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The 11th Vendor Shootout for ERP: Observations - Part 2

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: September 20 2011

Part 1 of this blog series talked about my attendance of the 11th Vendor ShootoutTM for ERP event, which took place in Boston in mid-August 2011. I was able to experience this co-opetitive gathering of eight solution providers and several dozen end users seeking new solutions first-hand as a neutral (and yet very active) observer (for the inner workings of the event, see my article Demystifying "Vendor Shootout for ERP" events).

My blog post then mentioned the following four enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions (based on my partial attendance of their scripted demos): Infor ERP SyteLine, Microsoft Dynamics AX, Epicor 9, and Oracle JD Edwards EnterpriseOne. Part 2 of this blog series will conclude with the remaining four products that I had the chance to see at great length.



SAP Business By Design Is for Real

Certainly, I was keen on seeing the novel SAP Business ByDesign software as a service (SaaS) product in deep-dive action for the first time. After some initial hiccups since its initial launch in late 2007, the product was sent back to the drawing board at SAP and amended, and is now live at 565 customers and generally available (GA) in 9 countries.

The product’s customer profiles range from sites with 10 customer relationship management (CRM) users to those with hundreds of users that leverage the entire product’s scope. The pricing is based on 6 tiers of users, from US$12 for casual self-service users to US$199 for full-blown power users.

Given the venue (Boston), it was interesting that SAP’s pre-sales folks did a “Big Dig” positioning of a sort of its several ERP offerings. To that end, SAP Business One is functionally a mile wide and yards deep offering, whereas SAP All-in-One and its big cousin SAP ERP are five miles wide & deep. For its part, SAP Business ByDesign is somewhere in the middle, and was described as two miles wide and deep. For more information on SAP’s portfolio of solutions for small and medium enterprises (SME’s), see my recent interview article with the SAP SME product marketing team.

Certainly, Navigator Business Solutions’ staff and SAP’s pre-sales presenters were easily able to show all of the required functionality according to the demo script (a high-level demonstration script can be found here). What was quite revealing to me was the fact that the on-demand product is (surprisingly) Microsoft-centric, except that it was on SAP’s proprietary MD2 database.

To that end, SAP Business ByDesign runs on Silverlight supporting browsers – Internet Explorer (IE) and Firefox. Currently, its mobile applications run on Blackberry and Apple iPad/iPhone. Contrary to a popular belief about SaaS products, SAP provides a multi-tenant Microsoft Visual Studio integrated development environment (IDE) for SAP Business ByDesign personalization and customization by individual tenants.

IQMS and Plex: Separated at Birth?

While I had a sneaking suspicion about the functional similarity between IQMS and Plex’ ERP products, after attending these vendors’ demos I was left thinking that these two manufacturing ERP products must have been separated at birth. Ironically, having been staunchly deployed on-premises only (IQMS’ EnterpriseIQ) and SaaS-only (Plex Online), these two products hardly ever face off in real life, despite targeting similar manufacturers as customers.

Both companies have been growing well in their separate universes, and only time will tell which one’s strategic decision will be the right one in the long term. For more information on Plex Online, see my recent article and TEC’s certification report on the solution. In addition, here is my recent article on IQMS.

Both products received a good interest at the Boston event and both showed the deepest shop floor/production-level execution capabilities (e.g., scrap, labor, downtime, and other real-time metrics) and integrated quality management (including traceability) capabilities. Both vendors presented real-time manufacturing operations on rugged touch mobile devices (i.e., Plex on iPad and IQMS on the Android-based Acer tablet).

A true revelation to me was Plex’s extensive human capital management (HCM) module that can come in handy to manufacturing environments that value employee skills certifications and career development. On a somewhat down note, some users that are enamored with and used to the latest Microsoft Windows look-and-feel (and the latest social media look-and-feel) were a bit unimpressed with both product’s “boxy” user interfaces (UI), which probably appeals more to shop floor operators.

Also, Plex is working on providing a multi-browser client (besides IE) and better business intelligence (BI) reporting tools (the vendor is currently evaluating potential partnerships). In case of some production facilities with a high-level of real-time shop-floor transactions, it will be interesting to see how Plex’s on-demand system will perform, especially when the company reaches thousands of tenants (each at a large enterprise license level).

abas-USA: The Event’s “Dark Horse” (and Moral Winner)?

Having only heard of and never really seen the abas ERP product, I can unequivocally say that this product’s demo was the biggest revelation and most pleasant surprise to me. This sentiment was shared by a number of attendees, which makes abas-USA a certain beneficiary from the event, at least to get better known and giving other solutions (unexpectedly) a run for their money.

The parent company, abas Software AG, was founded in 1980 in Germany, and has over three decades of manufacturing experience. Currently, abas has over 900 employees and 56 subsidiaries with 72 locations in 30 countries. In 2010, the company reported US$98.1 million in revenues coming from over 2,700 customers at 3,200 sites. Reportedly, 93 percent of companies that purchased abas ERP since its inception in 1980 are still customers today.

Abas-USA was formed in the late 1990s as a separate profit-and-loss subsidiary with headquarters in Sterling, Virginia. The US subsidiary has over 100 SME customers and also performs part of the product development for the entire corporation (the major development center is still in Karlsruhe, Germany). The vendor has never used resellers and consultants, as it prefers to provide  direct contact and service to customers.

How has abas managed to not only survive, but also thrive in SAP’s backyard? One reason has been its early focus on SME manufacturers. Moreover, being always employee owned, abas has seen continuity in ownership and strategic direction. For the last three decades abas has been state of the art and compatible with new requirements and technologies.

In the early 1990’s, the vendor had a major rewrite and componentization of its initial monolithic product. Every line of code has been internally developed and supported. Each year, abas reviews 33 percent of the source code and includes it in an annual upgrade (the vendor guarantees a 24 hour upgrade). Initially written in C and C++, more and more of the new code is in Java.

An Abundance of Free abas ERP “Goodies”

One apparent differentiation is abas’ proprietary object-oriented (OO) database that is self-contained and requires no database administrator (DBA) per se. At the Shootout, abas-USA president (and co-owner) Alan Salton showed how end-users can edit table fields in a casual manner with no need for structured query language (SQL) programming, stored procedures, etc.

Of all of the ERP products at the Shootout event, abas seemed the most platform-agnostic. Namely, on the server side, the product supports Microsoft Windows 2000, 2003, and 2008 and Linux (the Red Hat, SuSE, and Debian versions). The product can also be deployed in a both single-tenant and multi-tenant SaaS manner. On the client side, abas ERP can work on Windows PCs, Ascii terminals, Linux PCs, and Apple Mac PCs. Data collection can be done via bar code scanners, radio frequency identification (RFID) readers, smart phones, and badge readers.

The shown integration of Dassault Systemes’ Solidworks computer-aided design (CAD) system directly into the software reduces duplicate effort and allows for quicker time to market (TTM). While abas ERP seems well-rounded and suitable to multiple manufacturing environments, a majority of customers are engineer-to-order (ETO) manufacturers. Thus, in addition to providing application programming interfaces (APIs) to major CAD systems, abas ERP includes an impressive document management system with optical character recognition (OCR)-based search through multi-media documents.

Shootout attendees were also impressed with many other capabilities that do not usually come bundled within an ERP system, such as abas ERP’s telephony integration, mobile solutions, and embedded BI via Jasper reports. In addition, there is the E-learning tool, which is built in to the software and tracks users’ progress as they interactively train on abas-ERP modules.

Last but not least, there is integration with Microsoft Office, OpenOffice.org (OOo), and Google Docs. There are also 40 additional tables in the system for customers to additionally tailor the solution to their needs. Look for more research articles on abas-USA down the track by TEC analysts.

Conclusion

In summary, a vendor’s dazzling demonstration ability only will not necessarily secure new business – a plethora of other factors influence the decision, such as the product architecture, vendor’s viability and strategy, total cost of ownership (TCO), site reference visits/calls outcomes, etc. Conversely, a bad demonstration performance will very likely seal the vendor’s fate.

Any company that is serious about acquiring a new enterprise system and any vendor/value-added reseller (VAR) that has nothing to hide (or be ashamed of) in a multi-vendor competitive setup would benefit from attending Vendor Shootout events. Your comments and suggestions on how to make this event even more attractive and worthwhile are more than welcome.
 
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