ERP targets midmarket

The ERP (enterprise resource planning) midmarket – once the exclusive domain of a handful of companies with limited functionality – quickly is becoming crowded with big-name players such as Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp., PeopleSoft Inc., and SAP AG revving new enterprise software applications to meet mid-market demand for integrated front- and back-office systems.

Microsoft will soon unveil two new ERP offerings from recently acquired Navision focused squarely on small and medium-size business needs. Oracle and Baan rolled out new solutions last week focusing on small and medium-size companies, and PeopleSoft and SAP have aggressively been targeting mid-market companies with revenue typically falling below US$500 million.

Microsoft’s Axapta 3.0 ERP solution features a new Enterprise Portal, designed to provide users data tailored for their role in the organization, said Shawna Van Buskirk, Axapta product marketing manager. In addition, the user interface for Axapta has been altered for more logical navigation in three clicks or less, she added.

The new Navision 3.6 – the next-generation of Navision’s Attain financials module that will ship in November – integrates financial management, CRM ( customer relationship management), and supply chain management into a single database, said Todd Bergeson, Navision product marketing manager. It also features tighter integration to Microsoft Outlook and Excel as well as enhanced order promising capabilities.

“Your salespeople are able to go through order promising [and] … are able to better deliver on a promise,” Bergeson said.

In addition, Navision leverages smart tags via the .Net platform to allow users to launch Navision from a Word document, Excel, or e-mail.

“[The mid-market] is still largely untapped, unlike the high end of the market,” said Jim Shepherd, an analyst with AMR Research in Boston. “Smaller companies have never really had practical access to these kinds of full business systems.”

These companies demand a single integrated solution from a single vendor that runs on the Microsoft platform or on the Internet, he added.

NetLedger, which makes the Oracle Small Business Suite, last week announced a new online suite that combines ERP and CRM for companies with less than 500 employees.

The new NetSuite adds advanced accounting, warehousing, and CRM to Version 8 of the small business suite.

“The large businesses have been able to afford to integrate the systems,” said Zach Nelson, president of NetLedger. “The best-of-breed application for this market is an integrated system.”

NetLedger has done a significant amount of listening to the needs of the mid-market, said Louis Columbus, an analyst with AMR Research.

“Evidence of their commitment to listen and respond to the market includes the inclusion of workflow support for sell-side and CRM applications, enhancements to order management, and strengthening of their integration approach,” he said. “NetLedger has risen to the challenge of integration with strong XML expertise on their hosted platform.”

Despite the current economic slow-down, PeopleSoft has seen an increase in demand from the mid-market, which the company defines as enterprises with US$300 million annual revenue and below.

“Most small and midsize companies did not replace their systems when the Y2K problem came around, they just repaired them,” said Jeffrey Read, PeopleSoft mid-market general manager and vice president. “Their systems are very much out of date. When the economy started to slow down they did have these old systems in place. They didn’t have the software to provide for them the real-time visibility into how fast inventory levels were starting to increase and how fast the pipelines were softening.”

PeopleSoft has created 10 accelerated solutions for the mid-market designed to all have built-in integration, Read said.

In August PeopleSoft announced an expanded relationship with IBM to offer rapid implementation services and preconfigured hardware and database solutions for the accelerated solutions.

The Western Farmers Electric Cooperative, an electric utility based in Anadarko, Okla., recently tapped PeopleSoft for its financials, human resources, and supply chain modules. The cooperative was able to implement in 16 weeks, said Howard Fleshman, manager of information services at the utility.

“The rapid implementation … helped the company so we didn’t have a large project that goes on for a couple of years,” Fleshman said. “We now have a much better idea of where we stand financially than we ever did before. We liked the fact that they offer a solution that involved no code on the client.”

For its part, Baan unveiled its new OpenWorldX platform last week designed to allow enterprises to rapidly create and deploy business processes that span the enterprise and iBaan Value Apps to eliminate the latency of information delivery between companies in a supply chain.

OpenWorldX will be a key enabling technology for the company’s next-generation ERP system code-named Gemini, a zero-client system that will support Web services.

SAP in September unveiled its new line of e-business solutions and a new expansion of its reseller and channel partners for small and medium-size businesses. The new All-In-One line initially will feature 12 customizable e-business solutions for various industry segments including automotive, oil and gas, commercial printing, manufacturing, engineering, and management consultants among others.