The most overlooked area to cloud ERP success? Choosing the right partner.
Yes, if your software is properly implemented, modern ERP systems can bring important benefits, from improved user adoption to workflow automation, from easier absorption of new functionality to improved analytics.
But that's a big honking "IF." A big piece of the puzzle is making sure your partner is well suited for your industry. If not, get ready for an ERP slog.
I just talked to a former Microsoft Dynamics customer who landed in this purgatory. This customer kept asking their partner for more and more customizations. The partner was more than happy to crank them out.
Until their system was so over-customized that the customer was bogged in technical debt, unable to upgrade or integrate without severe pain. Yes, cloud ERP imposes discipline when it comes to customization, but you can still get into trouble without informed guidance. You still need a partner that knows their stuff, brings up the hard topics, and rolls up sleeves.
Acumatica customers put their partners to the test
I like talking to Acumatica customers about their partners because Acumatica's cloud ERP sales channels are partner-reliant. That puts even more pressure on the partner to deliver.
At the Acumatica Summit, I got a close up view of a well-tested partner relationship between Acumatica customer Fabuwood and their partner, NexVue. As Sendy Stern, Fabuwood’s Senior Vice President Of Technology, told me:
Having the right vendor, the right partner is critically important. Acumatica is probably doing their best to pair up because every industry is different. Every company is different.
Fabuwood put NexVue through their paces, with nine crucial integrations to support. That kept NexVue CEO Dan Schwartz and his team on their toes. Stern says:
Dan and his team had a big part in helping set that up. Integrating with all of those other systems is a really important factor.
Partner trust is earned in the field; the go-live push is a big test. Schwartz recalls:
Sendy and I both rolled up our sleeves and we're putting as much time as the consultants, and mostly because of the timeframe. Even on data conversions, Sendy was sitting there and working through with his people and I was with my people working together getting it done.
Korpack - pick the right cloud ERP system and partner, or struggle
Acumatica customer Korpack had a different experience, but wound up in a similar place. Korpack is a rapidly growing industrial packaging supplier based in Bloomingdale, Illinois. They started with Acumatica soon after their own launch in 2014.
At this year's Acumatica Summit, Korpack President and Founder Nick Novy and his co-founder Karlye Novy told me that Acumatica has proved instrumental in that growth. Since launch, Korpack has doubled its growth each year, now with 30 employees and counting.
But Novy says that wouldn't have happened without the right software - and the right partner. Like so many cloud ERP customers, Novy has been burned before. As he told me:
I came from another company where I feel like we chose the wrong ERP system. It actually slowed us down rather than sped us up. So I was pretty adamant on picking the right platform for my new company, and I demoed about 10 or 12 different companies.
So how did Acumatica win the battle of the 12 demos? Start with Acumatica's pricing model, which isn't tied to individual user licenses:
I like the no-user-fee aspect of it, because we have some people that are in the system maybe for a half hour a day. I really like the dashboards and the analytics side as well. The cloud-based system was really nice. It just seemed kind of easy.
Novy picked the right software - now he needed the right partner. In his case, their first Acumatica partner wasn't a good fit. Novy didn't want to dwell on that, or name names. Fair enough. Fortunately, Korpack was able to make an early course correction and find a better fit. Which, by coincidence for this article, also turned out to be NexVue.
Korpack had a different challenge: as a startup, they weren't migrating older data. There was no historical data for analytics fodder or marrying to new transactions. Working with NexVue, Korpack selected default specs. "Some of them worked, and some of them didn't," recalls Novy. But it was a good start:
The challenging part, so far, for us was we didn't have any historical data to give them so they can start marrying it. We started with default specs and some of those worked and some of those didn't.
Fabuwood and Korpack had another thing in common: they wanted NexVue's support to push into analytics capabilities. I've written about how is using Acumatica as a data platform, including third party data. You don't hear of many ERP customers who are integrating non-ERP data onto an ERP data platform. But it makes sense, when you consider that "a single source of truth" has less value with each piece of data that isn't tied in.
Stern told me that Fabuwood uses multiple tools for advanced analytics and reporting. But using Acumatica as a data platform has paid off:
It's becoming much easier with Acumatica as a single source.
Analytics was a big appeal for Korpack from the beginning. Korpack is taking advantage of Acumatica's Power BI integration, using Power BI extensively. So how is that working out? Novy says the real-time aspects are important. To serve Korpack's customers, static monthly reports aren't going to cut it:
My idea is to really leverage the technology side of business to be more proactive on the service side of our business. So instead of spending a ton of time looking up order statuses and quotes, trying to look up the history of an item, I can actually be consulting to our customers and help them with their projects face to face.
Turning to NexVue to address integration and updates
Though cloud ERP customers tell me that absorbing functionality on a regular basis is a welcome change from falling behind with on-premise software, those software updates do bring challenges.
One key issue: maintaining third party integrations with each SaaS update. Both Fabuwood and Korpack rely on NexVue to help them make sure their mission-critical integrations keep humming. Stern of Fabuwood says the updates have gone smoothly:
Acumatica has a great tool called Sandbox. They give us the Sandbox. We'll work with Dan and his team. We test it. Sometimes, you've got to tweak something. They do the tweaks. We do it quite fast. So far, we have no issues.
Schwartz acknowledged that maintaining ERP integrations used to be a huge headache and resource drain. He says these issues are much improved:
It's a fair question because it used to be an issue. It's a different world today. We do a ton of development work on Acumatica. Small things, and then some humongous projects for clients.
If you had to make a ratio, I'd say the amount of time for the initial development when there's a release change, it's like a one or two percent ratio. There's almost nothing.
Partners should pro-actively reduce customizations. Schwartz:
We should probably spend more time deprecating features we built in as customizations that became standard into product and everything else.
Korpack told me they are still finding the right balance with the integration/upgrade cycle. They want to focus on two SaaS upgrades a year, which he thinks will keep technical issues to just an incremental change. Like Fabuwood, Korpack relies on Acumatica's Sandbox for pre-upgrade testing.
We use the test site extensively, and we have all our users tested, so that's really nice to have too.
Both these customers are in heavy growth mode, which brings fresh challenges - and new ERP requirements. Let's see how they fare.