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ERP Survey: Users Aren't Happy

An Epicor study reveals users are frustrated with inaccessible, inflexible ERP. Here's what incumbents Epicor, Infor, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP are doing about it.

The majority of companies running ERP systems rate them as "basic" or "adequate," according to a just-released survey sponsored by the ERP vendor Epicor. What users want, according to the study, are more flexible and accessible ERP apps that will enable many employees to access information via smartphones and tablets.

It's no revelation that many incumbent ERP systems are used only by a few power users who can deal with wonky, dated screens from within the corporate network. But for the record, only 25% of the 1,509 respondents to Epicor's survey, which was conducted by the independent firm Redshift Research, had access to ERP via smartphones, and only 21% said they have access via tablets.

What's on the short list for future ERP implementations? The five "most important consideration[s] for future ERP implementations," as ranked by survey respondents, are:

  1. Fast time to value
  2. Simplicity for all users
  3. Easy collaboration with customers, suppliers, and employees
  4. Mobile access for all employees
  5. A choice of on-premises, cloud, or hybrid deployment approaches

[Want more on Epicor 10? Read Epicor Overhauls ERP For Cloud, Mobility.]

Epicor was quick to explain how its own Epicor 10 release, launched this year, meets many of these sought-after characteristics. "We re-architected [Epicor 10] to make it a lot easier to deploy and run on any device, and we added social enterprise features to make ERP work for people who want to collaborate and monitor what's going on," Erik Johnson, Epicor's vice president of technical strategy, said in a phone interview with InformationWeek.

ERP is great for top-down process control, but social features help people cope with exceptions and be more agile, Johnson said. "The need for social features is more acute with ERP because it cuts across all departments. Much as vendors have tried with attachments, email threads are too difficult to tie to data. CEOs don't always get social, but if you put it in the product, a community will eventually emerge."

Selected findings from Epicor's 2014 Global ERP Survey.
Selected findings from Epicor's 2014 Global ERP Survey.

Of course, Epicor is not alone in joining collaboration with ERP. Infor introduced its Ming.le social app in 2013, the same year Microsoft started infusing its Dynamics ERP and CRM apps with social functionality gained through the acquisition of Yammer. ERP incumbents Oracle and SAP had previously added social and collaborative options through Oracle Fusion ERP and the Jam collaboration system that emerged from SAP's acquisition of SuccessFactors and its Cubetree system.

ERP vendors have also introduced wave upon wave of mobile apps, some native, some browser-based, some process-specific, and others broad-based. Understanding the importance of mobile support, even Microsoft has broken down and offered iOS and Android apps in addition to support for Windows Mobile apps.

With Epicor 10, the vendor has moved away from purpose-specific apps, favoring instead self-service web dashboards and customizable data-entry forms.

"We think the right strategy for ERP is to make it easy for users to surface the data and the transactions that they want to see," said Johnson. "They can click into the transactions and do the business tasks that they need to perform."

There are purists on both extremes of today's deployment debate, with 20% of respondents stuck on on-premises exclusively and another 20% preferring cloud-based ERP, but 44% say they prefer "a combination" (23%) or "a choice" (21%) of both approaches. Most ERP vendors now offer a choice of on-premises, private cloud, and public cloud services, though Infor, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP offer only selected ERP systems as public cloud services. Epicor 10 supports all three deployment models on a single code base, according to Johnson.

"Non-manufacturing companies are definitely more biased toward the cloud," he said, acknowledging that that's where Epicor goes up against NetSuite and, in some cases, Workday. "Where you also see demand for cloud increasing is at the bottom of the market, where you see small shops that don't want to run infrastructure, and at the top of the market, where multinationals are buying plants and companies and want to get them up and running in the cloud." In the latter scenario, it's a two-step ERP deployment with corporate most likely running SAP.

"The grand middle" tends toward on-premises or hybrid deployments because "they're used to buying on capex terms, they have infrastructure and IT in place, and they have a ton of integrations," said Johnson.

Cloud-based ERP has yet to really move beyond the midmarket, with the vast majority of ERP deployments still being on-premises. Workday and NetSuite have arguably had the most success in scaling up multi-tenant, public cloud ERP, but even these two companies have barely cracked the Fortune 500 and Global 2000 with core financials deployments.

Integrating your private cloud with public clouds can provide agility, security, and control. But getting the minutia right is daunting. Get the new Hybrid Cloud: Details Matter issue of Network Computing Tech Digest today (free registration required).

Doug Henschen is Executive Editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data and analytics. He previously served as editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor in chief of ... View Full Bio

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MahiC846
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MahiC846,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/23/2015 | 4:53:29 PM
Re: Simplicity is another theme...
Thank you Mr. Henschen,

This article was really helpful for me. Currently I'm working on my thesis on topic "ERP Usability study as part of it I'm conducting survey with ERP customers so far I conducted around 40 ERP partnering vendors and some of their customers to particiapte in my survey.

I can take few points from your article.

 
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
9/9/2014 | 3:29:24 PM
Re: A good warning here for customers looking to spread access to ERP
There's a good head-up warning to ERP customers here from TerryB on watching out for potentially higher licensings costs depending on how vendors support this idea of broader access to ERP through tablets and smartphones. Hopefully these mobile options give you handy and needed remote transactional/exception-handling capabilities, not just a flashier version of a static report, as Terry hints at.

In the pendulum swings of IT trends, I'm sorry to hear that IT pros like Terry are "a dying breed." But just like Cobal programmers, I'm sure that he and others like him will remain in demand.

 
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
9/9/2014 | 3:04:18 PM
Re: Simplicity is another theme...
I've always worked for manufacturing company, hired from school in 1985 to write IBM Mainframe CICS applications and support the American Software ERP system they used. That company went to IBM AS400 (now i5 POWER system) in 1988 still running American Software. I ported my CICS apps to custom AS400 apps. I've been on that platform since. That first company went belly up in 1998, I worked for consulting firm during the big Y2K ERP push for 3 years, where I gained experience with JD Edwards, BPCS and a couple of smaller players. Since 2002, I've worked for another manufacturer who used Infor's BPCS (now called ERP LX) for it's core.

My work usually extended outside scope of what the ERP was good at. The shop floor especially, which is where the license cost was normally saved. I'd write what is typically called a MES now and integrate it into the ERP doing MRP, Inventory Control and other core back office stuff. Most of my new apps now are written using Sencha Ext JS on clients and good old RPG/SQL on the i5 back end. We no longer have source code for BPCS but it does not use adapters, so at least my applications can read/write data from their files without needing a client license. A lot of other systems like SAP and AX use adapters, what I'm doing is impossible with them.

Our Corp chose AX as it's strategic ERP for any unit needing business system replacement. So I have had chance to learn quite a bit about that system. All work is outsourced thru 3rd party business partner, which is what MS does with AX.

You are correct they have more configuration options now than they used to. Certain systems, like General Ledger, you rarely have to modify any source code. But when you try and extend to full scope, over places like shop floor and lab (quality testing), you can not configure your way into that.

We cast copper based alloys (50+ flavors) and process them into all sizes of wire for customers who make everything from batteries to brakes to ammo. All make to order (actually make to engineer better term). Our system is so integrated now that I can block Inside Sales from printing shipping paperwork unless the lab has approved the wire for quality testing. I then take the tests and customer specification and print a Certificate of Analysis for every shipment, then optionally automatically fax/email it along with other shipping paperwork to the customer.

You don't configure your way into that, whether you are SAP or AX or anyone else. If you are a vanilla type processing company, you can use vanilla ERP and you don't need someone like me. But for companies like this one, you need me or you need 10 more data entry clerks all over the place. Which do you suppose is more cost effective?

But no question I'm a dying breed. I'd be so bored in the type of IT going on today, which your article talks about very nicely. But I don't really buy into ERP needing to be on phones idea, very few jobs require that. You may need ERP DATA to display on dashboard on phone, but that is just a glorified paperless report, not transactional ERP. That is problem with adapters, that takes a license now. If you use Named User license, no extra cost for any device. If you use Concurrent or Device based licensing, then it becomes a cost issue to extend to devices like phones.

Now do you see why the ERP guys want to build all that in, instead of someone like me? All about the license cost. And you don't really get rid of my salary, I just become a business analyst making same money who now can't write any code for you. That sure seems like a bad deal for business to me.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
9/9/2014 | 2:24:19 PM
Re: Simplicity is another theme...
All the talk from ERP vendors today is about delivering configuration (not customization) capabilities that didn't exist in those days. The idea is that you configure instead of customize so that everything doesn't break when it comes time to install the new version of the software. Configuration is absolutely the way it's done by newer, cloud-based ERP vendors because there's little to no opportunity to customize the cloud-based services. Whether in the cloud our not, I talk to lots of customers these days who absolutely want to keep their ERP as "plain vanilla" as possible so they're not maintaining and fixing customizations over time.

What's you're experience with current ERP deployments and do you agree that some of these suites are so fleshed out with bells, whistles, and industry functionality that configuration rather than customization is the way to go? PeopleSoft, for one, was founded, way back when, on the principle of being customizable, but Workday, founded eight years ago by some of the same people, switched to the configuration approach.

And just so I understand where you're coming from, were you an end-user ERP customer back in those days or a VAR/consultant who made a living building and maintaining customizations?
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
9/9/2014 | 1:52:15 PM
tablets and ERP
I find only 25% having access to ERP software via tablet surprising, given how many sales people now use a tablet as the preferred daily device.
TerryB
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50%
TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
9/9/2014 | 1:51:57 PM
Re: Simplicity is another theme...
You can take a generic piece of software written to support a thousand different businesses doing things a thousand different ways if you are willing, and that means get your checkbook out, to customize it.

That's where I started back in 80's. ERP meant you had source code, so you tailored it to fit exactly what you do. The only cost was paying me to do it. I could also wite new apps to fill in gaps, linking new data files and the files in the ERP system. And do it without ERP license cost because it was my code.

Now? You have to pry source code out of the vendors cold, dead hands. And if you get it, probably in some programming language unique to them (SAP, AX) that anybody coming from school is not going to know. So now you are paying the ERP vendors "business partners" $250-$300 an hour to make these customizations. And they have little motivation to customize in a way that minimizes work on next upgrade you do.

And lastly, you can't even leverage you custom code to reduce licenses. They package database/file access thru code based "adapters", so your code still needs a client license to use the adapter. It's almost criminal what these ERP vendors have gotten away with. But they have, the game is over now and they won, with no tangible benefit to business users that I see. 
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
9/9/2014 | 11:07:56 AM
Simplicity is another theme...
As for that "simplicity for all users" wish, that's another area where most vendors are moving away from creaky old interfaces. SAP has long had a poor reputation on ease of use, so over the last two years it has developed modern (frequently mobile) "Fiori" user interfaces. It tried to charge extra for Fiori before customer protests led to a policy change and SAP announced Fiori would be free to existing customers. Infor came out with slick "Soho" user interfaces a couple of years ago. Microsoft has been infusing its Dynamics ERP and CRM apps with the Microsoft Office/ribbon look for several years. Oracle Fusion Apps have modern user interfaces while old apps like E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft, and JD Edwards have had a bit of nipping and tucking here and there. Epicor has done a pretty thorough makeover with Epicor 10, introduced earlier this year, and Epicor 9 before it was also evolutionary.
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