What's New in ERP Enterprise Software?

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Year-end reviews are on the horizon, so I have started interviewing and researching what's hot and what's not in ERP. One of those interviews took me back to the future. It was a talk with John Cingari, marketing VP at Compiere, one of the new breed of ERP companies.


Compiere offers an interesting Java-based technology using a data dictionary as underpinning and a lot of modern business process management concepts that should move smoothly into the cloud. But John - like me - traces his ERP experience back through the Internet-client/3GL/relational data base client/server era of ERP to the days of green screens, flat files and monolithic code bases, when the products were still called material requirements planning applications. So he made a great witness to what's new in ERP vs. what's just a matter of changing buzzwords.


John's early ERP experience was with process-manufacturing-centric ERP providers Marcam and Datalogix. The latter was acquired by Oracle, where John managed applications marketing. Like most early ERP products, Datalogix software was very industry-specific. But many of the dominant, large ERP providers tend to think only in discrete manufacturing terms, so a process formulary is just a bill of materials in their view, they treat lot numbers as if they were part numbers, and take a lot of other design steps that pushed the industry-specific intellectual property down into massive suites which were a mile wide and an inch deep.


What that thinking does to healthcare delivery, financial-services and other non-manufacturing ERP products would take a whole article to describe. But that's why the suites have become the bloatware or shelfware that IT users rightfully complain about today. And that's also why John's alma mater Oracle (after it acquired Datalogix) has had to reverse course and spend billions buying industry-specific ERP and point-product application software to stay in the game.


The other thing early ERP products were good at, according to John (and I agree), was supporting small and medium businesses, whereas large enterprises constantly re-invented the wheel writing their own in-house COBOL applications. Both trends (going horizontal and designing for large enterprises) were premised on your having huge IT staffs, global operations and bottomless budget. If that were ever true, events of the last few weeks in the financial markets have changed the ERP market dymamics, probably forever.


That's why an experienced enterprise-software marketer like John Cingari (he also grew OutlookSoft, which was acquired by SAP in 2007) is excited by the opportunity for Compiere and other new breed ERP products. He sees Microsoft, SAP Business One, Sage 1000 and NetSuite as his major competitors. (NetSuite is 80 percent-plus owned by Oracle's Larry Ellison and will likely be re-folded back into Oracle when the time is right - that's my opinion, not Cingari's.) Compiere is not competing at the very lowest level of the market vs. Intuit and smaller Sage products.


Like early ERP providers, the discrete-manufacturing-centric Mapics and the service-industry-oriented J.D. Edwards, Cingari is building Compiere around channel partners, picking up some Edwards and Infor (where Mapics and most other early ERP products are buried) partners in the process. Because of Compiere's history, 60 percent of its activity is European. Using an open source philosophy, the partners will add even more industry-centricity to the offering. But the software runs on Windows and accesses Oracle databases if desired.


Of course Compiere will be included in my year-end ERP lookback/lookahead and if there are other new or old ERP packages you would like looked at, leave a comment or send me an e-mail.