2017 ERP News in Review
What happened in the ERP market in 2017
As 2017 was drawing to a close, I was curious to see if I could find an overview of what happened in the ERP space during the year. I found hundreds of blog posts, articles, reports, etc. and even just scrolling through all of these would take a long time, so I decided to rely on vendors’ websites. I expected to find concise news much quicker, but this was an unrealistic expectation (I’ll explain why below).
While I was doing all this, I was also thinking about how difficult it would be for an ERP buyer to find this information—especially someone who may not know the market and its players very well and who does not have dozens of hours to spend on this type of research.
That’s when I decided to put all the news I could find together in one file and categorize the information by topic. The analyst in me also had the idea to evaluate vendors based not only on how active they were in providing news updates, but also on how accessible that news information is on their websites. I decided to create a methodology to evaluate vendors in the ERP space based on their activity and accessibility related to relevant news topics during 2017, the results of which follow in this report.
What is included, what isn’t, and why
I focused on news related to ERP research and development, like the launch of new solutions, and the release of new versions and features. To differentiate between major developments and less important ones, I created two categories: one for new products and modules, and another one for new versions and enhancements of existing products.
Since acquisitions do not really fit in either of the two categories, I created a separate category for them. I did the same for partnerships and for anything that may help customers optimize their investment in ERP. Finally, the miscellaneous category included anything that may be important but does not belong in the other categories.
I did not include the following types of news:
- customer wins
- awards, analyst recognition, etc.
- event participation
- executive promotion or hiring
The main reason for not including these sorts of news in my analysis is that I don’t believe they have a direct impact on the decision-making process of an ERP buyer. For example, there are so many award programs in existence that it’s hard to tell what purpose they serve. I found that 80% of the 50+ vendors I researched received at least one prize or award over the past year, which shows that this is not necessarily a great differentiator between ERP vendors.
I performed my analysis on ERP vendor news that fit into my six categories (new products/modules, new versions/enhancements, acquisitions, partnerships, investment optimization, and miscellaneous), and evaluated each vendor based on two criteria, level of activity related to news production, and the ease of finding this information.
How I evaluated vendors
In order to evaluate how active ERP vendors were in 2017, I looked beyond the number of news items and also considered how diversified they were. In other words, between two vendors with similar number of news items, I considered the one that covered more of the six categories mentioned above to be more active.
Ability to Communicate
I gave higher scores to vendors who make it easy for readers to find news and lower scores to those who create a lot of content that is mixed with news and cannot be differentiated.
Since I expect criticism and objections to this method of scoring, especially from vendors who may not “look good” in this section, consider this:
“Nearly 73% of online consumers get frustrated with websites when content (e.g. offers, ads, promotions) appears that has nothing to do with their interests.”
(Janrain & Harris Interactive)
“9 out of 10 B2B buyers say online content has a moderate to major effect on purchasing decisions.”
I also spoke with a PR and communications expert, Jacqueline Carter (Founder & CEO of Foxhound PR), who provided valuable insight on why communications matter for ERP vendors:
“We have seen feature-rich software fail to achieve the same success as more simplistic software with a greater ease-of-use and with better communication strategies time and time again. If you take a look at the websites of some of the best-selling ERP software, what do you notice? They have video resources, images, and easy-to-understand text on their website. Any potential customer will understand what their software does and how it can help them. They don’t assume any sort of in-depth knowledge on the part of the user.”
The list below displays the ERP vendors that made at least one announcement on their websites in 2017. I did not include in my analysis the vendors that had no recent news on their websites but I will list them here for interest’s sake: AscentERP, BatchMaster, Cincom, Deacom, Exactly, Jobscope, Kenandy, MISys, and Visibility. This does not mean that these vendors did nothing in 2017—it may only mean that they just aren't good at communicating.
When looking at both activity and transparency, you'll notice that there aren't so many vendors that had high scores on both. It seems that the larger the vendor, the more difficult it gets to find relevant information on their websites.
What ERP vendors focused on in 2017
The word cloud below shows the most frequent words used in the titles of all the news I surveyed and it reflects pretty well the priorities of the vendors. Despite a lot of buzz, AI and IoT are hardly visible, while the cloud seems to have been the main focus for ERP vendors during 2017.
Except for cloud-only providers like Plex or NetSuite, most ERP vendors are trying to release new cloud solutions or improve their recently launched cloud offering. While cloud ERP is adopted by more and more companies, the growth of the market is relatively constant and not very steep.
As shown in the graph below, it is estimated that the year-over-year growth of the cloud ERP market until 2020 will be somewhere around 10%. Since the market is growing slowly and cloud ERP isn’t mainstream yet, we can expect to see the cloud as the main investment for ERP vendors in 2018.
Cloud enterprise resource planning software revenue worldwide from 2016 to 2022 (in billions of US dollars)
Other areas of focus in 2017 for ERP software vendors were analytics, mobile, and industry specific features (mostly for manufacturing and distribution). Partnerships and geographical expansion have been a focus for most medium-sized vendors, such as NetSuite, IFS, Deltek, etc.
When it comes to investments to help customers improve ERP deployment, maintenance, and adoption, only about a dozen vendors announced improvements in this category. Some of them were large vendors like SAP or Microsoft, but other companies with this focus included Aptean, IQMS, and SYSPRO.
Communicating “real” news
Leaving aside buzzword and marketing language that everyone uses, I noticed that quite a few vendors tend to mix news with no news. “No news” items are usually articles about technology, business, or sometimes something promotional, but never about something vendors released or announced. This makes some vendors look busier than they are but also makes it hard for potential customers to find the real news. For example, abas had almost 100 news posts in 2017, but only 4 were about new releases, partnerships, etc.
To make things even more complicated, some vendors do not offer the option to filter posts by category or product. In some cases, there were no ERP news items in the news section so I had to look at blogs to find news releases for products, like Oracle JDE or Microsoft NAV. Large companies have both news pages and blogs—for instance Oracle’s blog directory lists 224 blogs (not blog posts), all hosted by Oracle and written by Oracle experts or consultants.
The tendency to share too little or too much information is a major challenge for PR and communications:
“I think the biggest problem software vendors face is distilling what their software can do for their customers. Often, we see too much or too little information or information is in the wrong place. On vendor websites, the navigation is often unoptimized or the content is placed willy-nilly without any sort of A/B testing. As many software engineers are aware, the user experience is important. Arguably, UX is more important than the software itself.”
Vendors to watch
Obviously, the vendors with high scores for both activity and communication in my evaluation are not only very active but also better at communicating than their peers. They made product development a priority and also understood that making information about new developments easily accessible is important to prospects and existing customers.
- Aptean covered most of the news categories and focused a lot on integrating ERP with solutions like Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), Supply Chain Management (SCM), or Enterprise Asset Management (EAM). This is very important for manufacturers that need more than core ERP.
- Deltek continues to focus on what it does best: ERP for professional services and the government with a few acquisitions and a new solution for professional services.
- Epicor covered most categories and a lot of its product portfolio for manufacturers and distributors in its news for 2017. The company also invested in analytics and acquired a content management vendor during 2017.
- IFS focused a lot on field service through several acquisitions and by providing advanced technologies like IoT or mixed reality. The company also significantly expanded its partnership network.
- NetSuite also focused a lot on expanding its geographical presence while also providing new country-specific features for EMA, the UK, and the Nordic countries. Another major advancement was the availability of the Oracle Blockchain Cloud Service.
- QAD’s most important announcement was the launch of the QAD Enterprise Platform, which aims at delivering custom functionality without the pain of customization. QAD also focused on SCM and on functionality for 24 vertical manufacturing segments.
- SYSPRO invested in strategic partnerships, mobile apps, and features for distribution. It is one of the few small vendors that invested in learning for customers.
In addition, some of the other vendors that caught my attention were:
- Acumatica—for a relatively small vendor, investing in a manufacturing edition is quite an investment and it’s always good to see new alternatives to existing offerings for manufacturers.
- Distribution One improved its analytics offering for distributors, provided connectivity with Amazon, and announced D1 University for basic and advanced training geared to its customers.
- ECi’s most interesting announcement was that it will be combined with three other ERP solutions from Exact: Macola, JobBOSS and MAX. This expands the company’s manufacturing offering but it remains to be seen whether it will keep all of its products or try to merge them into one offering.
- FinancialForce improved its offering for professional services companies, which is its main market. Since the solution is built on the Salesforce platform, the company was able to take advantage of Einstein AI, test it internally for almost a year, and include it in its latest release.
- IQMS delivered two new solutions based on the Oracle Cloud platform: IQMS Cloud IQ, a solution that combines its ERP and MES offerings, and IQMS Web BI, which can be used by all IQMS customers, no matter what delivery model they use for ERP.
- Plex already has a robust manufacturing solution, which is why the company focused in 2017 on supply chain, analytics, and advanced features for manufacturing, like IoT analytics for the shop floor.
- Priority is one of the few smaller vendors who made an acquisition in 2017. In an effort to expand its presence in North America, the company recently acquired New Jersey-based Acclivity, provider of small business accounting solutions.
- Unit4 is another major player in the ERP for professional services market. After acquiring Assistance Software, Unit4 incorporated it into a new solution, Unit4 PSA Suite, which is built on the Microsoft Dynamics 365 platform. The company also released Wanda, an enterprise digital assistant.
How to use this report
First, you should make your own analysis depending on your needs. For instance, if you’re a professional services manager you may not be interested in a new manufacturing solution. Similarly, if your company is based in North America you may not care about expansion in Europe, and so on.
The file containing all the news, grouped by categories, is available here. Feel free to reuse it, add or remove categories, recategorize, etc. The file also includes links to all the news I analyzed for this report and links to the news pages or blogs for each vendor.
Second, I recommend that you consider other sources of information. Here are a few ERP bloggers and analysts who write regularly about this market:
Cindy Jutras https://twitter.com/erp_cindyjutras
Jon Reed https://twitter.com/jonerp
Frank Scavo https://twitter.com/fscavo
You should also consider looking at a longer timeframe to evaluate how active an ERP vendor is. Most vendors provide archives going back one or two years, sometimes more. Just because they weren’t active in 2017 doesn’t mean that they don’t ever do much. On the other hand, if there is no real news about a product or a vendor for 2 years or more, that is definitely not a good sign.
Finally, if you work for a software vendor, this article may help you improve the way you communicate. As an avid consumer of content about software, I completely agree with Jacqueline’s point bellow:
“Even when talking to CTOs and IT managers, there is a benefit to leaving the jargon at the door. It’s important to know when to say “our software boosts productivity” versus “our cloud-based ERP software product helps SMEs address supply chain issues.” In advertising, the former is more useful. In some communication, the latter may be preferable. Context is Key.”