German ERP upstart eyes European expansion

CIS looking to take on SAP, Microsoft in mid-market space

A small German ERP vendor has laid out an ambitious plan, including a partnership with a local IBM subsidiary, to capture a bigger slice of the European midmarket. But the software upstart will have to fend off rivals including SAP and Microsoft

CIS Cross Industrie Software offers a suite of ERP applications for small and midsize businesses, including programs for accounting, inventory management and CRM. Called Semiramis, the suite is built entirely in Java, allowing it to run on most platforms including Windows, Linux and IBM's OS/400 and i5 operating systems.

At the Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany, earlier this month, CIS announced versions of its software in English, French, Italian, Hungarian and Slovakian. Polish and Spanish will follow in the coming months, said Reinhold Karner, the company's founder and chief executive. It was available previously only in German.

CIS sells its software exclusively through partners, including value-added resellers and systems integrators. Currently, they are primarily in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, but over the next two years it hopes to find partners across Europe to sell the localised versions of its software, Karner said.

Founded in 1995, the company is privately held and won't reveal its sales figures. Semiramis is currently deployed at about 230 customer sites, making it a relative minnow in the software industry, but its license sales increased almost 150% last year, according to Karner.

CIS targets small and mid-size companies with up to 5,000 employees. Switzerland's Victorinox, which makes the Swiss Army Knife, is among its customers.

CIS' efforts got a boost this week from IBM Deutschland GmbH, which has agreed to offer Semiramis as a hosted application from its data centres, Karner said. In addition, SerCon, an IBM midmarket consulting subsidiary in Germany, has agreed to offer Semiramis as an option to customers.

Semiramis is priced at about €2,000 ($US2,690) to €2,500 per user for an indefinite license, depending on the volume purchased. Customers can pay on a monthly basis, adding or removing users as they go, and choose from several vertical industry suites. Users access the applications from a browser; there is no client component.

The deal with IBM may help CIS to boost its profile, but it still faces the challenge of making itself known to Europe's thousands of small businesses. "Of course, we have to do a lot in terms of visibility," admitted Karner, who also founded CIS' parent company, IT consulting company the KTW Group.

It will also have to fend off rivals including SAP, which has made SMBs a focus lately and is recruiting its own European channel partners to push a mid-market version of its applications. SAP is also a close partner of IBM's SerCon consulting division.

Additionally, Microsoft is targeting the ERP mid-market in Europe with its Navision family of products, and CIS will also compete with an army of smaller vendors. Abas Software, for example, also targets the ERP mid-market and announced support for 64-bit platforms at Cebit.

CIS claims to be undaunted. Unlike SAP and Microsoft, CIS is a mid-sized company itself, which allows it to understand its target customers and provide a level of personalised service that its bigger rivals cannot match, Karner says.

"I think we will give them a fight," he says.

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