What's in a Name? or Enterprise Systems' Reincarnations (Part I)

Well, the ERP Graveyard blog might sometimes be slightly deceiving, since not all enterprise resource planning (ERP) products necessarily die there. Some of them might even be resurected under a different name and ownership.

To that end, Infor might even seem like old news today. It's been five years since its formation (no pun intended here, given its subsequent acquisition of former Formation Systems, with the Infor Optima PLM product as a result). Also, many articles have meanwhile been written on our web site about Infor's collection/arsenal of once all but deceased ERP products, such as:

However, 2007 has seen the emergence of two brand new names in the space -- Consona Corporation and Solarsoft Business Solutions. In March 2007, M2M Holdings Inc. changed its name to Consona Corporation. The current Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Jeff Tognoni , and the curent financial backer, Battery Ventures, started M2M Holdings back in 2003 with their purchase of former Made2Manage Systems. Over the past three years, the company has added nine more-or-less known ERP and CRM companies to the business and has more than tripled in size. This expansion, in addition to the confusion in the marketplace associated with the difference between M2M Holdings and the Made2Manage ERP solution per se, has spurred the company to find a clearer way to be able to discuss and market its various product lines.

So, the company put a team together that would find a name that is "not only memorable, unique and available, but also whose meaning will better reflect what the company is trying to do as a corporation" -— and that name is Consona. According to the company's communication sent to industry analysts at the time:
"...the new name, Consona, was derived from the concept of consonance, which describes the perfect alignment of elements within a single entity. When you picture consonance, you might imagine puzzle pieces clicking together, a well-executed play on the football field, or the faultless harmony of an orchestra. We think our new name represents why we are unique as a software and services provider because it summarizes the aspects of our strategy that remain central to each line of business within the company—including high-fit software, unsurpassed customer care, and efficient, profitable operations".

While some competitors might have mockingly said "Well, was the Vowana or Vowela name already taken?", both M2M Holdings (the predecessor firm) and Consona Corporation today have proven their business model, if one is to judge by growth and profitability. Consona'a acquisition strategy is based on the following three aims:

  1. To capture specific industry expertise and technology (i.e., new vertical segments and/or new software or services to fill out the solution in any particular segment/market);

  2. To apply its operating model of driving down costs while driving up quality, service, and growth; and

  3. To expand international distribution capability.

Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find any of Consona's acquisitions so far that could be qualified as a failure or an acquisition without a sound rationale. True, some acquired vendors might have been distressed or in a rut, somewhat stalled (financially or in terms of a mind share) and needing a shot in the arm or so prior to being acquired by Consona, but hardly anyone can now dispute the future viability of the solution per se.

In fact, although the former owners of some of the acquired vendors might be gone today (some were not even that interested in running the business before the acquisition and wanted an exit strategy), it is not really the case with critical product managers or developers. I recently met with AXIS and Cimnet (parts of Consona) and have vicariously learned that the staff at both places have been with the company an average of 16 years, plus, the founder of Cimnet is still there, now as a managing director of the division.

Therefore, Consona is today an enterprise-class application software and services provider for both small-to-medium enterprises (SME) and Global 2000 businesses. The customer size and industry depend on the solutions from the Consona portfolio, which currently consists of eight ERP product lines in manufacturing sectors and two customer relationship management (CRM) product lines for the professional services and manufacturing realms. The holding company has over 4,500 customers and about 700 employees, and is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, United States (US), with over 40 locations across the Americas, Europe, Asia-Pacific (including India) and the Middle East. Two private equity groups, Battery Ventures and Thoma Cressey Bravo, jointly own Consona.

As for the current company's organization and integration of disparate parts, the holding company consists of three divisions, whereby each division has a defined target market with dedicated products and services, a general manager with full profit & loss (P&L) responsibility, and dedicated teams for sales, product management, product development, professional services, support and education. Shared corporate services include administrative things like finance & accounting, human resources (HR), information technology (IT) department and marketing. Consona executives provide management oversight on development, services, support and education, whereas centralized functional organizations bring economy of scale and process efficiency to all functions. These divisions are:

1. Consona Industry Solutions, with five business units:

2. Consona CRM, with two CRM solutions:

  • Onyx, a Consona CRM solution [evaluate this product], acquired in August 2006 for service, sales and marketing organizations in the mid- to upper- SME to Global 2000 range of sizes and within the financial services, healthcare, government, professional services, and high-tech sectors; and

  • Knova, a Consona CRM solution, acquired in March 2007 for service and support organizations in the mid- to upper- SME to Global 2000 range of sizes within the high-tech (hardware and software), telecom and complex equipment (medical and manufacturing) sectors.

3. Consona ERP, with three products:

  • Made2Manage, a Consona ERP solution [evaluate this product] acquired in August 2003 for discrete "to-order" and mixed-mode manufacturers with up to $50 million in revenues;

  • Intuitive, a Consona ERP solution [evaluate this product] acquired in July 2006 also for discrete "to-order" and mixed-mode manufacturers with up to $50 million in revenues; and

  • SupplyWorks, a Consona on-demand/software as a service (SaaS) supply chain management (SCM) solution, acquired in July 2006 for supplier collaboration and supply chain visibility (SCV) and for automotive, transportation, machinery, instrumentation and high-tech companies with up to 4 billion in revenues.

Consona's branding strategy is in fact similar to Johnson & Johnson (i.e., Band-Aid, Aveeno, Acuvue, Tylenol, etc.), with each product line marketed, sold and operationally supported separately, but also identified by the master brand. In other words, the only thing that is new is the Consona name, as it is still the same company with the same strategy and vision, as well as with the same owners, management team and personnel working in the existing office locations. And most importantly, the firm pledges to actively sell, support, maintain, and enhance its various product lines/brands.

The Consona Industry Solutions unit's future direction seems most straightforward -- each product continues to be, on a separate track, enhanced to compete within its defendable vertical niche (whereby some of these products are the leaders in their respective sector). True, there might be some sharing of best practices, given that some products are on same technologies (i.e., DTR, AXIS and Encompix are on the Progress OpenEdge development platform) or some products might leverage functionalities of the others (e.g., some products might benefit from the CRM, project-based accounting or analytics functionality of the other), but there are no strong indications of that taking place yet in earnest.

However, the ERP and CRM units have recently had their respective products' enhancements and there might still be some temptation for converging the products, and these will be analyzed in depth in forthcoming research article on our web site and newsletter. For now, it suffices to say that Consona ERP has over 2,500 customers, who are small to midsize discrete "to-order", make-to-stock (MTS) or mixed-mode manufacturers that are also Microsoft technology users.

Because Made2Manage and Intuitive fall under the same Consona ERP umbrella, users can choose between the best of each solution: 1) Made2Manage's mature customer service and functionality (albeit on an outgoing technology -- Microsoft Visual FoxPro [VFP]) and 2) Intuitive's technological progressiveness. Both focus on a narrow sector of the manufacturing marketplace and both have a decent amount of pertinent functionality. Although former competitors in theory, the two ERP solutions have rarely competed due to Intuitive’s strengths in the MTS and repetitive environments versus Made2Manage’s made-to-order (MTO)/assemble-to-order (ATO)/job shop stronghold.

These subtle nuances and personality of each product will be differentiators for prospective customers to choose one of the two. Thus, the future direction is to continue building the two ERP products without building a converged product and, consequently, with no forced upgrades for customers. Intuitive will be the international product owing to its multi-national, multi-site capabilities and modern technology. Intuitive 8.1 continues the product's leadership in .NET-managed code software. It includes the more compelling, fully integrated Intuitive user interface (UI), and it fully supports the Microsoft .NET Framework.

The Part II of this topic will analyze Solarsoft, and how all these consolidating companies might operate now in a somewhat changed climate owing to deflated venture capital (VC) inverstors' sentiments and lesser availability of private equity. Your views, comments and opinions, etc. are, as usual, welcome in the meantime.
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