Epicor

How are you paying for ERP? Here’s how others are.

Back in May I posted some commentary and a warning not to confuse how you buy ERP with how you deploy it. There is much written today about deployment options in general and cloud computing in particular. Although how you pay for ERP is different from the way it is deployed, the two are definitely intertwined because you will either be paying for software or you will be paying for a service or both. This service is not to be confused with the consulting and implementation services you may contract for. This is either software as a service (SaaS) or hosting services, which may also be combined with Application Managed Services (AMS), where the company hosting the software also manages the applications and perhaps even the business processes the software is used to model (e.g. Accounts Payable or Accounts Receivable). But how are companies generally paying for ERP these days?

Just to recap:

Enterprise application software is typically not bought and sold; it is instead licensed for use. It may be licensed to be used by a company, on a particular computer or by other criteria such as number of users. This is similar to consumer software. Buying it once doesn’t mean you can duplicate it and share it with all your friends, or even sometimes use it on all your own computers. For enterprise application software how you pay for that license and the term of the license can vary tremendously.

A software license can be perpetual. Early findings from our Mint Jutras 2011 ERP survey indicate that 76% of responding companies have perpetual licenses. That means you pay for it once and can use the enterprise application forever. Maybe. This used to be the case, but more and more often today a perpetual license agreement might have a stipulation that you have the right to use that software only for as long as you continue to pay maintenance to the software vendor that provides the product. In fact, if you are buying ERP today, expect this requirement to pay a recurring maintenance fee in order to continue to use the software. In our survey 62% of those with perpetual licenses have this requirement.

A maintenance agreement, which is a recurring cost, typically provides both technical support and certain innovations. Some of those innovations will be included in your maintenance fee and others may still need to be purchased. Maintenance is typically priced as a percentage of the software license and the going rate at list price today is around 22% for ERP. While anecdotal evidence tells us that most companies actually pay less than this (closer to 16%-18%) this is largely due to specially negotiated rates and older rates that have not necessarily escalated at the same pace of increased list prices. But if you are purchasing a new ERP solution, expect this to be the starting point for negotiation.

But perpetual licenses are not the only type offered. Instead your license might be for a specific period of time.  This is generally referred to as a “term” license. At the end of the term, you must either renew the license or discontinue use of the software. In fact the application might have the equivalent of a kill switch in it that will disable it and prevent you from continuing to use it at the end of the term.  This type of license is less common and in fact only 7% of our survey respondents indicated this was how they paid for their ERP. Effectively managing this type of license requires some license management code to be embedded in the solution and this was not always done, particularly in older legacy software. If it was not, and you don’t renew, you are in breach of contract and you might find some software auditors on your doorstep.

Subscription-based pricing is another alternative, particularly for those who are looking to expense their investment as an operating expense rather than a capital expense. About 15% of survey respondents pay by subscription. You might pay a nominal startup fee, but you avoid the big front-loaded expense of a software license. Unless this is coupled with a SaaS deployment, this does not necessarily address the up-front cost or the on-going expense of the hardware. Only 28% of the subscriptions paid by our survey respondents were SaaS-based.  Running in a hosted environment where the supporting hardware costs are embedded in the subscription fees may indeed address these capital costs and allow you to account for payment completely as an operating expense.

The findings noted come from the 2011 Mint Jutras ERP Solution study. Look for more data to be shared in the upcoming weeks. If you are in any way involved in the selection, management, maintenance or use of ERP in your company, please participate in our survey. By doing so, you will receive the full executive summary and also have access for inquiry to Mint Jutras for a 6 month period. Your contact info is entirely optional but we will need your email address to deliver your report and an access code for inquiry. Mint Jutras makes it a policy to never share contact info under any circumstances.

To participate click here: 2011 Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study Survey.

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ERP: Join me in a stroll down memory lane

I’ve been “watching” ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) for more than three decades now. You might even say I’ve been watching it before it even existed, before it emerged on the market, when it was still a twinkle in the eye of software companies. You see, back in the 1970’s most of the software industry looked with disdain on “packaged” software. Everything was pretty much home-grown or custom developed back then. After all, how in the world could you possibly write software that would really meet the needs of a wide range of companies? Back then of course, all companies were “different” and therefore software had to be developed to meet those unique needs. Right?

The answer even back then was really, “No, of course not.” Each and every company was not really that different. Every for-profit company took orders, delivered goods or services and paid their bills. Manufacturers bought components or ingredients and made things.  Distributors moved goods. Retailers procured, stocked and sold product. Even non-profits needed to balance their books and produce financial statements.  All but the very smallest companies had payroll to meet and taxes to pay. Yet business processes were/are not identical from company to company and each had/has their own nuances. Back in the 1970’s god forbid, if a software company dared to question how things were done, or worse, attempt to change policy or procedure. If something had to change, it was definitely the software. And back then, that meant mucking around deep down in the source code. And it was even worse if the file or database structures had to change.

When you look at it from this perspective you realize just how far we have come. Back 30 years ago, data entry clerks (dare I say even key punch operators?) and data processing (the predecessors to IT) departments were the only people who actually “touched” software. The only thing management touched was the mountain of paper produced as output and that paper was green bar, continuous forms that might or might not be “burst” into individual pages. Thirty years might seem like a life-time to those in Generation X, Y or the new iY. But to Baby Boomers who entered the job market during the 1960’s and 1970’s it seems like just yesterday.

ERP has of course evolved from MRP which originally stood for Material Requirements Planning, then expanded to include more than materials and became Manufacturing Resource Planning. Somewhere along the way there was an MRP II, but at this point in history the difference “II” added doesn’t much matter anymore. Then as the footprint of the software grew to encompass other aspects of the business, MRP merged with accounting applications and morphed into ERP. It broke free of the boundaries implied by Material and Manufacturing, to be an enterprise application for all types of industries. Some struggle to define ERP today. I don’t. I define it as an integrated suite of modules that forms the transactional and operational system of record of the business. But the boundaries of ERP have steadily grown to include a broader and deeper footprint, to the point where ERP is not really confined by any boundaries.

Back in the 1970’s, nobody would have conceived how far we could go in the next 30+ years, just as we couldn’t conceive of having the same (or more) processing power clipped to our waistbands  as that which used to require raised floor, climate-controlled rooms.  So where are we going now? All the rage of course is:

  • Mobility: accessing enterprise data from those ubiquitous mobile devices
  • Cloud computing: operating ERP in a hosted environment, public or private clouds, buying Software as a Service (SaaS) and connecting traditional on-premise solutions to those in the cloud
  • Two-tier ERP strategies: does it make sense for a multi-divisional company  to standardize on one ERP, or to have one (or more) operational ERP’s coexisting with a corporate, administrative ERP?
  • Mashing up data from ERP with other applications and even external applications like Google Maps, Outlook and anything you can reach through a url.
  • Processing huge volumes of data in seconds or even nanoseconds

But the real bottom line in implementing ERP is just that… the bottom line. How does it impact cost and efficiency? What business benefits does it bring? And is anyone measuring? This is the subject of my recently launched survey.

If you have ERP, you have a chance to weigh in on how important these trends are to you and then see a summary of the results and engage in the discussion. Even if you haven’t invested in ERP yet, jump in. We want to hear about what you are doing now, what’s holding you back and what are your plans?

You might be asking yourself, “What’s in it for me?” I will share a copy of the Executive Summary of the findings with all participants and I am also offering access to Mint Jutras for questions and inquiry regarding ERP for 6 months after you take the survey. While contact info is optional, I will need your name and email address to deliver this to you. Don’t worry, this exercise is not a marketing ploy asking for your permission to share your contact info. It’s really just about the research, so don’t be afraid to have your voice heard.

Please click on our Survey link to participate.

A note to solution providers: Feel free to take the survey but ONLY IF you answer questions honestly as a user (not a provider) of ERP solutions. Or, if you prefer, pass this along to your customers. For more information on how you might participate (see and benefit from the results) please contact me at cindy@mintjutras.com.

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My initial take on Epicor, Activant and Apax Partners

Yesterday Epicor announced it had agreed to be acquired by Apax Partners. While I am not personally familiar with Apax, its website tells me it is an independent global private equity advisory firm and holding company for the worldwide Apax partnership which is the lead investment adviser to the most recent Apax Funds. Apax Funds buy both majority and minority stakes in large companies that have strong, established market positions and the potential to expand. It has a strong heritage of technology investment.
At the same time, it was announced that Apax would also acquire Activant Solutions and merge the two companies. The combined entity will operate under the name of Epicor Software Corporation and become a privately held company. Of course it is too early to tell exactly how the merger will be executed, but Epicor itself has a history of acquisition and is the only ERP company that has grown through acquisition and successfully executed a product convergence/consolidation strategy. Epicor 9, released in December 2009, is built on Epicor Internet Component Environment (ICE) 2.0, a second-generation Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) and Web 2.0 technologies and is generally recognized for its visionary architecture. But just as importantly, Epicor 9 merges capabilities of nine different products (hence the “9” in the name).  If Epicor remains true to past strategies, I would expect it to treat the Activant products similarly.
But then again….maybe not. Activant serves some very specific vertical industries including:
·         automotive aftermarket
·         farm-home
·         hardware and home centers
·         heavy duty truck and trailer
·         lawn, garden and nursery
·         lumber and building materials
·         painting and decorating
·         pharmacy retail
·         specialty retail
·         wholesale/distribution
While Epicor also serves retail and distribution sectors, Epicor also has products which complement ERP in support of a retail environment, and has never been that “niche” oriented.  It remains to be seen whether these industries are best served by separate product lines or whether Epicor will decide to continue the convergence and turn Epicor 9 into Epicor 10, or maybe even Epicor 11 or 12.
For now it is safe to assume the transaction will be good for Epicor and allow it to fuel more aggressive growth in the market. As for Activant, customers should take comfort in knowing that Epicor’s strategy has been very customer-centric with a motto of “Protect, Extend and Converge.” Whether convergence is in the future or not, I have a lot of confidence in the resultant management team preserving the part about protect and extend.
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Epicor ERP customer gets great mileage from change

Many industry observers focus on failed ERP implementations. Of course while understanding the possible pitfalls has some value in warning other companies to avoid them, I prefer to highlight the successes and the potential business benefits of doing it right. Epicor Software is one of the ERP solution providers I follow closely and was pleased to see this article by Matt Danforth (Modern Machine Shop) on Bley LLC, an Epicor ERP customer, a small international contract manufacturer that serves a “diverse array of markets, including heavy transportation, mining, oil and gas, alternative energy, aerospace and defense.”
It is apparent from the article that Bley has effectively used ERP to “streamline operations and boost efficiency, productivity and operational visibility”, but it is also clear that the ERP solution alone can’t produce those results. With no disrespect intended, I am sure there are other Epicor ERP implementations that have not been equally successful. In fact Bley was one of these until manager Krishna Rajagopal took over. Up until then, manual processes were still largely in place in spite of the ERP solution being available.
So what happened when Mr. Rajagopal took over? From the article it is clear that customizing the solution for a better fit and integrating it with other software applications (HMI/SCADA, Quality Management, CAD, etc.) were two of the major differences. Epicor ERP’s service-oriented architecture, modular structure and the ability to tailor the solution without major surgery were all factors.
But it seems that Mr. Rajagopal also took advantage of being the “new guy” to make things happen as well. Any company can either get a lot of mileage out of change or it can get mired in the change. Seems like Bley, LLC is taking full advantage of change and its ERP solution, and they aren’t done yet. I hope I continue to hear more great things about their progress. In the meantime, take a moment to read the full story.
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