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Acumatica Summit 2021 - CEO Jon Roskill on how vendors misrepresent transformation, the Apple Watch ERP demo and mobile ERP adoption

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed July 23, 2021
After his keynote, I pressed CEO Jon Roskill on why Acumatica is pushing a digital transformation narrative. He also explained what's possible for ERP on an Apple Watch, and what's not, tweaking competitors along the way. Here's the highlights - and my own Acumatica progress report.

Jon Roskill - Acumatica Summit 2021
(Acumatica CEO Jon Roskill takes the stage)

My first Acumatica Summit post pored through the keynote news, and the issues that matter to customers (Acumatica Summit 2021 - can embedded collaboration change ERP? Acumatica's Microsoft Teams and Adobe Document Cloud integration raises the question).

But one bonus of hauling to Las Vegas is getting a more informal dissection - after the keynote. I found Acumatica CEO Jon Roskill in good spirits, and, as usual, feeling a tad feisty towards what he perceives as slow-moving, copycat competitors.

The Apple Watch demo - tweaking Acumatica competitors

Which leads me to Roskill's post-keynote jabs at a very big ERP vendor (I'll let you guess who. Hint: they compete with Acumatica in some areas and not others). Roskill brought up Acumatica's Apple Watch demo from day two:

As Roskill told me (jokingly), he sees a pattern here:

The Apple Watch demo... It's like our Alexa integration demo. It took [them] three years, but [they] stole it finally.

The Apple Watch demo had a self-effacing joke in it too. Roskill:

The joke is, we pull up the Apple Watch, and we've got the Acumatica UI on an Apple Watch. And we show this really complicated screen on the watch. And we say, 'Alright, we're going finish the fiscal year, and we're going to do a reconciliation of the fiscal year, and everyone laughs because, of course, that's not something you would ever do on your watch, right?

Certainly not anytime soon. I liked the joke though; it prevents an overreach on what the Apple Watch can do for ERP. But what can it do? Roskill: 

Then we go into an expense receipt scenario; they send an expense receipt, which went to Ali's boss, and then they approve it on the watch. And that's much more reasonable. So you get a very simple notification; it could be a discount, or it could be an inventory alert, or something like that.

Why has mobile user adoption been slow for most ERP vendors, including Acumatica, which is further along than most? I got some answers later that day, from Acumatica's VP of Platform Strategy, Ajoy Krishnamoorthy. Short version: purpose-built processes, running on a consumer-grade app, should change things up (Acumatica is working on that, by doubling down on iOS and Android development of its already-mature mobile app. Acumatica showed off its mobile "dark mode" demo during the keynote also). Not all demos were futuristic. The RPA demo (with UiPath integration) is much closer to release. Roskill:

We basically set up an RPA stream and Acumatica. It's a proof of concept, but it's something I think we'll have released by the end of the year. 

Why does Acumatica need UiPath integration?

I was curious about the RPA move with UiPath, given that Acumatica already has its own well-established workflow engine. But Krishnamoorthy told me it's a very different set of problems to solve. The distinction is about repetitive processes:

RPA is more about recording a user action and then repeating it over and over. One scenario that I showed, which is the sales tax, use tax - somebody's got to file a claim in the state website every month. So it's about automating a very specific repetitive function.

The second scenario is migration of data from an existing system. A lot of the legacy systems don't have access to the data storage; it's very proprietary. So you can essentially record an RPA of somebody manually clicking on a transaction data screen, go pick up this record, and then save. You could just record it once and let the RPA run. You will get all of your transaction data into a format and then boom, call Acumatica activity pack and dump it in. So your data migration is now done, without you even having to know what the database looks like.

On transformation hype - are software vendors misrepresenting digital transformation?

Speaking of good-natured knocks at competitors, Roskill also had strong words for what he sees as a misrepresentation of digital transformation by other software vendors. He re-iterated that during our talk:

Someone was giving me a hard time last night - it turned out part of their business was they are a Dell reseller. And they were like, 'Oh, you're bad-mouthing Dell and digital transformation on stage.' I was kind of laughing about that, like they're making out as though you're plugging in our servers and you transform.

Given that Acumatica had a flurry of customers that moved into their cloud ERP during the pandemic, and given that trend continues, why the need for a transformation narrative? After all, business is good. Roskill told me it comes down to this: moving to a cloud ERP system is just the beginning. Customers need to push ahead::

People are positioning [transformation] as if it's just moving to the cloud. When I look at our customers, we've probably got about 25% of our customers who were running on legacy ERP... and their partner moves them to the cloud. But they're basically behaving exactly like they were before. So they've gotten some benefit in that they don't have to maintain servers; they've gotten benefits in terms of security and those sorts of things. But they're really not getting the full benefit of digital transformation.

What are they missing?

A real digital transformation is actually anchored in the business itself. You're looking at, 'How do you set up the business and business processes on top of the software,' in order to take the business to not just another level, but we talked about digital resiliency - that's a component that you're building in there, and I would say business agility is probably the other word to use, as opportunities present themselves.

Hard to disagree, but you need customer proof points. Roskill had some fresh ones, centered around the need to complete acquisitions:

Just in the last 24 hours, I've talked to at least half a dozen companies who said, 'Yep, we were in the middle of an acquisition.' We have a customer, AFF, that does textile foam for seats. On the second panel, they talked about how they were doing an acquisition in Europe. [They said] there's no way that they could do that with on-premise software. And so they couldn't have even gone down that business direction, if they weren't on Acumatica. So you know, so it's about getting the business into the software, and then being able to easily adjust. 

You keep pressing on:

If you look at our best customers, as soon as they got to that next stage, they've got everything mapped that they want to do next. They want more dashboards; they want more modules; they want more integrations. And it's connected to the business.

In Cloud ERP value extraction doesn't land in your lap at go-live. Roskill shared Acumatica's maturity model, which provides customers a framework for understanding what else they should aspire to.

Most customers I spoke with were receptive to Roskill's transformation view, but they do find short-term obstacles distract from a full-on transformation. Mozaic was a vivid example; the combination of the pandemic and a ransomware attack definitely had them putting out fires. In the case of the manufacturers I spoke with, budget constraints limited their investment in next-gen tech, but they were pursuing shop floor robotics. With the manufacturing talent shortage, they are compelled to act on that aspect.

That fits into what Roskill laid out this year, breaking transformation out into five categories. While the categories may appear obvious, the intent is: you may be taking on some aspects of transformation now, but not all:

Acumatica - Mozaic - digital transformation
(Applying digital transformation methods to Acumatica customer Mozaic)

That doesn't mean Mozaic isn't looking at competitive differentiation at all (they are). But you can have points of emphasis. Contrast that with the Acumatica maturity model, and perhaps customers have new ways of giving themselves a progress report card.

My take - an Acumatica progress report

Acumatica is doing a lot of things right. That shows during their keynotes, which are far above the mediocre/stilted/overblown average, thanks to superior pacing, heavy doses of customers, unapologetically geeky demos, and gelled teams that play well off each other, with easy ribbing and jokes (example: casually using each other's credit cards during on-stage demos). It probably helps that their leadership team has been pretty stable for some years. It also helps that Acumatica doesn't have a pressing need to go viral, or try cheesy tactics like hiring professional keynote moderators (who invariably come off as tone deaf carnival barkers).

For several years, I felt Acumatica was behind their peers on collaboration strategy, but it looks like that's starting to change. Obviously, despite Acumatica's marketing strides, they don't have the brand recognition of some cloud ERP stalwarts (though from what I've heard, Acumatica is showing up in enough deals to get other midmarket ERP players' serious attention). Acumatica's growth will also put pressure on them to maintain partner and implementation quality, an issue I talked about with Geoff Ashley, VP, Partner Strategy & Programs.

From a functionality standpoint, Acumatica will face tough decisions on which verticals to take on, expand, support with partners, or avoid. If I hear a consistent customer gripe with Acumatica, it's about the reporting. However, it's a minor gripe, in the sense that customers ultimately get what they want, either from Acumatica or a range of reporting and analytics partners. On the financial analytics and planning side, the options for customers are diverse, including Power BI, Planful, DataSelf's integration with Power BI and Tableau, and many more.

However, this year, I was struck that this isn't the case on the supply chain planning and forecasting 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 can 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. (I'm currently getting input on a couple of Acumatica partners providing tools in these areas; I'll update this post with a comment on that).

In the case of quality management and process manufacturing, Acumatica has a plan. A big part of that is eWorkplace Apps, which is building out functionality to compliment Acumatica's manufacturing edition. I didn't get to catch up with eWorkplace Apps in Vegas, but I plan to track them down for an update on these key enhancements. Meanwhile, I have more customer stories to share, so - stay tuned.

Updated, July 23, 10:30am US PT, with a number of small tweaks for reading clarity.

Update on Acumatica demand forecasting: August 11, 2021: Since I published this piece, I heard from some vocal Acumatica community members about the partners offering solutions in the supply chain planning and forecasting space. To be clear, in the original piece I was not asserting there were no such solutions. My concern was that the customers I talked to seemed to lack visibility into what was possible. I believe demand forecasting should be a point of emphasis for Acumatica - given its strong distribution/manufacturing and also commerce capabilities, it fits well. How much Acumatica defers to partners, brings on new partners, or embeds into existing products is all up for discussion.

The big takeaway as I see it: the pandemic exposed the limitations of many existing planning tools, while also leaving enterprise with a resolve for a more agile and accurate forecasting process - and the tools to make it so. Acumatica is well-positioned to offer such solutions, either from partners or internally, and make those solutions highly visible to customers.

Along those lines, the most frequent and enthusiastic endorsements I heard were for Acumatica partner EazyStock and its "great" forecasting tools (as I was told). A ringing endorsement for EazyStock's Channel Manager Cheryl Morrow also came through frequently. For supply chain planning with Acumatica, I received a shoutout for SourceDay. Another interesting note: Plex's DemandCaster solution was on display on the show floor. I have a great deal of confidence in Plex's solutions and their new modular approach. In the months to follow, I am looking forward to learning more on these solutions and others, and how they are working out for Acumatica customers.

I think the big takeaway here is that, even if the customers I talked with were not aware of these options, the vocal Acumatica community filled the gap. They were persistent in pinging me on this and that speaks volumes - and gives me homework to do in the meantime.

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