Macs in the Enterprise: ERP

By Tom Kaneshige, CIO.com |  On-demand Software, Mac, NetSuite

Brian Keare stares at a complex dashboard on his Mac all day long, watching sales and inventory flow in and out of his small company in southern California. "Who would have thought that a finance guy like me would be on a Mac?" says Keare, CFO of Circle of Friends, which sells baby bath products.

Keare uses business software from SaaS provider NetSuite. The Mac, he says, is great for pulling financial data from the cloud. NetSuite's user interface has a ton of JavaScript, and so Keare uses Safari 4 beta on a Mac, which renders JavaScript lightening quick. "It loads in under 10 seconds compared to 30 or 45 seconds on any other browser," Keare says, adding that Safari 4 beta didn't work so well running on a PC.

[ CIOs debate the high cost of Macs for employees. | Find out the top enterprise Mac support websites. ]

Business software has traditionally been Apple's forbidden fruit. Few, if any, of the popular ERP packages ran on Macs or required emulators to do so. But cloud computing and open source software have made platforms somewhat meaningless-and now ERP is within Apple's reach. "Things are becoming more platform agnostic," says Alex Morken, IT manager of Chris King Precision Components. The manufacturer of bicycle components uses Macs to tap into open source ERP software from xTuple.

Apple hasn't missed the signs, either. Apple recently updated its series of 30-minute, online seminars for accounting and ERP. Apple's ERP seminars cover five products: QuickBooks for small businesses; AccountEdge for up to 50 employees; MoneyWorks for businesses with more than 20 concurrent users; AcctVantage for businesses with more than 50 concurrent users; and PowerEasy for companies that need to integrate financial reporting and tracking with inventory, sale, purchasing and time, and billing.

Of course, Apple has a long way to go in ERP. Large companies run on industrial strength packages from Oracle and SAP. Midmarket companies gravitate toward ERP software like Microsoft Dynamics GP (formerly Great Plains). Smaller companies ride largely on SaaS and open source ERP providers like NetSuite and xTuple, which have seen an uptick in Macs accessing their software.

"We see more Macs on a percentage basis each year," says Ned Lilly, CEO of xTuple. "I would estimate that currently, across all users in all customers, the mix is about 70 percent Windows, 25 percent Mac and 5 percent Linux. But the number of customers that have some Macs running xTuple is probably closer to 35 percent."

Max Katz Bag Company, a manufacturer of synthetic construction and other industry products, ran its business on Great Plains Software before switching to NetSuite. The company wanted to bring Macs into its computing environment, yet Microsoft acquired Great Plains (now Microsoft Dynamics GP) and withdrew support for the Mac, says Ken Daniel, IT manager at Max Katz Bag. A little more than two years ago, Daniel moved to NetSuite in part to be able to access ERP with either a Mac or PC. "With cloud computing, I gave up the platform wars," he says.

Macs ride iPhone's coattails to business software
The iPhone has given rise to business software as well as Macs. On the CRM front, many execs want to access data over iPhones. In turn, iPhones work better with Macs, which has led to more Macs coming to work through the back door.

"I got my sales staff iPhones, replacing Blackberries, because it's much easier to connect and see information from our SaaS providers," says CEO Brad Kugler of DVA, a distributor of video and audio equipment. Circle of Friends' Keare, who also rolled out iPhones to his field staff, agrees. "Before, on Palm, you literally could not access NetSuite," Keare says. "The pages are just too big; they crash the browsers."

Both Kugler and Keare say this has led to sales staff asking for Macs, not PCs, to sync with their iPhones. Last month, software developer Celigo announced the availability of NetSyncX, a software service that provides synchronization between NetSuite and the Mac for calendaring, tasks, contacts and e-mail. "It would have been great to have this connector a long time ago to let Entourage users sync the same as Outlook users," says Malin Huffman, principal product manager at NetSuite.

Huffman has worked on getting NetSuite Mac friendly for years, and only recently has cloud computing's promise of platform independence been realized. The maturation of Web standards and the development of more consistent browsers has made it easier for Macs to finally access ERP software in the same way a PC does. "In the last couple of years," Huffman says, "we've turned the corner."

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