Acumatica Summit 2020 first take - Hartzell Construction on how modern construction ERP changed their business
- My first review of Acumatica's annual user and partner Summit finds a cloud ERP company in confident growth mode - but not without its challenges. Here's my burning questions for the show - along with a fresh use case that shows how modern ERP impacts industry verticals.
I remember when this Acumatica's annual Summit felt like a gathering of a few friends and associates. Now in Vegas, with a record 2,500+ attendees, Acumatica's cloud ERP momentum is palpable - albeit with the challenges this type of growth brings.
One way that Acumatica stands out: they have mercy on their attendees with concise keynotes. Dish out some updates, new release demos, a few memorable customer stories, and send attendees off to their breakouts. Seems simple right? Yet bloated keynotes are an indulgence most enterprise vendors still can't resist.
But short keynotes don't mean no news - in this case, the opposite. This year, Acumatica issued of barrage of notable items. CEO Jon Roskill (pictured right) started by providing context to the role of EQT Partners - easily the biggest thing that's happened since the last Acumatica Summit (you can read the review authored by myself and Brian Sommer last July, The coming together of ERP firms Acumatica and IFS - an early analysis).
A news-heavy keynote - payroll, BigCommerce, acquiring JAAS manufacturing and more
Roskill's message to attendees: EQT Partners' involvement means even more functionality and product investment. Fine - so prove it. Acumatica made their case with a flurry of news:
A news-heavy first day at #AcumaticaSummit including acquisition of manufacturing vertical partner JaaS Systems, pending rollout of process industries functionality, user group formations, and payroll. https://t.co/7gNJpLNDBU
— Jon Reed (@jonerp) January 27, 2020
And I didn't even get to Acumatica's "omni-commerce" partnership with BigCommerce, or their quality management partnership for manufacturing in that tweet. For me, this news stood out:
IMO this is the best news of a news-heavy day one at #AcumaticaSummit. Acumatica has reached the point where user group advocacy matters, and it fits in very well with their (correct) view that community is a differentiator https://t.co/uDVbButQGd
— Jon Reed (@jonerp) January 27, 2020
Diginomica contributor Brian Sommer will be digging further into most of these news items, in a piece to follow Wednesday. But the reason I like following Acumatica is that it has a way of inserting itself in the middle of important customer debates, such as the issue of hyperscale choice:
IMO the biggest thing to think about/debate from #AcumaticaSummit day one. CEO @Jon_Roskill talking about being cloud-agnostic, "unlike many of our competitors..." https://t.co/McGpx1i2VF pic.twitter.com/RdVePQXcvy
— Jon Reed (@jonerp) January 27, 2020
Burning issues keeping coming up. Best-of-breed versus ERP platform "single source of truth", or free/open ERP data and a customer bill of rights - two more debates that Acumatica provoked via their keynotes. As of this piece, I am still pursuing those questions on the ground here. But in the meantime, it's good to get a closer look at customers in Acumatica's product editions.
Facing construction industry growing pains - Hartzell's story
Construction is a good place to start. Prior to Acumatica, the construction industry lacked a multi-tenant/cloud ERP solution. Since Acumatica launched their Construction Edition in March of 2019, they've grown to more than 200 construction industry customers. On day one of the show, I sat down with the team from Hartzell Construction.
It's a classic midmarket ERP "growing pains" story. You're running fine on Quickbooks and so on, and then you hit a wall. For Hartzell CEO Anderson Pinto and his team, that wall came as the Florida-based company expanded its divisions. Hartzell is now basically four companies: a 75-year-old painting company, a 25-year-old construction firm, a window company - and now, an (acquired) plumbing company. To handle Hartzell's growth, Pinto began looking at other software options. Hartzell's team tried using ProContractor, but they quickly ran into problems As he told me:
We pretty much didn't have anyone that could really integrate the system until I hired Reynaldo... Once I saw how many steps it took, and know how hard it was to get to anywhere within the program, I asked Reinaldo to start looking into other programs - there had to be something better out there.
So I asked Reinaldo Mesquita, Hartzell's Director of Operations - what was the issue with ProContractor? Mesquita:
The number of users was limited to six users; it was extremely expensive for us to be able to add other people to the system. It was becoming a very expensive system. Besides that, the entire system was not cloud-based. Everybody was always required to come back to the office to do their paperwork, and all that.
Pinto reached out to a contact at the Alliance Solutions Group, which is also an Acumatica VAR. The rest, as they say, is history. Hartzell went live on Acumatica in October of 2018. Mesquita:
Acumatica brought us a major solution, which was to become a opportunity for everybody to work everywhere, anywhere using a cloud-based system.
Now everybody has Acumatica on their phones, on their tablets. They approve the invoices anywhere they are... The integration and communication has improved a lot.
Acumatica construction functionality - partnering for enhancements
But when you launch a new cloud vertical, it must pass the functionality contest. You're competing with on-premise systems with years - sometimes decades - of functional enhancements (some would argue too many). Yes, SaaS ERP can deliver new functionality much more easily, but there must be a baseline of initial requirements met. How did Acumatica's Construction Edition stack up? Mesquita acknowledged that when Acumatica launched, it was missing some of the features in ProContractor. But that changed:
The beauty about Acumatica and the whole team behind the brand is that they are very open for solutions and accepted inputs. That helps the entire software to be customized to our needs, and that was a major thing, Now, two years and a half years in with Acumatica, we have software that was tailored [to our needs]. So that was one of the benefits of dealing with Acumatica. Besides the unlimited number of users, and other things that Acumatica provided through their platform.
One example of working with Acumatica to enhance the software? AIA forms. These forms must be finely-tuned, as they are crucial for tracking states of completed work for legal/compliance purposes. Working with Alliance Solutions, Hartzell's team customized the entire AIA form. Partnering with Acumatica on this eventually led to Acumatica implementing the enhanced AIA on the platform for all construction customers.
Another big win with Acumatica? ISV partners plugging into the platform. Putting in DataSelf Analytics for Acumatica has been a huge win. Pinto:
Every time I asked for a report, it was hard because Stella (the Controller, pictured left) would have to go through different steps to give me the report, like my receivables, for example. What Joni (CEO of DataSelf) has done with our system is now, as soon as I log in, I'm able to see all of my receivables the way I want, released, non-released, and also my retainage.
Other winning enhancements include the addition of DocuSign. For Mesquita, it's all about an automated, streamlined workflow:
The idea is to make the company work in a flawless processing system - that everything will flow in a way to make everybody in all the departments know easily how to get their job done, and make sure that we streamline in everything in the company, which a couple years ago, everything would have been three, four hours to get done. Now it takes a few minutes.
That should "flow" through to their customers also:
We can streamline not only the internal process; we streamline all the work that we do for the customers.
For Pinto, puts Hartzell in a position to change their industry:
One of the things I've always talked about is to eventually be 100% paperless... Technology has moved very slowly into the construction industry. You probably won't see robotics coming into the construction industry for years and years and years to come because it's hard. But I believe through, what Acumatica has been doing - and some of the other companies getting involved - is kind of revolutionizing the construction industry, and we always wanted to be in front of that.
The wrap - more customer sessions and burning questions
Now, all of Hartzell's divisions except one are running on Acumatica. They are eyeing more expansion plans, with electrical next on the list. I wanted to know: given Acumatica's payroll announcement includes plenty of construction industry nuances, like managing union payroll, would Hartzell's team look into it? Pinto:
100%. I mean, the more I can integrate everything into the system, the better. So, yeah - we'll definitely be looking into utilizing that.
Which leads into one of the most interesting issues at this year's summit: best-of-breed versus cloud ERP. That factored into the comments of Derrick Elledge, from Acumatica customer of the year winner Power Storage Solutions. I'll meet with Elledge today, and get into that in person.
During an informal analyst lunch with Acumatica CEO Jon Roskill Monday, we debated Acumatica's challenges going forward. Top of the list? Managing growth. That's a good problem to have - doesn't mean it's not a problem. Roskill acknowledged as much, and told us that's a top conversation with Acumatica's board. Roskill shared plans to invest further in expansion of teams and recruiting internal talent. I've seen some evidence of that on the ground.
I also have concerns on how offering an on-premise deployment option can potentially create complications as Acumatica's customer count increases. Acumatica has some answers to all of the above, some of which Brian Sommer will get into in his piece Wednesday (notoriously hard-to-impress, Sommer thinks Acumatica has clearly entered its "hockey stick growth phase.") Stay tuned.