The 11th Vendor Shootout for ERP: Observations - Part 1

Over the last few years I have repeatedly seen ads for the Vendor ShootoutTM for ERP event appearing in TEC’s website banners and newsletters. In addition, I would come across mentions of the event in other industry magazines, press releases (PRs), social media feeds, Web site banners, and so on and so forth.

Needless to say, I was curious (and dismayed by my lack of information) about the event that even carried the “Moderated by TEC” tagline on its official logo. Even more, every now and again various software vendors’ staff and other industry contacts would ask me about the event (probably expecting my in-depth knowledge), and I would somewhat embarrassingly have to pass them on to my selection services colleagues in the Montreal HQ office (who have been directly involved with the event).

Well, in mid-August 2011, the 11th Vendor Shootout for ERP event took place in my neck of the woods, Boston, and I was able to experience it first-hand as a neutral (and yet very active) observer. What follows now is my report on the event and my take on several vendors’ demos that I attended.

A (Little) Background on the Event

A separate article will talk at great length about the event’s inner workings and how I felt about attending it. As explained in my colleague Paul Kininmonth’s blog post from 2008, brij (bridge), an Oracle JD Edwards value added reseller (VAR), wanted to create an event where qualified manufacturing enterprises could come and witness multiple ERP packages in action (including its own, but also those of its fierce competitors, and may the best package win the prospective users’ heart and minds).

Since late November 2007 at Georgetown University, Washington, DC when the doors opened to the first Vendor Shootout for ERP, featuring six industry-leading products, the event has been held 10 more times in various cities. Here is IQMS’ recollection of the most recent event in Boston in the vendor’s subsequent blog post.

Who Was There This Time?

The list of the event’s presenters and sponsors can be found herePlex Systems, IQMS, and abas-USA presented directly, while Infor SyteLine, Epicor ERP, Microsoft Dynamics AX, SAP Business By Design, and Oracle JD Edwards EnterpriseOne were represented by Merritech LLC, Cre8tive Technology, ePartners, Navigator Business Solutions, and Terillium, respectively.

On the end-user side, the Boston event attendees consisted of about 40 IT managers and business users from about 20 manufacturing and distribution companies, all of which were in the process of evaluating ERP software and all of whom had some preconceptions as to what they wanted to see. These folks were not clueless first-time-ever ERP users that will swoon over vendors’ dog-and-pony shows and fall for their distasteful bashing of competitors (which happens all too often in non-moderated one-on-one sales situations).

What I want to talk about in this blog post are my observations on several three-hour demo slots that I attended during those two days. Events such as the Vendor Shootout might be a perfect due diligence opportunity for prospective users to validate some of the so-called “extended criteria” for a software selection. Namely, the event is a great place to put vendors and their solutions through their paces via a structured demo script (a high-level demonstration script can be found here). In addition, attendees can validate some high-level market data on vendors at the same time.

For more information on the subjective criteria of software selections, see TEC’s previous blog post. In addition, there is TEC’s now timeless classic article series on a concrete evaluation of four ERP vendors’ demonstrations way back in 2001 here.

What I Saw and Heard

Given eight solutions and only five available demo time slots, I naturally had to be selective with my time during those two days. After some agonizing, I decided to attend those products that I have seen much less, if not at all. Thus, I decided not to attend the Microsoft Dynamics AX and Infor ERP Syteline demos. For more information on these products, see my recent blog post on Microsoft Dynamics in general, a blog series on Microsoft Dynamics AX, and a blog post on the current state of affairs at Infor.

Based on my conversations with the folks that did attend these sessions, I (as expected) heard about both products’ seamless integration with Microsoft’s technologies, in addition to customizability and solid discrete manufacturing functionality. Both solutions are attractive solutions for so-called Microsoft shops.

Epicor 9.05 (or Epicor ERP) was the third product that I decided not to see in full, although I had a chance to see the beginning of one demo session by Cre8tive. During that time I was able to validate that the product is functionally quite compact and well-rounded. It is yet another Microsoft-centric offering, with slick “right-click” navigation (over real-time data) and enterprise search and tagging capabilities. For more information on the product, see my recent blog post on Microsoft’s tools (and more) within Epicor as well as the extensive blog series on Epicor 9. In addition, here is TEC’s vendor certification report on the solution.

Given the presence of so-called Big ERP “evil empires,” I was a bit surprised to hear in the corridors that almost all vendors/VARs cited Epicor as the love-to-hate competitor at the event. But the quick refresher of the product’s capabilities during the demo left me no longer surprised, given the product’s modern technology, broad functional scope, and even the product’s nascent software as a service (SaaS) edition called Epicor Express.

Oracle JD Edwards: As Solid as Ever (and More)

Terillium’s demo of Oracle JD Edwards EnterpriseOne 9.0 left me realizing that the product has been doing very well at Oracle, contrary to popular belief and competitors' fear, uncertainty, doubt (FUD) efforts. JD Edwards has carved out a nice niche for itself within Oracle, in light of the fact that 70 percent of Oracle customers are small to medium businesses (SMB’s) and 26 percent of Oracle revenues come from ERP.

One demarcation line between Oracle E-Business Suite (EBS) and Oracle JD Edwards would be that Oracle EBS is a tier 1 business suite that runs on Oracle databases only. Often, large corporations might only use some parts of the suite (e.g., Financials or Procurement). Conversely, Oracle JD Edwards EnterpriseOne is a compact (all-in-one) ERP system for upper mid-market enterprise, which runs both on Oracle and other database platforms. In addition, the product has lately been developed for some defendable market sectors, such as farming/agribusiness, fashion/apparel, real estate, construction, asset-intensive industries, etc. (which was not the interest of the Shootout attendees, but is worth mentioning).

Oracle JD Edwards has very good native multi-modal transportation/shipping capabilities for SMB companies (a ballpark figure is that Oracle’s flagship transportation management system [TMS] G-Log might be overkill unless you handle US$25 million in freight annually). The product also features strong enterprise asset management (EAM) functionality for both internal plant maintenance & external service maintenance.

Logically, over the past several years since being acquired by Oracle, JD Edwards has benefited from many Oracle’s tools being embedded and certified. For example, Oracle BI Publisher, which is part of Oracle Fusion Middleware (OFM), comes bundled with JD Edwards EnterpriseOne for reports output management. On the other hand, Oracle has continued to enhance and support non-Oracle technologies, even within the venerable JD Edwards World product that runs on IBM’s System i platform.

During the demo we could see Insight Software’s slick add-on drag-and-drop reporting tools for JD Edwards’ end-users, which require much less technical knowledge than, say, Microsoft FRx (which was prevalent among JD Edwards users several years ago). For more information on JD Edwards EnterpriseOne, see TEC’s recent certification report.

Part 2 of this blog series will conclude with the remaining four products that I had the chance to see at great length. Your comments and suggestions on how to make this event even more attractive and worthwhile are more than welcome in the meantime, as are your own selection stories and experiences.
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