Acumatica 2014 - playing for keeps in cloud ERP

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed August 29, 2014
Summary:
Acumatica CEO Jon Roskill set a take-no-prisoners tone at the 2014 Acumatica Partner Summit. But what exactly sets this cloud ERP vendor apart?

Roskill CEO
CEO Jon Roskill

Acumatica CEO Jon Roskill set a take-no-prisoners tone at the 2014 Acumatica Partner Summit, launching good-natured potshots at NetSuite and Sage in his opening keynote - before moving on to the estimated one million cloud ERP prospects in Acumatica's midmarket sights.

Citing NetSuite's move upmarket, Roskill called on the 400+ partners in attendance to own what he called the 'abandoned midmarket'. It's all part of Roskill's vision of how Acumatica will get to a billion dollar run rate:

Acumatica midmarket

To be fair, audacious goals are common at such partner gatherings, where the mix is equal parts education and motivational stump speeches. Looking back, much has changed since I attended last year's partner summit and posted this Acumatica and the cloud ERP game of thrones wrap.

Start with the operational leadership: Roskill took over for former CEO Yury Larichev in March; CMO Stijn Hendrikse also moved on. Meantime, former SAP Business One sales and marketing manager Richard Duffy stepped into a VP of Partner Strategy and Enablement role at Acumatica. Duffy's role is significant when you consider that Acumatica's go-to-market is entirely dependent on its OEMs and VARs.

Acumatica is capitalizing on its partner-only sales focus. I spoke with a number of disaffected partner prospects who attended the Acumatica Summit as they considered a shift from other ERP partner channels - channels where anecdotes of shoddy treatment would take an extended conversation and plenty of cold drinks to relay.

These prospects were drawn to a model that put partners front and center, rather than the vulnerable position partners can find themselves in as ERP vendors scrounge for revenue during cloud transitions.

Acumatica is not uncertain about the cloud whatsoever. The same cannot be said of all its partners, though that is changing. With Acumatica marking its 1,000 customer milestone during the event, there is clearly a market for the modern ERP approach Acumatica is betting its future on.

Just how big that market is remains to be seen - during his keynote, Roskill cited Acumatica's 50+ percent growth rate as the fastest in the entire cloud ERP industry, and by a wide margin. When you add in the infusion of funding from OEM partner MYOB, which deepened its relationship with Acumatica by becoming an investor and taking a seat on Acumatica's board, Acumatica is ready to move from upstart to broader recognition.

But with every ERP vendor that knows how to spell the word 'cloud' offering some kind of cloud ERP solution, will the midmarket be as wide open as Roskill envisions? And will customers make the distinction between a true cloud solution versus the pseudo-makeovers and hosting models some vendors are pushing? I'll review by breezing through news, strengths, and challenges.

Acumatica news takeaways

There was enough news at the summit to make a beat reporter beg for mercy, but the gist is: Acumatica version 5.0 is coming, and peeps are excited about it. Now in beta, 5.0 should be out in General Availability by the end of the year, sporting nifty features like single sign on and business process wizards - not to mention an overhauled HTML5 UI that looks terrific.

To my eyes, the most compelling feature of 5.0 is the mobile development framework, an HTML5 based toolkit that provides partners with an simpler way of building out iOS or Android apps. Objects can be created in C## without the need for iOS or Android developer expertise.

Acumatica pitched the mobile framework as being able to generate a mobile UI without extensive coding - a big perk for partners, many of whom don't have internal development expertise (and if they do have such expertise, it's in Microsoft tool flavors, not iOS and Android).

During the keynote, demos performed live by non-techies (including Roskill himself) showed off the look and feel of 5.0, including some mockups for name brands I can't share here. But Acumatica sent along some screen shots afterwards - here's a sample:

Acumatica 5.0

Other 5.0 news of note included:

  • MySQL and Amazon RDS support
  • B2B order management and multi-warehouse allocation and purchasing
  • Microsoft Exchange Server integration
  • Acumatica's first payroll module (now in beta)

Also important is the cloud xRP platform, announced in May, which opens up Acumatica's platform for a market of 6 million .NET developers, while providing the basis for easier cloud-to-cloud integration.

Acumatica's strengths

Acumatica has the strengths you would hope for in a modern ERP solution:

Great look and feel - the product is easy to navigate and partners swear by its demo impact. Jeffrey Noolan of JAMIS, an ISV partner that specializes in niche public sector solutions, told me that his prospects are 'dazzled' by the Acumatica demos - and: 'When it comes to government contractors, they aren't used to being dazzled.'

Robust cloud integration toolkit - Microsoft-savvy ISVs like JAAS Systems (Acumatica's go-to cloud manufacturing solution) are skilled with tying into Acumatica for a seamless look and feel, but integrations are getting easier. Customers showed off a range of cloud-to-cloud integrations during the keynote, such as this AME Corporation 'paperless' document integration with Box, built by Acumatica partner SIPD:

Acumatica-box

One analyst found the demo of integration with Hubspot 'amazingly easy.' Integration went up another notch with demos from Azuqua, an ISV partner which essentially built a cloud services brokerage on the xRP platform. Hard-to-impress types like Frank Scavo said, 'Integration services such as Azuqua are a must have, as no one just implements just one cloud application.' Brian Sommer concurred - in his view, this cloud brokerage solution changes the competitive position for Acumatica.

Scavo went on to tweet:

Ease of pricing, deployment and consumption - Acumatica is multi-tenant at both the database and application layers, with options for deployment in Acumatica's AWS cloud or via 'private cloud' on the customers' own data center. Customers have some control over when they flip the switch on new functionality.

Web-based UIs make for an effective use of Acumatica on mobile devices. Companies with mobile workforces will be pleasantly surprised conducting ERP operations from the back of airplanes or wherever else a signal can be found. Pricing comes with a few subscription or upfront options, but the model is a (refreshing) unlimited user license, costed according to product consumption.

The market challenges

While cloud ERP adoption is on the rise, it's not a simple thing to sell. During the analyst panel I appeared on, I asked the audience if they ever heard a customer say, 'I need to get me some of that cloud ERP.' Only one said yes - CEO Jon Roskill.

Acumatica has to coach its partners to move away from pitching the cloud (which many are just getting a feel for to begin with), to convincingly selling Acumatica's style of cloud - and the business benefits of a solution that is easy to extend to customers and suppliers.

If customers are only thinking about saving on data center and patching chores, then hosted cloud solutions might have the edge. Acumatica's partners must reframe that conversation by showing the possibilities of a 'work anywhere, extend easily' solution. Easier said than done - just getting a chance to make the pitch can be tough, given that today's informed buyers do their own research and short list solutions based on advisors who may or may not have heard of Acumatica.

Several partners told me that the biggest challenge they have with Acumatica is functional completeness versus solutions that have many more years of development history, and are now being pitched as sexy 'cloud' products via hosted options.

Fortunately for Acumatica, customers seem more inclined to overlook functionality gaps than in years' past, as long as the vendor in question can demonstrate the aggressive update cycles cloud solutions (should) excel at.

Verdict

While Acumatica's partners are not going to suffer from corporate neglect, they have their own set of bugaboos above and beyond selling Acumatica. The services industry is in the midst of major upheavals. Acumatica's partners will need to do much more than sharpen their cloud ERP pitch.

Standing out from the services crowd means building differentiating applications. My best estimate is that 25 percent of Acumatica's partners have that capability internally now, and if you limit that to only the VARs, the numbers go down.

The rules of marketing are changing also. To capture search results and win industry trust, services firms must become digital publishers - and that means sharing IP and pulling out subject expertise from overbooked consultants and packaging it somehow.

None of that is easy. Vertical expertise is another issue. One vertical partner told me that some partners have struggled to sell the vertical solutions many customers want - understandable if the partner is new to that domain.

But those challenges must be contrasted with what is surely one of the most appealing and easy to deploy/consume cloud ERP solutions on the market. I expect that momentum to build in 2015 with the 5.0 release.

The 'Acumatica name recognition' problem is starting to head into the rearview also. In a recent cloud ERP report from Computer Electronics, Acumatica's customer count put it in the same general territory as FinancialForce, Plex, and Workday.

Each of those products is different - Acumatica is far more likely to run into NetSuite in a sales scenario. But that's pretty darn good company. If Acumatica's new leadership team can stay the course, I like their chances.

End note: yes, videos are coming - eight shoots in total with customers, executives, partners, and pundits. Look for a customer roundup video narrative once those are produced.

Image credits: event photos by Jon Reed. 5.0 screen shot and midmarket opportunity slide provided by Acumatica.

Disclosure: Acumatica is a partner as of this writing. SAP, NetSuite, FinancialForce and Plex are premier partners as of this writing. Acumatica paid the bulk of my travel and hotel expenses for the partner summit. During the summit, I appeared on an analyst panel, for which I was compensated.