SSA pulling away from ERP

“I think the ERP world is dead, gone, moved on to its next life.”

This observation comes from William Stuek, chairman and CEO of Chicago-based System Software Associates (SSA), who, at a recent launching of SSA’s new portfolio strategy in Boston, Mass., explained why his company will be heading in a new direction.

“We’re going to distance ourselves from the ERP space as fast as we can. I believe the ERP space is a dull, boring, transaction-based system.”

Unlike other companies, Stuek said, his company will not try to be all things to all people because it simply does not work. While others are focused on “building and delivering monolithic integrated software” and providing advanced planning systems and sales force automation systems, “that’s not what we are going to do,” Stuek said.

Rather, SSA is taking on a strategy that includes the introduction of a new product, a partnership approach and an expanded service component.

The new product is eBPCS, an extendible version of SSA’s flagship BPCS (Business Planning and Control System). By enabling integration with third-party software and legacy systems, Stuek said, this technology delivers tailored functionality for specific vertical industries, including pharmaceutical, consumer packaged goods and automotive supply.

According to Lorraine Fenton, vice-president of research and development for SSA, a key component of eBPCS is the Semantic Message Gateway (SMG) technology, which she described as “an object layer that sits on top of BPCS.”

Although SMG technology has been around for awhile, she said, “in the eBPCS release they (SMGs) get much more robust than they have been.

“They actually manage the interaction of the programs and the different program calls and the database. They allow a third-party application or a legacy application in a client installation [running on] another version of BPCS to actually send a message to an SMG and it will take care of the proper handling of it,” Fenton explained.

“When BPCS underneath it changes, the SMG and the third party don’t have to change because we’re managing the interface and the data. So it’s different from an API, where you have to put everything in sequence…the SMG technology is much more forgiving,” she said.

An event-driven, message-based architecture that shelters the integrated technologies from database changes, SMGs enable the modification of business processes.

The only real challenge to implementing this product, Fenton said, is “figuring out what your business processes are that you want to map into this software.”

According to industry analyst Julie Fraser, principal of Industry Directions Inc. headquartered in Newburyport, Mass., SSA seems to be on the right track with its new product.

“It appears to me that this is a very logical expansion of the traditional BPCS product…SSA has had a fairly strong functional product for a long time…what I think is particularly interesting is the fact that they have opened it up with the semantic messaging gateways to facilitate partnerships.”

Some of these partnerships include IBM (Net. Commerce), Lotus Development Corp. (Domino), i2 (RHYTHYM), Cognos (PowerPlay and Impromptu).

As to the question of forming different partnerships in one space, Fenton indicated that, in fact, it is not a problem, but a strength for SSA.

“Depending on the industry space you’re in or the size customer you are, you may want a different solution than say an i2, which costs a million bucks. If you’re only a $250,000 installation, you don’t want to spend $1 million on an advance planning adapter, you want one that fits with your implementation,” she said.

“And then you also find within different industries they kind of gravitate to a particular third party vendor so the consumer goods space may like vendor A more than they like vendor B, given what they do.”

SSA also announced a commitment to increase its service resources to meet global client demand, which Fraser said, is critical for their success.

“In the mid-market they don’t have large information services staff so if you need an extension or you need a modification there’s no one internal to your company to help you do that.”