You don’t want to invest in old technology but it is not always obvious whether the system is using old technology. There are good ERP systems with lots of customers that have been built with old technology. The developers of these old systems are often acquired by large vendors for their customers. The vendor’s strategy will be to migrate the customers of the older technology to the flagship products built with newer technology. The vendors try to make it easy to convert to the new systems but it will inevitably be difficult since some functionality will be lost, staff will need to be trained and the system will need to be thoroughly tested.
You don’t need to be tech savvy to spot older technology. Just ask the vendor for the product roadmap, which shows the development plans for the system. If the roadmap is nonexistent or lacking in substance, the system is probably on its last legs. You should also ask about the number of new customers each year, which is another bellwether for a system that is being phased out.
Other clues to older technology are the user interface, the database and the programming language. The user interface looks dated on older systems; however, many vendors have done a facelift on the UI in their older systems so you can’t tell what is underneath. You don’t want to invest in a system built with databases or programming languages that are no longer popular or supported. For example, Foxpro is both a database and a programming language that is no longer supported. Even if the database and programming language are still supported, there might not be many people who know them, making it difficult to enhance or support the system.
You should also consider the number of databases used to support the system. If there is more than one, it’s a clue that the solution includes multiple systems that have been integrated rather than built with the same tools. This is considered a best of breed solution, which has the advantage of being supported by one vendor. But the result is more complexity and the systems might not be as integrated as you would like. For example, do both systems share the same security setup, workflow and reporting tools? Users may also need to learn more than one UI.
You should also expect a hosted cloud-based deployment option. There is no question that adoption of cloud-based solutions are on the rise and that vendors need to move to the clouds to compete. However the vendors do it differently. Some offer what is called multi-tenant technology allowing multiple customers to share one instance of the software on the same server(s) which we call public clouds. Others offer a private cloud whereby only one customer is supported. NetSuite, one of the first providers of cloud-based ERP system, calls these “fake clouds” which don’t offer the same advantages of “true clouds” such as “You don’t have to endure painful upgrades.” There are advantages and disadvantages of both public and private clouds, and some very good ERP systems are only available in a private cloud or on premise.