Baan Resurrects Multi-Dimensionally Part 4: Challenges & User Recommendations

Event Summary

In its bid to return to its erstwhile short-lived glory, Baan, the resurrected global provider of collaborative enterprise business solutions and a unit of the Invensys Software Systems (ISS) division of Invensys plc, the global automation and controls group with headquarters in the UK, has lately blitzed the market with a number of announcements. The most prominent amongst these were:

  • Deliveries of vertically focused solutions for some industries
  • Deliveries of horizontal, cross-industry applications
  • Some high-profile partnerships
  • Some initiatives to shore up its large customer base

This is Part Four of a four-part Event Note concerning these Announcements and their Market Impact.
Part One detailed recent product announcements.
Part Two covered alliances and customer support.
Part Three discussed the Market Impact of the announcements.


Incidentally, while Baan customers should benefit from iBaan through its inter-enterprise collaboration capabilities and the vertical focus, mid-sized manufacturing enterprises might not be impressed at this stage, as they may perceive implementation costs for a toolset as gratuitous compared to installing a truly packaged homogeneous solution. iBaan, therefore, may find that integration and TCO will be the dominant challenges in its target market.

Also, there is the risk of underestimating how extensive the integration efforts have to be when installing an enterprise-wide CRM system. SAP's recent CRM success for example, is partly due to leveraging a common data model between ERP, CRM, and SCM applications. iBaan will also have to exhibit this kind of leverage. There are strong reasons to believe that not all pieces of Baan extensive product family are completely assimilated.

Also, the lack of native HR/Payroll functionality means that Baan might not attract customers that prefer a truly enterprise-wide 'one-stop-shop' solution, which is often the preference of the mid-market. Baan's interconnectivity to third-party products and support of many platforms and middleware standards (through iBaan OpenWorld architecture) should be a strong mitigating factor though.

The partnership announcement with IONA might signal that Baan OpenWorld is maturing. Baan customers may see it as the way forward for integrating the complete suite of iBaan. While previously IONA only had an adapter to Baan ERP, it has, due to customer request, built an adapter to Baan's OpenWorld. Similar partnerships with renowned EAI companies such as WebMethods, or BEA would be an additional endorsement of Baan technology that would help its traction in the market.

Baan should also keep in mind its 'Achilles' heel' vulnerability due to dependence on SAP Portals for its portal technology (see It Is Possible - SAP And Baan Strange Bedfellows). Given SAP's recent unimpressive partnership track record (see Gosh, They Kill Partnerships, Don't They?), Baan might be deprived of its crucial technology pillar some time in the future, and it might not have the resources to weather such a potential storm.

Another possible challenge is Invensys' decision to roll the Wonderware Protean and Prism process manufacturing products into Baan's offering (together with BaanIV Process product, and the Baan Dimensions product, developed for pulp and paper, and metals manufacturers), with most of integration to iBaan to be completed at the end of 2002 (for more information, see Invensys Announces New Division - Baan Process).

Given the fact that the current iBaan product portfolio, achieved through a number of acquisitions, has seen hefty delays and costs that resulted from resolving integration issues and reworking disparate pieces into a single schema/data model, the market may expect to witness yet another daunting product development and delivery experience. And, don't forget the dilution of the above-mentioned focus on discrete mid-market manufacturing.

However, with more than 1,000 R&D employees and by learning from the prior grueling product integration experience, Baan may stand a chance to deliver the promise this time. With the support of Invensys, and the deep understanding of process manufacturing stemming from the developers at former Marcam Corporation, there is potential here to penetrate the prospective process manufacturing segments. The existing suites have proven their fit in a number of verticals like in food and beverage, chemicals, paints and resins. Again, one could anticipate another fertile ground and a point of integration for the Wonderware plant process control software.

While we approve of Invensys' move to provide manufacturers a solution that may satisfy all their needs (i.e., the 'sensor to boardroom' initiative), creating functional connections between front office, ERP and plant automation applications will be a colossal task. While Invensys that also owns Wonderware and Foxboro, covering MES, SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) and process control might look like a potent mix, the challenge of integrating the disparate business philosophies (as, for example., selling SCADA is very different to selling ERP or CRM). There is still confusing parent/children relationship, as ISS owns Baan, Caps Logistics and the CRM division, with the products envisioned to be central to iBaan but also available separately. The need for cross training of the sales force in functionally disparate applications should not be neglected either, and these factors may aggravate Baan customers' anxiety.

CRM Challenges

Baan success as a CRM player is also dubious on top of its belated onslaught on the market. While its 'integration to ERP' mantra should only differentiate it from the pure CRM players, e.g., Siebel and Pivotal, it will not fly against the slew of ERP vendors that have long incorporated CRM within their offerings (e.g., Epicor, Intentia, J.D. Edwards, IFS, Made2Manage, Frontstep, Navision, etc.). Not to mention Oracle, SAP and PeopleSoft that have unquestionably been further down the CRM road than Baan, and that are occupying high positions in the CRM market measured by the pure CRM revenues.

To be fair, Baan's strategy of going after vertical industries, which have been somewhat under-served by CRM vendors, may prove to be beneficial, although mainly to Baan's potential 'greenfield' customers when it comes to implementation from scratch and going live. However, the fact might be that many of Baan's target customers will have already acquired parts of CRM software. This implies that Baan has to convince them that its product offers superior functionality in these areas.

While its sales force automation (SFA) and configuration functionality may be on par with the rest of the pack, it is not necessarily the case with the service/call center functionality, particularly in terms of the real-time and wireless interactivity. Time only will tell whether the recent iBaan for CRM wins where a competitor was an incumbent ERP provider, were only sporadic successful shots in a dark, or a sign of a future pattern. It has been a difficult nut to crack for Baan several times in the past, as the company continues to have a tough job of overcoming a history of poor execution, and of persuading potential customers yet again that this time it has got its ducks in the row.

To alleviate the predicament, Baan should try to entice its channel partners to develop vertical extensions and to incorporate the contributions of channel partners (including IBM Global Services). It should continue to be proactive with product upgrades and to aggressively clarify that all of former Invensys' CRM products and strategies are assimilated under iBaan for CRM, Caps Logistics now following the same path. Not the least will be the importance of coagulating the integration expertise with many high profile, referenceable customer sites.

User Recommendations

Baan's viability is no longer an issue. Baan's rejuvenated management team has done a praiseworthy job of bringing the company back to health while concurrently unveiling a new product release that can compete with the other products in the market. Deep vertical functionality, process integration, and the sharing of detailed product strategy blueprint with the market, should help users manage TOC during this era of conservative IT budgets.

Baan should be included in a number of enterprise software evaluations within the discrete and, to a degree, within the process manufacturing market. Existing and potential customers within the industries that Baan covers on a global basis (A&D, Automotive, High-Tech/Electronics, and Industrial Machinery) should consider Baan in their IT strategy development and/or continue deployment of new iBaan applications. Users within the industries that Baan covers on a regional basis such as Services Industries (Telecommunications and Logistics), Construction & Engineering, and Process Industries may benefit from checking out Baan's local office or a regional VAR's focus.

Customers seeking portal technologies and collaborative applications should look at iBaan, with a thorough evaluation of many reference sites as well. They may also benefit from assessing individual iBaan applications (e.g., CRM) against best-of-breed alternatives in their quest to acquire e-collaboration capabilities. Baan customers who are pure Baan shops should use OpenWorld as application glue. However, Baan customers who have a heterogeneous application landscape may benefit from using the IONA adapter to integrate those third-party applications with Baan, and expose those integrated business process to their trading partners.

Further recommendations for both current and potential Baan users can be found in Baan - What Will The Future In Invensys' Stable Bring? Part 2: Evaluating Baan and 'Collaborative Commerce': ERP, CRM, e-Proc, and SCM Unite! A Series Study: Baan and Parent Company, Invensys.

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