Becoming a Enterprise Software Package Expert
1. Facts and Trends on Software Packages
One of the biggest waves in IT industry is on the pre-packaged software application system implementations with large enterprises. As an IT professional, you should pay some attention in this trend. The emerging and growth of software packages may provide great career potentials or affect your job in both directions. Thus, let's see first what software packages are.
About software packages
Software packages are also called packaged software, standard software, enterprise applications, etc. They are designed to implement business process functions in a standard and integrated mode. A product of software package is delivered as suite containing pre-designed modules that harness specific business processes. Some software packages are specially designed for certain industries - health care, banking, insurance, retail, automaker, etc. Some of popular software packages include:
- ERP - enterprise resource planning
- CRM - customer relationship management
- PRM - partner relationship management
- SCM - supply-chain management
- SRM - Supplier Relationship Management
- PDM - product data management
- PSA - professional services automation
Enterprises depend on various software packages to handle daily business operations. They use application such as ERP and CRM to maximize return on assets, streamline order fulfillment processes, drive an efficient supply chain, and deliver projects on time and on budget, track customers, manage partners, process orders, perform marketing activities. These applications help businesses deliver measurable value for assets, projects, fulfillment process, employees, customers, suppliers, and customers.
Problems and trends
As the trend of business integration and enterprise computing continue, software package development and implementation will play more important role in IT industry. More and more software package implementation projects are going on today. Enterprises use software packages to gain competitive advantage because these packages can help them:
- Increase productivity
- Improve operation efficiency
- Break down departmental barrier
- Share data and knowledge across enterprise
- Integrate IT resources
- Automate business processes
- Track and measure performance
- Work better with suppliers and partners
- Make customers happier.
There are problems in this area. Software package implementations don't always meet expectations. It is reported that over half of software package implementations didn't reach the goal and 20% of installed package modules were never used. Some companies brought in software package simply to chase technology rather than improve business performance. That's a big problem. Without focus on business objectives and solutions, any software package implementation project will fail. There are a lot of listens to learn from the past experience in the industry.
Some analysts said software packages such as ERP will die because of all the problems. Well, that's not true, because they are in demand and there are a lot of stories of success. But they will changes a lot. From we can see now, future software packages will feature the trends:
- Web-based suite and fully web-deployable.
- Build with XML-architected technology.
- Expanded package with ERP, CRM, and business intelligence in one suite.
- Increased integration and collaboration across enterprise.
- More customization tools provided by vendors.
- More industry specified packages.
- More packages target to mid and small market businesses.
2. Career Insights on Software Packages
For those who plan to build career on software packages and who are already in the loop, the following strategies are very helpful. These strategies were summarized from analysis and experience by many experts in this sector.
1. Keep a focus - You should build you experience with focus on a few software packages (not over 5). You main skill may just focus on one product. This industry counts on specialists, rather than generalists who know all kinds of software package but have no in-depth experience on nay of them.
2. Work with big vendors - Software package market is dominated by big a dozen of big vendors. Only big vendors may provide career opportunities that last long. The safe and conservative approach is to build skills only with top vendors. If this is not possible, consider career with other focus, instead of software package area. Much of software package skill set is not transferable, when it's gone, it's gone. Therefore, skills with second-class vendors are less valuable since they are easier to sink.
3. Build experience on mature practices - While there are software products dealing with all aspects of business processes and operations, the most mature practices are Enterprise Resources Planning (ERP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM). They are where you should build mainstream experience as a software package specialist.
4. See big picture on business side - Unlike traditional shrank-wrapped software toolsets, enterprise software packages are designed with business-centric approach, instead of technology-focused approach. The key to master a software package is to understand the business process behind it. Thus, you should learn as much as you can on the business process that the package supports, and see the big picture of business operations.
5. Build transformable skills on functional level - The general rule in IT is that, transformable skills retain higher value than those isolated and vendor-specific. Skills with software packages on technical side are very vendor-specific. To get most from software package experience, you transformable, functional level skills, that include business objective analysis, business process reengineering, implementation planning, package module analysis and evaluation, and project management.
6. Don't give up fundamental skills - Successful software package specialists and consultants should keep building fundamental skills including database, software architect, platform and framework such as .NET and Java/EJB/Servlet. A lot of software package professionals don't apply these skills in their work because the package provides an interface layer for common tasks of configuration, implementation, and customization. They may only need APIs and scripting languages to do the job. Thus they may eventually lose valuable fundamental skills. However, in many cases for complex systems, you do need to work on modules and objects directly, or build additional components in the package. Mastering fundamental skills is always an advantage.
Career as Software Package Expert
IT Professionals specified in software packages usually work either with a in-house IT team or as consultants from consulting firms who provide software package implementation and support services. In software package area, majority jobs come to package support and customization related works. High-paid jobs are usually with high-level design and implementation on large scale systems. Software package developers are also experts in this area, but they are more close to software development sectors. A brief review of each job category is described in the following paragraphs:
Package Support Specialist - Package support specialists setup the system environment, install the package, configure modules, maintain application, and support end-users. This position requires good knowledge of the package and familiarity of technical document and user manual.
Package Customization Expert - Package customization experts customize the installed software packages to meet user's business objectives. Works are done based on specifications. Most tasks are technology-oriented. Package customization involves mostly proprietary APIs, tools and scripting languages. As you can see, the key to perform this role is to master APIs and scripting languages provided by vendors.
Package Implementation Architect - Success of high cost package implementation relies on thorough knowledge of the package itself and understanding of the business processes that the package is applied on. Package architects decide what functionalities are used, what should be customized, what modules should be implemented and on what type of computing environment. All the decisions have significant impacts on cost of return (ROI) and benefits brought to the business. This job role requires solid experience on the package product, in-depth knowledge on business processes, plus excellent technical architect skills.
Package Developer - Package developers are programmers and software engineers who work for package vendors to build software package products. They are considered as software package experts because they know the specific package product inside out from the technology point of view. However, instead of going as package experts, they should focus on software development in career path.
Choosing software packages
There may be a conflict of interest between choosing a software package for business and choosing it for career because of different criteria for each of them. Businesses who choose software packages consider vendor's market position, product reputation, functionality, integration options, special features for the industry, and pricing. Thus a package from less recognized vendors may be chosen for easy of use, special modules, or lower cost to meet the business needs.
Individual professionals who choose a software package for career advancement pay more attention to technologies offered by vendor, job market potentials of the product, and the overall value of skills associated with the package. In this case, the choice for career is in fever of industry leaders who provide large scale packages with huge customer base. The price of them is not always agreed and affordable to some businesses.
If, as an IT professional, your task is to help your organization or client select a vendor and product for software package implementation, you must follow specifications and rules to choose to best one that meets the business objectives and achieves the highest return on investment (ROI). On the other hand, you do have opportunities to choose vendors and products that work the best for your career by changing jobs, taking different roles in the organization, or join different consulting projects. Any way, the career belongs to YOU, and the business, well, is not your business.
3. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
ERP as concept and product
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), as a concept, is a combination of business management practice and technology, where Information technology integrates with enterprise's core business processes to enable the achievement of specific business objectives.
ERP as a product is a software application package designed to improve an organization's internal operations and provide the groundwork for collaborative commerce. To the management, ERP is a business tool to operate the business day-in and day-out. ERP applications provides an integrated environment for managing finance, assets, people, projects, productions, suppliers, fulfillment, and manufacturing processes. ERP helps to break down barriers between departments within a company.
An ERP package is usually comprised of several modules. These modules share information that is housed within the database structures on which the ERP system was coded. Common modules within an ERP product include:
- Human resource
IT career with ERP
ERP is one of the hot and growing areas in IT. Career future on ERP is very promising. As an ERP specialist, your primary task would be installing, configuring, and customizing ERP application modules. Unlike programmers and developers, you don't write a lot of codes to control the system and process. Instead, you focus on configuration and customization.
A good knowledge of business operation process is a must. An ERP application integrates all of key business processes together, including financial, accounting, human resources, manufacture, engineering, production, etc. Thus you should understand the problems and solutions related to these areas.
ERP applications are adopted in large corporations and government agencies. Midmarket and small businesses don't use ERP heavily, although this trend is changing. As an ERP specialist, most likely you either work with big companies or provide continuing service to them. You may have a job with ERP product vendors where you design and develop ERP applications.
ERP skills are closely tied to vendors. Because the ERP product market is very competitive, you must develop ERP skills backed up by top-tier vendors in order to secure your career. Only top-tier vendors may help you retain skill value and expand job market.
What if your job doesn't give you an opportunity to work with a top-tier vendor's product? In this case, you should consider changing job or switching career focus. Because ERP skills are not technically transferable (although some of vendor-specified ERP skills are reusable in functional level), it is not worth the time with second-class products. In ERP market, a weak vendor itself is not secure, how your career on it can be? Don't waste your time and don't invest for nothing.
- Build ERP career with focus on top-tier vendors' products and technologies.
- Develop ERP experience with strong business process and functional knowledge.
- Value your ERP skill as a business solution, in additional to technology.
Top-tier ERP vendors
Top-tier vendors define the technology and lead future directions in ERP territory. Most of them also share the market on other software packages such as CRM. These vendors often leverage existing ERP applications to broaden the product line, which makes them more competitive. They are most likely the last winners.
SAP - This Germany based company is on the first position in ERP market. Its R/3 ERP suite is the most comprehensive ERP product. The core of the suite, mySAP ERP, offers a comprehensive solution for managing financials, human resources, operations, and corporate services.
Oracle - Oracle is one of the earliest ERP providers. Oracle ERP application are integrated in E-Business Suite that includes Financials, Human Resources, Manufacturing, and CRM applications. All applications work together and share information in one place - Oracle database.
PeopleSoft (acquired by Oracle) - PeopleSoft offers broad ERP product line including Financial Management Solution, Enterprise Service Automation, Human Resources Management, Human Capital Management, Enterprise Performance Management, and Application Integration. It provides PeopleTools development environment to build, deploy, maintain, and upgrade your applications.
J.D. Edwards (acquired by PeopleSoft and now within Oracle) - J.D. Edwards ERP applications offer both the foundational and operational components that all J.D. Edwards solutions build upon, including Enterprise Foundation (Financial Management and Technical Foundation), Assets, People, Projects, Suppliers, and Fulfillment.
Microsoft -Microsoft entered ERP market aggressively by acquiring ERP companies including Great Plains, Navison, and Solomon Software to form Microsoft Business Solutions. Microsoft's participation tells us two things - (1) ERP market has great potentials, and (2) Microsoft will be a big player in ERP arena.
Lawson Software - Lawson Software provides business process software solutions developed and designed to serve the specialized needs of service industries. Lawson's ERP solutions include enterprise performance management, distribution, financials, human resources, procurement, merchandising and services automation.
4. Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
CRM as concept and product
The concepts of customer relationship management (CRM) have been around in business world for long time. As a business strategy, CRM is the art and science of how companies deal with their customers. CRM requires a customer-centric business philosophy and culture to support effective marketing, sales, and service processes.
As a product, CRM is referred to software packages that enable effective customer relationship management, increase customer acquisition, and improve customer retention by combining business strategy with information technology.
CRM Implementation integrates and automates common business operation processes including:
- Sales force automation - Lead and opportunity management, customer tracking, contact information, activity management.
- Marketing automation - direct marketing, automated micro-marketing, campaign management, data mining, etc.
- Customer service - help desk and call center, web based self-service, field dispatch, knowledgebase.
- Partner channel management - lead routing, material distribution, catalog syndication.
- Knowledge management - document share, e-mail, customer collaboration, white papers, FRQ, etc.
- Order management - order entry and status, pricing and configuration, inventory availability, delivery management.
Today's enterprises, large or small, use CRM to gain competitive edge. Businesses need CRM to:
- Retain customer loyalty
- Increase revenue and profits
- Differentiate its business from competitors
- Conduct rudimentary forecasts
- Increase employee productivity
- Quantify marketing campaign results
IT career with CRM
As more and more businesses deploy CRM software applications to build profitable customer relationships and solve business problems, IT job market in CRM sector continue to grow.
In IT industry, CRM job market is mainly developed in three places:
- CRM product venders - IT Professionals work in CRM companies to develop various CRM software packages that meet business needs for enterprises in different sizes and industries. Job opportunities also are available with companies who offer third-party plug-ins to major CRM packages.
- CRM implementation Companies - these companies depend on their IT team to deploy, configure, customize, maintain, and support CRM applications. Implementing CRM creates permanent positions within the organization for IT professionals with CRM expertise.
- CRM consulting firms - Consulting services are in high demand in CRM sector. Companies hire consultants for CRM solutions from planning to implementation, as well as on-going technical support. CRM consultants assist clients in process analysis, vendor selection, system installation, customization, and user support.
CRM skills are vendor-based and product-focused. Your CRM knowledge and experience are usually specialized in certain products. CRM skills are not quite transferable between vendors and products in detailed technical level. For instance, although SAP CRM and Siebel CRM are built to serve the similar business processes, each of them features different structures and module scripts. Your experience with SAP CRM may not help enough on working with Siebel.
As a CRM specialist, you should be familiar with business processes and adopt certain business knowledge within the industry. Most CRM products and modules within them are designed to meet special needs for different industries and businesses. When you work with a CRM application, it is important for you to understand how the application was designed to handle the needs for the business processes and operations. When you lead a CRM implementation project, you must focus on business objectives first and adopt customer-centric tactics.
- CRM is not just a technology, it is a business solution.
- As a consultant, it is not enough to setup CRM system with technically correct configurations. Instead, you should first assist clients to build business objectives, and then implement CRM to meet the objectives.
- CRM projects that focus on technology first, rather than business objectives, are destined for failure.
Top-tier CRM vendors
There are dozens of CRM vendors around. They offer products serving various industries and enterprises. Quality and functionality vary among vendors. While a few companies provide respectful enterprise CRM solutions, some of so called CRM packages are simply contact management software. CRM is a competitive space. We have seen CRM vendors and products fail to reach market momentum and disappear fast.
To protect investment of time and efforts and preserve long-term value of CRM experience, smart IT professionals build their CRM skills on top vendors only. Top vendors are technical leaders and market makers in CRM sector. They have won their strategic positions in the market and created sizable customer base. They'll more likely be around in the industry, so as your skills and experience with them.
Listed below are brief reviews of top CRM vendors and products. Skills and experiences with them are worth obtaining:
Siebel (acquired by Oracle): Siebel remains the king in the CRM market. Its latest release, pricey Siebel 7, is expanded to include e-sales, partner relationship management, employee relationship management and more. As the leader in high-end market, Siebel offers 200 application modules and 20 industry-specific versions.
PeopleSoft (acquired by Oracle): PeopleSoft poses the strongest threats to Siebel's CRM market dominance. PeopleSoft offers a broad CRM product suite covering sale, marketing, and services processes. Its main product is most appropriate for large enterprises. Recent release of Internet architected CRM application is very competitive.
SAP: SAP's mySAP CRM covers the entire customer interaction cycle. The robust marketing suite supports both traditional campaign management and web-based e-marketing. Its sales module covers both sales process and e-commerce configuration. SAP CRM and ERP (SAP R/3) are highly integrated.
Oracle: Oracle offers a complete CRM suite with some unique features. As part of Oracle eBusiness Suite, Oracle CRM 11i includes Marketing, Sales, Contracts, eCommerce, and Interaction Center. Oracle CRM features tight integration with Oracle's ERP back-office applications.
J.D. Edwards (acquired by PeopleSoft): Although the company had merged with PeopleSoft, it products and technologies still stay distinguished until they are fully integrated to PeopleSoft family. At beginning, J.D. Edwards, an ERP vender, entered CRM market first with low-end CRM solutions. However, its recent release was boosted with robust offers including sales force automation, contact center, customer service, and marketing campaign management. J.D Edwards focuses on B2B companies.
Microsoft: Microsoft is a newer but powerful player in CRM market. Microsoft CRM is built from the ground up on the .NET architecture. With focus on mid-market businesses, Microsoft CRM is easy to deploy and use, accessible form MS Outlook and the web, and integrates with other business systems.