Through acquisition and attrition, the three tech giants have come to dominate the ERP market for large enterprises.
The enterprise resource planning (ERP) market for large enterprises these days is dominated by three companies — SAP (NYSE: SAP), Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT). Their rivals have either been acquired, gone by the boards, or settled into a lower tier of the ERP market.
Infor and Sage, for example, have built thriving ERP businesses by focusing on the mid-market and small businesses, respectively, but the enterprise ERP discussion is largely about SAP, Oracle and Microsoft.
As ERP can be one of the most sweeping enterprise application categories, it might be best to start with a definition. ERP, in essence, is a system of integrated applications that manage such things as assets, financials, materials, human resources and the supply chain. ERP solutions often incorporate modules such as CRM and business intelligence and presents them as one unified package. The basic idea is provide one central repository for all information that is shared by all the various ERP facets in order to smooth the flow of data across the business.
Editor's note: Be sure to check out our midrange ERP and small business ERP buying guides.
SAP has been one of the big names in ERP for decades, and is often credited with founding the technology. Craig Himmelberger, director of marketing for SAP's Business Suite, believes that his company and Oracle are the top names in ERP, and Gartner agrees, crediting them with nearly 40 percent of the overall $20 billion ERP market. According to Gartner, SAP had a 26 percent share of the ERP market in 2009, with Oracle in second place at 12 percent. Sage, Infor and Microsoft followed in the mid-single digits.
"IBM and others are attempting to build their portfolio of business information and analytic tools to provide complementary value-add, and niche providers focusing on small areas of the ERP landscape continue to try to catch on with varying degrees of success," said Himmelberger. "Customers, however, appreciate simplified application landscapes, and prefer consistent technology for their ERP needs."
SAP ERP (SAP.com/ERP) is a suite comprising full financials, human resources (HR), operations, procurement, treasury and other business functions. It offers a single technology stack via NetWeaver that supports ERP, CRM, BI, analytics, performance management, governance, risk and compliance, and other elements. The basic idea is to simplify implementation and ongoing maintenance, and lower total cost of ownership (TCO).
"SAP's ERP architecture is completely real-time, unlike other vendors who require batch postings to transfer information between interfaced ERP systems," said Himmelberger. "A new feature known as the Switch Framework enables users to implement upgraded business features as needed, without re-implementation or disruptive system maintenance."
SAP doesn't focus on any specific verticals. It tends to play well in just about all of them and lists dozens of links to specialized ERP implementations on its site.
"SAP's ERP customer base is the largest and broadest in the industry," said Himmelberger. "Recent growth continues to be double-digit, and even higher in emerging economies."
Oracle E-Business Suite
Oracle offers an awful lot of ERP options. E-Business Suite 12.1 spans all facets of ERP and all industries. The latest release includes an integrated portfolio of business intelligence tools. It also offers complete ERP suites from companies it acquired such as PeopleSoft and JD Edwards.
And the company also has its Fusion Applications, which are designed from the ground up using the latest technology advances and incorporating best practices gathered over the years from Oracle customers. The plan is eventually to forge everything into Fusion. But that may not happen for some time. In the meanwhile, via its Applications Unlimited program, Oracle has committed to providing ongoing enhancements to existing Oracle applications for as long as customers desire them.
"In today's economy, customers may not be inclined to implement large-scale upgrades of their core operational systems," said Bruce Richardson, an analyst at AMR Research. "The ability to recognize rapid value in the near term without requiring an upgrade could be viewed as an effective way to build a strategic IT roadmap and lay the groundwork for long-term success."
Fusion now replaces all the complicated middleware involved in all Oracle, PeopleSoft, JD Edwards and Siebel applications, as well as all as all the applications that run on top of them. Fusion isn't generally available yet, so don't be in any rush to implement it. The company is taking on a handful of early adopters to help iron out the kinks before unleashing Oracle's marketing might.
Users do have the option of trying out a module or two of Fusion and running it alongside other Oracle applications.
"Move to Fusion at a time of your choosing," was Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's suggestion.
Microsoft provides four main ERP products: Microsoft Dynamics AX, Microsoft Dynamics GP, Microsoft Dynamics NAV, and Microsoft Dynamics SL
Recently, the company made several products announcements: New development features for NAV 2009 R2, the expansion of AX for Retail to 22 additional markets, the release of the Microsoft Dynamics ERP two-tier connector, and the Global Reporting Initiative certification for the Environmental Sustainability Dashboard for Microsoft Dynamics AX.
According to Guy Weismantel, director of ERP marketing at Microsoft Dynamics, the company focuses on a couple of areas. The first is the needs of its largest customers, which are mid-sized enterprises and subsidiaries of global organization in key verticals: retail, manufacturing, professional services, public sector and distribution. Next are those customers that desire an ERP solution for improved financials and operations, or who require ERP tailored to a specific market.
Business software is often primarily a reactive tool, detecting problems instead of emerging trends, and complexity can slow the ability of companies to make critically needed business process changes, said Weismantel.
"Business software should be a critical enabler, facilitating decisions and proactively driving change into practice," he said. "Microsoft Dynamics is committed to a vision of software that fulfills this promise, evolving for a changing world to enable the dynamic business."
The company has plenty in the pipeline. This includes Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009 R2, Microsoft Dynamics GP 2010 R2 in the first half of 2011, Microsoft Dynamics SL 2011 in the second quarter of 2011, and Microsoft Dynamics AX 6 sometime in 2011.