From its founding in 1980 until its formal entry into the North American market in 2006, Agresso, a Netherlands-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendor, has had its share of fame and relative good fortune in the smaller Western European landscape. However, as many European market entrants soon discover, the marketing game is indeed very different between the two continents. "No one had ever heard of us, and it seemed no one cared," said company spokespeople. Or more precisely, it seemed that no one cared about the company's claims to having the ongoing agility necessary to support change.
Taking into account that the company's value proposition would need "re-engineering" to play effectively in North America, Agresso began promoting its "Businesses Living IN Change (BLINC)™" concept.
It seems this hard-luck story of anonymity is no longer applicable to Agresso's current status and degree of success, as for the past three years the company has been achieving new levels of growth. Agresso claims that it has expanded its geographic footprint and now ranks between the world's 6th and 11th largest provider (depending on which market segment is ranked). On average, the company says it is holding steadily within the top 10 global enterprise software rankings.
Agresso is in fact a subsidiary of Netherlands-based Unit 4 Agresso (Dutch Stock Exchange EURONET-U4AGR), a provider of business software. Unit 4 Agresso's flagship product, Agresso Business World (ABW), accounts for over half of its annual revenue. Though its presence is comparatively smaller in the North American market, relative to its markets across Europe (5 percent of revenues comes from North America, versus a total of 91 percent divided amongst Benelux, the UK, Sweden, Spain, Norway, and Germany), Agresso had 78 percent growth in North America in 2008.
This is due in large part to the "aggressive" BLINC marketing campaign that has focused on the capabilities of Agresso's VITA™ architecture. VITA, the company claims, enables dynamic organizations to respond to business change after implementation. In other words, it can help ensure post-implementation agility. Agresso believes VITA's ability to have the underlying business data, business processes, and delivery methodology (analytics and reporting) move in lockstep provides the company with a market differentiator. The company claims that changes made in one place—at the graphical user interface (GUI) level—are reflected throughout the system (customers support this claim in interviews). But more about the nitty-gritty features of the solution will be discussed below.
Agresso's revenue last year was almost $505 million (USD; approximately 393 million euros). The company has over 3,500 employees, operations in 19 countries across 3 continents, and 10,000 deployments—with a total of 1.8 million users around the globe. The company also points to recent successes in acquiring new clients: in several million-dollar deals, it claims to have beaten tier 1 vendors Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP, and to have won over $50 million (USD) against SAP in 61 separate deals.
Agresso has also grown via acquisition—it now owns the UK-based company, CODA, which was founded in 1979. The acquisition, finalized early in 2008, adds an important element to the Agresso offering: CODA's financial management solution, touted by Agresso's head of product marketing, Ton Dobbe, as "the best game in town." This, he explained, is primarily because of CODA's ability to "link" (or integrate) with other ERP modules or applications.
When asked why Agresso had acquired CODA, Dobbe explained that this financials product and its ongoing successes show that not all companies want a complete, out-of-the-box ERP solution. CODA's reported ability to integrate with practically every solution under the sun, no muss no fuss, makes it attractive to any company with several types of application already in place, but that wants or needs world-class financials plugged in to regain central control.
CODA, Dobbe believes, will help enhance Agresso's product portfolio towards its BLINC concept. To sum up, the company is now addressing two specific needs with two specific solutions:
For organizations that desire an integrated ERP suite: Agresso Business World, differentiated through its post-implementation agility
For organizations that strategically opt for a best-of-breed infrastructure: CODA Financials, differentiated by its strong ability to integrate
Solutions that Support Change
As noted above, Agresso believes that the core strength of the ABW solution—its post-implementation agility—is based on the VITA architecture. According to Dobbe, the VITA architecture provides ongoing and easy change capabilities, without being dependent on service-oriented architecture (SOA).
"SOA is finally being understood for what it can't do," explains Dobbe. "It is a great integrator of disparate parts, but those parts are no more agile than they were before they were plugged together." In Agresso's solution, "the SOA sits on top" of both the VITA data and the business process model. "SOA is only as good as what it has underneath. It is agile if there is an agile data and business process model underneath it; it is rigid if it rests upon the traditional data models that are in use by most, if not all, of the leading ERP vendors today," Dobbe says.
Agresso's VITA architecture accommodates change at the GUI level with drag-and-drop functionality, versus the more rigid database or application coding approach used by traditional ERP vendors. As noted by TEC's Market Comparison Report: How Does Your ERP System Architecture Address Change?, "the drag-and-drop functionality lets business users manipulate metadata residing below the SOA layer." The report's analysis of the types of change possible at the GUI level certainly suggests that this functionality is a key differentiator, at least when Agresso is compared with similar ERP solutions from Oracle and SAP.
Dobbe adds that the solution's foundation is service-model-based, with a complete insulation of the business logic from the data. In other words, no changes are allowed to be made to the business logic, while it is possible to change data (including changes to business processes).
But if the somewhat technical talk of architecture doesn't do much for you, then this, also taken from TEC's Market Comparison Report, helps illuminate the practical side of the product's capability:
The solution is unique among ERP systems due to its unusually tight coupling of data management (information warehousing), process modeling (business processes), and information delivery (reporting and analytics). This means that business change made within Agresso applications is typically accomplished by business users rather than IT personnel—the user effects changes on the spot. These changes are captured and automatically reflected throughout the solution. There is no need to replicate actions for data, process, or reporting consistency.
Success with Clients in Various Industries
Eidos Interactive, a video games publisher, has benefited from the Agresso solution in a variety of ways. Back in the 1990s, the company needed to consolidate disparate back-office operations at its subsidiaries in France and Germany and then had to deal with the repercussions of a merger. With ABW's "change-oriented capabilities," Eidos was able to accomplish several concurrent revision projects. Aside from appreciating the short deployment time, Eidos was also impressed by the solution's ability to allow users to continually merge data—"data that is consistent across every single installation."
Another company, Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), needed "instant and up-to-date ad hoc information for decision making," as well as the ability to hire and integrate hundreds of employees per year to keep up with the company's growth. The company reportedly spent nearly $1 million (USD) to support new users on Microsoft Office products, but a negligible amount—if any—on growth requirements for Agresso. Also, A&M was pleased that reporting sites could be updated without having to be rebuilt or disturbing core code—a result of the architecture that allows changes to be made at the GUI level.
Greater Gains to Come…
Agresso's ERP solution is currently in version 5.5.3, with 5.6 on the horizon. The upcoming version will include added functionality for processes involved in hiring (e.g. extended manager and employee self-service functionality); field service (e.g. self-service and easy entry of time and used materials); procure-to-pay (enhanced product search capabilities); and planning (streamlining of data entry functionalities), to name a few.
Dobbe believes the Agresso and CODA solutions have much to offer during a recession: "There is an inverse [relationship] between the deleterious effects of the global financial crisis versus the net positive effects of Unit 4 Agresso's two solution sets. In times of challenge and change, business executives by necessity must have the ability to alter their business processes, models and strategies—easily and cost-effectively. For years, Unit 4 Agresso has allowed a very modular, business process-oriented capability that allows unlimited change and delivers fast return on investment (ROI). Whether organizations require a fast-change complete ERP suite, or a best-in-class, interoperable financial platform, Unit 4 Agresso has become the preferred enterprise software vendor for Businesses Living IN Change (BLINC)."
Below is a contribution analysis radar graph showing the degree to which each area of the Agresso Business World solution (in TEC's ERP for Services Evaluation Center) contributes functionality to the overall solution. The solution's focus is in back-office; third-party integration; resource planning and scheduling; time and expense management; and financial management, budgeting, costing, and billing functionality. Portfolio and project management also offers a large component of the overall functionality. Functionality for opportunity, contact, and contract management; knowledge management, collaboration, and analysis; and product technology are given less focus than other areas of functionality. Companies who require functionality in the areas in which ABW does focus might consider the solution suitable for their needs.
For more information, and the opportunity to see the particulars of the solutions, visit TEC's Vendor Showcase and IT Directory for both Agresso's and CODA's products. For more case studies, visit Agresso's Web site for North America: http://www.agresso.com/usa/l1_home.aspx.