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Acumatica changes CEOs - will supply chain planning become a focal point?

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed March 10, 2022
Summary:
I was ready to share (and critique) Acumatica's approach to demand forecasting. Then we got breaking news: CEO Jon Roskill out; John Case in. But I see a way to connect these stories. It's all about where Acumatica goes from here.

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Nothing wrecks a blog post like a CEO departure. That was my predicament following Acumatica Summit 2022 in Las Vegas. I was all set to share my research on Acumatica's approach to demand planning, when we got a surprising post-event update: Acumatica's firebrand CEO, Jon Roskill, was leaving Acumatica after eight years.

Thanks for the news curveball, people! I'm not going to change my plans: I'm still going to share what I've learned from my conversations with Acumatica's demand planning ISV partners. But: the CEO change must be addressed.

Roskill is one of those CEOs you never expect to leave. His borderline-obsession with growing Acumatica - and his occasional punchy jabs at competitors - gave the impression of an unwavering CEO-for-life. Roskill leaves the company in a good position - Acumatica has grown more than 1,000% during his tenure; the customer base is now over 8,000.

Where new CEO John Case will take the company from here is not for today. I have a 1:1 interview coming with Case soon. Case's opportunity is surely promising. Case is joining a deep leadership team, and a highly engaged community.

Will Case choose to emulate Roskill's fiery branding chops? Roskill's outspoken, aggressively customer-centric style made Acumatica's lesser-known brand stand out. One choice example? Acumatica's customer bill of rights, the first I know of in the ERP industry (though other vendors have since followed suit).

I asked diginomica contributor Brian Sommer, who also tracks Acumatica closely, for his input. Here's a tell-us-how-you-really-feel highlight via Sommer:

Acumatica has a couple of killer assets the new CEO should not tamper with. Acumatica has a good guy brand image and has even published a bill of rights for customers. Given that so many of its competitors have NPS (net promoter score) scores in deeply negative territory, Acumatica should continue to resist adopting the customer un-friendly ‘best’ practices of its competition. Those methods may sound great to juice short-term revenues, but they are massively detrimental to the vendor’s brand. Acumatica’s other asset: its partner channel. Well over 95% of Acumatica’s sales are partner-driven, and only an idiot would needlessly tinker with that critical revenue generator.

It's premature to speculate on Case's priorities, nor is it fair to hold him to the same agenda as his predecessor. But I can verify: this is, in fact, one of those low-drama, pre-planned moves that comes as a surprise only from the outside. From what I have seen, Acumatica's investors take orderly succession planning seriously (EQT Partners has retained Roskill as an advisor). The rest, for now, is off the record. I'm not all that interested in that nitty-gritty at any rate. I believe in skirting the drama, and assessing the results.

Acumatica's demand planning opportunity - where do we stand?

So how can I tie this back into demand planning, and salvage my original post? Start with this: Acumatica's approach to demand planning and forecasting could be an integral part of its competitive edge going forward - but this won't happen by default. Acumatica will need to make some changes for that to come about.

Here's how it all started: In July 2021, after Acumatica's last Summit I raised questions about Acumatica's demand planning partners. I'd heard plenty about Acumatica's financial planning partners, but not on the demand planning side:

When customer Clive Coffee told me about their success with the Acumatica platform, but how they still do all their forecasting in Excel, it stood out. Why? Because I couldn't immediately think of an Acumatica partner that could help with that. Given how conventional supply chain planning has been exposed, this is an area I'll look to Acumatica to address. It's a perfect time to help customers take all that end-to-end Acumatica data and apply a demand-driven forecast.

Well, that changed quickly. Typical of Acumatica's vigorous community, I got pings almost immediately:

  • Several folks chimed in with enthusiastic things to say about EazyStock
  • DemandCaster, Plex's demand forecasting product, also got a shout out
  • One community member told me: "Regarding forecasting, EazyStock has great forecasting tools, and is fully integrated with Acumatica. SourceDay helps with the supply planning."
  • At the next Summit, I also ran into Acumatica partner StockIQ.
  • After this piece, I also heard from NetStock, which says they are the longest standing Demand Planning ISV in the ecosystem, and the most heavily installed.

EazyStock and Acumatica - functionality and ROI questions

I was compelled to update my post - but concerns about the visibility of these solutions to customers remained. Next step: talk to these firms. I started with EazyStock, who were, as the community attested, very accessible and engaging (They also have a big collection of webinars-on-demand, free with sign up).

What jumped out at me from EazyStock? First, the ability to quantify benefits. On one webinar, EazyStock gave a "conservative" estimate of 20 to 30 percent stock reductions. They've seen customers reduce their stock up to 60 percent, "depending on how much excess there is, and what their starting point is." EazyStock also documents productivity increases of 30 to 60 percent, as customers shift from manual administration of forecasting.

My other burning question is, admittedly, a sensitive one. Acumatica has built-in forecasting tools. So, why the customer enthusiasm for EazyStock? Yes, EazyStock has out-of-the-box, bi-directional integration with Acumatica. But why go with EazyStock? One reason from the webinar: dynamic lead times.

EazyStock is dynamic, and recalculates all the items on a daily basis can detect when an item is changing from one demand pattern to another.

In today's volatile supply chain environment, we need all the agility we can get. They added:

We are pulling that static lead time from Acumatica every day. But if you do want to stay on top of lead times that are changing, that's obviously a big part of what's going on in today's climate. [In that case], you'll want to use our dynamic lead time functionality.

During our live chat, I put the same question to the EazyStock team, bringing up dynamic lead time. Their response?

Yeah, I think so - more dynamic, and then more automated as well. EazyStock is constantly evaluating each item in your inventory. We're analyzing the demand, the trends, any seasonality or promotions that you may have coming up for every single item. Then we automatically assign a demand type to that item, and then populate the purchase orders based on what you're going to be needing.

EazyStock is intended to complement Acumatica's forecasting:

One thing that we always hear about lacking in Acumatica: it's easy to set a re-order point in your order level [in Acumatica], but actually understanding a future forecast, looking at past history and demand, and actually being able to have a system that's going to automate, and dynamically tell you as items are changing in their demand type, whether it's going from a positive trend towards a slow trend, something like that, and being alerted in that classification as they're moving through their lifecycle.

Plex DemandCaster - the challenge of achieving ROI in volatile conditions

Next up, I caught up with the Plex DemandCaster team, and posed the same questions. If readers will grant me an over-used buzzword exception, what is the "low hanging fruit" of using DemandCaster with cloud ERP? Their answer: inventory management. Companies compensate for a lack of confidence and precision in their forecasting tools by using overly-generous lead times as a buffer.

The numbers?

We see, on average, about a 15% or so reduction in inventory, some more, some less, on time and full performance, getting up into the high 90s - 98, 99%. Profit margins increasing, transportation costs, expedite costs being cut in half, because now you're no longer having to put stuff on an airplane.

They offered a reality check: the pandemic is going to keep us all on our toes, no matter how good our tools are. But, by and large, customers with modern planning tools fared better:

Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to be a black swan event. There's no precedent for what happened. So even the best plans were difficult to attain. But what we saw, day in and day out - the companies that had a formal planning system were the most successful - because they were constantly meeting and discussing what's happening in making decisions as a whole.

And if they have S&OP as part of their business planning, they were forced to do it holistically, and not in a siloed manner. And that made all the difference in the world.

So what is the DemandCaster edge? Why use it in addition to Acumatica?

Having this integrated approach that ties demand and supply allows for planning and iterating the plan while you're executing, and then proving a plan, passing it down for the next cycle. This allows for faster decision-making; it allows everybody to work in a single platform.

It also allows them to easily change settings and parameters, without it impacting their actual requirement plan. You can do a "what if" easily; you can change the setting and push it out. And then if you don't like it, change it back, and then approve the orders - and push it back for execution.

My take - demand forecasting should be a point of emphasis

Supply chain volatility is not a pandemic-specific event. In a geopolitical sense, it is now a permanent condition. All cloud ERP vendors with manufacturing plays must now raise their supply chain planning game - be it through partners, acquisitions, integrations, or internal builds.

I believe Roskill was looking hard at this. During our last Summit sitdown in Las Vegas, we had a spirited discussion on the true meaning of "future proofing your business," a frequent Acumatica mantra. I made the case: future-proofing should also include a hedge against volatile supply chain conditions.

Incoming CEO Case has a big opportunity here - and some intriguing options. Few midmarket ERP vendors are in the position to tie CRM/demand data back into supply chain management. Acumatica is one. How could Acumatica move ahead?

  • By providing a lot more visibility to their current supply chain planning/forecasting partners. I didn't know the half of it, and I follow Acumatica closely. I talked to customers that weren't aware of their options. On the ISV side, DemandCaster, to name one, hasn't had as much visibility with Acumatica partners as I think they would need to really gain traction. EazyStock has a big edge here. Cheryl Morrow, EazyStock's Channel Manager, has seven years of regional sales experience with Acumatica. Not every partner has that inside connect.
  • By considering acquiring a supply chain planning partner, and building on it. This is hardly unprecendented for Acumatica. They have a track record of acquiring their best ISV solutions. The bonus for customers? Hit the ground running, with the deep integrations already in productions.

Why should Acumatica consider acquiring, when they already have very capable partners? The answer lies in the AI and predictive technologies Acumatica could bring to bear. Talking to Acumatica's forecasting partners, it was clear: they aren't nearly as aggressive in AI development as Acumatica would be. Now, I'm the last person to argue that AI is a cure-all for our supply chain woes. Especially when one of the biggest obstacles is "dark data," amidst the moving data silos of transportation and logistics systems. No "AI"  can overcome that.

But I'm also a strong believer that machines are better at certain things than we are. Start with anomaly detection and go from there, all the way to real-time, on-screen prescriptive actions.

I also stand corrected - and the Acumatica community was quick in their feedback. That's an impressive display. My choice in which supply chain partners was hardly scientific; I only mentioned the ones I ran into. I'm planning to speak to more of them. I'd encourage customers to cast a wide net, and do careful evaluations of each.

Whether Acumatica defers to partners, brings on new partners, or embeds into existing products remains to be seen. The pandemic exposed the limitations of many planning tools. Enterprises expect a more agile and accurate forecasting process - and the tools to make it so. Acumatica is obviously well-positioned to offer and promote such solutions, either from partners or internally. Let's see how it plays out.

End note: in a terrific example of remote event coverage, Tim Rodman conducted 18 videos from the Acumatica Summit on YouTube Live for the Acumatica User Group, from his home base in Ohio. These 15 minute videos include an interview with Roskill himself. They are a great example of the kind of remote creativity we need going forward, not just during pandemic times.

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