ERP and Financial Performance Management Begin to Overlap

The ERP market is set to undergo a significant transformation over the next five years. At the heart of this transformation is the decade-long evolution of a set of technologies that are enabling a major shift in the design of ERP systems – the most significant change since the introduction of client/server systems in the 1990s. Some ERP software vendors increasingly are utilizing in-memory computing, mobility, in-context collaboration and user interface design to differentiate their applications from rivals and potentially accelerate replacement of existing systems (as I noted in an earlier analyst perspective). ERP vendors with software-as-a-service (SaaS) subscription offerings are investing to make their software suitable for a broader variety of users in multitenant clouds. And some vendors will be able to develop lower-cost business systems to broaden the appeal of single-tenant hosted cloud deployments for companies that cannot adapt their businesses to share with other tenants or prefer not to.

Vendors also will be using analytical capabilities to broaden the scope of their ERP offerings – especially in financial performance management (FPM) – to complement the core functions of transaction processing and accounting. They have three important objectives in adding analytical capabilities. One is to increase revenue from customers; the second is to differentiate their offering in a highly commoditized market. The third is to increase the “stickiness” of the software (that is, to make it less attractive for a customer to switch to a competitor’s software) by increasing the number of process and user touch points in customer organizations.

An important value proposition behind the addition of vr_NG_Finance_Analytics_12_timely_data_supports_agilityanalytical capabilities to ERP is to make it easier for companies to obtain useful information directly from their system. Our Office of Finance benchmark research finds that companies are split on this issue: Half (50%) said that it’s easy or very easy to get information from their ERP system, but nearly as many (48%) said it isn’t. One benefit of having analytics built into a transaction system such as ERP is that it automates and therefore often speeds up the transformation of data into useful, digestible information. Our next-generation finance analytics research finds that nearly all (86%) of companies saying that they have up-to-date data are able to respond to changes in business conditions in a coordinated fashion, compared to 38 percent in which most data is current and just 19 percent of those whose data is less than up-to-date.

The FPM category includes closing and reconciliation, statutory consolidation, planning and budgeting, and financial and management reporting as well as external financial reporting. In the past vendors of software other than ERP have offered these capabilities because constraints in database technologies prevented consolidating them. In some cases, an ERP vendor acquired an FPM vendor but still sold the product as a stand-alone. The addition of any of these financial analytical capabilities increases the value of the ERP system to the owner.

Some ERP vendors are demonstrating or at least talking about providing the ability to handle intraperiod “soft closes” (using a degree of simplification to quickly produce nonstatutory financial reports) to enhance visibility and control. (History buffs may recall that Coda Software, the first ERP system to be built on a multidimensional database, offered this in the 1990s.) Some are taking steps to facilitate the ongoing consolidation of accounting information from all of a company’s systems into a central system. This permits corporate-wide intraperiod soft closes.

Providing analytical capabilities within an ERP offering also can facilitate the fusion of financial and operational data captured by the ERP system without a data warehouse. It can speed up reporting on this information and eliminate the need to maintain connections from the ERP system to a data warehouse to be able to perform analysis and reporting. Operational data may come from the human resources management, manufacturing, distribution, inventories and project components (to name a handful) that can be part of an ERP suite. The combination can provide a far richer set of performance management measurement capabilities than financial or operational data alone. Purely financial performance metrics are essential but insufficient to manage a business. For example, measuring unit-based inputs to outputs (such as direct labor hours per widget produced) enables a company to track its efficiency. Budgeting is another analytical application that lends itself to becoming an ERP extension application because actuals and budgeted amounts are linked in a single system.

The addition of FPM and other analytical capabilities to ERP systems is creating an overlap between these two categories, but the two aren’t on a collision course yet. Most FPM vendors offer suites with exceptionally rich functionality that will be time-consuming and expensive for an ERP vendor to replicate to a significant degree. Rather than replacing software that can execute specific tasks or provide rich functionality, the incorporation of analytics will simplify how companies perform the basics. In this sense, it’s more of a positive for the ERP vendors that are able to harness technology to provide easy-to-use analytical features and capabilities than a negative for FPM vendors. And it will likely be an important source of differentiation for ERP software vendors in the future. We advise finance professionals and others who manage these systems to keep an eye on developments going forward.


Robert Kugel – SVP Research

Evolving to the Next Generation of ERP Systems

The enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is a pillar of nearly every company’s record-keeping and management of business processes. It is essential to the smooth functioning of the accounting and finance functions. In manufacturing and distribution, ERPvr_Office_of_Finance_01_ERP_replacement also can help plan and manage inventory and logistics. Some companies use it to handle human resources functions such as tracking employees, payroll and related costs. Yet despite their ubiquity, ERP systems have evolved little since their introduction a quarter of a century ago. The technologies shaping their design, functions and features had been largely unchanged. As a measure of this stability, our Office of Finance benchmark research found that in 2014 companies on average were keeping their ERP systems one year longer than they had in 2005.

Recently, however, we have seen signs of change. The evolutionary pace of technologies that shape the design of ERP systems has been accelerating over the last couple of years. In addition to the cloud there are in-memory computing; analytics and planning integrated into transaction processing systems; mobility; in-context collaboration; and more intuitive user interface design. While ERP vendors generally acknowledge these innovative technologies, our research and conversations with ERP software users indicates that they are just beginning to make their way into product design and thus far have had little impact on the market.

Then there’s the buzz about “consumerized” ERP and other business applications – fresher designs that look and interact with the user like consumer software such as mobile apps on smartphones. Established screen layouts and process designs often are legacies of technology limitations that no longer exist. In addition, increasing numbers of users don’t want or need to interact with their business applications through desktop or laptop computers. Support for mobile devices has become common, but gestures and other new user interface conventions that expand and improve the ways in which users can interact with their system on other devices such as laptops are a likely future capability, especially as touch screens become common on all devices. Voice interaction, a potentially powerful advance, is still in its infancy. Notifications and approvals increasingly will be accessible from wearable devices and mobile technology watches. Since all business is collaborative, we expect in-context collaboration capabilities to evolve rapidly to improve productivity in every business function, enabling greater responsiveness to customers and speeding the completion of core processes.

vr_Office_of_Finance_20_finance_prefers_on-premisesDespite the growing popularity of cloud-based systems, the  issue of where ERP systems should reside is not settled. The cloud is likely to account for a substantial portion of the market. But it’s useful to remember that even though our research shows that resistance to cloud-based ERP is ebbing and that cloud ERP vendors’ sales have been growing faster than on-premises vendors, the cloud still has a small share of the installed base. A significant challenge for vendors of multitenant software as a service (SaaS) is that the key benefit is also a constraint. Because buyers configure the features and capabilities rather than customizing the core code base, implementations can be faster and less expensive. In issuing new releases or modifications to the software, the vendor makes those changes to the code that everyone is running, either immediately or after a grace period. This requires far less work for the customer than having in-house IT personnel update on-premises versions and patches.

The constraint, however, is that the software cannot be customized. As I’ve noted, the primary barrier to making ERP software more configurable is the inherent complexity of the business processes the systems manage. ERP systems must be able to handle the specific needs of users, which can differ considerably from one industry to another and even between specific micro-verticals that might span multiple business units in a range of industries, locations and jurisdictions. If the software cannot be configured to meet the customer’s feature, functionality and process requirements, and if the customer cannot adapt its operations to these limitations, a cloud-based product isn’t a feasible solution. Many manufacturing and product-centric businesses have found it difficult because their requirements are often too specific and diverse. Unlike with on-premises software, there is no option to customize multitenant SaaS offerings to the needs of a single customer unless the vendor is willing to make the necessary changes to the core code base and the timing of those changes is acceptable to the customer.

Some new supporting technologies will enhance the business value of ERP applications as companies adapt their business processes to take advantage of new capabilities. For instance, in-memory computing platforms and big data likely will change how organizations – especially in finance and accounting – work with computers. Processes can be executed faster, and transaction processing systems can include analytic capabilities. Increasingly, ERP vendors will incorporate performance measurement and monitoring as well as building optimization functionality into business processes.

In-memory processing promises a much more interactive experience while big data management will underpin the sophisticated use of analytics to develop actionable insights, alerts and performance measurement from the masses of data accumulating in ERP systems. Mobile technologies, ubiquitous among the new generation in the form of smartphones and tablets, will drive demand for the availability of on-the-fly analytics and dynamic planning to enhance forward visibility and deepen situational awareness to guide transaction processes. Similarly, the emerging Internet of Things (the network of physical objects embedded with electronics, software, sensors and connectivity to enable objects to exchange data with other connected devices) extends the possibilities for expanding the ERP system’s capabilities in automating the handling of physical assets and the associated record-keeping, analysis and process management.

It’s not just technology. Users of ERP systems are changing, and this is shaping ERP system design. Fresher screen designs and reduced screen clutter are some of the initial improvements. The demographic shift taking place in the ranks of senior executives and managers, from the baby boom generation to those who grew up with computer technology, is creating demand for software that is both more capable and more usable. Soon, to be competitive, ERP systems will have to deliver three major improvements: lower total cost of ownership, a better user experience and greater flexibility and agility.

Despite these growing demands concerning how it works, though, buyers’ expectations for what ERP software should do haven’t changed much so far. But change almost certainly will accelerate over the next five years. Companies’ selection processes are driven largely by their experience with the last generation of products and the pain points they experienced. They view these systems as notoriously time-consuming and expensive to set up, maintain and modify. Indeed, in our ERP research only 21 percent of larger companies said that implementing new capabilities in ERP systems is easy or very easy while one-third characterized it as difficult.

Unlike in the shift from mainframe financial and manufacturing management applications to client/server ERP, this time the larger incumbents will be less vulnerable to disruption. One important reason is that their large maintenance revenue streams provide greater development firepower compared to upstarts. Nonetheless, all vendors will be challenged in the market if they fail to evolve to meet the expectations of a new generation of executives and users. Smaller ERP vendors, whether mainly on-premises or cloud-based, will need to invest in enhancing their software at a faster pace than has been necessary over the past decade.

The ERP software market is poised for the first significant transformation since the 1990s and is the rationale for our new benchmark research we will conduct on this topic. A combination of new technologies and changing user demands will drive changes in system design. The result will be systems that are easier to use and easier to modify to suit the needs of customers. A new generation of users will demand software that makes doing their jobs easier, supports their ability to collaborate and work with the system anytime, anywhere. Change is coming slowly, but the landscape of ERP a decade from now will be very different.


Robert Kugel
SVP Research