Aptean—Ready To Leap Forward




Though the software vendor Aptean doesn’t typically receive much coverage in the front pages of software and computer magazines, it certainly has started making its mark in various manufacturing verticals, and, of course, in the more than 5,000 companies using its software products. Aptean was formed in 2012 as a result of the merger of two business software players—CDC Software and Consona.

I was recently afforded a great opportunity to garner some insight into the development of this company in the two years since the merger by being invited to attend the Aptean Edge annual user conference in Las Vegas this past May. Here is a brief summary of what I came away with from this conference.

The current state of affairs at Aptean is similar to that of its numerous competitors that have an abundance of either acquired or internally developed business software products. And its challenges for the near future aren’t unique either. First, it has to perform a transformation from a vendor that offers multiple independent solutions with relatively low level of internal integration and development coordination into a business software company that provides a range of modern, unified, and fully integrated applications that cover well identified and articulated industry areas and segments. Many of Aptean’s competitors are in the process of undergoing this type of transformation, while others have completed it.
 

Major event announcements

Let’s now take brief look at some of the important announcements made to the customer community and the rest of the world at the conference.

First and foremost, Aptean’s chief executive officer (CEO) Paul Ilse vowed that the company is here to stay in the software business and grow with its customer base. The vendor recently revitalized its major asset—its employees, by hiring many new qualified people, including a new upper management team with an impressive 100-plus years of combined experience in transforming enterprise software companies. Another important message from the CEO was that Aptean is committed to offering its customers those products that are mission-critical to their success, rather that providing a large variety of solutions to cover all aspects of their business.

In his opening speech, Mr. Ilse made three official announcements:
  1. Aptean and QlikView have formed a strategic partnership to provide Aptean customers with advanced business intelligence.
  2. Aptean has launched its Aptean Process Manufacturing Solution Suite, based on existing Apteans solutions such as Ross ERP, Factory MES, and Pivotal CRM. As the process manufacturing area is a large part of Aptean’s business overall, this is the first suite to be released, with others to follows in different industry segments.
  3. Aptean has announced the company’s new vision and brand identity called 'Where Software Works,' meaning that Aptean sees opportunities in multiple software areas, by providing applications that are focused on bringing real value to customers. The vendor has launched a new Web site which reflects this vision.

Main event promises

Interestingly enough, and not quite usual by its form, Aptean’s CEO Paul Ilse made three promises to its current and potential customers:
  1. Aptean intends to increase the value of Aptean’s solutions by making new investments in the product portfolio, enhancing existing business applications, and making its products much easier to deploy and fully integrated. This promise consisted of offering enhancements in four key areas:
    • To offer better integrated products and product lines. The vast majority of the vendor’s solutions are currently independent and not integrated.
    • To make significant enhancements to Aptean’s approach to business intelligence (BI). The goal is avail its customers BI capabilities through industry-specific, end-to-end applications and tools. The partnership with QlikView is expected to create brand new QlikView-powered analytical instrumentss.
    • To view mobility as an inherent part of Aptean’s go-to-market strategy. As such, Aptean aims to endow its customers access to information from any type of mobile device.
    • And, finally, the vendor promises to keep offering its customers multiple software deployment options. Aptean expects that all its solutions will be fully agnostic in their deployment. The vendor currently offers on-premise and hosted deployment options, and in the near future, it will also make available the multitenant Amazon Web services–based public cloud option.
       
  2. Aptean promises to strengthen its commitment and specialization to various industries. This is stated as a major differentiating factor for Aptean, as the vendor offers not only products to its customers, but also deep industry-specific knowledge. As an illustration of this point, Mr. Ilse stated that an impressive 75% of the features released this year are already industry-specific, and that 81% of Aptean’s team members have a direct experience in the industries the company serves.
     
  3. Aptean intends to deepen its partnership with customers and partners. The company’s core idea is a ‘genuine desire’ to understand the business of its clients—to listen to its customers and to respond to them in a timely manner. This extends beyond the typical interactions regarding the industry usability and functionality of the software. In essence, Aptean intends to make its solutions an integral component of the business transformation of its clients.

     
Aptean’s underlying software design principles

The beauty of attending software vendor conferences, as opposed to just learning about the vendors by perusing their Web sites, is the opportunity for garnering insight into the internal development of management and their ideas. In the case of Aptean, I was able to learn, for instance, that the vendor’s software design principles are applicable to all Aptean products—with no exceptions. I believe that it is important for prospects and customers to know these underlying principles: 
  1. Customers should have a choice on how the product they have chosen is to be deployed. The Aptean development team is working to make the cloud deployment option available for all the company’s software products.
     
  2. Aptean Event Management Framework (EMF) is selected to act as a common business platform for all enterprise resource planning (ERP) and probably customer relationship management (CRM) applications, with a focus on scalability and performance. The EMF will be a foundation for all of Aptean’s future integrations, workflow tools, and event management instruments; it’s already a part of the announced Ross ERP Process Manufacturing solution suite. It will include interesting features such as guided navigation, with the software providing lists of suggested actions for the user to perform. All suggestions are based on specific business roles and embedded document and process flows. The new principles underlying this new business platform are as follows:
    • Unified solutions
    • Complete integration
    • Availability of complementary tools, such as BI, etc.
    • Coexistence of different applications with each other
    • Thoughtful data analysis
    • Unified user interface (UI) for both mobile and desktop devices
       
  3. Customers will have availability to analytics across all business applications. The partnership with QlikView is expected to bring a new level of competency in creating industry-focused data analytical tools.
     
  4. Customers should have a positive user experience. Aptean fully recognizes and expects the advent of a new generation of technology users. This generation comprises younger users who have extensive experience with entirely different software applications and, subsequently, similar expectations of business software as with everyday apps that they are used to (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). In response to this, the Aptean development team is working on a new design of the user interface, with the priority given to the effectiveness and efficiency of Aptean software for its users and customers, according to the new 'software that works' idea.
     
  5. As mobile access is no longer an added feature, but rather a necessary component of software solutions, all Aptean applications should be and will be available via mobile devices.
 
 
Aptean VP’s point of view

At the very end of the event I briefly interviewed Jennifer Sherman, Senior Vice President, Product Management, who was kind enough to provide me with consolidated (colligated) comments, which I was able to parse to get a good understanding of Aptean’s development and future direction.

According to Ms. Sherman, one of the differentiators for Aptean is that the company is working hard to integrate its various product lines, which makes good business sense and brings value to customers. This has resulted in building up entire product suites (industry vertical–focused) rather than continuing with independent product lines, the first of which for process manufacturing was announced at the conference.

Aptean has historically had strong expertise in specific industries and segments of those industries—for instance, in SMB industrial manufacturing, and the mid-market of the process manufacturing industry. Aptean has already begun to divulge which companies it sells to, but there are still lots of opportunities to be more upfront about this. And the industries that Aptean is going to invest in first and foremost are, for example, process manufacturing—food and beverage (mainly in protein, consumer goods), chemicals, and pharmaceuticals to some extent. In discrete manufacturing, those verticals are the SMB segment, electronics, custom and highly configured products, avionics and aerospace, and components supply. The vendor will also invest in solutions for metal manufacturing. Aptean is providing more details in not only the industry verticals it caters to, but also on their subsegments wherein its solutions have a strong presence. In any case, we await the overall message, which is obviously still being formulated.

To stay competitive in ERP for discrete manufacturing, Aptean offers a product configurator that started out as a stand-alone application, but was later acquired by one of Aptean’s predecessor SMB manufacturing solutions. Although no longer positioned as a stand-alone product, the product configurator is well integrated with both Made2Manage and Intuitive ERP products.

In terms of strategy for some overlapping capabilities of different products, Ms. Sherman mentioned that management has a clear strategy for the internal functional auditing of potentially competing solutions and for better segmenting those applications. The ultimate goal is gain better market positioning and exclude any potential internal competition.
 

Summary

Summarizing my impressions of Aptean from the conference, I can say that Aptean’s transformation task is twofold: the team has to rationalize and optimize its software applications portfolio, while differentiating it from those of its competitors who have already transformed their businesses. The good news is that the company has lots of new people who are experienced with software vendor transformation and who are enthusiastic about the new Aptean’s horizons. And there is a clear and unambiguous understanding among management of what the short-term and long-term strategies of company transformation should be. I have seen a strong willingness and good human potential to perform such a transformation and bring the company to the next level.

At the same time, it would be useful and beneficial for Aptean to provide its current and potential customers with details about the vendor’s uniqueness and competitive advantages. I think that it would certainly be worthwhile to formulate those benefits in clear and unambiguous way and to relay them to these two audiences. Finally, at the event, Aptean made plenty of promises and announcements about its intentions for the future development, which I am certain the company will work hard to realize.
 
comments powered by Disqus