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Middle East Blogger

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This is my forum to share experiences, lessons and learning about business software systems, including Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software, Marketing & Lead Management Systems, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Systems - as they relate to Middle East users and companies.

 

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Leveraging Untapped Potential From Your ERP System

Using Old ERP Systems In New and Innovative Ways

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems automate divisions from across the company, and company locations from across the world, from budgeting and business planning to running accounting, manufacturing, sales, marketing, human resources, payroll and more.

But are there still other unused options and capabilities available that you've not considered taking advantage of in your ERP application?

An ERP review story on the Web site CIO.com considered just such possibilities. The article, "How Your ERP System Can Help Your Company Manage Its Energy Use," described how the city of Palo Alto, California, began using energy-management applications in 2009 and then began tying the resulting data to their SAP ERP business software system. That permitted the city to analyze its energy use and find new methods to save money, resulting in savings of over $520,000 in 2010 compared to just five years prior.

That's a unique and innovative idea, I thought. Then I began thinking, what other possibilities exist to leverage the data in corporate ERP applications in ways we haven't yet considered?

What about tying in fleet vehicle tracking data to better connect your delivery or service vehicles and your inventory and orders? Could the volumes of transactional data in your ERP application help improve the performance and economy of your fleet vehicles to get inventory transported more quickly and efficiently when and where it is needed?

How about using your ERP inventory and sales data to tie in with your product marketing applications? Could ERP information on excess inventory be connected to marketing applications so your company can create on-the-fly campaign price promotions and increase sales of those goods to get them out the door when you've got too many in your warehouse? More on ERP systems »


Are Open Source CRM & ERP Software Companies Viable?

Open Source Business Models Are Not Understood by Most IT Buyers

Open source CRM software and ERP applications are failing to keep up in market growth with their commercial competitors and have not gained the market share adoption of new technology concepts such as cloud computing, software-as-a-service (SaaS) or social CRM (sCRM).

It seems a constant question posed by ERP and CRM business software buyers or adopters centers around company viability and is something like - "how do you make money when giving away this software?" At the end of the day, its self evident that companies that cannot make money will fail to survive and even if free, IT adopters don't want unsupported business systems.

To answer this question I turned to the open source CRM and ERP companies that make, in facilitation with their communities, these systems. Today's reality of open source business applications is much different from what most people believe about open source projects. There is a myth that open source solutions are give-aways, and that the revenue comes from supporting or customizing less than fully baked software products. It's the lingering residue of the early open source era of a decade ago, where vendors like Red Hat prospered off their large consulting businesses. SugarCRM seems to be one of the few makers that have escaped this myth, but a lot of other technology suppliers of open source business systems seem to be burdened with it to this day.

Here's the new market reality - just like proprietary software vendors who write their own code, keep it proprietary, and sell it in different flavors, ways and channels, open source providers have a variety of business models at their disposal. Exposing your source code does not not also come with a requirement to achieve revenues or run your business in a certain way.

Take open-source CRM software maker, SugarCRM. At their start, the CA-based company's market messaging was all about the benefits of open source: low cost, flexibility, and a vast and growing community that adds value. More on open source CRM »



Evaluating Hosted ERP Systems

Software as a Service (SaaS) ERP Systems Expected To Be The Next Growth Movement

IT analyst Ben Pring of Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. hears plenty of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) frustrations from his customers. "I literally speak with people from five to six companies a day," Pring noted. "They are trying to run these big software packages and are frustrated and disillusioned" and asking how to escape the messes they are often mired in within their corporate walls.

What he's hearing lately from those customers, he said, is lots of interest in new ERP delivery models. No longer is buying a big bulky software application from a vendor and signing a long term support contract the only game in town. The new exploration is around Software-as-a-Service(SaaS) and cloud vendors.

That's quite a change from just a few years ago, when companies considering ERP systems only considered purchasing them outright, deploying them in-house and maintaining them on company equipment with internal IT staff. With concerns about information security, data privacy and system reliability, ERP just wasn't something you had someone else run for you. ERP systems are mission critical systems, and can be the difference between business success and failure on many levels on any given day.

However, software technologies, pricing models and delivery options have changed and SaaS is the lone high growth category among all types of business software systems, whether customer relationship management (CRM) applications or ERP systems. Now, said Pring, who covers outsourcing, including outsourced ERP, the customers he talks with are much more open to the idea. "I continue to see a very strong demand and interest among our clients," he said. "There's been a very noticeable spike in the last 18 to 24 months." More on evaluating hosted ERP systems »



Are Software as a Service (SaaS) Business Solutions Secure?

Security Remains an Initial Concern to SaaS Solutions

One of the first questions business and IT buyers ask when considering the purchase of a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) business solution remains, "Is it secure?"

This common question comes from multiple perspectives. Business and IT buyers want to make sure the privacy of their corporate data is at all times protected. They also want to ensure they can take control and immediately retrieve their data if they become dissatisfied with their SaaS supplier, or their SaaS vendor ceases operations or otherwise discontinues the service.

While these business concerns are understandable, the reality is that global companies have been trusting their corporate information to third-party providers for decades, such as for online banking, payroll processing or commerce programs. Many companies have outsourced their entire data center to third-party partners in order to decrease costs, increase services and focus on their core competencies.

Just as these decades old supplier services have proven to be secure and reliable over the years, there have been no serious security compromises reported among any of the SaaS providers; this fact at a time when security breaches continue to plague in-house data centers and legacy software systems.

The fact is that SaaS vendors that want to succeed and grow in this highly competitive technology market have to make big investments and implement stringent security infrastructures in order to safeguard customer data. They also have to provide SaaS contracts that make it crystal clear that customers own their data and can retrieve their data on-demand. In almost all cases, SaaS vendors are making far greater investments in security technologies, staffing and processes than most businesses can or choose to afford themselves. More on SaaS security »



Mobile Payments Set to Continue E-Commerce Growth

Consumers Will Buy From Their Smartphones In Mass, From Mobile-Ready Vendors

The Web has empowered companies to dramatically increase online sales of their products around the globe. In a continuation of e-commerce innovation and empowerment, credit card processor MasterCard Worldwide unveiled a partner program to release Open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that will allow software developers to create new e-commerce and mobile payment applications using MasterCard protocols that previously had been proprietary and not shared.

With the new release of MasterCard's Open APIs and the creation of an online Open API Developer Portal, the credit card processor will encourage independent software vendors (ISVs) and third-party software developers to build what the company expects will be "game changing payment applications," Josh Peirez, the company's Chief Innovation Officer, advised. "We feel this will unleash innovation within our industry especially in the burgeoning areas of e-commerce and mobile payments."

The effects on merchant e-commerce Web sites and mobile "instant purchase" applications are significant. Consider the effect of making it ultra-easy for your customers to securely visit your Web site with their smartphones and click a button to make an instant purchase - without having to enter their account number, shipping address or personal information. Simple, fast, secure and oh yes -- revenue-building. What's not to like?

Gene Alvarez, an IT analyst with Gartner, said the MasterCard release is big news for online retailers. "Mobile payment applications, and that's the key word," he said. "By opening up the payment process, it enables companies Web sites to get creative about the payment and transaction processes." More on mobile payments and e-commerce »



The Complex Criticisms of ERP Software

The Challenge of Automating Complex Business Processes with Not So Complex Business Software

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) applications receive no shortage of repeated criticism from users and the technology media. The reasons are varied, but generally speak to the facts that ERP systems are complex, expensive and prone to significant deployment and operational challenges. These are comprehensive business software systems for a company to invest in and getting it right can be hard.

However, at the same time, ERP business systems continue to be researched, compared, evaluated, purchased and implemented by companies of all sizes and industries. For something so criticized, they remain a de facto standard.

True, the challenges and difficulties with ERP applications from all kinds of vendors are legion and the criticisms have been around for decades. One of the most referenced critiques, "The Problem With Enterprise Software," was written by software consultant Cynthia Rettig and published in the MIT Sloan Management Review in the fall of 2007. Rettig didn't mince her words.

"These systems, of which Germany-based SAP is the most common, promised to eliminate the complexity of multiple operating systems and applications by replacing them with a single set of interconnected modules to run the accounting, financial, manufacturing, distribution, HR and other major functions of a typical multinational corporation," she lamented. "Theoretically, a single monolithic system would seamlessly connect various distinct and geographically separate locations through private networks. Companies understood that they could customize these business systems as needed to suit their unique business processes. That was the hope. But these massive programs, with millions of lines of code, thousands of installation options and countless interrelated pieces, introduced new levels of complexity, often without eliminating the older systems they were designed to replace."

So what happened to the ERP promise? According to Rettig, "The concept of a single monolithic system failed for many companies," More on ERP software criticisms »



Your Technology Vendor Has Been Acquired. Now What?

Mitigating Strategies Can Soften The Blow

A interesting thing keeps occurring in the technology marketplace. Bigger companies keep buying both smaller rivals and big competitors, in a never ending quest for new ways to expand their sales and revenue. But what about the customers? Are these company acquisitions, from the smaller deals to the blockbusters, doing anything to help or hurt the customers that use their products?

An Associated Press article took a look at the technology acquisition movement, which in the last few years has included vendors in virtually every technology field, from ERP to CRM to IT services to hardware and beyond. A common theme in the story was that many of the customers interviewed by the AP were none too thrilled by their experiences with their IT suppliers after the acquisitions were complete.

Acquiring technology companies often argue that by making acquisitions, they are able to offer more services to their customers and improve their product offerings, so the article explained. But customers, well, they had a different view of the merger mania. "Often customers get new headaches with multibillion dollar deals by the likes of Oracle, IBM, SAP, Dell and Hewlett-Packard," the story said. "When you add the challenges that come with any corporate acquisition, it's not hard to envision a reverse trend building: a drive to split up technology companies that have grown too large. In other words, the technology consolidation of the past few years could turn out to have wasted shareholders' money."

Now the reality checks are hitting the fan, according to the AP. "The demand for these mergers is not coming from the customers," Gopal Khanna, CIO for the state of Minnesota told the AP. "On the contrary, I'm best served when there's a phenomenal amount of innovation happening. Sometimes creating behemoths slows down that innovation engine." More on your technology vendor has been acquired »



Re-evaluating ERP Information Security

New Technology Releases Come With New Vulnerabilities

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems have delivered new productivity features in recent releases, including mobile access for workers in the field and the ability to more easily share information with vendors and business partners. Those are great additions, but there is a catch to be aware of.

Now that more people have increased access to your ERP systems and data, have you reverified that your information systems are secure from electronic intruders, hackers and others who want to inappropriately acquire your data or harm your business? If you haven't revisited this concern, this may be a good time for you to take a closer look at confirming or tightening the controls to be certain that access is only granted to those who require it. A formal review process may be a good first step.

Dr. Joy Hughes, the CIO at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA believes that this is a critical subject for higher learning institutions and other businesses to keep top of mind. She's been keeping pace with ERP information security for several years as part of a post ERP replacement implementation at her educational institution, and she previously served as the co-chairwoman of a Security Task Force for EDUCAUSE, a Washington-based non-profit that helps colleges and universities advance their IT systems.

"Many in higher learning have spent a great deal of time and money in hardening our ERP deployments," Hughes noted in a phone interview. That has often come on top of the money spent to bring the ERP applications in because the built-in security controls weren't enough or because they weren't easy to use, she advised. More on ERP Security »



A New Look at Old Security Policies

Consumer Devices and Social Media Require Another Look at Security Compliance

Your organization has lots of time and money invested in hardware, software and complex information technology (IT) infrastructure. You've got policies and procedures for information security, data storage, patch management and much more. But with all of this IT at stake, are you also paying close attention to the portable thumb drives, personal laptop computers, smartphones, unsecured wireless devices and other unauthorized devices brought in to your offices by your staff? And beyond hardware, are you even aware of the Internet sites that your staff are accessing from work, including social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, or possibly problem sites including porn? If you're not thinking about theses kinds of real world security and privacy issues, then your business is at risk.

Government Technology periodical just reported that many bosses aren't aware of what devices their staff are using and plugging into their corporate networks. "Recent studies show that many company leaders may not know just how popular personal devices are with their staff," the article informed. "This lack of awareness can bring along security and privacy issues."

Another study, by Unisys and IDC, looked at 2,820 workers in 10 countries and how they are using personal consumer technology and communication devices at work. The research found that "people are blurring the lines between home and business when they use consumer devices and social Web apps." Meanwhile, another study of 650 IT decision-makers found a strong disconnect between bosses and staff on their perceptions of how personal usage overlaps with professional usage in the work place. The data showed stark gaps between what staff believe is acceptable behavior at work compared to what their bosses believe is acceptable.

For example, 69% of staff said they thought they could access non work related web sites at work, but only 44% of employers said the same. Some 52% of staff felt it was acceptable to "store personal data and files on company resources," compared to only 37% of their bosses. And in terms of the use of self-purchased IT devices at work, 95% of staff reported that they regularly use at least one device that's not supplied by their employers. More on security policies »

 

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