PowerPlex 2014 – happy customers speak volumes

jason blessing plexThe annual PowerPlex customer event is now an established fixture on the analyst circuit with some of the best minds in manufacturing ERP in attendance along with 900 other attendees. The company made a raft of important announcements including the closing of a $50 million investment round by T. Rowe Price and Accel Partners, new innovations in mobile, a roadmap for solutions that take Plex up the food chain and new support packages. All in, there was plenty of meat to chew upon.

For me though the customer validation that Plex delivers on its promise, with some 1,700 of the 2,500 enhancements included in the last year coming from customers requests is by far the most important endorsement. Members of the customer advisory board told me that while every customer will have their pet gripe, customers are pleased with the way Plex works with customers to improve the solution.

Green Flash, the San Diego based brewing company talked enthusiastically about how they went from Excel spreadsheets to running their business on Plex in a matter of months. Avon Gear Co talked about how co-innovation for finite scheduling has allowed them to remove friction in the scheduling process while Sanders chocolatiers were positively gushing about a go live scheduled for the beginning of July. More on each of those stories once we get the videos produced but suffice to say you’d struggle to find customers who were disgruntled.

But it was the well balanced keynote delivered by Jason Blessing, CEO and supported by the product executives that set the kind of tone we like to see where customers are first and last in the presentations. So for example, how many keynotes will you see where the opening video celebrates customer accomplishments? Or where some of the goodies for the show party come from customers, or where the award trophies were made by customers? Precious few.

What of the detail?

Inward investment

On the investment side, Blessing said that “Growth is the lifeblood of the software industry” noting that while Plex has been profitable to date, it now needs to spend much more on product (R&D grew 100% last year) and marketing. That will put the company in the red but allow it to amplify its message and reach a broader customer group: “The biggest constraint right now is feet on the street. this investment helps us fix that.”

Money alone will not fix the problem. Plex has to compete with companies that are far better funded and established. New hires will likely have to take a pay cut but with the promise of equity rewards in the future. That’s a tough sell for a company that’s got less than $100 million in annual revenue, even if it is growing 20% plus per annum.

Enterprise edition – financials

product announcements - plexOn the expansion to more enterprisey solutions, the roadmap sees Plex release financials now with supply chain solutions in the second half of the year. From the blurbs:

  • Plex worked closely with large manufacturing organizations, including Inteva Products, to design and develop applications that support complex, multisite manufacturing operations worldwide.
  • With Plex Enterprise Edition, large manufacturers can centralize purchasing, cash management, invoicing and reporting — all in the cloud — for comprehensive shop-floor-to-top-floor management across and between all of their business entities.
  • Plex Enterprise Edition provides consolidated visibility and insight across the entire business, as well as deep-dive analysis of specific plants and products — all via Plex’s embedded business intelligence.
  • Plex Enterprise Financials taps into the Plex Manufacturing Cloud’s unprecedented data and connectivity resources, extending across the entire manufacturing supply chain from raw materials and suppliers to end customers.

The company is working on both governance and operational financials as part of the rolling roadmap. This is a crucial mix because their customers will need strong support for both as the company endeavors to meet the demands of much larger organizations than it typically attracts. If successful in gaining market acceptance, then this will accelerate the revenue run rate but right now the company is making no specific predictions on that topic.

UX and support for mobile

plex analytics

In common with other vendors, Plex has reworked the UI to be more closely aligned to mobile needs, simplifying the dashboards and information displays that customers see. My initial impression was that this overhaul is ‘OK’ but not materially ground breaking. It will be welcomed by core customers looking to distribute information to the plant floor but I’m not so sure about those millennial types who want sex and sizzle.

More exciting was the Google Glass implementation that dispenses with a UI altogether in favor of a heads up display that responds to work center locations, providing important information around resources needed for processes in real time.

On the mobile front, the company has released both iOS and Android apps covering BI on mobile. Again, from the blurbs:

Users can tap into their complete, role-based library of IntelliPlex analytic dashboards and reports, with visibility into any data or transactions across their organizations. IntelliPlex makes it easy to analyze data from all aspects of the manufacturing supply chain, as well as business operations.

Verdict

  1. The Plex roster of customers that are both enthusiastic and willing to extend their investments is impressive but it is not all plain sailing going forward. The company has plenty of challenges on the horizon.
  2. Plex is transforming under Jason Blessing’s leadership from being a cloud manufacturing ERP player that plays well with SME customers to one that has ambitions to play in the big leagues. That market has to be wide open for innovation. Customer satisfaction, that works well in this space today, will be harder to maintain going forward. Continuous attention to this key element will make the difference in deals won or lost.
  3. While not discussed in the main sessions, conversations among analysts suggest that Plex needs a much stronger alliances program. The company anticipates making an announcement on that topic in the near future.
  4. Extensibility becomes another main talking point going forward. Right now, Plex has a slew of APIs to facilitate that work but is light on tools and documentation needed to get the best out of Plex systems. This is a work in progress but whether Plex becomes more of a platform like player remains open to discussion. My view is that the semblance of a platform play will open many doors for the company should it choose to take that route.
  5. Overall this was an excellent conference for which the company should be congratulated.

In the meantime, we expect to post a series of customer video stories in the coming day or two.

Disclosure: Plex is a partner and covered most of my T&E.

Image credits: Ray Wang’s Flickr stream.

Den Howlett

Den Howlett

Dennis Howlett has been taking the buyer's perspective in analysing application vendor offerings for more than 22 years following a 20 year successful career in IT and finance related roles. 'Never knowingly under opinionated,' Howlett takes strong positions in the interests of getting to the truth of what drives customer value.
Den Howlett

@dahowlett

Disruptor, enterprise applications drama critic, BS cleaner, buyer champion and foodie trying to suck less every day.
Den Howlett