Yet the ERP-or-TMS decision is rarely clear-cut. While ERP offerings have been improving, so too have the integration and interfacing abilities of traditional TMSs, so many treasurers spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get the best of both worlds.
An ERP-TMS combination is currently running at Alcatel-Lucent, a €18.3 billion Franco-US telecoms-equipment company. “There are certain things that can be done by both TMS and ERP with a treasury module — they include cash management, cash accounting and in-house banking,” notes Baudouin Courau, Alcatel-Lucent’s Paris-based group treasurer. “It’s difficult to say whether one is better than the other in these common areas.”
With room for both, Courau has central treasury running a TMS for cash management (global cash pooling, in-house banking and the like), transaction management and risk management. Meanwhile, the business units use ERP for basic treasury work, like uploading bank statements and cash accounting, handing over any complex transactions — such as foreign-exchange hedging — to central treasury to run through its TMS.
Keeping a Foothold
That’s good news for TMSs. As Maggie Scarborough, corporate banking research manager of Financial Insights, a research firm owned by IDC, sees it, “SAP still remains the über system, but it’s not the day-to-day tool. That’s why TMSs survive and maintain their relevance.”
While SAP and other software giants have been edging onto their turf, TMS vendors have been holding their own, competing not just in terms of products but also size, thanks to a flurry of M&A. In recent years, Wall Street Systems snapped up Trema (which had bought Alterna before that), Thomson bought Sellkirk and SunGard bought Integrity. More recently, SunGard announced plans in January to buy various parts of rival XRT, including its high-end product lines TWS and Globe$ and a portfolio of customers. (See “The Big Get Bigger” at the end of the article.)
This consolidation brought many of the vendors a broad range of products, for a range of budgets, that tend to be more flexible and easier to install than ERP systems. What’s more, the migration of TMSs to software-as-a-service (SaaS) products — in which treasurers can rent licensed software as and when it is needed over the web — has also increased the niche software’s reputation for user-friendliness, not to mention cost-effectiveness, says Scarborough of Financial Insights. She puts the five-year compound annual growth rate of packaged treasury management technology at 9.2%, reaching a forecasted $722m worldwide by 2010. Much of that growth will be driven by SaaS technology, which she predicts will grow at a rate of nearly 40%. (See “Big Time,” June 2007.) “[The TMS] vendors have been smart about using licensed technology to accommodate [treasury's] budget,” she notes.
Eventually the lines between TMS and ERP could blur, making it easier for treasurers to fill the gaps in their treasury technology. Indeed, SAP and SunGard’s announcement in the spring that they were forming a banking-technology alliance could be “a harbinger of things to come,” wrote Albert Pang, an analyst with IT research firm IDC in a report published in June. How much that could ease treasurers’ technology gaps remains to be seen. For now, they should sit back and enjoy the fight.
Peter Williams and Graham Buck are freelancers based in London.