I started this blog on another platform in October 2005 and used it for a year before coming to WordPress. That old platform is going end-of-life soon so I have copied many of the blogs to this page.


Wednesday October 19 2005 10:22 AM

This is a blog about the ERP community and its goings-on in South Africa.

Why? Because ERP (enterprise resource planning) software is used in every major SA organisation, and is now permeating into small and medium business. All we ever hear about are things happening overseas and how it is done there. But business is often different here; we don’t necessarily have highly educated and highly specialised staff in companies, the costs are perceived differently, the benefits can get evaluated differently.

Briefly my background: 20 years in IT; 8 years working in and around ERP companies including several years at a now defunct vendor which got swallowed up. Also working with some local ERP software vendors. Now working for a company that partners with Microsoft Business Solutions, although I will try to stay as independent as possible.

The ERP players in SA

Friday October 21 2005 11:14 AM

For those unclear what software ERP is, here is my current list of culprits in SA who are the players:

Oracle (includes the old JD Edwards and Peoplesoft)
Microsoft Business Solutions (Navision, Axapta, Great Plains)
Syspro (the only local vendor who could be called one of the main players)

These are the achetypal “gorillas” and “chimps” and (except for Syspro) international. Others are:

Ability Solutions (local)
ACS (local)

They are the “monkeys”.


re: The ERP players in SA

Friday 21 October 2005 11:49 AM
I’m surprised you omitted the demon ERP system BaaN.It ougth to come with a health warning, like cigarette packets do. 

re: re: The ERP players in SA

Monday 24 October 2005 6:33 AM

So should SAP. I was horrified at how user UNfriendly it is, how clunky and non-intuitive, and how it cannot do a simple task (like reversing an entry) in a simple manner.
The people who make and sell this product should be jailed for fraud…

ERP history

Sunday October 23 2005 10:30 PM

This is a short history from my perspective of the ERP industry in South Africa in recent years.

8 years ago I worked for a major hardware company whose platform was the base for a number of ERP vendors’ software. The hardware company doesn’t exist anymore but I am still using a mousepad that lists the ERP vendors it partnered with. There are 10 vendor names on the list, only 4 of them still exist:


I was always likely that SAP and Oracle would continue, but to see SSA is strange as it disappeared into bankruptcy for a few years. QAD was always the little player in manufacturing and it is interesting to see that it still lasts – maybe being niched helps.

The ones that have gone:

JD Edwards
Great Plains

Around 2000, we used to talk about JBOPS (JDE, Baan, Oracle, Peoplesoft, SAP) as the major players, so it is poignant that 3 of those no longer exist. JDE and Peoplesoft engulfed by Oracle; Baan and Marcam into the rejuvenated SSA; Platinum became Epicor and swallowed Scala. Great Plains was taken over by the entrant few expected, Microsoft.

There are some others worth mentioning:

Navision Damgaard

Navision Damgaard also got taken out by the new gorilla, Microsoft. Lawson is now merging with Intentia. Tetra disappeared into Sage. IFS is still running on its own. I think that covers most of the international names.

Of the local vendors, Qmuzic has disappeared. Others like Syspro, ACS, Ability are still around although I won’t try to guess life times.

When you look at what was, and how it is now, it crystallises for me how uncertain everything in this industry is. Don’t try to predict who will last and who won’t – the strong and young can wither and die (JDE) but the old and dead can come back to life (SSA).

Estimating the size of the SA ERP market

Monday October 31 2005 11:22 PM

The folk at BMI try to estimate the market sizes of the various players in the SA market, but at a recent vendor meeting those estimates were roundly panned. Apparently what BMI does is to interview a sample of companies and then extrapolate.

I don’t know about revenues, but I was thinking of taking a stab at the size of the SA ERP market in terms of sites; then maybe using that to get to number of users – which should in turn lead to an estimate of licence revenue. Anyway, here goes:

SAP (R/3) – 250 sites
SAP (Bus 1 + All-in-One) – 30
Oracle (+ JDE + Peoplesoft) – 200 sites
Microsoft Axapta – 20 sites
Microsoft Navision – 200 sites
Microsoft Great Plains – 700 sites
SSA (Baan + Marcam) – ?
Epicor (Platinum + Scala) – ?
QAD – ?
Syspro – 300 ? sites

Aside – no company last forever

Monday November 7 2005 05:06 PM

Last week it was announced that a venerable UK company, the P&O, which has been in the shipping and ports business for ages, was a likely take-over target by a Dubai-based company.

I mention it here because my mother, father, grandfather and great-grandfather all worked for the P&O, and I’m sure they could never have foreseen such a day. I thought the P&O was too big to get swallowed, so the news just shows – there is no guarantee that any company will last forever.

How wonder if I will see Microsoft, Oracle or SAP get taken over in my lifetime? It would be fun to watch.

SAP slammed for bad stats

Saturday November 12 2005 12:17 PM

In a recent blog, Nicholas Carr discusses some PR that SAP sent out claiming its ERP software makes for better run companies.

Now SAP has discovered that the blogosphere has a sting in the tail. I wonder how many people will read it and start critically thinking about all that PR that comes from the like of SAP, Oracle and Microsoft.

Does which ERP matter?

Saturday November 12 2005 12:27 PM

Nick Carr’s has been on a roll with ERP-related blogs. Another one raises the issue does it matter what ERP you use.

Mini-Microsoft quotes me

Friday November 18 2005 12:10 PM

This blog may be young, but I’m getting noticed! I commented on one of his blogs, and now he quotes me:

Where to go after JDE dies

Friday November 18 2005 12:32 PM

I had an email from a JD Edwards consultant in the US; his company has been doing JDE consulting for years. Why I mention it here is that he says that his company his looking at getting into the Microsoft ERP business in the next year or so – specifically Axapta. Why Axapta and not Great Plains or Navision he didnt’ say, but my guess is that GP is seen as being for small business, and Navision doesn’t have much traction in the US.

I wonder how many other former JDE consulting companies will defect from Oracle? JDE was always tied strongly to IBM (almost by an umbilical chord) and next to Microsoft, Oracle came a third.

Sales force automation needs re-defining

Saturday November 19 2005 09:36 AM

It’s a bit old, but I saw a blog about Siebel as it was getting into financial trouble and before Oracle bought it. As a former user of a Siebel SFA (sales force automation) application, the comment struck home:

“Siebel’s CRM products embodied the sales philosophy of its hard-driving founder. This was sales as a mechanized process — customer data in, sales out. It proved the value of data support for salesmen, but instead of making the system support the salesman, it made the salesman support the machine. That approach ran out of gas.”

Using Siebel was a pain, and I know several other companies whose staff were forced to use it, and hated it. It was designed to help company execs know what was going on in the sales pipeline so they could report to the financial community – for the people who had to use it its value/usefulness was marginal at best. One thing I will say for Microsoft’s CRM, it’s not such a pain to use. The full article on Siebel is at:

Software industry directions

Sunday November 20 2005 11:09 AM

A bit late to discover them, but see the separate comments from this one blog about the IT industry:

Technology keirutsu
(… so we are Tier 2 suppliers to Microsoft, SAP etc, not implementation partners …?)

How many financial execs must Larry hire…

Multi-language support

Monday November 21 2005 11:19 AM

With the news last week that the Open Office people were providing Open Office in all the official SA languages, I wondered what the enterprise software community would do, considering where the non-English official languages rank in the work language rankings. It can’t be cheap creating languages files for languages with such a small number of speakers.

Here’s the list from

  1. Mandarin: 1 Billion+
  2. English: 508 Million
  3. Hindi: 497 Million
  4. Spanish: 392 Million
  5. Russian: 277 Million
  6. Arabic: 246 Million
  7. Bengali: 211 Million
  8. Portuguese: 191 Million
  9. Malay-Indonesian: 159 Million
  10. French: 129 Million

Here are the languages that just barely missed the list (from the most popular to the least): German, Japanese, Urdu, Punjabi, Korean, Telugu, Tamil, Marathi, Cantonese, Wu, Vietnamese, Javanese, Italian, Turkish, Tagalog, and Thai.

How much innovation do we get?

Monday November 21 2005 12:27 PM

An interesting point in an Optimize article (, do we get our money’s worth of innovation from the enterprise software vendors. If they only spend 15% of the money they get from us on R&D, are we being conned that they provide all this innovative software? Does this have any impact on the argument of package software vs. open source vs. own development?

Gartner compares Axapta and Navision

Wednesday November 23 2005 09:18 AM

Using (and confusing) the new Microsoft naming convention for their ERP products Axapta and Navision (aka Dynamics AX and NAV, respectively), I saw a Gartner comparison of AX and NAV. As I don’t want to get sued by Gartner for replicating the entire article, here is the summary

When evaluating Dynamics AX and Dynamics NAV, SMBs should keep these in mind:
• Because of similar license fee structures, both solutions cost about the same and take approximately the same time to deploy for out-of-the-box functionality.
• Dynamics NAV has a larger worldwide reseller channel than Dynamics AX, with 2,000 resellers to Dynamics AX’s 800. This is especially true in North America, where Dynamics AX has just started building a channel.
• Navision has many independent software vendors (ISVs) and reselling partners with solutions that are optimized for different individual countries. Axapta has a fewer number of ISVs and partners with solutions tuned to individual countries, but it enables large companies that do business in many different countries to run a single ISV application.
• Channel partners that install Dynamics AX and Dynamics NAV fill functionality gaps by developing their own code as add-on modules. Users must consider the partner viability, support issues and lock-in that using partner-derived code may represent.
• The reseller should be researched thoroughly, due to the typical customization and service quotient associated with both solutions. Ensure that the reseller’s industry expertise, geographical support and size can support the number of current and future users and deployments planned.
• Except in large deals, resellers make very little profit in selling vendor software. They make money primarily in services and customization. Because of this, it’s critical to ensure that the overall solution is well-scoped and defined to actual requirements.
• Recognize that when customization is added to basic software license fees, the price tag goes up. This should be compared with competitive solutions that offer the option of software being customizable “out of the box.” The key is to quantify the value of having the functionality “tailored” to your unique needs.
• Ensure that your reseller presents you with its development methodology as well as the standards it plans to use. Validating this with Microsoft Business Solutions will ensure supportability, improve documentation and ease the capability to roll forward the changes as they’re made.
• The more that either solution is customized, the higher the probability is that not all changes will automatically roll forward.

Source: Gartner, 16 November 2005, Know the Differences Between Microsoft Business Solutions’ Dynamics AX and Dynamics NAV

Collaboration will only work with trust

Monday November 28 2005 05:23 PM

Back in the ‘old’ days – by that I meant 2001 – we started talking about collaborative applications for ERP, where companies ERP systems would inter-connect. But it hasn’t taken off yet, and an article by Don Tapscott gives the reason – business have to build up networks of trust before the collaboration advantages will come. According to him the principles for organisations need to change:



Think global, act local. Think global, act global.
Maintain mission-critical capabilities inside your organization. Work in networks that go beyond corporate boundaries.
Hire and keep the best people to remain innovative. Build an innovation Web to harness the best ideas from inside and outside your organization.
Control and protect proprietary resources at all costs. Be willing to give up IP for the sake of new business models and revenue streams.
Plan products and services, then push them into the market with mass media marketing campaigns. Engage stakeholders, including employees and customers, in developing new products and services.
Achieve integration through optimal business processes and build hardwired business structures. Consider inter-enterprise integration, creating object-oriented businesses that have reusable business components.
Manage knowledge to ensure it’s available to other employees. Build alumni Webs and content collaboration systems that encourage current and former employees to interact and share information.
Avoid vulnerability through secrecy; view transparency as a threat. Strengthen brands and reputation through openness and integrity.
Build the brand as an image or promise. Build brand on relationships.
View IT as something to be organized within the enterprise. Embrace outsourcing and forge IT partnerships outside the corporate boundary.

Don Tapscott, CIO magazine article,1540,1869451,00.asp

Will economic growth help ERP in SA?

Tuesday November 29 2005 01:05 PM

An article on the Gordon Institute of Business Science web site covers the issues around the planned (and hoped for) economic growth of six percent in the South African economy

The line I liked is right at the end. “The six percent growth target requires more people working more productively.” That should mean companies should be looking for ways to improve their internal processes and operations so they can be more productive and effective.

Given that most companies in this economy fall into the small-to-medium category, I wonder how many will consider changing their business management systems, and give local purveyors of ERP applications an opportunity to demonstrate their systems’ values and benefits?

It feels like 1999 again

Wednesday November 30 2005 04:13 PM

I sometimes feel like we are back in 1999. Not the pre-Y2K boom, but just before the dot com bubble started. People are leaving well-established mainstream IT vendors – Sun, Microsoft, for example – to go work for dot com companies – A9, Google.

Also, I see blogs about the demise of old-sytle ERP vendors – That reminds me of the pre-dot com era when pundits were saying that the new little startups would swallow the mainstream ERP vendors. I even remember two of those startups – Siebel, i2. How the times have changed. Not.

Eating your own dog food

Wednesday November 30 2005 04:22 PM

There’s an awful saying, apparently coined at Oracle, called “eating your own dog food”. Basically it means practicising what you preach.

For a company promoting ERP software, that means we should use the software internally that we recommend to companies. Of course, it doesn’t always work so easily.

I am now a user of our ERP system, rather than just promoting and implementing it. It makes an interesting change to have to use the stuff you sell. And I have just touched the surface of it – the financials. But how a software reseller will use distribution or manufacturing I don’t know.

What we don’t do is use our own CRM software; currently we use Microsoft CRM as a sales force management tool. But I see no reason why during next year we shouldn’t migrate to our CRM. Then I won’t feel as guilty talking about our CRM whilst using another package at the office.

Why is ERP so difficult to use

Monday December 5 2005 03:56 PM

As I mentioned previously (Eat your own dog food), I am becoming a user of the system I sell and support. So I am learning what it is like to be a user of XXX software. And it is frustrating.

OK, I haven’t been on a training course, I learn by wanting to do specific tasks and asking staff how to do it, and I have had many years of experience with different software. But the function keys do different things depending on the screen displayed, the commands don’t seem to use the words I would to describe what the action does. And sometimes the interface is inconsistent – why for one set of invoice-related enquiries have customer number and name, and on other screens just have customer number?

This has also re-emphasised to me why lack of training and familiarisation can be a project killer for an ERP app. I wonder how many projects out there would have done so much better if the clients had not tried to cut costs by reducing training. Actually, I know a few.

Now I understand why SAP and Microsoft are making their app front-ends look more like MS Office. As I know the Office UI (user interface), an app that followed the same convention would, I think, make it easier for me to use.

That prompts me to ask the question – what standard UI is Oracle going to adopt? Open Office perhaps?

IT predictions for 2006

Wednesday December 7 2005 01:33 PM

Vinnie Mirchandani at the deal architect blog has alerted me to some prediction for 2006 made the IDC analyst group.

I like the part where IDC says Middle East and Africa will experience double-digit growth in their IT markets, whereas Europe and the US will be a lot smaller.

Some of the headings in the report are:
-Continuing moderate IT growth, creating pressure to think outside the box.
-The dynamic IT transition in the enterprise continuing to drive M&A and key footprint expansions.
-“Open innovation” gathering momentum as a core strategy for driving diversity and growth of IT value.
-IT delivery shifting from products to services.
-“IT inside” business and consumer services becoming more prevalent.
-The “Google effect” spurring action by traditional players.

Here’s another heading with a bit more details:
– Information Access and Management: The Year of the Information Platform. As we discussed in Three “Killer Platforms” Will Reshape Enterprise IT, one of customers’ most pressing drivers for dynamic IT is the need for rapid access to relevant, qualified information.

Maybe we can start seeing ERP applications focusing on getting information out, rather than putting it in.

Secrets of implementing enterprise software

Saturday December 10 2005 10:59 AM

There is a very interesting blogger Software Implementation in the Age of the Internet who discusses some of the issues around implementing enterprise software (SAP, Oracle, etc). What comes out to me time and again is how people, and people management, makes all the difference.

At a previous company, we had two clients who both bought the software at the same time and used the same hardware platform. But two-three years later, one of them was a great reference customer for us, the other was still complaining about the system and finding problems.

It taught us one thing. It’s the clients’ people that make or break and ERP project. My company has just come out of two projects this year – one of which went so bad the lawyers have been in, the other one we have been congratulated by the FD for such excellent work. We had the same people on the team for both projects, the software was the same, and both systems were on the Microsoft platform. What was different, the attitude of the client’s staff. One had staff that were interested, committed and saw value in the project; the other had people who were threatened, resistant … and a bit stupid.

December shutdown and quarterly pressures

Sunday December 18 2005 08:14 AM

It has become a standard work trend in South Africa that businesses start shutting down from the 16th Dec holiday until after New Year (usually a week after). Brits and Americans must think it crazy, but I gather the French do something similar in July or August – i.e., take their summer holidays as a crowd.

I mention this because this it is the first time in many years when my workload is not decreasing at this time of the year. I hope this portends well for those of us in the enterprise software space. Anyone with a similar situation?

I also got a new whiff of the quarterly revenue drive by the major ERP vendors. We lost a big deal recently to one of the MOS competitors, and I know this has hurt our vendor partner manager’s numbers for the quarter. The nice thing about being in a private company is that we don’t have anyone looking over our shoulder to see how we are doing, and whether we get a win in one month or the next it’s OK.

I think the quarterly revenue target “thing” is what went wrong for the country manager of Oracle SA recently – and he was fired for it. And yet a year ago he was doing just fine. Go figure.

The software vendors have got to get out of this attitude that they can make their numbers by giving more discounts to pressurise companies to buy sooner. Companies that I am working with are just not in a hurry to invest in enterprise software. They know it’s going to cost a lot of money and they want to make sure they get “all their ducks in a row” before they embark on the project. As long as I know they are definitely going to choose our software, I prefer if they make me wait for a month longer to ensure the project is run properly.

Saas still a dream in SA

Friday December 23 2005 07:26 AM

A good number of my favourite bloggers have been going on about SaaS (Software as a Sservice) a bit this year. One of those is an fomer colleague who I lost contact with in recent years. The deal architect blog put me back in contact with Dennis Howlett who now has a well respectable blog.

When I contacted Dennis, he was very positive about SaaS and not complimentary about traditional software, pointing me by example to a company called Twinfield. The sad thing is that in South Africa the prospect of SaaS taking off is very unlikely at the moment, given the state and cost of our telecomms infra-structure.

At a previous company, I looked at a CRM product from the UK that was run purely via a browser with the application sitting in the UK. After some initial excitement, we eventually dropped the opportunity because when we costed it out, it was cheaper over a 12 month period for a small company to buy Microsoft CRM than to have to pay for the UK product (in pounds) plus the cost of a high-speed Telkom ADSL line.

SA companies aren’t even considering SaaS yet. Yesterday I was at a prospect who is running AccPac but finding it not suitable anymore for their growing business, and all they are interested in is a solution they can put on their own server. The issue of SaaS products didn’t even come up in the discussion.

So if anyone from outside SA reads this who is thinking about introducing an SaaS product to this country, my advice is to wait for our telecomms environment to open up more, for costs to come down, and for service to improve, before you bring your product here.

re: Saas still a dream in SA

Saturday 24 December 2005 4:14 AM
Thanks for the hat tip Simon. You have my sympathy. Spain may not be the most expensive but it’s the most unpredictable. We call Telefonica, our very own greedy telco ‘Timochronica’ – which basicly means ‘chronic scasm artist.’

There is one way SA companies could fight back using the SaaS model. The north western world is looking for new locations for offshoring. If SA companies were brave enough to work out an attractive economical model, then it could go to government and explain this as a way of resolving some of the country’s unemployment issues? SA’s relatively weak currency would also help in terms of the overall outsourced cost.

Look at what’s happening in the emerging eastern European markets? They’re relatively poor yet their governments understand the value of technology as a wealth creator.

Reviewing the SA online tech press, I don’t see a whole lot of quality reporting around the new technologies that are coming along – like blogs. I could of course be looking in the wrong places but regardless of quality, those outlets could be a useful resource for making the point. Or at least raising serious awareness fo the potential.

The crazy part about it is it’s a win-win for telcos because they get a massive boost in the number of subscribers. That has to force prices down – especially if it is in support of initiatives that help reduce unemployment. Either that or there is a huge oppportunity for new players prepared perhaps to ‘buy’ satellite bandwidth from an international operator and create an independent network.

Or is this all wishful thinking based on a complete lack of understanding of the position in SA? I suspect it might having read through some of the anti-stuff out there. But it’s an idea, a dream. Gotta be worth someone’s thinking time.

Discovering what it’s like on the other side

Friday December 23 2005 12:13 PM

I am trying to ensure we use our own enterprise software product properly as an in-house system, and had my first meeting this morning with our top developer, who pointed out all the ways we are doing things wrong in-house. I can see the benefits of upgrading and enhancing our system, but I was struck by the realisation that I would have to sell it to our CEO.

The CEO is an entrepreneur and has some understanding of technology (we are a tech company after all), but he never really uses our internal system (except email) and as far as he is concerned it all works OK. I have to come up with business benefits and ROI details that will help to justify doing this project; for a tech company that means taking billable people off client work to do company work so it has revenue impact.

I now have some understanding of what our prospects and clients have to go through when we propose projects to them. It’s interesting being on the other side of the fence.

Why blog for your company

Friday January 6 2006 04:07 PM

While people often blog for personal reasons, there is a growing demand that people should blog for their company (look at Scobleiser for example).

For marketers, it seems the need to start considering blogging is getting quite important, if the following blog is an indication:

If its true, maybe we will see a bit more honest coming back into marketing 🙂

Does Microsoft understand ERP

Wednesday January 11 2006 05:36 PM

Just before Christmas I had lunch with a director of Syspro, the South African ERP company that has offices worldwide. One item in the conversation was whether Microsoft would make the commitment to continue investing in Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS), its ERP division. Apart from the cost of acquiring Great Plains and Navision, MBS is still not yet turning a profit. The Syspro director is firmly of the opinion that Microsoft has a consumer orientation and shrink-wrap view of software, and doesn’t understand what providing business management software to companies entails, and so believes that it will tire of MBS and sell off the software within 2-3 years.

Then last week I had the opportunity to share a car journey with a channel manager from MBS South Africa, and made the point to him whether MBS would survive. He gave me several points to consider:

1. Initially Microsoft did not understand what ERP software entails, and made a number of mistakes, but is beginning to learn. Apparently, Bill Gates didn’t understand the implications and issues around Office at first (coming from an operating system background), but learnt what was need, and as they say, look at it now.
2. I need to check this, but the manager said that the server business of Microsoft made losses for many years while they were learning about it and building it up. So what is going on at MBS isn’t new.
3. Microsoft did make mistakes in personnel appointments at MBS, but is learning what type of people it needs in that type of business. That also applies to the head count in MBS. In the ratio of staff to revenue, other divisions have fewer staff than MBS has, and Microsoft recognises why that needs to be different.
4. While losses at MBS have continued, they are getting smaller. So profitability may not be that far away.

I came away from that discussion with a different perspective on the MBS business. I still think that Bill G and Steve B need to appoint people at senior levels of MBS who understand the ERP business, and the international aspects of it as well. At the moment all they have done is sideline Doug Bergum (ex founder and CEO of Great Plains), and made MBS report to Jeff Raikes. But I think they need to demonstrate their commitment with more strongly.

How appropriate is open source for enterprise apps

Thursday January 12 2006 12:16 PM

A comment I saw on the Sightlines blog:

”Right now CEOs are hearing that all this open source stuff is free so they have no natural inclination to question its adoption. But when they realize 5 years from now that what they really have is several large custom systems that they have written and continue to support and maintain themselves they are not going to be happy. 

Sure, the independent software vendors have a pricing model that makes any decent person blush and putting some pressure on it is not a bad thing, but to return to custom development is not a good idea. Whatever changes you make to open source you own. It may work great today, but how about ten years from now when the original team has moved on and you are trying to manage the custom code without the value of documentation?”

Does BI need to be fancy

Tuesday January 17 2006 09:37 AM

My early days in IT were much involved in the area of what was then called ‘decision support’, but we now call BI (business intelligence). In those days – the height of the IBM mainframe – the standard computer access device was the IBM 3270 terminal, and packages like SAS were the best avenues to get reports and analysis that a non-IT person could understand. Because it was paper-based, the way information was presented was fairly basic and straight-forward.

Then along came the PC, and the spreadsheet, which was like looking at one of the old paper reports. After that came client-server and the ability to get mainframe or server data to a PC for easier analysis and review. That created a wave of start-ups in the BI field from the mid-1990s, all providing different and fancier ways of storing, retrieving and analysing data. (The term BI was, I think, coined by Howard Dresdner of the Gartner organisation; much like the term ERP also came from Gartner).

I remember once reading Dresdner saying that over 70% of all BI work was done on Excel, by then the ubiquitous spreadsheet app, but still some vendor companies were trying to push fancy analytical front-ends. Despite that, it was not until 2004 that I saw Syspro embrace Excel as a BI front-end when they were developing Syspro Analytics (a project I am pleased to say I was involved in).

I whole-heartedly agree with the trend towards making data analysis simpler again, and its nice to see other people making similar comments. The article also points out a reason why we haven’t seen any big IT vendors in the BI space, compared to databases and ERP, and how important it is to target BI apps to vertical industry requirements.

It’s not the software

Wednesday January 18 2006 08:44 AM

Anyone who has implemented business management software – whether ERP, CRM, BI etc – knows that the success of the application doesn’t depend on the software, but the way it is introduced and adopted in the organisation deploying it.

I know of two companies that deployed the same ERP system, on the same hardware, at the same time, but one became a reference site within 2-3 years whilst the other was still struggling and complaining about the system.

A new article from MIT’s Sloan Management Review (subscription required), has the following comments:

“New tools must first be integrated into a system that’s already in place. It is important to remember that tools are embedded both within the organizations that deploy them and within the tasks the tools themselves are dedicated to performing. Moreover, each organization’s approach to how people, processes and tools are integrated is unique — a result of formal and informal routines, culture and habits. All too often, companies spend millions of dollars on tools that fail to deliver on their promise, and the culprit is typically not the technology itself but the use of the technology.”

… as my teenage kids would say, ‘Duh’!

Shock and awe

Friday January 20 2006 04:56 PM

A government department has put out a tender for an integrated ERP, workflow and document management that it says it has budgetted for R30million for a 5 year project. I am shocked that they think it will cost so much and take so long …

… until I learnt that a couple of big ERP and consulting players have been talking to the department. They have put the dumb IT people into such awe that they think they are going to have to pay that much.

Well, we are going to see if we can at least play the gnat to their elephant – irritate those big arrogant players with a proposal that comes in well under budget and in less than 5 years.

Let’s see how things go.

Will best of breed die?

Monday January 23 2006 03:24 PM

The future of best of breed has been raised at a recent AMR conference, where there were differing views between SAP and Oracle. Go figure!

I think what SAP reckons is that software solutions will increasingly become industry specific or fill a product niche, rather than being the broad type of solution, like i2 was in supply chain. Oracle and Microsoft have a different view, probably based on their history as platform providers.

Larry’s lavish lifestyle

Friday February 3 2006 05:26 PM

Apparently Larry Ellison, the CEO/founder of Oracle, has a lifestyle that makes even his accountant worry – even though Larry’s net worth is around US $17 billion

Tender proposal step 2

Friday February 3 2006 05:30 PM

We submitted the tender for the government department I referred to earlier and it didn’t come near R30million, or 5 years.

Just goes to show how the big consulting companies rip off the larger clients.

ERP market shares – then and now

Wednesday February 8 2006 01:18 PM

A recent AMR report shows how the players and their market share have changed in 5 years:

In 1999, the top five vendors in the ERP market (JD Edwards, Baan, Oracle, PeopleSoft and SAP) accounted for 59 per cent of the industry’s revenue.
But the analyst firm expects the top five vendors in 2005 (SAP, Oracle, Sage Group, Microsoft and SSA Global) to account for 72 per cent of ERP vendors’ total revenue.

News from Redmond

Sunday February 12 2006 01:22 PM

Eventally comes the news that Microsoft Business Solutions, which arose out of the acquisition of Great Plains and Navision Damgaard, has turned a profit in the last quarter (end December) of $10 million, on revenues of $242 million. So its taken about 5 years to become profitable.

I had the opportunity to hear one of the MBS big wigs, Orlando Ayala, speak at a Microsoft executive event in Johannesburg. It was interesting to hear how difficult and long he found it turning MBS into a division that could work properly. He also gave some insights into how Microsoft builds its business – aims for platforms rather than products, how it has re-organised parts of the business – Exchange now in the Office group – and mentioned that there is going to be a big global marketing campaign coming out soon.

On the positioning of MBS products, they believe that integration with Office is going to be a major advantage. Like Office was a platform for desktop productivity, and Windows Server and related apps (Exchange, SQL Server) a platform for systems environment, they see the ERP/CRM product line as a platform for business applications.

Can S.African software vendors afford to go vertical

Friday February 17 2006 10:03 PM

This blog entry is prompted by a meeting I had today which involved a representative from a European software company that provides add-on solutions to one of the big international ERP vendors. He seemed perplexed why we are focusing on a deal which we don’t have deep vertical experience in – to the extent that he basically suggested we pull out and give the deal to someone else. I think he got my response pretty clearly.

The question is, can SA companies afford to get focused on specific verticals sectors, which is what our vendor principals would like. My answer is No, we don’t have a market size to support that approach.

Wednesday March 15 2006 04:50 PM

I see that an ad campaign overseas by SAP, claiming that they have stats showing how SAP customers are more profitable companies, has back-fired. An analyst group, Nucleus, had analysed the published financials of a hundred plus SAP-using companies in the US and found that actually they are less profitable than peers who don’t use SAP. Of course, Microsoft has started publishing that news to its partners, and I bet so has Oracle.

That sort of story isn’t new, of course. Back in my data warehouse days in the 1990s, it was about which DBMS vendor had the best TPC benchmarks on which hardware. If a competitor published a test that showed their product better (meaning faster) than yours, the next stage was to question all the hardware and database configurations. Got rather meaningless after a while.

Project completion percentages

Monday March 27 2006 03:54 PM

Bruce Richardson, one of the chief ‘honchos’ at analyst group AMR, has written a piece comparing software development to climbing Mount Everest ( I think it can be generalised to any project, especially when managers report they have completed, say, 50% and make the inference that the rest is straight-forward.

Here is Bruce’s comment (I have editted it slightly for brevity)
There are two main routes to the summit of Mt. Everest. The southeast ridge from Nepal is described as technically easier and the more frequently used route.

It takes an average of six to eight days to get from Lukla to Base Camp on the Khumbu Glacier. At 17,600 feet, Base Camp is more than halfway up the mountain. Then it starts getting treacherous.

After spending a few weeks at Base Camp, sherpas and some of the climbers set up ropes and ladders in the Khumbu Icefall. The goal is to reach Camp I or Advanced Base Camp at 19,900 feet. This is very dangerous terrain.

From Camp I, climbers make their way to Camp II (21,300 feet) through the Valley of Silence. The next stop is Camp IV (26,000 feet) on the South Col. This area is described as the death zone. Climbers can survive no more than two or three days at this altitude. If the wind and weather don’t cooperate, climbers may be forced to descend back down to Base Camp. If conditions are right, the summit is a 10- to 12-hour hike through areas of waist-deep snow. There they can reach the South Summit (28,700 feet).

While the top is now within reach, there is still the need to pass the Cornice traverse. One false move and you may plummet 8,000 to 10,000 feet. From there you aim for the Hillary Step (28,750), and then have a relatively easy climb to the top, 29,035 feet. After all of this, successful climbers will spend less than a half hour on “top of the world” before beginning their descent.

The point here is that the remaining 50% of the journey is far more difficult and dangerous than reaching the halfway point.

What Microsoft really wants it partners to do

Wednesday April 5 2006 11:27 PM

I got an inside perspective today on what Microsoft really sees as the role of its partners – that is to bring in as much software licence revenue as possible. Nothing else. You might say ‘Duh!’, but as a Microsoft partner our concern is more about building up guaranteed annuity revenues in the form of service level agreements, software maintenance and system enhancements and support.

The disconnect, as I see it, is that Microsoft managers are measured (in large part) on a licence revenue target; they don’t really care what our business goals are.

It is a salutary, and useful, reminder about what drives Microsoft.

How to ensure good customer service

Sunday April 16 2006 03:53 PM

Some good ideas from Guy Kawasaki about attitudes and practices to ensure good customer service:

12 British books that changed the world

Wednesday April 19 2006 04:29 PM

Departing from technology for a moment, the eminent Brit writer and broadcaster (Lord) Melvyn Bragg has listed the 12 British books that changed the world:


Full details at

More ERP consolidation

Friday May 19 2006 02:42 PM

I have to report that the news this week in the ERP area has been Infor’s acquisition of an previous acquisitor, SSA Global. So that’s even more consolidation in the market, and yet another sign that companies seem to think that the only way to grow is by acquisition. Have the days of organic growth in the ERP market gone?

Of a little interest to me is what will happen in SA because SSA was represented by a distributor but Info wasn’t. Will Asher Boboff of EOH get yet another ERP product line.

Questions are: will the new Infor/SSA be any more successful than they have been in the past, and how will sales and marketing handle even more products?

Beware RFPs

Saturday May 27 2006 10:48 PM

As I mentioned before, we have just started an ERP implementation project. What I didn’t say was that we came across the opportunity as an RFP (Request For Proposal) in mid 2005. It took an additional two RFP revisions, a demo (not well done) and finally an industry-specific add-on solution before they bought into our solution.

Why do I mention this, well, because we started the business analysis and requirements session this week. I was reviewing the project charter document, and decided to refer to the original RFP for information. What got me was that the information about the business in the RFP, and what we now know about it, hardly bear any comparison at all.The RFP was done by an independent consultant, who obviously only knew about ERP issues, and had no insight into the business specific issues. How we managed to get through the first evaluation round, let alone win the deal, now amazes me.Quite frankly, the RFP was appalling, so not only did the consultants waste the company’s money on a poor proposal, but then cost it even more time while we all went through several subsequent rounds.

My advice after this, forget RFPs if you want an ERP implementation. Instead, get your main people together, figure out the key things you want, and then get them to invite vendors to a presentation where you go through the issues and requirements. Then ask the vendors to summarise in writing what was said, with their proposals to address whatever came out. The vendors who understand the business issues should not only do a good summary but also give you other ideas you hadn’t thought of. This process saves you money on an RFP consultant, and makes you think about what you really need.

What it takes to develop an application

Wednesday June 14 2006 05:10 PM

I teach a computer skills class to dis-advantaged kids in Alexandra on Saturday mornings, but last week instead of a class, a colleague got a computer animator to talk about his job, and the process of computer animation.

What struck me was that he showed a short animation clip, and then said it took 10 days to produce. I could not help thinking of all those users of who say “I just want to be able to do this” in their ERP systems, and then are horrified that it is such a big job.

Maybe I should get this animator in at the start of every project – inject a bit of irreverence into a serious kick-off meeting, and at the same time illustrate that a seemingly simple application involves a lot of complexity.

Customer churn

Tuesday June 20 2006 12:08 PM

If your ERP business deals with small- to mid-size customers, you are probably aware that they are liable to change their ERP service provider periodically – customer churn, as it is called. I know Accpac, Navision and Syspro customers in South Africa do that. Well, thanks to Dennis Howlett, there are two blogs (from the same site) about looking after customers which you should absolutely read:

30 Years of Loyal Service, Then What?

What Do “Bad” Clients Cost Your Firm?

And so it ends

Monday July 10 2006 07:00 AM

A month of pretty good football has come to an end with the World Cup final yesterday. Now we have to wait another four years, but then the craziness will be right here!

(update: little did I know that I would change jobs three times between when I wrote this blog entry and the start of the World Cup in S.Africa)

Pipeline forecast accuracy

Tuesday July 11 2006 04:07 PM

Is pipeline forecast accuracy, like military intelligence, a contradiction in terms? (Pipeline here referring to sales opportunities)

Microsoft want to make it part of their partner measurement process. I remember when Siebel first came out that they promised using their system and process would make the sales process more predictable. You can guess the success of that.

Here’s my opinion. There is no way you can accurately forecast how a deal is going to progress and when it is going to close – until you are very close to the end. When I was doing weather forecasting (a long time ago) we could only give predictions with any accuracy 24-28 hours out. Beyond that the non-linear processes make forecasts just a good guess. ERP sales are similar – they involve complex and non-linear processes and interactions which you as the sales person may not know of or be able to assess.

MBS to disappear

Tuesday July 18 2006 04:38 PM

A report (here from the FT ) that Microsoft is not going to report the financial results of the Business Solutions division separately any more, but include it as part of the Information Worker unit. According to the FT, the MBS division “has lost $185m on sales of $1.4bn over the past seven quarters and has already been through a management shake-up”.

I talked before about whether Microsoft understands business apps, and whether it would continue to invest in it. My colleague Meryl reckons they don’t and they won’t. I reckon this announcement means that they want to continue with ERP but without the degree of scrutiny that a separate reporting division entails. So maybe they aren’t going to give up on ERP … yet.

Survived to fight another day

Friday July 21 2006 09:04 AM

Unlike my colleagues who implement big SAP and Oracle applications, our engagements last maybe 9-12 months for long projects, and 1-3 months for short ones. This means you can never really sit back and relax for any period of time as you have to keep chasing for new work on a monthly or weekly basis. So it is with relief that I can say that our billings for this month look as though they will be OK, and the CEO is happy. That means I have survived in this job to fight another day, or in this case, another month.

What is it like for managers on SAP implementations when you know you have billable project work for the next 2-5 years?

Not much notice of MBS change – redux

Friday July 21 2006 09:11 AM

[There has] been little comment about the collapsing of the MBS unit into the Information Worker unit, but I see that Mini-Microsoft has someone commenting about it:

“The MBS one is more problematic but basically reflects what’s been increasingly clear all along – MBS is being run as an Office and related delivery mechanism”

I read that has saying that the role of MBS will be to drive more Office sales; a bit broad but worth remembering.

MBS makes a profit – Wow!

Monday July 24 2006 09:43 AM

The Microsoft Monitor blog has done the analysis of Microsoft’s annual results.

It seems MBS made a profit of $24 million on annual turnover of $919 million – that’s 2% of turnover; not very impressive considering all the partners they have who don’t cost them anything. So where is all the money going?

And that’s the last we will hear how MBS is doing as it becomes part of Business Division from now.

Thanks and goodbye, Jack

Monday July 24 2006 03:48 PM

Fortune has an interesting article about the new rules of business, essentially saying that the tenets that Jack Welsh used to build General Electric (and his image) will no longer work.

Vinnie also reviewed it on his blog.

I have a very poor opinion of Jack Welsh after he wrote a book and thanked his wife (second one) for all her help, then prompted had an affair. The twist in that story is that the jilted wife publicised the excessive perks Welsh got after he retired from GE and caused quite an uproar.

Changing nature of strategy

Tuesday July 25 2006 09:18 AM

Irving Wladawsky-Berger, the senior guy at IBM for “Technical Strategy and Innovation”, has some interesting thoughts on how strategy formulation is changing.

Briefly, strategy used to be set from the top and from inside, and reflected the top-down hierarchy. Now, strategy can come from the bottom, and many CEOs believe they get their best ideas for innovation from outside (clients and partners).

But the way I see Microsoft, SAP and Oracle developing products still seems to be the old top-down way.

IBM has at least tried to democratise the process with ThinkPlace but I don’t know what has come out of it.

UPDATE: I had just posted this than I saw a new article on the Sandhills blog, Innovation through Co-Creation by CK Prahalad, raising the same issue about technology vendors and innovation –
‘few customers would venture to call their enterprise software vendors “innovative.” The reason is that most software vendors have gained a reputation of being slow moving and intractable in their business methods.’

New selling technique?

Tuesday July 25 2006 05:16 PM

The cleareye blog is covering some basic issues in sales and marketing. A recent one that stands out is “From Fact Telling to Storytelling” and points out that just providing facts to people these days isn’t going to persuade them to select your product. Don’t we ERP sales people like stating facts! The gist is “Facts don’t persuade, feelings do”. Well worth thinking about next time you are in front of a potential customer.

Perfect storm for ERP players

Tuesday July 25 2006 06:52 PM

Dennis Howlett and I have commented recently as to whether Microsoft understands ERP. I remarked earlier today whether the big ERP players know how to innovative, so did CK Prahalad, and now Sadagopan also comments (here and here) about the inability of the ERP mega-vendors to cope:

“in the medium to long term, the leadership status that the mega vendors want to hold on to may slip away – faster than it took for them to build. After all being in touch with the application ecosystem, matching customer expectations are a basic requisite for enduring success and fostering innovations. Clearly, the enterprise software market will have to reflect and embark on an important restructuring and transformation to become more vibrant, broad based, innovative and bounce back as a serious contributor to the growth of the industry ecosystem and the business at large”

Is the perfect storm brewing for the big ERP vendors?

Neils Bohr and business

Friday July 28 2006 10:30 AM

Neils Bohr, of quantum physics fame, is quoted as saying “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future”. That comment came back to me this week at a personal and business level.

Our revenue for the last quarter was OK, but not as good as we hoped because a project we had anticipated has not started yet. Its no one’s fault (except the tardy client!) but we had forecast it and therefore some people take it as gospel. Also this week Amazon got hit because its quarterly results were hit by an unforeseen problem. I’m sure they take a huge amount of care when preparing forecasts, but how can anyone really predict the future.

I am back to a prevoius comment on forecasting – how can anyone accurately forecast what business is going to happen in the future? Generally, we tend to overestimate our ability to get things done and underestimate problems and difficulties – thanks to Nick Carr for highlighting the psychological experiments by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (Digital Renderings: Great Products, Lousy Business).

What makes the business forecasting demands even wierder for me is that we as society have stopped expecting the future to resemble the present or past, but business still expects it.

Microsoft’s pricing craziness

Friday July 28 2006 04:53 PM

Microsoft’s business division (MBS) has come out with a new pricing structure for all its products. For the product I am involved with, we have gone from very detailed pricing where clients bought functionality at a very specific level, to a very course structure. When the sales people at the briefing, from different partners, heard the details of this new pricing structure there was considerable commotion.

It’s still early days, but I think Microsoft has shot itself in the foot – again – with the way it handles its ERP product line. In my opinion, the people at Microsoft who do pricing for Office were given the job for the business division and applied the Office pricing principles. Mr Ballmer please listen, you need different people to run MBS.

I know one MBS partner who is distraught at the new pricing as it will significantly increase the price of the solution they sell without giving any benefit. Any other MBS partners out there with a view on this?

ERP for SMEs

Tuesday August 1 2006 08:39 AM

An interesting article on the Technology Evaluation Centre web site (registration required) about the way small and medium enterprises (SMEs) view and approach ERP – Looking For Software—The Expectations of Small and Medium EnterprisesIn times gone by, the ERP vendors used to claim that SMEs have the same problems as large companies, and therefore marketing to SMEs could be the same. I used to think they were wrong, but never had the information to contradict them. Now TEC has published some of that information, and it is well worth a read, IMO. Here are some of what I think are significant comments:

  • “describe themselves as conservative technology adopters” – so they are not going to go for new technology
  • “59.1% were looking for their first system” – in my experience many have a basic accounting system, and that’s all
  • “state their software strategy as maintaining their competitive position, not improving it. SMEs want to have a safe, consistent business infrastructure that allows them to compete without a disadvantage” – so no point in pushing the ‘competitive advantage’ message, rather consider the ‘lower risk’ message
  • “These companies are not buying software. They are buying solutions that fit their specific business” – they actually don’t care about bells and whistles, they just want the basics
  • “intellectual capital is what counts. SMEs should insist on talking to the people who will actually be working with them during the implementation” – don’t put the hard-driving ERP sales man in front, rather use the implementer who does know what he/she is talking about

improve ERP sales?

Monday August 14 2006 05:45 PM

Before I took a weeks leave, there was a spate of blogs about the ERP sales process and the role of ERP software.

Vinnie gave some suggestions about changing the sales process – sounds sensible but doesn’t take into account the challenges required to achieve his objectives. It also would only work for large enterprises looking for software as they have the IT staff, knowledge and understanding.

A really interesting comment comes from Jeff Nolan who, because he is a big honcho at SAP, should bear listening to – so how about no initial software licence payments? Jeff reckons ERP software should be ‘nearly’ free, with the revenue coming from maintenance and from ‘non-core’ applications.

For my part, I really think the ERP sales process needs to change, but the inertia in the big ERP players is huge – in terms of investment, business practice, personal agendas. I also think a number of potential customers would be confused or upset if they had to do all the investigative work up front. As for nearly free software, my objection to that is purely personal – I get commission on software sales revenue, and in fact so does every ERP sales person. So companies would need to find another way of remuneration which didn’t cannibalise on their sales process.

ERP dead … again

Monday August 14 2006 08:08 PM

Yet another article claiming that ERP software is on its way out – Is Enterprise Software Doomed?

I found it interesting until I checked the writer’s business web site and discovered he does work for a number of open source companies. Then I felt I was reading an article by someone who was just interested in promoting himself.

Is ERP a sh#tty industry?

Monday August 21 2006 04:38 PM

Is it just me, or is the ERP industry a shitty industry to be in?

My three working relatives – wife (a doctor now lecturing at Wits Medical School), and 2 brothers-in-law (one a chemical engineer with Anglo-American, the other a marine biologist at Kansas University) – have none of the grief that we in the ERP industry have to put up with.

What have we got – ego-centric CEOs and vulture capitalists, product lines that no one can understand, idiots in far-away countries who think they know how other parts of the world buy, customers with little idea of what they need.

Two articles in today’s AMR Alert makes we wonder where this industry is going:

ERP Doomsday Scenario
Who Really Owns Your Software Vendor?

Is this the future of enterprise software?

Monday August 28 2006 05:10 PM

Once again, AMR have highlighted a new development in how enterprises select software. Inspite of their claims, I have wondered how SaaS (Software as a Service) providers could surplant the main ERP vendors.

Now a story involving shows how a company that used a SaaS development platform produced and released their enterprise-oriented software without going through the normal venture capital route and without a large marketing and sales program

Bruce Richardson explains how Keiden developed their application on’s AppExchange. The impact of AppExchange is seen in the way it is growing:

Went live in January.
In April: 188 applications, with 7,100 installations and more than 100,000 test drives.
Currently: 317 applications, nearly 14,000 installations, and more than 143,000 test drives

What current ERP package has ever had test drives, let alone 143,000!

It’s also worth looking at a related AMR article discussing the new concept of the niche-focused micro module.

Now I can see that SaaS is something worth seriously considering. Anyone want to contact this South African about an opportunity is this space?

MS Dynamics marketers are fools – part 1

Thursday August 31 2006 02:21 PM

I have just received some new brochures from the Microsoft Dynamics (formerly Business Solutions) people. Very high-level stuff that just talks about the solutions in the Dynamics range without listing any of the product lines. However, there are four quotes, each referring to a specific product – CRM, GP, AX. And the fourth quote? Wrong, if you thought it mentions NAV. No, the brilliant minds at Microsoft have produced a brochure which completes ignores that one of their product lines exist – a product line that has +50,000 sites, +1 million user licences, +4000 partners worldwide.

The good thing is that this is not a brochure I would give to many prospects. It’s mainly another waste of marketing spend by the Dynamics people. Just another contribution to the SG&A line item that makes ERP product licence fees unnecessarily high.

MS Dynamics marketers are fools – part 2

Tuesday September 26 2006 10:17 AM

If it happened once I could be less critical, but in the last few weeks I have had at least 3 contacts with companies that were reviewing an ERP solution and had only looked at SAP Business One. When asked if they had considered Microsoft, a common comment was “we didn’t know Microsoft had a comparable solution”.

It seems that MS Dynamics is still labouring under the illusion that because everyone knows about ‘Microsoft’ they don’t have to aggressively market their products. That is definitely my perception about the situation in SA.

What would be a solution – stop hiring people with consumer marketing credentials for MS Dynamics, and go for people with business-to-business marketing experience.

I take some of it back

Tuesday October 3 2006 03:28 PM

I have to take some of my criticism of Microsoft Dynamics marketers back. They are not completely out of touch.

Why? Because they have changed the brochure that first made me say they are fools. I’m glad they realised the mistake. You don’t think they read this blog, do you?

Also, they have informed us that as of 1st October there are changes to the new licencing structure that reduces the price per user fairly substantially, and adds functionality to the lower end edition, which makes that edition more useful and acceptable.

Does it show that Microsoft are beginning to understand the nature of the ERP market? I’m not sure yet, but during a presentation recently to a prospect, at which a Microsoft representative was present, the Microsoft reps comments about Microsoft being prepared to be price competitive with other ERP packages prompted one of the prospect representatives to say to me afterwards “It’s interesting to see how Microsoft acts when it doesn’t own the market.”

I think the Dynamics people in Microsoft are quite aware they are in a competitive environment, especially those in the field, but unfortunetly I think too many of the main decision makers have not come from the field and are still naive about the situation.


One thought on “Archives

  1. Pingback: My previous blog archived here « The Manticore blog

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