Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Latest word on the street concerning MAPICS. I'm hearing from reliable sources about some interesting developments concerning MAPICS, following its acquisition of competitor Frontstep last year. At the time of the acquisition, I was skeptical of the ability of MAPICS to support such a wide variety of products: MAPICS XA (written for the IBM iSeries, a.k.a. AS/400), Point.Man (UNIX/Oracle), its Syteline ERP system acquired with Frontstep, plus some secondary products that both MAPICS and Frontstep had acquired, such as the Distribution Architects warehouse management product. The Syteline product itself includes the newly release V7 (completely redeveloped for Microsoft .NET) as well as earlier versions (written on Progress database for Microsoft or UNIX). That's a pretty wide variety.

Although I am still concerned about the ability of MAPICS to support so many products and platforms, it appears that the company at least has a plan. As I noted in my April 19 post, a large installed base is a competitive advantage in the currently weak market for new license sales. And MAPICS, now having over 5,000 customers with 10,000 installed sites, lays claim to one of the largest installed base populations of any enterprise system vendor. The issue will be how to leverage that installed base into new business. With that goal in mind, it appears that MAPICS is taking the following actions:

  1. MAPICS plans to develop a set of common complementary products that will be interfaced or integrated across all of its core systems. For example, interfaces from certain products from the Frontstep acquisition may be built to facilitate implementation by MAPICS XA clients. Or, interfaces from certain products within the MAPICS family may be built to facilitate implementation by existing Frontstep clients. If my vote counts, I would suggest a good candidate would be the MAPICS advanced planning and scheduling (APS) product, formerly known as ThruPut, one of the few APS systems that are based on the Theory of Constraints approach to scheduling known as drum-buffer-rope.

  2. MAPICS plans to continue support for older versions of Syteline on the Progress database. This will be a huge relief to the Syteline user base, most of whom are still running older versions and may not appreciate being forced to upgrade to Microsoft .NET. In this market, MAPICS can ill-afford to alienate its customers, and this is a wise move.

  3. MAPICS is hoping to use the strength of its Frontstep User group to build a stronger user community among all its users. It will strongly support gatherings of all its users, which it will need as an audience to sell its common product extensions.

In some ways, MAPICS appears to be adopting a similar strategy to that of SSA GT, which is also creating a large installed base by acquiring weaker competitors. SSA GT is also known to be planning to offer common complementary products to all of them. As I noted last week, such complementary products do not need to be "best of breed." They just need to be "good enough" to keep existing customers from leaving the fold. But SSA is different from MAPICS in that most of its acquisitions have been on a single infrastructure platform: IBM. With MAPICS, the challenge will be in supporting multiple platforms: IBM iSeries, Microsoft .NET, and Oracle/Unix.

The other challenge, which MAPICS doesn't seem to recognize, is the name "MAPICS" itself. MAPICS is clearly a brand that screams "IBM." For those of us old enough to remember, the MAPICS system was originally an IBM product from the 1980s, one of the first real MRP II systems for the mid-range computing platform. In the 1990s, IBM sold MAPICS to Marcam, which later spun it off as its own company, where it remains today. But today MAPICS (the company) is staking a good part of its future on Microsoft, and to me at least, it is constantly going to have to explain to people like me that it is no longer just in IBM's camp. As much as I hate the constant name changes in the enterprise systems marketplace, in this case a name change might really be warranted.

Saturday, April 19, 2003

SSA GT rumored to be leading contender for Baan

I stumbled across two articles this morning, out of the UK, that indicate SSA Global Technologies is in the lead to purchase Baan (see my preceding post). The articles point out that, earlier this month, SSA GT raised $75m from General Atlantic Partners LLC specifically for new acquisitions. So, there may be some truth to the rumor.

If true, this would be an interesting play for SSA, which would be adding Baan's extensive product line in ERP, business intelligence, CRM, product life-cycle management (PLM), and supply chain management (SCM) to its already diverse collection of systems. Over the past two years, SSA GT has been cornering the market for systems built on IBM's iSeries (formerly AS/400) hardware platform, starting with its own BPCS ERP system, plus its acquisition of Computer Associates' Interbiz division last year (picking up PRMS, KBM, Warehouse BOSS, and a slew of other products), and its acquisition last year of Infinium's well-regarded financial and HR applications (see my post on Oct. 31, 2002). Adding Baan to the mix would introduce an extensive set of enterprise class systems built for Unix and Microsoft platforms. Baan's industry focus on aerospace & defense (Boeing is a showcase account), automotive, electronics, and industrial machinery would complement and strengthen SSA's focus on most of the same industries, although A&D would be a new vertical. And interestingly, another of SSA's legacy ERP products, ManMan, was originally created as a spin-off from an older version of Baan (Triton). The acquisition creates a possible upgrade path to the current version of Baan for those ManMan clients.

If SSA is successful, it will be a remarkable story. In the late 1990's, SSA was pretty much considered down and out for the count. But it emerged from bankruptcy in 2000 as SSA Global Technologies, a private company with a significant established installed base in a few key verticals, such as pharmaceutical manufacturing and industrial products. Over the next two years, it became clear that SSA was adopting a strategy of growth by acquisition. With major new customer wins for most vendors being few and far between, SSA's strategy to build a large installed customer base through acquisitions has a certain appeal. For example, SAP is relatively healthy today compared to some of its competitors, largely on the strength of sales and services to its installed base. So, if you don't have a large installed base, you can try to buy one--especially in today's market, where established vendors such as Baan may be purchased on the cheap.

As most enterprise system vendors continue to struggle, SSA GT is quietly building a portfolio of products and an installed base it hopes it can leverage for a sustainable revenue stream. This will be easier if it can develop new products that are "good enough" to leverage across multiple systems--new products such as business intelligence, common financials, and CRM. Such "horizontal" offerings don't need to be best-of-breed. They just need to be good enough to extend the life of the customer's installed system, to spare them the pain of migrating to a whole new platform. In today's risk adverse atmosphere toward large IT projects, such an approach does make sense.

Datamonitor and Yahoo UK have more details on this latest rumor.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Invensys looking to divest Baan

Invensys, the $2B London-based industrial conglomerate, has announced that it is looking to divest its holdings in a number of its businesses, including Baan. Baan, once an up-and-coming contender to SAP, fell onto hard times in the late 1990s and was acquired by Invensys in 2001 as part of its strategy to provide enterprise systems "from the plant floor to the boardroom." But Invensys itself is facing a slump in demand and needs to find ways to increase cash. The move creates additional uncertainty for the Baan installed base. Baan's announcing its intentions prior to having a deal in place certainly didn't help sooth the concerns of users. Unfortunately, good choices for ERP from financially stable vendors are becoming fewer and fewer.

As a side note, AMR is reporting that the Invensys Protean ERP product for the process industries and the Wonderware MES are not part of the divestiture plan.

Computerworld has some observations from customers and analysts on Baan's situation.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Microsoft sees enterprise applications as key to future growth. BusinessWeek has a good overview of Microsoft's plans to establish itself as a dominant play in enterprise applications, such as ERP and CRM, for small and mid-size businesses. I wrote previously about the problems Microsoft will face in executing this strategy, especially in terms of competing against its current ISV partners and creating channel conflict among its resellers. BusinessWeek points out that Microsoft intends to train the 24,000 resellers of its system software to sell its applications also. I don't understand how this can fail to result in channel conflict and dissatisfaction among those value-added resellers (VARs) that really understand how to sell and implement enterprise systems.

Monday, April 07, 2003

On a personal note. On Wednesday evening, April 16, I'll be speaking at the joint dinner meeting of APICS Orange County and ASQ on the subject of "Enterprise Systems in an FDA-Regulated Environment." Here's the abstract.

Manufacturing firms in all industries use computer systems, such as ERP, Product Data Management, Supply Chain Management, and Quality Management to meet requirements for managing resources and ensuring product quality. But companies in regulated industries, such as the life sciences (pharmaceuticals, biotech, medical devices, etc.), must comply with additional governmental requirements to ensure the integrity and trustworthiness of such systems.

In this fast-moving presentation, Frank Scavo will outline how FDA regulations affect the use of computer systems in the design, manufacture, and distribution of medical devices, drugs, and biologic products. Specifically:
  1. How FDA regulations for Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and Quality Systems affect use of computer applications such as such as ERP, Supply Chain Management, and Product Data Management

  2. What FDA expects you to do to validate a computer system "for its intended use"

  3. New FDA draft guidance regarding use of electronic records and electronic signatures (21 CFR Part 11)

Reservations are due by noon, April 14, and may be made by calling APICS Orange County at (949) 863-7625. Or, contact me if you would like more information.

Saturday, April 05, 2003

PeopleSoft is tired of being the best kept secret in supply chain management. PeopleSoft is well-known as an ERP developer with strong roots in the HR function. But what is not well known is that when it comes to supply chain management (SCM) applications, PeopleSoft has more installs than Manugistics, a big name in SCM. Last year, AMR released statistics that show PeopleSoft with 7% of the SCM installed base, following SAP (26%), in-house/custom (23%), Oracle (10%), and i2 (9%). Manugistics has 5%. Interestingly, the category "other" has 38%, showing that the supply chain management category is still a highly fragmented market and ripe for a financially sound vendor such as PeopleSoft to increase market share.

Recognizing this opportunity, PeopleSoft lately has been pushing its significant capabilities in SCM. Last year, PeopleSoft hired Patrick Quirk out of i2, to serve as VP and GM of PeopleSoft's SCM division. This year, the release of PeopleSoft 8.8 is slated to include increased functionality for supply chain planning and better integration with the rest of the enterprise suite. This latter point is important because for too long PeopleSoft has allowed its SCM modules, which it picked up years ago in its acquisitions of Red Pepper and Distinction, to stand apart from its core system. In Version 8.8, these modules are now completely rewritten in PeopleSoft's development toolset, PeopleTools. It is also being reported--and a local PeopleSoft sales manager confirms--that PeopleSoft is hiring over 100 new salespeople. Expect to see a good part of these feet on the street to be hunting for SCM deals.

Manufacturing Systems has more on PeopleSoft's renewed focus on SCM.