Great Plains - An SME Market Leader, But At What Cost?

Great Plains - An SME Market Leader, But At What Cost?
P.J. Jakovljevic - October 5, 2000


This is the third of three articles about Great Plains resulting from TEC analysts attending the Great Plains partners' meeting, Stampede 2000, in September. The meeting provided the opportunity for in-depth research on how Siebel and Great Plains operate. The TEC analysts were able to interview both Great Plains managers and partners.

Event Summary

As announced in a press release from September 12, Great Plains Software, Inc., a leading small-to-mid-market provider of back-office and e-business solutions, announced financial results for the fiscal quarter ended August 31, 2000. The announcement preceded its annual partners' conference, Stampede 2000, which took place in Fargo, ND, September 13-16.

Great Plains' first quarter revenues increased 68% over the same period last fiscal year and increased 13% sequentially over the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2000. Revenues for the first quarter of fiscal 2001 were a record $67.1 million, compared to $39.9 million for the first quarter of fiscal 2000. For the quarter ending August 31, 2000, net loss and net loss per share, including the effect of amortization of acquired intangibles and a $4.6 million non-recurring restructuring charge, were $22.7 million and $1.14, respectively. For the same period last fiscal year, net income and diluted earnings per share were $3.5 million and $0.22 per share, respectively (See Figure 1).

Figure 1.

During the quarter, Great Plains claims to have seen significant interest from customers and partners for Release 6.0, the most recent version of its e-business enterprise solutions, Dynamics and eEnterprise. Additionally, Great Plains continued to see strong contributions from acquired operations including those from its most recent acquisitions of Solomon Software and FRx Software. Revenues from services, up 121% over the same period last fiscal year, contributed significantly to the company's growth this quarter.

"We delivered strong operating performance in our core business and gained solid contributions from our strategic acquisitions, resulting in another quarter of record revenues," said Doug Burgum, Great Plains chairman and CEO. "In particular, our acquisition of Solomon solidifies our leadership position in the mid-market. We continue to execute our strategy of providing value across our e-business solutions of back office, front office, e-commerce, analytics and supply chain management."

The following are some of the most important highlights that were announced or occurred during Great Plains' first fiscal quarter:

Note that some of them have been studied more thoroughly in pertinent TEC's news analyses:

  • On June 9, 2000, Great Plains acquired Solomon Software, a leading provider of flexible business management and e-business solutions. With the acquisition finalized, Great Plains now has more than 130,000 customers, 2,000 team members and a worldwide network of 2,000 channel partners (For more information see Will Solomon Finally Satisfy Great Plains' Insatiable Appetite?).

  • Great Plains released eEnterprise and Dynamics Release 6.0, likely the most comprehensive release in the company's history. eEnterprise Release 6.0 showcases significant enhancements in the areas of e-business, sales and purchasing, major product series enhancements, and multinational and international features, as well as a new user interface and reporting functionality. Dynamics Release 6.0 delivers significant enhancements that encompass the distribution series, project series, system manager suite and e-business applications, as well as a new more intuitive interface.

  • Great Plains partnered with Logility, Inc. to deliver supply chain management solutions that enable manufacturers, distributors and retailers to more effectively collaborate supply chain planning and execution operations with trading partners via the Internet. Through an OEM agreement, Great Plains will add components of the Logility Voyager Solutions application suite to its e-business solutions to more efficiently and accurately coordinate the planning, forecasting, warehousing and delivery of goods throughout the supply chain (For more information see Great Plains Supply Chain Series To Be Powered By Logility).

  • Great Plains announced its plans to integrate the Solomon IV product line with the Great Plains Siebel Front Office suite of eBusiness applications to deliver a comprehensive, integrated, front and back office solution for Solomon customers (For more information see Winner Takes All - Siebel Ousts SalesLogix From Solomon's Deal).

  • Great Plains signed a worldwide OEM agreement with Knosys, Inc., the leading analytical tools vendor on the Microsoft SQL Server platform, to embed the analytical functionality of the ProClarity Analytical Platform into Great Plains eEnterprise, Solomon and Dynamics.

  • Three new Solomon IV distribution series modules, e-Commerce Gateway - EDI Edition, Advance Shipping Management and Web Order, were released for Solomon customers. These new applications provide enhanced distribution capabilities, additional e-business functionality and extended flexibility to customers who already benefit from the Solomon suite of e-business and business management solutions.

  • Solomon Desktop, a browser-based portal that provides employees and business partners secure access anytime and anywhere to 100 percent of the capabilities of Solomon IV, released to customers. Solomon Desktop brings an integrated, personalized view of Solomon IV to an individual's desktop and enables better decision-making by providing immediate access to key business information.

  • FRx Software, a Great Plains business unit, announced partnerships with Geac Enterprise Solutions, SOFTRAX Corporation and MAPICS to extend FRx's financial reporting tools to the mid-market customer community (For more information see Geac Trying Its Luck in Partnering).

Market Impact

Great Plains has been following through on its projections from over a year ago when it indicated that front-office applications and e-commerce were two strategic areas of focus for the forthcoming period. Great Plains has recently created a great noise and established itself as an undisputed global small-to-medium enterprises (SME) market leader. It now derives almost 20% of revenue outside of the US market and has the potential of reaching $300 million in revenues in fiscal 2001. Its extensive and efficient global indirect channel model that consists of over 2,000 partners has been admired industry-wide.

Further bolstering its channel architecture is the company's endorsement of the Application Service Provider model. Started more than two years ago, Great Plains has developed an ASP model using a similar strategy employed within their partner program. Through the continuous refinement of their product and pricing solutions, Great Plains offers applications on a license basis as well as "rentable" solutions available via the Internet. (license, lease and subscription pricing are all available)

The company has extended its product offering and geographic coverage by striking almost a perfect balance between doing it through both strategic partnerships, acquisitions, and in-house product development. Great Plains has indeed been impressive in selecting and attracting renowned vendors as its partners and in integrating disparate products.

Siebel Systems selected Great Plains as the partner to create a fully integrated back-office and front-office solution for medium-sized companies. Great Plains Siebel Front Office includes functionality for call centers, marketing, and sales, with a number of other CRM modules being slated for the future release. We are not aware of any other ERP vendor offering such tightly integrated out-of-box Siebel functionality with its back-office applications (125 touch points) and through such an extensive reseller channel (over 500 of its partners have so far opted for distributing Siebel with Great Plains products).

We also believe that its OEM partnership agreement to sell Logility's Voyager Solutions will follow the similar path and should bode well for both companies. Great Plains will be able to offer a set of SCM and e-business products from a notable best-of-breed SCM vendor, that are positioned as affordable to SMEs and as requiring less time and resources to implement. Logility, on the other side, will get a coveted access to one of the strongest distribution channels in a relatively non-penetrated SME market.

As for its acquisition ventures, the combination of Great Plains and Solomon Software has resulted in a juggernaut within the SME market, with a formidable combination of customers and channel partners. The following factors should contribute to the synergy of this merger:

  • Products technology compatibility (Great Plains touts its commitment to Microsoft's technology by being one of very rare vendors that has a number of its R&D team members located at the Microsoft premises and working directly with Microsoft's counterparts)

  • The companies' similar market segment focus

  • A similar service & support business model (with 10%-15% of their affiliate partners already specializing in distributing both products)

Further, its acquisition of FRx Software, although less publicized, can be branded as an example of a prudent acquisition. By letting the company run independently under a widely recognized brand name (FRx has basically been a widely accepted standard within the financial reporting market), Great Plains has put itself into a very pleasant (and somewhat intriguing) position of getting 'money for jam' even from a number of its direct competitors like Geac, J.D. Edwards and MAPICS to name but a few.

Nevertheless, we believe that the company should now take a deep breath, and carefully devise its future moves. Additional acquisitions may lead to an unmanageable product portfolio and financial indigestion. Both unavoidable acquisition charges and exorbitant costs of training its staff in Siebel and other 3rd-party applications as well as for in-house major product enhancements and cross trainings in acquired products are major contributors to a significantly lower bottom line in recent times. While there may be a reason for concern due to weakened profitability and the effects of recent restructuring (170 job cuts), there is no real cause for users' concern. Great Plains continues to grow healthily, while heavily investing in R&D. This is generally not the case with its major competitors.

The company has been trying hard to allay any doubts in the minds of partners and/or customers regarding its intention to further invest in the Solomon product line. We believe that most of them have been relieved since it became apparent that Solomon would benefit from following in the steps of its parent, particularly in terms of partnerships with Siebel Systems and Logility. Solomon, on the other hand, touts that two can play the game of continued synergistic R&D endeavors in the future. It will leverage Great Plains' experience in developing internally its manufacturing functionality, and its parent may benefit from gaining insight in Solomon's experience in developing a fully browser-based portal Solomon Desktop (Great Plains still has to resort to use of Citrix thin client to web enable its products).

Great Plains offers fully integrated front office/back office business applications for the SME market. Its flagship product, eEnterprise, provides integrated modules for financial, distribution, enterprise reporting, manufacturing, payroll, human resources, service management, electronic commerce, and Internet self-service. Great Plains' Dynamics product provides similar functionality for the lower-end of the market. Solomon, on the other hand, offers a range of similar applications, also on a Microsoft-based architecture. Solomon IV, its flagship product, contains over 50 modules for financials, project management, bill of materials, systems management, distribution, e-Business, and service management.

While the merger has been completed impressively smoothly (with a minimal attrition), the downside of it was that it did not expand combined product functionality per se. Great Plains therefore had to internally develop enhancements for its multi-site manufacturing and distribution functionality, field service, and multi-national capabilities (support for 8 languages, etc.) to name but a few. A more detailed analysis of its product strategy and major release of eEnterprise, 6.0 will be the subject of another forthcoming separate TEC research note.

A major challenge for Great Plains and its affiliate channel remains the management of multiple flagship product lines. It will be difficult to support existing customers and existing products, while juggling competitive product lines. Since the product lines should remain separate for at least two more years, it will add additional development costs, as well as provide a challenge in explaining the position of the different products.

The company will have to revise its sales strategy of how to optimize the sales of two product lines with very much overlapping functionality and avoid a likely internal competition within the resellers' channel. Not to mention the need of showing 'one face' to customers. One way to resolve this is by slating eEnterprise, Solomon and Dynamics product lines for different market segments, either by company size or vertical industries. Consequently, Great Plains can expect growing pains in merging disparate product lines and training and possibly specializing its large affiliate channel.

While Great Plains' e-commerce solution set that includes e.Order Internet storefront, e.View, browser accessed financial and business information, to name but a few, is impressive, it yet has to provide a crisp e-procurement and vertical digital marketplaces solutions. During our attendance of Stampede we were made aware that some alliance negotiations were in progress, and the market should expect related press releases in the near future. Any protracted delay in delivering these would aggravate the challenge of protecting Great Plains turf from Tier 1 intruders (e.g., Oracle) that currently have a more comprehensive offering. Even if the Tier 1 vendors' offering is toned down for the smaller market segment, one should also not overlook the fierce competition from direct competitors like Navision, Epicor, and Sage Software.

User Recommendations

Existing Great Plains customers should certainly consider the new offering and carefully determine their needs and/or time framework for a migration/update, bearing in mind problems typical with major product releases. Although all current Dynamics and eEnterprise customers on a maintenance contract will automatically receive Release 6.0 at no additional charge, we recommend identifying your clear e-business strategy and conducting a thorough comparison-shopping, at least for the information leverage sake. Each component should be put through its paces using a well-documented set of requirements, scripted scenario demonstrations and rigorous reference checking.

As for potential users, we generally recommend including Great Plains in a long list of an enterprise application selection to the lower-end of the mid-market companies (with $2M-$500M in revenue), which are staunch users of Microsoft technology and have significant financial accounting, project management, distribution, and service requirements, while currently not needing complex manufacturing functionality. Great Plains should be included on any package selection short list within the SME market where electronic business, distribution, services and accounting modules are the main pillars of an enterprise application.

As with all new releases, users should employ a critical approach in their evaluation of eEnterprise, Dynamics and/or Solomon IV, and require all potential vendors to demonstrate specific business processes. Though demonstrations do not guarantee a trouble-free implementation, they can go a long way toward helping users understand how the software might behave in their environments.

As for the new added CRM functionality through the partnership with Siebel, users are advised to ask for firm assurances on the availability and future upgrades timeframes, and more detailed scope of combined product functionality. One caveat to be borne in mind is that although this suite was developed from existing Siebel products, it is a first version release. This means there are inevitable bug fixes to be made over the next few months.

Current users of Great Plains eEnterprise with additional warehousing or transportation management requirements may benefit from acquiring the Great Plains-branded supply chain execution products from Logility. Improved technological integration is seldom guaranteed by joint marketing arrangements, and only comes after the arrangement yields considerable implementation experience. Therefore, in the short term, these users should expect some bumpy ground since Great Plains and Logility still need time in which to polish their collaboration on delivering technical support for the products. As Great Plains partners become familiar with Logility's products and the OEM partnership solidifies, these problems are likely to diminish.

Potential clients should conduct preliminary research on industry expertise and reference sites of a regional Great Plains affiliate service provider when the Great Plains' product is selected. They should also familiarize themselves with products' strengths/weaknesses within certain vertical industries. Great Plains distributors generally offer vertical solutions on an opportunity-by-opportunity basis only.

Organizations seeking a Web-based solution and out-of-box functionality with little or no re-engineering effort may benefit from evaluating Great Plains' ASP offering. Support, connectivity, ease of use, security, acceptance, and scalability are only a few regular considerations. Current users of its traditional client/server product may benefit from informing themselves of the ramifications of switching to the ASP mode.

For more information on Great Plains see the following articles:

Siebel: Great Plans for Great Plains

Great Plains ASP - Evolution, Revolution, Innovations

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