Continuing its focus on service industries, Lawson acquired Account4 Inc., a leading maker of professional services automation (PSA) software in June, and expanded its offerings in this area at year’s end. Privately held for the first 26 years of its existence, the company went public in December. Although its product offerings are as broad as those of most other ERP vendors, Lawson keeps its pitch securely in the finance department’s sweet spot, emphasizing efficient operations and better decision-making rather than razzle-dazzle, enterprise-transforming technology. The company does most of its business in financial services, health care, retail, professional services, public sector, and related vertical markets.
Microsoft Great Plains
Ten months after the acquisition that shook the accounting software world, Great Plains is fast moving from a dominant midmarket accounting software company to a full-fledged ERP force. A partnership with Logility has allowed it to expand into supply-chain management; its purchase of PWA continues to bear fruit in the human resources arena; and, most important, its embrace of .NET and other Microsoft technologies allows for smooth growth, from entry-level applications to enterprise suites as client needs change. That was underscored last year when Microsoft Great Plains introduced Small Business Manager, an integrated suite aimed at small businesses that should provide easy step-up to robust products such as the e-Enterprise accounting applications. In 2002, the company will offer greater global functionality for clients that do business in multiple countries.
Another European company (headquartered in Copenhagen) with big ambitions but little name recognition in the United States, Navision stands out from the crowd in at least one respect: it doesn’t sell direct. Rather, it relies on a network of value-added resellers, a model common among midtier accounting software companies but rare at the high end. Rick Burtt, Navision’s director of business development, says “it’s not the software alone that makes a company stand out, but its partner network, which can tailor the technology to a customer’s needs.” Navision targets small and midsize companies, and has a close working relationship with Microsoft. A partnership with Siebel allows the company to integrate accounting information in its financial applications with Siebel’s CRM and E-commerce offerings.
Don’t expect Oracle to back away from its “we saved billions with our own software” marketing message. Despite criticisms that this claim has been distorted, Steve Miranda, vice president of development for financial applications at the $10.9 billion company, says that this year Oracle will continue to stress ROI and will offer more details about how exactly it’s saving so much money. A key part of that will no doubt be its concept of moving to a “single instance” of its software, allowing it, for example, to stash all manner of multilingual, multicurrency information in a single database, which can vastly simplify information retrieval and analysis. Oracle will also have a lot to say about “Information Out,” a concept that relies on customizable portals to facilitate number crunching and other business-intelligence chores. Miranda says, however, that customization in the big-picture sense, long the bane of both ERP vendors and their customers, will become far less common. “Much of the work we’re doing on the newest version [11i] of our applications,” he says, “is aimed squarely at allowing it to meet customer needs out of the box.”
It’s fitting that a graph of PeopleSoft’s stock price during the past three years resembles a huge grin, because the company has plenty to smile about. Ailing in 1999, today PeopleSoft is faring far better thanks to cost controls and focused growth, including some smart acquisitions and a push into global markets. (Some investors, though, are raising questions about its relationship with its R&D subsidiary.) Ram Gupta, the company’s executive vice president of products and technology, says that PeopleSoft differentiates itself in part by offering “forward-looking financials” that embrace customer and supplier data and that embed analytic capabilities to foster greater business intelligence. While agreeing with most of his counterparts that core financial applications are mature, he says customers should recall how many early efforts to create E-commerce portals failed because “the assumption was that if you captured a transaction, the rest was easy. Now we know that if core applications aren’t truly Web-enabled, the full vision of E-business won’t materialize.”
“Beyond Budgeting” is one new technology initiative at SAP, which recently enhanced its mySAP Financials product family to help customers move beyond annual cycles and fixed budgets and toward continuous, inclusive planning and more-flexible decision-making. The company acquired EBPP (electronic bill presentment and payment) technology from PayNet International AG at the end of 2001 as part of a broader strategy to extend financial processes beyond the walls of a customer’s enterprise. Kraig Haberer, director of product marketing for mySAP Financials, says the company is putting significant resources into “management cockpit” applications such as balanced scorecard and corporate performance management. “We see a movement back to basics on the part of our customers,” he says. “Fiscal strategy drives everything today, so financial information systems are getting lots of attention.”