Unit4, a Netherlands-based vendor of financial management software focused mainly on midsize companies, recently acquired prevero, a German vendor of performance management and business intelligence software. The acquisition reflects a convergence of transactional and analytic business applications, which I have written about. ERP and financial management software vendors increasingly are adding analytic capabilities – especially in financial performance management (FPM) – to the core functions of transaction processing and accounting to broaden the scope of their offerings.
For users of finance software the addition of analytic capabilities makes it easier to obtain useful information directly from their ERP system. Our Office of Finance benchmark research finds that companies are split on information availability: Half (50%) of participants said that it’s easy or very easy to get information from their ERP system, but nearly as many (48%) said it isn’t easy. One benefit of having analytics built into a transaction system such as ERP or financial management is that it automates and therefore often speeds up the transformation of data that’s collected into useful, digestible information. Our next-generation finance analytics research finds a tangible business benefit in doing this. Nearly all (86%) companies that said they have up-to-date data also said they are able to respond to changes in business conditions in a coordinated fashion, compared to 38 percent in companies that said that most (but not all) data is current and just 19 percent of those whose data is less than up-to-date. From the vendors’ perspective, the integration of the two categories helps them increase revenue from customers, differentiate their offerings in a highly commoditized market and enhance the “stickiness” of the software by increasing the number of process and user touch points in customer organizations.
Midsize companies have essentially the same capability requirements as larger enterprises, but they typically have less money and fewer IT resources to acquire and maintain business software. Vendors that focus on this market segment have sought to respond to this situation by enabling specific types of businesses to cut implementation times and simplify maintenance. In Unit4’s case these categories include business and professional services, higher education, nonprofit and government. Cloud-based applications sold as a service address the cost and IT resource challenges better than on-premises systems by cutting the initial investment and eliminating the need for internal staff to manage the software. Integrating FPM software adds substantial value because it greatly simplifies the process of getting useful information out of the ERP system (in the forms of reports, up-to-the-minute dashboards and scorecards) as well as planning, budgeting and statutory consolidations that interact with the transactions systems. This is important for business and professional services companies, which need to minimize administrative staff, and to higher education, non-profits and government agencies, which have limited operating budgets and historically have had a hard time attracting IT talent.
The Prevero acquisition is a strategic step for Unit4 since it is likely the most cost-effective approach to adding analytics (including purpose-built predictive analytics) and FPM to its financial management offerings. This purchase has the potential of increasing the company’s annual recurring revenue for new and existing customers, and in any case, it will increasingly become necessary for any vendor to be competitive in the ERP and financial management categories. Prevero’s project management capabilities also are a good fit for Unit4’s professional services vertical and a useful feature for bridging annual budgeting and long-term planning, in which projects and major initiatives can span multiple fiscal years.
Practically speaking, however, Unit4 faces several challenges in challenges in absorbing prevero, beginning with integration of the software. Initially it can be easier to achieve a workable integration of cloud-based products than on-premises ones, but shortcuts may not eliminate the need for more comprehensive changes over the longer term. This is especially important for creating offerings tailored to the specific needs of targeted industries. For example, Prevero’s user interface is adequate today but will require significant updating to remain competitive. Although the two product lines are a great fit, financial management and FPM have different audiences in the buying process (even if the CFO and the controller are important in making the ultimate decision for both). Additionally, Unit4 will need to devise and implement sales training and marketing programs for effective cross-selling. Furthermore, part of Unit4’s growth strategy is to expand its presence in the North American market, but Prevero’s customers are mainly in Europe, and there are subtle but important cultural differences between the two (for instance, in attitudes toward the budgeting process) that will have to be addressed in localization of the software.
Nevertheless, bringing integrated FPM and analytics capabilities to Unit4’s financial management software can benefit both current and potential customers. I recommend that they monitor the product roadmap closely to understand when specific capabilities will become available. Prevero’s customers are likely to benefit from the investments that Unit4 will make in the software generally and the user experience in particular. At the same time, there are always uncertainties when any software company is acquired. Interested parties should watch how Unit4 addresses them over the coming year by clearly communicating its intentions and progress to these objectives.
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