Mid-market ERP Vendors Leveraging (and Occasionally Outdoing) Microsoft’s “Plumbing” - Part 1

My recent blog post on what 2010 might have meant to Microsoft’s business solutions reflected on the highly publicized mid-2010 launch of Microsoft Office 2010, SharePoint Server 2010, and Visio 2010. For the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who use some combination of one or more of Microsoft Dynamics ERP products, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Microsoft Office, and Microsoft SharePoint Server to run their businesses, that announcement has provided opportunities for increased business productivity.

The article then analyzed the current state of affairs at Microsoft Dynamics, which also included some recent wins over mature SAP, Oracle, and Sage product instances. But what about Epicor and SYSPRO, the two prominent enterprise resource planning (ERP) mid-market incumbents that also heavily harness Microsoft’s technologies? Well, while Microsoft Dynamics doesn’t particularly enjoy losing deals to these vendors, the Microsoft parent still ultimately wins, given that these independent software vendors (ISVs) are two of the most loyal Microsoft technology promoters. 

For more information on SYSPRO and Epicor and their recent major announcements, please peruse my previous blog posts from the Grape Escape 2010 event (where SYSPRO participated) and on the Epicor Productivity Pyramid set of tools. Most recently, Aleksey Osintsev and I were briefed by SYSPRO on its current state of affairs, and here is Aleksey’s related report.

It is interesting to note that both vendors have occasionally deployed and/or developed some non-Microsoft tools where they deemed fit. For example, SYSPRO has remained loyal to former Business Objects’ Xcelsius and Crystal Reports data visualization and reporting tools (or whatever they might be called now under SAP’s nomenclature), while Epicor has developed its own Service Connect integration and process orchestration platform (see my recent blog post for more information). Along similar lines, SYSPRO has developed its own Document Flow Manager (DFM) component to facilitate collaborative commerce by automating document flows between trading partners (rather than leveraging Microsoft BizTalk Server).

How are SYSPRO and Epicor Harnessing Microsoft’s Productivity Tools?

Both SYSPRO and Epicor have wholeheartedly embraced the latest Microsoft business productivity tools that were outlined in the aforementioned article. To that end, Epicor ERP already supports the Slicers feature and is working on adding Sparklines.

From within SYSPRO, data can be exported with a single click to Microsoft Excel 2010, and then in Excel the SYSPRO ERP information can be "sliced" and "sparked" using the functionality of Excel 2010. In addition, SYSPRO Analytics data can be accessed through Excel, where the Slicers and Sparklines can be applied as well.

Within SYSPRO ERP, users can query information and have a cell in a list view populated with a chart (sparkline) through the use of Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML). For example, the sale history for stock code A102 by warehouse can be represented as an area graph (see Figure 1) and as a line chart (see Figure 2).


Figure 1


Figure 2

This sales history information can be exported out of SYSPRO ERP into Excel with one mouse click and then Sparklines can be applied in Excel (see Figure 3).


Figure 3

As for the Slicers feature, the SYSPRO screen shot below (see Figure 4) shows a Customer Query with a list of Sales Orders for that particular Customer. Again, this information can be exported to Excel (see Figure 5), where Slicers (i.e., certain qualifying and filtering criteria) can be applied (see Figure 6).


Figure 4


Figure 5


Figure 6

What About PowerPivot?

As for the Microsoft Excel 2010 highly acclaimed data analysis add-in, PowerPivot, Epicor is expecting to add it in a forthcoming release of Epicor ERP. The vendor believes that the tool’s in-memory database (IMDB) capabilities (up to 2 GB of data) will be very useful.

For its part, the SYSPRO Office Integration (SOI) module uses Microsoft Visual Studio Tools for Office to bridge the gap between Microsoft Office products and SYSPRO ERP data without compromising data integrity and security in real-time. In addition, SYSPRO Analytics data can be accessed through Excel pivot tables (data summarization tools) and the aforementioned Slicing and Sparklines can be again applied if necessary. As mentioned earlier, the SYSPRO Analytics module allows for its analytics data to be imported into an Excel spreadsheet (see Figure 7).


Figure 7

Then, through the use of the pivot table field list, column labels, row labels, and data values can be selected to populate the spreadsheet (see Figure 8). Again, Sparklines can be applied for visualization and Slicers can be used to filter the information (see Figure 9).


Figure 8


Figure 9

Access Data from Anywhere?

Epicor already supports much data access via Epicor Information Worker, which is an Office Business Applications (OBA) instance, as described in my recent blog post. Still, the vendor is reviewing the latest Business Connectivity Services technology by Microsoft to see if it can improve the existing capabilities.

For its part, SYSPRO again uses the aforementioned SOI module that allows users to have "anywhere access" through the extensive use of Web Services. The module uses the so-called Software plus Services (S+S) architecture to accomplish this.

In addition, SYSPRO ERP data can also be viewed using custom SYSPRO Windows 7 gadgets that allow data to be "accessed anywhere" with the use of Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and Representational State Transfer (REST) services. Moreover, SYSPRO Analytics data can be saved offline and is then available “anywhere” through any business intelligence (BI) front-end tool.

As for the co-authoring feature, Epicor is evaluating it as part of its Enterprise Content Management (ECM) strategy (see my related blog post). For its part, SYSPRO does not feel this capability as relevant at this stage for its SYSPRO ERP offering. But once the vendor releases its upcoming Document Management System (DMS), this feature will be included (currently, the vendor embeds the ddx product by Dash).

Last but not least, SYSPRO's fluid user interface (UI) provides users with a universal and familiar interface paired with a configurable and customizable system designed to adapt and change as requirements evolve. The UI has been fully developed using Microsoft Office guidelines, for example, Toolbars, Menu Items, Forms, Associated Panes, etc. For its part, Epicor already supports Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010.

Part 2 will analyze how Epicor and SYSPRO are addressing other enterprise applications capabilities and market trends, and what role Microsoft’s tools may (or may not) play in these regards. Your views, comments, and opinions about Microsoft’s platform strategy, or experiences with any above-mentioned ERP and CRM solutions are welcome in the meantime.
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