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Two vendors on top in ERP comparison for middle market

Gartner Magic Quadrant for ERP for midmarket manufacturing and distribution companies taps SAP and IFS as leaders, Oracle as a challenger and ranks five other vendors.

Gartner's latest ERP comparison for midmarket manufacturing and distribution firms highlights SAP and IFS and offers...

advice on purchasing and using ERPs.

The 2015 Gartner "Magic Quadrant" for midmarket companies ranks 10 products by eight vendors. The report examines ERP products that handle broad administrative and operational needs for manufacturing and distribution companies that have between 100 and 999 employees and annual sales between $200 million and $2 billion.

Michael Guay, lead author of the report and research director at Gartner, discussed the findings with SearchFinancialApplications.

The report notes that public, or multi-tenant, cloud and SaaS are still the exception for most enterprises using ERPs. Why is that?

Michael GuayMichael Guay

Michael Guay: ERP suites are quite complex with very many different features and functions. It's a significant investment to develop and deploy an ERP suitable for an enterprise. Until recently, there have not been very many offerings in public cloud and multi-tenant SaaS that would match the functional depth of the on-premises suites that many larger organizations are currently running. Most of the organizations that have adopted public cloud and SaaS as an ERP suite have tended to be smaller to midsize organizations with less complex requirements.  For any organization, changing ERP suites is a very serious, disruptive, expensive and time-consuming endeavor. It's not simply a matter of just adopting new software -- there has to be a significant business reason for doing so.

Are the leaders in this ERP comparison -- SAP Business All-in-One and IFS Applications -- the same as last year?

Guay: Yes, they are. It's because we evaluate the vendors and the products on a large number of criteria and each of them is weighted according to our established methodology. The criteria include vision such as market understanding and strategy, and ability to execute such as product functionality, pricing and support. Year to year, vendors will typically make improvements in one area or another, and their positioning will move accordingly. However, since there are many factors evaluated, it's unusual to see a vendor jump radically from one point or quadrant to another from one year to the next.

IFS Applications is an ERP leader, right below SAP Business All-in-One. You say it is among the most user-friendly ERPs in the market. What makes it easier to use?

Guay: In this context, user-friendly refers to several factors, the most common of which is the user interface and the ease with which clients can change the way they use the applications, such as specific role-based process flows, without having to write code. It also refers to the ease of extending the application by allowing users to create their own features and functions without jeopardizing upgrades. In other words, how easy is the ERP to use in terms of getting information into and out of the system? In recent years, most vendors have made improvements in these areas, but clients rated both these vendors well in this area.

SAP Business All-in-One is singled out in the ERP comparison for offering visionary software and strong execution. Is this due to the preconfigured software that includes best practices for certain business processes, as well as integrations that help during implementation?

Guay: SAP All-in-One benefits from the fact that at its core is the SAP ECC suite, one of the world's leading ERP suites for large enterprises. It has deep functionality with a very robust network of support providers and systems integrators. Some of the service providers and systems integrators have developed templates and best practices for SAP All-in-One to make the implementation and configuration of the underlying SAP ECC system much easier for midmarket enterprises.  This means organizations don't have to go through all the configuration decisions a larger enterprise might go through with the ECC suite itself.  This "templated" implementation approach is now being adopted by many ERP vendors today.

What significant improvements has Microsoft Dynamics AX, which is rated right below SAP and IFS, made in recent years?

Guay: Microsoft has invested heavily in the Dynamics AX product to make it a viable, functional competitor for some of the larger products on the market like JD Edwards, Oracle E-Business Suite and SAP.  However, Microsoft relies heavily on its partner network to provide templates and configurations specific to markets such as food and beverage, discrete manufacturing or retail. When you buy Microsoft Dynamics AX, you are also partnering with Microsoft and one of their service providers to buy the entire package. Many of these providers are limited in geographic presence, which could be an inhibitor if you are a global organization that needs to deploy in North America, EMEA or the Asia-Pacific.

JD Edwards Enterprise One, an on-premises ERP, is still robust and remains a solid business. Oracle E- Business Suite gets high marks in the ERP comparison for offering strong functions. However, the report notes that Oracle is aggressively selling and investing in cloud applications and paying less attention to on premises. What does this mean for users of JD Edwards Enterprise One and Oracle E-Business Suite?

Guay: Enterprise One and EBS are both industry-leading ERP suites -- they have been around for decades and are very solid with great functional depth. Oracle continues to invest in and support both JDE and EBS; however, Oracle's long-term strategic product line is the new cloud suite. Oracle's objective is to make the cloud application suite something that any customer running any of their on-premises applications could move to in an evolutionary manner. In other words, you could replace your HCM, CRM or supply chain and integrate with cloud applications and still keep part of your ERP on premises. 

The report says that Epicor ERP 10 is a significant technical improvement but does not offer a major increase in functions over ERP 9. What are the significant technical improvements and why do they not offer a major increase in functions?

Guay: Epicor invested significantly in Epicor ERP 10 to make the application's architecture easier to scale and facilitate a move to the cloud. Since R&D efforts for release 10 were focused on the technical architecture and the technical capabilities, there were not as many functional improvements in that release as in previous releases.

What key innovations are expected for midmarket ERPs that could affect a new ERP comparison in the future?

Guay: Most vendors are investing in things that we think are very important, especially to users in the midmarket -- the ability to migrate to the cloud, technology to capitalize on digital business and the Internet of Things, an improved user experience and the ability to extend the core application without interfering with upgrades.  Most vendors on the Magic Quadrant are investing in those capabilities to one degree or another.

Which vendors might be best at handling the requirements of working in multiple countries with different legal, statutory and tax requirements and working with local organizations operating in the native language?

Guay: It really depends on the market and geographic strength of the vendor or product in a particular market. JD Edwards has been sold globally for years. IFS, based in Sweden, and SAP, based in Germany, are very strong in EMEA. Other companies might have strengths in Asia-Pacific or in North America. It depends on identifying where your requirements are and matching that to where the vendor and the product may have strengths.  It comes down to what you actually need in a particular market. For example, Gartner has spoken to clients with operations in China but they don't run ERP in China. They use a local Chinese software package for running ERP in China, so the corporate ERP system may not need to have specific localization capabilities.

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