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

    Tuesday, February 12, 2019

    When Are On-Premises Systems Justified?

    There is near-universal agreement that cloud computing is the future for enterprise IT. Our research at Computer Economics certainly indicates so. In just one year, our annual IT spending survey showed the percentage of IT organizations with 25% or fewer of their application systems in the cloud declined from 72% in 2017 to 61% in 2018. We expect a further decline this year.

    Four Factors Favoring On-Premises

    Even though the trend is strongly in the direction of cloud, are there situations where on-premises deployment is still justified? In a recent article, Joe McKendrick outlines four situations where staying on-premises may be preferable to cloud, at least for now. He writes:
    To explore the issues of when staying on-premises versus cloud makes sense, I asked industry executives about any areas that were not suitable for cloud, and better left on-premises -- especially from the all-important data perspective. The security implications, as well as geographical presence requirements, are obvious. But there are also other facts that may make staying on-premises the most viable option.
    Joe goes on to outline four factors:
    • Legacy entanglements: where the system is just one part of an integrated set of applications, especially where there are dependencies on certain database or platform versions. “Monolithic legacy applications” with custom system administration tools are another example.
    • Cloud sticker shock: where data storage requirements are so great that cloud deployment is simply not economical.
    • Security: where “some data cannot risk even a hint of exposure.”
    • Need for speed: where large data sets are maintained for “real-time user data interaction, high-speed analytics, personalization, or recommendation.” Some IoT applications may fall in this category. 

    The Four Factors Not as Great as They Once Were

    While these four factors are worth considering in a cloud vs. on-premises decision, I find them to be less of a factor than they were even a few years ago.
    1. The legacy system factor is certainly reasonable in some situations. To this I would add, staying on-premises may be justified when requirements for a new system can more easily be accommodated with an add-on to the legacy system. Be careful with this, however, as this can be a prescription for further entrenchment of the legacy system.
    2. In my view, cloud sticker shock is only a factor for a small percentage of cases, perhaps for very large data sets. Declining costs of cloud storage should lead to fewer instances where this is a legitimate objection. Often, IT leaders making a case for on-premises systems based on cost are not factoring in all costs, such as the cost of personnel to maintain and back up that on-premises storage.  
    3. The security factor I find to be largely an excuse. Although business leaders often underestimate the impact of a potential security breach, they also tend to overestimate the capabilities of their own security staff members, processes, and technology. The level of security maintained by internal IT organizations is usually far less than what is achieved by cloud services providers. If one of the big three credit data providers (Experian) could not protect consumer data maintained on-premises, what makes you think that your security capabilities are greater?
    4. The need for speed, in some cases, may be a legitimate reason for keeping some systems on-premises. However, most enterprise applications do not have this requirement. Even manufacturing execution systems—systems with low latency requirements—have been successfully deployed by cloud applications providers, such as Plex. In other cases, local buffering of data may be possible to accommodate any latency between the local system and the cloud provider. In such cases, it may be better to make investments in high-speed data communications, with redundancy, rather than continue to maintain such systems in local data centers. 
    There is one more factor in favor of on-premises systems: Where there are regulatory requirements that the organization demonstrate control over the production environment. This includes FDA-regulated companies where a system is used to support regulated processes, such as quality control in medical device or pharmaceutical manufacturing. Although it may be possible to meet the requirement in a multi-tenant cloud environment, many regulatory affairs professionals are more comfortable not fighting that battle. In such cases, it may justify an on-premises deployment or at least a single-tenant hosted deployment where control of the production environment can be more readily assured.

    Cloud First the Best Strategy

    As discussed, there are situations where a true on-premises systems may be legitimately justified, although the case is getting weaker year by year. Nevertheless, for most new systems, business leaders should be adopting a “cloud-first” strategy, even if "cloud only" is not practical for now. If there is a cloud solution that will meet business requirements, that should be the preferred path forward. The advantages of cloud systems, especially in terms of alleviating the burden of system upgrades, are too great to ignore. On the other hand, if no true cloud system meets business requirements, or there are other limiting considerations, an on-premises solution may be a legitimate option. But even then, we would prefer to see a hosted solution, in order to achieve some of the benefits of getting application systems out of on-premises data centers.

    Monday, October 05, 2015

    FinancialForce Expands Its Footprint in Cloud ERP

    FinancialForce continues to show strong momentum in the cloud ERP market, and it is building out its product capabilities in interesting ways.

    In this post, we provide an update on FinancialForce, based on interviews we conducted with its executives at Dreamforce, the annual conference for users of Salesforce.com. We also provide recommendations for buyers considering FinancialForce.

    Read this post on the Strativa blog: FinancialForce Expands Its Footprint in Cloud ERP

    Wednesday, September 30, 2015

    Kenandy Has a Contrarian View Toward Two-Tier ERP

    Salesforce.com is proving to be a popular platform for developing ERP systems, and its annual user conference, Dreamforce, has been a great way to catch up with all of them in one place.

    Last year, I provided an update on the four ERP providers building on the Salesforce platform in a single post. This year, I want to provide an update on these, starting with Kenandy.

    Unlike cloud-only ERP providers such as NetSuite and Plex, Kenandy is not interested in a "two-tier ERP strategy." The strategy of "two-tier" refers to the targeting of small divisions or operating units of larger companies that are running Tier 1 solutions, typically SAP or Oracle, at headquarters and in larger divisions. The cloud provider then targets its ERP solution for smaller divisions of the company with integrated to the corporate system, usually for shared services such as financials, central order processing, or cross-company supply chain management. NetSuite points to customers such as Jollibee Foods and NBTY (China) Trading Company as multinational companies implementing NetSuite in a two-tier strategy. Similarly, Plex boasts of Caterpillar and Inteva Products as success stories in two-tier ERP.  

    Going against this trend, Kenandy executives say that, although they will not turn away two-tier opportunities, they would rather work in what they consider a more strategic role with customers. This means targeting (1) large enterprises for a complete ERP solution, or (2) serving as a more agile "orchestration" solution for new lines of business within large enterprises.

    Read the full post on the Strativa website: Kenandy: Against the Tide of Two-Tier ERP

    Monday, July 06, 2015

    More Than a Deployment Option: SaaS Is a Business Model

    With the increasingly popularity of software as a service (SaaS), enterprise software vendors today cannot afford to be without a cloud strategy. As a result, traditional vendors have introduced various forms of hosted, hybrid, and SaaS deployment options. These co-exist alongside the vendor’s traditional on-premises license model.

    But software as a service is more than just another deployment option, another way to consume software. SaaS is a business model. SaaS not only affects the product: it should drive the nature of how the provider does business, from how the product is developed and maintained to how it is sold, implemented, and supported. It should permeate the very culture of the provider’s organization.
    How should the business model of a SaaS provider be different from that of a traditional software vendor? There are at least six aspects.

    Read the rest of this post on the Strativa blog: Beyond Deployment Options: SaaS as a Business Model.

    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.

    Tuesday, January 28, 2014

    Plex's Growth Strategy: Glass Half Full

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Related Posts

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

    Friday, January 24, 2014

    Workday Making Life Easier for Enterprise Users

    Even if you don't follow developments in HR technology, you should pay attention to what Workday is doing, for two reasons. First, Workday is no longer just an HR systems provider, having expanded its footprint into financial systems, operational support for service delivery, and business intelligence. Second, as a SaaS-only provider, Workday has been, in my opinion, a leader in best practices in deploying cloud enterprise systems.

    In December, the company released Workday 21. In addition to the 246 new features included in this version, it also features a major update to its user interface, which Workday starting rolling out earlier this month. 

    Enterprise User Experience Overdue for Refresh

    The look and feel of enterprise software has not changed much since the days of client server, when graphical user interfaces took over from the old green screen mainframe-like experience. Workers use desktop computers to access a main menu, which displays a series of icons or links that point to various subsystems. Data entry screens cram as much information as possible so that users do not have to click through to multiple panels to complete a transaction. Because of the density of information, enterprise software came with extensive user manuals, online help, and training classes.

    When vendors abandoned the client-server architecture for browser-based thin clients, they did not generally change this paradigm. They just changed the back-end. They did not significantly alter the fundamental user experience.

    Now vendors face a serious problem when users demand mobile access. These user interfaces do not translate at all to a smart phone or tablet display. Mobile access, if provided at all, is a completely different user interface than that on the desktop. In fact, some vendors sell mobile access as an additional product, separate from the vendor's traditional desktop access.

    Raising the Bar

    Workday has always paid a lot of attention to its user interface. In fact, Workday has gone through something like five major updates in its UI: from HTML/AJAX to Adobe Flex, then adding native IOS and Android, and now to HTML5.

    But apart from the technology change, Workday's new interface illustrates several best practices, some of which it derived from consumer Internet services, such as Google and Facebook.These are my take-ways:
    1. One interface for all platforms. The familiar "Workday Wheel" is now gone. Why? Because it did not translate well to smartphone or tablet access. The new homepage is a grid of icons that resize and scale according to the size of the screen.
       
    2. Easy movement between platforms. Most of us get interrupted in the middle of our work. The new UI allows users to start a process, such as a performance review, on one platform (e.g. a desktop) and then continue or complete it on another platform (e.g. a smartphone). 
       
    3. Less is more. Workday has removed less-than-essential information from panels, such as the employee profile, organizing and relegating it into tabs or linked lists, so that panels focus the user's attention on what is most important. I especially like the drop-down navigation on the left side of the header bar, which looks quite a bit like Facebook's left side navigation.

    4. Inbox-driven workflow. No more jumping jumping back and forth to the Workday Wheel to complete tasks. A new unified in-box gives users a view of all notifications, with a preview pane and ability to take action right in the inbox.
       
    5. Intuitive use. Viewing the user interface in action, it becomes obvious that most users will not need a lot of training on "what key do I press?" As in the past, they will need training on Workday's functionality and how it applies to their jobs. But the new interface should greatly speed the time to productivity for most users. 
    These are just some of the points about the new UI. In addition, there are many functionality enhancements, which I'm not covering here.

    To see quick overview of the new UI, check out this video by Workday's VP of User Experience, Joe Korngiebe (you can skip past Joe's opening remarks and start at the one minute mark, if you like). 

    To be fair, other enterprise vendors, such as Infor, Oracle, and SAP, are making great strides in the user interfaces as well. Workday's most recent release provides another example of how life is getting easier for enterprise software users.

    Update: Over at Diginomica, Dennis Howlett has his own take on Workday's new UI.

    Related Posts 

    Best Practices for SaaS Upgrades as Seen in Workday's Approach
    Workday Pushing High-end SaaS for the Enterprise

    Monday, January 20, 2014

    Four Cloud ERP Providers on the Salesforce Platform

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

    Salesforce1: The Next Generation Salesforce Platform

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

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

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

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

    FinancialForce

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

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

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

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

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

    Kenandy

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Rootstock

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

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

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

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

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

    AscentERP

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Cast a Wide Net

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

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


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

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    Monday, September 23, 2013

    Best Practices for SaaS Upgrades as Seen in Workday's Approach

    If you're involved with enterprise software, you need to pay attention to what Workday is doing--even if you're not interested in HR or financial systems. Because Workday is one of the best examples of how enterprise applications can and should be delivered in the cloud.

    This was one point I took away from Workday's annual user conference in San Francisco and from a day-long series of briefings for industry analysts earlier this month. 

    The differences between Workday's practices and the approach of traditional enterprise software vendors are striking. There are several points of contrast, but in this post I'd like to focus on how Workday delivers software upgrades and some new twists in how it does this.

    Traditional Approach to Software Upgrades

    In the traditional enterprise software model, vendors develop new versions and provide them to their customers that are under maintenance agreements. The customer takes delivery of the new version, installs it on a test copy of the system, migrates data from the existing production version, retrofits any customizations or interfaces with other systems, revises its user procedures, performs system testing,  and migrates all of its users to the new version. In the process, if there is any time left in the schedule, the customer also may investigate how it would like to use any new functionality offered in the new version.

    The bottom line is that in the traditional model, software upgrades are both a technical exercise as well as a business exercise. The technical challenges of data migration, retrofitting of customizations, and reworking system interfaces can be significant and can encourage customers to stay on older versions of a vendor's system for many years. When such a customer finally wants to get current on the latest version, the upgrade process can rival the time and expense of the original implementation. The technical aspect can be so much work that companies often retain outside service providers to manage or assist in the effort. The business aspects--accommodating changes to business processes or embracing new functionality--are often jettisoned for the sake of simply getting the new version installed from a technical perspective. As a result, customers often do not realize the benefits of the new functionality that the vendor offers.

    The Workday Approach

    Workday's approach to upgrades, from the beginning, is simple: it takes responsibility for all technical aspects of the software upgrade, allowing the customer to focus solely on the business aspects. There are at least three reasons that Workday can do this:
    • Workday's object model allows most customizations to be brought forward to new versions of the system with little or no retrofitting.
    • Likewise, Workday's Integration Cloud, based on technology it obtained through its acquisition of Cape Clear,  allow most custom integrations to continue to work with new versions of its system.
    • Since Workday operates the system on behalf of the customer, Workday takes all responsibility for migrating the customer's data to the new version. 
    The impact of this last point should not be underestimated. Last year, Workday's CTO, Stan Swete, wrote about how important it is for the SaaS provider to take full responsibility for migrating customer data to new versions: 
    [The] Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model improves service delivery quality by letting the provider own the end-to-end process of development, conversion, and deployment. In the on-premise software world the vendor controls development (and associated QA), but there is a hand off for conversion and deployment. At Workday, the update process is not done until every customer is on the new version. The same team that project manages our development also project manages conversion and deployment.
    When it comes to version upgrades, not all SaaS providers are created equal. Some are little more than single tenant hosting providers. Others are multi-tenant SaaS providers, but they deploy new versions as separate instances of the system and allow customers to stay on older versions for long periods of time. This makes version upgrades considerably more difficult if and when customers do decide to upgrade. Workday, as discussed, is at the other end of the spectrum, keeping all customers current on the latest version. Salesforce.com, NetSuite, and Plex, are similar to Workday in this regard, though they may differ in the details of how they do it.

      Further Improvements in Workday's Approach

      This year, Workday has further refined its approach to version upgrades in three ways:
      1. Single production instance for all versions. Previously, Workday would deploy a new version of Workday as a system instance that was separate from the previous version, and Workday would migrate customers in waves from the old version to the new version over a three week period. Workday's new approach is for the current version and the new version to exist simultaneously on the same system instance. Workday will now move customers to the new version by means of a set of "switches" that dictate which features of the system the customer will see. This new approach is possible because of Workday's object orientation discussed earlier.
      2. Continuous development and deployment of new functionality. Instead of holding all functionality enhancements for its periodic version upgrade, Workday is now introducing smaller changes on a weekly basis. This is especially important for small but high-priority changes or for tax and regulatory updates. Contrast this to the traditional vendors, who required many months or years between the time customers request changes and the time they actually see them in updated versions.
      3. Continuous conversion of customer data. As Workday develops new features that require changes to its data model, the single production instance now allows Workday to convert customer data in the background in advance of actually migrating customers to the new version. This reduces the amount of downtime required during the when the customer is moved to the new version. 
      4. Preview instance. Now that there is a single production instance and continuous conversion of customer data, Workday is now able to offer customers a preview instance of the new version, giving customers a longer time-frame in which to evaluate and plan for the new version. Under the traditional model, customers only get a hands-on look at the new version when they take delivery of the upgrade, install it, and convert their data to it in a prototype environment. Workday's approach gives customers much more time and encourages them to make use of the new functionality.
       Swete summarized these changes in a blog post during the user conference:
      Probably the best example of embracing continuous change is happening on the service delivery side of our business. Workday has moved to continuous deployment of new features to a single code line. This move, along with the continuous background conversion of data for new features, enables us to complete updates for our production customers with less scheduled downtime. Application of changes to a single code line reduces the expense of maintaining multiple code lines around each update we do. Moving to continuous deployment also gives us the flexibility to continue to respond to our customers’ requirements when it comes to the number of updates we do each year.
      As Swete indicates, the single production instance, continual development approach, and continuous conversion of customer data allow Workday to scale back from three new major versions a year to just two. The conference audience applauded when co-CEO Aneel Bhusri made this announcement, perhaps indicating that many companies have difficulty absorbing three major upgrades a year. At first blush, the reduction in the number of new versions a year would imply that Workday is slowing down the number of new features per year. But in an sidebar conversations with Workday executives the next day, it became clear that these most recent improvements actually mean that Workday will be introducing more new features each year. The difference is that the smaller changes will be trickled-in on a weekly basis, while major new features will be held for the twice-yearly updates.  As indicated earlier, this approach also allows Workday to accommodate regulatory or tax-law changes on short notice, which have become more common in recent years.

      Workday's core strategy of reducing or even eliminating the technical burden of version upgrades is a best practice for SaaS providers, allowing customers to focus exclusively on business improvement and maximizing the value of their system investment. More SaaS providers should follow this example.

      Postscript: Over at Diginomica, Phil Wainwright has two good posts covering some of these same points:
      Note: Workday covered my travel expenses for attending its user conference.

      Update, March 19, 2014: This Workday post by David Clarke provides a detailed explanation of Workday's single codeline development process.   

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      Sunday, September 08, 2013

      With SaaS, the Software is Not the Only Service Needed

      Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) simplifies much of the complexity involved in implementing and using enterprise software. However, in consulting on several SaaS selection projects over the past two years, I've grown concerned that some SaaS providers may be neglecting some of the key elements of success for buyers.

      (Please note, that in this post, I am not addressing the distinction between multi-tenant and single-tenant hosted systems. Although there are important differences, my concern about services transcends this distinction and applies to both.)

      As the name implies, software-as-a-service (SaaS) turns software into a service. No longer does the buyer need to install software in its on-premises data centers. Nor does the buyer need to provide its own day-to-day internal support for maintaining and operating the application infrastructure. The entire system is delivered to users "as a service" by means of a network connection. 

      But is the software the only service that SaaS buyers require? It doesn't matter whether it's SaaS or on-premise. These systems do not implement themselves. What about implementation services, such as project team training, help with prototyping, data migration, end-user training, acceptance testing and go-live support?

      Moreover, once the company goes live on the new system, what about on-going support? Is there a help desk to deal with problems, such as system unavailability or response time? What if a bug is uncovered or a patch needs to be applied? Who does the buyer turn to when there are questions about how the system operates? Is there good up-to-date system documentation and training materials?

      SaaS-Only Providers May Attempt Arms-Length Implementation Services

      Over the years, I've noticed a distinct difference in the selling approach of what I call the SaaS-only providers versus traditional enterprise software vendors. The SaaS-only players, being 100% committed to the online model, attempt to move as much of the selling process online as possible. For low-end applications such as survey software or email marketing, they offer free trials with online conversion to the paid service. For mid-level or higher-end applications (think, accounting systems or ERP), they offer self-directed online demonstrations and perhaps some sort of limited trial use of the system. If at all possible, to minimize cost of sales, they attempt to close the deal on the web or over the phone with as little on-site selling as possible. All of these sales methods are good, and I'd like to see the traditional vendors move also in this direction.

      The problem in my mind, however, is when vendors attempt to move their implementation services to this low-touch model. They try to use online computer-based training, web-based instructor-led training, and phone support, with as little on-site or personalized service as possible. This may work for lower-end applications, but when you move into those mid-level or higher-end applications, the customer can often be short-changed. It puts more responsibility on the buyer to organize its own resources for deployment.

      This may work for some small companies, but not all. Some simply need more hand-holding.

      Now, where I think the SaaS-only providers generally do a good job is in post-implementation services. Because these vendors are entirely web-based, they generally have good capabilities for ongoing support, such as self-help systems, user support communities, and web-based training. They also have much experience in migrating customers to new versions, which is far less painful than the upgrade cycles of traditional on-premises vendors.

      Traditional Vendors and Channel Partners May Not Be Good at Post-Go-Live Support

      The traditional vendors--and their channel partners--face the opposite problem. Their sales model has always been a high-touch model. They conduct face-to-face sales meetings and demonstrations. They bring services people into the process to help close the deal. They derive substantial revenue from implementation services, so they invest in those resources.

      What happens when these vendors offer a "cloud" or "hosted" version of their systems? This is where the traditional vendors and their channel partners risk falling down. They can sell their systems as they always have, but now, what about post-implementation ongoing support? The software developer often doesn't want to get involved in the day-to-day management of their customers' systems, so they push that responsibility to their VARs. The VARs, in turn, often cannot afford to invest in their own data centers, so they turn to data center hosting partners to operate the system. This arrangement can work, but the result can be a complex relationship:
      • The software vendor develops and issues new releases new versions of the software
      • The hosting provider operates the customer's system. 
      • The VAR helps the customer implement the software and provides day-to-day ongoing support for the customer, such as help desk services and resolving any issues with the hosting provider. They also provide services when customers need periodic version upgrades.
      The risk in this arrangement with largely with the VAR.  Their legacy is as implementation partners. Their experience is in projects. They come in, do a job, then leave. They do not have a culture of providing day-to-day support to their customers. Furthermore, these partners almost always have a mix of on-premises customers and hosted customers, with hosted customers forming a smaller or much-smaller percentage of business. They might have some help desk personnel to take calls, but they cannot dedicate technical resources just to the hosting customers. Rather they must use their implementation consultants when a customer has a routine problem. If the consultant who knows that customer's business is deep in the middle of another customer's go-live, the first customer's problem may go unresolved.

      Most of the SaaS-only providers do not have this problem. They develop the system, they host the system, and they provide day-to-day ongoing support for the system, including version upgrades. If there is a partner involved, it is usually only for initial implementation or help rolling out new functionality.

      What Should SaaS Buyers Do? 

      Seeing that there can be problems with both the SaaS-only providers and the traditional providers offering hosted versions, how can buyers minimize their risks? I would suggest that more due diligence is needed beyond what software buyers perform for on-premises enterprise systems.

      When considering SaaS-only providers:
      • In the sales presentation: observe whether the SaaS provider pushing an approach of mostly virtual services, claiming the system is so easy to implement that you don't require much help? If you are prepared to implement without much direct support, fine. Otherwise, you may be starved for resources when you most need them. 
      • In your reference checking, ask about the implementation experience. Who provided implementation services, the SaaS provider directly, or an implementation consulting firm? What type of support did they provide? Were their on-site services adequate? What do you wish you had done differently?
      When considering traditional vendors with hosted offerings:
      • In the sales presentation: observe whether the vendor mostly talking about the software and implementation services, or are they giving sufficient time to talk about on-going support after the go-live? This may indicate they are still thinking of themselves primarily as sales and implementation services providers, not as ongoing support providers.
      • In your reference checking: ask about the day-to-day experience with ongoing support. Does the provider schedule a lot of downtime for maintenance? Is there much unscheduled downtime? Do you ever have problems getting the right person on the phone to resolve issues?
      Of course, all these questions can be asked of all vendors. But you might consider a different emphasis depending on whether the vendor is a SaaS-only provider, or a traditional vendor with both on-premises and hosted offerings.

      Finally, if it's not in the contract, it doesn't exist. Be sure all of your needs are reflected in the actual contract and associated statements of work. If you're not experienced with negotiating these, seek help. 

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      Wednesday, June 05, 2013

      Plex Software and Its Mandate for Growth

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

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

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

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

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

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

      1. Get Noticed

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

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

      2. Put More Feet on the Street

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

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

      3. Move Up-Market

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

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

      4. Build Out the International Footprint

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

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

      5. Venture Outside of Traditional Subsectors

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

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

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

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

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

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

      The Way Forward

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

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

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

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      Monday, May 20, 2013

      NetSuite Manufacturing Moves on Down the Highway

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

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

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

      Balancing New Functionality with Need for Simplicity

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

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

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

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

      NetSuite's PLM/PDM Strategy Needs Openness

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

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

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

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

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

      Case Studies Encouraging

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

      Rethinking the Services and Support Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Related Posts

      NetSuite Manufacturing: Right Direction, Long Road Ahead.

      Thursday, March 28, 2013

      Does SaaS Save Money?

      According to a soon-to-be-published survey by Computer Economics, IT decision-makers appreciate the benefits of SaaS, such as speed, agility, and scalability. But there is one benefit that they do not rate highly. They do not see that SaaS saves money.

      Please read to the end of this post to see how I plan to quantify this issue with some hard data.

      One Client’s Impression

      This finding was reinforced in my mind last week, when I reconnected with a past client of my consulting firm, Strativa. We had helped this high tech manufacturer three years ago with a new CRM system selection, and the company had chosen Salesforce.com. Now the CIO wanted to pick my brain about options for upgrading other parts of his applications portfolio.

      In the course of the conversation, the CIO made an interesting observation. “Frank, we think we made the right choice with Salesforce, and we believe cloud systems are the way to go. But I’ve got to tell you, they aren’t cheap.”

      I indicated that I had been thinking about this subject recently and asked him to tell me more. “Well, when you count the per-user fees, plus the platform costs, plus the partner apps that you want to implement, it can add up to a lot of money year after year,” he explained. “And, of course, you still have the up-front implementation consulting fees.”

      Changing the Subject

      Later in the day, I posted a couple of tweets about this conversation, and the reaction from some of my followers was interesting. “The real benefits of SaaS are in flexibility and agility,” replied one follower. “You shouldn’t be looking at TCO,” replied another.

      I'm always amused when analysts and consultants want to tell customers what questions they should be asking or not asking. As if some questions are off limits.

      Now, as a proponent of cloud computing, I’ll put myself right up there with the best of them. However, I would like to know: how does the total cost of SaaS compare to on-premises systems? Moreover, if SaaS is more expensive, isn’t that useful information for IT decision makers?  Of course it is. If a customer is going to make a technology decision, the customer should have all the information needed. Certainly, cost is one of the factors he or she should be taking into account.

      Four Theories

      So, let's consider: why might a customer think that SaaS doesn't save them money? Off the top of my head, there are at least four possibilities.
      • Theory 1: SaaS does save money, but customers don’t realize it. In other words, perhaps customers do not fully appreciate the cost of staffing and supporting on-premises systems, such as the cost of implementing future upgrades. These are costs that are eliminated or greatly reduced with SaaS. But since customers do not fully recognize those costs, they do not count those savings. Or, because of the cost, they might be avoiding upgrades of on-premises systems and not recognizing the price their organization is paying by not staying current.
         
      • Theory 2: SaaS does save money, but you only realize those savings when you completely eliminate your on-premises systems. If you still have most of your systems on-premises, moving just one of them to the cloud doesn’t eliminate your data center or data center staffing. So, you are not able to realize the cost savings from eliminating the data center. 
         
      • Theory 3: SaaS does save money, but vendors don’t pass along those savings to customers. In other words, SaaS applications are cheaper to for vendors to develop, deploy, and maintain, but SaaS providers are just matching the prices of on-premises vendors and enjoy extra profits.
         
      • Theory 4: SaaS is more expensive than on-premises systems, but it’s worth it. Perhaps SaaS does not save money, but the value of SaaS in terms of flexibility, agility, and scalability are so overwhelming that it’s worth it to customers to pay extra.
      Now, these four theories are not mutually exclusive. For example, SaaS may save money (Theory 1) and also allow vendors to appropriate some of the cost savings as extra profit (Theory 3). Or, a mix of on-premises and cloud systems do not save money (Theory 2), but its still worth it for customers in terms of agility (Theory 4). Furthermore, the answer may be different for different SaaS applications. For example, perhaps cloud CRM saves money, but cloud ERP doesn't.

      More Data Needed

      But, the general question is still unanswered. Generally, from the customer’s perspective, does SaaS save money?

      To answer this question, Computer Economics has launched another survey. As part of our annual IT spending and staffing survey, we are looking for organizations that have moved most or all of their applications portfolio to the cloud. In other words, we are looking for customers that have no internally supported data center, or at least, a minimal set of on-premises systems. We are asking these customers to take part in our regular annual survey, and we will compare the IT spending ratios of these select customers against our standard industry ratios for IT spending and staffing. We will also interview these customers to learn more about their experience with SaaS and the perceived value as well as challenges.

      Through this study, we hope to be able to answer three main questions. First, do companies that have gone largely to cloud computing spend less on IT than those that have not? Second, how does the mix of IT spending differ? Finally, where do customers see the business value of SaaS?

      We already have a handful of respondents and the initial data is quite interesting. But we need more. If you are a company that has implemented all or most of your business applications in the cloud, please apply to take our survey. As an incentive, survey participants will receive $2,500 of free research reports.

      Apply for the Computer Economics Survey >>

      Photo credit

      Saturday, March 02, 2013

      Cloud Confusion on The Motley Fool

      As I've written in the past, financial analysts may provide good advice for investors in the tech sector. But their analysis is not very useful to buyers of technology products and services. It's not that they don't have insights, but they are writing for a different audience: investors, not customers and prospects.

      Some parts of the financial press are another story. Some financial media reporters so poorly understand the tech industry that neither investors nor prospective buyers should listen to them.  

      I saw an example of this today on The Motley Fool, in a story entitled, Is Oracle's Cloud Really Fake? In it the contributor, Richard Saintvilus, takes issue with an Infoworld article by David Linthicum that criticizes Oracle's most recent "cloud" announcement as "faux IaaS."

      The Motley Fool is a website aimed at the individual small investor. It provides both free content as well as paid subscriber material. It also makes money from advertising. Therefore, generating page views is a key objective, with much of its content generated by freelancers, as appears to be the case here. So, the quality of its content varies.

      Apologies to in advance to Saintvilus, who reached out to me on Twitter after I sniped at his story. He asked for specifics, so here you go.

      Oracle Late to the Cloud

      Staintvilus immediately starts with a misconception, that Oracle was an early proponent of cloud computing. Here is his lead:
      Wall Street loves a hot trend and had essentially decided four years ago that the cloud was next. With corporations needing all of the cost savings/productivity benefits the cloud offered, the timing was perfect. Oracle was one of the first blue chip enterprise companies to realize this opportunity. [emphasis here, and throughout, is mine.]
      Sorry Richard. Even as late as 2009, Oracle's CEO Larry Ellison famously mocked the term cloud computing, calling it no more than a fashion statement. Furthermore, he not only mocked the term, he mocked the concept. To this day, Ellison criticizes multitenant applications, which are the cornerstone of most large scale SaaS providers. Only recently, as Oracle realized it was losing the war did Oracle embrace cloud computing, albeit with its own twist (either hosted single tenant applications, or multi-tenant applications with single tenant databases.) Industry analysts can argue all day about the relative merits of each approach. But none would claim that Oracle was anywhere to be found at the beginning of the trend to cloud computing.

      Oracle Market Share in Cloud Services

      He continues with a comment on Oracle's rising revenues:
      The company [Oracle] is providing a service, of which there has been very few complaints -- at least not according to the rising revenues, which suggest it's stealing share from rivals such as salesforce.com. And Oracle is not the cheapest on the market, either. So, there's a reason why customers are willing to pay the premium. And it's not because these corporate CIOs are dumb.
      Yes, Oracle's revenues are rising. But those of Salesforce.com are rising also, up 37% in 2012. Furthermore, while all of the revenues of SFDC are derived from cloud computing, only a small percentage of Oracle's are. So to impute on the basis of revenues that Oracle is taking market share from Salesforce.com is ludicrous. Certainly, in my own firm's work advising buyers in software selection, I do not see Oracle taking market share from Salesforce.com. In fact, in CRM, I see deals in which buyers want to look at Salesforce but do not even consider Oracle, especially in the midmarket.

      As far as software pricing is concerned, neither do I see Oracle as commanding a premium price over Salesforce.com, or over other application vendors for that matter. In fact, Oracle is notorious for competing on price when it really wants a competitive deal, as it knows it can make it up on maintenance revenue in the future.

      But the author wouldn't know that, because he does not advise technology buyers, nor is he in a position to see actual deals going down.

      Oracle's Engineered Systems Are Not "Cloud"

      He then confuses Oracle's new Exa-boxes with cloud services.
      However, David Linthicum of InfoWorld thinks [CIOs are] idiots (I'm paraphrasing that a bit), which doesn't make sense. CIOs are spending billions annually with Oracle. But in Linthicum's recent article, he insists they don't know what they're buying: "Oracle is continuing its faux cloud strategy, adding to its private-cloud infrastructure offering the ability to rent for a monthly fee preconfigured application servers to be deployed in customer data centers. The available application servers -- what Oracle calls 'engineered systems'"
      The author can be forgiven for this misunderstanding, as Oracle itself confuses this issue, which is the whole point of Linthicum's criticism. The basic point is that cloud computing is a "service," whereas Oracle's computer hardware (whether old school Sun commodity servers, or Oracle's new "engineered systems") is a physical product. Renting Oracle hardware does not magically turn the hardware into a cloud service.

      Oracle's Engineered Systems Are an Old Concept

      He continues with the impression that Oracle's Exa-boxes are somehow a new concept. 
      Linthicum clearly has an ax to grind. While he's going all-out on Oracle's product portfolio, rival companies have been working hard to duplicate Oracle's offerings. For instance, IBM has a rival offering called PureSystems -- launched three years after Oracle's Engineered Systems, or ES. And, after Oracle has already deployed ES to more than 1,000 customers in 43 countries, IBM followed. Big Blue has gained traction, but not to the extent of Oracle. And I doubt that IBM would have followed a model it didn't think had sustaining potential.
      The author appears unaware that Oracle is attempting to return to the IBM era of the 1960s. In fact, Larry Ellison has said so himself. The IBM mainframe at the time was a single integrated platform of hardware, operating system, database, and applications engineered from the ground up to work together. IBM's AS/400 series of machines (now called Series i) took this concept even further. What broke up IBM's dominance in the mainframe era was the fact that these boxes were all based on proprietary standards, and eventually low cost commodity hardware (whether IBM personal computers, or later, Unix boxes from providers such as Sun) could do the job much more cost effectively. The downside was that the new approach led to challenges in system integration, in making all the layers of the technology stack work together.

      Oracle's strategy with its Exa-boxes is to return to this single technology stack from hardware through applications, engineered from the ground up to work together. Will Oracle be successful? Only time will tell. And, certainly the 1,000 customer number that the author mentions is not yet enough of a measure of success.

      Regardless, what does any of this have to do with cloud computing? Absolutely nothing. Oracle is launching a public cloud offering, with its Exa-boxes as part of the infrastructure. Other providers can do the same using commodity hardware, as Google, Amazon, Microsoft and others have already done.

      But the Oracle offering that Linthicum is criticizing and that the author is defending is not Oracle's public cloud service. Rather it is an arrangement whereby Oracle customers can, for a monthly fee,  rent preconfigured Oracle application servers and run them in their own data centers. Linthicum is absolutely right: this has nothing to do with cloud computing.

      According to the NIST definition of cloud computing, there are five essential characteristics of cloud computing, and Oracle's hardware rental offering does not satisfy four of them. (See the link in this paragraph for a more complete definition.)
      • On-demand self-service. Oracle's rental agreement does not allow the customer to unilaterally provision computing capabilities, such as server time and network storage, as needed automatically without requiring human interaction with each service provider.
      • Resource pooling. Oracle's rental agreement does not pool computing resources for multiple customers in a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand.
      • Rapid elasticity. Oracle's offering does not allow computing capabilities to be elastically provisioned and released, in some cases automatically, to scale rapidly outward and inward commensurate with demand. As Linthicum points out, the customer has to pay extra for spikes in demand and there is no provision to ramp down demand, and cost.
      • Measured service. Oracle's offering does not automatically control and optimize resource use by leveraging a metering capability. Customers do not pay as they go.  
      Clearly then, Oracle's offering may use the terminology of cloud computing but it does not display the essential characteristics of cloud computing. You can call me a fish, but that doesn't make me one.

      The List Goes On

      I have neither the time nor the patience to go much further. Let me just list a few (and by no means all) of the remaining errors.
      • "Linthicum is pretending to be an expert on something that is still in its infancy." Cloud computing may not be a full grown adult, but it is certainly not an infant. Providers such as Salesforce.com have been delivering cloud services for well over a decade, ancient history in the technology industry.  
      • "Oracle innovates at the technology layer, thereby giving customers more leverage and independence from consulting fees." What exactly is the "technology layer?" Everything from bare metal hardware to business applications are "technology." Furthermore, talk to Oracle customers: I doubt anyone will tell you they have less need for consultants. 
      • "Had Cisco contracted out its cloud services to Oracle, it could have remained focus on growing its business." The types of cloud services that Cisco offers, such as cloud network management, are not services that Oracle provides. Therefore, it would not be possible for Cisco to contract with Oracle to provide those services on behalf of Cisco. 
      • "Even if Linthicum's pricing claims were correct, then it means Microsoft's Azure, which has a pay-as-you-go model, is also fake. But Microsoft has been reducing its prices because it can't compete." If Microsoft is lowering its Azure pricing, it's not because it can't compete, but because it can deliver cloud services at lower and lower costs over time, as it scales and the costs of technology drop (see "Moore's Law"). Similarly, Amazon lowers its AWS prices multiple times per year and no one in his right mind claims it's because Amazon can't compete.
      Parts of The Motley Fool article are nearly indecipherable, especially toward the end. But I think this is enough to illustrate: parts of the financial press are poor sources of information on enterprise IT. By that, I do not mean to imply that all financial reporters are suspect. One would not expect to see a story such as this one to appear, say, on the pages of The Wall Street Journal or Financial Times.

      Furthermore, none of my criticism should be taken to mean that Oracle is not a good company from either the investor perspective or customer perspective. As the author tweeted me, "Oracle is one of the best tech names on the market and it deserves fairness."

      Yes it is, and yes it does. And because of that, it also deserves accurate reporting.  

      Related posts

      Enterprise IT Buyers: Don’t Listen to Financial Analysts
      Oracle's Behavior Undercuts Its Own Cloud Accomplishments
      Cutting Through the Fog of Cloud Computing Definitions

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