Enterprise System Spectator blog: ERP and enterprise system vendor evaluation, selection, and implementation.

The Enterprise System Spectator

Saturday, November 01, 2014

The Maturing of ERP on the Salesforce Platform

Salesforce.com held its monster user conference, Dreamforce, last month in San Francisco, and there were plenty of new announcements. For example:
  • A new analytics cloud, dubbed Wave, which fills out Salesforce.com's offerings to include native business intelligence and analytical capabilities
     
  • A new version of the Salesforce1 platform, Lightning, for developing mobile apps
     
  • An expanded partnership with Microsoft for Windows mobile devices and new integrations with Microsoft Office, Office 365, Power BI, and Excel
But Dreamforce is not just about Salesforce. It's about the Salesforce ecosystem—hundreds of partners building complementary and in many cases completely independent solutions on the Salesforce platform.

For those that follow ERP, this post outlines the latest developments with four ERP providers building on the Salesforce platform: Kenandy, FinancialForce, Rootstock, and AscentERP along with my takeaways from each of them. I'll end with one small caveat for buyers.

Kenandy Goes Up-Market

I first wrote about Kenandy after its introduction on stage at Dreamforce in 2011, and I’ve kept in touch with its management team for regular updates. The big news this year is the success Kenandy has had in selling into large companies.

Exhibit 1 in Kenandy’s march up-market is Big Heart Pet Brands, a distributor of pet food and pet supplies, which was formed by the carve-out of the pet food business from Del Monte Foods earlier this year. Milk Bone, Kibbles, Gravy Train, and 9Lives, are just a few of its well-known brands.

I had an opportunity to interview Dave McLain, the firm’s CIO, who made it clear that this is no two-tier ERP configuration. Apart from a handful of point solutions and an on-premises warehouse management system (Red Prairie), a single instance of Kenandy will be providing all ERP functionality when fully rolled out. With $2 billion in annual revenue, this may well be the largest company running a cloud-only system as its only ERP system.

(If readers have heard of a larger example, please let me know--but before responding, please reread the preceding sentence slowly and note the words “cloud only.”)

Why would McLain trust a young vendor such as Kenandy with such a tall order? First, McLain was attracted to the Salesforce platform and its promise of rapid development. In other words, he was sold on the platform and then looked for an ERP provider that was leveraging it. In my view, it helps that McClain is not your typical CIO. He’s worked in the enterprise software industry, with stints at Aspect Development, back around the turn of the century, and at i2. He is not only comfortable working with a young vendor, but he viewed Kenandy’s youth as an advantage, as he felt he would have more influence over the product roadmap. So far, he’s happy with his choice.

Big Heart Pet Brands is only the first and most visible example of Kenandy’s move into larger companies. In a briefing, Kenandy executives shared with me several large deals they have in implementation and several that are in the pipeline. Although the names are still confidential, they are large and in some cases very large, well-known, global companies.

One point that may keep SAP executives awake at night: some of these prospects are reportedly approaching Kenandy because of a determination to halt further implementation of SAP’s Business Suite in new regions of the world.

My takeaway from Kenandy is that cloud ERP is not just for small and midsize businesses.

FinancialForce Goes Deeper

FinancialForce is another young ERP vendor, founded in 2009 as a joint venture between UNIT4 and Salesforce (UNIT4 is the majority shareholder). I wrote about FinancialForce last year and commented on its acquisition of Vana Workforce and Less Software. These acquisitions expanded FinancialForce from financial systems and professional services automation into HR systems, order processing, inventory control, cost accounting, and functionality for product-based businesses.

This year, in a briefing with FinancialForce executives, I heard about the firm’s work to embed HR activities within operational transactions. Users can give other employees feedback on their performance right within the context of a project in the professional services system, for example. The feedback is then recorded in the HR system so that employee performance data is gathered throughout the year instead of during an annual performance review only. FinancialForce refers to this approach as “Everyday HCM.”

The firm also reports good uptake of the “supply chain management (SCM)” capabilities that it acquired from Less Software, tripling its number of customers for this functionality. As I pointed out last year, the term supply chain management is something of a misnomer. There is no real warehouse management, transportation management, or supply chain planning. Rather, SCM in this context really refers to the detailed tracking of physical and intangible products from supplier, through inventory, to customers.

This can best be seen with the large percentage of deals that Less Software, and now FinancialForce, have done with VARs, resellers, and other tech industry channel partners. FinancialForce can now track and process OEM rebates (a long-standing practice in channel businesses). Product costing allows costs to be accumulated by serial number (specific identification) and can include landed cost (i.e. allocated inbound freight cost). This is a huge need for solution providers that import OEM products. Filling out the needs of today’s channel partners, FinancialForce also has a full professional services automation system, and it supports subscription billing along with management of recurring revenue.

These are not trivial product features. It is a testimony to the rapid development capabilities of the Salesforce platform that FinancialForce has been able to build out these features in such a short time.

Like Kenandy, FinancialForce is also getting into larger deals, although the names are not yet public.

My takeaway from FinancialForce is that in some cases the functionality of these young cloud-only vendors now rivals that of the traditional vendors.

Rootstock Expanding Its Footprint and Presence

The founders of Rootstock have the advantage of having developed a cloud ERP system twice. The firm first developed its manufacturing system in 2008 on the NetSuite platform. In 2010, however, Rootstock disengaged from this partnership and rewrote its ERP system on the Salesforce platform. As a result of the replatforming, Rootstock developed its own customer order management product and partnered with FinancialForce for its accounting systems.

Rootstock scales well to larger companies. It claims to be the largest system on the Salesforce.com platform in terms of the number of objects,pushing the boundaries of what the platform can do. All Salesforce partners, of course, benefit from the scale-out capabilities that Salesforce is building into the platform.

In terms of functionality, Rootstock has good capabilities 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. It also announced this year the development of a product configurator, a module where most cloud ERP systems are still relying on third-party solutions.

The build out of functionality is making Rootstock more attractive to larger companies as well as the midsize organizations it has appealed to in the past. In a briefing with Rootstock senior leadership, they pointed to their win at CSG, a provider of print and managed services, and enterprise solutions in Australia and New Zealand. In New Zealand, it is the exclusive distributor for Konica Minolta. When fully deployed, Rootstock will be serving “hundreds” of users at CSG.

Other wins this year include Northeast Lantern, a maker of high quality brass and copper lighting fixtures; Wilshire Coin Mints, a retailer and wholesale distributor of coins for collectors and investors; Proveris Scientific, a manufacturer of test instrumentation for the pharmaceutical industry; Pioneer Motor Bearing, a maker of high performance industrial bearings; Pacer Group, a wire and electrical cable manufacturer; Plumb Sign, a job shop producing signage for businesses across the US; and Oberfield Architectural Precast, a manufacturer of precast concrete and other custom-built precast products.

In another development, Rootstock added some muscle to its advisory board this year with the addition of Jan Baan, the former founder and CEO of Baan Software, Jim Bensman, former president of SAP North America, Bill Happel, former VP of General Motors, and Lee Wylie, former CIO of Gartner.

My takeaway from Rootstock is similar to that for FinancialForce: the functionality gap in some areas is closing between the cloud-only ERP providers and traditional vendors.

AscentERP Raises Its Profile

I was not able to meet with AscentERP during Dreamforce, so I arranged a call after the show with Shaun McInerney, its co-founder and President. McInerney was positively excited about his firm’s latest developments:
  • The launch of Ascent Rental, a native Force.com application for companies that rent or loan out equipment. He’s already seeing interest from current customers in the construction industries. Event organizers and medical equipment rental businesses are also targets.
     
  • An iTunes app that turns Apple iOS devices (iPod Touch 5th Gen, iPhone 5, and iPad Mini) into true high-speed bar code scanners, through use of a scanner sled available from Honeywell. This plays well with AscentERP’s roots in warehouse data collection and is a key element in the case study I highlight below.
     
  • Integration with Magento for e-commerce, allowing customers to take orders from the web, fulfill them and push shipment information back to customers. McInerney claims over 15 customers already for this functionality, which was only launched two or three months before Dreamforce.

McInerney reports an increase in new opportunities coming from Salesforce, with about half from outside the US. The system supports multiple currencies and base languages of English and Chinese. Like the other three vendors outlined in this post, AscentERP is also seeing its share of larger deals, which includes several in the range of 200 users, a jump from its typical user count in the past.

In my opinion, AscentERP gets the award for the most inspiring customer story. It put together a short video about its client Bosma Industries, a $55 million non-profit distributor of medical supplies, which also happens to be Indiana’s largest employer of people who are blind or have vision loss. AscentERP worked with Bosma to customize its system and to make it fully accessible to Bosma’s visually impaired workforce. This is where that iTunes app for warehouse data collection comes into play.

The best quote is from Bosma’s Adam Rodenbeck, who says, "If Siri can look at Facebook and help us get around on Twitter, why can't it help get us around the warehouse?"

Click the image below to watch the 3-minute customer story.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3ySJKSPVu0

My takeaway from AscentERP: don't underestimate the marketing value of being part of the Salesforce ecosystem.

Buyers Should Ensure Adequate Implementation Support

One thing that none of these four vendors mentioned: a lack of new sales opportunities. In fact, they all indicated that they were awash in new prospects. This is in contrast to some of the traditional ERP vendors who periodically call me to check whether I’ve “heard of anyone looking for software.” It’s always a good sign when a vendor can afford to be picky about the opportunities it chases—it lessens the likelihood that the vendor will get into situations where it cannot compete and improves the chances of success.

But the the flip side of all these new deals can lead to problems if vendors are not adequately staffed to support them. Generally speaking, I caution clients to be sure they get adequate consulting help when they are considering these vendors. True, these new cloud-only systems are generally easier to implement, but still, they don’t implement themselves. You don't need system admins or DBAs. But you do need consultants who understand how to configure the system and help you implement your processes within it. In some cases, these vendors may have consulting partners that can assist, but they can be stretched as well. It is not an insurmountable problem, but buyers should be sure they get the help they need to have a successful implementation.

Note: Salesforce paid my travel expenses to attend Dreamforce.

Related Posts

Four Cloud ERP Providers on the Salesforce Platform
Kenandy: A New Cloud ERP Provider Emerges from Stealth Mode

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by Frank Scavo, 11/01/2014 07:11:00 PM | permalink | e-mail this!

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Is HR Tech Overshooting HR Capabilities?

Human resources management is a hot area for new technology, at least based on the number of new vendor offerings. But why isn’t there greater adoption of among HR practitioners? In this post, I outline three reasons that interest is high but actual adoption is slow, and what business leaders should do about it.

But first, a quick summary about the leading conference on HR technology. 

HR Tech Conference, a Must-Attend Event

At the urging of several associates, I attended my first HR Technology® Conference (HR Tech) earlier this month in Las Vegas. If you are interested at all in HR technology, this annual event belongs on your calendar. Here's why:
  • Thought leadership. Anyone and everyone associated with HR technology  is at this conference--vendors, service providers, and HR professionals. This allows the conference organizers to select the best speakers and hold them to topics of high interest to attendees. Speakers go beyond traditional themes such as HR administration and compliance. Even cloud computing is old news to this crowd, as nearly all the leading HCM solutions these days are delivered as a service. This year, analytics was a hot topic, including predictive analytics, big data, machine learning, and employee sentiment analysis. Social business was another focus, as HR applications have turned out to be an excellent use case for social tools in recruiting, learning, and collaboration. The latest thinking around talent management was also on display.
     
  • Peer networking. HR Tech is an HR vendor expo as well as a conference for HR professionals, so of course there is a large exhibit hall and plenty of sponsor logos plastered everywhere. But end users form a high percentage of the attendees. This creates excellent opportunities for peer networking, more so than I see in most single vendor conferences. At many events, I have to work hard to arrange customer interviews. But at HR Tech, they came to me unsolicited, while queued up for receptions, sitting at meals, or before sessions.

  • Customer stories. Although vendors pay to exhibit, it doesn't buy them speaker slots, unlike many conferences. And, when they do speak, it has to be with a customer, never alone. As a result, many sessions are devoted to case studies, and there are lots of customer panels. This year there were presentations and panel discussions by HR practitioners from a diverse collection of organizations, from traditional companies such as ConAgra, Monsanto, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Unilever, Siemens, Lockheed Martin, and HP, to digital businesses such as Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and Hootsuite. 
HR is fertile ground for new technologies, from social recruiting to sentiment analysis to wearables. But can HR organizations even begin to consume it all? This is where there is a gap between what is possible  and what is currently realized in practice. 

Workforce Analytics Illustrates the Problem

The adoption rate for workforce analytics is a good example. In one session, Brian Kelly, a former practice leader at Mercer, gave a presentation on strategic workforce planning. It is a hot topic, as it enables organizations to address the critical gaps between the current workforce characteristics and future workforce needs. In some industries, this is a critical process, as future workforce needs are changing with evolving business models and new products and services. High tech and healthcare are two sectors that come to mind. The good news, according to Kelly, is that most organizations already have the raw data needed to do strategic workforce planning, such as basic employee census data, high level job families and critical jobs, reporting hierarchy, rewards data, and employee demographics.

But as Bill Kutik, as the former HR Tech co-chair, points out in his excellent post-conference wrap up,  HR consultants, analysts, and marketers have been saying as far back as 2001 that workforce analytics will be the next big thing. “Certainly interest is very high now in workforce analytics, but still without widespread adoption,” Bill writes. “So I find it ironic (but typical) that vendors are so focused on predicting the future when their customers don’t yet have a firm handle on measuring the past.”

So, we have to ask, if technologies such as workforce analytics are critical to the mission of HR organizations, why is there not greater adoption?

From my consulting work with clients over 20 years, I see three basic problems.
  • HR viewed as a support role. Despite claims that “our people are our strategic advantage,” most companies do not view HR as a strategic function. In practice, it is a support role, focused around the basic day-to-day activities of hiring and on-boarding new employees, paying them, administering their benefits, maintaining accurate records, and keeping the organization in compliance with labor law and myriad other regulations. If the senior HR leader is in the room for strategic planning sessions, it is often as a token gesture, to keep him or her informed of corporate strategy, not as a co-equal partner with functions such as product development, marketing, operations, finance, or sales. In doing strategic planning over the past 15 years I've seen notable exceptions. But too often, HR in many organizations is like the typical IT function—it’s there to support the strategy, not to help formulate it.
     
  • Inadequate staff levels. Second, if HR is viewed as a support function, it is a ripe target for staff reductions. With the thinning of management ranks over the past twenty years, and especially since the 2008 recession, HR professional are spread thin. When there are not enough hours in the day to deliver both the strategic and the tactical, the tactical always win. Failing to think strategically is seldom a career-ending move, but falling out of compliance with labor law can give you a quick escort out the door. 
     
  • Lacking necessary skills. Finally, most HR professionals do not have the quantitative skills to make use of new technologies such as workforce analytics. As Kelly points out, simple tools such as Excel may be sufficient for planning headcount by job function and geography. But more sophisticated analytical tools are needed to correlate projections of workforce skills, attrition rates, pay growth, diversity analytics, and external labor market data. Unfortunately,  most HR professionals lack the skills to make use of these tools. HR has always been a career that is more attractive to liberal arts graduates, such as those majoring in psychology, sociology, and communications, rather than those with science and math degrees where they develop the quantitative analytical skills needed to make use of these tools.
I had a hallway conversion with my colleague Brian Sommer on this point, and Brian has now put his thoughts into a blog post, The Problem is HR, Not HR Technology. He writes, “
HR departments are chock full of great HR transaction folks. Likewise, they have great recruiters, compliance people and more in these groups. However, is there anyone who understands data analysis, external/Big Data, etc.?
Where are the quants in HR? Where are the statistics and math majors? Where are the social scientists who understand human behavior? Seriously, giving powerful analytic tools to many HR folks today (who lack awareness or skills in these technologies and disciplines) is like giving a chainsaw to a 4-year old. If they ever got it running, you’d have a bloody mess on your hands. If you don’t know the difference between causality and correlation, you have no business playing with analytics.
A rebalancing of the talent within HR organizations is needed today. New skills, capabilities and insights are needed to make HR more relevant and able to exploit today’s new HR technologies.
Ironically, then, HR has its own talent management problem.

HR Organizational Readiness Is the Key Need

If an organization’s people are indeed its strategic advantage, then HR technology should have a prominent position in any organization’s IT strategy. But, as we discussed, most HR groups are not ready to adopt the latest HR technologies. Business leaders, therefore, should focus on developing their HR organizations as well as implementing HR technology.

For some organizations, this means changing their view of HR, from a support function to a co-equal role in business strategy. It also means reversing some of the staff cutbacks that were put in place during the last recession. Finally, it means doing something about the skills gap in HR. In many cases this will mean reaching outside of the traditional candidate pool to find new talent with the quantitative skills needed to effectively use emerging solutions for workforce analytics and other new HR technologies.

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by Frank Scavo, 10/19/2014 11:15:00 AM | permalink | e-mail this!

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Sunday, October 05, 2014

Workday’s Goal: Tier I Cloud ERP

Aneel Bushri, Co-Founder, Workday
Mention Workday to anyone involved with enterprise applications, and the first response will probably be something about cloud-based HR systems. A few might also mention accounting systems.

It is becoming increasingly apparent, however, that Workday’s ambitions go beyond human capital management (HCM) and financial management systems. From briefings at a recent Workday analyst summit, I conclude that Workday intends to become the first Tier I cloud ERP provider.

What is Tier I ERP?

The term “Tier I ERP” has been bandied about for many years. It is generally understood to refer to the largest ERP vendors that are able to serve the largest and most complex global businesses. Fifteen years ago, there were several players that could arguably be members of that club. But because of industry consolidation only two vendors remain that fit that definition: SAP and Oracle.

I am convinced that Workday wants to join that club, and it wants to join it as a cloud-only provider. SAP and Oracle may be moving as fast as they can to cloud ERP, but they will forever be, at the most, hybrid providers—offering both on-premises and cloud versions of their systems. Workday, in contrast, intends to be the first Tier I cloud-only provider.

Evidence of Workday’s Ambition

There are several things that point to Workday's objective.
  • Tier I customers. Unlike NetSuite, which leads the cloud ERP market in terms of number of customers, Workday from its very beginning has been targeting large companies. I noted this way back in 2008 with Workday's wins at Flextronics and Chiquita. Since then, it hasn't stopped, signing one Fortune 500 customer after another. For example, in 2013, it won HP, with 300,000 employees in 111 countries. This year it closed Bank of America, which is now Workday's largest customer. Moreover, its big company wins are not limited the US. For example, Workday recently sold Nissan and Sony in Japan and Philips in the Netherlands. Our most recent research at Computer Economics shows that Workday's typical customer is so large that it stands head and shoulders above all other cloud ERP providers.
     
  • Tier I functionality. The functionality of Workday's HCM is now approaching that of Oracle and SAP, as it builds out its global footprint. It currently claims customers live in 177 countries, with 27 offices worldwide. Translations are provided for 25 languages. Outside of the US, it still relies on payroll partners, but it is building out its own payroll for the UK and France. Its Financial Management product has now reached 100 customers. It just announced a new embedded financial reporting capability (Composite Reporting) that promises to do away with a whole host of spreadsheets and data warehouse reports that large companies typically rely upon. 
     
  • Tier I cloud platform. Workday has also been building out its cloud platform into one that can handle the demands of the world's largest enterprises. It is moving its infrastructure to OpenStack, a set of open source components and architecture for software-defined data centers. This makes Workday's platform less proprietary than it has been in the past. Moreover, large companies need assurances of system availability and reliability. Therefore, like leading consumer Internet services, Workday is building its platform to quickly detect and recover from failure in any infrastructure component. Taking a page from Netflix, it will soon be randomly turning off components in the production environment as a way of ensuring its ability to recover. Phil Wainewright has more on the latest developments with Workday's infrastructure. 
Some observers view Workday as less than an ERP provider, as it only provides HCM and financial management systems. But they ignore the fact that Workday has already moved beyond these functions. It already provides purchasing, expense management, and project management functionality. It also includes embedded business intelligence capabilities that embrace data inside and outside of Workday. In one sector in particular--Higher Education--it has already pushed into operational systems, with its launch of Workday Student.

Can other functional areas be far behind? Workday's CEO Aneel Bushri made a telling comment at the end of the analyst summit, "Financials are the door to everything else," he said. "After you see us land large financial deals, you will see us moving into other areas: maybe healthcare, which is mostly workflow, plus patient accounting and billing. Layer on top of that strong analytics. It might be a year or two from now, but not five years out. But right now, we can't spread ourselves too thin."

This mimics the evolution of most other ERP providers over the past two to three decades. SAP, Oracle, and many others started as accounting systems. Once they were in the door, they then became the natural choice for expanding into operational systems in other functional areas.

Avoiding Side Streets

At this point, Workday has no lack of opportunities. In fact, one of the problems it faces is that there are simply too many good ideas that it could pursue. But if I am right that Workday's goal is to be the first Tier I cloud ERP provider, it cannot afford to take its eye off the ball.

Here are some of the ideas where Workday is saying no:
  • Platform as a service (PaaS). Most of the leading enterprise SaaS vendors also offer a platform for their customers to extend the vendor's system or to build their own complete standalone systems. Salesforce.com with its Salesforce1 platform is the prime example. In its recent user conference, Oracle CTO Larry Ellison criticized Workday for its lack of a PaaS.

    But Workday is taking another path. First, most user development is for reporting, and Workday excels in its embedded business intelligence capabilities. Second, its applications are highly configurable, which diminish the need for customizations. Finally, where customers truly need to do new development, Workday offers an "integration cloud" to allow customers to build applications on other platforms, such as Salesforce1, and have them interoperate with Workday.  With a number of other good platforms offered by other providers, it is difficult to see the drawbacks to Workday's approach here.
     
  • Commercializing Workday's cloud platform. As noted earlier, the capabilities of Workday's cloud platform are approaching those of large consumer cloud platforms, such as Google's or Amazon's. It is robust, scalable, and fault-tolerant. It is difficult to think of another enterprise software provider that can accommodate the number of simultaneous users in a multi-tenant environment and a single application code line. After Workday's briefing update on its technical architecture, I asked, "At what point do you commercialize this platform?" By this I mean, either to allow other SaaS providers to build on a separate instance of Workday's platform, or to license the platform for them to build upon and operate themselves. The short answer was, never say never, but Workday would rather focus on building applications.
     
  • Manufacturing industry functionality. Manufacturing companies represent the largest industry sector worldwide. Nevertheless, Workday executives are adamant that--at least at this time--they do not plan to develop manufacturing business systems. In part, this may reflect the founders' experience at PeopleSoft, where their attempt to gain market share in manufacturing never gained traction. Way back in 2003, I wrote a post, PeopleSoft Is Tired of Being the Best Kept Secret in Supply Chain Management, which highlighted just how good PeopleSoft was in manufacturing and supply chain. But PeopleSoft never broke through in a big way.

    The other reason, I believe, is that manufacturing is simply a bridge too far from where Workday is today. Most of Workday's target markets today have one thing in common: they are sectors where people are the dominant costs--Financial Services; Professional and Business Services; Higher Education, Software and Internet Services; Government and Non-Profit; Healthcare; and Hospitality. These industries are best for leveraging Workday's roots as an HCM system provider. Workday could change course at any time, but right now, the leadership team feels that chasing product-based businesses would be a distraction.
Strategy is all about choices: deciding what not to do is as important as choosing a goal. Workday has no lack of those offering free advice--worth every penny!--and I've given my share in the past. Its leadership team is to be commended for keeping its focus.

What's Next?

If Workday's goal is to become the first Tier I cloud ERP provider, expect to see Workday begin to build out functionality to more fully serve its target industries, like it is doing with Workday Student in the higher education vertical. I'm speculating here, but it might mean merchandising systems for retail or revenue cycle management for healthcare.

Will Workday make major acquisitions to fill out its industry solutions? I don't think so. Its  acquisitions to date have mostly been for technology (e.g. Cape Clear) or what I would call capabilities (e.g. Identified). Any acquisition of business applications would need to be rewritten for Workday's platform, and I sense that Workday would rather start with a clean slate in developing new functionality. Workday's approach also allows it to build upon a single object model for each key entity, such as "person," rather than interfacing entities between acquired software. Workday's approach is another point of contrast with SAP and Oracle, which have built up their cloud portfolios largely through acquisition of disparate vendors and are now facing the challenge of integration.

There is another contrast with SAP and Oracle. Workday has a tremendous advantage in that all its customers are on the latest version. Its architecture with a single code base ensures it will never have legacy customers to support--another demand on a vendor's resources.

The Tier I ERP club today only has two members. But a third member may be joining sooner than we think.

Related Posts

Best Practices for SaaS Upgrades as Seen in Workday's Approach
Workday Making Life Easier for Enterprise Users
Workday Pushing High-End SaaS for the Enterprise
Workday: Evidence of SaaS Adoption by Large Firms

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by Frank Scavo, 10/05/2014 12:22:00 PM | permalink | e-mail this!

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Infor’s Most Urgent Initiative

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

Beyond Acquisitions to Innovation

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

But Infor is Losing Customers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Customers Unable to Benefit from Infor’s New Stuff

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

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

Upgrading Customers Is the Critical Path to Success

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

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

Infor Customers Should Consider UpgradeX

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

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

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

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

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

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by Frank Scavo, 9/28/2014 05:20:00 PM | permalink | e-mail this!

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

ERP Customer Deployment and License Preferences

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

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

Acumatica as a Test Bed

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

What Deployment and Licensing Options Do Customers Prefer?


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


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

A Trend to Cloud, But Even More to Subscription

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

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

What Does This Mean for Buyers and Vendors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Frank Scavo, 9/16/2014 12:13:00 PM | permalink | e-mail this!

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Guide for Cloud ERP Buyers

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

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

Figure 2 from that report sums up the differences:

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

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

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

Related posts

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

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by Frank Scavo, 8/20/2014 12:48:00 PM | permalink | e-mail this!

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

SAP's Revamped Strategy for Small and Midsize Businesses

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

Product Strategy: Simplified Suite on HANA and Business One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will SAP's SMB Strategy Work? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Posts

Fighting Complexity: Can SAP Run Simple?

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by Frank Scavo, 7/17/2014 03:36:00 PM | permalink | e-mail this!

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Fighting Complexity: Can SAP Run Simple?

When it comes to enterprise software vendors, SAP wants to be not just the largest but also the most simple. That’s the message behind SAP’s new theme, “Run Simple,” rolled out at its annual SapphireNow user conference in Orlando last week.

At first glance, the theme of simplicity is an odd one. For over 20 years, SAP has been widely regarded as having software that is functionally rich but enormously complex. Its name has become synonymous with implementation projects that run into the tens, even hundreds, of millions of dollars, sometimes ending in failure or at least in organizational exhaustion. SAP is easy to stereotype.

Newly appointed to the sole CEO role, Bill McDermott set the tone in his kick-off keynote: SAP customers need to “fight complexity,” to simplify how they interact with their customers, starting with how they deal with their own workforce. At the same time, McDermott acknowledged that SAP itself has been part of its customers’ complexity. But n

McDermott is an inspiring and disciplined speaker. But fulfilling this vision will take more than an inspiring keynote. In my view, if SAP really wants to beat complexity, it will need to run simple in three ways: in its products, in its ongoing support, and in how it deals with its customers. So, let’s look at each of these.

Simple Finance the First Step toward a Simplified Business Suite

On the first day of the conference, SAP announced the future delivery of Simple Finance. As I see it, Simple Finance will be a major new release of SAP financial applications (starting with FI and CO) as the first SAP Business Suite products to undergo radical code optimization to take advantage of HANA, SAP’s in-memory database technology.

Based on interviews and a demonstration I received on the show flow, I see at least three ways that Simple Finance is, well, simpler.
  • A simpler code base. Under HANA the applications can now simply record transactions and not have to create any summarized data fields for later reporting. With HANA, reporting always goes back to the source data in memory to build aggregated data fields on the fly. This shrinks the size of the programs, greatly reducing the number of lines of code, making them less error-prone and easier to debug. It also means that users can now drill down from summary data to details in any way they choose, without having to write special reports or customize the code.
     
  • A simpler user interface. SAP Fiori provides the user interface for Simple Finance. Fiori apps operate across desktop and mobile devices to provide a simplified user interface for SAP’s applications. They are not just a new presentation layer but in many cases combine SAP transactions into a single user process. For example, entering a manual payment in Accounts Payable can now be done in a single screen instead of the multiple screens it previously required in SAP. On a side note, after much push-back from customers, SAP announced that Fiori apps will now be delivered at no charge to customers under maintenance, removing one barrier to adoption of Simple Finance.
     
  • Simpler to implement. Implementation tools and methodologies are built right into the application, based on SAP’s previous work with its Rapid Deployment Services. These include wizard-like tools to guide and configure the applications. There are data migration tools to map data from existing systems into Simple Finance—whether from previous versions of SAP or from other systems. Implementation testing is also managed within the system itself. In addition, Simple Finance is integrated with SAP’s collaboration system, Jam, to encourage knowledge exchange. If a user runs into problems, for example, he or she can reach out to other users for help.
A date for general availability of Simple Finance has not been announced, only that early ramp-up customers are about to start implementation. Following Simple Finance, other parts of the Business Suite will also be “Simplified” until the entire product becomes a “Simple Suite.”

SAP personnel demonstrating Simple Finance appeared genuinely excited about the product. One indicated she was slated to work on implementations with early adopters. She said that she had even signed up some ramp-up customers earlier that day on the show floor, indicating a high level of interest.

I am optimistic that new prospects will find Simple Finance much more attractive than older versions of SAP financial systems. Simple Finance will be better received by midsize organizations that might have been otherwise scared off by the size, scale, and perceived complexity of SAP Business Suite. Score one for SAP.

My take: product simplification is the most straightforward mandate facing SAP. For the most part, it is only a technical challenge. SAP is loaded with software engineers, and HANA does represent a new paradigm for how business systems are architected. This is not to say there won't be bumps along the road, but I am hopeful SAP will get there.

Cloud Deployment Simplifying Ongoing Support

SAP also wants run simple in how customers keep their applications up-to-date. Like most traditional on-premises vendors, the majority of SAP customers are not on the latest releases of its products. The reason is that applying new versions (in SAP lingo, “enhancement packs”) is often a labor-intensive activity—testing the new code, retrofitting any customizations, regression testing to be sure nothing gets broken, and migrating data.

SAP’s solution is to take over these responsibilities by hosting customers’ systems in SAP’s HANA Enterprise Cloud (HEC). This program, already rolled out to some early SAP customers, is essentially a managed services offering in which SAP takes all responsibility for day to day operation of the system in SAP’s own data centers. Notably, SAP also takes responsibility for keeping the customer’s system up to date with the latest enhancement packs and bug fixes. It even supports systems with custom modifications.

The managed services offering should allow the customer’s IT personnel to focus less on technical aspects and more on business process design and effective use of the system.

My take: simplifying SAP’s ongoing support by moving customers to its managed services offering
will be more of a challenge. Only a tiny fraction of SAP’s customers are committed to this offering today. There is likely to be much inertia in SAP’s installed base about having SAP host their systems. Even though customers may be experiencing pain, many will view migration as short- term cost and effort for long term benefit. It may all come down to how SAP prices its managed services offering. If existing customers do not take up SAP on the offer, they will not experience much simplification in their SAP support experience, and SAP will retain its reputation for complexity.

Many other vendors have tried this approach—in particular, Oracle. Although most customers of Oracle Fusion Applications (Oracle’s next generation apps) are reportedly choosing the hosted deployment offering, I do not believe Oracle is seeing a mass migration of its preexisting applications, such as E-Business Suite, Siebel, JDE, or PeopleSoft, to its hosted delivery model. Will SAP’s experience be any different? I have my doubts.

Making SAP Simple to Deal With

The third way in which SAP must run simple is in its customer-facing processes. How easy is it for customers to deal with SAP? McDermott did not spend as much time in his keynote on this point, but he did emphasize it toward the end.

“Run Simple is more than a slogan for SAP--it is an organizing principle for our company,” he said. “We'll ask the tough questions: do our products and technologies run simple? Does our customer experience run simple? Are we empowering our employees to run simple? And are we enabling our customers and our partners to run simple? If not, hold us accountable.”

He continued: “For customers, we're committed to a beautiful user experience. We will make it simple to do business with SAP: simple pricing, pay-as-you-go in the cloud, simple web experience.”

Those are big promises. Anyone who has negotiated an acquisition of SAP software knows that SAP contracts are incredibly complex.  Pricing is opaque, with many various types of named users defined for each product. SAP’s terms and conditions around indirect access (when other systems access information from an SAP system) are onerous.

The result is that it is nearly impossible for an SAP customer to be fully compliant. When SAP does an audit of a customer’s use of SAP products—which it has the right to do—it will find problem, if it looks hard enough.

Even finding the right person in SAP's organization to deal with is not a simple matter. Whether it is the result of having a worldwide organization or peculiarities of German corporate governance, it is difficult to understand who reports to whom, or who is responsible for what.

Lars Dalgaard, founder of Successfactors, recently commented about SAP’s organizational problems.  “[SAP has] this messed up reporting structure where nobody reports to anybody,” Dalgaard said. “It’s this German thing where I didn’t even report up to Bill [McDermott] myself, I was reporting to the Supervisory Board. That doesn’t work. It just doesn’t. I mean, the COO doesn’t report up to the CEO?”

Dalgaard was positive about McDermott’s new role, however. “Someone has to be the decider, and with Bill, now they’ve got a decider on the job, I can tell you that,” he said.

The complexity of SAP’s organization not only affects customers; it affects anyone who has to deal with SAP. Talk to SAP partners, third-party developers, SAP suppliers, and industry analysts—nearly all of them say the same thing. SAP’s organization and decision-making processes are extremely difficult to navigate.

Following McDermott’s recent appointment to the role of sole CEO, SAP underwent a major reorganization, laying off an undisclosed but apparently significant number of employees. SAP claims this was not to cut costs but to better align the organization with SAP’s strategy. If so, the reorganization could be consistent with an attempt at simplification.

My take: SAP’s organization and customer-facing processes will be the most difficult to simplify. Technical simplification is an engineering problem. Support simplification can be solved if SAP can motivate customers to take up its managed services offering. But making SAP simple to deal with requires cultural change.

SAP’s culture manifests itself in how people are measured. One example: why did it take an outpouring of customer wrath for SAP to release Fiori at no charge to customers under maintenance? One source close to SAP told me that, within SAP, product groups are measured by their impact on revenue. If there is no revenue from Fiori, there is little recognition for Fiori developers. I have to believe that many SAP executives understood the opportunity in delivering Fiori at no charge. Some of us have argued that SAP stands to make more money by delivering Fiori at no charge (because it pulls through greater revenue opportunities with HANA and additional user seats). So, why wouldn’t SAP make this move sooner? If my source is correct, it is because that general lift in revenue would not be attributable to Fiori.

When you change program code, the program doesn’t fight back. But when you try to change a large organization, the organization often resists. Having a sole CEO will help, and McDermott appears determined. But has there ever been an example of a large organization that has become less complex over time?

What Does “Run Simple” Mean for Enterprise Tech Buyers

Large tech vendors change their marketing messages periodically, with no change to their core strategy, values, or culture. Is “Run Simple,” merely a branding exercise, or will it be a reality in how customers experience SAP? Time will tell.

In the short term, Simple Finance deserves consideration. In looking for new financial systems, business leaders who might have otherwise dismissed SAP as too complex should take a look at Simple Finance. New and existing customers should also investigate SAP’s managed service offering. But be prepared for continued complexity in dealing with SAP.

SAP did not become a complex organization overnight and it certainly won’t be easy to simplify. McDermott specifically told customers in his keynote to hold SAP accountable. I hope they will do that. I also hope McDermott will follow up in next year’s user conference with a progress report.

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by Frank Scavo, 6/11/2014 11:21:00 AM | permalink | e-mail this!

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Sunday, June 01, 2014

Function and Dysfunction on Silicon Valley Boards, with Ken Goldman, CFO Yahoo

Are Silicon Valley companies more prone to dysfunctional boards than other companies? What are the keys for ensuring that a board does not run off the rails?

These were some of the questions I asked Ken Goldman, Yahoo's CFO, last month in an on-stage interview at the Future in Review conference in Laguna Beach, CA. As someone who has served on over thirty corporate boards in his career, he had plenty to say about what works--and what doesn't--on corporate boards.

How Do You Decide Which Boards to Join?

With his extensive connections in Silicon Valley, Goldman receives many invitations to join corporate boards. But in deciding which to accept, he looks at several factors. First, he looks at who he knows on the board and whether he wants to work with them. As an active investor, he also takes interest in those where he has some "skin in the game." In addition, he has a strong preference for founder CEOs. "They have a passion that cannot be replaced," he said.

Finally, he considers whether he can add value, often with his operational experience and financial background, which makes him a logical choice to chair the audit committee.

Goldman pointed to one company that met all these criteria, GoPro, Inc., where he recently joined the board. "I know the people on the board, I like the CEO, and they have a great product," he said.

When Do You Say Goodbye?

Goldman hates to leave a board when the firm is not doing well. "I don't like to be seen as a quitter," he said. As an example, he pointed his recent departure from the board of directors at Infinera, a manufacturer of optical transmission equipment for telecom service providers. "They had some ups and downs in a tough market, but they were doing well in the most recent quarter," he said. "So it was a good time for me to leave and not be seen as bailing out."

The easiest time to leave is when there is a merger or acquisition, as investors expect board changes as part of the transaction, he noted.

Is a Tech Background Needed to Serve on a Tech Company Board?

With an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Cornell, an MBA from Harvard, and his long history in Silicon Valley, Goldman would seem like a natural fit for tech company boards. But is that background and experience always required? 

Goldman says that tech companies often prefer to have board members with tech experience, but that's not always the case. "Chuck Schwab was on the board with me at Siebel, and now he has joined the board at Yahoo," he said. "He may not have a technology background, but he has such recognition, and having been a founder CEO himself, his experience is very helpful."

In any event, the need to have technology experience depends on the board member's role, he said.

What Are Some Examples of Well-Functioning Boards?

With his years of experience, Goldman rattled off a list of companies where he's served on well-run boards. For example, there is Starent Networks, where the board comprised some venture capital investors in addition to several independent board members. They went through the IPO process together and ultimately sold the firm to Cisco for about $3 billion.

He then pointed to NXP Semiconductors, where he joined the board just prior to the firm's IPO and saw the board playing a critical role in bringing in key personnel to grow the business. NXP went public at $14 and is now trading at about $60--a four-fold value creation, he said.

He also mentioned TriNet Group, Inc., a cloud-based professional employer organization (PEO) where the board worked with the CEO to build the executive team in every key function. "You can push and push, but if you don't have the right team in place, it won't work," he said.

At TriNet, the board was able to provide guidance to the CEO in some matters where the CEO was too close to the situation to see things objectively. "The board can add value by seeing the big picture, but not by micro-managing," Goldman said. 

Later, in response to an audience question, Goldman elaborated,  
In tech companies, the fundamental value add is revenue growth, so the board needs to work with the CEO on the business model and strategy. How much do you want to invest in growth versus near-term profitability? The CEO defines the strategy, and the board can help ensure that the strategy makes sense, and that the executive team is doing what it needs to do to carry it out.
Goldman agreed that with many strong personalities, it does take some time for a board to jell together. Therefore, directors should spend more time to get to know one another outside of formal board meetings. He pointed to his experience at Legato Systems, which was acquired by EMC in 2003. "As we were selling the company, we had a closing celebration in Monterey where we played golf together, and we realized how much we liked each other," he said. "It would have been helpful if we had had an event like that prior to the closing."

"Sometimes it is good to have a little R&R with the board, where you can meet and jell and get outside of the formalities," he added.

What are Some Causes of Board Dysfunction? 

According the Goldman, the fundamental problem is when board members are not all on the same page. "I can tell when folks don't have a day job, because they pontificate forever," he said. "They make their board membership part of their ego, instead of having a real job. You need to have board members who have a real respect for what their role is, what it is not, and how to give advice."

However, board dysfunction is not always the fault of the board. It is up to the CEO and the lead director or chairman to not allow a board to become dysfunctional, Goldman said. "It is important for the CEO to know how to work with the board. It is also important to have a board chairman who knows how to work with the CEO, to keep meetings on schedule, and not let them go on and on," he said.

"It's good to have a little congeniality," Goldman said. "It doesn't mean you can't have a different perspective or be contrary once in a while. But if you are constantly not seeing eye-to-eye, it's probably time for you to do something else."

Goldman agreed that it's okay to rock the boat as long as you don't capsize it.

Are Silicon Valley Boards More Prone to Dysfunction? 

"Some people like to bad-mouth Silicon Valley boards, and I really disagree with that" he said. "What I have seen on Silicon Valley boards is a tremendous amount of passion. We have skin in the game, we're investors, and we came to the board because we want to be there."

Goldman said that there are some differences between Silicon Valley companies and traditional businesses: Board members are often investors and not just part of the CEO's old boy or old gal network, which is often the case in old line industrial companies.

He also had nice words to say about venture capitalists, who often play a major role on Silicon Valley boards: 
There's an old saying: no conflict, no interest. Venture capital guys have a lot of "interest." They are involved and engaged. So, I like to see them stay on the board as long as they can after the company goes public, even though they want to move on because they get pressure from their other partners to get out. I like to see them stay on because they know the history of the company and they understand the vision and the strategy, which are so critical. I like the continuity and their passion and the fact that they have skin in the game. They work really hard and do real work. They don't just meet to deal with governance issues.

How Do You Deal with Activist Investors? 

Goldman believes activist investors are here to stay, so corporate boards had better be prepared to deal with them. At the same time, sometimes their demands can be good for the company.
There are certain times when you attract activists, and their play book is almost always the same. They look at what they perceive as excess cash on the balance sheet and giving back capital allocations. So, they push for stock buy backs, spinning off business units, and cost reduction. If you sum it up, those are probably the three major things. 
But the reality is, they do add value. Their funds tend to do better than the average hedge fund. They do well for their investors.

So, you need to be prepared, have your own play book, your own advisers, and be ready. The most important thing is, don't avoid them. Listen to them, be respectful. They tend to be extremely smart. In many cases, including at Yahoo, they come with a good experience base, so I personally like to listen to them. Sometimes they may want to get on the board, which means they are now insiders, and that changes the dynamics tremendously. Sometimes they want to be on the outside and want to pull for change.


Activist investors are not all the same. Some are more operating-focused, some are just pure financial. Some want to just get in and muck-rake a little bit and cause the stock price to go up. Some may want to bring in other investors and take over to get members on the board. Others just want to get the company to do certain things....And in many cases their suggestions have been productive for the company.

What's the Story with HP's Board?

During audience questions, FiRe's conference chair, Mark Anderson, asked Goldman to comment on the situation with HP, which many consider to be the epitome of a Silicon Valley company with a dysfunctional board.

Noting that HP's former CEO and now Oracle's co-President Mark Hurd was speaking later that day, Goldman said,
I worked with Mark during the time he was at HP. I thought he did a fabulous job there, growing the company, increasing profitability, making all their numbers. But then HP brought in another CEO [Léo Apotheker] and we saw just the opposite. When companies keep missing their numbers, they make excuses.

I watched HP during the Autonomy acquisition. I blasted some of the advisers they had, and I asked, "How can you acquire a company for 25% of your market cap with cash that you don't have when it's only going to add one or two percent to your revenue?" You don't need to be a science wizard to know that's going to be hard to make work.

I don't know anything about HP that's not public....You can go back and say, Autonomy people were bad or the company was bad, but sometimes you have to go back and say, should you have done that acquisition in the first place? It's not easy to bring in a real outsider from Europe as CEO into a Silicon Valley company, into an iconic company like HP that is so proud, with such culture and such DNA and make that work. HP has gone through a number of transformations over time, so ensuring that you have the right CEO and the right board is so important.
Goldman concluded, "People like to blame the accounting, or the company being acquired, but sometimes the board just has to look in the mirror."

Register for FiRe2015

Ken Goldman was one of many speakers this year at the Future in Review conference, which focuses on the future of computing and communications, economics, education, energy, the environment, global initiatives, healthcare, and pure science. Other speakers included Vint Cerf, Michael Dell, John Hagel III, Mark Hurd, Peter Lee, Barry Briggs, David Brin, and many others. The complete list of speakers is on the FiRe website.

As I wrote last year, this conference is at the top of my list of favorite events. Next year's conference will move to Stein Eriksen Lodge, in Park City, Utah. Registration is now open on the FiRe website.

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by Frank Scavo, 6/01/2014 06:57:00 AM | permalink | e-mail this!

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