Archive for the ‘ERP’ Category

Zuora User Meeting

Posted: September 28, 2012 in ERP
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Believe it or not some things that happened in San Francisco last week had little to do with Dreamforce.  Amazing that I’m just getting to that now.  Some vendors in the Salesforce ecosystem used the proximity of mutual customers to hold their own user meetings and if they weren’t exactly meetings within meetings, they were meetings within the same week and location.

Zuora held a successful user meeting just prior to Dreamforce that I attended and I was most impressed by its size and the new product introductions.  The event, “Subscribed,” is a couple of years old in name but older than that in practice and the company packed a lot of enthusiastic customers and partners into the Ritz Carlton.  The choice of location was smart, in the financial district at the other end of town from the Moscone Center, which gave some distinction from the larger event later in the week.  But my greatest interest was in product messaging.

Zuora CEO, Tien Tzuo, filled the last slot (for now) in his product universe and deployed a nifty description to how the product line comes together and why it matters.  The product focus was on Z-Finance, which joined Z-Billing and Z-Commerce in a holy trinity of back office applications aimed at subscription companies.  The description is “Subscription Business Management,” which I like as it elevates the discussion from simply how do I do my subscription billing to how do I manage a subscription business which is much different from a product business — especially when the subscription business is inside of the conventional business.

Z-Finance gives financial executives the tools they need to examine their subscription data and manage their businesses accordingly while being able to dump the proceeds into the conventional GL in a way that makes sense to the traditional side of the house.  It’s smart really and no simply feat.  So now Zuora provides its customers with the ability to simply and quickly configure, administer, bill, collect, analyze and reconcile the subscription business.

The importance of Z-Finance is two fold.  There is no doubt that pure subscription companies would need it sooner or later, but Z-Finance is also a key piece of technology that will help conventional companies exploring subscriptions to understand better how subscriptions fit into their business models.  This expands Zuora’s market significantly, so bravo for Zuora.

Truth check — Zuora is a client and I recently published a small book, “The Subscription Economy—How Subscriptions Improve Business.”  Fortunately, my messaging was congruent.

NetSuite’s Big Moment

Posted: May 18, 2012 in CRM, ERP
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This spring has seen a raft of software company events and announcements and they’ve been good meetings full of real news and important new developments.  It is as if these companies bided their time during the worst of the recession building new product, thinking about the future and how customers will use their technologies.  It was time well spent.

This week SAP, NetSuite and others have held meetings and more good news seems to be emanating from their conferences.  I attended the NetSuite SuiteWorld event in San Francisco and that’s what I want to write about here.

For at least two years most ERP vendors have been championing the idea of a two tier ERP strategy.  I’ve heard messaging from Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and NetSuite and, plus or minus a few wrinkles, the idea is that conventional ERP built for the late twentieth century is tired.  But rather than scrapping the huge investment in blood sweat, toil, tears and a not inconsiderable number of dollars, most companies deploying new ERP will be doing so in ways that surround the original deployments rather than replacing them.

That was the story up to last year and it was a good and logical one.  Vendors loved it.  Two tiers made the old system with its high maintenance charges a fixture for at least another decade while giving everyone a chance at new business.  For customers, few thought ERP was broke and even fewer had an appetite for fixing it.  But many did have serious needs to fill in what old ERP lacked — the social, mobile, cloud, big data issues that won’t go away.  To this you should add commerce, which will bring us current.

One of the hidden themes running throughout the software industry today — a theme that no one other than me, I sometimes think, ruminates on — is the high cost of energy required for doing business.  Escalating transportation costs factor into the social, mobile, cloud etc. alluded to above as well as what I’m going into next.

So back to the present, San Francisco and SuiteWorld.  In his keynote today CEO Zach Nelson unveiled a comprehensive approach to ecommerce running off NetSuite’s financials called SuiteCommerce.  Now, NetSuite has been offering ecommerce solutions for many years and they already have successful customers running commerce sites (about 2,800) off their financials and integrating other important modules like their warehouse system.

The difference today is in emphasis, partners and application development tools from NetSuite that brings everything together in a solution set that aims the company at being a significant player in a new generation of integrated and flexible back to front office systems.  Parenthetically, this is how disruptive innovations take root which should provide no comfort to the major ERP players basking in their apparent good luck.

In announcing SuiteCommerce, NetSuite has added a third tier to the conventional ERP wisdom.  The major difference between two and three tiers is the emphasis on reaching customers through the commerce solution and the recognition that NetSuite, at least, owns two out of three levels.

This has big implications for all businesses.  As Nelson correctly pointed out, the demand for some of this new commerce approach will not come from you and me but from the devices we use to run our lives.  The fridge is out of beer so it signals the store or at least my personal device to remind me to pick some up.  The car needs service — already a cliché but nonetheless an important reality — so it negotiates a service appointment.  On and on it goes.

The Internet of things will be much bigger than the Internet of people and the Internet of things will be a major acquisition portal for business and consumers as well as a major user of automated commerce technologies.  Commerce solutions that make it easier for people to buy and receive products through efficient channels is a great first step.

Back to transportation costs.  The Internet of things will be instrumental at consolidating demand and ensuring that supply arrives in the most efficient way, easing the transport issue all the way up the supply chain.  Of course, the Internet of things will also enable actions that have no commerce involvement and it’s important to recognize but not to delve into here.

What makes SuiteCommerce appealing is the “something for everyone” approach.  NetSuite’s financials can act as a data hub funneling necessary product and pricing data to user interfaces including their own as well as third parties.  The financials, shipping and invoicing technologies provide the critical single source of the truth that has become a NetSuite mantra.  And powerful tools make it possible for developers and business users to make or modify commerce systems at, well, the speed of business.

So there’s a lot to like coming from NetSuite today.  Earlier, the company announced revenues of nearly $70 million for the last quarter and the CEO repeated his guidance that the company would generate $300 million in the coming fiscal year.  While he was at it, Nelson also announced new partnerships with Grant Thornton, and Deloitte’s sprawling digital business group.  So there will be plenty of help on the implementation side, which is most important in the two or three tier approach in dealing with the very large companies that are beginning to flock to NetSuite.

I can’t say that three or even two tier solutions were on my radar when I first contemplated SaaS for ERP.  Honestly, I thought ERP for the cloud was an exercise in squaring a circle.  But it seems like the industry has a plan at last and innovation continues at the margin where NetSuite is carving out quite a position for itself.


A door closed this quarter and another opened.  We’re now oriented on a new computing paradigm that will serve us for the rest of the decade.  There is now broad agreement on the big IT issues of our time and they can be summarized in the Four Big Buzzwords mobile, social, big data (and analytics) and real time.

We’ve been bantering these words around individually and in groups but in Q2 2012 most vendors came to a tacit agreement that these would be the issues around which marketing campaigns would orbit for the intermediate future.  Since Oracle’s CEO Larry Ellison is the original proponent of decadal cadence I will use his company as the measure of the short timeline that brought us to this moment.

April 2009.  Oracle buys Sun Microsystems.  The purchase of a failing Sun was seen as a retrograde effort.  The conventional software company buys a conventional hardware company and many of us expected them to fade into the sunset together.  It didn’t go that way.

September 2009.  In an interview at the Churchill Club Ellison said that cloud computing was a bunch of hot air.  Less sincere words have rarely left his mouth as subsequent events would prove.  No matter that by then, Ellison disciple Marc Benioff had already built a billion dollar business offering nothing but cloud computing as a delivery mechanism.  The prior decade bred an entire industry devoted to cloud computing and multi-tenancy but no matter.  Ellison had the database that drove these cloud companies and not much else.  He also had a huge installed base dedicated to conventional on-premise computing, so he was a late arriver intent on making up ground.  The first step might have been this bit of indirection.

OpenWorld 2009.  Oracle announced a new strategy and line of hardware starting with Exadata a huge database server with monster truck-like capabilities for serving data and crunching it into submission ten times faster than conventional technologies.  Exadata was followed by Exalogic, a compute server and Exalytics an analytics appliance.  There were other things too.  Before long little boys playing in sandboxes had traded their toy trucks, backhoes and other construction paraphernalia for Exatoys and Oracle had announced its engineered systems strategy.  Ok, I made that up just to see if you are still with me.

2011 Anthony Lye plus Oracle’s checkbook proved to be a potent combination as Lye developed a vision of Fusion driven applications and business processes of tomorrow.  Lye bought five companies proving that while you might not be able to buy love you can certainly buy R&D.  By the end of 2011 Lye had purchased ATG (ecommerce), RightNow (customer experience, service and support) Endeca (ecommerce and business intelligence), FatWire (web content and web experience management) and Inquira (service knowledge management software).  The combination, when knitted together positions Oracle as a contender in the Four Big Buzzword Categories.

But it wasn’t just Oracle that was making moves.  As early as late 2010 Microsoft and then others began preaching a gospel of multi-tier ERP, a strategy that would keep existing ERP systems and their pricy maintenance contracts in place while providing much of the new functionality required by the Four Big Buzzwords through a second tier of ERP from up and coming players like NetSuite and Zuora.

The approach ended a potentially disruptive moment for ERP vendors and their customers who were beginning to contemplate rip and replace on a scale not seen since four digit date formats were all the rage.  But beware ERP vendors, you are being surrounded and at some point you will be made irrelevant by the increasing functionality of the second tier and at some point there will be a bloodless coup d’état.

So what happened this quarter is that one ERP vendor after another admitted defeat of a sort.  No one any longer pooh-poohs cloud computing (even Ellison) or questions the validity of social technologies in business.  It’s all SOP today in what some are calling the post-digital era.  Post-digital doesn’t mean we’re beyond it, simply that it’s established fact and beyond debate just like evolution, global warming and a round earth are in most precincts today.  Yes, there are laggards who haven’t bought into the message yet but increasingly they are to be pitied, not argued with.

So, as they say in the reality shows, Who’s safe? And Who’s going home right now?

Well, as it happens very few need to go home provided they’re cloud oriented all ready and that they’re at least making noises about the other three Big Buzzwords.  Companies entering the market with anything that enhances the two-tier strategy will be welcome and some, like NetSuite, which has announced a defacto three-tier strategy should do fine.

In the years ahead look for the following ideas to gain primacy in business and enterprise computing as the post-digital era gains momentum.

Increasing use of the Four Big Buzzwords.  This will show up most obviously in mobility technologies but they will be supported by increasing use of centralized analytics crunching big data derived from social media.

Social will continue to be a big draw, not so much for what we know of social right now but for advances such as gamification that will become key drivers.

Multiple-tier solutions will continue to blur the distinction between on-premise, cloud and single vs. multi-tenant.

We will need to turn our attention to the internet of things later in the decade as machines increasingly talk to machines a la buy more milk, eggs and bread.

The key battleground will become platform and development tools.  Increasingly, the goal in business is to project agility through the capacity to change with customer demand.  Tools will be important but platform will be key.  Platform increasingly is the place where security, social, mobile and all the other Big Buzzwords have to be built in.  You can’t add any of them on after the fact.

Platform therefore is key and positions companies like Oracle (Fusion) and Salesforce (Force.com, Heroku, Sites.com, Database.com), NetSuite and others in the catbird seat.  Vendors with older platforms rejiggered for the cloud may not fare as well.

So there it is.  They’ve figured out what to do about cloud, as inelegant as it might seem, they’ve embraced the big Four Buzzwords and for the next several years, provided the economy holds up, we’ll see renewed competition as different vendors compete on slightly different permutations of a similar story.  We can already see Salesforce focusing on the social enterprise, Oracle the customer experience, NetSuite commerce, Microsoft catering to its large installed base with cloud versions of the things it used to sell in boxes.

SAP will do something but it’s still hard for me to figure out what.  They’re working with NetSuite according to Zach Nelson, CEO of NetSuite and Business by Design appears to be catching fire.  Never a strong marketing presence they need to get an elevator pitch for a small building.

Later in this cycle we’ll begin talking about video and voice embedded in the front office suite.  They’re about where social technologies were in 2006 and moving toward the center.

ERP Moving to the Cloud

Posted: April 3, 2012 in CRM, ERP

My friend and uber analyst Louis Columbus has a very informative post today titled, Roundup of SaaS ERP Forecasts and Market Estimates, 2012, which I commend to your reading list.

What’s interesting to me is that for the last 18 months major ERP vendors have been strongly suggesting that cloud computing would reach ERP in the form of a new model, which you can think of as hub and spoke.  This approach preserves what’s good about conventional ERP — which might be code for that huge sunk cost — while updating a company’s approach to its customers and supply chain and making it more agile in the process.

So a company with a single ERP system might reasonably be able to deploy ERP closer to its manufacturing facilities in some replete geography and this system might make monthly, quarterly and annual rollup and currency conversion easier.  I might also make sourcing local components and raw materials easier.

I am not sure of any of this because I am not an ERP guy.  But Mr. Columbus is deeply into this stuff and his writing is comprehensive and inclusive of other bright minds, so check it out.


Note to self: Write something nice about Microsoft Convergence 2012.  They did a great job in Houston and most importantly you can really see the CRM focus coming together with social, mobile, analytics, back office and a lot more.  It’s taken a long time because there are a lot of moving parts for Microsoft but Convergence was impressive.

To get a sense of all the wonderfulness surrounding Convergence you need only glance at some of the many observations made by the likes of Paul Greenberg, Brent Leary, Dennis Howlett, Josh Greenbaum and many others.  So Kudos to Microsoft.

My observations will be somewhat different.  While I also think Microsoft has made important strides and I applaud their CRM team, I want to focus on what’s around the bend.  First there’s the new CRM GM, Dennis Michalis who took over from Brad Wilson after Wilson turned Microsoft into a CRM power almost by sheer force of will.

Michalis is a find, the kind of acquisition that, if he was a stock, would have been overlooked by everyone but Warren Buffet.  From what I can tell, Michalis has spent most of his career in Europe or the Far East and did well in those market; however, he was somewhat off the radar when Microsoft saw his talent and scooped him up.  Michalis has been with the company only a few months so this year’s Convergence was still mostly the result of Wilson’s efforts.  Michalis will have to stand on some big shoulders to do better and I think he can.

For starters, he will need to flesh out the social, and to a lesser degree, mobile strategies and product lines to be truly competitive.  Microsoft is not a social powerhouse and trails in the mobility wars, at least on the mobile operating system side (and that’s a lot).  But they have a strategy to offer their CRM on multiple browsers and in fact, demoed a mobile application for the iPad, which was impressive.  Their analytics package for sales, form what I saw, is powerful and sports a nice and intuitive interface though overall the product still has a straight from the software lab look to it.

The company’s biggest advances were, in my opinion, not software related though — they more clearly relate to the company evolving from an ERP company to more of a CRM company.  This needs some explaining.

First, it was nice to see Kirill Tatarinov speak about the drivers that his organization takes into account when trying to figure out product direction.  He said they include economics, geopolitics, people and technology, and I think that’s hugely important, though I don’t think it has been the case in the past.

The business climate, the cost of fuel and raw materials, the stability of the local political regime including personal freedom and free markets, all go into what will drive demand as well as the nature and character of demand.  They drive what people will buy and the style of the technologies they will use in their personal and professional lives.  All this might seem to affect ERP more than CRM but I think the distribution of influence is roughly equal.

But those are high level ideas and truth be told, it’s an ongoing effort to get them down to street level and there are some key things that I think Microsoft can do better in that regard.  For starters, the company culture is one of a vendor selling through distribution to others who will produce a final full product.  In ERP they’ve been successful at imagining customer business practices and driving solutions to market in some key areas, especially manufacturing.  This hasn’t been the case, to the same degree in CRM and it needs to be.

Microsoft needs to do a better job now of connecting its many dots.  For example, it is still at the point where it is hitting checklist items like social — so that it can compete with the likes of Salesforce — but without offering a compelling story of how a business progresses because it adopts new technology.  Salesforce calls it the social enterprise and Microsoft has no counter.  It is still selling components, modules, and it needs to elevate its game.

Also, too frequently for my taste, Microsoft likes to show off customers who have heavily customized their CRM instance, especially non-profits.  It’s nice to see non-profits in the mix, but the focus needs to be on for profit business.  Also, this makes points for their XRM strategy which goes against Salesforce’s Force.com platform, but it is wide of the mark for a customer that wants out of the box functionality that works the way its business works and drives improvement.

Cloud computing is another area for tightening up.  Here Microsoft joins the rest of the market excepting Salesforce, in highlighting the benefits of a go-it-yourself, roll-your-own strategy of hybrid clouds in which customers get to decide where their data resides.  I don’t think this is the right strategy for any vendor and here’s why.  We see too many examples of companies who manage their own data being hacked and increasingly the hackers are not individuals with an ax to grind but nations like China stealing IP or radicals like Anonymous aiming for industrial scale mayhem.

In this world, the strategy shouldn’t be building your own bomb shelter.  Microsoft and the other vendors have a credible case to make that they can and do perform a superior job of keeping data safe and that the time for going it alone is rapidly ending.  A more credible and strategic program might be for all vendors to say, “Hey, we’re the pros at this, let us handle it.”  If I ruled the world (hahaha!) that’s the tactic I would take.  It will take some years to accomplish this education but we need to start now.  And we need to quit deluding ourselves with a cowboy ethos that individuals can do a better job of data security than an organization dedicated to the task because the evidence shows this is just paranoia.

Ok, back to Convergence.  My last point — that Microsoft needs to do a better job connecting the dots has another element.  I am sorry to keep comparing Microsoft to Salesforce, because I think the two are more different than similar, but in the area of philanthropy I think Microsoft is trailing Salesforce when it could be leading.

You know that Salesforce has this 1:1:1 model in which it donates one percent of its equity, time and product to a 501 (3) (c) charity, the Salesforce Foundation.  At major events like Dreamforce, they have charitable activities in which customers can easily donate an hour of their time to do some public good.  All this activity is always tied back to the charity.

At Convergence Microsoft tried to do the same thing and the effort was inspiring but it wasn’t tied back to anything in particular.  Volunteers worked with Habitat for Humanity to renovate a house and when attendees filled out evaluation forms, Microsoft donated a dollar to a Houston charity, which was great.  But without some over-arching program I think Microsoft misses getting credit for its largess and also for its community outreach, which is important.

Last point.  Microsoft has not been a leader in any aspect of CRM.  It has taken a less risky fast-follower approach and it has breathed in other peoples’ exhaust as a result.  It’s time for the company to take a leadership position in something if it expects to reach the highest plateau in the business.  That plateau is unified communications (UCS).

Microsoft has Lync, a UCS that it offers and also uses in-house; Microsoft people tell me it works well.  UCS is, I think, potentially the next iteration of social networking.  It has enormous potential to save companies money and improve the links with customers.  To say the least, it would be smart of the company to step up its emphasis on UCS.  The window of opportunity is closing and I hope the company takes advantage of it.

If this sounds too critical, let me end on a more positive note.  Microsoft is a rising star in CRM and Convergence polished its reputation.  It has end-to-end technology from the back office to the front and from landlines to airwaves.  It is making headway in social, mobile and analytics — the next wave.  It has a good handle on at least some of the critical business processes that its customers depend on.  Like any software company, it will always be building out functionality, but its focus now must include, to a greater degree, all the many things that go into making a whole product in the social age.


Salesforce held its winter Cloudforce meeting in San Francisco last week.  For many the meeting seemed like a reiteration of Dreamforce and to be fair there was some overlap but each time they tell the story, the company adds new wrinkles that cause people like me to pay attention.

What caught the attention of many analysts was the emphasis on enterprise computing, the continuing roll out of the social enterprise strategy and two new products Salesforce Site.com and Salesforce Rypple.  One at a time.

Social Enterprise

We really should talk about the social enterprise first because it drives the broader enterprise discussion.  It appears from the rich videos presented at Cloudforce that the social enterprise envisioned by CEO Marc Benioff is alive and flourishing.  We heard from Burberry’s, NBC Universal, Kimberly-Clark, HP and Toyota about how adopting social business techniques has changed their businesses by giving them greater interface with customers and the chance at greater profits.

Though the language and the videos were mostly from Dreamforce, each customer company was represented this time by its CIO who testified that the effort and company direction were real.  The difference was that at Dreamforce we heard from CEOs about their social enterprise strategies.

What’s interesting is that Salesforce is not trotting out examples of companies that are much smaller than it is.  Just the opposite.  In every case, the customer company is equal in size to Salesforce or much bigger which only bolsters its case.  Salesforce has identified a need and is delivering a different, and by the testimony of the CEOs and CIOs a better, approach to doing business.  This approach appears to be becoming the social enterprise standard for the early part of this century.

Enterprise Computing

At a press and analyst Q&A after his keynote, several of us asked about the pronounced emphasis Benioff’s keynote had on enterprise computing.  In his on stage discussions with CIOs, Benioff had observed that these customers also use SAP or other enterprise solutions and he’d asked the CIOs about their experiences bringing SAP back office systems together with Salesforce.  Those experiences were generally positive, though at least one CIO stressed that simplification was still his goal.

Benioff observed that no company of any size at all buys from a single source.  “These companies like what we have in the social enterprise,” he observed.  At the same time they are committed to their back office investments.  “They’re telling all of us that they want us to work well together and that’s been our strategy.”

So now it appears that a new round of rapid adoption of the social enterprise has begun in some of the largest companies on the planet.  If this is a typical ramp up we should expect to see a stampede in the next year, which will only make Benioff’s self-appointed job of becoming a ten billion dollar company easier to reach.

Bring on Sustainability

Back in the Clinton administration, the president, at the urging of his vice president Al Gore, invited an assortment of politicians to the White house for a conference on the environment.  The Kyoto treaty was up in the air at that point (the U.S. never signed it).  But there was an urgency in many quarters to attempt to get something done for the environment by reducing CO2 emissions.  It shouldn’t have been controversial because the approach was along the same model as phasing out chloro- fluoro- carbons, which had caused the famous ozone hole over the Antarctic.  That effort had been led by the first president Bush.

Regardless, the meeting blew up.  Rather than accept the administration’s leadership, conservatives took to the opposition as if it was any other issue that they needed to oppose and the environment has been a contentious issue ever since.  This has plenty to do with what comes next.

I am not a global warming denier refusnick (the double negative is intentional).  I believe the preponderance of the evidence and just to keep this moving, if you are on the opposite side of the discussion, please indulge me.

It struck me during Cloudforce that regardless of the political stances, businesses are hardnosed and they do what’s best for them financially.  With fuel prices again rising, the marketplace is demanding less expensive and therefore less carbon-intensive approaches to executing their business processes and vendors are beginning to respond.  That translate to travel avoidance through the use of surrogate technologies like embedded video and bi-directional communication and that’s what the Salesforce demos offered.

At the Q&A, Benioff reiterated the importance of being able to address customers through a multi-channel approach, to meet them where they are.  There was no crusading involved, just the solid business logic of satisfying customer demand and leveraging all technological possibilities to do it affordably.  That’s when it became clear for me that this is how the free market handles challenges like the environment.  Regardless of what the pols on either side think or do, sustainability is now crossing the chasm and becoming a business imperative.  It’s subtle but it’s happening.

New Introductions

The new news form Cloudforce was not highlighted that much but it is important in its own right.  The company announced availability of Salesforce Site.com and Salesforce Rypple.  I’ve written about Salesforce Rypple, the socialized employee management tool elsewhere.

Salesforce Site.com is also interesting.  The next iteration of its Sites solution, this product is a cloud-based content management system (CMS) that is part of the platform and capable of helping organizations to quickly develop social websites.

As a user of an earlier generation of CMS I can attest to how powerful it can be to define a page and let the software figure out how to fill it with content at run time.  Moreover with the social platform as an integral component I expect that the websites that Sites.com generates will enable a more engaging level of interaction with customers.  It’s also possible that with Heroku as another part of the family that what defines a website is about to be expanded significantly.

Finally, Cloudforce also filled a necessary spot in the ongoing marketing conversation.  Microsoft Convergence is happening this week and other vendors including SAP and Oracle will be having events in this quarter so it was important for Salesforce to raise its profile.  OF all the things you can say about Salesforce, you should always be mindful that this is a very good marketing organization.

ERP Redux

Posted: November 17, 2011 in CRM, ERP

Yesterday’s post, “Beyond Legacy ERP” drew a lot of comments most of which went to my email rather than the comments section on the blog.  As I wrote at the time, I am not an ERP expert, but I am learning.  What’s interesting to me is that, beginning with the original post that I was quoting by Dave Yarnold, CEO of ServiceMax, the mention of ERP seems to elicit a collective howl of angst from many executives.

Apparently ERP is the software type that we love to hate.  This does not surprise me.  I can recall a time about ten years ago when CRM was in a similar condition.  Back then implementations routinely ran over budget and over time and the results were spotty.  Some people claimed phenomenal results from using CRM and others pronounced it electronic snake oil.

Like CRM of that era, ERP is something in need of a facelift.  We may not be capable of imagining running a modern business of any size or complexity without it but at the same time legacy ERP turns us all into Pip in “Oliver Twist” “Please sir, I want some more.” And we loath the feeling of dependency it engenders.  As Yarnold asserts, it’s not flexible enough, it costs too much and it robs us of our creativity and too often the ability to go to market with a hot new idea.

What to do?

Let’s change literary centuries and remember the “Wizard of Oz” (not my favorite by a long shot, but I take my metaphors where I find them) and little Dorothy and her ruby slippers.  The trick to getting home is right there staring up at you if you only have the courage to see and act.  Fixing ERP will, ironically, take the same solutions that fixed CRM back in the day.  They are customer awareness, a bit of vision and cloud computing.

Back in the Siebel era, I did some research and discovered that half the companies who bought Siebel didn’t know why they’d bought it and many didn’t even interview multiple vendors.  Siebel was the leader and Siebel is what they bought.  When they ran into trouble those companies blamed the software and the vendor but not themselves for being so cavalier about the purchase.

A little introspection showed some that they were doing better with CRM than they thought.  Others needed to discover their business needs and adjust the implementation before seeing daylight.  But the biggest fix came in the form of SaaS and the biggest SaaS provider was Salesforce.com.  Salesforce started with a clean slate, delivered few options and had a ridiculously low cost curve.  You could afford to buy the stuff and trash it if it didn’t meet your need.  Few people did that.  Many just grew up with the company and its products taking on features and functions as they became available.

It worked very well and the iterative rollout enabled customers to grow from a simple SFA implementation to an increasingly sophisticated social footprint today.

The same kind of solution awaits ERP users in the cloud.  Compared to CRM, ERP has stayed too long in the legacy enterprise computing model so there’s some catch-up to be done.  And of course since ERP is fundamentally different than CRM, security issues must be faced and dealt with, so face them.  These issues are not hard and there are new technologies available to help if enterprises can simply get off the dime.

This will probably mean severing ties with suppliers of long duration for some parties but for many who cannot accomplish a rip and replace strategy there are other options, most notably hybrid or two tier solutions that vendors as diverse as Microsoft, Workday, Zuora and NetSuite are promoting.

In different ways each offers the possibility of deploying more flexible cloud based solutions to at least mitigate the necessary interactions with the legacy system.  Many of the available solutions do only a small but critical part of the whole ERP solution.  But as with Zuora, which provides a solution for subscription billing and payments, the part can be the thing that makes an intolerable situation much better.

Some form of hybridization plus direct replacement appears to be afoot in the ERP industry.  Good solutions are out there and many of the vendors I have spoken with have good plans and solid pipelines bringing new solutions to market.

ERP will never be as easy s CRM but it doesn’t have to be as hard as it has become.  If I am right then we’re at the beginning of an ERP disruption that will change business as much as CRM has and that will be a good thing.