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Acumatica CEO brings cloud ERP customer perspective to role

In this Q&A, Acumatica CEO John Case discusses how his experience as a customer informs issues like the degree of standardization in SaaS ERP and industry-specific ERP.

Acumatica's new CEO crossed the line from being a satisfied customer to running the cloud ERP company.

John Case was named CEO of Acumatica in February 2022, taking over for Jon Roskill, who ran the company for eight years. Roskill is now a senior advisor at EQT Partners, the technology-focused private equity firm that owns Acumatica as well as its corporate sibling IFS.

Case did not come from within Acumatica or from another ERP vendor. He was CEO of Unify Square, a collaboration technology company that provides similar services as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, and served a stint as an executive at Microsoft -- where he crossed paths with Roskill. However, Unify Square was an Acumatica customer, which means Case brings an outside perspective to Acumatica along with experience in selecting and implementing Acumatica Cloud ERP.

Acumatica, based in Kirkland, Wash., focuses on cloud ERP products for SMBs primarily for manufacturing, construction, distribution and retail.

In this Q&A, Case explains how the customer point of view informs Acumatica's product strategy.

How does being a former Acumatica customer inform your role as CEO?

John Case: No. 1, I come at it with the viewpoint that I know what it was like to experience the process of picking a product and going through the implementation. I know how much my own data and certain knowledge of my own company changed from what we were doing before to when we had [Acumatica Cloud ERP] fully deployed, so I bring that perspective. There was some uniqueness in the business; it wasn't cookie-cutter. It was a software company with some international stuff going on that had to work across some interesting boundaries. With Acumatica Cloud ERP, we went from not knowing what was going on in a quarter until the very end of the quarter to suddenly being able to look at my phone and see real-time data. We evaluated NetSuite, we evaluated Microsoft Dynamics, and we chose Acumatica. And that was before I had any inkling that I would end up here, so I have a first-party experience in that choice and that implementation.

Part of the perceived value of cloud ERP like Acumatica is that it depends on standardization of business processes. How do you reconcile this with a company's need to customize for its purposes?

John Case, CEO, AcumaticaJohn Case

Case: You want to buy something off the shelf, but every business has its unique characteristics -- maybe in the products you sell, the markets you serve, how you deal with customers, or the systems you use and how you integrate them. One of the best things about Acumatica is its flexibility as an open platform. You can build a set of combinations that works for you as a unique business. But one of the things I'll have to think about over the years is, how much choice do we give? Do we have a platform that allows for the right amount of customization versus none? Because I should think it's really easy for customers to go bananas with customizations in a way that doesn't solve their problem. [At Unify Square,] we wrestled with the degree of customization versus the degree of standard packaging, and we defaulted more toward the standard, which really helped. The reports we used were pretty standard, the implementation method was pretty standard, and the way we used third-party IT products was pretty standard. We didn't do too many extraneous things.

How can Acumatica find the balance between the standardization cloud ERP offers and the customizations some customers might want or need?

Case: We will always allow customizations for the right partners and the right customers, and that will be an interesting growth strategy over the years. It's important how we think about both sides of the business -- that this needs to be off the shelf, and you get value from having it as SaaS, and what can you customize that our platform will allow even in the public cloud. You have to make sure that customers are doing it in the right way, and partners know how to handle the technology.

One trend in ERP -- and cloud ERP in particular -- is industry specificity. Will Acumatica continue to focus its ERP functionality for specific industries?

Case: A couple of years ago, we would have talked about us being more of a general business management software package. Now the vast majority of our business is in four key industries: construction, distribution, manufacturing and retail e-commerce. For our industry, it's clear that for our customer size -- $10 million to $200 million companies -- you need some specificity. Construction is a great example. If we hadn't built a separate construction edition, we would struggle to be a fit for the right type of construction firms. There's a lot of uniqueness in construction, and if we were simply a generic software package, we wouldn't be able to do those things well. The growth for us is very much going to come from deciding what industries and verticals are one degree deeper than the industries that we're in.

What are the biggest challenges for Acumatica in today's economy?

Case: It's a really interesting situation right now in North America especially. Certainly our customers and partners are feeling the inflationary environment, and there are worries about a recession. I see our customers in two camps. There's a camp that says if they are going to go through several quarters of economic uncertainty, now might be the right time to know their cost structure and have a better understanding of their inventory. So a lot of customers are modernizing right now because they're worried that if they don't, this can sink them. But there's another camp that says they might watch for a quarter or two and see what happens. These customers are thinking about their own costs and where they want to spend their money. We are thinking about our priorities as the market evolves. So we see both types: the ones that say it's even more urgent, and the ones that are going to wait to see what unfolds in the market.

Jim O'Donnell is a TechTarget senior news writer who covers ERP and other enterprise applications for SearchSAP and SearchERP.

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