Big Four fight over Europe

The last month has seen a whirlwind of activity in Europe from theprise resource planning software, writes John Stokdyk. four main suppliers of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft and Baan are all jockeying for position in an increasingly competitive market, in which both Oracle and SAP have warned of a likely downturn in new licence sales.

ERP has traditionally gone hand-in-hand with business process re-engineering, which has been losing its fashionable sheen over the past year. ERP is not cheap and the disruption it imposes presents a very practical brake on growth. With 2000 looming, there is not enough time to embark on such an ambitious IT strategy.

German vendor SAP has the largest market share and extended its lead by introducing modules to cope with the main requirements of the euro back in December.

At the European launch two weeks ago of PeopleSoft 7.5, SAP’s senior vice president Al Duffield acknowledged: ‘We have a lot to prove in Europe as we haven’t convinced the market we’ve invested as much here as in the US. But this is why this product is more European than anything else.’

PeopleSoft worked with the Paris office of Deloitte & Touche Consulting to ensure 7.5’s accounting modules could accommodate the needs of European users whose accounting practices are influenced by the Napoleonic code.

The California-based developer also released a European payroll module which caters for the UK, Germany and France. The company is working with payroll outsourcing specialist ADP to support national regulations and legislation across the continent later in the year. Other enhancements include treasury functions, supply chain management and performance measurement.

At the beginning of the year, Dutch ERP vendor Baan tabled a #53m share-for-share offer for UK accountancy software house Coda. The move was welcomed by analysts for giving Baan a much stronger financials offering.

At a product strategy conference in Paris last month, Baan announced that Coda Financials would be integrated into its product family within a matter of weeks. Baan also announced its intention to ‘componentise’ its BaanSeries products, which would ‘mark the end of “Big Bang” ERP’.

Stand-alone components

It would provide a family of open, stand-alone components which could be integrated with both legacy and new business applications as and when the customer needs them.

The first products will be available in June, said company founder Paul Baan.

Over the next month, Oracle will put the final touches to its Release 11 applications family. ‘The euro will be the number one item in the feature set,’ explained Oracle’s applications marketing manager Jim Stone, ‘but this will also be our first full release for the network computing architecture.’

The run-up to Release 11 took an unfortunate twist when Oracle president Ray Lane berated the quality of its applications, software and sales approach. Lane set out his complaints in an internal memo in March after sales underperformed for the second consecutive financial quarter. A new sales approach is to be put in place, the company announced.

Paris-based Deloitte & Touche Consulting associate Mark Delane helped People-Soft adapt its code for the Latin accounting model used in continental Europe. Accountants in France, for example, must present statutory journals for payables and receivables with numbered entries and sequenced documents.

According to Delane, SAP’s R/3 was developed to cater for the cost-accounting practices of European manufacturing industry. Baan has a similar orientation, he continued, but is not as flexible.

Oracle is more Anglo-American but evolved local European and Asian variants.

‘Oracle tried to take the best of all countries and blend them into a global product. Releases 10.7 and 11 are their attempts to harmonise them all,’ said Delane.

Although PeopleSoft has a long way to go to catch the big three, he said, it has benefited from its late entry to Europe.

‘It had the luxury of adapting one product for the whole globe. Economic and monetary union has killed a lot of the functionality requirements with which the others wrestled.’

Additional reporting by Sinead Carew and Cath Everett, VNU Newswire.

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