When I think of Deltek, I think projects. But there are lots of different kinds of projects, both internal and external. In its own words, “Deltek provides software solutions specifically designed to meet the needs of project-driven businesses.” If all you need is software to manage the projects themselves, there is a plethora of software products to choose from – as many different options as there are different kinds of projects. It’s one of the most fragmented software categories in the market today, with hundreds of companies and products from which to choose. But when it comes to software that manages the business that is built around projects, that’s an entirely different story. Now we’re not only talking about ERP, but also a special kind of ERP… and possibly much more. And there are far fewer solutions on the market that are purpose-built to manage these project-based businesses. Deltek is not only the proud owner of not one, but several of these solutions.
In fact over the years, through organic development and acquisition, Deltek has collected a dizzying array of products: specialized enterprise solutions for government contractors and a wide range of professional services organizations including architecture and engineering (A&E) firms, management consultants, advertising, PR and marketing agencies and more. The one thing all these segments have in common is this: They are all people-centric, providing services, largely delivered through projects. Beyond this point of commonality, they can be very different. They don’t go after the same type of business; their customers are worlds apart; some are heavily regulated; others operate under few constraints. Some are small; others are large. Some manage projects that last days or weeks and others span multiple years. A general-purpose kind of solution just doesn’t work well here.
Other vendors that do offer general-purpose ERP solutions often make acquisitions in an attempt to grab market share. They buy out competitors and wind up with similar, often competing products. Few have been successful in rationalizing portfolios, and most promise never to “sunset” a product, but seldom do all products get equal attention. Some will be declared “strategic” while others slip quietly into maintenance mode.
But the combination of Deltek’s development and acquisitions has led it into a variety of different markets. Deltek Costpoint serves government contractors. Deltek Vision serves first and foremost A&E, but also has customers in management consulting. The Axium acquisition, which brought Deltek Ajera to the portfolio also serves A&E but allows Deltek to come down market from where Vision competes. Deltek Maconomy targets Professional Services organizations. While there might be some overlap between the targets of each of these product lines, rationalizing to a single product would add a level of complexity that really doesn’t serve the customer well.
There might be some opportunity to merge Vision and Ajera, because they both target the same industry, just at different ends of the market. But Deltek is smart enough to know it would have to do so very cautiously. Not only are Ajera customers quite loyal to the product, but being small companies, most of the leaders within these companies also contribute to revenue generation. Migrating to a new solution might very well be at the expense of generating direct revenue, leaving it low on the list of priorities.
So this leaves Deltek with a rather difficult challenge of providing continued innovation across a broad portfolio. But there are different ways of delivering innovation. Of course Deltek needs to add new features to the core of its products. Often this is driven by customer request.
But innovation of enterprise software is an interesting mix of push and pull. Customers push for new features and enhancements either because their business has changed or because they have discovered functional gaps or missing features, or because processes are clumsy and inefficient.
On the other side of the same coin you also see solution providers who want to be trendsetters. They incorporate new technology and offer new functionality and then try to pull their customers along. In some cases the vendors have better foresight than the customers who might be too busy fighting fires in the trenches to look up and recognize the possibilities of the brave new digital world.
Deltek has been doing both. It’s not enough to just cover the basics today. If you look at its full complement of products, you see that Deltek has been expanding the footprint of its solutions for quite some time now. You’ll see that Costpoint has been extended with a human resources (HR) solution and planning and budgeting and more. Vision has robust customer relationship management (CRM). People Planner extends Maconomy with resource planning and Traffic LIVE (acquired from Sohnar) was added as a front-end to help creative marketing communications agencies seamlessly create estimates and quotes, schedule resources, capture time worked, bill clients, and track tasks at a glance. And this is by no means a complete list. But as you can see, in the past these were most likely to be developed (or acquired) for specific product lines.
But that started to change earlier this year when it acquired HRSmart, a leading provider of global, unified talent management solutions with over 1,000 customers around the world. This acquisition both broadened and deepened Deltek’s portfolio of Human Capital Management (HCM) solutions by delivering cutting-edge, cloud-based talent management capabilities that are essential to project- and people-driven businesses…essential but often overlooked. This is not your run-of-the-mill HR system, but an integrated suite that supports talent acquisition, performance and compensation management, as well as learning and career development.
The goal of this acquisition was not to (only) satisfy Costpoint or Vision or Maconomy customer requirements. It was about bringing added value to all Deltek customers. Deltek Talent Management will be delivered as an external component, but with seamless integration back to all these products. This represents a shift in overall company/product strategy that we are also now seeing applied to other new modules even with initiatives that had previously been underway.
Other add-ons being developed include Deltek CRM, Deltek Resource Planning and a new user experience dubbed iAccess. iAccess will supplant previous user interface efforts such as Maconomy Navigator. The plan is to have a unified Deltek front office solution that can front-end the different back office (ERP) solutions. These new products will be introduced with this new experience (UX) and then gradually this new UX will find its way into each of the back office solutions. During this transition period customers will have a choice of the old and the new UX, with the old user interface eventually phased out.
This kind of approach is smart. It leverages development efforts across a range of products and should ultimately allow Deltek to deliver more innovation across its entire portfolio. The fact that these new modules/components are cloud-based is also significant. Deltek’s transition to the cloud seems to be an unintentionally well-kept secret. Even some of it customers haven’t “heard” that all three of its major product lines (Costpoint, Vision and Maconomy) have all made the transition into the cloud and are offered as multi-tenant SaaS solutions (note the applications are multi-tenant but each customer has its own instance of the data base, and Deltek does support a single instance installation exceptionally, on customer request). Multi-tenant SaaS solutions have the most potential for delivering more innovation, faster and these efforts are also reinforced by Deltek embracing rapid application (agile) development methodologies of late.
Why is this new approach so important?
I have been tracking priority of selection criteria for the better part of 10 years. For many years “fit and functionality” was, by far, the top selection criterion. The Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study, and other prior year studies asked participants to prioritize individual selection criteria (Table 1) on a scale of 1 to 5. And over a period of the last 5 years, we observed a change.
Table 1: Selection Criteria
While fit and functionality still had the highest percentage of participant votes for “must have/most important,” ease of use took the top spot in terms of overall priority. Having all the functionality in the world is meaningless if you can’t figure out how to use it.
But the results were so close we wondered what would be the priority if respondents had to choose. So in 2015 we changed the format of the question, again listing the different criteria, but this time consolidating to 10 criteria and forcing the participants to stack rank them from 1 (least important) to 10 (most important). We substituted some of the prior criteria for new factors which had risen in importance in prior research and replaced “ease of use” with “user experience.” The overall results are clear. The top three criteria are all related to features and functionality.
Table 2: Selection Criteria Priorities Stack Ranked from 1 to 10
User experience is still in the top half, but when forced to choose, it fell in importance. Most are not willing to sacrifice functionality for what some vendors call “beautiful software” today. But “ease of use” means different things to different people, particularly across generational boundaries.
Figure 1: Defining Ease of Use by Generation (top 3 factors)
Our survey respondents were asked to select the top three most important aspects of “ease of use.” While baby boomers and Gen Xers define it first and foremost in terms of efficiencies, millennials are far more likely to simply equate it to the visual appeal of the user interface (Figure 1). While baby boomers equate efficiency to intuitive navigation, millennials take intuitive navigation for granted. They have never used software that required a user manual. To them, a visually appealing user interface, which was at the very bottom of the priorities for baby boomers and GenXers, is most important. To their credit, while “beautiful software” is most important to ease of use, beauty is not the most important factor in selecting solutions.
There is an important lesson to be learned here. Most companies have representatives of all generations using ERP, which further validates Deltek’s efforts in re-architecting the way users engage with its products.
All told Deltek seems to be moving in the right direction to satisfy the growing requirements of project-based businesses and it is doing so much more aggressively than in the past. All goods news for customers and prospects alike.