Analysis of Cloud ERP Applications
When we analyze Cloud ERP Applications today, we have three major categories to choose from. They include well-funded legacy applications that have attempted to keep up with technology. They also include SaaS developed applications from the mid-2000’s and new Cloud ERP players.
Analysis Group #1: Well-Funded Legacy Players
Includes: Sage Software, Microsoft Dynamics, Epicor and others who were the leaders in the 1990’s.
Cloud Offering: For many of these solutions the only “Cloud” option you have is a private cloud consisting of VMware, Microsoft Hyper V and remote desktop connectivity.
Benefits: The legacy of these applications is such that you will have access to a plethora of features, functionality and ISV products to round out the needs of your organization.
Drawbacks: Today, none of the legacy players have a real Cloud ERP solution. Their applications are written in Visual Basic or Dexterity and they are not easily recoded to .Net Cloud technology. Therefore, stopgap measures have to be introduced including using Silverlight (possibly another dying
technology) or rewriting the entire application.
Analysis Group #2: SaaS Solutions
Includes: NetSuite, SMBSuite, Intacct, Aplicor.
Cloud Offering: Each of these solutions have a SaaS offering. The application is deployed on the publisher’s infrastructure and is managed by the publisher.
Benefits: These early adopters were the market leaders for many years. In many circumstances they continue to be leaders in specialized vertical solutions.
Drawbacks: The publisher owns the platform, your data, your access and every aspect of the relationship. Migrations are difficult since your data is only available through complex reporting and query tools.
Analysis Group #3: New Cloud ERP Solutions
Cloud Offering: Acumatica was written with platform independence, .Net architecture and multiple deployment
options to give you flexibility, affordability and scalability.
Benefits: With Acumatica or any other application architecture of this sophistication, you have platform independence. This means that you can host the application internally, on a partner’s site or on any number of IaaS sites such as Microsoft Azure, Reviora or Peak Colo in Colorado. Further, Acumatica’s licensing model is to license the application in Suites of functionality such as Financials, Distribution, CRM and Project. In this model, you own the data and control every aspect of the deployment. Robust customization tools provide
integration services, report writing, dashboarding, custom screens and processes as well as a platform for add-on product development.
Drawbacks: The licensing model is not a monthly “pay as you go” model or any consumption based model. Instead you pay for the Suites which can be a barrier to entry. However, their SaaS model has a reduced cost of entry but an ongoing cost of service. The SaaS model does not require any server hardware
Cloud Application Guidance
Before you make a decision on which Cloud ERP application to deploy, I want to leave you with the following recommendations.
First, “know thyself” and understand your business well before venturing into a new ERP application. I have had many instances where I have come into a business only to have multiple people give me multiple versions of what they do. The CEO, CFO, Manufacturing, Warehouse and other departments may not be on the same page. So take time to understand your real needs before moving forward.
Next, do your homework. If you don’t have time for homework, contract with a trusted and independent source to do it for you. However, you must be able to research and understand who the Cloud publishers are who can meet your needs.
Do not forget about the future. Think three to ten years down the road because it will likely be that long before you replace an ERP system again. Make sure you identify new business opportunities that may need to be accounted for.
Further, make sure that your solution is easily customizable, expandable and flexible. This means being able to customize screens and reports easily. It includes being able to add fields to the database and screen to do advanced data capture. It also means being able to intercept business logic to insert your own. A solution that doesn’t have these features will quickly, even with the best homework, become obsolete.
Finally, find a partner (not the software publisher) who will work with you to understand your requirements and show you how their solution will meet your needs. Do not settle for a partner who doesn’t take interest in your business. If they are not interested in you while “dating” how will they support you when you are “married”?
Finally, make sure that key decision makers in your organization are sufficiently knowledgeable about the solutions you are about to evaluate.
Cloud ERP applications are the future of business solutions, this is certain. However, the whole market is changing and has changed around Cloud Computing. Take, for example, Dynamics GP and NAV solutions from Microsoft. These applications were first published in the early 1990’s when Windows was the disruptive technology.
Since then, the code that runs the application has grown to millions of lines of code. Even with that, the applications themselves are incomplete. So, the publisher, Microsoft, has spent a lot of time and energy building an ecosystem around their products to provide functionality as simple as credit card processing to as complex as workflow and document management.
Having configured Dynamics solutions for enterprises, I find that I spend a lot of time building a Frankenstein. The body of the solution is Dynamics but the document management may be DocLink, the credit card processing is Azox and many other solutions are added onto the body to make it complete.
The result is something that looks like Frankenstein. It is a financial monster because it is expensive to put together all the parts. It is a technological monster because keeping everything integrated requires herculean efforts on the part of IT. It is an upgrade monster because the moment you upgrade one component you have to touch all the other components.
With Acumatica ERP and CRM, you receive out of the box functionality for: Wikis, Document Management, Deferred Revenue, Shipping, Credit Card Processing, Project Accounting, CRM integration with Project Time Entry, Integration Services, Web Services, Reporting, Workflow, E-mail, printing of logos by putting just one logo in the system and it propagates through all reports, Grid Reordering/Personalization and much more.
My conclusion is that it is not enough to find a Cloud ERP Solution. It is important to remember the total cost of ownership when evaluating your needs.
Cloud ERP applications are the future of business solutions. However, having your ERP and CRM in the Cloud is just not enough.
You need to be assured that your solution is scalable to your business needs. Further, you need to own your own data and have the option to move between a private, public or hybrid cloud if necessary to support your business processes.
In this model you can grow your business, accommodate any seasonality or fluctuations in your business and not be hamstrung by yesterday’s technology.
Robert Houdeshell is a Cloud ERP Solutions Expert with two decades of experience in deploying ERP and CRM to small and midsize businesses. Robert has created private and highly integrated hybrid cloud solutions utilizing Dynamics GP and CRM. His vision and leadership helps clients overcome operational deficiencies through cost effective solutions. Currently, Robert owns his own company called Strata ERP Cloud Solutions – focusing on Acumatica ERP and CRM.