Tag Archives: Josh Greenbaum

ERP Innovation – Is that all there is?

Doug Hadden, VP Products

Technology columnist and blogger Josh Greenbaum reflected on a question: which of the two leading Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) vendors is the most innovative.  My view, as captured in my comment to the post, is that neither of these software vendors is particularly innovative. Any recent innovation seems to come from company acquisitions, not generated from internal research and development.

Theory of Technology Innovation

Harvard professor Clayton Christiensen has written the book on technology innovation. More specifically, many books on innovation. Christiensen describes the differences between disruptive innovation and sustaining innovation. Successful leaders in any category become unlikely to challenge the status quo through disruptive innovation because it disrupts business models.

Where is ERP Innovation?

[Note: we don't consider FreeBalance to be an ERP vendor. We've been ERP-free for almost 30 years focused exclusively on government.]

This seems to be a trend in the consolidating ERP market where acquisitions become the primary tactic to achieve growth to support the strategy of building a large maintenance annuity.

My view is that the current “innovations” touted by major ERP vendors come via acquisitions or aren’t innovations at all – just market following to maintain market share (and the maintenance revenue business model).

Analysis of recent ERP “Innovations”

Government CIOs and public financial management professionals should be wary of these so-called  innovations.

Innovation: Cloud services: major ERP vendors provide software on the “cloud”

Assessment: Slow Follower

  • ERP vendors have fallen behind the major CRM, ERP and HCM cloud vendors with little uptake. One of the major vendors seems to have gone back to the drawing board so many times that it’s hard to keep up.
  • There has been a lot of noise about which vendor has the best technology for cloud deployment. As analyst Ray Wang pointed out in a recent tweet, even the cloud leaders are using rather old technology. That’s the rub. Get under the facade and what do you find? Legacy client/server technology – 15 to 30 years old.
  • The use of legacy technology makes it more expensive to deploy: maintaining old code, translation between legacy and web, shoe-horning something not meant for the purpose, adapting to meet customer requirements, larger technical footprint requiring more equipment resulting in power consumption etc.

FreeBalance Approach

  • We took the approach of re-writing software in a completely web-native FreeBalance Accountability Suite. We used good software design practices to develop a technology built for the government domain.
  • At the time of design, particularly in late 2006 and early 2007, we didn’t think that this was a particularly innovative approach. We’d tried the traditional approach of wrapping legacy technology and realized that it wasn’t sufficiently extensible and that the costs of maintaining this “kludge” would need to be passed on to customers. So, we thought that it was only a matter of time before the large ERP vendors introduced web-native applications. We hoped for a temporary “leapfrog” window of opportunity that would end by about mid 2011. And, we thought that we were taking our time!

What does this mean for government?

Innovation: Business Layer Middleware to enable intra-suite integration

Assessment: Laggard

  • This is a bit of a variation on the above. Many ERP vendors have created or announced technology that enables integrating software packages from acquisitions. The notion is that it can provide implementation and maintenance benefits.
  • Yet, the realization of these projects (and some of these projects seem to have disappeared) provides no particular innovation. It’s just a better way to get parts to work together. And, there seems to be a challenge to get all the parts working together to get the best possible solution across the vendor product suite.

FreeBalance Approach

  • As described above, we used modern technology. We support web services. Reuse of business objects that we call government entities. Granular access to these objects. Designed to integrate with modern technology.

What does this mean for government?

  • Integration is becoming an increasing opportunity in government. Government organizations need to “act as one”. Software vendor focus on intra-suite integration and use of legacy technology limits government agility to integrate technology to provide better value to people and better citizen services.

Innovation: Corporate performance management, real-time analytics and dashboards, in-memory databases

AssessmentFast Follower

  • Don’t get me wrong, there are some compelling performance management technology coming from ERP vendors. However, these all seem to mainly come from acquisitions: the three largest Business Intelligence companies were acquired by larger firms. As were in-memory databases. (Not that there haven’t been embedded databases for at least 20 years).

FreeBalance Approach

  • We’ve worked with our government customers to understand what is needed in government performance management. Although we do not innovate on the “bells and whistles” and integrate with reporting and analytical tools, we’ve come up with a government-specific approach.
  • Government performance is different. It’s budget-centric because the budget is the legal embodiment of government policy. Outcomes and outputs are not inputs to performance, as in the private sector – rather the results. This is much more difficult to conceive.
  • Transparency and open data have become key government needs. Although many of the ERP vendors provide some toolkits, few are integrating front and back office transparency for 10 years of budget transparency like our customer, the Government of Timor-Leste.

What does this mean for government?

  • Government CIOs can distinguish between the visualization tools and the performance integration tools.

Innovation: Vertical market “quick starts”, change management software, BPM integration, call-outs, upgrade kits


  • There are significant costs to customize ERP and maintain those customizations in ERP software. Methods to mitigate these high cost problems are somewhat commendable, but this seems to be overcoming a design flaw.

FreeBalance Approach

  • Our software was well-known for the ability to configure to meet most government requirements. We customized the software to meet government requirements. This meant that the new code became part of the main line and was fully supported by FreeBalance. No need to maintain BPM scripts, call-outs, custom code when upgrading.
  • We recognized in 2006 that this configuration ability was a core differentiator. So, we extended it further to provide more flexibility and adaptability without the need for our government customers to write a single line of code.

What does this mean for government?

  • Governments cannot accomplish “business process re-engineering” and adapt to many “best practices” without changes in legislation. Mandates change frequently. And, there are new demands for reform that requires future changes. Hence, an approach of low-cost progressive activation significantly reduces the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) – even relative to these ERP work-around techniques.
  • For added measure, Version 7 enables upgrading from any version from version 7.0 to any subsequent version with a single step.
  • Oh, and we don’t force upgrades and support many more versions than industry standards (kudos to Infor for having a similar policy).

Multi-tenancy, Cloud Computing and Government Shared Services

Doug Hadden, VP Products

In an interesting meeting yesterday, a top IT official at the Government of Canada said that “legacy technology is a terrible anchor.”  Meanwhile, Josh Greenbaum of the Enterprise Matters Blog posted an entry that multi-tenancy in cloud computing is a vendor issue. This recieved a lot of comment, particularly from Ray Wang of the Altimeter Group.  Multi-tenancy hosting was one of the benefits described by Workday during their technology summit.

Josh made the important observation that “a customer that looks at multi-tenancy as a key criteria for acquiring a new piece of functionality is basing their decision on factors that are not directly relevant to their TCO.”  This is a critical point for any organization looking at leveraging cloud computing. As I commented: “In the cloud, no one knows what architecture you have.”  Yet, the architecture becomes a super critical issue when governments are hosting multiple government organizations.

Client Benefits: for those government organizations using a hosted shared service

As I described in my comment to the blog entry: ” There has been a lot written about enterprise architectures and vendors are quick to promote architectural advantages. You are right here because the further we get away from TCO & functionality – where the “rubber hits the road” for clients, the more we get into almost metaphysical discussions of “potential” TCO & functionality. Effective architecture is seen as future proofing but it is a third order benefit. (Second order benefit is feature sets you don’t need now, but possibly might need.)”

First order benefit:

Efficiency & effectiveness to meet mission + ease of compliance with government reporting requirements

Less the Total cost to achieve functional needs =

software/chargeback costs, governance costs (participation in the system governance), training & certification costs, upgrade costs + cost of the complete solution meaning the costs to develop applications to fill gaps, manual processes that are not automated, extra oversight over standardized processes that do not fully meet organizational needs + cost to migrate and business re-engineer to go from current systems

Second order benefit:

Leveraging new feature sets and functions not currently in use can improve efficiency & effectiveness to meet mission

Third order benefit:

Architectural benefits of hosted solution that reduces hosting costs that can reduce the cost to client organizations to:

  • Future-proof and grow to meet functional needs and scale to user demands
  • Change configurations to support on-going govrnment modernization
  • Maintain a technical footprint that could be bloated requiring too much hardware and high power consumption

Benefits from Hosting Agency

The third order benefits from the client perspective are critical to hosting agencies. Shared services are intended to reduce costs and provide a better value to citizens. Yet, many contemporary software architectures are not able to achieve the cost reduction. Ironically, the costs to host multiple organizations can be higher than individual on-premesis deployments. Why?

  1. Technical architectures that rely on customization tend to be costly to meet multiple organization functional needs
  2. The customization approach often makes adapting to new government mandates and process modernization difficult
  3. Minimum technical footprints can be large and need to accomodate to peak period-ending activities across multiple organizations where government Service Level Agreements can result in unused over capacity

 Where do Governments go from here?

Virtualization seems to be the blunt approach to optimize technical footprints. Vendors providing products to governments need to address the standardization/uniqueness problem where multiple compliant configurations are possible, as we have described before. And, the burden to adapt to government modernization should not fall on government IT professionals.