Cloud ERP customers speak to the impact of a single source of truth - Acumatica R2 Launch Day highlights

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed September 13, 2019
Acumatica changed up their analyst day this year, opening it up in welcome ways. But the highlight was hearing from cloud ERP customers at the subsequent R2 Launch day. Here's my review.

roskill and roos
Acumatica's Jon Roskill (left) and IFS' Darren Roos

My biggest criticism of cloud ERP player Acumatica in years past: they pull their punches sometimes.

No, I don't mean they should hammer their competitors. But: taking a public stance on what they do differently is another matter.

At this week's Acumatica R2 Launch event in Boston, that changed. Acumatica CEO Roskill shared Acumatica's "customer bill of rights" with the assembled customers, prospects and partners:

There was another twist. Each fall, analysts gather for Acumatica's Analyst Day, typically an NDA event; some stick around for the public R2 launch event. But this year, Acumatica flipped the NDA script:

Speaking to the R2 launch crowd, CEO Jon Roskill hit directly on the buyer complexity ERP customers are weary of, starting with the dreaded EULA:

Another difference would be this thing called a EULA. A "EULA" is an End User License Agreement. You see some of our competitors have these things that are 16 pages long, screens and screens and screens. And is anybody really going to dig through that? Probably not. It's probably a small percentage that will have their lawyers go through it. Our commitment here is to put out a reasonable length EULA, in English, that is something that is comprehensible to the average person.

That's the kind of talk we need more of from ERP keynote stages. Only months after the acquisition of Acumatica by EQT Partners, the same investment group that owns IFS, there was certainly plenty to talk about in Boston. Brian Sommer and I shared an early take on this intriguing non-merger between IFS and Acumatica in June; last week, we got an update. After my sit-down with IFS CEO Darren Roos, I shared some high points of the Acumatica-IFS partnership so far.

"Delivering on what customers want is never an accident"

But that wasn't the only topic of import. Acumatica, which remains on a strong growth trajectory (5,200 customers, 75 percent subscription growth H1 2019), seems to be shifting. Now, I see much more of a balance between the growth push, and a focus on customer and partner success.

Though NPS scores are an imperfect metric at best, an NPS rise from -25 in June 2016 to 33 in March 2019 is nothing to scoff at. Acumatica also scores out favorably on peer review sites like G2 crowd. The same goes on the partner side. Though 21 new VAR partners were signed in H1 2019, the emphasis is now on partner quality - and partners that can help Acumatica scale to their next milestones.

As for R2 release highlights, it's always instructive to note that customers get excited by features that cloud pundits might consider mundane. Some of the functionality customers seemed most excited about were:

  • The additions of pivot tables to dashboards
  • Payment functionality, such as the addition of corporate credit card payment support, and "application of payments to particular lines of accounts payable documents."
  • Customers also seemed to like the continued beefing up of low-code tooling for things like screen/UI modifications, as well as cross-module workflow enhancements.

Delivering on what customers want is never an accident. Acumatica has about as well-thought a process for prioritizing customer functionality as I've seen. They combine ideation voting with on-site visits, focus groups, partner advisory board meetings, support case evaluation, and community forums. If that sounds awfully practical, well, that's the Acumatica style. This feedback slide was instructive:

Acumatica feedback

Obviously, customers can be disappointed when their feedback isn't incorporated into product. But they appreciate this type of transparency. If you know your feedback isn't going to be productized, you can now plan for next steps, such as having a partner build out an extension on the platform.

Though Acumatica leans practical, they also get out in front where it suits them. Acumatica was the first cloud ERP vendor to develop an Alexa skill (in keeping with their view of the future import of the conversational interface). They are now in collaboration with a number of customers who are using Alexa to access Acumatica data.

Acumatica customers share their pursuit of ERP value

Acumatica also mixed up the stale panel format. They tried a new format for the launch event: a combo customer-analyst panel, which I appeared on, along with fellow analyst and ERP maven Cindy Jutras:

During the panel, we were asked to give our picks for the best R2 features. I started with this:

I'm just happy you guys didn't bring up AI, blockchain or quantum computing. Addition by subtraction, for not hyping all that stuff.

Though to be fair, Acumatica is investing quite a bit around embedded "AI" and automation, but within a context of making users more effective. They aren't pitching a science fiction enterprise.

In my piece on the stages of cloud ERP benefits, I emphasized the power of a single source of data truth. That's a theme for cloud ERP benefits that shines through across use cases. Shiny dashboards and predictive analytics are nowhere if there isn't a fundamental trust in the underlying data. Nor can companies afford to get bogged down in data cleansing and custom integrations.

But what did these customers think? Each customer on the panel was in a very different phase of using Acumatica; extracting more value via Acumatica data was one common theme. Panova had the most Acumatica experience; they've been running their rubber and plastic manufacturing business on Acumatica since 2011. As Ehren Dimitry, President/CEO of Panova, told the audience: 

We're reinventing ourselves right now. Pushing more of an emphasis back onto the standard product side of the business. Everything is data-based. We're researching our past to understand our future, pulling in clients and so on. Having that data within our ERP system is tremendous... The fact that we can now add those to dashboards: the ability, the speed, that we can service our clients and give them real information.

It's about getting closer to your own customers. Dimity sees that happening now:

It's not uncommon for us to call a client and ask for their forecast. They'll say, "We don't know. You guys probably know better than us. How much of these things do we need?" To have that type of trust with clients only comes from having a really good system to mine the data.

Al Waweru, Director of Finance and Analytics at ODIN EPC, found himself in a different situation. He joined natural gas project specialists and services specialists ODIN in June of 2019, inheriting an Acumatica system that wasn't fully utilized. Waweru told attendees:

Right now, I have connected Acumatica to Power BI. Right now, we have a three tripod system: Acumatica, Power BI and Excel.

Getting to a "single source of truth" has made a big difference:

What I found out when I went to work for ODIN: I could go speak to three people, and they all speak in truth about your project. But they're all three different versions of the truth. You mentioned one version of truth. That's what we're dedicated into.

We are trying to have what I call the three M's. The ability to measure what we do using data, the ability to go into that data, using a key market component, BI or Excel, to manage that data to try to drive business processes.

My take

Waweru made a comment that resonates: just because your cloud ERP software is live, doesn't mean you are getting the results you should. After Waweru came on board, his CEO asked him to evaluate their Acumatica system:

The CEO asked me to assess Acumatica in a two month period. What I told him is that Acumatica, when it was originally installed, people took it like a Honda Civic - but you have a Ferrari here.

Without proper training and adoption, you're not going to see that benefit:

What I found out is that there was no ownership of the system inside the company. If something did not function the way it was supposed to function, there was some kind of, "The partner told us to do this." Or, "This is how we used to do it."

If you treat cloud ERP like a tech project, it will falter:

I think if you're going to use Acumatica, setting the right foundation at the beginning, having the processes defined for what you're trying to solve is key. This is not an IT problem, even though Acumatica is a technological product, it's not an IT product. It's not accounting product. It's a product that redefines the business.

And I think when you have the right partner, when you have the right processes and you have the right mindset and the right people, you're going to trust all of these - and you're going to see it's a Ferrari like I mentioned before.

I believe the future of cloud ERP is industry solutions. It's good to see Acumatica's success across their industry editions. Their construction edition has taken off - see my prior Texas Scenic use case for more on that.

As for my fave R2 launch features, I was impressed by the demos of embedded BI. Most ERP vendors are struggling with how to balance their own analytics features with the third party visualization tool many customers are using. Acumatica has done more to crack this nut than most. Now, a customer can go into Power BI or Tableau, create their visualizations there, and then embed those visualizations right back into Acumatica, low-code style, no developers needed.

Acumatica's ISV and platform strengths come into play here also - the Tableau integration is done via the support of partner DataSelf (see more background on DataSelf in my piece). And: if your users are hopelessly addicted to Excel, there are good ISV options there too, not the least of which is Velixo, a tightly integrated Excel-based Acumatica solution, designed by Gabriel Michaud, who spent four years as the GM of Acumatica Labs before founding Velixo.

Acumatica is balancing these integrations with more drill-down and pivot table features in its own dashboards. That's the right way  - give users potent BI options internally and externally.

Looking ahead to the Acumatica Summit in January, there are two areas I'd like to see Acumatica progress on. One is collaboration. Since Acumatica has a UX redesign coming next year, I'll be looking to see if they can incorporate more of a "team" and collaboration feel to their screens. At the analyst day, we talked about Acumatica's desire to avoid bogging their customers down in the messaging overdose you hear about sometimes from Teams or Slack users.

And yet, just like BI/analytics, vendors must reckon with the rise in collaboration and messaging tool adoption. Asking team members about transactions, data visualizations and customer accounts should be an easy and visible part of the workflow. Again, the right balance between embedded collaboration, and integration with tools like Teams and Slack will be the tough/important part.

Finally, Acumatica's focus on customer success can be enhanced by delivering more customer benchmarks and "next best actions" prompted by aggregated data from their customer base. Acumatica is understandably cautious here: they want to avoid the misuse of data so many vendors have fallen into. They also need a certain critical mass of data to turn those aggregated insights into helpful tips and actions. These are not easy problems, but I firmly believe they are solvable. Our discussions indicated that Acumatica's product leads have good ideas here - I'll look forward to doing a progress report in January.

Image credit - All on-site photos by Jon Reed. Screen shot used by permission of Acumatica.

Disclosure - Acumatica paid the bulk of my travel expenses to attend the Acumatica analyst day and R2 Launch. Acumatica is a diginomica premier partner, as is IFS.