Another week another analyst day…this time it was to Detroit and a meeting with Plex Systems. Between my attempts to discover where South Detroit was located and enjoying a great tour of the Sanders Fine Chocolate factory, I was able to spend an educational day and half with the Plex executive team. The time was well spent getting an update on where Plex ended up in 2014 and where they are heading for 2015. A few take aways:
Cloud remains the theme of the day. Plex continues to push and leverage the fact that they have been focused on delivering their solutions via the cloud since day one. That all their applications and solutions are 100% cloud focused. While the reality is that users are not 100% sold on going all in with cloud based applications, the tide continues to turn. By some estimates close to half of Chief Supply Chain officers are still hesitant about the value of the cloud. However it is our contention that much of that is due to only hearing terms like “multi-tenant,” “no version upgrades,” or “lower TCO” to describe the value of the cloud. There continues to be a gap in the market of solution providers demonstrating what NEW business models the cloud allows. The elasticity the cloud offers, the ability to quickly achieve network effects or even the fluidity the cloud offers need to be the reason to leverage the cloud. For example the ability for Plex to quickly get on line a factory gives their customers the necessary flexibility to make the business decisions necessary in the current manufacturing environments. The value of the cloud is in the new business models it allows the users of cloud applications to take advantage of, not simply that it will cost less than on premise. Plex has an advantage that they are fully focused on how the business models the cloud offers, but other vendors are quickly closing that gap.
Plex continues to get its house in order: What struck me from CEO Jason Blessing’s opening discussion was the pace at which they are ramping up quota carrying sales representatives. They have doubled the number of sales reps in 2014 from 2013 and plan to continue on that trajectory in 2015. But what is more important is their reorganization of the team. Separating the farmers from the hunters, as well as assigning a team to focus on the process industry, a new focus for Plex. I realize that at times banal items like number of sales reps is not as fun to discuss as new feature function, but the reality is I have yet to see a product that sells itself. You better have the boots on the ground to drive the revenue. Plex is also making continued investments in their R&D, more than doubling the amount invested year over year in 2014. What remains to be seen is can Plex hire the right people to their sales team and will their efforts in R&D keep pace with their renewed efforts in the customer acquisition side? Based on their domestic addressable market they should have plenty of targets to go after for their pipeline. But we will also keep an eye on their potential global expansion – where will Plex make their first true foray into the international markets? China, Germany or maybe India?
Is the portfolio ready for prime time? Plex’s approach to the market by offering a three level approach: full ERP, dual ERP or Hybrid ERP is just a fancy way of saying you can buy our full suite as a stand alone, use it in conjunction with existing ERP system or buy our point solutions. An underlying theme in the discussions was Plex’s move towards enhancing their overall solution portfolio but also starting to approach more sales opportunities with stand alone modules such as MES, Supplier quality, EDI or Inventory Management. This strategy resonates with what we believe the market has an appetite for. The days or major ERP overhauls are past, even if there continues to be disgruntled customers using large ERP solutions from the usual suspects. But point solution sales or tackling parts of the ERP puzzle will continue to be ripe. The challenge for Plex is around their portfolio. They mentioned many stand alone MES opportunities, but what about the other solutions. More importantly where does their product road map go from here? Whether they have more solutions to fill out their overall portfolio as well as sell as stand alone offerings. For example – warehouse management (WMS), forecasting and planning engines or even demand sensing analytical engines. Plex must be shrewd in their decision of where to invest moving forward.
Overall it feels as if bright days are ahead for Plex. The market opportunity is ripe, they have been building on their extensive experience in the discrete manufacturing space, demonstrate a dogged focus on making their customers all “happy ERP customers” and have a cohesive management team. However, they are approaching a stage where many companies begin to lose their way or hit the proverbial wall. It will be up to the executive team to continue to have a laser focus on their primary markets and ensure they are judicious with the development of solutions and applications that complement this strategy. Often companies begin to chase shadows and false hopes while trying to maintain their growth rate. They spend too much treasure and human resources in solutions that are too tangential to their core business or chase markets that are just beyond the reach of their core competencies.
Some will win and some will lose, it is up to Plex to be the former.