On October 3, Kewill Systems Plc. (LSE: KWL), a UK-based provider
of business applications for small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) announced
an extended partnership with Microsoft Great Plains Business Solutions,
a business applications division of Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ: MSFT).
Under the new agreement, Microsoft Great Plains will begin distributing
an integration module for Kewill's multi-carrier shipping systems that
will be activated via the Kewill.Net business portal.
companies maintain the integration module from Microsoft Great Plains
will seamlessly connect Kewill.Ship, a multi-carrier shipping system,
to Dynamics and the eEnterprise sales order processing module.
Customers should therefore be able to automate transportation routing
and cost calculations for parcel shipments, and create bar coded tracking
labels and electronic manifests for multiple carriers.
Kewill will integrate its JobBoss shop management application to
Dynamics and eEnterprise business management solutions. This integration
will provide customers with a seamless integration to ERP and shop management
applications for specialty contract, make-to-order, discrete and mixed-mode
manufacturing in the small and medium-size enterprise (SME) market.
will be deployed by utilizing Microsoft Great Plains' extensive reseller
network of 2,200 channel partners. An estimated 40,000 customers will
reportedly have the ability to automate more of their business processes,
quickly and efficiently.
partnership extension should be mutually beneficial, as the companies
will extend their combined market reach while filling their respective
product gaps and inferior areas. Microsoft Great Plains is the leading
provider of enterprise applications to SMEs (Tier 2 and Tier 3 companies).
Currently, it has one of the largest customer bases in the market segment,
but primarily in North America. Also, to date, Great Plains has been successful
at addressing the needs of Tier 2 and Tier 3 companies mainly in accounting
and back-office functions.
since the end of 2000 the company has focused on the discrete manufacturing
sector, it has contracted less than a couple hundred customers in that
area (for more information, see How
Great Is Great Plains' Manufacturing Offering (Did Somebody Say Microsoft)?
our opinion, the reasons for this meager penetration are twofold:
- The product
still features many functional holes that have long been offered as
a matter of course by many incumbent Tier 2 and Tier 3 manufacturing
ERP software providers (e.g., Syspro, Navision, Epicor, Pronto, Lilly,
enterprises do not typically feel comfortable buying their manufacturing
software from a traditional accounting software provider, whose parent's
name has also been associated with the desktop and office management
Great Plains' strategic focus remains global expansion, particularly in
Europe and Asia/Pacific, where Kewill's presence should also help.
has a great meaning for less known Kewill too, which should gain access
to Microsoft Great Plains' global network of over 2,200 channel partners.
This should significantly boost Kewill's sales channel that has so far
conducted a lot of business only over the phone and over the Internet.
While Kewill Systems is well known for its e-commerce and shipping management
solutions (with high-profile customers like Federal Express, Siemens,
Marks and Spencer and Verizon), Kewill ERP, the
company's division that offers ERP software packages, has its stronghold
in the lower-end of Tier 3 and Tier 2 manufacturing markets.
division has long offered two flagship ERP solutions aimed at SME manufacturers:
MAX and JobBOSS. Additionally, Kewill recently bolstered
its product portfolio with its recent acquisition of Alliance Manufacturing
Software, a provider of ERP solutions to fledgling manufacturers
with annual revenues of $1 million to $15 million.
ERP products exhibit different strengths. While JobBOSS is a suite of
shop management applications for job shops and make-to-order (MTO) manufacturers
that place high priority on the ability to track actual cost and labor,
MAX and Alliance/MFG are ERP product suites tailored for repetitive
and mixed-mode manufacturers. MAX has a broader-based appeal, by offering
integrated applications that include material requirements planning (MRP),
advanced planning & scheduling (APS), product configuration, and customer
relationship management (CRM).
above it should be obvious that JobBOSS has the least overlap with Microsoft
Great Plains' products and it lends itself well for a partnership. The
fact that the companies have long been partnering for a JobBOSS and Dynamics
integrated offering should speak in that regard and should provide valuable
experiences for impending integration with eEnterprise. Also, both companies'
reliance on the Microsoft's technology, and Kewill's stability and profitability
owing to a lean operating business model, must have also played the part
in Microsoft Great Plains opting for this partnership. One should imagine
many other competitors preferring to partner rather than to compete with
Microsoft Great Plains, but the inevitable products overlap and competing
channels were the likely impediment to any further alliance talks.
Nevertheless, the job of gaining traction outside of the current customer
base will by no means be easy for the alliance, as the competition will
be fierce, and will cite their single-product expertise within their large
respective customer bases. Furthermore, Although Microsoft Great Plains
has an impressive track record of integrating partners' products with
its products, integrating Kewill.Ship and JobBOSS products to two major
back office products, as well as to a broader set of trading services
such as suppliers' integration, procurement cards, and payment settlement
services, remains a major undertaking.
the company has been there many times, witness the challenge of training
the affiliate channel in the new application for the Siebel and/or
Logility modules. Microsoft Great Plains faces the challenge of
offering too many third-party products though (J.D. Edwards' syndrome),
which may not be the appropriate for its target market. Competitors like,
e.g., Navision, Epicor, Syspro, or Made2Manage, will cite their
products that cover many bases natively. Still, this might not be that
grave, provided it is transparent to the customer. The main ingredients
of the 'transparency magic formula' are the tight integration and a single
point of contact, which again points to having an immaculate channel with
expertise in both product lines.
Organizations using Microsoft Great Plains and Kewill back office applications
that have respective product needs should react positively to this news.
Existing Microsoft Great Plains customers should evaluate the Kewill add-ons
as a way to add value to their existing applications whether with an impending
integration effort now or by waiting for the company to supply a generally
available integrated solution. Therefore, approach the companies to obtain
the firm delivery schedule of Kewill for the above Microsoft Great Plains
flagship back-office applications.
to medium discrete manufacturing and/or distribution companies considering
new enterprise solutions should place Microsoft Great Plains and Kewill
on their list bearing in mind what the other competitors can offer, possibly
within a single product. These companies should consider the added functionality
from this alliance for an addition to their requirements list. Some companies
might find this combination as one holding significant value in terms
of both cost savings and increased efficiency notwithstanding.