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Posts from the ‘ERP’ Category

Why Cloud ERP Adoption Is Faster Than Gartner Predicts

200393880-001A recent study completed by Gartner titled Survey Analysis: Adoption of Cloud ERP, 2013 Through 2023 published on January 24, 2014, written by Nigel Rayner advises CIOs and application leaders of financial services institutions to “consider cloud ERP as a potential replacement for aging core ERP systems that are out of support or running on an old technology platforms (such as mainframes).“

The methodology is based on a survey of Gartner Research Circle members from North America, EMEA, APAC and Latin America from companies that range in size from $10M to $10B.

Key take-aways of the study including the following:

  • Including the 2% that already have core ERP in the cloud, a total of 47% of organizations surveyed plan to move their core ERP systems to the cloud within five years. This is because their ERP requirements tend to be focused around administrative ERP (financials, human capital management and procure-to-pay) where there is a wider range of cloud options (compared with manufacturing).
  • In aggregate, 30% of respondents say that the majority of their ERP systems will be on-premises for the foreseeable future as can be seen from the following graphic.

cloud adoption pie chart

  • 30% of organizations surveyed said they planned to keep the majority of their ERP systems on-premise for the foreseeable future.  Manufacturing organizations dominated this survey segment.

Why Cloud ERP Is Accelerating Faster Than Gartner Predicts

Two-tier ERP is the Trojan Horse of cloud ERP.  If Gartner had asked their respondents about if and how cloud-based ERP systems are being considered and used in two-tier ERP strategies globally, their survey and previous forecasts would have been significantly different.

From researching and working with manufacturers where two-tier ERP strategies make perfect sense for extending their legacy ERP systems to move into new markets, the following key take-aways emerge:

  • Achieving faster time-to-market while reducing cost of quality.  This is quickly turning into a year of transition for many supply chains, with the shift most noticeable in aerospace and defense.  Tighter project schedules driven by reduced budgets, coupled with more aggressive launch schedules is making this the year of the agile supplier.  Cloud-based ERP systems are essential to suppliers in this industry especially.
  • Legacy ERP systems lack scalability to support 21rst century compliance. One CIO who is a good friend jokingly refers to the legacy ERP systems populating each division of the manufacturing company he works for as fuel for his silos of excellence.  His point is that legacy ERP systems don’t have the data models to support the current quality management and compliance requirements corporate-wide and are relegated to siloed roles in his organization.  Cloud-based applications, specifically designed for ISO 9100, AS9100 Rev. C can do what legacy systems can’t, which is span across the aerospace manufacturer’s entire operations.
  • SaaS-based manufacturing and distribution software will increase from 22% in 2013 to 45% by 2023.  According to MintJutras, a leading research and advisory firm tracking ERP trends, a survey completed in 2013 shows SaaS-based applications will steadily grow from 22% of all manufacturing and distribution software installed to 45% within ten years.  The catalyst for much fo this growth will be two-tier ERP system adoption.
  • Microsoft’s New CEO knows the enterprise and cloud’s role in it. Satya Nadella has the daunting task of bringing innovation back into Microsoft.  As Anshu Sharma writes in his blog post today Satya Nadella: Microsoft, Coffee and the Relevance Question provides an excellent analysis of the challenges and paradoxes faced by the new Microsoft CEO.  It’s common knowledge in the Microsoft Partner community that the company runs one of the largest two-tier ERP system architectures in IT today, with an SAP R/3 instance in headquarters and Microsoft Dynamics AX running in each subsidiary.
  • All cloud ERP providers including Microsoft intend to monetize two-tier as much as they possibly can, architecting their respective Cloud OS strategies and enterprise suites to capitalize on it. Microsoft released an overview of their Cloud OS strategies in the following presentation, which provides a thorough overview of their perspective of the hosting market and how it relates to their apps business. Also included is the following graphic, Cloud OS: Innovation at Scale.  All of the factors taken together will drive up adoption of Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 and streamline two-tier enterprise sales across all cloud ERP providers.  Last year at Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference the announcement was made that Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 would be available on Windows Azure in July, 2014.

cloud scale

  • Mobility is unifying the manufacturing shop floor to the top floor faster than anyone thinks.  In traditional ERP systems mobile platforms are most often used for material handling, warehouse management, traceability, quality management, logistics and service tracking. From the discussions I’ve had with CIOs and a few CEOs of manufacturing companies, there’s a high level of interest in analytics, alerts and approvals on Android and Apple tablets.  These apps and the speed of results they deliver are the new corporate bling. Intuitive, integrated and fast, these mobile apps make it possible for senior managers to check up on operations for wherever they are globally, in addition to approving contracts and being notified of events via alerts.  For Gartner’s assessment of cloud ERP to have been complete in this survey, mobility also needed to be covered

Best- And Worst-Performing Cloud Computing Stocks In The First Half Of 2013

Cloud computing stocks continue to show wide variation in performance throughout the first half of this year.

Ten of the twenty companies in the Cloud Computing Stock Index delivered returns to shareholders with NetSuite leading with a 37.30% share gain, delivering $13,730 on $10,000 invested on January 2, 2013.

To more fully define the stock performance of these companies, I’ve added Earnings Per Share (EPS), Price/Earnings Ratio, Year-To-Date (YTD) Total Gains or Loss, Annualized Gain or Loss, and Total Dollar Value of $10,000 invested on January 2, 2013.  You can download the latest version of the Cloud Computing Stock Index here.  The filter applied to these companies is that 50% or more of their revenues are generated from cloud-based applications, infrastructure and services.  Additional details of the index are provided at the end of this post.

 

Best Performing

Name

Symbol

(1/2/13 – 7/5/13)Total Gain or Loss

Annualized Gain or Loss

Total Dollar Value of $10K invested in this stock on Jan. 2, 2013 as of July 5th:

NetSuite Inc

N

37.30%

87.55%

$13,730.00

Keynote Systems, Inc.

KEYN

36.18%

84.53%

$13,618.00

CA, Inc.

CA

26.67%

59.83%

$12,667.00

Workday Inc

WDAY

23.81%

52.77%

$12,381.00

Cisco Systems, Inc.

CSCO

22.60%

49.82%

$12,260.00

Symantec Corporation

SYMC

18.84%

40.84%

$11,884.00

Amazon.com, Inc.

AMZN

11.10%

23.23%

$11,110.00

 

Worst Performing

Name

Symbol

(1/2/13 – 7/5/13)Total Gain or Loss

Annualized Gain or Loss

Total Dollar Value of $10K invested in this stock on Jan. 2, 2013 as of July 5th:

Rackspace Hosting, Inc.

RAX

-46.78%

-71.39%

$5,322.00

Fusion-IO, Inc.

FIO

-41.21%

-65.13%

$5,879.00

F5 Networks, Inc.

FFIV

-31.57%

-52.88%

$6,843.00

VMware, Inc.

VMW

-29.94%

-50.63%

$7,006.00

Riverbed Technology…

RVBD

-24.91%

-43.34%

$7,509.00

Red Hat, Inc.

RHT

-11.47%

-21.46%

$8,853.00

Key Take-Aways:

  • NetSuite leads the index with a 37.3% gain in their stock price, and $10K invested in their stock on January 2nd of this year would be worth $13,730 as of July 5th.  Cloud-based Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems acceptance is accelerating, evidenced by the success NetSuite is having with their two-tier ERP strategy and recent announcement they are moving into manufacturing.  Their recent alliance with Oracle also shows upside potential.   A cloud-based ERP provider leading the index is good news for Acumatica and Plex Systems especially, the leader in cloud-based ERP systems for manufacturing and one of the most enthusiastic customer bases in enterprise software.  Both of these companies are privately held or they would have been included in the index.
  • The 20 companies that comprise the Cloud Computing Stock Index attained a 29.6% return from July 10, 2012 to July 5, 2013.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) gained 18.83%;  Microsoft, 14.02%; Oracle, 7.17%; and SAP, 27.51%.  The following chart compares the performance of each. Please click on the index to expand it for easier viewing.

  • Widespread adoption of Amazon Web Services, success using the Kindle series of tablets as customer acquisition tools for digital content, market leadership of the online retail landscape, and successful pilots of the AmazonFresh online grocery business in Los Angeles and Seattle are all fueling Amazon’s stock performance this year.

Specifics on the Cloud Computing Stock Index

I used The Cloud Times 100 as the basis of the index, and included the 20 following companies, all of which are publically traded.  The latest edition of the Cloud Computing Stock Index is shown here.  Please click on the index to expand it for easier viewing.

 Note: I do not hold equity positions or work for any of the companies mentioned in this blog post or included in the Cloud Computing Stock Index.  

Gartner Predicts CRM Will Be A $36B Market By 2017

CRM in 2017The latest enterprise software forecast from Gartner shows Customer Relationship Management (CRM) increasing to a $36.5B worldwide market by 2017, a significant increase from the $20.6B forecasted in Q1 of this year.  CRM also leads all enterprise software categories in projected growth, showing a 15.1% CAGR from 2012 to 2017, also revised up from 9.7% in the Q1 forecast.

The latest round of forecasts published in the report,  Gartner Forecast: Enterprise Software Markets, Worldwide, 2012-2017, 2Q13 Update shows CRM eclipsing ERP in worldwide market size in 2017.  The following graph compares the relative growth of CRM, ERP, Business Intelligence (BI), Supply Chain Management and Web Conferencing, Collaboration/Social Software Suites.  Source: Gartner Forecast: Enterprise Software Markets, Worldwide, 2012-2017, 2Q13 Update.  Please click on the image to increase its size for easier reading.

Figure 1 Forecast

Key Take-Aways

Figure 2 Forecast

  • Worldwide enterprise software spending is projected to be $304B in 2013 in the latest forecast, up from $279B in the Q1 forecast. Gartner claims stronger demand for CRM, supply chain management and security are leading to accelerating market growth.
  • ERP spending worldwide is projected to grow from $26.03B in 2013 to $34.3B in 2017, attaining a CAGR in the forecast period 2012 – 2017 of 7%.
  • Business Intelligence (BI) worldwide is projected to grow from $14B in 2013 to $18.6B in 2017, attaining a CAGR in the forecast period 2012 – 2017 of 7.3%.
  • Supply Chain Management (SCM) worldwide is projected to grow from $9.16B in 2013 to $13.6B in 2017, attaining a CAGR in the forecast period 2012 – 2017 of 10.4%.
  • Data Integration Tools and Data Quality Tools worldwide are projected to grow from $4B in 2013 to $6B in 2017, attaining a CAGR in the forecast period 2012 – 2017 of  10.3%.

 Bottom Line:  Gartner’s latest forecasts show that enterprises are realizing the most valuable assets they have are solid, long-term customer relationships.  Trust really is the new currency, as my friend Michael Krigsman often says.

2013 ERP Market Share Update: SAP Solidifies Market Leadership

SAP Headquarters, Building 1

SAP Headquarters, Building 1 Source: Wikipedia

During 2012 the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) market experienced sluggish growth of just 2.2%, yet Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), financial management and Human Capital Management (HCM) applications showed potential for breakout growth.

Through the challenging times of the previous year however, SAP still retained worldwide market share leadership.  These and other insights were recently published in the recent report, Market Share Analysis: ERP Software Worldwide, 2012 authored by Chris Pang, Yanna Dharmasthira, Chad Eschinger, Koji Motoyoshi and Kenneth F. Brant.

Key Take-Aways

  • Overall market growth of just 2.2% and the top ten vendors owning 64% of the worldwide ERP market is leading Gartner to predict further consolidation of the industry.
  • SAP had just over $6B in total ERP software revenue in 2012, leading the worldwide market with 24.6% market share.  Oracle had $3.12B and Sage, $1.5B in software revenues for 2012.  Oracle’s market share was 12.8%, and Sage, 6.3%. The following graphic shows worldwide ERP market share for 2012.

ERP Market Share 2012 Stats

  • Infor achieved 49.5% revenue growth in 2012, increasing their 2011 sales from $1B in 2011 to $1.5B in 2012.  Their market share increased from 4.2% in 2011 to 6.2% in 2012.
  • Microsoft achieved 4.2% revenue growth  in 2012, increasing revenue from $1B in 2011 to $1.1B in 2012.  The majority of these sales are for the Microsoft Dynamics AX ERP system.
  • The fastest growing ERP vendors  in 2012 include Workday, Cornerstone OnDemand, WorkForce Software, Ventyx and NetSuite.
  • Workday grew 114.7% in 2012, increasing revenue from $88.6M in 2011 to $190.3M in 2012.
  • Cornerstone OnDemand grew 61.5% in 2012, increasing revenue from $58.4M in 2011 to $94.3 in 2012.
  • WorkForce Software grew 39.8% in 2012, increasing revenue from $11.8M in 2011 to $16.5M in 2012.
  • NetSuite grew 34% in 2012, increasing revenue from $139.7M in 2011 to $187.1M in 2012.
  • SaaS-based ERP revenues are projected to grow from 12% worldwide in 2013 to 17% in 2017.  The following graphic from the report Gartner’s Market Trends: SaaS’s Varied Levels of Cannibalization to On-Premises Applications published: 29 October 2012 shows this progression.  You can find a research roundup at the previous post SaaS Adoption Accelerates, Goes Global in the Enterprise, which provides additional insights into which factors are driving SaaS adoption.

SaaS Revenue Market Sizing

Bottom line:  SAP’s continued market dominance depends on how well the company orchestrates it core ERP strategy with the following areas: BusinessObjects 4.0, its highly regarded analytics suite; social application adoption (StreamWorks and SuccessFactors Jam); the many Cloud-based initiatives they have including SuccessFactors and BusinessbyDesign; mobility platform wins;  and major wins with their SAP Sybase DBMS and HANA architectures.

10 Ways Cloud Computing Is Revolutionizing Manufacturing

manufacturing floorThe best manufacturers I’ve visited this year all share a common attribute: they are obsessed with making themselves as easy as possible to work with from a supply chain, distribution and services standpoint.  Many are evaluating cloud-based manufacturing applications including Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and several have adopted cloud-based applications across their companies.

With so much interest, there is much confusion as well.  I recently spoke with Cindy Jutras, founder and CEO of MintJutras.  Her firm has recently completed a survey of SaaS adoption in manufacturing, distribution and other industries.  She found the following:

  • 49% of respondents in the manufacturing & distribution industries do not understand the difference between single- and multi-tenant SaaS architectures.  Overall 66% of respondents to the survey did not know.
  • SaaS-based applications are 22% of all manufacturing and distribution software installed today, and will grow to 45% within ten years according to MintJutras.
  • The three most important characteristics of a SaaS solution in manufacturing and distribution include giving customers a measure of control over upgrades, consistent support for global operations and allowing for rapid and frequent upgrades.

Cindy Jutras Research May 8 2013

Why Manufacturers Are Looking To Cloud Computing  

Manufacturers are under constant pressure to increase accuracy, make process speed a competitive force, and capitalize on their internal intelligence and knowledge to make every supplier, distributor and service interaction count.  The manufacturers spoken and visited with to gain the following insights are in the high tech, industrial and aerospace and defense industries, where rapid product lifecycles and short time-to-market schedules are commonplace.

Cloud-based strategies give these companies the chance to bring their own innate intelligence and knowledge into every sales situation.  While on-premise systems could also do this, cloud-based systems were quicker to roll out, easier to customize and showed potential to increase adoption rates across resellers.

One manufacturing manager explained how during a new product launch the speed and volume of collaboration was so rapid on between suppliers and distributors that an allocation situation was averted.  That he said, made senior management believers.  These epiphanies are happening daily in manufacturing.

Based on my visits with manufacturers, here are the ten ways they are using cloud computing to revolutionize manufacturing:

  • Capturing and applying company-wide intelligence and knowledge through the use of analytics, business intelligence (BI), and rules engines.  For the many manufacturers who rely on build-to-order, configure-to-order and engineer-to-order strategies as a core part of their business models, using cloud-based platforms to capture knowledge and manage rules is accelerating. A key part of this area is mobility support for analytics, BI and rules engine reporting and analysis.
  • Piloting and then moving quickly to full launch of supplier portals and collaboration platforms, complete with quality management dashboards and workflows.  Among the manufacturers visited, those in high tech are the most advanced in this area, often implementing Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) and demand management applications that deliver real-time order status and forecasts.
  • Designing in services is now becoming commonplace, making cloud integration expertise critical for manufacturers.  From simplistic services integration on iPhones to the full implementation of voice-activated controls including emergency assistance in the latest luxury cars, adding in services integrated to the cloud is redefining the competitive landscape of industries today.  Revising a product or launching an new product generation with embedded services can mitigate price wars, which is why many manufacturers are pursing this strategy today.
  •  Accelerating new product development and introduction (NPDI) strategies to attain time-to-market objectives. Using cloud-based platforms in high tech manufacturing is growing today as time-to-market constraints are requiring greater collaboration earlier in design cycles.
  • Managing indirect and direct channel sales from a single cloud platform tracking sales results against quota at the individual, group and divisional level is now commonplace across all manufacturers visited.  Dashboards report back the status by each rep and for sales managers, the profitability of each deal.
  • Using cloud-based marketing automation applications to plan, execute and most important, track results of every campaign.  Marketing is under a microscope in many manufacturers today, as marketing automation applications have promised to deliver exceptional results and many manufacturers are still struggling to align their internal content, strategies and ability to execute with the potential these systems promise.
  • Automating customer service, support and common order status inquiries online, integrating these systems to distributed order management, pricing, and content management platforms.  Manufacturing industries are at varying levels of adoption when it comes to automating self-service.  The cost and time advantages in high tech are the highest levels of adoption I’ve seen in visiting manufacturers however.
  • Increasing reliance on two-tier ERP strategies to gain greater efficiencies in material planning, supplier management and reduce logistics costs.  Manufacturers are also using this strategy to gain greater independence from a single ERP vendor dominating their entire operations.  Several manufacturers remarked that their large, monolithic ERP systems could not, without intensive programming and customization, scale down to the smaller operational needs in distributed geographic regions.  Cloud-based ERP systems are getting the attention of manufacturers pursuing two-tier ERP strategies.  AcumaticaCincomMicrosoftNetSuite and Plex Systems are leaders in this area of ERP systems.
  • Reliance on cloud-based Human Resource Management (HRM) systems to unify all manufacturing locations globally.  This often includes combining  multisite talent management, recruiting, payroll and time tracking.  Contract manufacturer Flextronics uses Workday to optimize workforce allocations across their global manufacturing centers for example.

Bottom Line:  Using cloud-based systems to streamline key areas of their business, manufacturers are freeing up more time to invest in new products and selling more.

Roundup of Cloud Computing & Enterprise Software Market Estimates and Forecasts, 2013

157989221When the CEO of a rust-belt manufacturer speaks of cloud computing as critical to his company’s business strategies for competing globally, it’s clear a fundamental shift is underway.

Nearly every manufacturing company I’ve spoken with in the last ninety days has a mobility roadmap and is also challenged to integrate existing ERP, pricing and fulfillment systems into next-generation selling platforms.

One of the most driven CEOs I’ve met in manufacturing implemented a cloud-based channel management, pricing, quoting and CRM system to manage direct sales and a large distributor network across several countries.  Manufacturers are bringing an entirely new level of pragmatism to cloud computing, quickly deflating its hype by pushing for results on the shop floor.

There’s also been an entirely new series of enterprise software and cloud computing forecasts and market estimates published.  I’ve summarized the key take-aways below:

  • Enterprise sales of ERP systems will grow to $32.9B in 2016, attaining a 6.7% CAGR in the forecast period of 2011 to 2016.   CRM is projected to be an $18.6B global market by 2016, attaining a CAGR of 9.1% from 2011 to 2016.   The fastest growing category of enterprise software will be Web Conferencing and Team, growing at a 12.4% CAGR through the forecast period.  The following graphic compares 2011 actual sales and the latest forecast for 2016 by enterprise software product category.  Source:  Gartner’s Forecast Analysis: Enterprise Application Software, Worldwide, 2011-2016, 4Q12 Update Published: 31 January 2013

Figure 1 enteprise spending

Figure 2

figure 3 cloud computing

 public cloud forecast

Forrester Wave

  • IDC is predicting Cloud Services and enablement spending will hit $60 billion, growing at 26% through the year and that over 80% of new apps will be distributed and deployed on cloud platforms.  Their predictions also are saying that 2.5% of legacy packaged enterprise apps will start migrating to clouds.  Source: Top 10 Predictions, IDC Predictions 2012: Competing for 2020 by Frank Gens. You can download a copy of the IDC Predictions here: http://cdn.idc.com/research/Predictions12/Main/downloads/IDCTOP10Predictions2012.pdf

Plex Systems’ CEO Jason Blessing on the Future of ERP and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)

Jason Blessing med HS
Last week Plex Systems, a leading provider of SaaS-based Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems announced enterprise software veteran Jason Blessing has joined their company as CEO.   He is responsible for the strategic direction and growth of the company, and has a proven track record in many facets of enterprise software, from new application development to professional services.  His extensive experience includes previous executive positions at Oracle, Taleo, PeopleSoft and Price Waterhouse.  You can find his LinkedIn profile here.

Plex Systems’ success delivering ERP entirely on the SaaS platform to manufacturers have many industry analysts, experts and pundits saying their unique business model is prescient of the future of enterprise software.  Originally designed for an automotive parts manufacturer, Plex Online is being adopted by aerospace and defense, food and beverage, high tech and electronics, industrial machinery, and precision metal manufacturers.  You can find an overview of Plex Systems here.

I recently had a chance to speak with Jason and get his views on the future of ERP, SaaS in manufacturing and the enterprise, and what he sees as the greatest challenges and opportunities for Plex Systems.

Here’s a transcript of my interview with Jason Blessing, the new CEO of Plex Systems:

What are the three biggest challenges you see to Plex Systems’ growth over the long-term and how will you and the management team address them?

Our greatest challenge is awareness of who Plex Systems is and the value we are delivering to our manufacturing customers today. We’re already putting together programs that will highlight the very meaningful customer base we have and what they are able to accomplish using Plex Online.  Second, we’re going to continue making significant product investments.  Our owners are growth-minded and we’re looking to create a beachheads in additional areas to compliment our heritage in auto manufacturing.  Third, we’re going to expand our sales and marketing investments to provide better coverage domestically and in Europe and Asia. We’re also on a mission to lead the resurgence of manufacturing in America by giving small and mid-sized companies the systems they need to be formidable global competitors. 

SaaS-based applications have proved themselves in the enterprise.  How and why are manufacturers adopting SaaS-based ERP systems today?  How is this going to change in the future?

Credit has to go to Taleo and Salesforce for proving SaaS can succeed at the departmental level in the enterprise.  We’re finding that the combination of financials and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) delivered in the cloud is very well-suited for small and medium manufacturers.  These manufacturers often don’t have a large Information Technologies (IT) staff and want to offload these systems so they can stay focused on their core business.  In this sense we free up these smaller manufacturers to get back to work running their businesses without having to hassle with large, complex and costly ERP deployments. 

Will SaaS-based ERP systems cannibalize monolithic ERP systems or coexist and compliment them?  Or are you seeing a mix of both cannibalization and coexistence?  For Plex Systems, what’s the best direction?

We do see customer that adopt parts of our solution, quality for example, to test the cloud model before going wall to wall Plex.   Another approach we see is customers who have global operations bring foreign factories online quicker than they had in the past as a result of SaaS.  The end result will be the cannibalization of monolithic ERP systems by those that are SaaS-based.

One of the implicit factors in this area of cannibalization is the typical release cadence of a SaaS provider.  Most large cloud providers have, on average, 3 releases a year.  Here at Plex Systems we’re on a continuous release cadence.  When a customer asks for a feature enhancement or entirely new set of functions, we strive to be very responsive with our release cycles and deliver what is needed.  

Plex Systems has done well in several key manufacturing industries including automotive, A&D, electronics, food and beverage, and medical devices.  Do you see Plex Systems moving into additional industries, and if so, which ones?  Pharmaceutical and biotech for example.

We’re going to be fairly disciplined in our approach within the verticals we’re already selling into.  We’re seeing increasing interest in moving core shop floor applications to the cloud for example, and we’re going to expand out our coverage in our core vertical markets as a result.      

With the majority of sales in the United States, does Plex Systems have plans for Europe and Asia?  What’s your perspective of those markets for SaaS-based ERP system sales? 

We’re growing at an approximately compound annual growth rate of 30%+ per year, the majority of that growth coming from North America today.  We’re also seeing strong interest from EMEA, South America and Asia.  What’s driving our foreign market demand is the need manufacturers have for quickly getting production centers up and running on financials, MES and Supply Chain Management Systems (SCM).  We also run our own data centers and have hot standby and back facilities supporting our worldwide customer base.

Two-tier ERP delivers significant business value and is growing in adoption. How will Plex Systems capitalize on this trend and what are the implications for the application development priorities?

We’re delivering two-tier ERP implementations today and one of the largest heavy equipment manufacturers in the world uses Plex Online to run their shop floor operations at several manufacturing centers.  Their main ERP system is an SAP R/3 instance, and we integrate to that and help this manufacturer be more efficient at the individual plant and shop floor level.   

Plex_ColorLast year Plex Systems announced IntelliPlex, SmartPlex, in addition to several other significant new services and partnerships.  Of these, IntelliPlex has the potential to deliver analytics and business intelligence to manufacturers who may have never had these metrics available before.  How do you see analytics in manufacturing improving this year, and how will this augment Plex Online’s analytics strategy going forward?

Much of our success as a provider of SaaS-based ERP systems is due to the breadth of applications that span from the shop floor to the top floor. We’re seeing analytics resonate really well with the people who write us the checks, the top floor executives and their teams responsible for the getting the highest performance from manufacturing operations.  We’re going to augment our analytics this year, supporting mobile devices.  We’ve also been doing data mining of production data across the worldwide Plex Systems customer base and see the potential to create an index of manufacturing performance. We’re going to look at how this data will be able to help our customers predict economic conditions in their specific manufacturing industries. 

There are a myriad of studies out on the impact of mobile technologies on manufacturing.  Last year, Plex Systems introduced SmartPlex Mobile, which gives ERP users access to data on iOS and Android devices.  Can you discuss the challenges of mobile adoption in manufacturing and how Plex Systems will address them?

Often mobile technologies installed and used on the factory floor are proprietary to the systems and workflows for that specific factory.  They are fine-tuned to the specific workflows on the factory floor, and the proprietary nature of their electronics only work with the systems they are designed for and Plex Online supports many of these devices.  Material handling, RFID and other logistics projects are based on these kinds of technologies.

We’ve also found that senior management teams want to get as close to real-time data as possible on each phase of manufacturing operations.  SmartPlex Mobile is designed to give senior management teams visibility into operations on Android and iOS devices, and continues to gain interest from existing and new customers alike.

Many manufacturers are dealing with “brain drain” or the retiring and churn of their long-time manufacturing, process control, and quality management professionals.  How do you see Plex Systems helping these manufacturers to retain that tacit knowledge in their organizations over their long-term?

We talk quite often about this with our prospects, customers and internally in our development meetings.  Prospects are especially interested in how to solve this problem as tribal knowledge is often the most difficult to capture and re-use.  It’s common to find manufacturers with a myriad of Microsoft Access databases, legacy systems and data locked on spreadsheets. Our architecture is based on a Master Data Management (MDM) model with gives manufacturers a single source or version of the truth.  Using our experience implementing these systems in small and medium-sized manufacturers, we’ve found methods and techniques for managing corporate-wide data effectively.

Visualization in manufacturing including the extensive use of 2D and 3D CAD drawings is also accelerating.   What are your thoughts on the future of visualization in manufacturing, and more specifically, which key process areas do you see Plex Systems addressing with its visualization strategy?

This area is critically important for the shop floor as it can drive higher levels of production quality quickly. We’re going to continue to invest in this area, and our Actify partnership gives us a strong foundation to build on in this area.  The partnership with Actify allows us to embed engineering drawings directly in Plex, allowing shop floor workers to look up specifications on the fly to ensure high levels of quality.  The drawings are highly valuable because they are contextualized in Plex (e.g., tied to the product in question) and don’t require any expensive CAD equipment or training to view.

Plex Systems has also built a strong foundation of partners including system integrators and resellers.  Do you anticipate Plex Systems will increasingly rely on resellers or stay with primarily a direct sales strategy?  

It’s very important to high fidelity relationships with customers when you’re selling SaaS-based enterprise software so the direct model is important to us.   That said, partners are also very important to us because of the value they can bring to customers and the added reach they can provide us.  So, we’ve been successful in creating a partner program, which has a rigorous certification process that ensures those we partner with have strong domain expertise to serve our shared customers.  Partners can quickly become a force multiplier for us, and we’re working towards that goal by keeping direct sales in balance.   

Disclaimer: This interview was done independent of Plex Systems. I have not and have never been a paid consultant of the company.  I approached them to do this interview based on insights gained from WordPress analytics showing readers’ interest in ERP, SaaS and enterprise software.

2013 ERP Prediction: The Customer Takes Control

From the obvious to the outrageous, enterprise software predictions often span a wide spectrum at the beginning of every year.

In enterprise software in general and ERP specifically, there are many safe harbors to dock predictions in, from broad industry consolidation to Oracle buying more companies.  Or the inexorable advances of cloud computing and SaaS platforms in ERP today, which is often cited in enterprise software predictions.

Too often predictions gravitate too much towards theoretical economics, overly-simplified industry dynamics and technologies, leaving out the most critical element: customers as people, not just transactions.  So instead of repeating what many other industry analysts, observers and pundits have said, I am predicting only the customer side of ERP advances in the next twelve months.

The following are my predictions for ERP systems and enterprise computing in 2013:

  • The accelerating, chaotic pace of change driven by customers will force the majority of Fortune 500 companies to reconsider and refine their ERP and enterprise computing strategies.  Social, mobile and cloud computing are combining to provide customers with more acuity and articulation of what their preferences, needs and wants are.  The majority of ERP systems installed today aren’t designed for managing the growing variation and pace of change in customer requirements and needs.  In the next twelve months this trend will force the majority of Fortune 500 companies to re-evaluate their current ERP systems when it becomes clear their existing enterprise systems are getting in the way of attracting new customers and holding onto existing ones.
  • Highest-performing CIOs will rejuvenate monolithic, dated ERP systems and make them agile and customer-focused, while at the same time excelling at change management.  There are CIOs who can handle these challenging tasks, and the future belongs to those who can fluidly move between them quickly.  In twelve months, a group of CIOs will emerge that are doing this, delivering significant gains to gross margins and profitability in their companies as a result.  They’re the emerging class of rock stars in IT and enterprise computing.
  • Quality ratings of ERP systems by internal customers will become commonplace, including 360-degree feedback on ERP performance.  This is overdue in many companies and it takes a courageous CIO and senior management staff to value feedback on how their ERP systems are performing.  In the most courageous companies, within twelve months the results of these internal surveys will be posted on bulletin boards in IT and throughout IT services departments.  For some companies this will be first time IT staff members have a clear sense of just what internal customers need, how they are being served, and what needs to be done to improve business performance.
  • ERP systems built on a strong foundation of personas, or clear definition of customers and their roles, will overtake those built just on features alone.  This is already happening and it will accelerate as featured-based ERP systems prove too difficult to be modified to reflect the fast-changing nature of personas and roles in organizations.  The quickest way to determine if a given ERP system launching in the next twelve months will succeed or not is asking what personas it is based on and why.
  • Customers push speed and responsiveness from a “nice to have” to a “must have” as advances in mobility platforms and integration make real-time possible.  If there is one unifying need across the personas of customers an ERP system serves, it is the need to improve responsiveness and speed. The same holds true within enterprises today as well. It would be fascinating to look at the data latency differences between market leaders versus laggards in the airline industry for example.  Customers will push accuracy, speed and precision of response up on the enterprise computing agenda of many companies this year. Speed is the new feature.
  • What were once considered ERP-based operations bottlenecks will be shown  to be lack of customer insight.  Take for example the very rapid product lifecycles in retailing.  At first glance slower sales are attributed to not having the right mix of products in stores, which is a classic supply chain problem.  Yet customer-driven ERP systems will tell retailers a different story, showing how product selection, even suppliers, are no longer pertinent to their customers’ preferences and needs.  More customer-centric ERP systems will help retailers overcome costly and difficult to recover from bottlenecks in their operations.

 Bottom line: Enterprises clinging to monolithic, inflexible ERP systems need to re-evaluate how their enterprise computing strategies are serving their customers before their competitors do.

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