Friday Rant - ERP in 2020 is a mess!

Profile picture for user brianssommer By Brian Sommer October 23, 2020
Brace yourselves ERP vendors. Brian's built up a head of steam and needs to have a word with some of you...

(Pixabay )

I spend way too much time getting earfuls from well-meaning ERP vendors but few realize just how similar, bad and dubious some of their claims are. To help those who (fortunately) don’t catch all these briefings, I've summarized the Fall season into this tough, Cliff Notes guide to ERP briefings.  (Caution: Adult situations – parental guidance suggested). 

Here's the rundown of the ERP themes this Fall. 

Ubiquity of platforms

Everybody, and I mean everybody, has a platform now.  And, if the ERP vendor has any manufacturing vertical aspirations, the platform has to have a generic IoT connector. Other components might include an SDK (solution development kit) and a collection of connectors to popular chat, workflow and collaboration tools. Listening to vendors talk about the amazing, stupendous and ingenious power of their platforms is like listening to two people talk about their personal favorite pair of socks.  Beam me out of this Scotty!!

Tons of tools and few/no solutions you can use now

As if on cue, vendors hyping their new platforms are long on hyping the platform and its future, someday, possible value creating capabilities. But like the police say, “Move it along folks - Nothing to see here”. They don’t have much of anything to share re: real case studies or product sales as the stuff is so new and requires a lot of external integrator fees. 

While some firms are going beyond multi-tenancy, some have just discovered it

A couple of vendors this year have come up with new deployment options beyond single-tenant hosted, on-premises and multi-tenant cloud. But while these deployment innovations appeared in 2020, some vendors are still readying their 1999-era cloud solutions for release this year or next. 

It should be a professional embarrassment to be an ERP vendor with tons of published comments disputing the need for a cloud product and/or a multi-tenant cloud solution. Some firms have fought the push to the cloud for 20 years. It only took a global pandemic and its work from home (WFH) mandates to highlight the superiority of a cloud solution. And, the vendor maintenance service built into multi-tenant cloud apps became vindicated during the pandemic, too. Now, even the most laggardly vendors are proclaiming their newfound, albeit way late, love for the cloud and multi-tenancy. Too bad, some of these still don’t have it right. Maybe in 20 more years they’ll get it together….

The book of record positioning is full of holes

BOR (book of record) was a broken record from vendor marketers the last few years. It was always a facetious argument. Seriously, does anyone really think that all data (transaction, big, dark, external, internal, graphic, audio, video, satellite imagery, sensor data, etc.) could somehow get shoehorned into an old transaction-processing system to be a singular BOR? The idea that a CRM would be an enterprise BOR had more holes than a block of Swiss Cheese. 

There is hope out there but it’s not really coming from the ERP crowd. New generation vendors, vendors that live in the white space apart from ERP vendors, are on the right track. I’ve written about Uptake and before and check out Den’s latest on a different one of these firms. It seems if you want to make sense of all those different kinds of data, you need systems that were designed for this world first and not a system designed originally for accounting transactions. 

Hard to find differentiation in many mid-market ERP solutions

I cut one briefing short recently. They had sent me a 45+ page presentation ahead of the briefing, but my review of that showed no real differentiation. I should develop one generic writeup and put in a small “What’s different” section at the end for the few things that might be interesting or different. 

Here’s how similar things are:

  • Many vendors use the same Microsoft Azure infrastructure, AI tools, IoT connector, etc. 
  • Many vendors plan to use chat technology
  • Many vendors integrate with Slack, Teams and other communication/collaboration tools
  • Everyone is going to make AI/ML a big deal
  • Faster implementations are a priority
  • A consumer-grade UX is a must
  • Etc.

I’d go on, but newbie analysts will simply copy my outline (above) and I’d create a new group of competitors for myself. 

Marketing a platform is really hard and few do it well, if at all

Colleague Jon Reed believes some of the above platform woes are due to vendors doing a terrible job of marketing. There’s wisdom in that observation. He believes some vendors may have a solid platform story, but many get too enamored with the componentry and fail to describe the differentiation within. For example, Jon sees Acumatica’s platform as easy and fast to build off of, while another vendor I watch has been teasing analysts about their platform for years even though it’s still not really available for wide scale customer use/development yet.  Marketing messages without proof points are not, in my opinion, convincing.

Global solutions are still in the “someday” column

Yep, I do projects all over the world, but vendors still struggle to create ERP solutions that really are global. If you want a single global payroll engine, you might get one product for 3-5 countries. Accounting solutions might have greater coverage but country-specific support for tax filings could be limited.  Some vendors won’t sell to your firm if your firm’s headquarters isn’t in one of five countries. And very few vendors have implementation partners that can actually do a global implementation.  My clients are frustrated and vendors can’t seem to understand why this is still unacceptable. 

The Pandemic didn’t float all ERP boats so someone’s got to be lying

All analysts seem to be quizzing vendors about how empathetic they’re being with pandemic affected customers. Vendor after vendor is putting smiles on everything but I lived in Texas long enough to recognize the smell of bullshit. Every vendor can’t be experiencing increases in ERP sales in 2020. We know companies have scaled back large deals/projects and many are only greenlighting smaller deals. We also know that those kind offers to delay some customer renewal payments are not without costs to the customer. In fact, only one vendor this year went on the record saying their contracts allow customers to downgrade at renewal. Real economic relief has been scarce out there and vendors that are spinning growth stories are either lying, lucky or putting the screws to customers in these tough times. Since only one of those options is a good one, software buyers should poke vendors hard on these revenue or earnings claims. I know I’ve been trying.  

To fully integrate acquisitions or not

2020 may be the year some vendors come to “re-think and re-evaluate” their decision to fully integrate (i.e., rewrite) an acquired application into their core product line.  And, just as likely, 2020 could also be the year that some vendors decide to honor their multi-year promise to finally and fully integrate their acquired products into the core solutions.  The only thing I’ve learned this year is that many vendors see an acquired application to be like a fine wine or cheese. It’s needs to sit undisturbed for many, many years before anyone actually does anything integration related with it. 

We’re all agile, resilient and flexible now

 Wow, talk about the trifecta of overused words in enterprise software, it’s these three. You’re just not a professional marketer, PR flack or stump speech presenter unless you are using one of these in every sentence you write.

The year without motivational speakers

The best part of every software show going virtual is the ability to totally blow off these time wasters. I can’t stand jocks telling me to give 110% when they don’t know whether to spell “cloud’ with a “c” or a “k”.  I’m way more motivated without these “motivational” speakers.

My take

I’ve got to stop as this piece is really getting me even more wound up. 

I’m sure some vendor out there thinks I’m being too harsh, too general or just plain wrong, but, be honest if you don’t see your competitors doing a lot of the above. If they are guilty of some of this, chances are your firm is culpable, too.

Thankfully, the Fall busy season is starting to wane. I need to relax and reset for the vendor insanity to kick in again in January.  Let’s hope there’s some improvement along the way!