Tuesday, January 18, 2011

ERP in the Cloud, and Beyond: Expandable Software's Bob Swedroe

Bob Swedroe is President and CEO of Expandable Software. Expandable provides solutions for enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other business functions, with three key twists.

First off, Expandable offers on-site or cloud-based implementations, depending on user preferences and business needs. Secondly, the company promises seamless integration with what Bob calls "best-of-market solutions." Third, the folks who actually get Expandable solutions up and running for customers are Expandable employees. This gives the company more direct influence over how these implementers do their jobs. This, in turn, lets Expandable offer some pretty impressive levels of support and service.

Bob's a big believer in cloud-based and software as a service (SaaS) solutions, but his perspective is refreshingly different from that of some of his industry peers. So I thought I'd ask him three pointed questions about the business software market. Please enjoy!

Q1: What is the single greatest challenge to success for software providers seeking to deliver modern business software solutions?

A1: The single greatest challenge is a level up from integration…I’d say flexibility in meeting business [requirements] while continuing to reduce the infrastructure worries. Businesses of all sizes want to focus on business rather than systems. This is driving force [behind] SaaS momentum.

Market trending is toward new business models of marketing and selling. We see this with our own business and with the [history of all] business software. We’ve come from point products to integrated business functions. ERP [solutions] by definition are single platforms that have integrated many business functions [originally performed by] point products. Now we are swinging back to point solutions as obviously there is a market for robust point solutions that bring a focused and higher level of complexity and flexibility to solve the issues at hand.

Software providers need to remain true to their core vision AND learn to integrate seamlessly (really seamlessly) with other applications such that the combined applications work together and [are] flexible enough to provide the best-of-breed solution. While the delivery method of the particular application is not important (i.e., on site or SaaS), the application must be able to integrate seamlessly and efficiently with other key applications residing in the cloud.

Again, companies don’t want to worry about the infrastructure. They just want it to work; and it will, because those that don't won't survive.

Q2: What is the single greatest challenge to success for enterprises seeking to deploy business-critical modern business software solutions?

A2: Probably the single biggest challenge is to be able to create a solid, dedicated, focused team [that] includes the company employees and the business solutions provider's employees. In addition, there needs to be complete executive-level support for the implementation to have a good chance of success – and the implementation of a review and monitoring process for the implementation.

Very often, unrealistic demands are set as employees are expected to do their normal job and also to "suck it up" and be on the deployment team. Execs need to be at least aware of the risks and consequences of taking employee’s [personal] bandwidth for granted.

One critical element that is so often overlooked is to find a software solution provider that is a true business partner. As a business partner they should be engaged and concerned about the success of your business. In essence, they become a valued extension of your internal team. The only way to know for sure how good a business partner is a software solution provider, is to perform a very thorough job of due diligence on the software provider. (Editorial Note: you can register to receive a free white paper from Expandable on checking vendor references at http://dortchon.it/gInN9J.)

Sage [an Expandable competitor] just recently created and appointed a Chief Customer Officer (CCO), but many ERP companies and business solutions companies sell, then “drop” their customers. To further add complexity to the issue, if the application is sold, delivered and implemented by a reseller, then the [purchasing] company not only has to perform proper due diligence on the software provider, but also on the reseller as well.

Salesforce.com realizes this as well and has a transfer after the sale to a Customer Success Manager that has primary focus on the customer success with the product. Expandable has a model where everyone [from the company] is/can be involved with the success of our customers.

Q3: What do you see as the next "great leap forward" for the modern business software solutions market - technological, organizational, perceptual or otherwise?

A3: The next "great leap forward" will be driven by the organizational/social changes that are coming as the "new generation" of employee comes through the ranks and the "Baby Boomers" leave. Essentially, the new ways versus old ways of how people work [and] socialize, and their comfort level with new technology will force this change – ubiquitous computing, networking, and real-time information access. The changes will happen. The question now is, how fast? The rate of change will be different for [different] applications and…functions (i.e., sales versus manufacturing.

For many modern software solutions, changes will happen faster than we think. The next generation of successful companies (and their employees) is driving this [change] hard and fast – and it will be adopted. Just 10 years ago there was a war of ATM [Asynchronous Transfer Mode] vs. IP [Internet Protocol]. The big companies drove the adoption [choice] and IP won.

Now the "war" is [between] the cloud or on-site [software deployment]. The younger generation and the now-popular new big companies on the block – Google, Amazon, Salesforce.com, etc. are the new, exciting and upcoming. The old [guard] – Microsoft, IBM (although they are very resilient and probably will continue to be), Oracle, SAP,…etc. [will] be less of a "mover and shaker" and either move with the flow and adjust or move to the background…. This is happening in the marketplace. I believe this trend will increase as the big leap toward more cloud [computing swings us] back to centralized computing to some degree….

Bottom line: there will be ubiquitous business tools available anywhere, anytime for a world that is moving very fast toward a mobile and remote workforce. However, having said that, a key point to consider is [that] the importance of ubiquitous and mobile computing will be dependent on an employee’s role/function in the organization.

Dortch's Recommendations

The more mobile, social and collegial Web is not coming. It's here, and getting bigger, faster and more important to more businesses every day. In this brave new online world, business agility and success will be determined largely by a company's ability to adapt business processes and infrastructures as necessary to identify and meet customer needs most effectively.

Whether your company sells business software, uses business software or both, these trends are going to affect what's available to you and your business. Increasingly, where your applications are hosted will matter less, while the ability to deliver ready access to them where, when and as needed will matter more. And your chosen providers are going to have major if not primary impact on your company's ability to succeed with its chosen technological solutions.

If you haven't already, begin now to focus on due diligence, regarding both your chosen solutions and providers and with your organization's stated goals and plans. Make sure that all of the above are aligned closely and correctly with what your customers and prospects care about most, and with your company's core strengths. And if your solution providers can't provide the assistance and support your business needs to succeed, consider replacing them – based on careful due diligence, of course.