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Saturday, November 01, 2014

The Maturing of ERP on the Salesforce Platform

Salesforce.com held its monster user conference, Dreamforce, last month in San Francisco, and there were plenty of new announcements. For example:
  • A new analytics cloud, dubbed Wave, which fills out Salesforce.com's offerings to include native business intelligence and analytical capabilities
  • A new version of the Salesforce1 platform, Lightning, for developing mobile apps
  • An expanded partnership with Microsoft for Windows mobile devices and new integrations with Microsoft Office, Office 365, Power BI, and Excel
But Dreamforce is not just about Salesforce. It's about the Salesforce ecosystem—hundreds of partners building complementary and in many cases completely independent solutions on the Salesforce platform.

For those that follow ERP, this post outlines the latest developments with four ERP providers building on the Salesforce platform: Kenandy, FinancialForce, Rootstock, and AscentERP along with my takeaways from each of them. I'll end with one small caveat for buyers.

Kenandy Goes Up-Market

I first wrote about Kenandy after its introduction on stage at Dreamforce in 2011, and I’ve kept in touch with its management team for regular updates. The big news this year is the success Kenandy has had in selling into large companies.

Exhibit 1 in Kenandy’s march up-market is Big Heart Pet Brands, a distributor of pet food and pet supplies, which was formed by the carve-out of the pet food business from Del Monte Foods earlier this year. Milk Bone, Kibbles, Gravy Train, and 9Lives, are just a few of its well-known brands.

I had an opportunity to interview Dave McLain, the firm’s CIO, who made it clear that this is no two-tier ERP configuration. Apart from a handful of point solutions and an on-premises warehouse management system (Red Prairie), a single instance of Kenandy will be providing all ERP functionality when fully rolled out. With $2 billion in annual revenue, this may well be the largest company running a cloud-only system as its only ERP system.

(If readers have heard of a larger example, please let me know--but before responding, please reread the preceding sentence slowly and note the words “cloud only.”)

Why would McLain trust a young vendor such as Kenandy with such a tall order? First, McLain was attracted to the Salesforce platform and its promise of rapid development. In other words, he was sold on the platform and then looked for an ERP provider that was leveraging it. In my view, it helps that McClain is not your typical CIO. He’s worked in the enterprise software industry, with stints at Aspect Development, back around the turn of the century, and at i2. He is not only comfortable working with a young vendor, but he viewed Kenandy’s youth as an advantage, as he felt he would have more influence over the product roadmap. So far, he’s happy with his choice.

Big Heart Pet Brands is only the first and most visible example of Kenandy’s move into larger companies. In a briefing, Kenandy executives shared with me several large deals they have in implementation and several that are in the pipeline. Although the names are still confidential, they are large and in some cases very large, well-known, global companies.

One point that may keep SAP executives awake at night: some of these prospects are reportedly approaching Kenandy because of a determination to halt further implementation of SAP’s Business Suite in new regions of the world.

My takeaway from Kenandy is that cloud ERP is not just for small and midsize businesses.

FinancialForce Goes Deeper

FinancialForce is another young ERP vendor, founded in 2009 as a joint venture between UNIT4 and Salesforce (UNIT4 is the majority shareholder). I wrote about FinancialForce last year and commented on its acquisition of Vana Workforce and Less Software. These acquisitions expanded FinancialForce from financial systems and professional services automation into HR systems, order processing, inventory control, cost accounting, and functionality for product-based businesses.

This year, in a briefing with FinancialForce executives, I heard about the firm’s work to embed HR activities within operational transactions. Users can give other employees feedback on their performance right within the context of a project in the professional services system, for example. The feedback is then recorded in the HR system so that employee performance data is gathered throughout the year instead of during an annual performance review only. FinancialForce refers to this approach as “Everyday HCM.”

The firm also reports good uptake of the “supply chain management (SCM)” capabilities that it acquired from Less Software, tripling its number of customers for this functionality. As I pointed out last year, the term supply chain management is something of a misnomer. There is no real warehouse management, transportation management, or supply chain planning. Rather, SCM in this context really refers to the detailed tracking of physical and intangible products from supplier, through inventory, to customers.

This can best be seen with the large percentage of deals that Less Software, and now FinancialForce, have done with VARs, resellers, and other tech industry channel partners. FinancialForce can now track and process OEM rebates (a long-standing practice in channel businesses). Product costing allows costs to be accumulated by serial number (specific identification) and can include landed cost (i.e. allocated inbound freight cost). This is a huge need for solution providers that import OEM products. Filling out the needs of today’s channel partners, FinancialForce also has a full professional services automation system, and it supports subscription billing along with management of recurring revenue.

These are not trivial product features. It is a testimony to the rapid development capabilities of the Salesforce platform that FinancialForce has been able to build out these features in such a short time.

Like Kenandy, FinancialForce is also getting into larger deals, although the names are not yet public.

My takeaway from FinancialForce is that in some cases the functionality of these young cloud-only vendors now rivals that of the traditional vendors.

Rootstock Expanding Its Footprint and Presence

The founders of Rootstock have the advantage of having developed a cloud ERP system twice. The firm first developed its manufacturing system in 2008 on the NetSuite platform. In 2010, however, Rootstock disengaged from this partnership and rewrote its ERP system on the Salesforce platform. As a result of the replatforming, Rootstock developed its own customer order management product and partnered with FinancialForce for its accounting systems.

Rootstock scales well to larger companies. It claims to be the largest system on the Salesforce.com platform in terms of the number of objects,pushing the boundaries of what the platform can do. All Salesforce partners, of course, benefit from the scale-out capabilities that Salesforce is building into the platform.

In terms of functionality, Rootstock has good capabilities for purchasing, production engineering, lot and serial tracking, MRP, MPS, and capacity planning, shop floor control, manufacturing costing, and PLM/PDM integration. The system can support multiple companies, multiple divisions, and multiple sites, all within a single tenant on the Salesforce platform. It also announced this year the development of a product configurator, a module where most cloud ERP systems are still relying on third-party solutions.

The build out of functionality is making Rootstock more attractive to larger companies as well as the midsize organizations it has appealed to in the past. In a briefing with Rootstock senior leadership, they pointed to their win at CSG, a provider of print and managed services, and enterprise solutions in Australia and New Zealand. In New Zealand, it is the exclusive distributor for Konica Minolta. When fully deployed, Rootstock will be serving “hundreds” of users at CSG.

Other wins this year include Northeast Lantern, a maker of high quality brass and copper lighting fixtures; Wilshire Coin Mints, a retailer and wholesale distributor of coins for collectors and investors; Proveris Scientific, a manufacturer of test instrumentation for the pharmaceutical industry; Pioneer Motor Bearing, a maker of high performance industrial bearings; Pacer Group, a wire and electrical cable manufacturer; Plumb Sign, a job shop producing signage for businesses across the US; and Oberfield Architectural Precast, a manufacturer of precast concrete and other custom-built precast products.

In another development, Rootstock added some muscle to its advisory board this year with the addition of Jan Baan, the former founder and CEO of Baan Software, Jim Bensman, former president of SAP North America, Bill Happel, former VP of General Motors, and Lee Wylie, former CIO of Gartner.

My takeaway from Rootstock is similar to that for FinancialForce: the functionality gap in some areas is closing between the cloud-only ERP providers and traditional vendors.

AscentERP Raises Its Profile

I was not able to meet with AscentERP during Dreamforce, so I arranged a call after the show with Shaun McInerney, its co-founder and President. McInerney was positively excited about his firm’s latest developments:
  • The launch of Ascent Rental, a native Force.com application for companies that rent or loan out equipment. He’s already seeing interest from current customers in the construction industries. Event organizers and medical equipment rental businesses are also targets.
  • An iTunes app that turns Apple iOS devices (iPod Touch 5th Gen, iPhone 5, and iPad Mini) into true high-speed bar code scanners, through use of a scanner sled available from Honeywell. This plays well with AscentERP’s roots in warehouse data collection and is a key element in the case study I highlight below.
  • Integration with Magento for e-commerce, allowing customers to take orders from the web, fulfill them and push shipment information back to customers. McInerney claims over 15 customers already for this functionality, which was only launched two or three months before Dreamforce.

McInerney reports an increase in new opportunities coming from Salesforce, with about half from outside the US. The system supports multiple currencies and base languages of English and Chinese. Like the other three vendors outlined in this post, AscentERP is also seeing its share of larger deals, which includes several in the range of 200 users, a jump from its typical user count in the past.

In my opinion, AscentERP gets the award for the most inspiring customer story. It put together a short video about its client Bosma Industries, a $55 million non-profit distributor of medical supplies, which also happens to be Indiana’s largest employer of people who are blind or have vision loss. AscentERP worked with Bosma to customize its system and to make it fully accessible to Bosma’s visually impaired workforce. This is where that iTunes app for warehouse data collection comes into play.

The best quote is from Bosma’s Adam Rodenbeck, who says, "If Siri can look at Facebook and help us get around on Twitter, why can't it help get us around the warehouse?"

Click the image below to watch the 3-minute customer story.


My takeaway from AscentERP: don't underestimate the marketing value of being part of the Salesforce ecosystem.

Buyers Should Ensure Adequate Implementation Support

One thing that none of these four vendors mentioned: a lack of new sales opportunities. In fact, they all indicated that they were awash in new prospects. This is in contrast to some of the traditional ERP vendors who periodically call me to check whether I’ve “heard of anyone looking for software.” It’s always a good sign when a vendor can afford to be picky about the opportunities it chases—it lessens the likelihood that the vendor will get into situations where it cannot compete and improves the chances of success.

But the the flip side of all these new deals can lead to problems if vendors are not adequately staffed to support them. Generally speaking, I caution clients to be sure they get adequate consulting help when they are considering these vendors. True, these new cloud-only systems are generally easier to implement, but still, they don’t implement themselves. You don't need system admins or DBAs. But you do need consultants who understand how to configure the system and help you implement your processes within it. In some cases, these vendors may have consulting partners that can assist, but they can be stretched as well. It is not an insurmountable problem, but buyers should be sure they get the help they need to have a successful implementation.

Note: Salesforce paid my travel expenses to attend Dreamforce.

Related Posts

Four Cloud ERP Providers on the Salesforce Platform
Kenandy: A New Cloud ERP Provider Emerges from Stealth Mode

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by Frank Scavo, 11/01/2014 07:11:00 PM | permalink | e-mail this!

 Reader Comments:

Hat tip to Frank for a great roundup of ERP vendors and implementation advice for buyers on the Salesforce Platform.

On the adoption by medical device manufactures; this type of manufacturing can generate far more transactions due to unit serialization and lot control for traceability.

A production order for 5000 often has each unit under both lot and serial control. Often the parent production order is repetitive backflushed through a simple bill of material with 5 or more child items under lot control. Often this generates an additional 5000 more transactions to record each record for as-built traceability. I’m now at 30,000 transactions and (5000 parent + 5000 each of 5 childen).

This brings me to question what is the throughput of the Force.com multitenancy system. Clearly the underlying Oracle database is powerful and trusted by life sciences. However in MTS mode Salesforce, as I understand via an engineering talk at PARC, http://ororke.com/paul/blog/the-multitenant-architecture-of-forcecom/ each Salesforce instance is shared with at least 4000 customers. https://developer.salesforce.com/page/Multi_Tenant_Architecture

As I recall to stop any adverse effects between database tenants, Force.com architecture throttles down CPU usage. Lets assume my implementation takes advantage of the mature ERP platform and is a composite made up of Salesforce CRM plus Rootstock for MRP/ Product plus Financial Force -- and it’s end of quarter -- and even 2000 of the tenants are gunning for the close, how is my implementation going to behave, will my business throughput get throttled?

I bring this up because as Frank pointed out, Rootstock departed the Netsuite based on a similar multitennancy system in 2010 for Force.com. What other than performance would cause such a disruptive change in strategy by Jan Bann. Moreover Salesforce has led the development and sponsored the Apache 2.0 Phoenix project. A SQL layer on top of Hbase (the core database underpinning Hadoop) based on Bigtable, a distributed storage system for database (no worries with scalability or throughput with Google’s core database)
https://blogs.apache.org/phoenix/entry/apache_phoenix_released_next_major project . http://static.googleusercontent.com/media/research.google.com/en/us/archive/bigtable-osdi06.pdf.
Hi Clive, I am not qualified to speak on the throughput of the Salesforce platform. I will say, however, that Jan Baan only became an advisor to Rootstock recently and therefore, he had nothing to do with Rootstock's decision to go with the Salesforce platform.
Thanks Frank,

Interesting are the connections with the past and future of ERP.

George Klaus, after embracing .NET at Epicore, has returned to Pick (UniData) basd at Keyedin. Uses an multidata NoSQL hashed table metadata driven development environment, allowing dynamic schema based development same pattern as new ERP platform software designs from Salesforce.com, Workday. Acumatica on.NET uses same meta data driven cube pattern in memory.

Further the most profitable "ERP" company at this time EPIC from Wisconsin is based on MUMPS https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MUMPS

Salesforce deserves credit for innovating this pattern for ERP. But since profitability now requires web-scale SaaS. Throughput comparables on any choke points are needed for adoption at scale.

Anaplan gives a good schematic overview of the new database pattern

I was reading this post and wanted to share some thoughts on the capabilities of the Force.com platform from a system architect's perspective.

Using Batch Apex for handling large transactions on Force.com platform:
Being able to execute large processes is probably one of the key requirements of any enterprise scale application. This challenge is magnified many-fold when developing on a multi-tenant platform such as Force.com, where various governor limits are enforced to prevent any single process from monopolizing the shared resources. The governor limits around SOQLs, DMLs, CPU-time and heap size seem most relevant in this regard. Given these key constraints the success of any technical approach in addressing this challenge would seem to rely upon the extent to which these large processes can be broken into smaller “logical” processes. Although such smaller processes themselves might not seem useful in the larger context of an application’s workflow, they do serve as building blocks of a much larger “business” process.

Force.com’s batch apex lends itself to this type of approach as it allows for sequential execution of a predefined number of threads. The actual number of threads needed can be derived based on the actual amount of execution. The Iterable interface can then be used to define such an arbitrary scope for a unit of work and Implementing the Database.Stateful interface enables memory sharing across threads and hence easy tracking of processes that are successful, in turn facilitating execution continuity.
Regarding the end of quarter scenario, Salesforce has a very advanced load balancing system in place, not just for transactions but also for tenant allocation. In their 15 year history they have never hit a scenario where an end of quarter processing has impacted their customers. They are very transparent (publicly publishing their uptimes at http://trust.salesforce.com/trust/status/) while processing over 2 billion transactions a day all under 300ms.

Thank you,
Samuel Wood
Samuel, thanks much for the detailed information. For the benefit of other readers, I would note that Sam is VP of Software Engineering at Rootstock. See http://www.rootstock.com/samuel-wood/
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