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Where have all the ERP Vendors Gone (from government financial management conferences)?


December 8, 2011

Doug Hadden, VP Products

[Tweeting and asking questions. David Nummy looks on.]

FreeBalance sponsored and attended the most recent International Consortium on Governmental Financial Management (ICGFM) conference. We were a Gold Sponsor. (Presentations are up on pictures at, check out @icgfm on Twitter – most of the tweets come from FreeBalance.)

We’ve been at many public financial management and government-focused conferences this year.  We’ve been noticing a lack of involvement by the larger Enterprise Resource Planning vendors over the past few years.  You get the feeling that even when they attend, they aren’t engaged. It’s as if staff from these companies is uninterested in learning about the trends and lessons-learned in public financial management.

Perhaps the level of involvement is proportional to success. (There’s growing evidence to support this notion).

Some ERP companies sponsor events but staff stays in the trade show area or appear only to make a single presentation, which is about them. When they do appear in the conference sessions: it’s e-mail and spreadsheets.

Maybe we should stop distracting these companies by suggesting they listen to customers. Gets in the way of talking. Perhaps learning is over-rated. Or, they just don’t want to hear about continued ERP customer implementation problems.

My sense is that the PFM market is entering what Peter Hinssen calls a “flip” – from vendor to customer dominance.  Some signs:

  • Increasing reliance on maintenance revenue by larger vendors, just to keep the corporate lights on. (Not to mention the software “license” ninjas that descend on customers to “audit”.)
  • Lack of innovation among major enterprise software vendors has created a feeding frenzy of acquisitions. It’s the tech soap opera with Kardashian scope hype.
  • Virtually every press release from major vendors talks about “innovation” when introducing a few new features.
  • Despite all the hype, there’s no reduction in the incidents of publically revealed failures, particularly in government.  Believe me, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. You learn a lot more from the network of professionals about problems that have not made the press.

Some advice for ERP Companies

Why would I provide advice? Public money is being wasted: failed, over-budget, late. Developed countries, developing countries – national, sub-national – everywhere. Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Listening helps determine the long-term product roadmap. Don’t hire an expert in a vertical market and slot into a cubicle. Attend PFM conference.
  • Problems help improve products. I’ve found three customers over the past five years who expressed dissatisfaction with FreeBalance products. The results are fantastic – we found ways to please the customer and improve our products at the same time.
  • Sharing expertise builds the warehouse of what works and what doesn’t work in government financial management.  Vendors have to stop talking about themselves and share lessons learned.
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Doug Hadden

Doug Hadden

Executive Vice President, Innovation at FreeBalance
Doug is responsible for identifying new global markets, new technologies and trends, and new and enhanced internal processes. Doug leads a cross-functional international team that is responsible for developing product prototypes and innovative go-to-market strategies.

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