17Oct

A Brief History of Time (spent in the ERP marketplace)

Confession: This blog is no way connected to book titled "A Brief History of Time", authored by the greatest Physicist of our times Dr. Stephen Hawking. 

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor, the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change” – Charles Darwin. We all have read this in our Biology classes, when we were younger. And most of us have seen “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change” by the famous Greek philosopher Heraclitus on the illustration boards of our colleagues, bosses and in the conference rooms. Assuming that we all must have given this, a little thought sometime, I will proceed to write about what changes I have witnessed, how they changed and will try to get to the question “why these changes” keeping focus on the evolving ERP market.

I have been working with software business solutions for the last two decades, starting from the days when we used to work on XT PCs, with floppy disk storage capacity of 1.2 MB (some of the floppy drives looked like toasters),

DOS-Screen

till today when we are passing through the days of Tabs and iPhones (BTW: my 4 yr old daughter is asking for iPhone 5S as a gift for her upcoming birthday), and servers with Exabytes storage.

iPadScreen

I have witnessed the world of business solutions change quite quickly; leaving me gasping for breath many a time.  Though the entire gamut of service industries revolving around technology has changed, it is not reasonable to try to fit in everything in one go. I have myself grown taking bites (or shall I say bytes) from the software industry targeting business application areas.

To start with, Financial Accounting was the first functional area of business to pick up speed and a lot of software companies across the globe designed and developed Financial Accounting packages for running on PCs. I remember a few very popular Financial Accounting software that were Made in India, namely, Tally ® from Tally Software Pvt. Ltd., Fact ® from Vedika Software Pvt. Ltd.,   E.X. from Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., etc. etc., who made a big impact in the market as well as in the minds of the people (Note: 80’s and 90’s were mostly dominated by these DOS based accounting packages). Everyone around started realizing the benefits of computerization; the 15-20 day process of consolidating ledgers got reduced to minutes. But in the earlier versions of computerized systems, there were many functions which the software couldn't do, such as calculating tax or invoicing clients, etc. In the coming years, the software companies, started filling in these gaps and kept on competing with each other over who provides what features (Note: one might not know, but most of the DOS based financial accounting software included, Inventory Management, Sales & Purchasing, HR Management, Payroll, and Manufacturing to some extent within a few years, so they were no more merely a financial accounting software). However, with the advent of Windows, (typically talking about Windows 95) and the new breed of API programmers, these DOS based software companies strongly sought to re-design their interfaces in Windows as soon as possible. Some started working with the easily available RAD (Rapid Application Development) tools like VB, PB, Delphi, etc., while others started working hard on building their own set of API libraries and then eventually re-designing their Windows counterpart for their existing DOS based software. Some were able to sustain and some were not, but the one thing which was common to all was that they changed!

And, they changed for good. The PCs also evolved from 286, 386, 486 to Pentium processors and so on and on. Storage space was no more a constraint. GBs of space being available, there were no worries for the developers to hold their program sizes to a certain limit (Note: DOS programmers had to struggle a lot to keep their no-of-lines-of-code to a certain permitted limit so that the executable is not above 1.2 MB or 1.44 MB ). Meanwhile the internet started to be available to the public; initially with speeds of a meager 19 Kbps (sometimes less, with repeated disconnections), but there were no stopping us from getting hooked to it. Emails, chats, forums, faqs, and so many other things! But I will not indulge into this, and will keep my focus on the evolving business application (I did not use ERP, because the term gained popularity much later) market. J

So, coming back to the point, the market by this time had grown manifolds and the bigger players (from the top of their high-rise offices) saw the rising of the business application cloud upwards. So, companies like, Oracle, Microsoft, PeopleSoft, etc. started their not-so-round table conferences and decided to try their luck in this space. BTW, SAP was already there in the market with a number of fortune-500 companies in their customers’ list. Ok, now all these software giants jumped into the pool of business applications market and some built their own set of applications, like, Oracle, PeopleSoft and some others started hunting for an established business application company who has a lot of client base, like Microsoft. They also invested huge sums of money in marketing of their solutions, and are probably the people who rolled out the already coined term ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) all over the cyber space. Most of them focused on building their partner network across the globe. This was the time not-so-far-from-today (last few years). Partnerships were offered to medium sized software companies and a lot of marketing was being done by the principals. Even I have been a part of a lot of these cocktail parties (sorry, marketing events) myself. J

Within a few years, most of the small and medium (SME) sized companies’ logos came to be displayed in the IT companies’ ‘Our Customers’ pages. I mean to say that, we were all very successful to market these products (mostly by saying that the product comes from Microsoft, Oracle, etc.). Whether the software caters to the needs of the customers’ was always a secondary factor in selling. Anyway, as I said, we did well in our jobs and 60-70% of the SME segment, now owned (actually subscribed to), a well-known ERP solution. Meanwhile, technologies advanced, hosted solutions (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, NaaS, so on and so on) gained popularity. We started hearing about solutions on the cloud, crowd-sourced solutions, etc. We are currently witnessing a time when all the players (both big and small) are trying to somehow get on to the cloud (even prospective clients are asking “Is your software supported in the cloud?”).

So the ERP marketplace is changing again. It somehow feels good to be a part of the change, no?

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