Just a few years ago, executives of most mid-sized and larger organizations had two primary options to choose from when evaluating potential ERP systems: SAP and Oracle. In fact, the early years of my career were often spent helping clients assess and answer the age-old debate of SAP vs. Oracle. At Panorama, the question is still so prevalent that we publish an annual report outlining our research and experience with these two leading ERP vendors (as well as Microsoft Dynamics).
As times have changed and technologies have proliferated, however, so have the options in the ERP marketplace. Just as consumers no longer need to listen to traditional radio or watch live network television, executives shopping for ERP software no longer need to limit their options to two. Now CIOs and CFOs have other options, such as Tier II ERP vendors and cloud ERP software. Our research suggests growing support for these alternatives, with our 2012 ERP Report revealing that cloud and SaaS ERP systems grew from six-percent of the market in 2011 to 16-percent in 2012. In the meantime, SAP and Oracle’s dominant market share is still very much intact, although smaller and more nimble cloud providers are slowly chipping away at this dominance.
Given these trends, the large ERP vendors are responding accordingly. Oracle has grown largely through acquisitions of other mid-tier solutions such as JD Edwards and PeopleSoft, while at the same time increasing their cloud and hosted solution offerings. Similarly, SAP has increased its focus on Business By Design, which is its SaaS offering intended for smaller to mid-sized organizations. While companies such as Salesforce, Workday, Netsuite, and Plex Systems are largely recognized for their SaaS focus, SAP and Oracle have followed suit by shifting their attention to this arena as well.
The bad news is that this expanded portfolio of options has left executives with even more choices than before, which can be overwhelming without the broad and deep understanding of various ERP systems required to make an educated decision. Even when a CIO has a clear vision of whether they want to invest in an on-premise or cloud solutions, there are now plenty of options within each category. This simply wasn’t the case several years ago.
At the end of the day, choosing between SAP, Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics or Tier II ERP systems versus a cloud or SaaS solution boils down to three key criteria:
Flexibility. CIOs often think of “big” ERP as monolithic and rigid – and they certainly can be – but they are still often times more flexible than cloud solutions. Multi-tenant SaaS ERP software is inherently less capable of supporting customization to fit unique business processes or requirements, while cloud solutions can be more difficult to maintain in a timely manner. This tradeoff may be immaterial to a smaller organization with relatively vanilla business processes, but it can be and often is a deal breaker for larger, more complex organizations that have more unique and diverse business processes. Executives should have a strong handle on the level of flexibility they will need before going too far down the path of SaaS solutions.
Control and security. For some reason, most of our clients are still very concerned with a perceived lack of control and security as it relates to SaaS and cloud ERP systems. While many of our aerospace, defense and government ERP clients have valid regulatory reasons to be concerned, even our larger and less regulated manufacturing, distribution and professional services clients share the same worry. Our research and experience shows that cloud providers typically provide more secure and reliable solutions than any internal IT group ever could, so CIOs should carefully separate fact from fear when choosing between on-premise and SaaS ERP solutions.
Integration. Most of our clients are upper mid-market organizations that have grown through aggressive growth and acquisition. During these growth cycles, their enterprise systems proliferated out of control, which served as a catalyst for many of our clients to engage our services to help select and implement a single ERP software solution. These larger organizations often find that SaaS and cloud solutions aren’t conducive to this philosophy of consolidating systems to scale. Instead, SaaS systems often support a more disparate and functionally-focused approach. For example, Workday provides Human Capital Management (HCM) functionality and Salesforce provides Customer Relationship (CRM) software, both of which require third-party bolt-ons to extend full enterprise-wide functionality to their customers. This approach may be a non-issue for companies with sophisticated technical integration competencies, but it can be untenable for companies that don’t want to maintain multiple systems and integration points going forward.
As is the case with all ERP software options, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all strategy. We recommend to some of our clients that on-premise solutions from SAP and Oracle are the most feasible options for them, while we recommend to others that a Tier II, cloud or SaaS solution will best fit their needs. The only way to know for certain is to objectively define your business and technical needs, assess the various options in the marketplace in a non-biased way, and choose and implement the ERP system or systems that make the most sense for your organization.
Learn more by downloading Clash of the Titans 2012: SAP vs. Oracle vs. Microsoft Dynamics and our new white paper, A Comparison of Five Leading SaaS and Cloud Vendors.