Mid-Market ERP Vendors Doing CRM & SCM In A DIY Fashion Part 1: Recent Announcements

Event Summary

Microsoft's acquisition of Great Plains, MAPICS' acquisition of Pivotpoint, and the merger of former Navision Software and Damgaard in 2000, combined with the anxiety of the then only looming economic slowdown, triggered the spate of mergers & acquisitions throughout 2001 (see The Mid-Market Is Consolidating, Lo And Behold). As the ground seems to be settling down from quakes and tremors of these mergers, some renown, still independent mid-market ERP vendors seem to be on the course to natively deliver some 'must have' functionality beyond core ERP. These Tier2/Tier 3 vendors are prepared to endure the onslaught of the likes of SAP, Oracle, and PeopleSoft, as well as of proverbial mid-market leaders such as J.D. Edwards, Baan, Intentia, QAD, IFS and Epicor, and newly formed mid-market juggernauts like Microsoft Great Plains, Best Software (formerly Sage Software), and Navision, to name some.

These vendors include:

  • Frontstep with Frontstep Capacity Promiser
  • Frontstep CRM
  • Syspro Group with IMPACT CRM and IMPACT eCRM

This is Part 1 of a two-part analysis of recent news from Tier 2 and Tier 3 ERP vendors.
Part 2 will discuss the market Impact and makes User Recommendations.

Frontstep Capacity Promiser

On March 19, Frontstep, Inc. (NASDAQ: FSTP, www.frontstep.com), a prominent global mid-market provider of business applications and services for manufacturers and distributors, announced the release of Frontstep Capacity Promiser, which is devised to allow companies to automate the promising of delivery dates that accurately reflect their current inventory and capacity.

In today's highly competitive environment, providing accurate and up-to-date information on item availability should be critical to a manufacturer's ability to meet customer expectations. Therefore, they must have accurate and timely information to make delivery date promises that can be kept. Frontstep Capacity Promiser, a single site capacity availability engine, provides a way for make-to-order (MTO) manufacturers to promise their customers, at order entry time, a delivery date that can be met. By filling the gap between simple available-to-promise (ATP) applications and robust advanced planning and scheduling (APS) applications, Frontstep Capacity Promiser provides capable-to-promise (CTP) dates based on inventory and capacity without necessarily having the data for manufacturing bills of material (BOM) and routings.

Frontstep Capacity Promiser provides realistic CTP dates that consider manufacturing constraints such as materials, parts production, family production, shift schedules and business priorities. Frontstep Capacity Promiser furthermore provides:

  • Real-time availability information based on unallocated inventory, planned supplies and capacity
  • Comprehensive constraint representation for accurate availability information
  • Integration with different order entry systems
  • 24x7 visibility for accurate promise dates for orders entered not only during the day, but also at night or over weekends
  • Minimal data entry needs, supported with a simple spreadsheet upload using Microsoft Excel
  • Additionally, depending on the customer's requirements, Frontstep Capacity Promiser will report either the date that the requested quantity of an item is available, or the quantity of an item that is available by a requested date.

Frontstep CRM

A day earlier, on March 18, Frontstep announced the release of Frontstep CRM, its new business process-driven customer relationship management (CRM) solution. By providing companies with an integrated view of prospect, customer, product and service information, Frontstep CRM hopes to help companies maximize the value of existing relationships.

Frontstep CRM, built specifically for manufacturers and distributors of discrete products, is a Web-based application that provides a consistent view of customer and order information across the enterprise to improve and extend sales, marketing, and support business processes. Frontstep CRM reportedly goes beyond traditional sales force automation (SFA) and contact management tools and allows organizations to realize the true benefits of CRM with integrated product catalog, configuration, quotation, inventory availability, ordering and support capabilities. Frontstep CRM offers the following traits:

  • Cross-departmental access to data - Multiple departments, including sales, customer service, support, and marketing can act as one team by managing complete business processes using common customer and order data.
  • Order management - Sales or customer service representatives can search product catalogs, create new orders, leverage previous orders, configure products, and prepare or change quotes, complete with complex pricing and item availability.
  • Integrated - Frontstep CRM seamlessly integrates with SyteLine, Frontstep's flagship extended ERP solution, and is also architected to integrate with other ERP and supply chain management (SCM) systems. Frontstep CRM consolidates the information from multiple back-end systems including: customer and product data, product availability, pricing data, estimate and order transactions, and return material authorization (RMA) status information.
  • Flexible user interface - User interfaces can be tailored for specific job functions and departments to meet the unique requirements of different organizations. These personalized attributes migrate forward when Frontstep CRM is upgraded.
  • Complementary tools - Productivity tools, like Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Excel, used in sales, marketing and service areas can be leveraged to support current business processes and enhance team effectiveness.

Syspro Group - IMPACT CRM 3.5

Also on March 18, the Syspro Group, a privately held provider of enterprise software for small to medium enterprises (SMEs), with its US headquarters in Costa Mesa, CA (www.sysprousa.com), announced a major new release of IMPACT CRM 3.5, which features numerous system enhancements as well as IMPACT eCRM, an option that enables remote on-line access.

IMPACT CRM is an enterprise software system that enables a business to manage internal resources, customer, supplier and prospect relationships, marketing campaigns, sales opportunities as well as service contracts and incidents within a single, CRM/SRM program. IMPACT CRM is part of Syspro's IMPACT Encore, its flagship ERP solution. In addition to the IMPACT eCRM option, significant new features in IMPACT CRM 3.5 include:

  • Business Process Automation -- IMPACT CRM 3.5 features a built-in Process Definition Language (PDL), a new table-based tool for modeling complex business processes. Syspro touts PDL expands the use of IMPACT CRM beyond traditional CRM to true "computer aided management." Using PDL, businesses can, e.g., automate the following functions: Automatically trigger processes; Automatically generate alerts to employees and customers; Automate marketing campaigns; Schedule proactive service calls; Automatically respond to Web-based leads; Run telemarketing scripts; and Automatically follow up on important activities.
  • Related Accounts, Activities, Tasks -- A new facility allows the tracking of vertical account relationships (e.g., parent company that owns a subsidiary) and horizontal relationships (e.g., accounts which are referred to/from other accounts.) Activities and tasks can be linked to individual accounts and to "related accounts" on whose behalf the action was, or is to be performed. In addition, users can roll up details of "child" accounts from the record of the "parent" account.
  • Interactive Scripting Capabilities -- IMPACT CRM 3.5 permits the easy creation of on-screen, interactive "scripts" for users involved in telemarketing campaigns. These scripts serve as guides and can contain instructional text and user-defined input fields, which can be captured during outgoing or incoming calls. The scripts are available at the push of a button directly from the activity screen.
  • Added Microsoft Outlook Integration Features -- IMPACT CRM 3.5 extends Outlook email integration capabilities, while adding task and appointment synchronization. For users of Microsoft Outlook, IMPACT CRM 3.5 will optionally use the MS Outlook email editor for composing emails, making available the full editing, spell check, formatting and other facilities that Outlook provides. The contents of sent email messages are automatically copied as activities in IMPACT CRM. In addition, incoming MS Outlook email messages along with any document attachments can be automatically copied into matching account records. Furthermore, when tasks and appointments are created in IMPACT CRM, an option "Write to Microsoft Outlook," is offered. When this option is engaged, IMPACT CRM will automatically create a copy of the same task or appointment in Microsoft Outlook.
  • Extended Customer Service System -- IMPACT CRM 3.5 offers an improved customer service management system that enables organizations to track and proactively support customers through an unlimited number of user-defined service contracts. Among the newly configured features are: Service Queue Management; Enhanced routing system; Simplified escalation system; Automatic triggering of service processes; Inclusion of a roles table; Tracking of user-defined milestones; Embedded RMA tracking; Improved item tracking; Item and serial number searching; Support for multiple service contracts per customer; and User-defined billing parameters.
  • Improved Security and System Administration Tools -- IMPACT CRM 3.5 features a new, rights-based security system that enables system administrators to restrict access to any high-level function, specific feature, as well as access to any IMPACT Encore records, down to the field-level. For system administration, a new "merge" tool allows users to merge multiple account records into a single record. Duplicate records are automatically deleted, and all history and transactions associated with the deleted records are moved automatically to the main record. Another new utility enables the transfer of any data to or from any IMPACT CRM database - not just account records. This tool facilitates the transfer of data from other contact managers or customer databases into IMPACT CRM without losing any history or detail. It also eases the copying of specific accounts between IMPACT CRM databases. In addition, IMPACT CRM now includes the newer North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) for classifying business types. Users have the option of loading the entire six-digit set of NAICS codes into the ADAPT business types table.
  • Remote User Support -- IMPACT CRM 3.5 introduces a new replication tool to support remotely located employees, including field salespeople and service technicians. For users who do not have Internet access and need to run IMPACT CRM "unplugged" from any network, IMPACT eCRM includes bi-directional database synchronization with the main office. Bi-directional, entity-level synchronization is achieved using Microsoft SQL 2000's database replication feature. The synchronization process can occur via any type of network connection, including LAN, WAN or VPN (over the Internet).


IMPACT CRM 3.5 also introduces IMPACT eCRM, which enables online collaboration via a browser-based interface into the main CRM database. The Web-based solution is divided into three key "portals," each intended for a specific type of user. Syspro is releasing the portals in two phases. A Mobile Employee Portal and Web Marketing Portal are included in the initial IMPACT eCRM offering, while a Customer Service Portal will be offered in a subsequent release.

The Mobile Employee Portal empowers employees in the field to interface with the IMPACT CRM system in real-time via web-enabled PalmOS, Windows CE equipped mobile devices or standard Web browsers. This technology allows users to instantly access and modify calendars, appointments, tasks, sale opportunities, marketing campaigns and ultimately service tickets.

The Web Marketing Portal automates the web-based lead capture process and provides facilities for linking to existing web forms or creating new ones without the need to write a single line of HTML or Java Script code. When a prospect enters details on a web site, the information is automatically "pulled" into IMPACT eCRM, eliminating duplicate data entry and the need to manually export/import data from a Web server into the CRM database. In addition, the Marketing Portal utilizes IMPACT CRM's built-in PDL to automatically reply to prospective or customers or consumers who submit data via the Web.

A Customer Service Portal, which completes the IMPACT eCRM offering by enabling customer self-service from the Web, is scheduled for release in Q2, 2002 and will be offered free of charge to existing IMPACT CRM customers.

This concludes Part 1 of a two-part analysis of recent news from Tier 2 and Tier 3 ERP vendors.
Part 2 will discuss the market Impact and makes User Recommendations.

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