Acumatica Summit 2021 - can embedded collaboration change ERP? Acumatica's Microsoft Teams and Adobe Document Cloud integration raises the question

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed July 21, 2021 Audio mode
Summary:
Acumatica Summit's integration news brought the question of collaborative ERP to the fore. Beyond those announcements, the future of vertical ERP also looms. Is a more personalized approach to ERP the way forward? Here's my review, with customer views mixed in.

Acumatica customer Mozaic
(Acumatica customer Mozaic at the Summit)

Acumatica Summit 2020 was the last Las Vegas event I attended before the pandemic wrecked events as we knew them. Fitting, then, to find myself back in Vegas for my first Vaccine Economy event - Acumatica Summit 2021.

Acumatica managed to rally the faithful, bolstering their cause with the announcement of an 8000+ customer milestone, and 2,500 attendees at this year's Summit.

Put the surreal travel and Vegas experience aside. The obvious question percolates: what was newsworthy, and why? The two major news announcements, the Microsoft Teams and (new) Adobe document integration respectively, give us clues on how Acumatica sees digital collaboration fitting in.

Acumatica's collaboration bet - working within their ERP platform

Acumatica's bet? That customers would prefer to operate inside of Acumatica where possible, not jumping around from app to app:

A new Adobe Document Cloud integration - "Acumatica customers can use this integration to annotate, highlight, comment on PDF documents, and save updated versions all without leaving Acumatica."
A Microsoft Teams integration - "Acumatica customers can now access the communication and collaboration features of Teams to initiate chat and calls within the Acumatica platform."

This "within the platform" language tells a story: cloud ERP as a driver of team collaboration - not as an afterthought, as users glom onto newfangled messaging platforms. Let's be real: collaboration inside the app hasn't been the case historically with ERP, nor is it a strength of most ERP platforms today, even the cloudiest ones. I'm pretty sure Acumatica CPO Ali Jani was all set with my pesky questions about "What's Acumatica's collaboration strategy"? Well, now we have a decisive answer: integrate rather than build.

Under the radar news - vertical ERP carries the day

However, the bigger news from enterprise events doesn't necessarily wind up in the press releases. Example: Roskill cited this stat during his day one keynote: 78% of Acumatica's sales are coming through one of Acumatica's industry editions. As Roskill said:

The fact that we're getting that high level of alignment with these industry editions tells me what we're putting out there is really resonating.

Yes, though I'd argue that the future of the entire cloud ERP industry is vertical. It's an easy statement for me to make, but not to achieve. Each industry has demanding expectations - you can't roll in with marketing brochures and configuration tools and hope to win over a vertical. Depth of functionality - and the right services partners - play a determining role. Yes, verticals play to the strength of Acumatica's extensible platform, but that doesn't mean vertical choices are going to be easy for Acumatica to make (I'll pick up on this in my next piece).

Then there is the renaming of Acumatica's commerce edition to Retail Commerce. To me, this renaming points to the disruptions of the pandemic. Enterprises have been compelled to respond, in pursuit of their own "Amazon grade" e-commerce experiences. As Roskill explained:

We [changed names] because previously, we were very focused on the B2B scenarios that lined up with Acumatica's inventory and distribution strengths. But as we've grown as a company, we're now going after the B2C scenarios. We built out a very rich set of omni-channel capabilities. You've seen us deliver the native Shopify and BigCommerce connections. And on the point of sale side, last year, we delivered an Acumatica POS. And we also now support Shopify's POS.

Acumatica customer Mozaic squares off against COVID - and ransomware

Okay, that's my news take - but what issues are a priority for customers? Via a slate of sessions and interviews, I had the chance to find out. Here's a few early standouts.

Acumatica CEO Jon Roskill challenged attendees with an earnest pitch for lasting transformation, not just cloud ERP go-lives. That's my stomping grounds also - I am perpetually disappointed that so many cloud ERP customers migrate from legacy systems, but then seem to subsequently slow down, or relax into those initial productivity/UX gains.

So few cloud ERP customers keep pushing after go-live - until a deeper kind of business "agility" (and data insight) is achieved. From the attendees I interviewed, Roskill's keynote message resonated - to a point. A context for transformational goals was welcomed by customers, but: short-term obstacles and distractions may complicate things.

Case in point, Acumatica "Impact award" customer of the year winner Mozaic, a New York non-profit with an admirably creative operating model. But as CFO Tammy Raub shared during the keynote, when Mozaic ran into COVID-19, all that came to a stop:

Well, we started 2020 with the merger of two chapters...  We were going to merge systems; we were going to merge teams - and then COVID. And that made everything more difficult. We had to lay people off; it was very difficult for us. And then we decided to soldier on and keep working.

More adversity: this time, by way of a ransomware attack, which crippled mission-critical systems. Well, not all of them - the division running on Acumatica held up fine:

Then ransomware hit our legacy on-premise system. We were down for about two weeks; we couldn't use our Internet or anything. Arc of Yates had been on Acumatica since 2018. That could still run, so we could still run a portion of our business. 

The other business was "demolished." But Mozaic refused to pay the ransom:

They even wanted to charge us an additional ransom to try to bring it back. So we pulled the copy off our backup, and put it back on there, because we didn't want to pay that.

During a subsequent interview, Mozaic told me they do embrace that vision of transformation. Whatever they might run into, that's still what they are pushing for (watch for my piece on Mozaic).

Acumatica's Adobe Document Cloud announcement - a customer view

Some keynote news that industry analysts find sexy doesn't do much for customers, whereas practical advancements can evoke a passionate response from the customer base. That happened during my interview with Sean Barnett, CFO of Spohn Associates. When I asked Barnett which keynote announcement he favored, the Adobe Cloud document integration topped his list:

I wanted to do a standing ovation. That was huge. Honestly, that would actually save us money, because there's a lot of us that have either Adobe, or depending on how they do the integration, a lot of us use Bluebeam, but I wouldn't even need it anymore.

Embedding Abobe documents into Barnett's ERP views is a welcome change:

That does exactly what I use Bluebeam for, just annotating and putting in text and, and just being able to view it the way it is there. That's a huge deal, because right now, if you just want to view a file, it's two clicks to open it, and it opens in another window. Whereas just being able to go over to that side tab in Acumatica and click it;  there's the file. There's so many applications where we've wanted that.

Barnett sees their construction field teams using this on the go:

Our teams out in the field; they do field measuring. So they'll bring up a plan and mark it up. Having it in Acumatica would be helpful if they can actually write on it, because all of our teams have Microsoft Surfaces, so if they could actually bring it up on Acumatica, write on it, and it's there. As soon as they're done, hit save - the PM back at the office could open it up, view it, make some notes, send it back.

My take

Given that Acumatica's go-to-market relies on its partners - not to mention its ISV-friendly platform  - it's important to get that update. Geoff Ashley, Acumatica's VP of Vice Partner Strategy & Programs, filled me in: Acumatica is now up to about 330 VAR partners and 270(ish) ISVs. Ashley is a passionate advocate for how ERP services firms need to change; he always brings a zinger or two about that.

This time, Ashley gave me a blistering counter to the bromide too many services firms still rely on, that "we have the best people." Ashley:

When I do a partner owner workshop, I tell everybody in the workshop, 'If you use people as your competitive advantage. You're wrong.' The next firm walking in the door says, 'My people are my competitive advantage,' so which is right, and which is wrong? There is no way to prove it or evaluate it.

Even if you deliver an exceptional project, Ashley is going to push you: how are you scaling that story? Are you using the project to build a re-usable app for the Acumatica Marketplace? Or is this just another hard-toiling one-off that can't be scaled? Ashley:

My fear or trepidation with this is partners get up, and they've got the one story. You know how hard it is to get 100 of those stories, right? What they really have to do is to package the value, so that they can deliver true and real value 100 times over.

Ashley's motivational push may be working - he told me about progress with partner verticalization and IP creation. That's for another piece.

I'll end this with two thoughts: first, on the transformation imperative. During a gathering of Acumatica manufacturing customers, we heard about the challenge of broader change - even resistance to investing in some of the next-gen technologies we hear so much about (sensors, IoT platforms, virtual hands-free tech, etc.). But here's where Roskill's transformation pitch finds its relevance: automation. More than any other topic, manufacturers said they were compelled to push into shop floor robotics because of chronic labor shortages. They simply have no choice but to automate.

I don't think a long-term transformation works if you just act on a hot burner issue, but it does have a way of propelling you forward. If you can pile up some wins, that transformation message starts to sink in. As for how Acumatica is differentiating, I see two more aspects to consider: one is Acumatica's continued push into consumer-grade mobile ERP. But the one that has more traction now is: Acumatica's newly revamped workflow automation. Acumatica was pushing into so-called low-code or no-code ERP long before it was a super cool phrase to lather onto your drag-and-drop.

Prior to this year's Summit, I got into that via Can low-code ERP free SaaS from the vanilla constraints of ERP standardization? Acumatica's Ali Jani says yes. Personalizing your ERP, without any IT heavy lifting, or risking ineligibility for upgrades - that's an advancement worth pursuing. If Acumatica can find a way to popularize that story, I can see that vision of personalized ERP resonating with users. As I told Ali:

When a partner can customize your system (and solve an industry need) to the point where you don't recognize it - without becoming ineligible for upgrades - that's the kind of ERP story we need more of.

Acumatica's collaboration story fits in here too. Will all users prefer to collaborate in Acumatica versus living out of their best-of-breed teaming tools? That question remains unanswered. You can make the argument to integrate in both directions, giving users the choice, but my sense is that most Acumatica users will prefer the embedded approach. I'll pick these threads up in my upcoming piece with CEO Jon Roskill.