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ERP and Billing Systems that Stall Innovation and Growth | Part 1

Embracing the inherent flexibility of an as-a-services economy requires systems and tools agile and smart enough for the job

The world of enterprise applications, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM) and billing, can seem boring to people who are more interested in what is going on at Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter, or the latest iPhone or Android application. In the late 1990s when ERP systems first came on the scene, there was plenty of drama and hype. The vendor marketing bravado and cut-throat competition, failed multi-million dollar projects, implementations spanning years and massive cost overruns are still fresh in the minds of many. Who can forget the legendary "moon" on the high seas between SAP's Hasso Plattner and Larry Ellison's Oracle boat? The infamous rivalry and competition between Oracle and SAP continues into this century with a battleground that now spans ERP and also databases. Meanwhile, in the late 2000s, certain venture capitalists (VCs) could not get enough of social media startups focused on consumers or cloud companies focused on Internet merchants. Many of the best minds of the generation were worried about how to make people click ads. Enterprises and enterprise software companies were being ignored by a large faction of the VC and startup community. Today, enterprises are struggling with how to make the enterprise future-ready with systems anchored in a past way of doing business. Many in the VC community now see the reality and are refocused on fundamentals like paying customers and profits. And like history repeating itself, vendors that ignored the needs of real enterprises - and that were perhaps prodded by increasingly impatient investors - are engaging in the same level of marketing bravado we saw in the glory days of ERP, now targeting enterprise customers with solutions built for Internet merchants. In the tradition of our defogging the cloud series, I will attempt to find truth in the noise.

Enterprises of all sizes are grappling with multiple pressures points: scaling the organization on a global basis, cost reduction, regulatory compliance, regional requirements, 360-degree visibility into the business, and agility and efficiency in the selling, contracting and revenue management process. As enterprises expand their existing applications into a mix of on-premise and cloud applications, they are finding that their monolithic ERP and billing systems built for simplistic models cannot handle the divergent needs of the business.

No enterprise can afford to compromise on the speed and flexibility required to respond to a changing and unpredictable business climate. But how do you reconcile the dual requirements of a "single source of truth" for data across the enterprise with efficient interactions with customers, partners and internal organizations using a consumer-like "customer engagement" model? With this as a backdrop, traditional ERP systems are crumbling under the triple pressures of an explosion of services and complexity, time-to-market agility, and lack of visibility for how the business is transacting. The following are the top 10 common issues we hear often from customers:

  1. Inflexible systems make it impossible to offer what we really want to offer.
  2. Any change introduces cost, risk and time.
  3. There is no single source of truth for data.
  4. There is no closed loop across the quote-to-cash (Q2C) process.
  5. Systems are too expensive to maintain.
  6. Systems are too costly to upgrade.
  7. Information is inaccurate across the business.
  8. Processes need to be changed to fit the software.
  9. Acquisitions cannot be easily integrated resulting in more disparate systems.
  10. Regional needs such as regulation, taxation or currency are difficult to support.

Compounding all of this is the new world of everything-as-as-a-service (XaaS), where the definition of a service can quickly become fuzzy. A service no longer looks like the product options of the past, defined precisely by the manufacturer up front. Customers want the freedom to mix and match pieces of different options and essentially create their own new service. After all, while customizing a mass-produced product is a challenge, surely it's easy to fine-tune a service. With an immense scaling up of service types and complexity, there is a requirement for businesses to negotiate deals with customers and partners that are more granular, not less, to the point where almost every billable event might be a micropayment.

Embracing the inherent flexibility of an as-a-services economy requires systems and tools agile and smart enough for the job. As a business matures, it needs to expand its portfolio of services and products, and react quickly to what is happening in the market. The ability to experiment, quickly launching more varied and nuanced business models and new approaches to pricing and billing, is an innovation-enabler that will attract and retain customers. You cannot constrain the business to conform to the limitations and ways of working defined in the ERP and billing systems. In part two of this series, we'll explore how to bring together a single source of truth for data across the enterprise with the need to efficiently interact with customers, partners and internal organizations through a customer engagement model.

More Stories By Esmeralda Swartz

Esmeralda Swartz is CMO of MetraTech, now part of Ericsson. She has spent 15 years as a marketing, product management, and business development technology executive bringing disruptive technologies and companies to market. Esmeralda is responsible for go-to-market strategy and execution, product marketing, product management, business development and partner programs. Prior to MetraTech, Esmeralda was co-founder, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at Lightwolf Technologies, a big data management startup. She was previously co-founder and Senior Vice President of Marketing and Business Development of Soapstone Networks, a developer of OSS software, now part of Extreme Networks (Nasdaq:EXTR). At Avici Systems (Nasdaq:AVCI), Esmeralda was Vice President of Marketing for the networking pioneer from startup through its successful IPO. Early in her career, she was a Director at IDC, where she led the network consulting practice and worked with startup and leading software and hardware companies, and Wall Street clients on product and market strategies. Esmeralda holds a Bachelor of Science with a concentration in Marketing and International Business from Northeastern University.

You can view her other blogs at

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