Are Emerging Trends in ERP Software Flattening Industry Verticals?

 

All Articles From Eric Kimberling April 24, 2013

One of the most appealing features for purchasers of ERP software is industry best practices. Executives are often more inclined to spend millions of dollars on new enterprise software initiatives when they have the comfort of knowing that others in their industry vertical have spent countless years developing those best practices and navigating related lessons learned. In fact, these repeatable and proven business processes and software capabilities designed for their industries are what executives are really buying when they procure new ERP software.

On the other hand, executives are also likely to leverage ERP trends that transcend their respective industries. Mobility, business intelligence (BI) and SaaS ERP are just a few of the trends of interest to CIOs in industries including manufacturing, government, financial services and health care. In these cases, industry focus doesn’t necessarily matter. In addition, executives are often keen to leverage best practices outside of their respective industries as a way to benchmark to other industries that may have better ways of running their businesses.

Given this contradiction, the consolidation of ERP vendors and growth across multiple verticals begs an important question: how relevant is it for ERP software to focus on a specific industry?

The answer to this question boils down to three key points:

1.   There are too many ERP vendors to not have some sort of industry focus. Ten years ago, there were only a handful of viable ERP software providers, so industry focus wasn’t extremely important. Today, however, there are hundreds of options and ERP vendors need to do something to differentiate in the midst of stiff completion. This leaves most software vendors with two primary strategies: focus on function or focus on industry. Vendors such as Salesforce and Workday have taken the former approach by focusing on Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Human Capital Management (HCM) software, respectively, while other vendors have focused on specific industry verticals or niches.

2.   Aside from back office functions, most industries are different. Industry focus may not be important to companies that leverage ERP software primarily to automate back office functions such as accounts payable or general ledger. However, industry distinction and capability is especially important for companies leveraging software to automate their front- and back-end business processes. As different organizations deal with the relatively unique nature of configuring their products, forecasting demand, and fulfilling manufacturing business processes, industry focus becomes increasingly important. Even in cases where buyers choose ERP software tailored for their industry, executives are still likely to find the need to customize the software to accommodate unique competitive advantages that can’t or hasn’t been replicated by others yet.

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