ERP is unlike most areas of IT. For operating systems, the primary vendors dominate. You have Microsoft Windows, Apple OS X, some flavors of Linux and little else. Few users ever look beyond that list. It's much the same with many other areas of the software market.
In ERP, though, while a handful of vendors claim the bulk of market share, others do well carving out zones of the market, often related to specific industry verticals.
"Beyond the top few, the rest of the world is made up of ERPs that are designed for a very specific niche or a very specific budget," said Andrew Marder, ERP analyst at Capterra. "If you can afford one of the top five or 10, there’s not a lot to be gained from using a different system, unless you've got very particular needs."
That's what makes a buying guide for ERP so challenging. To simplify things, we'll focus here on ERP providers in and around the top tier. Future guides will explore other areas of the ERP landscape.
So who are the top ERP vendors? It depends on who you ask and which factors you consider. Gartner's annual market share reports put SAP, Oracle, Sage, Microsoft and NetSuite among the top dogs. But Capterra's data suggests that SAP and Oracle are easily the biggest two, with Epicor, Infor and Microsoft on their heels in a shifting line-up.
"Right after these are a host of solidly Tier II systems that occasionally make a move for the top five," Marder said.
Here is a brief summary of the offerings of three of the top guys:
Microsoft Dynamics AX encompasses functions such as financial, human resources (HR) and operations management in addition to industry specific capabilities for distributors, retailers, manufacturers, service industries and the public sector. The latest version, Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 R3, includes integration with Microsoft Office, supply chain capabilities (warehouse and transportation management, demand forecasting and eProcurement) and retail capabilities(omni-channel, customer wish lists, assisted sales apps for mobile phone or tablet and ability for one person to complete the entire transaction).
In addition, Microsoft has introduced Dynamics Lifecycle Services,a cloud service built on Microsoft Azureto structure and simplify the application lifecycle experience for Microsoft Dynamics AX.
Oracle offers a multitude of ERP options, but it appears to be focusing on various cloud-based ERP products such as the Oracle Financials Cloud and clouds for accounting, procurement and other areas instead of trying to sell a single "does everything" ERP suite. The company is heavily marketing these clouds with specific functions. This signals a change from the mega-suite days of the Oracle Business Suite.
Like Oracle, SAP has taken a shift in direction in recent years. But this time, it is anchored in SAP HANA, its in-memory analytics platform. The SAP Business Suite 4 SAP HANA is the product it showcases on its website. It also has a variety of other offerings that are tailored to the size of the company and the industry vertical being served.
Eric Kimberling, founder and managing partner, Panorama Consulting Solutions, offered Enterprise Apps Today a sneak peek of what's coming up in his annual "Clash of the Titans" report which pits Microsoft ERP against SAP and Oracle.
"Perhaps surprisingly, Microsoft Dynamics is the least expensive to implement ($1.5 million on average), but also takes the longest to implement at over two years (24.9 months) on average," Kimberling said, adding that Oracle takes longer than SAP to implement (23.4 months vs. 19.5 months, on average) and costs more than SAP to implement ($2.3 million vs. $2.1 million on average).
"All three have fairly significant overruns on time and budget, ranging from three to four months on actual implementation duration compared to expected, and $100,000 to $400,000 overruns in budget," Kimberling said.
Bottom line: There are pros and cons to each of these solutions. However, they are far from the only game in town. In fact they are under growing pressure from a range of players.
Infor's most recent upgrade is Infor CloudSuite Industrial Enterprise, which offers the manufacturing industry access to applications in the cloud. This includes tools for document management, financial performance management, packaged analytics, compliance tools and enterprise asset management. It builds upon previous offerings that Infor made available on Amazon Web Services (AWS).
It is purchased as part of a subscription-based delivery model. Infor ERP manufacturing applications such as Infor LN, Infor M3, Infor CloudSuite Industrial (SyteLine) and Infor VISUAL are all part of the package.
"The suite helps organizations maintain global visibility around suppliers, customer accounts and product innovation within a secure technology infrastructure," said Larry Korak, Industry Strategy director, Industrial Manufacturing at Infor.
Sage X3 is said to empower growing midsized enterprises with flexible business management involving less cost and complexity than typical ERP systems. To manage financials, distribution and manufacturing, Sage offers several deployment models.
"You have the flexibility to deploy Sage X3 in the cloud, on your own server or in an environment hosted by Sage certified partners with identical functionality," said Diane Haines, vice president of Product Marketing, Sage.
NetSuite markets itself as the world's most deployed cloud ERP suite, with more than 24,000 customers across 100 countries. It covers the full range of functions, including financial management, accounting, CRM, e-commerce and more.
Epicor ERP 10 is a suite is comprised of various modules for CRM, manufacturing, supply chain, HR, financials and more. It is focused on the needs of the manufacturing, distribution and services industries. It can be an on-site installation, hosted or run as a SaaS or cloud application.
Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in Florida, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).