Monday, March 08, 2004

Baan users flock to SSA road show

Last week, I attended the SSA road show in Newport Beach, CA, to see what progress SSA has been making in assimilating all of its acquisitions over the past two years. Interestingly, a show of hands indicated that about two thirds of the 70 attendees were Baan users. And they came with lots of questions about the future of their investment in Baan products. The team from SSA stressed to the Baan users that support would continue and be strengthened, but it was clear that the Baan acquisition is still being assimilated. Baan had some good products, such as its world class CRM, PDM, and logistics systems. Industry needs more choices, not fewer, and I would like nothing better than to short-list the former Baan products in the future.

My one complaint is SSA's insistence on rebranding all of its acquisitions with generic names. Think of the yellow store-brand canned vegetables in your local supermarket. For example, the former well-known Baan "CAPS Logistics" system is now known as "SSA Logistics and Transportation Management" or something like that--you can see what a strong impression the name made on me. Even worse, the Tier I former EXE EXEeed product line is now known as "SSA Warehouse Management"--a real bell-ringer. But wait--"SSA Warehouse Management" is not just products from the EXE acquisition. It also includes the Warehouse BOSS product that SSA picked up previously from Computer Associates. These are all good products, and it is unfortunate that SSA's marketing group has genericized the names to the point that it is impossible to discern their genealogy. It would be one thing if SSA had rewritten them to a common database schema or code base. But to this point, they are largely the same products that SSA acquired.

Most of the questions in the road show were concerning on-going support, and SSA made a big point of its plans for increasing the value of its maintenance program. The numbers that SSA presented indicate that they are doing a good job of getting customers back on maintenance. Maintenance support doesn't make for great press releases, but it's what customers are willing to pay for if the value is there.

Sarbanes-Oxley compliance and radio frequency identification (RFID) were two other topics that got strong response from the audience. I was surprised at how much interest there was on these points. The presenters indicated that customers have been asking a lot of questions about Sarbanes-Oxley, so SSA bundled together a number of their offerings (e.g. business process mapping, performance reporting) that could be used as part of a compliance initiative and is presenting them as their offering for Sarbanes-Oxley compliance. To me, there is no software silver bullet for compliance, but still users are showing a lot of interest in anything that can make the job easier.

Concerning RFID, a number of Baan customers are in the aerospace and defense sector, so the Department of Defense initiative for RFID is a real concern. Others are suppliers to Walmart or Target, so those mandates are also looming. Fortunately, SSA's acquisition of EXE last year gives SSA some real subject-matter expertise in this area, and I believe this will be a driver for new sales for SSA. If so, SSA will have acquired EXE at exactly the right time.

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