OPINION: Five ERP vendors not named SAP or Oracle

The first two companies that most IT managers think about when they hear the word “ERP” are SAP AG and Oracle Corp.


If this was a topic on Family Feud, I’m certain that you’d only see two answers on the board. But despite what Richard Dawson, Ray Combs or Louie Anderson might tell you (yes, I’m leaving out some of the newer and lamer hosts), the choices are not limited to these two giants.


Even if you’re a huge company with over a billion dollars of revenue, there are plenty of options out there, and many of them are viable ones.


In fact, if you read my “ERP: Getting it right” feature last month, you’d know it’s a best practice to seek out a vendor that is specialized in your field and meshes well with the environment you already have. Many times SAP and Oracle can do this and we all know the old saying “you don’t get fired for buying SAP/Oracle,” but it doesn’t hurt to try and dig deeper with other vendors.


Ray Wang, a partner with the San Mateo, Calif.-based research firm Altimeter Group, estimated that there are about 20 vendors in the industry that matter. He gave me some of his thoughts on these companies, but for the purposes of this article, I decided to arbitrarily narrow the list to five vendors.


In no particular order, here’s who made the cut:


Infor – http://www.infor.com/

OK, so I lied about the Family Feud thing, because some IT managers might actually think of Infor when asked about ERP. It is a pretty big company, so I wouldn’t hold it against anyone who did.


This summer, the company announced Infor Flex, a program which lets customers upgrade to its products for “minimal or zero” licence fees, no increase in maintenance costs, and rapid implementation services. Additionally, for a small transaction fee, users can switch to any related Infor application they choose.


Wang welcomed this development on his blog, indicating that many recent surveys list upgrading, updating, and replacing legacy applications as a top priority for most enterprises.


This type of no-hassle program is usually very attractive to users and might tip the scales in Infor’s favour during a procurement debate.


Lawson Software – http://www.lawson.com/

The company has close to 5,000 customers across the global, with expertise in the manufacturing, distribution, health care, and service industries. But what’s most impressive to me is the positive feedback that comes from its customers.


This was actually cited in Gartner Inc.’s latest ERP magic quadrant, where Lawson received top marks for its high level of accountability for project success and for its well-developed relationships with technology and service contractors.


One of the most important rules in any ERP procurement process is to talk to the vendor’s customers. Preferably over some tequila, so they tell you both the good and the bad experiences they’ve had.


Agresso – http://www.agresso.com/

While Agresso’s slogan (ERP … with NO expiration date) is kind of lame, the company more than makes up for it with what I consider to be the coolest logo in the tech industry. This may or may not be the reason that the subsidiary of Netherlands-based Unit 4 Agresso is gaining a lot of traction in the public sector.


Back in March, Agresso boasted about the fact that it has replaced or won against SAP in 61 international competitive bids over the last three years.


According to Wang, the company has done a good job keeping usage and ownership costs down, saying that “Agresso with its VITA architecture allows customers to rapidly make business and UI changes.”


Epicor Software – http://www.epicor.com/

Epicor is another big company, which boasts it has 20,000 customers in more than 140 countries. Wang is a fan of the company’s latest product, Epicor 9, and has recommended mid-market enterprises and divisions of larger enterprises consider it for their vendor short lists.


While Epicor — which leverages Microsoft’s .NET technology — has been acquisition intensive, Wang said its latest product is perfect for midmarket customers who don’t want to be force-fit with a large enterprise solution. He also gave high marks to the product’s usability and user interface, but thankfully didn’t use the cliché “Facebook-like” when describing it to me.


Microsoft – http://www.microsoft.com/Dynamics/

Microsoft’s Dynamics ERP offerings are very strong role-based ERP design, tightly integrated with Office and Sharepoint, according to Wang. Companies in the manufacturing, auto and pharmaceutical industries would be advised to consider the software giant, especially if they’re already a .NET shop.


One area to particularly keep an eye on is Microsoft’s foray into the cloud. Last month, the company launched a set of online services for Dynamics ERP customers who want to move select apps (such as expense report processing) into the cloud.


The flexible deployment model will allow these customers to maintain their on-premise ERP systems, but move some functionality into the cloud.

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