Agile ERP Vendor Ditches a Microsoft Dynamics CRM Alliance for, well, its own CRM Solution (Part II)

Part I of this blog topic has revisited Agresso's post-implementation agility capabilities (as to accommodate businesses living in a change -- so called BLINC's), and its devised growth strategy via in-house developments, complementary acquisitions and/or partnerships. Most recently, Agresso expressed the intent to acquire the United Kingdom UK-based competitor CODA, but the analysis of this potential merger deserves a blog post on its own. For now, some other blog posts, such as these one from AccManPro on the merger and on CODA's recent software as a service (SaaS) forays, should do.

As for the future customer relationship management (CRM) offering, I could quite understand Agresso's initial temptation for leveraging Microsoft Dynamics CRM [evaluate this product], whose latest version, formerly code-named "Titan" has been completed and released to manufacturing in December 2007. The new version is offered under two product names: Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 for on-premise and partner-hosted deployments and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Live for Microsoft-hosted deployment.

Designed with a single unified-code base for both on-premise and on-demand deployments, the product enables customers to choose the right deployment model for their specific business and information technology (IT) needs, with the flexibility to change deployment models over time if their needs or preferences change.

The new Microsoft Dynamics Live CRM service is offered only in the United States (US) and Canada, and is currently available to a limited number of customers via the Early Access program. Some of the significant new benefits and capabilities of this new release include these:

  • An advanced multi-tenant architecture that supports multiple customers per server;

  • Extended global capabilities including user choice of more than 25 languages and pervasive support for multiple currencies;

  • New business intelligence (BI) capabilities including cross-entity views and an end-user ad hoc reporting wizard;

  • Advanced business process automation (BPA) based on Microsoft Windows Workflow; and

  • New collaboration capabilities with Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 including real-time presence indicators within the CRM application;

The new release of Microsoft Dynamics CRM has been in extensive use over the past year by more than 600 partners around the world and more than 100 early access customers representing a broad range of on-premise, partner-hosted and Microsoft-hosted deployments. One such renowned partnership would be with Epicor iScala [evaluate this product]. The most recent Microsoft Dynamics CRM Live events were captured in this ZDNet blog post.

So, why then did Agresso have an 11th hour change of heart? Well, Agresso acquired the Spanish CCS ERP  product line a year ago or so, to further penetrate the market in Spain. The product that has meanwhile been renamed in November 2007 as Agresso CRM, and which brought to Agresso a base of 1,700 customers (nearly 10 percent of which are in a software as a service [SaaS] model), has been evaluated independently against other vendors in the mid-market by the European technology evaluation firm, Penteo ICT Analyst

Penteo is headquartered in Spain where it is the market leader, but it also has offices in London and Paris. The firm provides independent expert analysis of market trends and market research, and issues vendor positioning diagrams about technology solutions and vendors.  Penteo's recent report titled "SMB Business Solutions Spanish Market 2007" positions CCS Agresso and its technology (which now includes Agresso CRM) as a “Star” in the "Universe Map". Stars are players providing services, solutions or technology with remarkable viability, features and functionality performance. 

Penteo believes that Stars are sound players that lead their markets.  Agresso is reportedly a leader in the Universe Map (consisting of "stars", "planets", "satellites" and "comets"), as a result of a broad functional coverage for medium-sized businesses and strong support. Other noted products in the Spanish market are Microsoft Dynamics NAV Microsoft Dynamics AX, SAP Business One and Sage Logic Class.

Still,  somewhat embarrassingly, Agresso at long last took a look "under the hood" and realized that CCS had a strong CRM product too as well as a sizable and seasoned CRM implementation team. In fact, Agresso CRM offers five distinct advantages that lead against competitive software offerings:

  1. A thin web interface, including a web-based executive dashboard;

  2. Support for multiple operating systems, including Microsoft Windows, Linux, Unix and Mac OS (wow and cool, since Microsoft Dynamics CRM supports only Windows);

  3. Support for multiple databases, including Oracle, IBM DB2, MySQL and Microsoft SQL Server (again, Microsoft Dynamics CRM supports only SQL Server);

  4. A right-priced and better feature/function match-up to mid-market service company requirements versus those of market leaders more oriented to tier one or manufacturing companies; and

  5. Agresso’s customary lower total cost of ownership (TCO), while pre- and post- implementation ongoing change capabilities help too.

Agresso has hereby also established a CRM Service Hub of more than 100 full-time professional services experts.  This team collectively has decades of CRM experience selling, implementing and supporting Oracle Siebel and Microsoft products, as well as the original product underpinning Agresso CRM (formerly CCS CRM).  The Agresso CRM Service Hub is based in Barcelona, Spain and will lead the roll-out of the new offering to Agresso subsidiaries and partners throughout the world, most likely starting from Spanish speaking regions.

As said earlier on (in Part I), Agresso CRM will be the first BLINC ERP Solution Plug-In, whereby the similar Agresso Talent Management and Agresso RISK Management add-on's are slated for 2008. The above-mentioned Agresso VITA architecture also implies a "Living Architecture”, for having supported multiple generations of technologies: from mainframe, via client/server and Web Services to service oriented architecture (SOA).

However, Agresso offers SOA-based deployments of disparate applications with one caveat: if underlying software components (services) are badly designed, an SOA concoction will be badly delivered. In other words, combining loosely-coupled applications will not provide business agility. We will have to see how Agresso will blend native VITA-based and non-native SOA-enabled plug-in solutions so that user companies can now get the combination of, e.g., a world-class CRM or talent management solution, albeit with unimpeded post-implementation agility.

Again, what is your view towards Agresso's above CRM move (under the "self do, self have" proverb) and professed combined organic and plug-in footprint expansion strategy? Can a functional footprint indeed be significantly expanded without hampering the inherent core system's agility?
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