Experiencing a Different Corporate Culture at QAD Explore 2008

No, my intent here is not necessarily to provide a typical analyst alert after attending a vendor's annual user conference, in this case the QAD Explore 2008 in Orlando, Florida (US) last month. This is not to imply that there was nothing there to write home about either.

Quite the contrary, the multiple-day event was, well, eventful for market observers and hundreds of QAD's global customers from both an official (announcements, product demos, etc.) and a fun (food, booze & entertainment) viewpoint. While all of the recorded keynote and breakout sessions can be seen here, the event revolved around the following major themes and highlights:

Human Engineering

This topic starts with the latest user interface (UI) enhancements based on harnessing Microsoft .NET Framework (while the relationship with Progress Software on the business logic and server side as well as service-oriented architecture [SOA]-based integration remains as strong as ever).

QAD has not traditionally been "accused" of offering a great UI metaphor (look-and-feel), but that might all change now as the vendor strives to appeal to new ("X" and "Y") generations of users. QAD aptly showcased not only a prominent consumer electronics maker (with its own line of retail stores), but also a Swiss knife-like manufacturer and an automated teller machine (ATM) manufacturer as its customers. All of these products are well-known for their elegant usability and user-friendliness.

Similarly, QAD .NET UI features ease of role-based personalization, adding/removing fields, menu maintenance, desktop applications integration, messaging, etc. for end users. Other notable capabilities are data access and integration, look-and-feel consistency, eLearning, etc.

Especially impressive are the graphical process maps, modeled according to the Supply Chain Council's SCOR metrics  and intuitively arranged à la multi-layered maps of the London "tube" (subway). End users can navigate these process maps up-and-down via "business cycle - business process - individual session screen" layers, which also comes in handy for training and documenting best practices.

Blended Deployment

Since the philosophies of chief technology officers (CTOs) and/or chief information officers (CIOs) revolve around choice, industry-accepted standards, and lowering risks, the QAD Enterprise Applications 2008 (or QAD 2008) suite [evaluate this product] is offered in the following three deployment modes:

  1. On Premise, a traditional perpetual license and delivery structure;

  2. On Demand, a software as a service (SaaS) or an application management services offering hosted by QAD; or

  3. On Appliance, with the software pre-loaded on a hard drive and shipped to customer sites, but managed remotely by QAD.

The vendor claims to be SaaS-ready when it comes to technology per se, but is treading water carefully before going in full speed ahead globally with it.

As the best example of on-demand readiness, Alpine Biomed, a global leader in specialty diagnostic devices, has chosen to implement QAD's Life Science Vertical Business Solution coupled with QAD's Service and Support Solution delivered through QAD's On Demand SaaS model to support its strategic growth objectives and maintain a leaner and more focused information technology (IT) organization.

Alpine Biomed kicked off its QAD On Demand implementation in early April 2008, and is on target to take the entire company live this fall.

Total Enterprise Capability

The self-evident goal here is to expand from being regarded as a traditional divisional manufacturing planning product. This footprint broadening process was started a couple of years ago and was described at great length in TEC's article series entitled "QAD: A Software Vendor That Has Survived (if Not Thrived) in the ERP Market."

On the heels of its most recent product upgrade, QAD Enterprise Applications 2008, QAD continues on the painstaking path toward delivering extended-enterprise capability to "help meet customers' ever-changing business requirements across all key levels, functions and geographies of their extended manufacturing organization", as one of its mottos states.

Indeed, owing to a combination of wise acquisitions, partnerships and in-house development, QAD's footprint now goes well beyond core enterprise resource planning (ERP) to encompass enterprise asset management (EAM), demand management (via the John Galt partnership), sales force automation (SFA), marketing automation, transportation management,  and product information management (PIM).

One of the early adopters of QAD's extended-enterprise capabilities, Wagon Automotive, has implemented QAD Enterprise Applications in an effort to streamline its internal and external communications, resulting in a reduction in manual intervention and inventory by 26 percent.

In addition, Wagon Automotive has deployed QAD Enterprise Applications to meet global Materials Management Operations Guideline/Logistics Evaluation (MMOG/LE) requirements.

Espousing Tier One Financial Management Capabilities

The conference also provided a showcase for the vendor to unveil the long-anticipated debut release of the new QAD Enterprise Financials suite, as a preservative and defensive move against its install base's erosion towards the likes of SAP Business Suite, Oracle E-Business Suite or Infor FMS.

The product, which features capabilities like domain sharing, multi-currency, language, entity and multi-whatnot, internationalization, segregation of duties (SoD)/compliance, access control, role-based security, etc., stems from the acquisition of the former software partner in Belgium, Soft Cell (not to be confused with the 1980s one-hit-wonder group, the creator of the blockbuster "Tainted Love" song!). The total investment thus far has admittedly cost QAD nearly $50 million in R&D costs (but the feeling is that it was worthwhile).

As one of the early adopters, Royal Sanders, a personal care products supplier, went live on QAD 2008 with Enterprise FinancialsQAD Global Services, the services and consulting arm of QAD with global services & support and global methodology capabilities, reportedly took Royal Sanders live on QAD Enterprise Applications 2008 in just under five months.

Closing Other Apparent Functional Gaps

As for closing the product lifecycle management (PLM) gap, QAD has joined the PTC' s Channel Advantage Program, enabling QAD to deliver the PTC Windchill product suite [evaluate this product] to its customers.  The partnership could be especially significant for manufacturers who already use QAD software to run their global business processes, yet who seek to further improve efficiencies by adding complementary product development and PLM solutions from PTC.

A similar partnership with Workday  for the on-demand human capital management (HCM) suite is apparently in the works. My impression was that QAD's Quality Assurance capabilities could be improved too, either via acquisition or developing in house, or by maybe deepening current partnerships with IQS and Pilgrim Software.

Striving for "Perfect Lean"

Driven by passion for the manufacturing industry, QAD is focused on helping global manufacturers realize the lofty vision of The Perfect Lean Market: a frictionless supply chain where information is freely shared in real-time, processes are reduced to only value-added tasks, and supply chain waste is eliminated throughout the value stream.

The Java-based QAD Supply Visualization (SV) module, which seems to be finally paying some dividends (given it was a bit ahead of its time with on-demand delivery a while back) and recently added transportation management and global trade management (GTM) capabilities seem to be playing a central role here.

To that end, Filtrair BV, a Netherlands-based filtration manufacturer, which supplies filtration products to customers in more than 80 countries in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia, streamlined its global supply chain using a combined solution of QAD Enterprise Applications and Precision Software's GTM solution.

As a result, the production of Filtrair's export and shipping documentation is now automated, which has led to faster and more efficient filing of customs information and a reduction in the number of days Filtrair's goods are in transit.

QAD .NET UI Configurator and Manufacturing Execution Workbench (QAD MEW, primarily for repetitive manufacturing environments) would be two of the latest products that are worth a deeper look with regard to the "perfect lean" vision.

Tough Market Still Remains

Certainly, life at QAD is not quite a "bed of roses," in light of the difficult economic milieu and the constant replacement threat from "bigger-and-better" competitors (and install base erosion). Also, moderate growth and hefty investment in acquisitions and R&D put constant pressure on the profitability picture, which has not been stellar, to say the least.

Still, QAD's resilience deserves admiration, and maybe things are not that grim from the vendor's vantage point, as I (or its competitors) might be seeing it.  It is certainly difficult to win new ERP clients today, but QAD has an apparent  opportunity in the automotive sector (especially in emerging markets).

Also, the abovementioned MMOG/LE initiative/participation was quite smart to give QAD credibility in the sector beyond mere software. In a nutshell, the initiative entails a checklist of about 200 compliance criteria for automotive suppliers, which is pure "know-how" and hardly anything about software per se.

The acquisitions of Precision Software and Fulltilt (still a recent one that has to be fully positioned for the consumer packaged goods industry) bring new cross-selling opportunities, as stand-alone products and autonomous divisions (with a number of SAP and Oracle clients), and mitigate the pressure of necessarily winning new ERP accounts to grow.

Sure, on the down side, they also bring new competitors like TradeBeam, Kewill or Management Dynamics in the GTM space or Cardonet in the PIM one.

Back to the Main Point of the Article

But I digress royally, and what I really meant to talk about here was my different experience in dealing with QAD staffers and customers at the event as an analyst. So, how different was it this time?

Simply said, at most other events by more established and high-and-mighty vendors, analysts work in sort of a controlled environment. Some vendors even have completely separate tracks for media & analysts vs. the program for the general population of users.

Make no mistake, these focused and high-level (strategy & directions) oriented analyst track sessions are quite useful for us industry analysts, since we don't need to be bogged down with the amount of detail that end-users of the product need.

Yet, the feeling of "us" (analysts) vs. "them" (vendors) often cannot be avoided, since an army of press relations (PR) or analyst relations (AR) staff is there to take notes about anything that an analyst and/or the vendor's team member said.

Sure, we can be flattered by vendors paying close attention to our questions or critique, but there is also the other side of them making sure that the vendor's team member doesn't disclose anything unwanted or sensitive at the time.

Well, for QAD Explore it all initially seemed as a typical event, since prior to my arrival I was given a preliminary choice to select from a list of executives for one-on-one meetings. The first surprise upon my arrival was that I was awarded more meetings that I asked for.

They also lasted much longer than the customary 30 minutes (which is about enough time for saying "hi & bye", and maybe exchanging business cards, especially if there was a cascading delay from previous meetings). That ample time made me run out of questions in some instances, whereas the QAD speaker would then open up his/her soul on some issues even unsolicited by me.

Hmm, did I also forget to say that no single meeting had an assigned PR/AR staffer to take notes religiously and make sure that nothing sensitive is asked and answered?

Furthermore, while attending some deep-dive breakout sessions, I was surprised to hear the presenter go off on what the product cannot do, not only when asked about some nitty-gritty functionality by the well-versed user audience, but also to voice a sentiment of wishing that a certain capability was inserted in this particular release (rather than being left out for the next ones).

Don't get me wrong, the presenters and QAD executives were all excited about their upcoming duties and latest developments, but this honest "strutting out" of the potential shortcomings made me feel that QAD had no "hidden agendas" towards customers and the market observers.

This is in a sharp contrast to many other vendors (some might even resemble the current US Administration) that are sly dogs about virtually anything, to put it mildly. They would never candidly tell customers and analysts what they do not like about their own products.

To be fair, some vendors might have been burned by some analysts running after the briefing and telling competitors even the confidential details from the briefing. Still, for some other refreshing "open door approach" vendor examples, see my very first blog post.

Thus, at the end of the day, a question for our readers, many of whom might be enterprise applications users, current or potential — is the vendor’s size and brand recognition what makes you most comfortable? Or, maybe some other, “softer” issues, like customer intimacy and vendors' approachability can enter the viability picture?

Also, what do you think about how QAD will fare against its formidable competitors in light of its recent moves?
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