There weren’t any headlines (or even many tweets) about Oracle Fusion Financials emanating from this year’s Oracle OpenWorld (#OOW12) conference. Maybe that’s by design, because it’s not in Oracle’s best interest to kick up a lot of dust about ERP migration. The financial applications software market is mature, and market share leaders such as Oracle have less interest in getting customers to upgrade than they did a decade ago. For a software vendor with a large installed base, cashing rich maintenance checks is more profitable than selling new software, and arguably is as dependable a source of revenue as software-as-a-service (SaaS) contracts. Companies, and especially CFOs and controllers, see replacing ERP systems akin to a root canal procedure: expensive and painful and best put off as long as possible. In North America (and to a much more limited extent in Europe) a major upgrade of a company’s current ERP software usually means it’s time to evaluate alternatives. For the incumbent, any time there’s a major upgrade there’s the potential to lose a customer.
Back in the old days (20 years ago or so) companies that wanted to expand or update their telephone systems had to do what was called a “forklift migration.” In other words, they had to remove big, heavy and very expensive boxes of electronics from an equipment room and replace them with newer big, heavy and very expensive boxes. The process of adding, deleting or changing people, offices and phone numbers was equally burdensome and costly. This all seems quaint now because digital telephony and voice over IP (VOIP) have completely changed the technology underpinnings of voice communications. I bring this up because we may be on the verge of substantially reducing the “forklift migration” equivalent of replacing or updating on-premises ERP systems and other enterprise software. This possibility is important for software vendors as well as users. Retaining a maintenance base and revenue stream has become a key strategic objective for any enterprise software provider. In North America in particular, companies that have outgrown their enterprise system or want to replace it almost never exhibit total brand loyalty. Instead they begin the replacement process by looking at alternatives, winnow it down to a short list and then select the best of the lot. If migration is as much work as implementing a new system, organizations are likely to view replacement as an equally attractive option, increasing the probability that the incumbent vendor will lose a customer. But if there’s little pain in changing an ERP system to acquire new functional capabilities or meet other objectives, incumbent vendors stand to benefit.