It’s more than 20 years since Gartner announced the death of enterprise resource planning. While the ERP giants like SAP, Oracle and Sage have by no means passed away, they are facing much fiercer competition from microservice platforms that allow organizations to build their own tech stack.
For ERP resellers, that presents yet another conundrum. On the one hand, partnering with one of the ERP giants offers the glow of working with a market leader with an established reputation. To paraphrase the famous slogan, ‘no one ever got fired for buying big ERP’. But on the other hand, customers want to see a reseller that matches their ambition and strategy by offering hyper-personalised solutions.
Cloud architecture and APIs have transformed the face of IT, and there’s a relentless momentum towards single-function platforms that operate off-premise and on mobile. An end-user looking at the SAP or Oracle solution just can’t see the flexibility and autonomy that a Zapier, CloudHQ, or IFTTT workflow automation platform can provide.
To protect market share and secure future growth, should ERP resellers keep their faith in ‘monolithic’ ERP, knowing that reports of its demise have been much exaggerated, or should they pivot towards microservices?
We’d argue that such a choice would present a false dichotomy. There’s a third option that hits the sweet spot, and it involves White Label ERP. Let’s dig deeper.
The Problems of Partnering with an ERP Monolith
Perhaps it’s a little mischievous to paint the ERP giants as one-size-fits-all solutions, given that most have acquired and configure their own add-ons to serve the needs of specific verticals. But granular functionality is not their guiding purpose.
Go back to the birth of ERP, and it was a solution designed to bring everything together within an organization, from a single source of (often complex) code. The big ERP platforms were intended to improve efficiency and streamline multiple workflows. Many users might quibble with the claim that they reduced complexity, given that UX (User Experience) often leaves a lot to be desired, but at least the intention was to eliminate conflict between mismatched tools.
In other words, the strength of legacy ERP platforms was never in enabling niche or bespoke workflows so much as serving the ‘greater good’. From a software development perspective, the propriety code might support the integration of third-party software and APIs, but with risks. Too often, fixing one bug creates a slew of others.
That leaves many ERP resellers tied to a ‘take it or leave it’ solution that offers little autonomy or flexibility. Patches and software updates arrive when the ERP vendor says so, and that timeline rarely matches what end-users demand.
A further vulnerability is that the bigger ERP vendors are focused on sales, not support. That leaves resellers relying heavily on consultants when it comes to implementation and configuration, with resellers often finding themselves adding further cost and time to reach project go-live. This happens as customer intricacies often only get uncovered during the project and the ERP platform’s customisation capabilities simply can’t facilitate them. And even when things go smoothly, there’s a fundamental problem of differentiation. If all your competitors are selling the same ERP solution, how do you grow market share?
The Microservices Solution
Any ERP reseller will look with alarm at the ease with which a customer or competitor will soon be able to create their own bespoke tech stack from a portfolio of plug-ins and apps to suit the specific needs of their business.
The cloud era has ushered in a golden age of services that specialize in a single business function, and do it with a slickness of user experience big ERP can only dream of. It’s not just the vertical-specific platforms like Salesforce. It’s the philosophy behind the niche services that now dwarf ERP in terms of size and influence, from Netflix to Facebook.
A platform like Zapier, the market leader, can tie everything together without the need for coding. Thanks to REST-Interface communication, the end-user gets the ability to integrate up to a thousand or so apps with plug and play set-up, managed from a single dashboard that supports mobile.
Compared to an ERP solution from a big vendor, building a bespoke tech stack offers a significantly faster time to market with a surprisingly low maintenance requirement. What’s not to love?
The downsides of microservice architecture
If a unified structure of connected tools that simplifies processes, delivers automation, and supports efficiency sounds familiar, that might be because it’s strangely reminiscent of the challenges ERP was supposed to solve.
The key difference is that whereas an ERP solution allows internal control and oversight from an IT team, and testing and troubleshooting built into the implementation timeline, microservice architectures offer no such equivalent.
Without oversight, organizations can quickly find themselves with a tangled mess to manage:
- Multiple software solutions to keep track of, each with the potential to trigger an outage across the entire stack. Without IT control, there is no scope for end-to-end testing.
- From a compliance and cost perspective, it’s a nightmare. Licenses are expired, latency goes unchecked, and payments increase as additional integrations or users are added without anyone having visibility.
- Each new integration requires onboarding and training. Instead of getting to grips with a consistent interface across all services, users have to adapt to and jump between a complex roster of tools to accomplish similar tasks.
How White Label ERP Offers a Worthy Alternative
Where IT is most likely to differ from the C-Suite regarding microservices is that those responsible for ‘keeping the lights on’ and securing data flows will see not 50 different plug-ins and third-party apps for improving efficiency, but 50 new ways for things to go wrong.
A White Label ERP solution mitigates that risk. How? It offers the reseller the flexible code-free customisation architecture they need along with REST API functionality and native browser solutions so they can offer customers a perfect fit solution tied to a unified core platform. Customers don’t even have to consider looking at micro-services and when it comes to other resellers such a proposition is head and shoulders above what they can offer. In our case, where partners require ‘best-of-breed 3rd party integration’ they can come to us with a request for a specific solution and GenetiQ developers will work closely with the software development team of the plug-in required to deliver a workable, integrated solution using our REST API. Further, our code-free customisation functionality enables our partners consultants to create a wide range of bespoke solutions on site with the customer; all without impacting core-code or upgrade compatibility. It increases our partners ability to generate more revenue that they accrue directly without the vendor seeking a slice.
Crucially when we think about the holistic structure, GenetiQ takes care of the core, so if something does go wrong during implementation, uptime is secure. There isn’t a network of issues to resolve spanning development teams across the globe. Essentially, there’s an adult in the room to troubleshoot and make key decisions at the riskiest moments. Problems are easier to pinpoint within the framework of the GenetiQ solution than trying to identify the source of the conflict among a tangle of Zapier links.
Unlike the microservices approach, GenetiQ ERP offers a unified source to work from with a dedicated team in support. Unlike the solutions sold by ERP giants, it’s a solution that’s flexible, scalable and easy to customize for a target vertical.
As a closing note, it’s important to remember that the biggest challenge to successful implementation is rarely the software. It is overcoming human resistance to change, or as many IT support professionals would put it less charitably: PEBCAK: Problem Exists Between Chair and Keyboard. Beyond traditional culprits such as lack of planning, clear objectives and resources, many big ERP projects simply fail because users can’t engage with the interface, and end up working around and bypassing intended flows.
Often it’s harder to get people away from an Excel Spreadsheet than we would like to admit. Microservices appear to offer that user-friendly customization, but add-ons and tools need that third component – an experienced team at the core to help design, support, and scale a solution that users will use to its full capacity.