Plex Systems

Mint Jutras Launches Annual ERP Survey

Participate to Receive Research Results on ERP Status and Performance

We have recently launched a comprehensive survey to support our annual Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Solution Study. As of this morning we have collected 337 responses, but we intend to get that number up to about 1000 over the next few weeks. The study investigates goals and challenges, preferences and trends of ERP. If you are using ERP today or contemplating a purchase, please participate in our survey to help us benchmark performance of the average implementation today, as well as World Class implementations. We will share the results to help you determine if you are getting the most value out of your investment.

Many believe the ERP market to be saturated today, but Mint Jutras puts adoption rate somewhere between 60% and 80%, depending on the industry and size of company. Based on preliminary survey results we expect buying activity to increase for both new and replacement purchases. And we’re also seeing some interesting trends in ERP selection priority. While fit and function have topped the list for years, early respondents ranked it #4 after ease of use, the flexibility to adapt to changing business needs and integration technology and capabilities.

Here at Mint Jutras we feel there is too much focus today on ERP failures. Yes ERP is a significant undertaking and not without risk, but those who do it right realize even more significant benefits, measured as cost savings and performance improvements. ERP has become a necessary infrastructure for doing business today. In order to achieve a competitive advantage you need to be taking full advantage of a broad range of features and functions, supported by enabling technology. Don’t put your head in the sand and ignore the possibilities available through web-enablement, cloud deployments and mobile devices. Don’t allow yourself to be buried by ‘big data’.

All knowledgeable participants are welcome to take the survey.

ERP solution providers interested in survey results contact Lisa Lincoln (lisa@mintjutras.com).

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Plex Systems Announces Pending Acquisition by Francisco Partners

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.”

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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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When customers have a voice: 3 solution providers who listen well

You probably all have friends out there that send you jokes and other amusing (or not) trivia by email. Some will be selective. Some will not… sort of like two of my cousin who seems to send me everything that comes into her Inbox. The problem with these kind of distribution lists is that there is no way to unsubscribe without hurting someone’s feelings. So the delete button gets a lot of use on my keyboard.
But for the ones that are selective, sometimes there is some useful information. Like just this morning I learned that “a paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax. For this reason, it is extremely popular among comedians and satirists.” So the first thing I did was forward it to my friend who is also a stand-up comedian. I know he is always looking for material.
But apart from the obvious value to my comic friend, I did find some of these paraprosdokians applicable to the art of developing software solutions. I say “art” purposely. While developing these solutions may be (computer) science, the process of deciding on a product roadmap is far less objective.
For example:
” To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.”
This is what happens when the developers (I use the term loosely) make all the product decisions while never venturing out into the real world.
The corollary… “The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas!”
This is what happens when the developers make all the product decisions while never venturing out of their own space at all.
The result, when the first two are ignored… “You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.”
So the lesson to be learned and applied to the art of developing the roadmap of an enterprise business system is pretty simple:  Listen to your customers. There are 3 developers of enterprise business systems that come immediately to mind here (caveat – I don’t mean to say of course that there are no other solution providers with a particular focus on the customer):
Plex Systems:  You might have heard me say this before, but the reason Plex began offering a SaaS deployment model for ERP long before it was “hot” was because Plex’s founder was an advocate and a pioneer of rapid application development and he was looking for a way to deliver new enhancements at an equally rapid pace. Last year I attended Tom Mackey’s (Plex’s EVP of Sales) worldwide sales meeting. As I watched one of the Plex developers demo something the team was in the process of developing specifically for a large customer and as I learned how long it took the team to create the enhancement (all “customizations” developed by Plex are productized as opt-in features) it struck me that they had gotten this far in the time it might have taken other development teams to tell the sales team why they couldn’t or shouldn’t do it. As this realization dawned on me I heard their head of development say that his team didn’t develop any functionality speculatively. All features and functions were developed by request of a customer or a prospect.
Because Plex was developing features and functions so rapidly there was a time when they were having difficulty keeping up with the documentation. The customers brought this to the attention of management at the Plex user conference a couple years back, but they also brought a solution. Why not have the customers using these enhancements contribute to the documentation, wiki-style? Because these customers were so actively engaged with the company and the development process, this worked out quite well.
Now, there is one downside to this approach. You can’t enter a brand new market this way. But you can expand the boundaries of the markets that you already play in. And that is exactly what Plex has done. Early on, based on its proximity to Detroit, its business was largely in the automotive market. But as it began to expand beyond the state of Michigan, it found many of the features and functions required by other industries were either already built in or very close. For example the product already satisfied the requirements of compliance and traceability in automotive and these were easily adapted to packaged foods. And so on….
Sage Software: Over the past decade, much of Sage’s growth has been by acquisition. However, the second half of 2010 saw a resurgence in organic growth. This has been as a result of a combination of growth by acquiring new customers with an expanded range of offers and increasing share of customer spend through support and cross-selling. In 2010 Sage added 250,000 new customers, half of them here in North America. Now of course, not all of these were ERP customers, but enterprise business systems dominated. And there was also significant growth in spend from existing customers, largely through increased web offerings and a rapidly growing set of connected services – web-based and mobile services that connect to existing products.
Much of this approach resulted from an aggressive campaign to visit and listen to existing customers, which has been a primary focus of the management team. While a new focus, Sage has seen it paying dividends. For example, Sage has seen a growing interest from ERP customers in payment services. By satisfying this need, Sage also benefits since by adding these payment services, it can nearly double customer spend.
Syspro is the third enterprise business system provider that comes to mind when I think of close customer relationships. Syspro reports some of the highest customer retention rates in the industry and largely attributes them to personal one-to-one relationships with its customers, with a heavy emphasis on “personal.” Perhaps it is the South African heritage of the company, but execs like Joey Benedretti (president of Syspro North America) take any issue with a customer very personally. Just go out to their website and search on “awards” and you will see a plethora of nominations and wins. Probably the most telling of these awards in terms of customer focus is the Stevie Award. SYSPRO 6.1, the newest release of SYSPRO ERP software, was presented with a People’s Choice Stevie Award for Favorite New End User Software Product at the 2010 American Business Awards last June. SYSPRO 6.1 included over 1,500 new customer-requested features and functions plus ease-of-use enhancements including dashboards, workflow services and process modeling and a new user interface that combines personalization and power-tailoring options.
All three of these solution providers develop a target with purpose and customer focus, listening to the voices of their customers which provide the perfect canopy to float development efforts.
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Plex Systems grows while others stall

I’ve been watching Plex Systems now for about 5 years. It is one of the bigger small ERP solution providers. Not being one of “the big guys” you might not have heard of them. But if you are a manufacturing company in search of an ERP solution, the company is one you might want to get to know – that is if you are either in active search for or are at least willing to consider SaaS ERP. Because that is all they offer. Unlike some of the new entrants into the SaaS ERP market, “as a service” is the only way Plex delivers its solution. But also unlike these new entrants, Plex has been serving up SaaS ERP for more than 10 years.
How and why they began offering a SaaS deployment model for ERP long before it was “hot” is an interesting aside. Plex’s founder didn’t go looking for SaaS. He was an advocate and a pioneer of rapid application development and he was looking for a way to deliver new enhancements at an equally rapid pace. SaaS was his answer. But SaaS presented an obstacle to selling in its early days, particularly in selling ERP. When I was at Aberdeen and first started following the SaaS ERP market I called ERP “the last bastion of resistance” to SaaS and openly questioned whether it was a chicken or egg kind of problem. Were companies unwilling to consider SaaS ERP because there weren’t many options back then or were there not many options because people weren’t willing to consider it?
That’s a moot point today because the barriers are starting to break down and there are more options to choose from. But interestingly enough, one of the reasons software vendors were unwilling to offer SaaS models was because of the subscription-based pricing that now seems so appealing to both software suppliers and consumers of software. In an era when budgets were cut and credit was tight, accounting for the purchase as an operating expense instead of a capital expense was (and still is) very appealing.
However, making a move from selling on-premise solutions to SaaS has some immediate impact on fiscal reporting. When you sell an on-premise license, you get a bunch of money up front. The on-going maintenance is of course a recurring revenue stream, but that nice chunk up front was pretty hard to give up and if the software supplier gave up too much of that too quickly, revenues would also take a hit. If you were a public company that could very well be a hit you couldn’t afford to take.
You might think that Plex System dodged that bullet by offering a SaaS solution throughout the last 10 years. But in reality, the company didn’t always price their solution as SaaS. In the early days, prospects bought Plex in spite of its being SaaS, not because of it. In order to counter this and remove one obstacle, Plex priced it just like an on-premise solution. In fact it was quite a creative answer to a problem, but it did leave money on the table. That revenue leakage was something they knew they would eventually have to plug up. And they did. Several years ago they made the switch to more traditional (for SaaS) subscription-based pricing but they were smart enough to do it while they were (and are) still a private company and didn’t have Wall Street breathing down their necks.
They not only survived and thrived through that transition, but they are now very actively growing. During a year when most ERP solution providers struggled with a downturn during the first half of the year (some started to see growth in the second half), Plex saw substantial growth. They not only added 54 new employees (they now have 175 so the percentage growth is even more impressive) but they grew revenues by 27% and software sales subscriptions by 26%.
How did they do that? While they may still be a relatively small ERP solution provider, their solution is anything BUT small. I lost count of the number of modules they offered long ago – suffice to say it is a lot and quite complete. It also dives deeper into the shop floor than the typical ERP solution and they have particular strength in automotive. Not surprising because in their early days much of their selling was done locally in and around Auburn Hills, Michigan.  But today their strength pushes well beyond automotive to food processing, medical devices, aerospace/defense, industrial and consumer products. Part of the reason for the impressive footprint is the approach to rapid application development that drove them to SaaS in the first place.
The other significant factor is their very engaged installed base of customers. Enhancement of the product is driven entirely by customer and prospect requests and innovation is delivered every day. So in one way, everything is customized. But in another way, nothing is customized, because all enhancements are added to the product in such a way that the customer opts in to turning them on.
Mark Symonds, CEO of Plex Systems sees this growth continuing through 2011, with specific opportunity arising within the food-and-beverage industry because of the new federal food safety laws. Compliance and traceability has been part of the Plex DNA from the beginning and should position the company well in this new era of requirements and regulations.
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