Survivor. That was the watchword for most of the high-end accounting software vendors during the year 2000. No, they weren’t glued to their television sets all summer long watching people shamelessly pursue a million-dollar payday. They were coping with the post-Y2K industry slowdown, repositioning their products, and fine-tuning their offerings. They were trying to understand the changes that E-business might bring. And, as the holidays approached, they were digesting the implications of Microsoft’s plans to acquire Great Plains Software.
Vendors of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software suites, having enjoyed enormous limelight throughout much of the 1980s and ’90s, have seen a boom in E-commerce devolve into a certain “E-hesitation” on the part of many customers. Organizations are trying to invest in E-commerce capability, but often find themselves paralyzed when trying to decide whether to put a new technical infrastructure in place first and position new Web-enabled applications on top of it, or choose the applications now, in the interest of speed, and retool around them. Adding to that is confusion over which products have been totally redesigned to work on the Web versus those that have simply been tweaked to work with a browser but lack underlying features (such as tight integration with other applications) that are likely to become critical down the road.
ERP players have had to redesign their software, involving a significant investment not only for them, but also for their customers. Timothy Tow, a senior analyst with Gartner, notes, “The well-publicized ERP failures and high cost of implementation have caused problems for all the software vendors in this space. When they were addressing Y2K, they didn’t do a clear ROI analysis on their new projects, which resulted in cost overruns during installation. Many client firms didn’t understand the expense of reconfiguring an entire business around a single package.” Tow says this confusion resulted in a backlash against ERP implementation, and now other vendors may be poised to displace the ERP vendors as E-business gains momentum.
But the resilience, and the resources, of the vendors in this space can’t be underestimated. With large customer bases and armies of developers, they can take several missteps and still, ultimately, get it right. While their attentions risk being diverted by the huge demand for customer relationship management (CRM) and other “customer-facing” applications, accounting functionality remains a core requirement of what they do. For other vendors, it’s all they do. Picking an accounting application has never been easy, but at least the constant activity in this market guarantees innovation and competition. As the new millennium began (for those of you who like to be accurate about these sorts of things), CFO spoke with senior executives of many of the major players in high-end accounting systems. Their analyses follow. The charts provide a wide range of information for comparison on these and other vendors.
Business Is Clicking: AXS-One Inc.
All of the vendors in this space are moving very aggressively to enable E-business, and AXS-One is a perfect example. Formerly Computron, the company renamed itself last October, and put all of its marketing muscle behind e-Cellerator, an integrated suite of E-business applications. Like other major ERP vendors, AXS-One is pitching its ability to enable E-business while also protecting clients’ investments in legacy systems. David Yockelson, a senior vice president at consulting firm Meta Group, in Stamford, Connecticut, points to AXS-One’s new focus on collaborative commerce as indicative of where many major vendors are heading. While the company continues to address back-office needs, it is devoting most of its attention to the information-sharing needs of clients and their partners and customers. That means a strong focus on Web-enabled, networked applications that can filter and disseminate financial and other information to all those who need it. With e-Cellerator accounting for 90 percent of license revenue in the third quarter, it’s clear that Computron’s transformation into AXS-One is not just a branding makeover, but a sign of where accounting and ERP software is going.