Yesterday (June 6, 2012) Francisco Partners announced the pending acquisition of Plex Systems, one of only a very few SaaS-only ERP solution providers and the one that offers the deepest and broadest offering for manufacturers. If you look at Francisco Partners’ website you see the company describes who it is and what it does as follows: “Francisco Partners (FP) provides transformational capital to technology companies facing strategic or operational inflection points.”
It is pretty clear that SaaS ERP is at one of those strategic inflection points. While a short 5 years ago only about 10% of manufacturers would even consider a SaaS ERP solution, my research indicates that percentage had grown to 45% in 2011 and I expect to see another jump this year. While in the past I have called ERP the last bastion of resistance to SaaS, that resistance is fading and more and more ERP vendors are jumping on the bandwagon, which only increases the acceptance and the hype. But Plex is not following that trend; it is leading the way.
Unlike many other ERP solution providers that are new to SaaS, Plex has been offering SaaS ERP (exclusively) to manufacturers for the past 12 years. For years, deals were often won largely because of functionality and in spite of being SaaS. More recently SaaS has also been a key selling point. I would agree with Petri Oksanen, a principal at Francisco Partners who is quoted as saying, “We believe that Plex Systems has the potential to lead the transition to cloud ERP for manufacturers, and that this will be as transformative as the adoption of cloud solutions has been to sales, marketing, and human capital management.”
As a result of this acquisition, Francisco Partners will own 100% of all existing shares of Plex. This is also a divestiture of shares by Apax Partners, which happens to have recently acquired Epicor and Activant and merged the two companies as Epicor Software. Mark Symonds, CEO of Plex called the sale of Apax shares “a natural course of events.” Apax had invested for six years and this is a logical exit strategy for them. However, unlike the Apax/Epicor/Activant deal, this acquisition is not a mash up of multiple solutions or solution providers.
Which means few, if any, strategic and operational changes for Plex. That is good news for employees and customers, both of which are extraordinarily loyal and engaged. Plex was recognized by the Detroit Free Press as one of the top workplaces in Michigan in 2011. I believe at least one of the reasons customers remain happy is because of the relatively instant gratification they get from Plex’s approach to rapid application development and opt-in enhancements. Unlike the traditional on-premise approach where customers request enhancements, which get put into 12-18 month planning/development cycles (and then those same customers often delay upgrading for another year), Plex updates software frequently, sometimes on a daily basis.
Mark indicates Plex will largely continue along the same path it has been on for the past several years, but Francisco Partners will bring added resources and possible relationships. This might open doors to Systems Integrators that might have remained closed to a company of Plex’s size and I have to think it might also attract new channel partners. Plex will continue to serve the automotive, aerospace and defense, food and beverage and electronics industries and will also continue to seek to stretch the boundaries of those sectors to expand incrementally.
Plex and Francisco Partners see the market entering into a period of increasing replacement cycles. My research indicates one in four companies surveyed are planning to purchase a new ERP within the next three years and another one (in four) are still undecided. Of those planning a purchase, three out of five will be replacements, while one will be a new purchase for the entire enterprise and one will be a purchase for a new site not currently supported by ERP. Clearly there is lots of opportunity in the niche Francisco Partners calls “Manufacturing ERP.”