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Syspro - a niche ERP vendor - is like a sniper who won't let its target out of its sights. The company is uniquely focused on small to mid-sized manufacturers and wholesale distributors. And it seems that this focus drives its every move, including corporate strategy, product development and marketing.
Contax Inc. has announced the launch of Extreme Makeover: ERP Edition, a promotional contest where companies can enter and one will win a free business software implementation of SAP Business All-in-One. The software and implementation services for this contest have an estimated retail value up to $1 million US.
Dassault Systèmes (3DS), a provider of 3D and PLM solutions, and Amazon Web Services (AWS), an Amazon.com company, are working together to enable companies of all sizes to get started quickly with 3DS Version 6 solutions on AWS. The partnership is meant to answer the growing demand by organizations to leverage cloud technologies to deploy, maintain and access 3D, PLM and solutions experiences in more flexible and efficient ways.
CB Engineering, a Calgary, Alta.-based manufacturer's representative in the instrumentation industry, prides itself on strong in-house expertise and extensive customer relationships; but the 37-year-old firm recognized that its growth and future plans were constrained by its aging ERP systems. Built on legacy green-screen applications and multiple separate Microsoft Access databases, there was little in the way of integration or automation - leading to repeated processes and a great deal of redundant data entry. Separate databases managed repairs, technical support tickets, commissioning projects and sales operations.
Canadian manufacturers and distributors are increasingly turning to ERP to help them improve their fortunes, especially in the face of low-cost foreign competition and the high Canadian dollar. Many hope that ERP - or enterprise resource planning - software will help them become more efficient, productive and profitable. Unfortunately, too many companies learn that the path to ERP-driven value is more like a labyrinth.
Product life cycle management (PLM) systems provide a central location to manage all of the information associated to a product. These systems automate processes and provide tracking capabilities to easily capture and resolve issues. PLM has traditionally focused on engineering and product data management processes; however, as it has evolved and its functionality has grown to encompass more information management across an organization, there is an obvious fit for PLM to support downstream processes - such as manufacturing process management (MPM) and bill of material (BOM) routing - to further streamline information synchronization and drive down manufacturing costs.
In my February article, ERP Buyer's Corner: Making 2011 the Year of Success, I predicted that "some of the bigger ERP vendors [would] go acquisition hunting to quickly fill strategic gaps in their product repertoires." This prediction has come true.
SolidCAD and CAD MicroSolutions Inc., resellers of Autodesk CAD software, have merged their Autodesk businesses, forming one of the design software provider's largest Canadian-based Value Added Resellers (VAR).
The Aberdeen Group has released a new report, To ERP or Not to ERP: For Manufacturers It Isn’t Even a Question, which looks at the performance of companies that have implemented ERP versus those that have not.
ERP vendor Lawson has agreed to be acquired by GC Software Holdings, Inc., an affiliate of Golden Gate Capital and Infor. The cash offer of $11.25 US per share translates to a purchase price of almost $2 billion US. The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter of 2011.
Plex Online - an ERP system designed exclusively for manufacturing companies - is fundamentally different from most other ERP systems. The difference is that the software is only available in the cloud, as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Companies don't have the option to license the software and install it on their own servers. They can only subscribe to it and access it via the Internet.  As part of my research on Plex Systems, I recently interviewed its CEO, Mark Symonds, and conducted a reference check with one of its customers - Marwood Metal Fabrication Ltd., a Canadian automotive supplier. Here's the skinny on Plex.Plex Systems Inc. - Corporate backgrounderPlex Systems was incorporated in 1995 as Plexus Systems Inc. It is a Michigan-based company headquartered in Auburn Hills, just outside of Detroit. Plex has approximately 500 customers and 170 employees. The company has two shareholders: Plexus Holdings LLC and Apax Partners, the latter being a private equity firm with about $40 billion US under management.Plex's shareholders are actively pursuing an IPO, with target dates ranging from the end of 2011 to 2013. During our interview, Symonds told me that the company would use the capital raised in an IPO to bolster its international sales force, including the addition of a dedicated account representative in Canada. Currently, Plex neither has a Canadian office nor any dedicated Canadian resources. It serves Canadian customers and prospects through a representative based in Detroit.If Plex doesn't publicly float shares, it has no intention of pursuing alternative capital raising activities. Under a non-capital-raise scenario, it remains unclear how Plex intends to serve the Canadian market. Competitive positioningPlex Online is highly targeted ERP software aimed exclusively at the following manufacturing segments: • Automotive parts suppliers and OEMs;• Food and beverage processors and packagers;• Aerospace and defence; • Industrial machinery and components; and • Precision metalformers.Plex Systems' client base is largely made up of small and mid-sized U.S. companies. Lately, it has scored some notable wins with large companies (more than $1 billion US in annual sales). Canadian representation in the Plex community is relatively modest. Notable Canadian customers include Magna Powertrain, Marwood, Wescast Industries, Warren Industries and Kumi Canada. SaaS and security - It's on everybody's mindPlex is only offered in the cloud, as SaaS. Consequently, its life-source depends on its ability to safely store and deliver its software and customer data. Plex knows this and has made security, availability and reliability a cornerstone of its strategy. According to Symonds, "[Plex] is in the business, day-in and day-out, of securing customer data." Unlike many other SaaS vendors, Plex doesn't outsource its primary data warehousing responsibilities. It has built and operates its own data centre. The Plex Online Data Vault is based on a bank vault-type construction that can withstand physical attacks. Its walls are ironclad, with steel and concrete reinforcement. The facility is monitored by security cameras and a full-time staff. There is only one door, with biometric-controlled access. The data centre is also well-protected against virtual attacks. Access can only be achieved using a web browser. Command-line access is blocked (which minimizes exposure to cyber attacks). A full-time staff monitors virtual access and applies daily security patches. Plex also takes important measures to ensure system availability and reliability. Systems - including computers, disks, power and air conditioning - are all redundant. The company also backs everything up at a remote data centre located in Asheville, N.C. (owned by Netriplex, a third party). According to Symonds, "All of the data is backed up there very rapidly. If our data centre blew up in Michigan, in less than two hours, our Canadian manufacturing customers would be up-and-running off the new data centre." Plex Online - Software backgrounderLet's take a closer look at the software itself. Plex draws its roots from the manufacturing shop floor. In 1989, the first system was custom developed for an automotive supplier. Today's version represents the evolution of that system. Plex is architected on Microsoft's .NET platform. It is a complete ERP suite that offers more than 400 functional modules with particular strength in shop floor functionality, including quality, compliance and traceability. In addition to covering the entire supply chain, Plex functionality covers finance, HR and customer relationship management. I spoke to Steve Spanjers, director of engineering at Marwood. Spanjers gave Plex a mostly positive review. In his view, Plex Online offered better end-to-end functional coverage than the other ERP alternatives he considered. However, Spanjers did note certain functional gaps in the software. He said that he'd like to see deeper costing functionality. He also said that although the software wasn't initially fully equipped to deal with uniquely Canadian issues - such as the Canadian currency and Canadian regulatory requirements - Plex Systems worked with Marwood and other Canadian customers to address these issues. Software updates, upgrades and development To fill its functional-need gaps, Marwood has had to requisition custom software developments; however, the company isn't alone when it comes to driving software development. According to Symonds, "If [our customers] come up with ideas, those ideas get built into the core product and are available as opt-in enhancements to everyone else." It is worth noting that users have to pay for any developments they specifically commission. Meanwhile, for all other customers, custom developments are made available free of charge, provided that the customers subscribe to the modules that are subject to the enhancements. Because Plex deploys its SaaS in a multi-tenant environment (where multiple customers share a single instance of the software), it can roll out product updates to every customer at the same time. Once released, each Plex customer has the unique ability to decide whether to enable that new functionality. So, when Plex releases Marwood's enhancements, every other customer will have the option of using those functions. In the same vein, Marwood benefits from enhancements commissioned by other Plex Systems customers.The Plex community - Driving innovationSpanjers told me that the Plex community has proven to be a significant value-add. For one, Marwood and another Canadian customer have decided to share the development costs associated with a custom software enhancement. Further, Marwood leverages the community to drive meaningful business improvements through the sharing of best practices.Spanjers laments that the Canadian Plex community isn't bigger. The small number of participating companies limits Marwood's ability to cost-share custom software developments. It also limits the benefits of crowd-sourcing on uniquely Canadian issues.Breaking down Plex's pricing modelPlex prices its software on a per-site, subscription basis. All employees who operate out of a licensed site are eligible to use the software. The company sets the price according to company size, using proxies such as revenues and employee head count. Plex charges its customers an all-in monthly subscription fee for its software. In contrast, vendors of on-premise ERP systems typically charge a one-time acquisition cost and recurring annual maintenance fees (for support, bug fixes, updates and upgrades). Prospective ERP buyers would be well-advised to analyse all of the financial costs associated with an ERP system, including the indirect costs. For example, with an on-premise system, indirect costs might include incremental hardware, network and support staff needed to run the system. Meanwhile, with Plex's SaaS system, indirect costs might include expenses associated with ensuring that Internet connections are secure, reliable and redundant.Prospective buyers should also consider the tax implications. Under Canadian tax law, Plex's subscription fees would be treated differently from on-premise licence fees. For example, the latter is a capital expense and would be depreciable under the Capital Cost Allowance scheme. This type of beneficial tax treatment would reduce a company's total cost of ERP ownership. Meanwhile, Plex subscription fees would be treated as operating expenses. Though ineligible for CCA tax benefits, operating expenses reduce total income and, consequently, can reduce the amount of income taxes that would be payable.   In summary, Plex Online offers deep manufacturing ERP functionality. Its community gives customers the ability to drive innovation in both the software and their businesses. I would, however, like to see Plex make a stronger commitment to the Canadian manufacturing industry, both in terms of localization-related functionality and customer base. A first step in that direction could be the establishment of a formal and permanent Canadian presence.As a final note to any company considering ERP software: Do your due diligence before making an investment decision.  Jonathan Gross is vice-president of Pemeco, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in ERP selection and implementation. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
Autodesk has officially launched its new product line for 2012. The new 3D design and engineering software portfolio for manufacturers includes the new Autodesk Product Design Suite, which is meant to make design, visualization and simulation software easier to adopt, use and maintain. According to the company, the complete Autodesk Digital Prototyping software portfolio helps manufacturers to design and build better, more sustainable products, reduce development costs and get to market faster.
Pathway Medical Technologies, a Kirkland, Wash.-based innovator of endovascular treatments for peripheral arterial disease (PAD), is committed to bringing unique technology to the marketplace to treat severe PAD; however, the company was being held back by a paper-based system for managing all of its medical device documentation, part drawings and engineering changes. The company utilized a room that housed all of the paper procedures and hard drawings with a checkout system similar to how a library works.
As we move deeper into 2011, it's important to reflect on the good, the bad and the ugly of 2010.
Autodesk, Inc., a provider of 3D design, engineering and entertainment software, has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Blue Ridge Numerics, Inc., a provider of simulation software, for approximately $39 million US in cash. The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions and is expected to close by the end of April.

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