Archive for the ‘erp’ category

Building trust

March 27, 2007

Lawsuit

As most business solutions savy people know, Oracle sued SAP a week ago. The accusations are serious, and can result in serious consequences if found true.

This will not help Oracle in their struggles to get a hold of the SME market. In fact, Oracle, SAP and Microsoft are already having big trouble getting the trust they need to get any large piece of this market. None of these players speak their customers language in the sales process. All of them have large-scale legal issues that are out in the open. And all of them are big, even huge companies.

So, since when did big become bad?

Truth is, big isn’t bad at all. But for a small business it will always feel better talking to a vendor with strong precense in the local market/vincinity than talking to a small sales subsidiary of a big faceless corporation. And when the big corporation is a fighter suing its competitors, compassion may rise but trust doesn’t. As for the biggies under fire like SAP and Microsoft (in the EU courts among others), trust aren’t exactly soaring.

Oracle is suing SAP over theft of intellectual property, specifically the theft of support documents. I understand that it’s important to protect the investments in such intellectual property, but seriously – keeping support materials in the open is good for customers. This goes for all software, including ERP and business solutions.

What customers will see is big companies fighting, over and over again. All at the same time as smaller vendors with strong local presence and strong software and service offerings talk to customers about how to improve their businesses.

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Desperation marketing

March 22, 2007

Horrific

Dennis Howlett is ranting about Sage’s latest marketing trick. TalkToSage looks like an effort to start a conversation with customers but alas, it is nothing of that sort. Although you have to give Sage your contact details, the only thing you can expect in return is “invaluable free business guides” (and a call from a Sage sales rep, I imagine).

To top it all off, they approach this using a consumer-space marketing strategy. Sign up and you’re in a price draw of £500 worth of M&S coupons.

I’m not sure, but my guess is that M&S coupons have little or nothing to do with how to run a successful business or with business software. My guess is that what we’re talking about is Marks & Spencer department store coupons being offered as a carrot.

Repeat after me: Businesses are not afraid of paying for a good service. Using a consumer-space marketing strategy will not build credibility in the business market. Instead, it might ruin it.

Nobody will trust your ability to provide top-notch business guides just because you’re a business solutions vendor. Especially when it’s for free, and the only sales pitch is that you can win coupons for something totally unrelated to your business. That is not enough to gain credibility when it comes to giving sound business advice beyond the scope of the actual product. It doesn’t really help that the “advice” is being teared to pieces, either.

The TalkToSage initiative could have been so very different. Just have a look at what Microsoft Business Solutions is doing and you’ll understand what I mean. Here in Sweden we’ve got a chain of HiFi stores that are using the sales pitch “bad sound kills good music”. I always liked the frankness and honesty of that slogan, and to paraphrase: “bad marketing kills good business”.

Microsoft goes fox hunting

March 21, 2007

FoxPro

It caught my attention that Microsoft have abandoned Visual FoxPro. However, they are not denying it ever existed. (Sorry, but I just can’t get over the project green thing). They’re also releasing some of the sourcecode under its shared source initiative. Support will continue through 2015.

There are many ERP packages based on FoxPro out there, the most well known probably being Sage Pro. Sage have removed all references to FoxPro from their website, but I bet there’s lots of customers still running the software out there.

Don’t get me wrong, it was about time this product got killed. But there’s lots of homebrewed “ERP” systems out there based on it, as well as large products such as Sage Pro. There’s also a huge developer and consultancy community around this technology. This is going to be a big challenge for a lot of different people.

Update: Mamut is also based on FoxPro. No word on their website how this will affect them, though.

The grass is greener…

March 20, 2007

Green Grass

Microsoft is abandoning Project Green, which effectively makes it the largest, most ambitious piece of Vaporware in computer history. The merger of Axapta, Great Plains, Navision and Solomon was the threat vision that Microsoft pushed to ERP ISV:s a few years ago. I remember participating at a “Microsoft Certified Partner” meeting with one of my previous employers, listening to their vision of project green. It was beautifully described as four lines (one for each product), entering a cloud out of which a beautiful green line emerged.

Now they’re trying to rewrite history, saying that this never was the intention.

This gets me upset, for the simple reason that I bought it at the time. However, thanks to some smart people that found it worthwhile to teach me a thing or two, I realized the vaporware factor in project green a long time ago.

But what about the developers? What about the dealers? And what about the customers? The one’s that built their business upon a false promise of a new platform (yes, I’m talking about the MBF)?

Updated: Changed the MBF link to the real PDC PowerPoint presentation (which I loved at the time, by the way…) instead of Google’s cached HTML version.

Communities for business solutions customers

March 19, 2007

Euan Semple over at The Obvious? had this to say about business and social networks:

(If you don’t know who Euan Semple is, find out. He’s been into social computing for a long time, and when he speaks you better listen).

A key differentiator for businesses in the future will be their ability to attract high quality online networks of interesting and engaged users of their product or service and then delivering access to those networks to their new customers.

This is what I was talking about in my prevous post about communities in business. What I didn’t realize though, is that the ERP user communities are pretty well developed when compared to other businesses. The user groups associated with ERP vendors are way ahead of the user communities found (or not found) in other industries.

In his great book on branding, Zag, Marty Neumeier shows that building a community around your customers increase brand loyalty, and how this can be applied to an ordinary wine-bar. This is exactly what the user groups in ERP is all about, and they’ve been around for a long time now! When it comes to communities for users of business software, this is an absolute minimum of what an ERP vendor has to provide. I say absolute minimum because it’s time to go further than these simple discussion-clubs called user groups and create something truly innovative.

Who will be serious about mobile business solutions?

March 16, 2007

Somebody probably said too much about the rumored GooglePhone yesterday. The mobile phone market is getting more and more interesting every day now. Apple announced the iPhone, Samsung is pushing devices out the door as if there’s no tomorrow, Nokia is… well, Nokia. Not very big in the US, but here in Europe they rule.

But what about business solutions? I mean, mobile business solutions? Apple for sure doesn’t even mention them, and they’ve announced nothing in this regard. Samsung seem to be thinking “Mobile Business Solutions = Windows Mobile”. Windows Mobile doesn’t have very much in store for the business users, though. Reading your e-mail and syncronizing your contacts represent a very limited set of business use-cases. We can know nothing of what Google have in store, but their track-record for business solutions is very poor.

In fact, HansaWorld is the only company that have a complete out-of-the-box mobile solution for businesses, and it has been getting some attention from Nokia a while ago. Cingular (“The new AT&T”) got excited about it too.

If you’re a serious about entering the business market for mobile devices with some new piece of hardware, you have to provide a business solution with it. At a very minimum this means that your device

  • must integrate tightly into your ERP/CRM backend
  • must have a live multi-user calendar that allow users to handle not only their own calendar data, but also others
  • must connect to a corporate address book that is live and online, so that corporate contacts are always available and stored centrally
  • The HansaWorld mobile solution is an integral part of the ERP/CRM system, which means you can get reports to your device live, do data entry (creating quotations or invoices for instance) live and find that one address in your 50.000+ contacts address register within a second (or add it if you don’t have it already). If you loose your device, all you need to do is buying a new one, download the client from the web and login to your system again. The corporate data, the customer list, your tasks and calendar data won’t find its way to your competitors regardless who finds the device between the seats in the movie theatre.

    So why am I making this to be about the devices, and not the software? Because it is. The device manufacturers (and the carriers) need to understand what their stuff should be able to do for their customers.

    But of course this is about software, too. Going into this market without the understanding that business users need access to all of these things from all kinds of devices will make you fail, for instance.

    With this in mind, what do you think GooglePhone will do for business users? And, is Microsoft really in it to win (via Robert Scoble)?

    Lawson going (back) into ASP market

    March 13, 2007

    This just in from Mike Leaño. Lawson is heading back into the ASP game (back in the days before the merger, this was a hot thing for Intentia), this time around in a partnership with IBM. For customers this means not having to deal with the plethora of servers required for the Lawson (and IBM) solutions. Will they succeed this time around? I doubt it. Customers are absolutely interested in hosted solutions, but seems more susceptible to SaaS solutions than the traditional ASP. Going forward, that’s the place you’ll want to be in.

    In the end however, it’ll all be about their ability to sell this to customers. That can’t be done in the same ways as with in-house installations, and have been a major pitfall for many vendors in the past.