Acumatica Poised as ERP Trends Converge

 

Partners Attracted by Technology, Innovation and Choice

Acumatica held its annual Partner Summit earlier this week in Broomfield, CO, just outside of Denver. Attendance this year topped 400, with over 100 partner companies represented. Over the past year Acumatica has undergone some management changes, bringing in a new CEO and a new head of partner strategy, a key role considering 100% of its sales are indirect. There was a definite sense of excitement in the air this year, partly as a result of the new management, but largely due to a combination of technology, innovation and choice of cloud-based deployment options offered in response to the latest trends impacting Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).

Mint Jutras has been writing a lot about four specific trends this year. Its report, 2014 Trends in ERP Converge, looked back over these “big trends” in enterprise software from 2013 and concluded that we don’t need any new or different trends for ERP in 2014. Cloud, mobile, social and big data will do just fine. However, we have concluded that it is no longer sufficient to treat them as independent movements. We need them to converge around a single common goal of making ERP easier to consume, thus bringing more value to the business. Enlisting the aid of OEM and VAR partners, Acumatica has set its sights on delivering on this promise of added value.

The Key Trends

As I have noted before (but it is worth repeating), the 2014 Trends in ERP Converge report talked about four specific trends. These should come as no surprise to anyone following enterprise software:

  • Cloud and software as a service (SaaS)
  • Mobile access and the consumerization of IT
  • “Social” as a way to deliver collaboration, connectivity and visibility
  • “Big data” for intelligence and decision-making

It is impossible to talk about the convergence of these trends without mentioning innovation that is easier to consume in a less disruptive way. This often requires new ways of engaging with ERP in order to change the whole ERP customer experience. So how does Acumatica address each of these trends?

Pure Cloud

Acumatica can be characterized as a pure cloud solution. The Acumatica solution was born in a browser and therefore has always had a zero footprint on the client, making it accessible any time, from anywhere. No legacy issues here. It is built from the ground up with cloud technologies: SOAP, web services, HTML5, Azure, Amazon, etc.

Many use the terms “cloud” and “SaaS” interchangeably, but indeed they are not the same. The distinction is quite simple and need not be over-complicated:

  • Cloud refers to access to computing, software, storage of data over a network (generally the Internet.) You may have purchased a license for the software and installed it on your own computers or those owned and managed by another company, but your access is through the Internet and therefore through the “cloud,” whether private or public.
  • SaaS is exactly what is implied by what the acronym stands for: Software as a Service. Software is delivered only as a service. It is not delivered on a CD or other media to be loaded on your own (or another’s) computer. It is accessed over the Internet and is generally paid for on a subscription basis. It does not reside on your computers at all.

Using these definitions, we can confidently say all SaaS is cloud computing, but not all cloud computing is SaaS. Acumatica is cloud-based but not always delivered as SaaS.

The downside of being “cloud only” often means less choice. Typically a cloud-based solution is only available as software as a service (SaaS). Not so with Acumatica. Lots of choices here: multi-tenant SaaS, single tenant SaaS (more like a hosted model), or even traditional on-premise deployments. You can purchase a perpetual license or pay a subscription. It is designed to be a multi-tenant cloud solution, but that doesn’t prevent Acumatica from offering it in a variety of different environments and Acumatica is quite unique in this regard.

Some industry observers, including those that have their own specific definition of what constitutes “true SaaS,” might argue against this approach. While Mint Jutras is seeing a major shift in acceptance of SaaS solutions, our research also proves that there is  continued interest in other delivery options for the access any time, from anywhere advantages of the cloud. But we see a decided decline in interest in traditional, licensed on-premise solutions (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Which deployment methods would you consider today?

Figure 1 AcumaticaSource: Mint Jutras 2011, 2013 and 2014 ERP Solution Studies

Many are simply looking to unburden themselves from the care and feeding of enterprise apps like ERP. They are attracted by lower costs, easier upgrades, less hardware and IT staff and are less worried about a single prescription of how cloud solutions are delivered. They are looking for business partners they can trust and having more choices in how they address these needs can be very attractive.

However, Acumatica does sacrifice some of the advantages of a pure multi-tenant solution through this approach. For those not familiar with the terminology, Mint Jutras uses the following simple definitions:

  • Multi-tenant SaaS: Multiple companies use the same instance of (hosted) software. Configuration settings will vary per company and data is protected from access by other companies (tenants).
  • Single-tenant (or Multi-instance) SaaS: Each company is given its own instance of the (hosted) software.

Those vendors that only support a multi-tenant environment have the luxury of maintaining one single line of code. By not having to worry about multiple instances at different (potentially customized) version levels, they are better positioned to deliver more innovation, faster.

However, at the Partner Summit, Acumatica announced a new Acumatica Grow Program, which leverages the multi-tenant capabilities of its solution within the partner community. FusionRMS for SMB Retail is one example.

Fusion Retail Management System (FusionRMS) is a suite of applications extending the reach of Acumatica to the SMB retail and wholesale distribution markets. Offering added functionality such as point of sale (POS) and warehouse management (WMS), its solutions are seamlessly integrated with Acumatica without effecting core functionality. Now, through the Grow Program, it is also offering multi-tenant SaaS back office accounting supported through Amazon Web Services (AWS).

While this might sacrifice some of the flexibility of choice other Acumatica customers enjoy, Fusion Retail Management manages a single line of code and can pass along savings to its customers. This helps them support clients that otherwise might not be able to afford Acumatica.

Fusion Retail Management not only sells direct, but also other partners bring them small retail clients that might be too small for Acumatica now. This is preferable to simply losing a deal, particularly in knowing they will get them back if the prospect grows. FusionRMS supports these small clients until they grow large enough to justify the purchase or subscription of Acumatica. At that point, FusionRMS turns the client back over to the partner.

A Mobile Framework

The trend towards mobile goes hand-in-hand with cloud, as mobile access is gained through web-enabled services. We are seeing different approaches to mobility in the ERP market these days. Some vendors are adopting a “mobile first” design approach. Any features and functions are being designed to “fit” on the real estate of a tablet or smart phone. Others are taking a “mobile apps” approach where they are releasing multiple, individual purpose-built apps that complement core ERP. Some are building these themselves and others are leaving this development effort to partners. Some are hosting “App stores” where customers can shop. Others simply bundle them into existing software licenses.

Acumatica is taking the approach of providing a mobile development framework, purposely leaving the actual delivery of the mobile apps to the partners in order to provide them more opportunity. But this framework isn’t built for a developer. According to CTO Mike Chtchelkonogov (aka Mike C), “You no longer have to be a developer to target the mobile market. In the past, partners may have needed to hire specialists to create iOS or Android applications, but with Acumatica’s new mobile development framework, any of our partners can do it.”

This is especially important to the Acumatica channel because many partners are business and implementation specialists and not technologists. According to Mike C, the partner [or the customer] can take any part of Acumatica and expose it on the mobile device. So what kind of opportunity are we talking about? That might be in delivering a customized solution through services, or building an app to be sold through Acumatica’s app store.

What About Big Data and Social?

There was not a lot of direct reference to “social” and “big data” at the Acumatica Partner Summit. But that doesn’t mean either is being ignored, only that these trends and concepts are being worked into the product roadmap naturally, not as separate and distinct efforts. In fact many of the new features of its upcoming new release 5.0 indirectly support the goals of a “social” enterprise.

Social can mean different things to different people. It has some intuitive connotations in the world of consumer goods where social sentiment can have a serious impact, both positively and negatively, when shared publicly. But the real impact in any industry, while perhaps not as intuitive, is quite real.

When you take the view that “social” should mean improved collaboration, visibility and connectivity, then you start to understand the connection with the ERP user experience. Much of the development effort that produced the latest release 5.0 has gone into the user experience. Probably the best testament to the result was the fact that several key top executives put their hands on keyboards, or their own mobile devices, and ran their own demos. Not only were these “real” demos (not mock-ups or a series of screen shots in PowerPoint), but no pre-sale consultant or sales engineer was needed.

Simply by putting access to an ERP directly in the hands of high-level decision-makers improves connectivity, which in turn fosters visibility and collaboration.

Another announcement at the Partner Summit reinforced Acumatica’s commitment to another type of connectivity: a deep partnership with Azuqua, a cloud connectivity platform. On stage Azugua demonstrated its recently launched cloud integration service featuring connectivity between a broad range of popular web services (including Salesforce, Office 365 and Hubspot) to Acumatica’s system. Interestingly enough, the integration demonstrated on the main stage was so dead simple that it led to skepticism from industry observers and influencers in the audience. Was it too good to be true? I suspect it is real, but time and partner experience will tell.

As to “big data,” Acumatica was quick to point out its approach was very different from those of ERP giants SAP and Oracle. Instead of building a “big data” platform outside of the ERP system and requiring retrofitting of existing systems, Acumatica is building this kind of capability into its solution. This speaks to speed and ease of handling large volumes of structured data, but downplays (ignores?) the inclusion of massive volumes of unstructured data. It appears this is also something Acumatica might leave to partners and it will take a special kind of partner to deliver on this.

The Convergence of Trends Toward a Goal

If you recall, in our intro, the goal was to have these trends converge around a single common goal of making ERP easier to consume. The better the experience, the more connected the people running the businesses are to ERP and to each other. In fact over the past few years, we’ve observed an increase in the percentage of employees who actually use ERP. Today that percent is about 55%, up from about 20% less than a decade ago. In addition, 62% of survey participants claim top-level executives have direct access to and regularly use ERP. So Acumatica executives are not the only execs in the driver seat when it comes to using ERP. Another 30% indicate these high level execs have at least some access to ERP.

This, combined with expectations raised by the consumerization of IT, is perhaps the catalyst in shifting priorities in terms of ERP evaluations. While fit and functionality was king for many years, it has slipped to number two in the priority of selection criteria. “Ease of use” has taken the number one spot.

But “ease of use” means different things to different people. In fact it means different things to a single individual (Figure 2).

Figure 2: What does ease of use mean? (top 3 priorities)

Figure 2 AcumaticaSource: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study

While many vendors are focusing efforts on “beautiful” software these days, beauty is always subjective. Those using ERP today are more concerned about efficiency and productivity than in a visually appealing user interface. Being a relative new-comer to ERP, Acumatica (founded in 2007) might not have the same depth of features that other more mature solutions have. But the development team seems to be working on a good balance of features and functions, along with better usability and a web platform that helps partners further develop breadth and depth. If the reaction to the main stage demos is any indication, partners and the few customers in attendance at the Partner Summit agree.

Ehrin Dimitry, CEO of AME Corporation, an Acumatica customer said, “I thought I knew what our next steps were until I saw Acumatica 5.0. My wheels are turning!” Customers and partners seemed genuinely excited about this newest release, a clear indication of perceived value.

Summary and Key Takeaways

As a pure cloud solution provider, Acumatica is very well positioned to deliver the benefits of the cloud through a variety of different deployment options. Virtually every partner I spoke with at the Partner Summit was drawn to Acumatica for its technology. Few offer Acumatica exclusively and many of them have experience selling, implementing, servicing or developing other ERP platforms. But that seemed only to strengthen their opinion of and commitment to the Acumatica solution. They like the partner friendliness of a relatively small company that sells exclusively through the channel. They are drawn to cloud computing but like being able to offer choice.

Customers and partners alike were enthusiastic about the latest release and the roadmap forward. Overall Acumatica seems poised to deliver as major trends like cloud, mobile, social and big data start to converge.

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