Field Report: SSA-Global Client Forum
By John Moore, VP, ARC Advisory Group
This week, SSA-Global held its annual client forum in Philadelphia attracting approximately 1,000 attendees. With an impending IPO, which SSA-Global hopes to execute before the end of the year, there was only so much the company could say regarding corporate direction. The company, however, was more forthcoming about its overarching strategy, product direction, success to date, and how it intends to serve its ever growing customer base.
At the highest level, SSA-Globals strategy is to Acquire Market Share & Develop Customer Share. The dominant theme in acquiring market share has been its acquisition of several distressed, mid-tier ERP companies, the most recent one being Marcam this summer. The company stated it now has over 13,000 customers at 20,000 sites worldwide. In addition to the acquisition of ERP companies, the company has been equally busy acquiring and building out extension applications (SCM, CRM, PLM, and SRM) that it can sell back into its installed base. The selling of such extension applications is the foundation of developing customer share.
This strategy is logical in market that is rapidly maturing. First, most companies have decided on an ERP application and it has become increasingly expensive to win new accounts. Second, companies of all sizes are increasingly looking to source the majority of their enterprise applications, including extension applications, from a single supplier. This trend is particularly prevalent in the mid-market that SSA-Global serves. The mid-market is also ripe for adoption of extension applications, which is still relatively low in relation to Tier One firms.
But for such a strategy to work, the company must insure that customers do not defect to competing solutions. SSA-Global must also show customers a clear path forward both in how they will support the wide array of solutions now under its umbrella, as well as a migration path to future ERP applications. Lastly, they must bring the multitude of extension applications they have acquired into one common environment to ease implementation and lower a customers total cost of ownership.
Statements made by SSA-Global executives at this Forum clearly show that the company is on track to insure their strategys success. Currently, customer retention on maintenance contracts has risen from a paltry 62 percent in FY02 to an impressive 90 percent in FY04. From a financial viability standpoint, the company is also succeeding with annual revenues approaching $700 million and is experiencing continued organic license revenue growth in both core and extension applications.
The company also put forth a pretty clear product roadmap. The product strategy is a build of four themes; Convergence, Modernization, Integration, and Verticalization. While the company is addressing these four points concurrently, dependent on the particular application, the greatest focus in 04 has been on convergence of its ERP applications. In July 04, the company released ERP-LN, the convergence of its discrete industry ERP solutions. In the first quarter of 05, the company will release ERP-LX, a converged ERP solution for the process and hybrid industries. The company has also announced plans that these solutions will be available as an open source Linux version and be able to run on top of mySQL.
As part of its product modernization and integration strategy, the company is banking heavily on its relationship with IBM and the use of WebSphere. In the future, the companys product infrastructure will be 90 percent WebSphere. One example of this commitment was their announcement that the company has migrated from the proprietary Baan development environment, Baan 4GL, to the open source Eclipse environment for ERP-LN. The company is doing the same for the pending release of ERP-LX, in this case moving from the prior BPCS development environment. PeopleSoft announced a similar strategy last week at its conference, but clearly, SSA-Global has the lead on them.
While its developers in 04 were focused on converging the ERP applications into two dominant platforms, 05 will see them dedicated to consolidating, modernizing, and integrating the numerous extension applications, particularly CRM, SCM, SRM, and PLM that the company has to offer. The primary goal will be to get these applications all onto the same common platform as the two ERP applications and provide a consistent GUI across all applications.
These are all good intentions and critical to SSA-Globals strategy, but two questions remain; will customers be willing to upgrade to the new ERP platforms, and will they wait for these various extension applications to come together in a meaningful fashion to serve their needs?
Though SSA-Global vehemently states that they will never sunset a product, that does not mean they will not raise maintenance fees. In fact, as fewer and fewer companies use any given version of an older application, customers will see a non-linear rise in maintenance fees. So while it may not be a forced march to upgrade, there will be increasingly strong financial reasons to do so.
As for the extension applications, the company is aggressively moving ahead but despite the 15 percent of annual revenue spent on R&D, there is only so much they can do. Their soon to be released financial package FM 2.0 is a case in point. Although the company states that this will be a strong financial package available for all customers, its first release in Q4 04 will only be available for users of ERP solution PRMS. Users of the recently released ERP-LN, however, will not see a version for another two years.
To date, the company has delivered on its promises and looking ahead, there appears to be nothing standing in the way of this pragmatic companys desire to continue to meet its promises to customers. But those that commit to SSA-Global will need a measure of patience as the company strives to bring together its disparate platform. Customers will also need to prepare for the inevitable rise of maintenance fees if they chose to stay on an older platform. But this may not be a large price to pay as SSA-Global is providing the mid-market a financially strong, stable, and viable choice in an ever changing market.