|By Chuck Schaeffer
The Energizer Bunny of ERP Software
SYSPRO is one of those ERP software brands that just keeps chugging along. The company was founded in 1978, four years before the PC was even created, and has ever since been quietly and steadily maturing its application and growing its customer count.
SYSPRO targets midmarket manufacturers and distributors with a full ERP suite that includes financials, distribution / supply chain management, manufacturing and customer relationship management (CRM). It only lacks HR and Payroll software but does offer a payroll integration to third party products. The financials and inventory software are the heart of the system, and the application supports multi-mode (make to order, make to stock, batch) small and midsize manufacturers particularly well. And while the company targets and supports several industries, its focus in the four verticals of medical devices, machinery & equipment, food and electronics stands apart.
I’ve been following SYSPRO on and off for two decades. A few weeks ago I spoke to Brian Stein, SYSPROs CEO, and earlier today I completed an analyst briefing with Harold Katz, who after 11 years with the company still evangelizes the solution with a real passion. I’ll use this post to share some of the SYSPRO specifics that may be helpful to ERP evaluators.
- Target Market. I always appreciate ERP vendors that don’t try to be all things to all companies, and instead hone in on a squarely defined target market. SYSPRO targets the small and midsize manufacturer and distributor, generally between $5M and $100M in annual revenues, as well as the (Tier 2) divisions of larger enterprises. When positioning SYSPRO within the competitive landscape, they often acquire Intuit customers that have simply outgrown QuickBooks, but more so, the most common SYSPRO competitors fall within a continuum that begins with the Sage ERP solutions (Sage 100 ERP, Sage 300 ERP and Sage ERP X3), continues to two Microsoft Dynamics ERP products (Dynamics AX and NAV) and finally traverses to ERP vendors Epicor and Infor.
- Customer Choice. SYSPRO offers customers software delivery choice of cloud, hosted or on-premise. The SaaS ERP option is backed with a Service Level Agreement (SLA), and because the application code base is the same regardless of delivery model, customers have the option to switch their delivery decision if their needs change. Across the industry, cloud ERP adoption has become the highest single growth sector, but relatively speaking it’s still a fraction of the overall market, particularly with much of SYSPRO’s market which includes small and family run manufacturing businesses. However, as many of the technology laggards consider upgrades and more so fully recognize the merits of cloud ERP, the SaaS ERP option will continue to rise at an accelerated pace.
- Extensibility. SYSPRO is built with .NET on a Microsoft stack, and uses a rules-based development environment for customization and extensibility. An underlying platform is available to customers and partners to use and modify the business objects and application logic without changing source code. Microsoft shops in particular will find this flexibility appealing.
- Total Cost of Ownership. The application is highly configurable, particularly in the financials (GL AR AR) and inventory modules, so I don’t want to suggest that software deployment occurs in an unrealistic short period. However, relatively speaking, a SYSPRO implementation can achieve a fast time to value. When combined with a low acquisition cost or a SaaS subscription procurement model and less ongoing system administration when compared to midmarket ERP competitors, SYSPRO delivers a compelling Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).
- Global Reach. The company counts over 14,500 licensed customers in more than 60 countries. The application supports multi-company management, multiple currencies and four languages of the box (English, French, Spanish and Simple Chinese). Additional language sets can be created using a dictionary like field/column mapping per screen or module and assigned by role. In addition to its U.S. headquarters in Costa Mesa, CA and its development arm in South Africa, the company manages a local presence in Australia, Canada, China, Malaysia, and the UK.
- Company Viability. SYSPRO has been delivering ERP software solutions for over three decades and shows no signs of going away any time soon. It’s not a big company, but it’s a profitable company and at about $17M in revenues it’s got sufficient critical mass to make the necessary R&D and other investments to continue the road ahead.
- Cloud Architecture. As is typical with long standing ERP vendors enabling cloud ERP adoption, the application uses a single-tenant rather than multi-tenant database architecture. It’s interesting in that ERP software technology strategies and choices continue to get reviewed by ERP buyers even in a cloud delivery model as the vendor is now responsible for ERP software installation, maintenance, trouble-shooting, upgrades and support. It’s further interesting how many of the savviest ERP buyers focus in on the single-tenant versus multi-tenant debate. If you put aside the technology ramifications and focus on the business benefits of this technology distinction you find that it actually varies by application type. For example, CRM software publishers have clearly demonstrated that multi-tenant CRM apps facilitate dramatically easier upgrades and enhancements, and thereby result in an increased frequency of upgrades and hence greater innovation and even software investment payback. The prior era of new versions being released about every two years has been replaced with seasonal upgrades, generally occurring twice per year in the Customer Relationship Management software market. However, many legacy ERP vendors suggest ERP software is a different animal, and that software vendors are not going to dictate when upgrades should be received by customers. However, I see this changing over time. Several cloud vendors have devised methods to deliver upgrades automatically but let the customers turn them on when ready. Further, when customers use platform and PaaS tools to create their software customization or use XML or web services for system integration, it’s far less likely that vendor managed upgrades are going to break things. I think you can also tie the tenancy argument to the historical nature of on-premise ERP upgrades, where far too many customers simply passed on installing the upgrades because of the effort, time and cost involved, and then later found themselves three versions behind and facing a fork lift upgrade project that is often equivalent to a new implementation.
- CRM. SYSPRO CRM software is comparatively weak, but undergoing a big transformation. The company acquired Adapt CRM software in 2001. At that time the CRM software was resold by both Epicor and Sage. However those relationships unwound and the company repositioned the product as “CRM for SYSPRO”. To get this solution where it needs to be, the CRM software is leaving behind its versatile but antiquated Magic PC development environment for a more modern and cloud-based architecture. As most readers know, I’m a big CRM fan and advocate, so I’ll report back in the coming months if and when this new SYSPRO CRM software becomes generally available.
- Social. SYSPRO is neither particularly social itself nor adapting its business software to help its customers become social with their constituents (customers, supply chain partners, employees, etc.) Businesses are increasingly recognizing that their constituents are gathering and communicating on social channels, and they can either join those conversations or be left out of the conversations. Some ERP vendors are advancing their applications to help their customers become social enterprises, and better engage recruits, employees, prospects, customers, partners and others. I’m hopeful that SYSPRO may consider a similar move while this type of capability still offers a competitive advantage.
- Brand Recognition. The SYSPRO name isn’t often used in the same sentences which include the names of Sage, Epicor, Infor, NetSuite or any of Microsoft Dynamics ERP products. The company is a trusted brand, but unfortunately not a recognized brand. In our quarterly ERP buyer tracking trends, SYSPRO has never made the top 15 list of the most considered ERP vendors. The lack of visibility among ERP buyers isn’t going to suddenly cast the company into doubt or negatively impact their viability, but it does make you wonder how this company would excel if it were to up its game in terms of brand recognition.
An area that’s more difficult to categorize as a competitive strength or weakness is the SYSPRO channel. The company’s 1500 strong resellers are clearly a mature force and for the most part know manufacturing and distribution cold. But comparatively speaking, competitors such as Microsoft and Sage also manage very impressive partner programs. ERP buyers considering products that flow through an indirect channel of value added resellers must both find the best ERP software and the best implementation partner to achieve their objectives.
Looking ahead, the SYSPRO product roadmap looks promising. For example, the company announced, but has yet to deliver, an interesting mobile solution called Expresso. It’s a mobile platform approach that uses HTML5 to deliver a device agnostic mobile solution that can be extended by customers in a visual design environment. Looking beyond the technical merits, mobility is clearly seeing increased interest and adoption across the enterprise, so releases such as Expresso show evidence that the company listens to its customers and responds accordingly.
SYSPRO is a unique company offering a unique solution. It’s a company that flies under the radar for most, manages a single product and grows organically rather than by acquisition. It’s worked for over 30 years, and based on the company’s high customer retention, continued innovation and strong management team, it’s likely to continue for quite some time to come.
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The SYSPRO name isn’t often used in the same sentences which include the names of Sage, Epicor, Infor, NetSuite or any of Microsoft Dynamics ERP products. The company is a trusted brand, but unfortunately not a recognized brand.