDMRP, Carl reached out to Chad and soon they were talking about how to apply DDMRP to Lightspeed's business.

To make a long story short, Lightspeed wound up working Demand Driven Technologies (DDTech), who partnered with a local NetSuite partner, Head in the Cloud, to form a joint venture, IntuiFlow, to develop a DDMRP solution on NetSuite's platform--with its first client being Lightspeed.

Early Results Promising

Now, Carl Cox along with folks from IntuiFlow were back at SuiteWorld this year to report on Lightspeed's implementation of DDMRP.  The system is now up and running, with Lightspeed's previous material planning processes (mostly in Excel) running in parallel for comparison purposes.

I reached out to the Lightspeed and IntuiFlow team to see whether they could report some early results. Here's the top-line, quantitative, numbers:
  • 40% inventory reduction in less than three months
  • Customer service maintained at 99+%
So, Lightspeed apparently had been maintaining high levels of customer service at the cost of excess inventory. Now with the new system they could maintain those high order fill rates but dramatically cut inventory levels.

In addition, the team reported that inventory buffer analytics in the new system were giving them insights into changes in demand patterns. It was also giving them early visibility into spikes in customer demand, allowing them to become more responsive. Finally, the new system was giving them "clear and intuitive signals," which improved the productivity of material planning personnel.

Power of Cloud Platforms and Ecosystems

Perhaps most NetSuite manufacturing customers are not ready for DDMRP. But at least one was. What I missed was the fact that even if NetSuite was not going to directly address the customer's need, it didn't mean that the customer was out of luck. NetSuite's ecosystem of partners and ISVs building on its CloudSuite platform could provide a solution.

Furthermore, the solution didn't require years of development. By my calculation, Lightspeed got up and running with DDMRP in less than a year.  Moreover, they did it with a product that didn't even exist when they started.  This speaks to the tremendous productivity and efficiency of modern cloud development environments. Other customers that want to go down this path should go even faster.

If you are a NetSuite customer, you can sign up for a free "Snapshot Bundle" from IntuiFlow within your NetSuite environment, activate it, and run it against your own data. The snapshot will give you a simulation of the kinds of results you can expect with DDMRP.

Related Posts 

Breakthrough in Material Planning: Demand Driven MRP
NetSuite Manufacturing Moves on Down the Highway

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Plex's Growth Strategy: Glass Half Full

Those interested in cloud ERP know that Plex was the first provider to offer a cloud-only manufacturing system. Yet Plex has had nowhere near the growth of other cloud enterprise system providers, such as NetSuite. SAP receives a lot of criticism for only having sold 1,000 or so customers its Business ByDesign system--but ByD has only been in general distribution for three or four years. Yet Plex, which launched its cloud offering over 10 years ago, has fewer than 500 customers.What's wrong with this picture?

Last year, encouraged by Plex's new private equity owners, CEO Jason Blessing and his management team formulated a growth strategy, which they presented at the Plex user conference. Afterwards, I outlined what I thought Plex needed to do to execute on it.

Following up now half a year later, Jason circled back to give me another briefing, and it was a good opportunity also to see what progress Plex was making. Here is my take: 
  1. Management changes are part of the growth plan. Plex this week announced the appointment of Don Clarke as its new CFO. He appears to be a great candidate for the job. He comes most recently from Eloqua, a leading marketing cloud vendor, where he oversaw Eloqua's growth to nearly $100M in annual revenue, its initial public offering, and its eventual sale to Oracle last year, which put Clarke out of a job.

    I joked with Jason that Oracle's acquisition strategy has been serving Plex well in terms of recruiting, as several of Plex's top management team have come from companies that Oracle acquired: Heidi Melin, Plex's CMO, also came from Eloqua, Karl Ederle, VP of Product Management spent time at Taleo, which Oracle acquired in April 2012, and Jason himself came from Taleo.

    If Plex's growth strategy is successful, there is likely to be an IPO in Plex's future. Clarke's experience in taking Eloqua public will serve Plex well.
     
  2. Plex added 59 new customers in 2013, bringing its customer count to "nearly 400." As mentioned earlier, in my view, the total customer count is well below where it should for a decade-old cloud provider. Jason compares it favorably with the 500 or so customer count for Workday, overlooking the fact that Workday launched in late 2006 and that its typical customer is several times larger than Plex's.

    Still, Plex's growth in 2013 represents a 15% increase in its customer base and signals that its growth strategy is beginning to take hold.

    The new customer count includes some accounts that are larger than Plex has sold to in the past, such as Caterpillar, which is running Plex in a two-tier model for some smaller plants. In my previous post, I outlined some of the functionality improvements that Plex would need to make to better serve these large customers, and there are signs that these enhancements are underway.
     
  3. Plex doubled its sales force last year. This, no doubt, is behind the uptick in new customer sales. The new sales headcount is serving primarily to expand the geographic coverage outside of Plex's traditional Great Lakes concentration to the South and also to the West Coast. (As part of the expansion, Plex opened a Southern California sales office, which happens to be a short walk from my office near the John Wayne Airport.) There are also increased sales to organizations outside North America, another hopeful sign.
     
  4. Plex's industry focus remains in three industry sectors: motor vehicles, food and beverage, and aerospace and defense. In my view, this is probably the greatest constraint to Plex's growth strategy. Short-term, having more feet on the street and expanding geographically are low-hanging fruit. But at some point, there will be diminishing returns. Manufacturing contains dozens of sub-sectors, many of which are adjacent to Plex's existing markets. It is not a big jump to build out support and sell into these sub-sectors. We discussed a couple of these, and hopefully, Plex's product management team will have the bandwidth to address them.
     
  5. Plex's platform remains a weak spot. Most cloud systems today provide a platform for customer enhancements and development of complementary functionality. For example, Salesforce.com offers Salesforce1, a mature platform-as-a-service (PaaS) capability that has spawned an entire ecosystem of partners. NetSuite, likewise, has its SuiteCloud platform.  Although Plex has the beginnings of such a platform, it is still limited to use by Plex's own development team and a few carefully-vetted partners. Jason knows this is a need, and hopefully we will see more progress in this area. 
There is a lot to admire about Plex. Of the few cloud-only ERP providers that are addressing the manufacturing sector, Plex has the most complete footprint of functionality, rivaling mature on-premise manufacturing systems. In addition, customer satisfaction is readily apparent when I speak to installed customers, both new and old. Hopefully, Plex will build on these strengths and see growth accelerate.

There is a Plex 2013 year-end recap available on the Plex website.

Update: And right on cue, Dennis Howlett has done an on-camera interview with Jason Blessing about Plex's 2014 strategy. He also comments on Plex's approach to SaaS pricing. 

Related Posts

Plex Software and Its Mandate for Growth
The Simplicity and Agility of Zero-Upgrades in Cloud ERP
Plex Online: Pure SaaS for Manufacturing

Monday, January 20, 2014

Four Cloud ERP Providers on the Salesforce Platform

As cloud ERP solutions mature, they are becoming viable alternatives to traditional on-premises and hosted ERP systems. Dreamforce 2013, the annual conference of Salesforce.com users in San Francisco last November, offered a good opportunity to review the progress of four such cloud ERP systems—all built on the Salesforce.com platform.

Salesforce1: The Next Generation Salesforce Platform

During the conference, Salesforce unveiled the latest iteration of its platform, now dubbed Salesforce1, as shown in Figure 1.  The platform has a lot going for it.
  • It provides a complete applications development environment (a platform-as-a-service, or PaaS) running on Salesforce.com’s cloud infrastructure. Developers building on Salesforce1 can interoperate with any of Salesforce.com’s applications, such as its Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud, as well as other third party applications built on the platform. 
  • It includes social business capabilities. Developers can incorporate Salesforce.com’s social business application, Chatter, as part of their systems. 
  • The platform puts mobile deployment at the center, allowing apps to be written once and be deployed simultaneously on a variety of user platforms, including desktop browsers, tablet computers, and smart phones. In support of the so-called "Internet of Things," Salesforce1 can even be deployed on connected devices. 
  • Finally, the platform provides a way for developers to market and sell their applications, by means of Salesforce.com’s AppExchange marketplace. 
For a detailed view of Salesforce1, see this review by Doug Henschen over at Information Week.

With Salesforce.com now the market leader in CRM, it is no wonder that its platform has become more and more attractive to developers. Building on this platform, third-party developers become, in essence, an ecosystem around Salesforce.com, with strong network effects. The more popular the platform becomes, the more it attracts developers. In return, the more developers build on the platform, the more attractive it becomes to other developers. It is a virtuous cycle.

In our consulting work at Strativa over the past three to five years, I’ve seen several cases where organizations first implemented Salesforce.com’s CRM system, then based on that success started looking to see whether they could replace their existing on-premises ERP system with a cloud-based solution. And, when they search the AppExchange, they find four cloud ERP providers: FinancialForce, Kenandy, Rootstock, and AscentERP.

I’ve been following these four providers for several years, and this post serves as an overview and update, based on briefings and interviews I conducted with these four vendors during the Dreamforce user conference.

FinancialForce

As the name implies, FinancialForce started in 2009 as an accounting and billing system. It was formed as a joint venture between UNIT4 and Salesforce.com. The company expanded into professional services automation in 2010 with the acquisition of a PSA system from Appirio, built on the Salesforce platform, and by building out its own services resource planning (SRP) functionality. More recently, Financialforce developed offerings for revenue recognition and credit control on the new Salesforce1 platform for revenue recognition, pushing these functions out to sales and services users in the field.

The company lists 50 customer case-studies on its website, an impressive number for a vendor that is only four or five years old.

At Dreamforce 2013, FinancialForce took two more steps to expand its ERP footprint. First, it announced acquisition of another AppExchange partner, Less Software, which provides configure-price-quote (CPQ), order fulfillment, service contracts, inventory management, and supplier management modules. Founded just two years ago, Less Software was already partnering and doing joint deals with FinancialForce, so the acquisition does not appear to acquire much if any integration work. FinancialForce refers to Less Software as having supply chain management (SCM) capabilities, but I would view that as somewhat of an exaggeration. There are some light warehouse management capabilities, but no transportation management or supply chain planning functionality that I can see. Less Software has had particular success in selling to value-added resellers, such as Cisco resellers, as well as to industrial distribution organizations and one manufacturer of children’s furniture.

The second step, announced during the conference, was the acquisition of Vana Workforce, a human capital management (HCM) software provider—which is also built on the Salesforce platform. Vana's HCM functionality includes core HR, talent management, recruitment compensation, time management, and absence management. Payroll is not provided, but the system can connect with a number of popular payroll systems. As with Less Software, Vana Workforce was already partnering with FinancialForce, so the integration effort, again, would appear to be minimal.

Organizations in the professional and technical services sector should take a look at FinancialForce, as well as anyone needing a financial management solution. With its acquisition of Less Software and Vana Workforce, FinancialForce now qualifies for the short list for distribution and light manufacturing companies. There were hints during my briefings that FinancialForce may continue with an acquisition strategy, so it is likely that additional industry sectors may become potential targets for this solution provider.

Kenandy

I covered the launch of Kenandy back in 2011, when I interviewed its CEO Sandra Kurtzig. Sandy was the original founder and CEO of ASK Group, the developer of the well-known ManMan ERP system. Her coming out of retirement to launch a new ERP system made a big splash at Dreamforce 2011, where she appeared on stage with Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff and Ray Lane, former Oracle President and now Kenandy board member representing investor firm, Kleiner Perkins. Salesforce.com is also an investor in Kenandy.

Since that launch, Kenandy has been rapidly adding functionality. It has its own financial systems, including general ledger, invoicing, accounts receivables, and accounts payables. Multi-company and multi-currency support were added earlier this year, with up to three reporting currencies. According to Kenandy executives I interviewed, the system also supports multiple plants with multiple locations in a single tenant. There is a full MRP explosion. Lot tracking and serial tracking allow Kenandy to sell into foods and other industries that require track and trace. Item revision levels are tracked with multiple revisions allowed in inventory.

Only three years in existence, the installed customer base is small but growing, with some impressive wins. During Dreamforce, Kenandy touted its recent win with Del Monte Foods, which implemented Kenandy for its acquisition of Natural Balance, a pet food manufacturer. I spent some time one-on-one with the Del Monte project leader, who provided quite a bit of insight into the dynamics of the implementation. Del Monte was able to implement Kenandy’s full suite—financials, customer order management, and distribution—in just three months. This included integrations with third-party systems for EDI, warehouse management, and transportation scheduling.

He also shared with me that he wrote a trade promotion management (TPM) system on the Salesforce platform, integrated with Kenandy, in just six weeks—and he did it by himself. He had previously built a similar system integrated with Del Monte’s legacy system, but that effort took seven months with a team of seven developers. Even discounting the fact that his previous experience might have made development of the second system easier, by my calculations this is about a 50 to 1 improvement in productivity, illustrating the power of the Salesforce platform.

Del Monte is not finished with Kenandy. The firm reportedly plans to eventually move all of Del Monte’s ERP processing from something like 60 internal systems to Kenandy.

More information Del Monte’s experience can be found in a case study on Kenandy’s website.

Rootstock

Rootstock Software is another manufacturing ERP provider with an interesting history. The management team, headed by CEO Pat Gerehy and COO Chuck Olinger, has decades of experience building manufacturing ERP, most recently at Relevant. Following the sale of Relevant to Consona (now Aptean), the team embarked on a new venture to build a manufacturing cloud ERP system from scratch. They developed their first iteration of Rootstock on the NetSuite platform in 2008, interoperating with NetSuite for financials and customer order processing. In 2010, however, they disengaged from their NetSuite partnership and rewrote Rootstock on the Salesforce platform. (That the Roostock developers could build a complete system so quickly on the NetSuite platform and then again on the Salesforce platform speaks to the power of these modern cloud platforms for rapid software development.)

As a result of the replatforming on Salesforce, Rootstock developed its own customer order management product and now partners with FinancialForce for its accounting systems. It also has good functionality for purchasing, production engineering, lot and serial tracking, MRP, MPS, and capacity planning, shop floor control, manufacturing costing, and PLM/PDM integration. The system can support multiple companies, multiple divisions, and multiple sites, all within a single tenant on the Salesforce platform.

On its website, Rootstock highlights an impressive list of 25 customers. These include Astrum Solar, a residential solar provider with operations in a dozen states in the US. EBARA International, a manufacturer of pumps and turbine expanders in the energy industry, with 77 subsidiaries and 11 affiliated companies worldwide.

Over the past year, Rootstock has been gaining traction. After the Dreamforce conference, it announced four more wins in the month of November: Microtherm, a business unit of ProMat International; Proveris, which provides testing protocols for drug developers; Source Outdoor, an outdoor furniture manufacturer; and Wilshire Coin, a coin dealer.

Buyers looking for strong manufacturing functionality, including hybrid modes of manufacturing, should consider Rootstock. Project-based manufacturing is also a sweet spot.

AscentERP

AscentERP approaches manufacturing ERP from the execution side of the business. Its co-founders, Michael Trent and Shaun McInerney, have a long history in warehouse management and data collection, and it shows in the capabilities of the product. Built from the start on the Salesforce platform, AscentERP supports production modes of build-to-order, assemble-to-order, and configure-to-order along with repetitive manufacturing capabilities. It can take opportunities from Salesforce.com and convert them into sales quotes and into sales orders in the production system. The system supports the complete manufacturing process from master planning, purchasing, production, and shipping. Reverse logistics is also supported through an RMA process.

Like Rootstock, AscentERP supports the accounting function through partnership with FinancialForce. In addition, the system also integrates with Intacct, another SaaS financials system. For smaller companies, Ascent created an integration with Quickbooks.

During Dreamforce, AscentERP announced advanced manufacturing functionality, including workflow and alerts, multi-plant and multi-location support, production scheduling and tablet computer data collection using the new Salesforce1 platform.

Reference accounts include Chambers Gasket in Chicago and All Traffic Solutions, a manufacturer of electronic roadside signs. Both of these customers use FinancialForce for financials. Other reference accounts include The Chia Company in Australia, the world’s largest grower of Chia seed and products, so familiar during holiday season, and SolarAid, an international charity that provides access to solar lighting.

Buyers may want to short list AscentERP if they are looking for a nuts-and-bolts production system with good support for warehouse management and data collection. Smaller companies may find the Quickbooks integration an interesting option, allowing them to implement ERP without having to give up Quickbooks.

One sales strategy I wish more enterprise SaaS providers would follow: AscentERP offers a free 30 day free trial on its website.

Cast a Wide Net

All ERP systems have their strengths and weaknesses, and these four are no exception. For example, all of these systems are relatively new. Although they are rapidly building out their functional footprints, there are still gaps in their functionality. Buyers that insist on having every box checked on their RFPs may not like this, but those buyers who are willing to do some system enhancements on the Salesforce platform may find that the advantages of speed and flexibility outweigh any short-term gaps. It all depends on whether buyers are viewing pure cloud deployment as a strategic advantage.

The four vendors outlined in this post are not the only cloud ERP providers in the market. Buyers should also consider other providers, not built on the Salesforce platform. These include established cloud players such as NetSuite and Plex, as well as newer entrants, such as Acumatica. Finally, some of the traditional providers of on-premises ERP systems, such as SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, Infor, and Epicor, offer hybrid cloud deployment options that may be alternative to these cloud-only providers.


Choosing the right ERP system—whether cloud, hosted, or on-premises—can be challenging. Those looking for more in-depth analysis and independent advice in navigating the process should consider our software selection consulting services at Strativa.

Related Posts

Kenandy: A New Cloud ERP Provider Emerges from Stealth Mode

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Plex Software and Its Mandate for Growth

As the first cloud-only manufacturing ERP system, Plex Systems has a wide footprint of functionality, going beyond what is offered by newer cloud vendors.

Nevertheless, after more than a decade of development, Plex has fewer than 1000 customers and its presence is limited mostly to smaller manufacturing companies in a few sub-sectors.

As evidence, there were about 700 attendees at last year's PowerPlex conference. This year's PowerPlex, which I attended this week in Columbus, Ohio, saw about 750 Plex users in attendance.  Granted, overall, these are highly satisfied and enthusiastic customers. There just needs to be more of them.

On the one hand, Plex claims a compound annual growth rate of nearly 30% over the past three years--an impressive number. But as the first fully multi-tenant manufacturing cloud vendor, Plex could have, and should have, been growing at a faster pace. Now, there are several other cloud vendors taking aim at Plex's market, such as NetSuite, Acumatica, Rootstock, and Kenandy

Plex must grow more aggressively, for two reasons. First, the company was acquired last year by two private equity firms. Private equity is not known for patience. Second, as CEO Jason Blessing pointed out in his keynote, growth protects the investments of existing Plex customers. Software companies that do not grow do not have the resources for continued innovation. Eventually, they only provide enough support to keep current customers--at best. They become, in effect, "zombie vendors," to use Blessing's term.

So, what does Plex need to do to grow at a more substantial pace in the coming years? I see six mandates. Some of these are fully embraced by Plex, while others, in my view, could use more emphasis.

1. Get Noticed

If some cloud vendors need to tone down their marketing hype, Plex needs to kick it up a notch. Plex was not only the first truly multi-tenant cloud manufacturing systems, it was also one of the first cloud providers period. Yet still the majority of manufacturing systems buyers have not heard of Plex. Reflecting Plex's home turf in Michigan, discussions with Plex insiders about this often includes the phrase, "midwestern values"--in other words, not blowing one's own horn. However admirable this humility may be on a personal basis, it is not useful from a business perspective.

Hopefully, this is about to change with the hiring of Heidi Melin as Chief Marketing Officer. Melin worked with CEO Blessing at Taleo, and more recently she was CMO at Eloqua, which was acquired by Oracle. In my one-on-one interview, Blessing was high on Melin's arrival, and indicated that she would be especially focused on digital marketing to reach the many thousands of companies in Plex's target market.

2. Put More Feet on the Street

Blessing also indicated that he intends to beef up Plex's sales efforts, which to date have been concentrated largely in the Great Lakes region. This has left many sales opportunities poorly supported in other US geographies, such as the southern states (home to many automotive suppliers), Southern California (home to many aerospace suppliers), and other parts of the country that are home to many food and beverage companies. Increased sales presence in international markets is also needed.

This is a step long overdue. When my firm Strativa short lists Plex in ERP selection deals, Plex is often flying in resources from across the country, which does not sit well with most prospects. Opening regional sales offices, like Plex has now done in Southern California, will help put more feet on the streets of prospects.

3. Move Up-Market

Historically, Plex's system architecture is oriented toward single-plant operations. There is some logic to this approach. As Jim Shepherd, VP of Strategy, points out, most of the information needed by a user is local to the plant he or she is working in. However, even small manufacturers often have needs that include multiple plants, cross-plant dependencies, and central shared services. Plex does have some multi-billion dollar customers, but these are primarily companies with collections of plants that are relatively independent of one another.

In response, Plex is building out its cross-site and multi-site capabilities while keeping its primary orientation around the single plant. In my view, this will be a key requirement in Plex moving up-market and serving larger organizations.

4. Build Out the International Footprint

The bulk of Plex's sales are to US companies, but if Plex is to grow more aggressively it will need to better support the international operations of these companies. It will also need to sell directly to companies outside of the US.

In his keynote, Shepherd pointed to the new ability for Plex to print reports on A4-size paper, commonly used in parts of the world outside North America. The fact that Plex is just now getting around to formatting reports on A4-sized paper shows just how US-centric Plex has been. To be fair, Plex does support multiple currencies and has support some international tax requirements, such as in Brazil, India and China, although some of this is done through partners. Nevertheless, Plex has much it could do to improve its appeal to multinational businesses. In this day and age, even small companies--like those Plex targets today--have international operations. Building out its international footprint is another prerequisite for Plex to achieve more rapid growth.

5. Venture Outside of Traditional Subsectors

Plex sees its current customer base primarly as three manufacturing subsectors today: motor vehicle suppliers, aerospace and defense, and food and beverage. Blessing indicates that by Plex's calculations, these three sub-sectors account for about 25-30% of the manufacturing ERP market. Surprisingly, however, Plex currently has no plans to expand outside of these sub-sectors. Blessing believes that simply by increasing Plex's sales execution in its current markets it can continue its compound annual growth rate of nearly 30% for the next several years.

Count me skeptical. First, as indicated above, Plex no longer has exclusive claim to the cloud manufacturing ERP market. Plex is going to have to fight a lot harder than it has in the past for new customers. Second, why is 30% growth the benchmark? I understand that there are risks in more aggressive growth. But aiming higher might be needed in order to meet the 30% goal.

In my view, Plex is not far off from being able to address the needs of manufacturers that are adjacent to its existing markets. These would include industrial electronics, medical devices, and industrial equipment. Plex already has some customers in these sub-sectors, so it's not like the company is starting from scratch. Hopefully Plex will formally target these industries, sooner rather than later.

6. Target the Customers You Want Not Just Those You Have

Over the past 10+ years , Plex has let customer requests drive its product roadmap. In fact, much of Plex's development has been funded directly by customers or groups of customers who desired certain new features. This worked well to minimize Plex's up-front costs of new development and also led to high levels of customer satisfaction. However, it had one major drawback: if you only have customer-driven development, everything you build will by definition only be of interest to the type of customers you have today. In addition, a single customer or group of customers are not able to fund major new development that are more strategic in nature.

Here Plex is on the right track. Recognizing this need, Plex is now allocating product development funds for strategic initiatives, including a revamp of its user interface, cross-browser access, business intelligence and reporting capabilities (Inteliplex), as well as other major initiatives. In conversations with customers at PowerPlex they expressed these as welcome developments, although they have, apparently, diverted Plex resources from some of the customer-requested enhancements they also wanted.

The Way Forward

There's plenty that I admire about Plex: its zero-upgrades approach, its broad functionality, and the fact that it proves manufacturing companies have been ready for cloud computing for many years, contrary to the claims of on-premise ERP providers. Most of all, Plex allows me to roam around its user conference and speak informally with customers. Nearly without exception, everything I hear is positive. Not a single customer has told me they made the wrong choice with Plex, although with any ERP implementation there are always bumps in the road. 

But none of this guarantees that Plex will thrive in the future. Like proverbial sharks, software vendors must continue to move forward, lest they die. The management team at Plex has some new blood, including the CEO, and a new perspective. They understand the opportunities ahead, but will they fully rise to the challenges? We'll be watching.

Note: Plex Software covered some of my travel expenses to their annual user conference. 

Related Posts

The Simplicity and Agility of Zero-Upgrades in Cloud ERP 
Plex Online: Pure SaaS for Manufacturing

Monday, May 20, 2013

NetSuite Manufacturing Moves on Down the Highway

NetSuite held its annual user conference, Suiteworld, last week, and in his day one keynote, CEO Zach Nelson highlighted "NetSuite for Manufacturing."

I wrote about NetSuite's manufacturing functionality last year in my post, NetSuite Manufacturing: Right Direction, Long Road Ahead. Returning to this subject one year later, it is encouraging to see the progress that NetSuite has made. At the same time, there will be twists and turns that NetSuite will face in continuing down this highway.

If NetSuite is going to continue its growth, reported at 28% last year in its core business, it really has no choice but to pursue manufacturing customers. Manufacturers are the largest market for ERP systems and therefore an attractive target for NetSuite's development efforts. Although manufacturers have been slower to embrace cloud computing than many other sectors have, the situation is rapidly changing. In our ERP vendor selection services at Strativa, we find manufacturing companies increasingly open to cloud ERP. Sometimes, in fact, they only want to look at cloud solutions. In other words, NetSuite is at the right place at the right time.

Balancing New Functionality with Need for Simplicity

To more fully address the needs of manufacturing, NetSuite continues to build out its core functionality, with basic must-have features such as available to promise (ATP) calculations, routings, production orders, and standard costing. In some of the breakout sessions, there were indications of that NetSuite is also exploring functionality that goes well beyond the basics: for example, supply chain management (SCM) and demand-driven MRP (DDMRP).

This leads to the first twist and turn that NetSuite will need to navigate: filling out gaps in manufacturing functionality while not over-engineering the system. Oracle and SAP are famous for having manufacturing systems that are feature-rich, requiring significant time and effort from new customers to decide which features to configure and to implement them. Part of the attraction of NetSuite is its relative simplicity and ease of implementation. If NetSuite wants to remain an attractive option for the likes of small and midsize manufacturers, or small divisions of large companies, it will be wise to pick and choose where to build out the the sophistication of the product.

For example, the availability of multi-books accounting (which I discuss briefly in the video at the top of this post) is a good move, as it has widespread applicability to both small and large companies in the manufacturing industries as well as other sectors. But does DDMRP fall into the same category? Moreover, how much SCM functionality do prospects expect from NetSuite, and where does it make sense to partner with best-of-breed specialists, who can better bridge a variety of SCM data sources?

Netsuite's recent success with manufacturers such as Qualcomm, Memjet (discussed later in this post), and others give it real-world customers to validate its product roadmap. It will do well to prioritize new development efforts to the areas where those customers deem most needed. NetSuite may choose, ultimately, to fully move up-market, to become the manufacturing cloud equivalent of SAP or Oracle. But if it does so, there are already a number of other cloud ERP providers, such as Plex, Rootstock, Kenandy, Acumatica, and Keyed-In Solutions, that will be ready to take NetSuite's place serving small and midsize manufacturers.

NetSuite's PLM/PDM Strategy Needs Openness

NetSuite also announced a new alliance with Autodesk to integrate its PLM 360 offering for product lifecycle management with NetSuite's ERP. This is in addition to NetSuite's existing partnership with Arena Solutions.

By way of background, PLM systems manage the entire life-cycle of product development, from ideation and requirements gathering, through design and development, to release to manufacturing, service, engineering change, and retirement. PLM systems take an engineering view of the product and are generally under the domain of the client's product engineering function. PLM systems generally include product data management (PDM) systems as a subset, to manage all of the product data, such as drawings, specifications, and documentation, which form the definitions of the company's products.

Over the past 20+ years, the integration of PLM and PDM systems with ERP has been a difficult subject. In organizations where engineering and manufacturing work well together, basic roles and responsibilities can be defined and proper integration of data can be accomplished. In organizations where such cross-functional processes are weak, PLM/PDM and ERP often form separate silos.

Autodesk's PLM 360 shows very well, and the story about its cloud deployment matches well with NetSuite. However, it is my observation that the majority of manufacturers would do well simply to establish simple integration between their engineering bills of material (within their PLM/PDM systems) and their manufacturing bills of material (within their ERP systems). Making engineering documentation within the PLM/PDM system available to manufacturing ERP users is also highly desired. Furthermore, there are few engineering organizations that have not already standardized on a PLM/PDM system (e.g PTC's Windchill, Solidworks, and others), and they will seldom be willing to migrate to Autodesk just because the company is implementing NetSuite's ERP.

This is another turn of the highway that NetSuite must navigate: will it offer standard integration to a variety of PLM/PDM systems, or will its answer to engineering integration be, "Go with Autodesk or Arena?" I do not believe that an Autodesk- or Arena-preferred, strategy is the best.

Case Studies Encouraging

To validate its progress in the manufacturing sector, NetSuite reported on several case studies.
  • At the large end of the spectrum there was Qualcomm, the $19 billion manufacturer of semiconductors and other communications products. Although Qualcomm has Oracle E-Business Suite running throughout much of its operations worldwide, in 2011 CIO Norm Fjeldheim chose NetSuite for use in smaller divisions, based on the need for implementation speed and agility. As part of that strategy, Qualcomm  has now gone live with NetSuite in a newly launched division in Mexico. This is a nice "existence proof" for a two-tier ERP strategy in a very large company.
  • At the smaller end of the spectrum there was Memjet, a manufacturer if high-speed color printer engines. Martin Hambalek, the IT director at Memjet, did a short on-stage interview during Nelson's day one keynote. Although the company has just 350 employees, it has engineering and manufacturing operations in five countries. Unlike Qualcomm, Memjet runs NetSuite as its only ERP system worldwide, showing NetSuite's capabilities for multinational businesses. Notably, Memjet is also a customer of Autodesk for its PLM 360 system, mentioned earlier. In my one-on-one interview with Hambalek later during the conference, I learned that he is the only full-time IT employee at Memjet: evidence that a full or largely cloud-based IT infrastructure requires many fewer IT resources to maintain.
Customer stories are the best way to communicate success, and these two NetSuite customers substantiate NetSuite's progress.

Rethinking the Services and Support Strategy

As much as ERP functionality is important to manufacturers, there is another element of success that is even more important: the quality of a vendor's services and support. It struck me during the keynotes that, apart from an announcement of Capgemini as a new partner, there were no announcements about NetSuite's professional services. 

More ERP implementations fail due to problems with implementation services than because of gaps in functionality. Functional gaps can be identified during the selection process: but problems with the vendor's implementation services are more difficult to discern before the deal is signed. Furthermore, functional gaps can often be remedied through procedural workarounds. But once the implementation is underway, failures in implementation services are difficult to remedy. Sometimes, such failures wind up in litigation.

In this regard, NetSuite's rapid growth has a downside: it stretches and strains the ability of NetSuite's professional services group to spend adequate time and attention on its customers' implementation success. In advising prospective ERP buyers, I have much more concern about what their implementation experience will be than I do about any potential gaps in NetSuite functionality.

One solution is to build a strong partner channel of VARs, resellers, and implementation service providers to complement or even take over responsibility for post-sales service and support.

During the analyst press conference, I asked Zach Nelson about this point. NetSuite is building its partner channel, but how does it decide what work should go to its implementation partners and what part should be retained for NetSuite's own professional services group?  Nelson's answer reflected a traditional view, that whoever brings the sales lead to NetSuite should get the services. In other words, if a lead comes through NetSuite's own sales team, NetSuite should get the services work. If the lead comes through a partner, the partner should get the services.

As an advisor to prospective buyers, my own view is that NetSuite should rethink this strategy. The party that happens to find the prospect may not be the best party to deliver the services. In fact, NetSuite may be better served by passing off implementation services to local partners that are willing to spend more time with the customer on-site than NetSuite's own professional services group may be able to provide.

At the end of his answer, Nelson indicated that he would actually prefer that NetSuite not be in the professional services business. If so, this is good news. Let NetSuite focus on developing and delivering cloud ERP, and let a well-developed partner channel compete to provide hands-on implementation services. What professional services NetSuite does provide would be better focused on providing support to those partners. 

Just before leaving the conference, I gave Dennis Howlett my initial thoughts in this video interview on NetSuite Manufacturing and multi-book accounting.

Disclosure: NetSuite paid my travel expenses to attend its user conference. They also gave me a swag bag.

Update: in an email exchange, Roman Bukary, NetSuite's head of manufacturing and distribution industries, comments on NetSuite's PLM strategy:
The fact that today we have a partnership with Arena and Autodesk is not a matter of “just” these two, it’s a matter of those vendors who have a smart, complementary cloud strategy and our own bandwidth to recruit and enable partners. For my $.02, we have an open strategy with the goal to change the kind of solution modern manufacturing can leverage today

Related Posts

NetSuite Manufacturing: Right Direction, Long Road Ahead.
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