ERP Outlook by Microsoft

In reading this article on MS and ERP, the question came up “Is Microsoft really going after the smaller companies with their Dynamics ERP offerings?” So far all of the indications are that they are targeting SAP and Oracle as their competition. Is this a little arrogant of Microsoft, trying to compete against the established Tier 1 vendors in ERP? Oh… Yeah… they’re Microsoft. The same company that went after Lotus 123, Netscape, Word Perfect, and others. Find a niche that uses software, exploit it with the fact that MS software runs well on MS Windows, it has a familiar look and feel to it, and give it away for free or market the hell out of it.

So far that is not what has happened with Dynamics, but it is still early. What has happened so far is that they have completed wave 1 of their project Green integration. They have built a common user interface for all the Dynamics products (AX-Axapta, NV-Navision, GP-Great Plains, SL-Solomon). They have also built common database tools. Now Mr. Gates is outlining a future with CRM and Dynamics that integrates to the “Live” tools on the web, including MS CRM integration to the Live website for targeted advertising. Add to that that 2007 Office is going to have intimate linkages into and from Dynamics. The user interface is MS Outlook. Based on MS CRM, which essentially now plugs into Outlook, Dynamics will soon do the same. So you will have a single, familiar Desktop tool for managing Email, Customer Relationships, and Enterprise Data. All with the familiar Microsoft look and feel plus links into Microsoft Live.

Sounds irresistable for a midsized company who wants simplicity and flexibility. However, now your entire enterprise is dependent upon a single vendor for the Back Office (servers and database), Front Office tools (MS Office), and your enterprise data.

Further, as it stands right now, Microsoft is taking a familiar approach of providing a development platform for partners to extend. In Dynamics, the code is flexible with many MS partners building niche add-ins to the products. As we understand it, the core product of Dynamics works fine, but doesn’t drill to deep into any industry. The Microsoft Industry Builder addresses that by having MS VARS (Value Added Resellers) become specialists into certain industries and then developing the vertical software necessary on top of the Dynamics product. Yes, it is integrated and native, being built with the Dynamics tool set. Yes, it is supported. If anything happens to the VAR, then as long as it is a Microsoft certified Industry Builder solution, you get the Microsoft support for that vertical extension.

So is SAP and Oracle out of reach? Based on history, no they are not. And based on history, they should be preparing for a real fight.

ERP Definition

ERP Software

by Chris Shaul

ERP Software

ERP Software (Enterprise Resource Planning) often leads people to a lot of confusion. Which software is best and which ERP software will be the easiest to implement. The key to selecting ERP software systems is to understand your own requirements first. Document your specific requirements of what the ERP software should do for you. Do not only make a wish list, but include the things your current software does right. Many times people make the mistakes of selecting systems on what their system doesn’t do currently, but then come to find out, all the things that the old system did well, the new ERP software does not do. Be comprehensive.Next look at your business and determine the broader category of what you do. Are you a discrete manufacturer, a process manufacturer (using formulas or recipes), or are you a service based company? Is your company heavily retail with Point of Sale needs? ERP software is segmented by the various niches that a company can fall into. This makes it easier to narrow down the field of software to look at.Next look at the size in sales and see what Tier of ERP software you might fit into. Tier 1 is for larger multinationals or companies with many diverse business units. Tier 2 is for the companies with one to many branches doing similar things. Tier 3 looks at smaller single site companies that do not have very complex processes.

For example. If you are work for a company with four manufacturing facilities, all making roughly the same sort of products, and your revenues are are under $250 million dollars, then you are a good candidate for a Tier 2 ERP software. The following is a sample list of some main ERP software vendors:

Tier 1 ERP Software

  • SAP
  • Oracle
  • JD Edwards

Tier 2 ERP Software

  • Epicor Vantage
  • QAD
  • IFS
  • IBS
  • Microsoft Dynamics AX (or NV)

Tier 3 ERP Software

  • Made-2-Manage
  • Microsoft Dynamics GP
  • Intuitive Software
  • Global Shop
  • DBA Software
  • Epicor Vista

Once you have narrowed down your criteria to which tier you fit into and then you can start investigating the focus niches of each of these systems. From that you can then compare your specific requirements to the functionality of each of the targeted the ERP systems. The selection process should be deliberate and there are many pitfalls.

Once you have a few ERP vendors that you are working with, you can then narrow it down to the 2 or 3 based on requirements to have them show you the system in detail. This detailed system review should be done completely based on the requirements and should show the daily processing of your business processes. Don’t forget too that you are also looking at a vendor with whom you can work for the next few years. It is like a marriage and so you want to make sure that the partner you are selecting is one you can live with.

When you finally select the system, ensure that you do reference checks. The ERP software vendors will always give you favorable clients to contact. But remember that often what is unsaid is more important than what is said. If you visit the references, be sure to watch transactions being entered. Try to see how the people are using the system. Learn from their mistakes too! Find out what went right and wrong during their implementations. Often these lessons learned will help you in your implementation.

In summary, ERP Software is very complex and requires more time and diligence than people realize. When selecting, it can be overwhelming. As such, a third party may be able to assist you. Take a look at consultants who are unbiased and specialize in helping companies select systems. But if you choose to do it on your own, make sure that you have your baseline of requirements to lead you through. Focus on the business process and the business needs, not only on the look and feel of the software. If you keep coming back to the requirements, you will ultimately see which ERP Software works for you.

Chris Shaul is a Senior IT Consultant and contributor to

ERP – Army Style

Stumbling around the web, we came across a great ERP reference site. This site is the US Army’s ERP/SOA Resource Center. Its own description is as follows:
As the Army embarks on transforming its warfighting capabilities, it is imperarive that the Business Capabilities / Enablers / Processes transform to support the warfighter. ERP systems provide an integrated suite of Information Techonology applications that support the end-to-end business operations of an entire organization. The ERP Resource Center is designed to provide Enterprise Process Owners, Program Executive Officers, Program Managers, and others involved in the Business Transformation of the Army with detailed information, supporting documents, and tools and techniques regarding the use of ERP systems.

This site is filled with useful information. It is not helpful if you are a small company looking for an ERP system other than to guide you in an overview of what ERP is and does. There is a glossary online there too, but it is government focused. If however you are implementing a Tier 1 package, then this gives a lot of good information.

You may also be interested in: The fourth “R”: Navy ERP.(Enterprise Resource Planning): An article from: Navy Supply Corps Newsletter

We especially liked the “Bolt On” section that discusses Business Intellegence, CRM, and PLM. They even have the Gartner Magic Quadrants to show you (as of 2005) who plays where.

Be sure to check it out at

ERP Tiers: What Tier are you in?

ERP vendors and consultants are always trying to classify you as a company into distinct ERP tiers. What is your vertical industry? What is your revenue? How many employees? These are all questions of where you fit within their offering. Others talk about ERP Tiers. What are tiers? ERP Tiers are classifications of software by the size of the company the fit. Let’s break it down:

ERP Tiers: Tier 1 ERP

Tier 1 ERP software is software for the large enterprise. This includes multi-site, multi-national corporations. Typically the Tier 1 customer is a company with revenues in excess of $200 million dollars and has several sites, probably geographically dispersed and in multiple companies. There used to be what was known as JBOPS. JD Edwards, Baan, Oracle, People Soft, and SAP. Now that Oracle purchased People Soft, who had just prior purchased JD Edwards, the map has left the three primary ERP vendors: SAP, Oracle and Baan. These are your Tier 1 ERP players. Although not yet quite a Tier 1 ERP player, Microsoft with their Axapta (now called Dynamics AX) is pushing to be a Tier 1 software system.

ERP Tiers: Tier 2 ERP

The Tier 2 market is the largest of all the tiers in terms of the number of potential customers. This is the mid-sized tier. The customers of Tier 2 software usually are in the $20 million to $200 million dollars. They are usually just a few localized sites. For example a company that has a main office in California, with a manufacturing facility in Ohio and a distribution outlet in Texas would be a typical Tier 2 client. Often though, Tier 2 customers are single site. The main indication is the size of the company by revenue. This is important in that you probably will not find more than a couple hundred users all said and done. More likely though it is less than 100 users. Some references to the Tier classifcation refer to the number of employees. This is really not a good indicator as sometimes smaller companies with labor intensive processes may only have a few computer users.

Software in this class includes QAD, Infor’s Syteline, Microsoft Navision (Dynamics NV), ABAS, Glovia, Best’s MAS500, Epicor Vantage, and a host of others.

The problem that the Tier 2 vendors are facing is that the Tier 1 players are pushing down into this space. The market in the Tier 1 arena is small and to continue to expand their businesses, the Tier 1 players are reducing cost, simplifying transaction sets, and offering outsourced hosting and other incentives to allow a medium sized company to have the broad features of the Tier 1 package.

ERP Tiers: Tier 3 ERP

Tier 3 software is designed for single site customers of under $40 million dollars. These are companies with 5 to 30 users and have less demanding needs. Often these companies have just grown out of the Tier 4 packages and are looking to expand their capabilities. These companies tend to be the family run or small corporations.

Software in this market space includes Lily’s Visual Manufacturing, Intuitive Manufacturing, Microsoft Great Plains (Dynamics GP), DBA Software and Best’s MAS200.

ERP Tiers: Tier 4

Tier 4 software is your basic accounting systems. These include Peach Tree, Accpac and Quickbooks. This is the startup to $2 Million dollar software.

The next time you hear a vendor referring to a Tier 2 client, you will understand now that they are referring to a midsized company with just a couple plants. It is amazing how in the IT industry acronyms and categories spring up and every assumes they know what the other is referring to.

An interesting article is the segmentation of ERP into two tiers. You can read more in this publication: The rise of two-tier ERP: what it is and what it means.(TECHNOLOGY)(enterprise resource planning ): An article from: Strategic FinanceERP Tiers

ERP Tiers

The Shrinking Landscape of ERP

Chris Shaul

Now that Oracle has gobbled up its competitors, Peoplesoft and JD Edwards, and has aquired Seibel CRM, there is a shrinking landscape of Tier 1 vendors available in the marketplace. It used to be the old JBOPS (JD Edwards, Baan, Oracle, Peoplesoft, and SAP) that people relied on as the playing field for their selections. Now, you have Oracle and SAP battling it out at the top end. SSA Software is working at bringing Baan back to the game under the name SSA ERP LN, but the market has not yet recognized the “new Baan”. So essentially there are now three players in the Tier 1 space.

SAP and Oracle are continuing to compete on the extensiblity of their solutions. SSA is making some buzz in the market too.

So the question is, will there be more variety or options, or will it be more of the same. If it is more of the same from each of these three players, then who will companies turn to? One possible answer in the future will be Microsoft and their Axapta (Now called Dynamics AX) product. But that product is still a few years from being a true Tier 1 competitor. The advantage with the Microsoft solution is very flexible technology that allows solutions and modifications to be built around the product core easily, without breaking the upgrade path. This flexibility outshines the other players. The depth of the product will be their in a few years, but it is not there yet.

What about the Tier 2 players? Can QAD, Epicor, or Infor produce a competing product? As of right now, no. It seems that is not the niche they want to play in. So for now, in the upper tier space, there will be only a few players and few options. But with everything in the IT world, a short time can reveal many new changes.

Chris Shaul is a Sr. IT Consultant and specializes about ERP selections and implementations.