• Showing posts with label Microsoft. Show all posts
    Showing posts with label Microsoft. 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 

    Wednesday, April 17, 2019

    Google Getting Serious about Enterprise IT

    This just in: Google has just announced hiring of Rob Enslin as President of Global Customer Operations for its Google Cloud unit.

    Why is this a big deal? Because Enslin only in the past month announced his departure from SAP, where he spent 27 years and was most recently in charge of SAP's entire cloud portfolio. He was also a member of SAP's executive board.

    Enslin will be reporting to Thomas Kurian, who was recently hired on by Google as the CEO of Google Cloud. Kurian, of course, was highly regarded during his 22 year career at Oracle, where he was most recently the President of Product Development. He was also the brains behind Oracle's Fusion line of cloud applications, which represent Oracle's future as a cloud applications services provider.

    Kurian writes:
    Today, it is my pleasure to introduce Robert Enslin, Google Cloud’s new President of Global Customer Operations. Rob’s expertise in building and running organizations globally, business acumen and deep customer and partner relationships make him a perfect fit for this crucial role. Rob will report to me, and he starts on April 22. Rob spent the last 27 years at SAP in leadership roles across sales and operations, most recently as the President, Cloud Business Group and Executive Board Member. He developed and managed SAP’s entire cloud product portfolio, led the field revenue and enablement efforts across multiple geographies, and oversaw core functions including professional services, ecosystem, channel, and solutions. Rob brings great international experience to his role having worked in South Africa, Europe, Asia and the United States—this global perspective will be invaluable as we expand Google Cloud into established industries and growth markets around the world.
    Just today in a private message a fellow analyst said, in another context, that the "enterprise software boat is being rocked." I replied that it needs to be rocked, and maybe it needs to be capsized.

    Perhaps Google getting serious about enterprise technology is just what the market needs. For now, Google's immediate objective appears to be to take on Amazon and Microsoft for cloud infrastructure services. But with hiring of Kurian and Enslin, will Google also start moving into enterprise applications? Or will it be content to just be a platform provider>

    Watch for who are the next new hires. That will give us a clue.

    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, March 13, 2014

    Microsoft Broadens Dynamics CRM, Moves Up-Market

    With three strategic acquisitions, Microsoft Dynamics CRM can now be considered a complete offering for sales, marketing and customer service. In addition, Microsoft’s CRM offering is showing its ability to move up-market into large enterprises.

    These were two points that I took away from the Microsoft Dynamics Convergence conference last week in Atlanta, GA.

    By way of history, Microsoft introduced its Dynamics CRM product in 2003, its first Dynamics product written from scratch, though it did not experience significant market uptake until several years later. Until the past year or so, Dynamics CRM was largely a salesforce automation system, with a bit of case management on the service side. As such, it was not well positioned against the CRM offerings of SAP and Oracle, which offered complete solutions. Though Salesforce.com also started as a sales automation system, over the past few years it has also built out its capabilities for marketing and customer service.

    I saw the deficiencies of Dynamics CRM up close in 2010, when my consulting firm, Strativa, facilitated a CRM selection for a midsize high tech manufacturer. The company had actually implemented Dynamics CRM but decided to abandon it for lack of customer service functionality. In another CRM selection deal, in 2012, we didn’t even short list Dynamics CRM because of its lack of support for marketing and customer service.

    Filling out the Footprint

    But now, as the result of three strategic acquisitions, the picture is completely different:
    • Marketing Pilot: Acquired in 2012, Marketing Pilot is the basis for the newly announced Microsoft Dynamics Marketing. Product capabilities include campaign management, content management, approval workflow, media planning, email marketing management, and integration with sales force automation. The product also supports multichannel marketing, with social media management (e.g. automated posting to Facebook and Twitter) and digital advertising (e.g. integration with Google Adwords). With the latest version of Dynamics CRM, the product is completely integrated, with a consistent user-interface.
    • NetBreeze: This acquisition by Microsoft in 2013 allows organizations to monitor social media conversations of interest to the organization’s brands. It also provides “sentiment analysis” on social media conversations. In other words, are people speaking positively or negatively about the brand?

      Microsoft executives claim that Netbreeze is the only provider that does such sentiment analysis in native languages (five, at present). This, they say, is in contrast to competing offerings, which have to translate tweets (for example) into English, and perform the sentiment analysis on the translation. Anyone who has attempted to use Google Translate or Bing's translation engine to communicate in a foreign language knows the dangers of relying on machine translation. Netbreeze now forms the heart of the newly announced Microsoft Social Listening.
    • Parature: This most-recent acquisition, in 2014, brought a complete customer service solution into the Dynamics CRM product set, addressing a deficiency I wrote about last year. Parature, built exclusively in the cloud, supports customer self-service, knowledge management, issue management, and service workflow. The product is built with multi-channel in mind, with support for call center, web self-service, text chat, and social media channels.

      Parature is the basis for Microsoft’s newly announced Unified Service Desk. In a subsequent interview with Microsoft’s Bill Patterson, who has now been named Senior Director over the Parature operation, he indicated that Parature really doesn’t need much help to build out more functionality or even to integrate it with Dynamics CRM. The focus, he said, will be more on execution, raising its profile in the market, scaling its business operations globally, and training partners to sell and support it. Interestingly, Microsoft currently has no plans to migrate Parature from Amazon Web Services to its own Azure cloud. The product will interoperate with the rest of Dynamics CRM, no matter if the customer is running on premises or with Microsoft or partner hosting.
    These capabilities fill out Dynamics CRM into a complete offering, although there are still partner products needed in some cases, for example, for field service, which Microsoft views more as an ERP function than a CRM function. Partner solutions are also needed for configuration, pricing, and quoting (CPQ).

    Competing on Value

    Although Dynamics CRM can now position itself well in terms of capabilities, there is also an economic angle to its market strategy. Microsoft is simplifying licensing for Dynamics CRM and releasing much of the new capabilities at no additional charge. Specifically, for Microsoft-hosted deployments, which comprise the majority of new deals for Dynamics CRM:
    • CRM Online Professional, priced at $65 per user per month for customers with 10 or more Professional users, will give users access to Social Listening at no additional charge. For on-premises customers (the minority of new sales), there will be a $20 per user per month charge. 
    • CRM Online Enterprise, priced at $200 per user per month, essentially delivers the whole enchilada: the core sales functionality, plus Dynamics Marketing, Social Listening, plus the new Unified Service Desk.

    It will take one or two actual CRM deals to see how the new pricing and licensing works in practice, but as it stands it appears to be quite competitive. Buyers may find the pricing attractive against a similar bundle from Salesforce.com, where costs can rise quickly as Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud, and Service Cloud are priced separately. Throw in a few AppExchange solutions and the total price can be quite steep. Of course, large customers can and do negotiate significant discounts. Still, Microsoft’s offer of a complete CRM solution at a reasonable price should work to limit the premium pricing ambitions of Salesforce as well as Oracle and SAP. And, that’s good for buyers.

    A more complete run down on the CRM pricing and licensing can be found in a Microsoft blog post by Paco Contreras. 

    Moving Up-Market

    The expanded CRM footprint will certainly help Microsoft compete for CRM deals in larger enterprises. However, Dynamics CRM was already moving up-market even before these most recent announcements.

    During Convergence, I had a chance to sit down with Patrick Berard, Senior VP Southern Europe at Rexel France. Though not a household name in the US, Rexel is a $18 billion distributor of electrical supplies, operating in 30 countries worldwide. Starting three years ago with its operations in France, Rexel implemented Dynamics CRM to provide a 360 degree view of its customers. It may not sound exciting except that Rexel, having grown through many acquisitions in various markets, has dozens of ERP and other transactional systems that contain customer information, in multiple languages. Bringing this information together for the first time in a single view was no small feat.

    Rexel’s approach was not to disturb these transactional systems but to pull information from them into Dynamics CRM and make it available for real time display on desktops and mobile devices and to use it for sales force automation. The company also leverages Microsoft Lync and Yammer to create communities of interest around this customer information.

    As good a case study as this is, Rexel may not be finished implementing Microsoft Dynamics. With Microsoft building out its CRM footprint, Berard plans to look at Dynamics Marketing to see whether it would provide a way to better manage technical specifications and other content. Finally, some of the ERP systems in Rexel operating units are “sub-standard” and candidates for replacement. Microsoft Dynamics AX may be a good fit for these divisions, which may lead to an even broader commitment to Microsoft throughout Rexel.

    For a system that was only born 10 years ago, Microsoft has made great progress in building out a complete CRM offering. It positions well against SAP CRM as a smaller-footprint alternative. Against Oracle, Dynamics CRM has a simpler story to tell. There’s no doubt that Oracle has deep CRM capabilities, but they come in a variety of acquired products, such as Siebel, Rightnow, and Eloqua, as well as Oracle-developed products, such as Oracle Fusion CRM.

    Against all competitors, including the market leader, Salesforce.com, Microsoft is signaling that it is willing to challenge their premium pricing.

    With Microsoft now offering a complete CRM solution and demonstrating that it can scale up-market, there are few situations now where Dynamics CRM does not deserve consideration.

    Related Posts

    Microsoft Dynamics Move Up-Market: What's Missing? 
    Four Needs Pushing Microsoft Dynamics into Large Enterprises
    Computer Economics: Microsoft Dynamics Stepping onto Enterprise Turf
    Update on Microsoft Dynamics Products and Plans

    Wednesday, February 19, 2014

    The Cloud ERP Land Rush

    Oklahoma Land Rush
    For those unfamiliar with US history, in 1889 the US government opened unoccupied lands in Oklahoma to settlement. Settlers could claim up to 160 acres, live on and improve the land, and then legally obtain title to it. Such an opportunity led to a land rush, in which thousands of settlers raced into Oklahoma to make their claims.

    Today, cloud ERP is like Oklahoma in 1889, mostly unoccupied land, and there is a race as cloud vendors rush in. NetSuite and Plex were two early settlers. Today NetSuite has more acreage (number of customers), while Plex has fewer acres but more development of those acres (functionality)--at least in manufacturing. Cloud-only providers such as Rootstock, Kenandy, AscentERP, Acumatica, Intacct, and SAP (ByDesign) are also in the race. Traditional providers such as Microsoft Dynamics, Infor, Epicor, Oracle, UNIT4, and QAD have also entered the land rush, although they are moving more slowly, as they need to pull wagons full of their traditional on-premises software along with them.

    In the larger suite of enterprise applications, such as CRM and HCM, the land rush is further along.  Salesforce for CRM and Workday for HCM have already staked out large claims and are rapidly developing them. But Microsoft with Dynamics CRM, SAP with SuccessFactors, and Oracle with its Fusion HCM are also adding to their acreage. Core ERP functionality, on the other hand, is earlier in the land rush. There is still a lot of open territory with a lot of unclaimed land.

    FinancialForce Staking Its Claim

    One provider that is clearly in the land rush is FinancialForce, which today announced new branding to signal its claim in cloud ERP.

    The company is now referring to its suite of enterprise applications as FinancialForce ERP. The new branding is necessary because FinancialForce long ago ceased to be a provider only of financial management systems.

    FinancialForce previously added professional services automation to its portfolio and late last year acquired Less Software, which provides inventory management and order. Vana Workforce is another acquisition from last year, which adds human capital management (HCM) functionality.  FinancialForce also added its own functionality in areas outside of financials, such as advanced quoting and revenue recognition. With this broader footprint, FinancialForce now qualifies as a cloud ERP provider.

    Building on the Salesforce.com platform, FinancialForce has direct integration to the Salesforce cloud applications as well as to all of the other providers in Salesforce's AppExchange marketplace. The recent evolution of this platform to Salesforce1 gives FinancialForce additional capabilities for building out its mobile deployment options.

    How many acres will FinancialForce claim? The signs are hopeful. The company is reporting strong results: 80% growth in its revenue run rate, and 62% growth in headcount year-over-year, bringing it to over 260 employees globally.  FinancialForce now has customers in 27 countries with users in 45 nations worldwide. By all accounts, the company is on a strong growth trajectory.

    Plenty of Land for Everyone

    The economic and strategic benefits of cloud computing accrue to end-user organization that completely or at least largely eliminate their on-premises IT infrastructure.  Our research at Computer Economics shows that cloud user companies save more than 15% in terms of their total IT spending, and the money that they do spend goes more toward innovation and less towards on-going support. But it is difficult to move away from on-premises infrastructure if an organization's core ERP system is still on-premises. Therefore, the move to cloud ERP is essential if organizations are to fully realize the benefits of cloud computing. You can move your CRM and HCM systems to the cloud--but if you are still running on-premises ERP, you still have one large foot stuck in the old paradigm.

    In my view, there does not need to be one clear winner in cloud ERP. Just as there were dozens of on-premises ERP vendors in the 1990s, especially when sliced by industry sector, there is plenty of room for many more cloud ERP providers. There is plenty of land for everyone.

    Related Posts

    Computer Economics: Cloud Users Spend Less, Spend Smarter on IT
    Four Cloud ERP Providers on the Salesforce Platform
    NetSuite Manufacturing Moves on Down the Highway
    Kenandy: A New Cloud ERP Provider Emerges from Stealth Mode
    The Simplicity and Agility of Zero-Upgrades in Cloud ERP (Plex)
    Plex Online: Pure SaaS for Manufacturing
    Computer Economics: Cloud Players Storm the Gates of ERP
    Key success factor for SaaS suites: functional parity

    Thursday, January 23, 2014

    Evaluating UNIT4's Growth Strategy

    Changes are afoot at UNIT4, a European-based ERP provider. UNIT4 is looking to move to the next level, and it held a virtual press conference earlier today to outline its growth strategy going forward. This post outlines some of the key points along with my viewpoint of its likely success.

    UNIT4 is best known for its Agresso ERP system, its Coda Financials system, and its majority ownership of cloud ERP provider, FinancialForce (with minority investment by Salesforce.com).

    UNIT4 has been a well-regarded ERP provider for years, focused largely on the services sector. Like many traditional vendors, UNIT4 has been transitioning to cloud delivery and, fair to say, has been more successful than many of its peers. At a time when many traditional ERP providers have less than 10% of their revenue from the cloud, UNIT4 claims to have more than half of its 450M euro annual revenue derived from subscription services.

    New Leadership for the New Strategy

    UNIT4 has a new CEO, Jose Duarte, who came on board seven months ago. He served as co-CEO alongside Chris Ouwinga until January 1, when the board appointed him as sole CEO. Duarte came to UNIT4 from a 20-year career at SAP, which including roles as President of the EMEA & India region and President of the Latin America region.

    If UNIT4 had announced its new growth strategy without making any management changes, I might doubt its seriousness. The top management change, therefore, is a good sign.

    Core Message is Familiar  

    UNIT4 has long had a message of enabling its customers to "embrace change," and it touts its offering as being highly flexible and adaptable to changing business conditions. In its new growth strategy, that messaging does not appear to be different.

    Duarte does point out that the pace of change is increasing--not only from economic and regulatory pressure, but also from the pressure of new technologies, such as the so-called "SMAC" technologies (social, mobile, analytics, and cloud).  Yet IT leaders spend 80% of their budgets on "keeping the lights on," leaving only 20% for innovation. UNIT4 intends to help its customers transition from transaction-centric to people-centric systems.

    In my view, this message is good but it is not particularly distinctive. Most other enterprise software providers have adopted this story--not just newer providers, such as Salesforce.com and Workday but incumbent providers, such as SAP, Oracle, Infor, and Microsoft. Whether they actually accomplish that is another question--but the message is the same.

    Vertical Solutions May Be Differentiating

    UNIT4 Vertical MarketsWhen it comes to UNIT4's industry focus, however, I do see something that may be distinctive. Unlike many enterprise software providers that attempt to cover a broad range of markets, UNIT4 is distinctly focused on services businesses (including public sector), as shown in the schematic nearby.

    Notable, there are no manufacturing sectors in UNIT4's target verticals. ERP has its roots in the manufacturing industry, and that ground is fairly well covered by other providers. By focusing on less crowded verticals, UNIT4's growth strategy has a better chance of success. Some of the sectors--such as financial services, investment companies, travel management, housing authorities, real estate, and insurance companies--have many fewer competitors targeting them. On the other hand, some of the sectors, such as professional services, are targets for some of the newer cloud-only providers, including UNIT4's own FinancialForce investment.

    Overall, I am bullish on UNIT4's market focus. 

    Willingness to Buy or Partner instead of Build

    There is another piece that represents a change in UNIT4's product strategy, and that involves partners. To fill out its offerings for some industry sectors, there are some pieces that UNIT4 may not build directly. This is especially true when addressing sector-specific processes. Duarte didn't mention claims processing in the insurance industry, but I would suspect that might be a good example. In such cases, UNIT4 will be more willing in the future than it has in the past to partner for or even acquire complementary solutions.

    Private Ownership May Facilitate the Strategy

    In November, UNIT4 announced that it had been approached by private equity firm Advent International in a cash offer to buy all issued and outstanding shares of the company--effectively, to take UNIT4 private. Duarte more or less implied that this transaction, which UNIT4 had not solicited but nevertheless was recommending to its shareholders, was not directly related to its growth strategy, although the growth strategy was one of the things that made UNIT4 attractive to Advent.

    Whether related or unrelated, I find a potential departure from public ownership a positive step for UNIT4. Software vendors transitioning from on-premises license sales to cloud subscription revenue often face pressure on financial results as money that would have been collected up-front is now spread out over the subscription period. Taking away the need to report quarterly results gives UNIT4 breathing room to make the transition to cloud.

    Private ownership may also give UNIT4 more flexibility in making those niche acquisitions for complementary products that are essential for its target industry sectors, as they would be able to be completed more quickly than would be the case where public shareholders would need to be involved. 

    UNIT4 has already made substantial progress in its migration to the cloud, but that is only one of the transitions needed. Hopefully, under private ownership, UNIT4 will be able to fulfill all the elements of its new growth strategy.

    Update: Over at Diginomica, Phil Wainewright summarized his half day briefing with UNIT4 in a curiously titled post: Unit4 updates Agresso to SMAC the BLINCs  

    Related Posts

    Four ERP Providers on the Salesforce Platform

    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.


    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.


    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 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 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

    Thursday, July 11, 2013

    Microsoft Reorg: What Does It Mean for Dynamics?

    Dr. Qi Lu,
    Microsoft's Applications and
    Services Engineering Group
    CEO Steve Ballmer published a long-awaiting memo this morning announcing corporate-wide organizational changes at Microsoft.  Although the reorg includes changes across many Microsoft functions, what does it mean specifically for the Dynamics group, which is responsible for Microsoft's business applications?

    The changes for Dynamics appear minor, but there is much written between the lines.

    Ballmer wrote:
    Dynamics. Kirill Tatarinov will continue to run Dynamics as is, but his product leaders will dotted line report to Qi Lu, his marketing leader will dotted line report to Tami Reller and his sales leader will dotted line report to the COO group.
    There are two important implications in this short paragraph.
    1. Strategic role of Dynamics. The dotted line relationships with sales and marketing are a recognition of the connections that Dynamics makes outside the customer's IT organization. In the enterprise, apart from Dynamics, Microsoft sells at a fairly low level--at best to the CIO. The Dynamics group is the one part of Microsoft that gets into conversations with other members of the C-suite and with lines of business leaders. As the consumerization of IT continues, it is essential that Microsoft break out of the IT organization. With its enterprise applications, Dynamics represents and excellent opportunity for it to do so. 
    2. Dynamics representing Microsoft's ISV partners. The dotted line relationship with Qi Lu, the newly announced head of the Applications and Services Engineering Group, points to the opportunity to leverage other parts of Microsoft's portfolio in its Dynamics line of business applications. These include products such as Bing, Lync, Office 365, Sharepoint, Exchange, and Yammer, among others. All of these products are enterprise-focused and should be tightly integrated with the Dynamics applications. If Microsoft expects its ISV partners to make use of these technologies, Microsoft needs to set an example by doing so within its own Dynamics apps. The tighter relationship between Dynamics and Qi Lu's business unit indicates the strategic role that Dynamics plays as showcase for the use of the broader portfolio of Microsoft products. 
    Finally some have asked, do these dotted line relationships indicate a lack of confidence in the Dynamics group? The answer is no. If there were a lack of confidence, a corporate reorganization would be the perfect time to replace the leadership. Clearly, that didn't happen. These changes, rather, point to an elevated role for Dynamics within Microsoft.

    Related posts

    Microsoft Dynamics Move Up-Market: What’s Missing?
    Four Needs Pushing Microsoft Dynamics into Large Enterprises

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013

    Microsoft Dynamics Move Up-Market: What’s Missing?

    Microsoft Dynamics logo
    In December 2012, I wrote about four market forces that are pushing Microsoft Dynamics onto large enterprise turf. I also outlined several case studies in which Microsoft was having success with large multinational organizations. Now, more recently, I attended the Microsoft Dynamics annual user conference, Convergence, and had an opportunity to interview Microsoft executives and customers to see what further progress Microsoft was making in its move up-market.

    Bottom line: Microsoft has many of the necessary elements in place to continue its move into large enterprises, but it still needs to fill several major functional gaps in its product offerings.

    Continued Evidence of Success

    In recent years, Microsoft has had several implementations of its Dynamics AX and Dynamics CRM systems in large enterprises. These include Carrefour S.A, the world's second largest retailer, Nissan Motor Company, Shell Retail, and others.

    Now, at its Convergence conference, Microsoft highlighted two more large company success stories:
    • Dell Computer is the world's third largest PC manufacturer as well as a leading provider of a variety of IT products and services, with revenues of $57 billion. Dell is in process of consolidating its manufacturing ERP systems onto Microsoft Dynamics AX, with Oracle E-Business Suite continuing to run in headquarters and for certain corporate shared services.
    • Revlon is the well-known cosmetics company with worldwide revenues of nearly $1.5 billion. Revlon consolidated 21 ERP systems to a single instance of Microsoft Dynamics AX.
    Another key success factor for the large enterprise market is the ability to provide direct support. In this regard, Microsoft's reliance on its partner channel is often not sufficient for large companies. To address this need, Microsoft has been building up its Microsoft Services unit, which provides consulting and premier support not only for its Dynamics business applications but also for Microsoft's entire portfolio of offerings. The Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) Dynamics unit has reportedly doubled its headcount over the past year, and it can provide everything from high level program and partner management services to hardware support in conjunction with its large OEM partners, such as IBM and HP. For large customers, Microsoft can even take responsibility for service levels of the deployed applications.

    Three Major Functional Gaps

    These case studies, along with Microsoft's direct services capabilities, indicate that Microsoft has had some success in the large enterprise market. But are these exceptions, or are Microsoft's offerings mature enough to routinely take business away from the Tier I ERP and CRM players?

    The answer is, not yet. Microsoft as an organization has the global presence and the resources to do so, but the Dynamics business applications at present lack functionality in three critical areas. Until these are filled, Microsoft will be limited in the number of deals where it can be short listed against Oracle and SAP.
    1. Human Capital Management (HCM). Microsoft Dynamics AX today does have some HCM functionality for core HR, talent management, benefits administration, and employee/manager self-service. In addition, it does provide payroll for US and Russia. However, those who have studied this functionality do not view Microsoft's HCM offerings as competitive with SAP, Oracle, Workday, or other first tier HCM providers. In the SMB market, Microsoft could get away with these deficiencies, as many prospects either do not include HCM in their acquisition plans or are satisfied to work with a Dynamics partner for any gaps in functionality. In the large enterprise space, however, this is often not an acceptable strategy. This is especially true when the Microsoft partners for HCM are only regional players.
    2. Customer Service. The Dynamics team prides itself on the success of its Dynamics CRM offering, built from scratch to be a serious competitor to Salesforce.com, SAP, and Oracle. However, Dynamics CRM is not a full CRM offering. Its functionality is limited largely to sales force automation and now marketing automation (thanks to the 2012 acquisition of Marketing Pilot). Dynamics CRM lacks a full set of functionality for customer service and field service. So, when prospects are looking for a solution that gives them a 360-degree view of the customer—both new customers and existing customers, for both sales and for after-sales services—they quickly scratch Microsoft from their short lists. If they really want to go with Microsoft, they look to Microsoft partners to provide the needed functionality. Again, this approach may work for Microsoft's traditional SMB market—although even there, the lack of a customer service module is still a limitation.  But in large global enterprise deals with thousands of users, most prospects take a quick look at Microsoft and move on to more robust providers.
    3. Supply Chain Management (SCM). Microsoft Dynamics AX today only offers traditional material planning functionality, so-called MRP and MRP-II systems. There are no supply chain execution modules for warehouse management, transportation management, or logistics. Neither is there supply chain planning functionality for demand forecasting, sales and operations planning, constraint-based scheduling, supply chain optimization, or event management. Again, in the SMB market, many prospects are doing well if they can implement basic MRP, and those who need more are often happy to consider partner solutions. But in the large enterprise space, prospects often expect this functionality to be part of the core offering.
    Partner solutions work best when they address narrow industry needs—for example, law firm practice management from Lexis Nexus, or complex manufacturing functionality from Cincom. But for broad horizontal systems, such as HCM, customer service, and supply chain management, prospects expect the ERP or CRM system to be able to provide that functionality directly. Partner solutions at this point are simply a band aid.

    The good news is that Microsoft recognizes these deficiencies and intends to deal with them over the course of the next few years, although, for the most part, it is not giving out details publicly. The one area where Microsoft has indicated specific plans is in the supply chain area. Later this year, it intends to announce new capabilities for Dynamics AX for warehouse and transportation management, along with demand management. This is a good start. In the other two areas—HRMS and customer service—Microsoft executives only indicate that they realize these needs and intend to address them in future releases of Dynamics AX and Dynamics CRM.

    Priorities, Priorities

    The large company case studies illustrate that Microsoft Dynamics has an expanding presence in the large enterprise market. Nevertheless, it would be unusual to see Dynamics fully replace Oracle or SAP for customers in this space. That said, Microsoft still can be successful in the large enterprise space, if prospects see SAP and Oracle playing a restricted role: pushing them back into a corral to serve only their core financials and perhaps core HRMS needs. Outside of this corral, Microsoft Dynamics can then become the operational system platform for such organizations.

    If this is the case, the lack of HR functionality does not need to be an immediate impediment for further Microsoft progress up-market. Baring some major acquisition by Microsoft, it is unlikely that Microsoft Dynamics will have the richness of HCM functionality needed to displace SAP or Oracle in the HCM space. Any future Microsoft development in HCM will be more appealing to midsize organizations than to the large enterprise market.

    Likewise, Microsoft’s lack of supply chain functionality does not need to be a major impediment. Manufacturing, distribution, and retail prospects will still need to fill their SCM requirements with a third-party solution. Fortunately, there are good offerings from Microsoft partners for warehouse management and transportation management. Furthermore, even many SAP and Oracle customers look to best of breed solutions, such as E2Open and Kinaxis, for supply chain planning systems. So, the lack of Microsoft SCM offerings does not need to be a show stopper.

    The weakness of Microsoft’s customer service and field service features in the CRM product, however, is more problematic. When looking at CRM, most large enterprises want more than salesforce automation. Microsoft’s acquisition of Marketing Pilot for marketing automation fills one gap. A similar acquisition or internal development of after-sales service functionality is probably the most urgent need if Microsoft is to further succeed in the large enterprise market.

    A Fiercer Battle

    What could go wrong with Microsoft's up-market ambitions? First, SAP and Oracle are not going to let themselves be passively corralled within corporate headquarters. Both vendors have major programs to further develop and serve line of business system requirements: SAP with its acquisitions of SuccessFactors, Ariba, and its line of business cloud applications; Oracle with its Fusion Applications.

    Second, there are other providers that have the same up-market ambitions as Microsoft. For example, Infor, which is headed up by former Oracle co-President, Charles Phillips, fully intends to be a credible alternative to SAP and Oracle, and it already has a much broader footprint of applications than Microsoft has. Likewise, Workday from the very beginning took aim at the large enterprise market for HCM, financials, and operations management for services firms, and it is already a major thorn-in-the side for SAP and Oracle.

    Microsoft’s success in the large enterprise space, therefore, is not guaranteed. But its success so far is encouraging, and if it continues to fill out its functional footprint, it will become a strong contender.

    Postscript: Other analysts have good reporting on the Convergence conference. Esteban Kolsky's has a good post on Microsoft Dynamics CRM as well as a good video interview with Dennis Howlett.

    Update, April 4: I edited the paragraph on HCM, under the heading for "Three Major Functional Gaps." The original paragraph stated that Microsoft has no offering for HCM, which was not accurate. 

    Related Posts

    Four Needs Pushing Microsoft Dynamics into Large Enterprises

    Thursday, December 13, 2012

    Four Needs Pushing Microsoft Dynamics into Large Enterprises

    Early in November, I attended a series of analyst briefings offered by Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS), outside of Seattle. The briefings and interviews with MBS executives  provided an opportunity to catch up on where Microsoft is going with its Dynamics line of business applications. Coming away from the event, I was impressed with several overall trends that are encouraging Microsoft to move up-market, into territory that for many years has been dominated largely by SAP and Oracle.

    I recently developed these thoughts more fully in a new research report at Computer Economics, Microsoft Dynamics Stepping onto Enterprise Turf. This post provides a brief introduction.

    Evolving Market Solutions

    In the early 2000’s, Microsoft jumped into the business applications market by making acquisitions that brought Great Plains, Solomon, Navision and Axapta into its product portfolio. These products, aimed at small and midsized businesses, established the perception that Microsoft was aiming its business applications primarily at smaller companies. When it came to enterprise applications for global organizations, Microsoft was viewed as out of its league. Those were markets for players such as SAP, Oracle and other vendors with multinational capabilities.

    But the market landscape is changing. Over the past year, the Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) division has been demonstrating that it is capable of delivering two of its business applications—Microsoft Dynamics AX (the descendent of Axapta) and Microsoft Dynamics CRM—to large and multinational organizations. Moreover, Dynamics product enhancements now rolling out will accelerate this trend.

    Four Needs Encouraging the Up-Market Move

    There are at least four customer needs that create an opportunity for Microsoft to move up into larger enterprises, as shown in the figure nearby.
    • Multinational localizations, formerly a requirement only for large companies, are being are increasingly demanded even by small businesses.
    • The desire of organizations large and small to manage their people, facilities, and equipment as one global resource pool.
    • The continuing pursuit of improved productivity and tighter control, through worldwide business process consistency. 
    • The need of global organizations to have operating systems that are appropriate to serve the needs of both their large and small operating units.
    The MBS division continues, of course, to offer software that is aimed at small and midsized businesses (SMBs), those with single-site operations or with limited international presence. Microsoft reseller and systems integrator partners often introduce Dynamics NAV (formerly Navision), Dynamics GP (formerly Great Plains), and Dynamics SL (formerly Solomon) in these situations, sometimes in combination with Microsoft Dynamics CRM for customer relationship management.

    Nevertheless, larger enterprises can now take Microsoft Dynamics under consideration when selecting a vendor for its enterprise business applications. In the large company market, it is Dynamics AX along with Dynamics CRM that form the solution offering. Although MBS is seeing success with large organizations in several industries, the retail sector appears to be particularly receptive to Microsoft's move up-market.

    Although the Tier I ERP providers--SAP and Oracle--are well entrenched in the world's largest corporations, if Microsoft is able to compete effectively at this level, it will give enterprise buyers additional choice and options that they have not had in the past.

    My full report discusses in detail the four customer needs that are driving Microsoft Dynamics up-market and three ways in which Dynamics now has become capable of serving these large organizations. Challenges facing Microsoft in gaining market share among larger companies are also discussed. The report concludes with examples of customers that illustrate the move of Dynamics into the enterprise market and recommendations for large enterprise buyers who are considering Microsoft Dynamics.

    Related Posts

    Microsoft Dynamics ERP on Azure: What Are the Benefits
    What’s new with Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012

    Sunday, September 23, 2012

    SAP's Emerging Cloud Platform Strategy

    I participated last week in two days of SAP briefings with a group of about 15 bloggers. Part of the time was devoted to explaining SAP's evolving cloud strategy, which I will attempt to summarize in this post. 

    Keep in mind that what I'm sharing here is not SAP's own messaging around its cloud strategy. Rather, it is my interpretation of where SAP is going and what it needs to do to be successful.

    SAP Has a Proliferation of Cloud Assets

    Over the past few years, SAP has been at work rolling out a number of cloud services. The most well-known is Business ByDesign (ByD), a full-suite ERP system, written from the ground up for software-as-a-service (SaaS). This was an enormous development effort, and it went through two development iterations until 2011, when it was ready to scale in production. SAP now has over 1,000 customers running ByD.  

    Following initial delivery of ByD, SAP also began rolling out its line-of-business applications. These were built on the ByD cloud platform to meet the needs of specific business functions, such as sales force automation (Sales OnDemand) and expense reporting (Travel OnDemand). There are others, also.

    Then in 2011, SAP acquired SuccessFactors, a well-respected cloud-only HRMS vendor. This greatly increased SAP's stature as a SaaS provider, but it also added another set of cloud assets and executive leadership to the mix. Further adding to the complexity: SAP is in process of acquiring Ariba, the venerable provider of supplier networking services.

    From Cloud Applications to a Cloud Platform

    In my view, the current situation has led to a number of problems. First, SAP's cloud portfolio is largely a collection of unrelated systems, and several different cloud platforms. There has been no common architecture, and no integrated product roadmap.

    Second, the rest of SAP's product porfolio is not standing still. Specifically, SAP has been making large investments in its in-memory database technology (HANA), and it has acquired and developed an impressive array of mobility applications and mobility platforms. All of these products have cloud-delivery aspects. 

    Third, SAP lacks a single extensible cloud development environment. (ByD does have a PaaS capability, for partners only, but it is limited to ByD.) Customers and partners don't just want cloud apps, they want the ability to extend those apps and build new applications that can interoperate with them. In other words, they want PaaS (platform-as-a-service) in addition to SaaS.

    SAP's emerging cloud strategy addresses all of these issues: it embraces all of SAP's existing applications as well as its database and mobility platforms, and it gives customers and partners a development environment to build upon and extend these services.

    Here are key aspects of SAP's cloud strategy, as I see them:
    1. Everything as a Service. Behind the scenes, SAP has been rearchitecting its SaaS offerings to be delivered as web services. For example, it has broken up ByD functionality into 32 "honeycombs," so that no two of them share a common database. Rather they communicate via messaging. SAP has taken the same approach with its line-of-business applications.  In fact, all of SAP cloud applications will be deployed as web services, including its mobility and database offerings. I have to believe this also includes SuccessFactors. SAP will now be able to sell individual modules (e.g. Finance), or a complete suite, or combinations in between.
    2. Platform-as-a-Service. SAP has built a PaaS capability, now referred to as the SAP Netweaver Cloud (earlier code-names included JPass, Neo, and Project River.) It is intended as a multi-language/multi-framework platform. It is primarily a Java-platform, but its open nature also allows development in a variety of other languages, such as Spring and Ruby. Furthermore, it allows developers to access all of the SAP cloud applications, database services, and mobility services that are now accessible via web services (see point #1).  It even allows applications to access SAP on-premises systems such as SAP ECC, CRM, and HCM. Conceivably, therefore, the Netweaver Cloud could be used for customizations/extensions of SAP on-premises systems that have been traditionally done with ABAP coding.
    3. Ecosystem. The SAP Netweaver Cloud can be used internally by customers or their system integrators, and it also can be also used by third-party developers to build new applications for sale on the SAP Store. This facilitates the growth of SAP's developer ecosystem.
    The Netweaver Cloud runs in SAP's own data centers (including those gained through the acquisition of SuccessFactors). There are a number of other features, such as identity services and document services, which I won't go into in this post.

    The Pluses and the Minuses

    There are several things I like about SAP's emerging cloud strategy.
    1. Integration. SAP's is finally integrating all of its cloud assets into a single platform. If successful, nearly anything SAP delivers should be available and accessible through Netweaver Cloud.
    2. Openness. Netweaver Cloud does not use a proprietary language, like Salesforce.com's APEX. Use of public development languages, such as Java and Ruby, facilitates adoption by developers and also works against lock-in to a single platform. Likewise, the PaaS makes use of open source projects from Apache and Eclipse, which should further facilitate adoption by developers. 
    3. Availability. Netweaver Cloud has already been released to customers, and it is scheduled for general availability at the end of this month. A free 90 day trial is already being offered. This puts SAP out ahead of Oracle, whose Oracle Public Cloud is still in controlled availability (though hopefully there will be announcements at Oracle's Open World conference next month).  
    On the other hand, there are some aspects that give me concern.
    1. Will Customers Understand It? The cloud-only providers have one great advantage: simplicity. Everything Salesforce.com builds is on its Force.com platform. Likewise, enterprise cloud leaders such as NetSuite and Workday grew up with single platforms. Their platforms are relatively easy to explain and easy to understand. SAP, on the other hand, has a variety of on-premises and cloud systems. Furthermore, it has built or acquired a variety of database products and mobility applications and platforms. The SAP cloud platform must now deal with all of these products. It's not easy to explain, as witnessed by the difficulty SAP's own team had in communicating it with our group of tech bloggers. If the bloggers struggle with understanding it, what hope does SAP have to make the message clear to customers or prospects?
    2. Will Developers Adopt It? Developers are a key to success in cloud systems, just as they are in mobility applications. Salesforce.com already has a large and enthusiastic ecosystem of developers for its Force.com platform. Microsoft has an enormous ecosystem of development partners, for whom Microsoft's cloud platform (Azure) is more-or-less an incremental step in using existing Microsoft development tools. Will SAP's current population of partners readily embrace Netweaver Cloud, or will they be content to continue development in the SAP tools they have been using for years? 
    3. Is SAP Too Late? Salesforce.com's PaaS was first introduced in 2006 (I wrote about it at the time, here). NetSuite has had CloudSuite for years. Microsoft has already rolled out and continues to refine its Azure PaaS. SAP is only now rolling out Netweaver Cloud. Though SAP denies this, I do believe that its cloud development efforts in recent years have taken a back seat to its database and mobility development efforts. So now, SAP is playing catch-up. SAP has a lot of work to do to be perceived as a cloud leader.
    Regarding that last point, on the other hand, my research at Computer Economics shows that PaaS is a technology that is still in the early adopter phase. Most organizations are still buying individual SaaS applications and have not yet made a strategic commitment to cloud computing as a platform. They have hybrid systems: some on-premises, and some in the cloud. Of course, there are exceptions: these are the early adopters that embrace cloud computing not only for SaaS applications but for PaaS as a development strategy. Nevertheless, the majority have not yet seen the vision. Therefore, if SAP can quickly make its cloud strategy clear and deliver working product, it may still have a shot at being a major player.

    Here are some reports from other bloggers who were at this event:
    Disclosure: SAP paid for part of my travel expenses to this event. 

    Related Posts

    SAP in Transition on Mobile, Cloud, and In-Memory Computing
    SAP innovating with cloud, mobile and in-memory computing
    Salesforce.com to allow customization of its hosted service 

    Saturday, May 12, 2012

    Making Sense of the New Epicor

    Epicor held its annual Insights user conference this week in Las Vegas. This was the first gathering for customers of both Epicor and Activant since the two firms merged last year. As such, it was a good opportunity for the firm's executives to introduce what they are calling the "New Epicor" to 4000 conference attendees.

    Three Elements of Strategy

    Although Epicor made many announcements, in this blog post I prefer to focus on three elements of Epicor's strategy, along with my point of view. 
    1. Blending of Two Cultures. CEO Pervez Qureshi and other presenters made a point of emphasizing the new Epicor as a blending of the best of "heritage Epicor" and "heritage Activant." (In the enterprise IT world, the word heritage is preferred to legacy.) Qureshi characterized heritage Epicor as having been a global company, technology-oriented, entrepreneurial, and top-line focused. Heritage Activant, he said, was oriented more toward service, process excellence, and profitability. The new Epicor blends the best of these two cultures, he claimed.
    2. Protect, Extend, Converge. The second element is Epicor's strategy and vision to protect, extend, and converge the product portfolio. "Protect" means to continue investment in the current products in its portfolio. "Extend" means to introduce new applications and infrastructure capabilities that deliver additional value across current products. Finally, "converge" implies a gradual evolution of current products with new technologies.
    3. Azure as the Cloud Platform. The third element is Epicor's evolving cloud strategy. Prior to the conference, Epicor's cloud strategy was limited to a small business cloud version of its Epicor ERP product ("Epicor Express") along with some hosted solutions for functions such as HCM and retail merchandising. However, the strategic direction announced at Insights went much further. Wading through the dense language of the press release, I see the Azure announcement as having three sub-parts: (a) Epicor will allow its Epicor ERP product to be deployed on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform, planned for Q3, 2013, (b) Epicor will also use Azure to provide interoperability between on-premises Epicor systems and Epicor point solutions deployed on Azure. (c) A new version of Epicor's SOA middleware ("ICE") will also be deployed on Azure to provide a PaaS offering, facilitate mobility apps, and satisfy other integration needs between Epicor and third-party products.
    Epicor executives were upbeat in presenting these and other elements of the new Epicor. But how differentiated is Epicor's strategy, and what does it mean for Epicor customers? Here's my take.

    The Azure Strategy is a Winner

    Taking these three elements in reverse sequence: although I do not see the Azure strategy as unique, I do see it as attractive. In fact, it is more attractive because it is not unique.  Epicor is at least the fourth major enterprise software vendor in the past three months that has announced plans to deploy ERP in the Azure cloud. The first, of course, is Microsoft Dynamics, which in March announced its plans to deploy Dynamics GP and Dynamics NAV on Azure by the end of 2012.Then, earlier this month, Sage announced similar plans. And now, Epicor.

    I have no doubt that others will follow, making Microsoft Azure a first choice for delivery of cloud-based enterprise applications. I have long felt that, just as on-premises database management systems have been standardized on just a few popular products, so also cloud platforms should be standardized. By way of analogy, very few on-premises vendors today write their own DBMSs, with Oracle being the exception that makes the rule. Why then should SaaS providers build their own cloud infrastructure? Salesforce.com did it. NetSuite did it. Workday did it. But how many more can or should roll their own IaaS and PaaS platforms? There is a tremendous amount of cost and effort involved in doing so, not to mention the economies of scale that can only be realized by having thousands of customers. Epicor, Sage, and others are making the right choice by building on an established public cloud infrastructure provider.

    Why didn't this happen earlier? Essentially, because Azure (specifically, SQL Azure database capabilities) has not been robust enough to support ERP-class applications. But in speaking with Microsoft earlier this year, it appears that these limitations are now being overcome, which explains why Microsoft Dynamics, Sage, and Epicor are all moving to Azure at about the same time.

    There is one more advantage to the Azure strategy. The current Epicor Express offering is limited to customers with under 20 users. I do not believe Epicor's current infrastructure architecture allows customers to scale beyond that point in a multi-tenant environment. Moving to Azure frees Epicor from that limitation, allowing it to sell cloud ERP to larger customers, though I suspect in practice it will still be most attractive to small and midsize businesses.

    Finally, moving to Azure immediately allows Epicor to offer cloud ERP in a number of geographies where it does not have partner data centers. Epicor ERP has good international capabilities. Now customers in international locations will also be able to choose cloud deployment in their own geographies to meet regulatory or performance requirements.

    Strategy of "Protect, Extend, Converge" Is a No-Brainer

    The protect/extend/converge message has two things going for it: it's easy to remember and and it's customer-friendly. It also happens to be the only product strategy that makes any sense for a vendor such as Epicor. Epicor's growth strategy, like Infor's and Oracle's, has been to acquire or roll up a number of smaller vendors to build a large customer base with a diverse portfolio of products. The benefits of such a strategy is clear: growth. The downside of such a strategy is the diverse portfolio. But with a certain level of attention paid to customer support, the large number of existing customers will continue to pay maintenance revenues (the mother's milk of enterprise software) and will also be candidates for cross-selling other Epicor products.

    It is interesting, therefore, to compare Epicor to Oracle and Infor and to see the similarities. All three have large customer bases. All three have diverse portfolios. All three have some sort of middleware offering to connect all the solutions: Oracle has Fusion middleware, Infor has ION, and Epicor has ICE. All three have customer programs to "protect" existing customer investments: Oracle has its "Applications Unlimited" program, Infor made its promise to "never sunset" a product, and Epicor has its strategy of "protect." Likewise, all have their strategies to "extend," such as Oracle with its continued point releases of J.D. Edwards, PeopleSoft, Siebel and others; and Infor, with its continued investments in its portfolio. Finally, all have some sort of convergence strategy, such as Oracle with its Fusion Applications, Infor with its development of ION, common user interface, and other common functions.

    In other words, Epicor's strategy is the only rational way to deal with a large and diverse installed base built through acquisition. Qureshi's plan to continue aggressively with new acquisitions means that successfully protecting, extending, and converging its product portfolio will become even more important.

    The Culture Message Has a Subtext

    I found Qureshi's keynote regarding the blending of the Activant and Epicor cultures to be interesting, if not unusual for a customer conference. It would be the sort of thing one would expect to be presented internally, in an "all hands" meeting, for employee consumption. Delivering this message to customers, however, also sends an implicit message: heritage Epicor needed  improvement in product quality and customer service.

    Perhaps this subtext is so well understood by the majority of Epicor customers that there was little risk in sending this message.  Still, if Activant's strength--in contrast with Epicor's--was (among other things) process excellence and customer service, what does that say about heritage Epicor?

    It didn't end with the keynote. Later in the day, there was a session on the product roadmap for Epicor ERP. The presenters were proud of reports from early adopters of the most recent point release (ERP 9.05.700). But in touting the quality of the release, they were, in effect, reminding Epicor customers of their past experiences. One customer quote was damning with faint praise, referring to the new version as:
    A more solid product than we've seen before.

    If my wife makes me a nice dinner, the last thing I would tell her is, "This is a more delicious dinner than you've made me in the past."

    But, if Epicor customers are all-too-familiar with product quality and service delivery problems in the past, perhaps Qureshi's approach is best: to tacitly acknowledge the problem. Key executives in the new Epicor come from Activant, starting with Pervez Quereshi (CEO), Kevin Roach (EVP and GM, ERP Americas), and Paul Salsigiver (EVP and GM, Retail), sending the message that Activant's focus on software quality and service delivery processes will prevail in the new Epicor.

    My question, however, is this: are customers seeing an actual improvement in Epicor's product quality and customer service? Or, is it too early to tell?

    I invite Epicor customers and partners to send me an email, or leave a comment on this post. As always, confidentiality is assured.

    Related Posts

    Microsoft Dynamics ERP on Azure: What Are the Benefits?
    Infor’s Two-Pronged Cloud Strategy

    Tuesday, March 27, 2012

    Microsoft Dynamics ERP on Azure: What Are the Benefits?

    Last week I attended Microsoft’s annual Convergence conference, for users and partners of its Dynamics line of enterprise applications. The back-to-back briefings were a great opportunity to get an update on where Microsoft is going with enterprise applications.

    But the big news from my perspective is that by the end of 2012, two of Microsoft's ERP products, GP and NAV, will be available on Microsoft's Azure cloud.

    Click on the video interview at the right for my initial thoughts, which I am expanding upon in this post.

    Azure Complements Existing Hosted Offerings

    Microsoft customers have always been able to deploy NAV (formerly, Navision) and GP (formerly, Great Plains) on-premises. In addition, some customers have chosen in the past to have Microsoft partners host their systems in partner data centers. MyGPCloud is one of the largest such partners, hosting GP for thousands of small business customers. Likewise, Tribridge offers similar hosting services for all Dynamics ERP products.

    Now, Microsoft is offering customers the option to deploy their GP or NAV systems on Microsoft's Azure cloud, which runs in Microsoft data centers. This offering will not replace partner hosting but simply will be another deployment option for customers.

    Through back channels, I've heard some partners express uncertainty about this new development. Is Microsoft attempting to go direct with customers? How will the partners make money? During the session, Microsoft executives made clear that, under Azure deployment, partners will still maintain the customer relationship and deliver the services for implementation and ongoing support. The only difference is that with the Azure deployment option partners will be relieved from the need to maintain data center infrastructure.

    What Are the Benefits?

    Over the past two years, I've been one of those encouraging the Dynamics team to go faster in moving to Azure, as cloud ERP is already available from competitors. But now that Microsoft is on the verge of actually doing it, I wanted to know, what are the benefits? Specifically, if customers can already have these systems hosted by a Microsoft partner--and if Microsoft will still work through partners in selling and supporting systems deployed on Azure--what are the added benefits of Azure?

    I asked this question a year ago at Convergence and, frankly, the answers were not that clear. After asking this same question in several briefings this year, and adding my own analysis, I think the benefits picture is now emerging.
    • Azure deployment is cheaper than hosting. Azure is a true elastic cloud platform, with data center economies of scale that traditional hosting cannot come close to matching. This should allow Microsoft to price these services at a lower cost than what partners can offer.
    • Azure deployment scales beyond partner hosting. As a true cloud platform, Azure deployments can scale instantly beyond what partner hosting can offer. Hosted ERP relies upon dedicated resources, which must be planned and expanded manually to meet changing customer requirements. With Azure, customers will never exhaust the resources available.
    • Azure supports worldwide deployments better than partner hosting does. Microsoft runs Azure data centers worldwide and can move customer systems and data between them as needed. Hosting partners do not have this capability, unless they are utilizing a true cloud IaaS, such as Amazon's EC2. The move to Azure is therefore a better choice for organizations that are running separate instances in different parts of the world.
    • Azure deployment provides easier version upgrades. With partner hosting, upgrades and maintenance are handled more or less as they are with on-premises software: each customer is treated separately (though I suspect some partners are more organized about this than others). With Azure deployment, Microsoft will have a more disciplined approach to application management: rolling out new versions, upgrades, and patches to its customers, similar to what it does today with Microsoft CRM (even though, as I point out in the interview, CRM is not yet an Azure service).
    • Azure deployment is provided directly by Microsoft. Most new prospects will have a higher level of comfort with cloud services provided directly by Microsoft and backed by the Microsoft brand and service level guarantees. Hosting is often delivered by service providers who are relatively unknown. The direct Microsoft relationship is also simpler and easier to explain. The software comes from Microsoft and the cloud services are delivered directly by Microsoft.
    It is also important to point out at least one advantage of Azure deployment over partner hosting that Microsoft is not claiming--that is, that Azure deployment provides the ability to inter-operate with other Azure services, such as Office 365 or other future Azure data services (some of which I was briefed on). Microsoft has made a big deal about its vision of the so-called "hybrid cloud," meaning that customers will be able to move selected "workloads" to Azure while keeping other workloads on-premises or in partner-hosted data centers. Therefore, if I want to inter-operate Microsoft's Office 365 with my NAV system, it should not make any difference if my NAV instance is on-premises, in a partner data center, or on the Azure cloud.

    Optimizing Azure as a Cloud Platform

    I am struck by the fact that I've had to piece together this value proposition for Azure ERP myself, lobbing softball questions to Microsoft executives, parsing their answers, and adding my own analysis. If Microsoft itself is not prepared to articulate the value proposition of Azure ERP, how can it expect that its customers or its partners will perceive it?

    Therefore, I do not envision customers and prospects staging a mad rush to Azure. As I said in the interview linked above, what if Dynamics throws an party and no one shows up?

    Nevertheless, from a strategic perspective, I do believe that moving to Azure is the right thing for Dynamics. Mike Ehrenberg, one of only a handful of Microsoft Technical Fellows, told us an interesting story. He said that when they first spoke with CEO Steve Ballmer about moving Dynamics ERP to the cloud they told him that they could do it in one of two ways:
    1. The quick way: hosting it in Microsoft data centers in a highly virtualized environment, as they had done with Microsoft CRM, or
    2. The strategic way: working with the Azure team to optimize the Azure capabilities needed to support true scalable enterprise business applications, such as SQL Azure, until it could support Dynamics ERP.
    Mike reported that Ballmer thought for about two seconds before choosing the second option. He likened it to Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office, years ago. It took the requirements of Office as a set of user applications to make Windows "become better" as a PC platform. Likewise, it would take Dynamics as a set of enterprise applications to make Azure become better as a cloud platform.

    The problem, of course, is that it's taking much longer to develop Azure as a enterprise-class platform. In the meantime, competitors such as NetSuite, Workday, SAP, Plex, and others have already become established as cloud ERP providers and have gained market share in this emerging market. Nevertheless, Microsoft entering this market later this year is a welcome development that will mean an increasing number of choices for buyers.

    Postscript: watch for Part 1 of my market overview of cloud ERP over the next few weeks.

    Saturday, March 24, 2012

    Tech Vendors: Not All Bad, Not All Good

    There’s something I’ve noticed over the years that bothers me. That is, the tendency for industry observers to take unqualified positions for or against certain technology vendors. My feeling about this runs deep, so, hopefully, this post will help others understand why I sometimes react the way I do in my comments on public forums such as Twitter and blog comments.

    No technology vendor is 100% “good”—there is always at least something that is not so good. Likewise, no vendor is 100% “bad”—there are always positive attributes. But with some commentators, certain vendors can do no wrong and other vendors can’t do anything right.

    If you are someone who always rises up to defend certain vendors, it makes me question your objectivity. This is especially true if you have some sort of commercial relationship with that vendor, whether it is advisory work you have done for them in the past, former employment, or some other connection. But in other cases, even without any commercial relationship, it appears some simply have favorites.

    Likewise, if when you hear a positive report about a vendor, you cannot help but criticize, I also question your objectivity. I’ve said in the past, if you can’t say something bad about a vendor, don’t say anything at all.

    Now let’s get specific and look at some examples of what I mean.


    Apple is at the top of its game these days, and nowhere is there more unabashed enthusiasm. By market capitalization, Apple is now not only the largest technology vendor: it is now the largest company in the world. Over the past several years, Apple has disrupted entire markets (e.g. music and smartphones) and it has created entirely new ones (e.g. tablet computers). It popularized the concept of an “App Store,” which now everyone is imitating.

    It wasn’t always like this. Many of Apple’s most devoted fans are too young to remember a time when Apple nearly failed. It fired Steve Jobs and many were calling for Apple to license its Macintosh operating system to other computer makers—in other words, to imitate Microsoft. Thankfully, Jobs came back, and Jobs had his own ideas. Today, 16 years later, Apple is going from strength to strength. I admire Apple.

    So, can Apple do no wrong? Just consider Apple’s business practices that at least border on, if not cross over into, unfair competition. For example:
    Just substitute the name Microsoft for Apple in the above bullets and imagine the media reaction. But because Apple is “cool,” Apple gets a pass.


    Microsoft is the technology firm that many observers still love to hate. Years ago, with a near-monopoly in desktop operating systems, Microsoft faced relentless attacks from media, governments, and competitors. Apple’s desktop market share remained tiny, except in a few markets, such as education and graphic arts. Linux showed promise, but never gained traction as a desktop OS.

    Microsoft still has a dominant (though less so) position in desktop PCs. Its developer tools are widely adopted, and its position in the data center continues to grow. It’s also had success with its game platform. But in the biggest growth markets—mobile and cloud applications—Microsoft lags industry leaders, such as Apple and Google. In other words, Microsoft continues to hold a dominant position in slow growth markets. The Microsoft haters see it as justice served.

    I am neither a Microsoft lover nor a Microsoft hater. In my view, Microsoft Windows and Office are bloated and difficult to use (one close family member still doesn’t understand the right mouse button). Windows 8 doesn’t look to be an improvement either.

    On the other hand, I feel some of the criticism that Microsoft receives today is undeserved. Merely mentioning Microsoft to some analysts provokes a visceral response, almost revulsion. Yet, in some respects, Microsoft is starting to become the “good guy.” In terms of privacy, I am much more comfortable using Microsoft’s Bing search engine than I am in using Google, who I fear is building a personal dossier on me. Microsoft’s Dynamics line of enterprise systems have good functionality and user adoption.

    So, with Microsoft, I see some “bad,” but I also see some “good.”


    SAP is a vendor that many in the enterprise software market love to hate, and I stand as second-to-none in terms of my criticism of SAP. Go to my blog, The Enterprise System Spectator, and do a search in the right hand column on SAP. To save you some time, here are some examples: my mocking of SAP for whining about price cuts; my post after post after post criticizing SAP's maintenance fees; and my hammering of SAP for fighting third-party maintenance at the same time it was offering 3PM to Oracle customers.

    So, is SAP all “bad?” Certainly not. I have interviewed SAP top executives, its CEOs, and some of its board members. I can say, without a doubt, that SAP’s leaders care about its customers and that they struggle to find new and better ways to improve business value. They recognize that the TCO of their Business Suite is too high. They know that cloud providers such as Workday and Salesforce.com are eating their lunch. They also recognize that mobility apps are essential and are trying to turn the ship to provide better support for small developers. Finally, they used a skunk-works approach to develop an in-memory computing technology (HANA) that could potentially disrupt the relational database market and transform many business applications.

    Will SAP be successful on any of these initiatives? Who knows? But with the largest installed base of any enterprise system provider, I hope for the best—not for the sake of SAP or its shareholders—but for the sake of SAP’s customers.


    Here’s a vendor that is hard to love but deserves respect. Once again, I stand second-to-none in my criticism of Oracle. Over the years, I’ve written about Oracle's excessive margins on software maintenance; the unhappiness of its installed base; its penchant for creating fear, uncertainty, and doubt; its mockery of its competitors; and its lack of openness.

    On the other hand, Larry Ellison is a visionary. He had the foresight to be a large early investor in Salesforce.com and NetSuite long before cloud computing was fashionable. Apparently he knew he was better off making those investments in start-ups rather than trying to develop cloud applications within Oracle, where they would likely lack focus.

    Furthermore, around the turn of the century Ellison saw that the enterprise software marketplace was fragmented and overdue for consolidation. Then, he acted on that insight and took advantage of it. I predicted that Oracle’s bid for PeopleSoft would fail, but I was wrong.

    In terms of execution, Oracle is nearly flawless. I might mock co-CEO Safra Katz's comments on conference calls, but I have heard Oracle employees praise her ability to get things done.

    Finally, on the technology front, I personally know individuals working in Oracle product management. They are some of the smartest people I know, and they are going deep into certain industry sectors. Oracle’s latest product, Fusion, might just be the last great new on-premise enterprise system ever to be developed. From the little bit I’ve seen of it, the user interface is outstanding and the embedded collaboration and business intelligence capabilities are noteworthy. I also like what I hear about Oracle’s public cloud initiative, although I’m waiting to see how it plays out in terms of pricing, terms, and conditions.

    Cloud Vendors

    Now we come, not to one vendor, but to a whole category: cloud providers. I am a huge proponent of cloud computing. In 2006, I wrote a report for Computer Economics on the business case for software as a service, and in 2009 I wrote of the inexorable dominance of cloud computing.

    But as I’ve said in the past, “You don’t get a pass, just because you’re SaaS.” The technology is one thing, but the vendor’s behavior is another. Yet, some industry analysts cannot seem to bring themselves to criticize certain cloud vendors. Why not? When vendors misbehave, do they not deserve to be called out, or is cloud a get-out-of-jail-free card? Many of the executive leaders at NetSuite and Salesforce.com came out of Oracle. Do you think that background and experience have any influence on how they do business in their current positions? If you can criticize Larry Ellison for unfairly bashing the competition but you can’t criticize Marc Benioff for doing the same thing, then I have to question your objectivity.

    This is by no means a complete list. I could go on with IBM, HP, Amazon, Infor, and many others. None are all good, and none are all bad.

    Let's Be Fair

    In some ways, the situation is like our political scene. Over the years, political discourse in the US and in other parts of the world has gotten more and more polarized. A political leader from “our side” must be defended from all attacks. Likewise, a public official from the other side of the aisle can never do anything right. What matters is not what is said, but who said it. This is wrong. It shouldn’t be this way in political discourse, and it shouldn’t be this way among industry observers.

    Now, I accept that a vendor’s own employees and business partners may take strong unqualified positions, especially those in a sales, marketing, or top management role. But I don’t think it’s appropriate for those of us that advise technology buyers to be uncritical fans or relentless critics.

    This doesn’t mean that when it comes to specific situations we shouldn’t take a position. Buyers do need us to say, “For this particular need, this vendor is good and that vendor is not good.” We have to make the tough calls. There have even been times where, because of problems with certain vendors, that I have refused to consider them in any new deals. But I try not to become hardened in my viewpoint. I try to always hope for improvement.

    We all have our biases, including me. But can we all make an effort to recognize them and try to be fair?
  • 下载千亿app