When it comes to the workload expectations of large companies, the argument is no longer about a specific piece of functionality. It’s about the way we would design traditional IT systems. Historically, before designing any systems, you had to write down the specific context. And volumetric requirements. The way you would plan for a manufacturing facility. Do you need a facility to produce 5,000 cars? Or 50,000? The facilities and their process design would be very different. Also, if you have never designed a similar facility before, you might have to go through several rinse-and-repeat cycles before the facility might work for your needs. Planning for ERP systems is no different.
Also, you might argue that the cloud is all about elasticity. But even the cloud workloads require operational capacity planning. These considerations could include: how many tables would each transaction hit? # of journal entries generated per user interaction? Some might argue: Can you not solve this by converting real-time processing into batch mode? Well, even for the batch mode, time considerations are equally critical. For example, if your MRP run takes more than 5 hrs, your SQL connection may break. Or the planning schedules might take longer than the allocated time. Running on very expensive hardware is equally crucial. And so is tailored cloud architecture. Finally, any integration glues and add-ons must be designed with the same throughput in mind.
Finally, their global rollouts may take as long as 10 years while acquiring hundreds of companies every year. So by the time you finish your implementation, the future state might be completely different from what you originally planned. So which ERP systems are capable of handling such massive workloads? That’s precisely what we have discussed in this article. Shall we dive in?
- Definition of a large company. More than $1B in revenue or more than 1000 employees. Might be publicly listed. Financial controls are a must for SOX compliance and public reporting. Finance takes over operational needs. Might be present in more than ten countries.
- Overall market share/# of customers. The higher the market share among the large companies, the higher it ranks on our list.
- Ownership/funding. The more committed the management to the product roadmap for large companies, the higher it ranks on our list.
- Quality of development (legacy vs. legacy dressed as modern vs. modern UX/cloud-native). The more cloud-native capabilities, the higher it ranks on our list.
- Community/Ecosystem. The larger the community with a heavy presence from the large companies, the higher it ranks on our list.
- Depth of native functionality for specific industries. The deeper the publisher-owned out-of-the-box functionality, the higher it ranks on our list.
- Quality of publicly available product documentation. The poorer the product documentation, the lower it ranks on our list.
- Larger company market share (and documented commitment of the publisher through financial statements). The higher the focus on large companies, the higher the ERP system ranks on our list.
- Ability to natively support diversified business models. The more diverse the product, the higher it ranks on our list.
- Acquisition strategy aligned with large companies. The more aligned the acquisitions are with the large companies, the higher it ranks on our list.
- User Reviews. The deeper the reviews from large companies, the higher the score for a specific product.
- Must be an ERP product. It can’t be an edge product such as QuickBooks, Freshbooks, Xero, Zendesk, HubSpot, or Salesforce. It also can’t be an add-on owned by ISVs or VARs that sits on top of other accounting platforms.
Workday started as an HCM product targeting fortune 1,000 accounts. Primarily suitable for industries with massive crews of white-collar workers such as tech, media, telecom, banks, and financial services – a very similar market as Oracle Cloud ERP. Workday has a financial module that might meet the need of these industries. But not a fit for transactional business (think manufacturing or retail) due to their transactional depth (as a result the number of tables these transactions may hit). Finally, the majority of these industries may use several other applications for their operations. So their architecture is likely to be decoupled (think siloed industry-specific applications used in between the lead-to-cash process).
When using these solutions for transactional businesses, they would not get the same planning benefits as they would with other solutions on this list. How about retail companies that use ERP just for financial reporting? They might use OMS systems such as Blue Yonder for their planning, allocations, and order processing. But this architecture is legacy and would struggle with an omnichannel experience. This experience requires financials, inventory, and Supply Chain to be tightly integrated.
FinancialForce is another ERP system that targets very similar industries to Workday. In fact, before Workday developed its own financial module, the common combination was Salesforce for CRM, Financial Force for Accounting, and Workday for HCM. They might use Oracle or SAP S/4 HANA for financials if an account was bigger. Or in the case of best-of-breed architecture. While FinancialForce leverages Salesforce’s transactional processing capabilities, Salesforce, as of today, does not process the same depth as the ERP systems. In 2023, there haven’t been material changes with the solutions. So they still maintain a tie at #10 on our list of top 10 large company ERP systems.
Designed from the supply chain perspective, QAD is a manufacturing solution that targets large automotive, food and beverage, and high-tech companies. It supports localization for more than 30 countries. An excellent replacement for larger solutions such as SAP S/4 HANA, it’s a fit for companies needing deeper functionality with manufacturing, supplier collaboration, and international trade.
How about its technology? It’s outdated and does not utilize large could vendors’ infrastructure. But it’s been rearchitected for the new cloud-native architecture. Allowing business users to customize their workflow and UI easily, it is one of the most customizable solutions. Other solutions generally are not as customizable regardless of their claims.
Much smaller in size than the other larger solutions on this list, it may struggle with the transactional processing needs of larger accounts. Also, since it’s a niche solution, it will struggle with companies that might acquire entities with several different operational and business models. Not familiar with QAD? Thoma Bravo, one of the largest private equity, owns them. So you don’t have the same vendor risk as with smaller solutions. Recent developments? There has not been much momentum with QAD, except for getting a few eCommerce capabilities for the Automotive aftermarket. So we have downgraded QAD substantially but it still maintains the rank of #6 on our list of large company ERP systems.
8. Infor CloudSuite M3/LN
Known in the large automotive and A&D micro-verticals, Infor CloudSuite LN is the cloud version of the legacy BaaN product. It is especially popular in the Honda ecosystem. With deep manufacturing functionality out-of-the-box, it provides strong regulatory and planning capabilities (needed for large global companies).
But since Infor LN is laser-focused on discrete manufacturing, its market share and application are limited. Also, Infor products are not designed from the perspective of a CFO. And because of this, companies install Infor LN at the plant level while using SAP at the corporate level.
While Infor LN is limited with its focus due to its deeper industry functionality, Infor has another large company ERP product, Infor M3, positioned for several other non-discrete industries such as fashion and apparel, chemicals, and food and beverage. Both Infor LN and M3 are localized and globalized in more than 50 countries. This advantage makes them an excellent fit for companies that might require deeper operational functionality. However, they might struggle with deep financial control needs such as Sarbanes Oxley, lease accounting, etc.
Due to their limited application, Infor LN and M3 may not have apparent authority in the large ERP space. However, they are a leader in specific niche markets. But if we combine both LN and M3 markets, they capture a decent market share in the large enterprise space comparable to other products on this list. Recent developments? Infor has recently acquired an MES solution, Lighthouse, that is likely to be first integrated with both of these solutions. And with this addition, Infor can provide the complete suite functionality that other vendors can’t match. And for these reasons, we have upgraded both of these solutions this year and they maintain the rank of #8 on our list of large company ERP systems.
7. Sage X3
Sage X3 is their flagship ERP solution that targets large agriculture, food and beverage, and process manufacturing industries. Like Infor LN/M3, Unit4, Sage X3 is also a very focused solution. Designed from the perspective of a CFO, it’s slightly more diverse than other focused solutions on this list. This factor assists Sage X3 with broader market applications than its focused counterparts.
Like other solutions on the list, it’s a legacy solution that Sage has rearchitected for the cloud-native architecture. But the large majority of the interface still has the legacy feel to it. It’s not as cloud-native as the born-in-the-cloud variants such as Sage Intacct, Acumatica, NetSuite, and Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central.
Not proven with larger workloads with the requirements of millions of journal entries per hour, Sage X3 is much smaller than the other larger solutions on this list. The implications of its size? While Sage X3 could provide a great alternative to SAP S/4 HANA for larger process manufacturing companies, Sage X3 might struggle with the workload requirements of companies with more than $5B in revenue. What’s new this year? The recent Sage acquisition and announcements didn’t have many benefits for this solution. And because of this, it still maintains the same rank as last year at #7 on our list of large company ERP systems.
Unit4 is a large ERP system that targets schools, universities, and public-sector companies. Often competes with Workday, PeopleSoft, and SuccessFactors in the large enterprise space, it is strong with its people-centric functionality. But with much deeper financial and ERP capabilities. Unit4 is also perhaps the only solution with enterprise-grade capabilities – for student information and teacher workflow management. Significantly expensive with other solutions on this list, Unit4’s P2P and HCM capabilities offered as part of the integrated suite make it less financially and technically risky.
Ability to handle larger workloads? Unit4 has proven itself with one of the largest universities. As well as public sector organizations. The accounts that would traditionally belong to Oracle Cloud ERP, Workday, or Microsoft Dynamics 365 F&O. How about their technology? Although rearchitected for the cloud-native experience, Unit4 is a legacy product, just like several other products on this list like QAD and IFS.
Even though a very European solution, just like SAP, Sage X3, and IFS, Unit4 supports localization and globalization for many countries. Despite its size and depth in functionality for certain industries, it struggles with diverse business models. So companies that may acquire other companies with several different business models might prefer more diverse solutions on this list. Recent developments? The most notable development in the Unit4 portfolio has been its acquisition of Scanmarket to acquire strategic sourcing capabilities. Because of these developments, Unit4 continues to enjoy a very unique position in these verticals. And, as a result, we have upgraded its ranking slightly this year as it’s a great alternative to S/4 HANA and Oracle Cloud ERP for companies with limited IT budget and maturity. And Now it maintains the rank of #6 on our list of large company ERP systems.
Deltek is a solution that targets large government contractors, AE, and construction companies. Often competing with giant solutions such as SAP S/4 HANA and Oracle Cloud ERP, it has a significant market share among project management firms. With fortune 500 consulting firms such as AWS and Booz Allen Hamilton as their customers, Deltek is often a great alternative for large companies with limited IT budgets and maturity.
Requiring substantial custom development with competing solutions, its last-mile functionality for government contractors, such as DCAA compliance, makes it a very attractive option for large government contractors. Any limitations? While it’s one of the strongest with its project management capabilities, the CRM capabilities would not be as strong. And would often require a best-of-breed CRM solution such as Salesforce.
And technology? It has been re-architected for the cloud-native experience and has a modern feel, just like IFS or QAD. Is it well adopted? Due to its limited focus on specific industries, it doesn’t have as broad an adoption and ecosystem as some of the other solutions. How has been this year for Deltek? The only exciting announcement with Deltek has been its acquisition of the MES solution, TIP technologies. And now, with this acquisition, Deltek has a slightly broader scope with government contractors that might also prefer MES capabilities. But these developments are not substantial enough to have a material impact on its ranking. So it still maintains the rank at #5 on our list of large company ERP systems.
IFS is a solution that targets large companies in the airline ecosystem, MRO, and field service companies with heavy equipment. It is strong in four areas: ERP, EAM, field service, and enterprise project management. With the ability to handle the scheduling of large crews of up to 500K field workers, it’s ideal for enterprise accounts. Such a massive workload may be equally harder for systems that can process millions of journal entries per hour.
While the field service and EAM capabilities are great, IFS struggles with diverse businesses, which may acquire several entities each year with different business and operational business models. Examples of such businesses? IFS is particularly weak with companies that may require constraint-based manufacturing. So if a large company may need a solution that is equally powerful with field service and shop floor scheduling, IFS may not be the best fit.
Is it well-known globally? With a limited presence in North America, just like Unit4, it is a European solution but supports the global localization and globalization needs of large enterprise accounts. And technology? it has been completely rearchitected for the new cloud-native experience. As a result, it has a fresh feel to the UI, just like some other cloud-native solutions such as Microsoft Dynamics Business Central and Acumatica. Any exciting updates this year? IFS has refined its focus on the enterprise accounts and in that effort acquired a best-of-breed EAM solution, Ultimo, which provides it a much broader exposure to the accounts, never belonged to IFS. Because of this, we have upgraded its ranking slightly this year. And now it maintains the rank of #4 on our list of large company ERP systems.
3. Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance & Operations
Microsoft Dynamics 365 F&O targets large enterprises. It’s one of the strongest with its Supply Chain, TMS, project management, and public sector capabilities. It’s especially suitable for companies that care for embedded TMS processes while using a best-of-breed field service and CRM solution. It might not be the best fit for companies that may have 3PL companies in their portfolio. Or business models that may have a completely different warehouse and Supply Chain architecture.
While Microsoft Dynamics F&O may handle large workloads, it might not be as efficient as SAP S/4 HANA for fortune 1000 accounts with the requirements of millions of journal entries per hour. As well as MRP runs as thick as millions of components being impacted with each run. Also, it does not have the same financial traceability built for complex financial organizations with a shared services model spanning multiple countries. As well as deep layers of SOX compliance for publicly-traded organizations. Not as mature with its financial processes and control, despite being more flexible and open than SAP, it poses control risks for larger organizations. How deep are its capabilities for best-of-breed architecture? Although Microsoft is highly customizable, it doesn’t have as deep a best-of-breed applications footprint, owned and pre-integrated by Microsoft, as some of the other leading solutions on this list.
As for its product strategy, Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations has been re-architected for the cloud-native experience like other legacy solutions. Not yet wholly migrated to the modern UX, it still has several modules and backend workflows that are still legacy. Recent developments? No major announcements this year that directly impact the capabilities of this product. So it still maintains the same rank as last year at #3 on our list of large company ERP systems.
2. Oracle ERP Cloud
Oracle Cloud ERP targets large enterprises that care for embedded HCM processes in service-centric industries. Product-centric organizations use it as well. But its scope in the architecture is typically not as involved as SAP S/4 HANA. Think OMS such as Blue Yonder doing the major heavy lifting and Oracle Cloud ERP handling financial reporting, FP&A, and HCM processes.
This is especially true for companies with requirements of millions of journal entries and MRP runs touching millions of components. During our test of serialized receipt of 100K components, it took more than 18 mins, while SAP S/4 HANA finished the same test in under 22 secs. Since its design is not optimized for product-centric industries, it might struggle with the massive workloads of these industries. We have also seen several failures with it in the product-centric industries that overstretch its core design. The design principles are very similar to Microsoft Dynamics F&O where the TMS processes are highly embedded as part of the core solution. So it would struggle with companies that might require a different architecture for warehouse and Supply Chain than ERP. But unlike Microsoft F&O, Oracle has deeper capabilities for financially regulated organizations built for compliance and traceability.
Also, companies that require flexibility embrace Oracle ERP Cloud, as the financial processes in sectors such as oil and gas, as well as energy spaces are more ad-hoc due to complex scenarios such as joint venture billing or international trade handling. Updates this year? Oracle has shifted its focus to Healthcare with its acquisition of Cerner, which has always been a strong vertical for Oracle. But these developments are not substantial enough to impact the ranking. So Oracle Cloud ERP still maintains the rank of #2 on our list of large company ERP systems.
1. SAP S/4 HANA
SAP S/4 HANA targets large product-centric enterprises that need to host all of their large, global entities in one system. With the capability to handle millions of journal entries per hour and millions of components impacted during the MRP run, It is especially suitable for product-centric companies.
The financial traceability with visual workflows helps with the traceability needs of global complex organizations, with a shared services model spanning several countries. These workflows are also friendlier for public companies with SOX compliance needs. As well as the companies that need to be audited.
Due to the ad-hoc nature of these industries’ processes, the product may not be as friendly for industries that require customizable workflows such as oil and gas and the public sector. In industries where a choice needs to be made between the performance vs the support for the customized workflows, SAP might require them to tailor their processes as per its prescriptive workflow. The standard workflows might be OK for very large organizations where companies may prefer standardizing processes to avoid technical and financial risks.
Updates this year? SAP has not made any substantial announcements this year except for acquiring Taulia, which is the leading provider of capital management solutions and offers early payment through Supply Chain finance. This acquisition further strengthens its position as the enterprise solution and it still maintains the rank at #1 on our list of large company ERP systems.
While every company may aspire to be in the $1B club, your problems will likely be different once you get there. And the challenges such as regulations of multiple countries, cash flow planning, currency hedging, and international supply chain might not apply to companies in the mid-market. These challenges are unique for large companies.
Using smaller systems not designed to cover the needs of large companies may fire back and result in financial control issues. So if you are a large company, make sure you are not stretching yourself to fit into a shirt that wasn’t designed to fit you. And hopefully, this list can help shortlist some of the options for you.