Challenges and User Recommendations for a Focused Enterprise Resource Planning Solution
Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: July 28 2006
Strategic Systems International (SSI) (http://www.ssi-world.com) has been developing, implementing, and supporting packaged enterprise systems since 1982, initially as an information technology (IT) department of Powell Duffryn plc, and since 1998 as a privately held company (till becoming part of Chelford in the early 2000s). SSI certainly still faces challenges, as it must continue to defend its narrow "hunting ground" against the larger-scale integrated enterprise systems offerings of giant vendors such as SAP, SSA Global, Infor, Microsoft, and Oracle. Like others in the highly volatile and contested mid-range manufacturing sector, SSI must overcome the industry's ever lower pricing pressures, and it will have to concurrently keep on pouring substantial resources into continued development of new solutions. Moreover, in its partner network (if it is to expand beyond its current market with limited opportunities), all needs to be done prudently owing to limited means compared to many larger competitors.
Part Five of the series Vendor Defends Its Strongholds With Focused Enterprise Resource Planning Solution.
For background information on SSI and TROPOS, see Vendor Defends Its Strongholds With Focused Enterprise Resource Planning Solution. For a discussion of TROPOS for selected industries, see A Focused Web-based Solution for Chemicals, Drugs, and Mill-Based Industries. For an examination of the TROPOS strategy, see Web-based Enterprise Resource Planning Solution Exhibits Lean Approach. To look at SSI's partnerships, see Impressive Enterprise Resource Planning Solution Gets A Little Help From Its Friends.
Size can be a decisive factor in many selections, and in recent years Chelford/SSI's organic growth might have been faster than the market, but its need to recently acquire a few companies might be interpreted as an indication of the company's organic growth slowdown. These takeovers were principally aimed at increasing the customer base, granting access to a wider market segment in the UK, and strengthening the product offering in all markets. Yet this mix of possibly competing solutions will have to be handled carefully, and only time will tell whether there will be many cross- and up-selling opportunities within the combined install bases.
Needless to say, many of the aforementioned competitors have significantly greater financial, technical, and marketing resources than SSI, and since experiencing a deceleration in their core large enterprises business, these companies have refocused their marketing and sales efforts to the mid-market where SSI actively markets its products. Consequently, one should expect such competitors to implement increasingly aggressive pricing programs. Moreover, certain competitors, particularly Microsoft, SAP, and Oracle, may have well-established relationships with many of SSI's current and prospective customers. Additionally, major system integrators and consulting firms may also have an incentive to recommend such competitors over SSI, thus increasing competition. All the above vendors, while possibly inferior regarding focus on process or mill industries, will have influenced some customers' purchase decisions by offering more comprehensive horizontal product portfolios, and touting superior global presence, localization capabilities, brand, and viability, which are still the hurdles for SSI to overcome.
SSI, in its traditionally strong regions like the UK (where hardly any process manufacturing solution selection goes by without it being invited), offers its full breadth of products and services via direct sales (and with good recurring maintenance and service revenues). But in other markets with less recognition and presence, the vendor will have to use alliances such as independent channels with a vertical market and geographic focus. SSI admits that it is "a well kept secret," but without an increased market awareness and exposure, the product's impressive capabilities will not come through. Within the UK, SSI should strive to become better known within the target markets, but if the company follows up on its hinted plans to expand outside the UK, it should seek compatible partnership arrangements with existing local software companies. However, this might fly in the face of its one-stop-shop in-house delivery culture (including the pre- and post-sales support and even hosted services).
Narrow functional scope is both a blessing and a curse—a blessing because of the sharp focus, domain expertise, and best-of-breed process manufacturing functionality; but a curse due to limited scope for expansion. Currently, owing to a limited install base of about a hundred, there is only so much one can do with up-selling and cross-selling, which means the company will have to continue to focus on attaining new customers. This is going to be difficult in light of limited market size and intensifying competition. Furthermore, some prospective customers outside the UK (and particularly outside Europe) might not be impressed with the vendor's budding (if not non-existent) reference sites of peer enterprises in their region. Also, the lack of presence in the Asia Pacific and Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) means many missed opportunities, especially in light of many companies (including even SSI's existing manufacturing customers) likely outsourcing their operations or starting up new plants in these remote, cheap-labor regions.
Prospective and existing SSI customers, especially those needing quality and regulatory compliance with existing and emerging regulations in the process and mill industries, should look positively and with a keen interest at the vendor's ongoing activities. Mid-sized process manufacturing companies in the UK should place SSI on their short list, whereas larger global corporations should consider SSI for their UK-based process operations. Prospective customers should always insist on a contractual timeframe for delivery of a solution, and seek reference sites (preferably in their vertical market space) which have been successful with the product suite. Moreover, non-UK process manufacturing companies should review SSI for possible inclusion on their long list, but they may certainly want to do due diligence and check its regional support before moving forward.
Existing SSI customers share the common feature of medium size with the needs for demand management, inventory optimization, advanced planning and scheduling (APS), multi-site demand planning, warehouse management, decoupled manufacturing, and mass customization, but also the desire to have a business system that is modifiable according to their business, rather than them needing to adapt their business to the system. TROPOS is a modern, flexible business system answering the need for ever faster flows of information and changes, allowing customers some platform choice and avoidance of proprietary hardware. These enterprises also often have no desire for functional compromise, as the selected standard enterprise resource planning (ERP) system should be able to fit their business model, possibly with some tools-based customization and integration. Users can then also be self-sufficient with no reliance on the supplier, if necessary, and the ownership options range from leasing and renting, to buying. For all these reasons, in SSI, the "usual suspect" globally recognized ERP players will always have an additional nemesis in the UK to reckon with.