Leaders Rule with Sage Intacct

Sage Plus Sage Intacct “Lead The Future”

Sage Intacct describes itself as a “best in class cloud financial management software company, 100% invested in meeting the needs of financial professionals.” Bringing cloud computing to finance and accounting, Sage Intacct’s applications are the preferred financial applications recommended by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and are used by more than 11,000 organizations from startups to public companies. The solution has evolved over time and today the company has a broader impact on its customers than just transactional accounting, bringing not only governance and control, but also insights necessary for effective tactical and strategic decision-making.

The theme of its most recent user conference, Sage Intacct Advantage 2017, is reflective of this evolution of both the company and its solutions. The theme: “Lead the future.” Let’s take a look at what this means for Sage Intacct, its customers, and the finance leaders in those organizations.

Leaders Are in For the Long Haul

Intacct was acquired by Sage in July 2017, becoming Sage Intacct. All the top executives from Intacct remain in place post-acquisition. They are led by Rob Reid, former Intacct Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and current Executive Vice President (EVP) and Managing Director (MD) of Sage Intacct. Mr. Reid and his direct reports remain commited to leading the company, not just through the transition, but for the longer term, providing stability and continuity. But not content with the status quo, Mr. Reid is inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

It would appear that both Intacct and Sage gained from the acquisition. According to Sage President Blair Crump, Sage was attracted to Intacct because of its leadership, not only in terms of the people, but also in terms of growth within North America and in customer satisfaction. It was also a good strategic fit with respect to Sage’s commitment to being “cloud 1st.Born in the cloud and offered exclusively as a multi-tenant software as a service (SaaS) solution, Intacct’s portfolio of products makes a nice addition to the newly announced Sage Business Cloud. While Sage itself is already strong at the low end of the small to medium size business (SMB) market, with its Sage 50 and Sage Live products for small businesses, Sage Intacct’s cloud financial management solutions are complementary. With very little overlap in target companies, Intacct should help Sage be stronger up market. While it is quite easy to outgrow those low-end solutions, it is much harder for companies to outgrow Sage Intacct. Together Sage and Sage Intacct intend to offer the “only financial management solutions a company will ever need.”

Good for Intacct = Good for Its Customers

Obviously Sage benefits tremendously from this acquisition. But can the same be said for Intacct? We believe so, if for no other reason that it paves the way for global expansion. Expansion into new global markets means customers must deal with the complexities of new tax, regulatory and compliance requirements, and potentially new accounting standards. With its focus on finance, this is not entirely new territory for Sage Intacct. Yet it has mostly been successful in North America, while Sage is more global, bringing both functional experience as well as global reach, including expanded local support.

And a side benefit to Sage: While it has become almost a household name in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, it does not enjoy that level of brand awareness in North America. So the strengths of Sage and Sage Intacct are complementary.

As part of Sage, Intacct also has access to more resources and technology. For example, Sage Intacct can benefit from the experience gained by Sage in natural language processing (NLP) through the development and introduction of its virtual assistant (chatbot) Pegg.

However, this type of technology transfer is hardly a one-way street. Intacct appears to have been far ahead of its (now) parent company in developing artificial intelligence (AI) through deep machine learning. But because Sage can also benefit from this effort, Intacct will likely be able to draw on more resources than it could afford on its own.

The third component in terms of “leading the future” is helping people evolve as leaders. More specifically, helping the finance leaders that are playing key roles in the companies that are Sage Intacct customers. Sage Intacct is not stopping at just streamlining and automating tasks in the accounting department. Those are table stakes in today’s financial management applications. Mr. Reid feels, “Our job is to transform the way people think and work, removing barriers to achieve success and lifting them up so they can achieve more.” A lofty goal indeed, but what does that really mean?

Mr. Reid acknowledges three different styles of leadership within the community of finance leaders: the historian, the business analyst and the data scientist. The historian relies on traditional reporting, while the business analyst leverages data and analytics to drive decisionmaking. The data scientist takes that analysis to a whole new level in terms of cognitive, predictive and prescriptive analysis.

Mint Jutras takes a slightly different view, looking at these, not so much as styles of leadership, but rather skills sets that must grow and evolve progressively. The business analyst can’t afford not to be a historian. And the data scientist can’t afford not to be a business analyst. Can finance leaders today be all three? Not without the right set of tools. While analytical skills might be a common trait amongst good finance leaders, they are not data scientists. Which is why Sage Intacct must build business analysis and data science into the solution. That takes aggressive innovation.

Leading with Innovation

As the pace of change accelerates today, the need for more features and better functionality doesn’t stop once you get a new solution up and running. We live in an age of disruption. As a result, the pace of innovation must accelerate. We asked participants in our 2017 Enterprise Solution Study how the pace of innovation had changed since they had first implemented (Figure 1). Indeed, 39% report that upgrades are now delivered more frequently.

Figure 1: Change in Pace of Innovation Since Implementing?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

However, it is one thing to deliver innovation more frequently, but quite another to consume it. If we average the frequency of delivery across all our respondents, we find upgrades being delivered just about every 6 months. We also asked our participants how often they upgraded and found they consumed those upgrades about once every 13 months. If we contrast SaaS deployments to those licensed, we found upgrades consumed far more frequently (Figure 2) when delivered through SaaS. And yet we know this can vary quite significantly from vendor to vendor.

Figure 2: How frequently are these upgrades “consumed?”

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Delivering more innovation through more frequent (and robust) updates not only delivers more value, but is also one of the most differentiating factors in comparing cloud solutions. While some of the potential benefits of a cloud-based solution are inherent in the cloud itself, the cadence and method of delivery of innovation are not among them, varying significantly from one solution provider to another.

With four releases a year, including about 30 enhancements in each, Sage Intacct is keeping pace with the top SaaS solution providers. Below are some highlights by industry of the 150 product enhancements that have been delivered over the past year.

Nonprofit Organizations

Sage Intacct, along with new partner GuideStar, introduced the Sage Intacct Nonprofit Financial Board Book. The concept of a “guide book” or “Intacct Digital Board Book” was introduced back in 2015. They are designed as vehicles of communication , making enterprise data easier to consume, with instant access organized for action.

These Digital Board Books are very industry-specific and the first one off the shelf was designed for software businesses that, like Intacct, deliver software as a service (SaaS). This new one is designed specifically for nonprofits along with the assistance of GuideStar, the world’s largest source of nonprofit information.

The Nonprofit Financial Board Book is based on the framework developed by GuideStar to monitor the financial performance of nonprofit organizations. It uses real-time transactional data from the system of record in Sage Intacct to automate the calculation of key financial and operational metrics that GuideStar uses to not only demonstrate the financial health of nonprofit organizations, but also ensure the organization is on track in accomplishing its mission – a key element in attracting donors for funding.

Professional Services and Project-based Businesses

Sage Intacct also recently unveiled its new Project Manager Digital Board Book, which also includes new project budgeting capabilities. It is designed to empower project managers with better insight into project status and performance, keep projects on track so resources are available for the next highest priority, and uncover key insights to eliminate waste and improve productivity.

Software and SaaS Businesses

For software and SaaS companies, the contract is at the core of managing the lifecycle of the relationship with their customers. Sage Intacct recognizes the transition to the new ASC 606 revenue recognition guidelines is making the contract the new “unit” of Accounting. Back in May 2016 Sage Intacct Contract and Revenue Management was one of the first solutions to address the new complexities in revenue recognition created by the upcoming changes. Further enhancements were announced to enable companies to more fully integrate and automate the entire sales and finance process.

These are are just some highlights from the 150 product enhancements delivered over the past year by Sage Intacct via four quarterly releases. While these continue to supply Sage Intacct customers with a steady stream of useful and consumable enhancements, it was a preview of the future that was perhaps the most innovative and the most exciting of all.

Vision of the Future: Taking Intelligence to the Next Level

To sweeten the pot even more, Sage Intacct introduced its vision for a new digital assistant to the CFO. Its name is Pacioli. Think of it as a Siri or Alexa for enterprise applications. Pacioli will dramatically change the way the user interacts and interfaces with the software.

What’s in a Name? Pacioli

Fra Luca Bartolomeo de Pacioli (sometimes Paccioli or Paciolo; c. 1447–1517) was an Italian mathematician, Franciscan friar, collaborator with Leonardo da Vinci, and a seminal contributor to the field now known as accounting. He is referred to as “The Father of Accounting and Bookkeeping” in Europe and he was the first person to publish a work on the double-entry system of book-keeping in this continent.”

Like da Vinci, Pacioli was a polymath.

Source: Wikipedia

On the surface, Pacioli might look a lot like some other “virtual assistants” offered by other vendors recently, including Sage’s Pegg. Sage calls Pegg “the world’s first and only accounting chatbot,” but it’s not the only virtual assistant that can capture expenses from your mobile device and give you some visibility into cash flow.

While Pacioli is not yet ready for prime time and Sage Intacct may very well leverage Sage’s work with NLP, it is far ahead in terms of true AI – a good example of how the acquisition could have mutual benefits to both parties.

Although Pacioli makes use of advanced new technology, including deep machine learning, Sage Intacct doesn’t want to deliver it as a general technology tool, but instead will look for problems to solve and develop specific solutions to solve them. This is smart since its typical customers will not seek out or purchase technology for technology’s sake. Other vendors, far bigger than Sage Intacct, have struggled to gain traction when they released elegant new technology in search of a problem. Current and future Sage Intacct customers start with a problem and search for a solution.

Pacioli will have to start out with fairly simple questions, much like Siri, Alexa and even IBM Watson do. All these digital assistants must be trained to answer anticipated questions. Current AI technology isn’t good at coming up with brand new answers to questions nobody has thought of before. It is good at recognizing the question as one with a (stored) answer. Even with current limitations it can add tremendous value because we’re not talking about a few questions and answers; we’re talking thousands or more.

While many today have begun to fear that AI will take jobs away, much like the automation that occurred in the latter part of the 20th century, one Sage Intacct customer, Meals on Wheels doesn’t fear it. The nonprofit’s chief financial and administrative officer, Don Miller welcomes it, “If it saves us time and gives us more time to work strategically, that is useful progress. Some might worry about job security. But if it takes five hours to pull data together and AI can do it in minutes, I’m all for it.” This is consistent with the objective Mr. Miller had when he came on board: It’s all about eliminating “stupid work.”

For Intacct, it’s all about delivering a tool that will maximize the human potential. It has the potential of automating and eliminating the tedious, time-consuming tasks that keep a knowledge worker from working efficiently and effectively, without wasting time searching for data, policies or processes.

But… Is Intacct Getting Too Far Ahead of its Customers?

Sometimes software companies must take a leadership role in terms of innovation, inspiring customers and prospects to apply leading edge technologies in new and creative ways to create a competitive advantage. Without this push, many (most?) companies can become complacent. If the software that runs the business isn’t broken, there’s no need to fix it.

Eighty-four percent (84%) of survey respondents participating in the 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study agree that digital technologies of today (those that serve to connect operations, people and processes through the power of the Internet) have the potential to fundamentally change the way we all do business. Furthermore, 88% understand that embracing digital technologies is necessary for survival. And yet, we found the vast majority still coasting or riding the brakes when it comes to digital transformation.

Last year we also found that while 58% of participants felt they were well prepared for the digital economy, in peeling back the onion, we concluded that many were perhaps over-confident in their progress, often held back by old ways of thinking and a lack of understanding and appreciation of what is possible today.

So in our 2017 study we dug a little deeper to assess how well companies understand these technologies, and the potential they hold for their businesses. We selected 14 different kinds of technology and asked respondents to assess their level of familiarity with each in terms of how they relate (or not) to their business. The technologies that Pacioli might utilize are shown in Table 1 (in no particular order).

With the exception of predictive analytics and IoT, those that are unfamiliar, only somewhat familiar and/or don’t perceive the value outnumber those that have embraced these technologies. And yet these technologies have actually insinuated themselves into the lives of many consumers. And most of us don’t even realize it.

Table 1: How familiar are you with these technologies as they relate (or not) to your business?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Anyone using Siri, Alexa or Cortana has used a virtual assistant and natural language processing. Google, Spotify and Pandora all employ “deep learning” (aka machine learning) to create a better play list for you. Did you ever notice that your GPS seems to get smarter over time, suggesting the routes you actually prefer? And the more you use any of these “apps”, the smarter they get.

These technologies are no longer science fiction. They are woven into the fabric of our lives. Apple, Amazon and Microsoft didn’t require you to buy something extra. They just made it part of what you got with your new device. And didn’t those features make you want the latest and greatest device?

That is exactly what Sage Intacct is setting out to do: take the lead in weaving these technologies into the fabric of the software we use to run our businesses.

Key Takeaways

Sage Intacct, with the backing of its new owner, Sage, has indeed set its sights on “leading the future.” The global reach and resources of Sage, combined with the stability and continuity of a strong leadership team positions it quite well. It will need to continue to aggressively provide innovation, continue to listen to its customers, while also leading them in new and innovative directions. It must continue to support the historians, while making them better business analysts. If it can deliver on its vision of the future, effectively incorporating artificial intelligence into decision-making, it can bring data science into the world of finance, without requiring its customers to be data scientists.

 

 

 

 

 

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Workday: Getting Smarter and Smarter

Enter the Age of Intelligence

In a recent Mint Jutras report, “How Smart Are Your Enterprise Applications?” we outlined some of the different ways solution providers are adding a new level of intelligence to their offerings… or not. While “intelligence” has become the holy grail of enterprise applications of late, not all vendors are delivering on the promise of smarter applications. For some, it’s just the latest buzzword added to their marketing collateral and some are simply playing catch up to current next generation applications. Others are taking their first baby steps, but a select few are truly entering the “age of intelligence.”

Where is Workday along this progression? Since its inception in 2005, it has never been a company that over-inflated its capabilities with bravado and marketing spin. Born in the cloud and built on a next-generation platform that continues to evolve, Workday also never had to play catch-up. And the first steps it took in moving into the age of intelligence were not baby steps, but instead bold ones, including some strategic acquisitions.

Workday’s acquisition of Identified in 2014 was an important step in incorporating predictive analytics and machine learning into its portfolio. In 2015 it acquired Gridcraft and last year it acquired Platfora. With both of these acquisitions, Workday sought to build insights [read intelligence] directly into its applications. More recently its benchmarking capabilities take insight and intelligence to another whole level by putting Data as a Service (DaaS) in the context of your business performance, in comparison to your peers. And Workday has opened the doors to more innovation from a broader community by making its Workday Cloud Platform available beyond its own development team.

It is clear Workday is getting smarter and smarter with each new release.

Smart, Smarter, Smartest

So, what does it take to make an enterprise application smart? In our previous report we distinguished different levels of intelligence:

  • Smart: We concluded any enterprise application is smart in that it’s not dumb. It can follow instructions – instructions like, IF <this condition> THEN <do this> ELSE <do that>. Business applications have been built on IF THEN ELSE statements since the earliest computer programs were developed. Workday applications are no exception and indeed, they can now go beyond simply following specific instructions. They are starting to learn to take some simple rule-based actions on their own. For example, the recruiting module is smart enough to decline any outstanding applicants once a position is filled, and yet keep them on file to review when other vacancies open up.
  • Smarter: To make an application smarter, you need to make it easier to use and better at communicating. Progressive releases of Workday have made the user experience very compelling while also adding more and more insights. Workday has also borrowed concepts from consumer technology, putting more power in the hands of users using mobile devices, not only alerting managers to exceptions, issues and required approvals, but allowing them to take immediate action. Workday Talk provides a “chat” capability modeled after social media. Participants can follow conversations attached to business objects like sales orders, customers or products. Groups and teams can be assembled to foster collaboration. When people are better informed, they can make more intelligent decisions, faster.
  • Smartest: But the smartest applications today combine the pattern recognition capabilities of machine learning to produce artificial intelligence (AI) and predict the future. The highest level of intelligence will be achieved in combining a variety of technologies together: AI, deep machine learning, Natural Language Processing (NLP), image recognition and predictive analytics are all at the forefront of this movement. And Workday has all these technologies in its kit bag. It has already taken some initial steps in leveraging them. For example, it has embedded machine learning capabilities into its Talent Insights to identify retention risk. Look for more use cases to be delivered using data from both inside and outside of Workday.

It is quite clear that Workday’s Human Capital Management (HCM), Financial Management, Student Management and Planning solutions are smarter than your average enterprise applications. Let’s dig a little deeper into some ways they will get even smarter.

Building Insights In: Prism Analytics

Good reporting is a necessary backbone of applications like HCM and financial management. Reports provide a historical perspective, help you assess your current position and answer questions you have about your performance. But analytics provide a deeper level of understanding and help you ask the right questions. Analytics are iterative by nature. You start with a question, issue or problem: Sales are down. Reports might tell you what regions or products are problematic, but you won’t really know why until you drill down, and you are never quite sure what path you need to take until you find out more. And you won’t even be prompted to investigate until you already have a problem.

Predictive analytics help you anticipate conditions, prompting you to investigate a situation before the problem rears its head. You would like to be able to conduct this kind of investigative work right in the familiar environment of the solution running your business. But it is even more powerful when you can look beyond the structured data that resides within your enterprise applications. Workday has woven the technology acquired from Platfora, into the fabric of its solution, rather than bolting on components. And yet Workday Prism Analytics will not be limited to Workday data, but will also bring in non-Workday data, which can then be presented through Workday reports, scorecards, and dashboards for analysis.

Typically this type of mix of data requires data preparation to be done by a data administrator with the technical skills needed to load the external data, cleanse and prepare it and then create reports, queries and/or dashboards. This activity doesn’t go away with Workday Prism Analytics, but it is simplified enough for a technical business user to perform – and perform quickly enough to be of value. And the data can be blended with, transformed and enriched by your transactional system of record (Workday data). In doing so Workday has struck a nice balance between having a super powerful tool on the back end but also super easy to use on the front end, avoiding the usual trade-offs.

Workday is in the early stages of delivering this, and also has plans down the road for data discovery. Data discovery typically goes after big data in search of patterns that may not be intuitively obvious. Using the right visualization tools, it helps you understand which data is most relevant to your problem, even if you don’t know exactly what to ask for.

Benchmarking Performance with Data as a Service (DaaS)

It takes a different kind of intelligence gathering to understand your business performance in relation to others in similar roles or industries. As a multi-tenant SaaS solution provider, Workday is in a unique position to provide you with access to this kind of comparative data. But of course, you must be willing to give, in order to receive. Workday needs permission to use this data, but paraphrasing the words of Workday leadership: We don’t take customers’ data. They give it to us.

Workday sits on a large volume of data collected from hundreds of customers subscribing to its software. This is data that can be invaluable to the entire Workday community for benchmarking against peers. Customers must opt in to contribute secured aggregated data. In turn, they receive benchmarks. Today this Data as a Service (DaaS) is available for customers to explore Workday usage and HCM results, including workforce composition, diversity, turnover, etc. Financial management data is coming soon. Within the first three weeks of this service being available, Workday reported 100 customers had opted in and contributed data. Obviously, as this number grows, so will the value of the data.

Expect more from Workday along these lines in the future, including data from other sources (private and public) not included in Workday.

Machine Learning and AI

Of course the availability of a growing volume and diversity of data opens the door for machine learning and therefore artificial intelligence. Workday’s acquisition of Identified in 2014 was an important step in incorporating predictive analytics and machine learning into its repertoire of capabilities. Identified’s patented SYMAN (Systematic Mass Normalization) technology mines Facebook for social data and then uses artificial intelligence to transform that data into professional intelligence. The “learning” comes from continued use, validating predictions with outcomes from Workday employee data on performance and retention.

Workday released Workday Talent Insights in 2015, identifying retention risk and delivering a talent scorecard. Through this introduction Workday learned that customers prefer an embedded experience, not a standalone application and that the overall user experience is paramount, along with access to data for training algorithms.

The Power of a Platform

Since it was founded in 2005, Workday has always insisted it was (and is) an applications company, rather than a technology company. It has always offered cloud-based business solutions. While it built these applications on a solid and modern platform, it always resisted the urging of pundits and industry observers to become a “platform” company. Until now.

The Next Chapter for Workday

Now it will be both a “platform” player as well as a business solution provider. The Workday Cloud Platform was soft launched a few months ago with selected service partners. Built on the principles of openness, Workday will provide the tools needed to manage the complete application life cycle, with data modeling and a single Application Programming Interface (API) point of integration.

So how does this make Workday applications smarter? Of course there are no guarantees, but by opening up the platform, along with all the presentation services, conversation services, and analytics Workday uses to make its solutions smarter, the level of intelligence is more likely to deepen. The Platform will include both Workday Talk (NLP) and BOT for anomaly detection.

So, what are developers building on the platform? Here are a few examples:

  • Talent Mobility, allowing employees to visualize career opportunities and connect with employees across globe.
  • ID Services to manage security badges
  • Supplier requisitioning that allows suppliers to directly populate data in Workday
  • Safety services management

Summary

The Innovation Keynote at the 2017 Workday Rising Event was entitled “The Age of Intelligence.” The Keynote was presented by Mike McNamara, the CEO of one of Workday’s largest customers, Flex (a contract manufacturer formerly known as Flextronics). In his opening remarks, Mr. McNamara summed up this new age by saying, “Today it’s not about controlling land and resources, but rather about applying intelligence.”

In many ways, intelligence is a new currency in the global, digital economy. And yet, when most solution providers today talk about intelligent applications, they often simply mean new ways of interacting with the solution and analytics that help you derive more and better insights from the data. But this is the minimum you should expect today. Workday has aggressively taken steps towards real intelligence, through acquisition and its own development efforts. Workday Prism Analytics, Benchmarking and DaaS, machine learning, natural language processing and the Workday Cloud Platform all combine to provide powerful insights and intelligence, not through separate bolt-on tools, but embedded in a single solution.

If your current solutions are not headed down the path towards intelligent applications, if you are starting to look for new, smarter ones, Workday is a good place to start.

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Autodesk Jumpstarts Connectivity With IoT Discovery Toolkit

Powered by Electric Imp

Through the Internet of Things (IoT), huge volumes of data can be collected from physical devices, including equipment, vehicles, buildings and other items embedded with sensors, software and electronics used to expose and exchange data. While the concept behind IoT is quite appealing and many manufacturers already collect massive volumes of data (from sensors in these devices), that data has gone largely underutilized. Why? Because when it comes to connecting physical devices, making them smart and secure, the devil is in the details. Seldom is it as simple as it might sound, especially without a single universal standard for connectivity. And yet the payoff can be huge in terms of the possibility of new revenue streams, optimized performance and potential product improvements.

These potential benefits have prompted Autodesk to create the IoT Discovery Toolkit. The new toolkit, powered by Electric Imp, an industry leading IoT platform provider, and combined with Fusion Connect, “is intended for use by industrial manufacturing OEMs who are interested in implementing secure connected products for their business.” This new offering lets users build out a prototype of a secure end-to-end IoT solution in minutes. Yes, you heard that right – in minutes!

Why Bother?

While the Internet of Things (IoT) has caused a huge stir in other industries, it has been met with less excitement in manufacturing. Many feel it is nothing new. Manufacturers have been collecting massive volumes of data (e.g. through sensors on the shop floor) for decades, but as noted above, this data has been grossly underutilized. And yet while 74% of manufacturers participating in our Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study indicated IoT was “well understood,” only 22% have deployed or are in the process of deploying these technologies. And one out of three that claim to understand it well also feel it is not applicable to their businesses. That may well be true for a small few, but we believe many more might just be missing something.

Of course the target audience for Autodesk’s IoT Discovery Toolkit isn’t every manufacturer, but instead those that manufacture machines or equipment with the potential of being smart and connected. These types of manufacturers benefit directly from the toolkit, while their customers benefit indirectly.

These original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) can directly benefit in three ways:

  • Offering new services based on new data, or even “old” data that is now more readily available in real time or near real time
  • Optimizing performance of equipment in the field, possibly including reducing the cost to service and maintain
  • Bringing IoT data back into the product life cycle in order to improve the product

One of the customers of Autodesk’s new partner Electric Imp provides us with an amazing example of all three. Pitney Bowes is perhaps best known for its postage meters. If you’ve worked in any modern day office you are likely to be familiar with their equipment, used for office mailing and package shipping. In the past these were quite simplistic. They were loaded with postage rates and funds that were automatically depleted as you weighed your letters or packages and printed postage. But you had to monitor usage and make sure you didn’t run out of currency loaded. If something went wrong with the system, you waited for a replacement because it wasn’t worth the cost of sending a repair technician onsite.

But over time, these mailing systems have gotten a lot smarter. They are no longer just postage meters; they are now sending devices, connected to the Pitney Bowes Commerce Cloud. While they still process daily mail and print postage quickly and accurately, they can now also compare options from major carriers like the United States Postal Service (USPS) and UPS, monitor ink levels and automatically replenish the currency consumed in printing postage. Even better, they can be monitored and problems can be diagnosed remotely.

While this all sounds simple enough, remember, in printing postage, Pitney Bowes’ customers are essentially printing currency. So there are very specific security concerns. And because these meters can be installed in any kind of office environment, the “connection” must be simple and require no technical skills. Pitney Bowes is now shipping IoT-enabled meters and is also retrofitting this capability into existing machines. IoT had to be self-installable, which was one of the major reasons they decided to go with Electric Imp.

As a result, Pitney Bowes added new services while also providing a higher quality of service to customers. According to Rick Ryan, a fellow at Pitney Bowes, “Customers love to see data. We had previously delivered service by replacement because it was was too costly to send a technician out. We were getting a lot of good equipment back that didn’t need service.”

While Pitney Bowes might be best-known for these postage meters, it also has a more sophisticated offering, including room-size equipment that stuffs envelopes and does all the physical preparation to send multi-part mailings to the postal service.

Mr. Ryan tells us, “This is sophisticated machinery with lots of motors and sensors. We used to collect a lot of data on site, when a service technician visited periodically (once a month maybe). Customers might have put the whole system on their network, but it was typically ‘air gapped,’ especially when they were handling sensitive materials that might not be their own [think annual reports, financial statements, etc.]. We have now partnered with GE for analytics and put it on a Cisco network. We perform predictive failure analysis and maintenance on the equipment. While we give away the IoT service because it reduces our maintenance cost, we also offer a premium service that will recommend new services and/or products [think cross sell and up sell opportunity]. And with access to more data, we also have the added benefit of being able to spot trends across our installed base of customers and continue to improve our design.”

Overcoming The Biggest Challenge

While security is often cited as a concern in connecting devices, perhaps the most troublesome challenge of all is the lack of universal standards in connections, including protocols and even couplings. Think what it would be like if your country didn’t have a standard electrical connection. Today when we travel to a different country we need to carry the appropriate electrical adapter in order to plug in our appliances and charge our mobile devices. What if you had to do that even when moving around your own country? Pretty inconvenient, right?

As Bryan Kester, director of IoT for Autodesk says, “IoT is a very complex challenge because it combines a wide range of hardware, networking and cloud technologies. By teaming up with Electric Imp, our goal is to simplify the technology so that businesses can move straight to evaluating IoT business opportunities.” This is one of the advantages that led Autodesk to team up with Electric Imp and make use of its patented setup solution, BlinkUp™. According to Electric Imp…

BlinkUp works with iOS and Android smartphones and tablets to connect your products to the Internet in just a few seconds. Taking WiFi configuration information from the mobile device, BlinkUp transmits that data by rapidly flashing light pulses on the device’s screen. The data are read by an optical sensor tied to the product’s integrated impModule™ hardware in a truly one-step process without the need to scan barcodes, note down device IDs, or leave the mobile app to delve in settings screens.

BlinkUp uniquely combines the snoop-proof security of a wired connection with the convenience of wireless communication. Unlike other setup mechanisms, such as near-field communications (NFC) or Bluetooth, BlinkUp does not require the device being configured to incorporate special hardware or to be paired with the product.

Yes, the IoT Discovery Toolkit is actually a (small) piece of hardware. You will have to request a kit from Autodesk. It comes pre-enabled to work with any device, network and cloud technology. This is how you get started with the IoT Discovery Toolkit:

  • Create an Electric Imp Account (included in the toolkit)
  • Connect and activate the device – just put the small box on the device, no diodes to connect
  • Create a Fusion Connect account (included in the toolkit)
  • Open the dashboard to see the temperature and humidity of the connected device

This of course is just the beginning of a new adventure in IoT enablement. All the experts agree, you will want to start with a small prototype. Don’t try to move too fast or do too much all at once. Be selective in what data will have the greatest impact. Trying to analyze massive volumes at first will likely lead to confusion and the potential for abandonment. Building an IoT enabled product from scratch can take longer than you expect. Have the patience to pursue that first prototype, which will be easier to do knowing that using the IoT Discovery Kit, you will not be throwing that effort away. All you do and all you learn will be transferable to your “real life” adventure.

And a clear message from those who have gone before you: IoT has the potential of creating a systemic shift affecting all aspects of your company’s structure and culture. You won’t be just making widgets any more. Of course you will still manufacture your product, but you will potentially have much more including

  • Product as a service, possibly replacing and/or adding new revenue streams
  • Better insight into how your products are actually used
  • Lower costs of maintenance
  • Better data to help you improve your design

If you think IoT is not applicable to your business, perhaps it is time to reevaluate that conclusion. If you are hesitating to get started, Autodesk’s IoT Discovery Toolkit might just be the push you need to jumpstart the process.

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SAP Business ByDesign: SAP’s Best-kept Secret

It has been almost 10 years since SAP Business ByDesign was first introduced. This enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution has always and only been offered as software as a service (SaaS). It was born in the cloud and launched in September 2007 with great fanfare. This came at a time when SaaS ERP solutions were still quite rare and just beginning to gain acceptance. Since then it has been deployed in more than 3,600 companies in 109 countries. And yet while customers seem very happy with their choice of solutions, in many ways SAP Business ByDesign is the Rodney Dangerfield of ERP – it just doesn’t seem to get any respect. While some of its most direct competitors would be thrilled with the level of success it has achieved, somehow pundits and some industry observers just won’t give SAP a break on the ByDesign front. Rumors of its death have surfaced periodically, and yet it lives on, but quietly. Perhaps that “quiet” is to blame for the apparent lack of respect. Perhaps it is time for SAP to raise the volume and build trust in the market, beyond its customer ranks.

The Evolution of SAP Business ByDesign

Before SAP Business ByDesign was first introduced, SAP already had two ERP products and deep market penetration. SAP ERP (which has gone through its own evolution and several different names) targeted the large (and very large) enterprise, while SAP Business One was aimed at small to mid-size businesses (SMBs). There was (is) also SAP Business All-in-One, but in reality that was never a separate product, but rather SAP ERP packaged with “best practices” aimed at simplifying the (large enterprise) solution for mid-size businesses in specific industries.

In order to offer a SaaS solution, SAP could have taken a few different paths, including moving either of these products to the cloud. SAP ERP was the more robust solution, but to come down market, it would have had to shed some of that complexity or be overkill for an SMB or even for a subsidiary or division of a large enterprise.

Ultimately, starting over allowed SAP to architect the solution specifically for the cloud, drawing on acquired and organically developed leading edge infrastructure. And even more importantly, SAP was able to draw on the thousands of person-years of experience accumulated by its staff in addressing the needs of the large enterprise. After all, the needs of mid-size companies are not all that different from the needs of their larger counterparts. But they don’t have the deep pockets of a large enterprise and can’t afford the time it takes to wade through the complexities that had evolved with the large enterprise solution. The initial goal of SAP Business ByDesign was to simplify for the mid-market, while also delivering a 100% cloud-based solution, a clear differentiator at the time.

Both of those goals were achieved early on in its life, but that proved not to be enough. The earliest version of SAP Business ByDesign was a single-tenant solution. While the first charter customers were perfectly happy with this choice, SAP was not. Single tenancy proved to be an obstacle to the profitability needed to sustain a level of aggressive development of both the software and the market. This resulted in the need to re-architect the product, causing SAP to go quiet as it developed this new architecture.

The re-architected SAP Business ByDesign became the platform of choice for development of all cloud offerings at SAP – for a time. But then came the acquisition of SuccessFactors and the accompanying infusion of “cloud DNA”. All of a sudden the ByDesign platform wasn’t important. The powers that be at the time (SapphireNow May 2012) said, “Customers don’t care about platforms. They only care about beautiful applications.”

Then came Sapphire Madrid (November 2012) and there was a new platform in town: The HANA platform. It was decreed that SAP Business ByDesign must now run on HANA, SAP’s “game changing” in-memory database and the basis for this cloud platform. From a database perspective, SAP Business ByDesign gained little from this since it already had in-memory powers built in. The real benefit would come later in conforming to SAP standards and therefore benefiting from technology being developed by other groups (under other budgets). And thus another quiet time ensued as the development team was (again) working under the covers.

What’s Next? A 3-Pronged Strategy

Now that the heavy lifting has been done in terms of re-architecting for the HANA platform, it’s time to kick things into high gear. So, what’s next? SAP has a three-pronged strategy for SAP Business ByDesign:

  • Deliver best in class innovation
  • Drive meaningful demand
  • Develop successful partnerships

Sounds simple, but then the most successful strategies usually are. Interestingly enough, while it was the shifts in platform that kept the lid on SAP Business ByDesign in the past, Mint Jutras believes it will be the platform that could potentially blow the lid off, or at least provide a stronger voice in the future. And the first part of the strategy (best in class innovation) is likely to play a very meaningful role in enabling the other two.

Delivering best in class innovation

Innovation encompasses both technical strength and functionality. The underlying platform brings the technical muscle. But yes, functionality is also still important, and SAP is setting about enhancing the functionality built in to SAP ByDesign, specifically for the core verticals where it has enjoyed the most success. While it has been sold into 29 different industries, its strongest presence is in professional service organizations, wholesale distribution, high tech and consumer products, industrial machinery and components (IM&C), the public sector and higher education. We expect to see the team place more focus on manufacturing and production in the coming months as well.

But SAP will choose where to invest within these industries carefully in order to fill gaps in the market. Higher education provides a good example. SAP has chosen not to invest in student management or student loans, simply because those needs are already well addressed by other solutions. The focus here instead will be on integration.

But integration swings two ways. Solutions for student management or loans are most likely to come from existing or potential partners. But SAP will also be integrating SAP Business ByDesign with apps and tools from its own portfolio. Some of the apps fall into the category of what SAP calls its own “best of breed line of business (LOB)” applications. These include SuccessFactors Employee Central for employee management and Concur for expense management and the Ariba supplier network. It will also take advantage of the business intelligence tools from the Business Objects side of the house and layer analytics on top of SAP Business ByDesign.

The user experience (UX) provides a good example of how the SAP Business ByDesign team is now able to leverage innovation developed by other SAP teams – one of the advantages of the prior work done “under the covers.” The team was able to use the underlying UX libraries created by the teams developing the SAP Fiori apps for SAP ERP. SAP Business ByDesign doesn’t have to develop any style guides. They simply use those developed by the Fiori team. This was how the SAP Business ByDesign team was able to completely renovate its user interface from Silverlight to HTML5 quickly.

The conversion to the HANA platform is SAP Business ByDesign’s ticket to other services as well, services that lead to more features and functions. Like invoice as a service – the ability to take a picture of a document and turn it into an invoice with no optical character recognition (OCR) software required. To the business user, this conversion appears to be magic. The HANA platform is the pixie dust sprinkled on (or rather under) SAP Business ByDesign that makes the magic happen.

And the other advantage of the HANA pixie dust is the dramatic simplification of the data model. How is that possible? Doesn’t the operational and transactional system of record of your business require the same level of complexity, perhaps even more complexity, as even the smallest companies deal in global markets and a digital economy? The simple answer is, “No.”

Think about how and why the data in systems has become more complex. A single transaction needs to capture essentially the same pieces of data it always did. Getting this kind of transactional data into ERP has always been fairly easy. Getting insights, answers and decisions out? Not so easy. Just sorting through all the raw transactional data each and every time you had a question simply took too long, even with simple questions like, “How much inventory do I have?” You couldn’t very well add up all the stock going in and out since the beginning of time. It would simply take too long.

So you had to anticipate what you would need up front and address those needs by adding aggregates (totals). But a single aggregate wasn’t enough. Over time you learned you needed to know the total receipts and issues in a given month. And having monthly totals led you to ask for quarterly and annual totals. You anticipated that and added those aggregates in. It works for a while, but then you find you need those totals by country or region or business unit. But you didn’t anticipate that, so you can’t answer that question without long processing times (to find and add up the transactions), or an invasive and disruptive change to the system. And what happens when you reorganize territories or business units?

The speed of HANA now allows you to eliminate many of those aggregates. For very complex join operations it still makes sense for SAP Business ByDesign to pre-calculate rather than re-calculate each time (and it does). But why bother to keep track of simple transactional data month-to-date, quarter-to-date, year-to-date, by country, region or business unit, when in the blink of an eye you could add it all up? And if all of a sudden you need to slice and dice the data a different way? No problem. And think of the amount of code no longer needed just to maintain those totals. That is development time that can now be spent providing real and impactful innovation. A simplified data model leads to added agility in the solution, which translates into added agility in your business.

The Value of Agility

We live in disruptive times. The 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study found 88% of companies believe they face some level of risk in their businesses and/or industries being disrupted by new innovative products, new ways of selling or pricing existing products or services, entirely new business models, or some combination of all of the above. And then of course there are still the more traditional disruptive factors like expansion and growth, organizational restructuring and regulatory changes, just to name a few. All this disruption can have a cascading impact on business application requirements, making agility – the ability to easily innovate, evolve and change – even more important than current functionality.

Our 2017 Enterprise Solution Study confirmed many solution providers have increased the pace and volume of upgrades (Figure 1).

Figure 1: How has the pace of innovation delivered changed?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

But Mint Jutras knows of no other solution provider other than SAP that has gone down the path of removing aggregates to simplify the data model and the associated code – certainly not to this extent.

Driving Meaningful Demand

So will this innovation immediately drive meaningful demand? Not necessarily and not if SAP remains quiet. It must raise the volume with new and different ways of marketing the solution, new ways that are reflective of how searches for new software are conducted today. Like other functions in any organization today, marketing must go through a digital transformation.

The SAP Business ByDesign team is responding by building out a Digital Demand Generation Engine (DDE). They understand people don’t respond to the same efforts that used to work. They know the majority of B2B potential buyers conduct research outside of the normal 9-to-5 workday. Search engine optimization (SEO) is critical. Does SAP Business ByDesign even show up in online searches? And what happens when it does? The speed with which SAP responds and acts on any inquiries will have a direct impact on whether it is even invited to the party. The goal is to respond immediately 24/7.

This of course, will have a significant impact on its success in the third prong of its strategy. By developing a “virtual agency” that delivers all components of a campaign (emails, landing pages, supporting materials for telemarketing and social media), SAP can provide real (and much needed) marketing support to its partners.

Developing Successful Partnerships

Much of SAP Business ByDesign’s early success was achieved through direct sales efforts. But that has changed. In 2016 partners wrote 70% of SAP Business ByDesign contracts. Indeed it would appear the platform has continued to bolster this transition, as evidenced by the 2,641 partner-built add-ons available today.

This is necessary in order to get to the next level, and if successful could lead to explosive growth. A partner strategy is at the very root of SAP’s prior success in the SMB market with SAP Business One. That means building a successful indirect channel. It may indeed tap into the existing SAP Business One channel, which has grown that installed based to over 55,000 customers, supporting over a million users. Or it could recruit from its competitors. Either way, SAP plans to double the SAP Business ByDesign partner capacity in the next year.

ConClusions

It’s about time for SAP Business ByDesign to leave its Rodney Dangerfield image behind. SAP’s three-pronged strategy for SAP Business ByDesign…

  • Deliver best in class innovation
  • Drive meaningful demand
  • Develop successful partnerships

… seems to cover all the bases. It will continue to invest in the core functions of ERP. In fact SAP has vowed to add an additional 100 developers to the team. It will begin to leverage its investment in the underlying architecture to improve the user experience and integrate to other “best of breed” functionality within its own portfolio, in its partner community and perhaps even beyond.

And it plans to raise the volume of its marketing beyond the whisper that it has been, with the hope of attracting new partners and even more new customers.

In combining these three, Mint Jutras would contend that the platform – the very thing that caused SAP to go quiet in the past – should now be the reason to shout. A word of advice to SAP: Shout loud and clear.

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Epicor’s Mission: Ease of Everything

Simplicity seems to be the holy grail of enterprise software these days. It’s no wonder with the rising levels of complexity in the global, digital economy. Streamlining and automation of business processes modeled by enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems should reduce that complexity and yet the ever-present demand for more – more features, more options, more access, more mobility, more technology – conspire against the desire for simplicity. A lot of software vendors today go to market with the message of “simple” but few (if any) can rival Epicor in its quest to provide ease of use, ease of upgrading, ease of access, ease of deployment, and ease of learning… while also becoming a company that is increasingly easy to do business with.

Yes, Epicor’s mission is “ease of everything” and it has made very significant progress on its journey, and has plans to do much more.

Easy to Use

According to Joe Cowan, president and CEO of Epicor, “What we’ve got to do is look at everything the customer does and understand how to make it simpler to do.” When it comes to making the software itself easy to use, Mint Jutras has long recognized that “ease of use” means different things to different people. So every year we ask the survey participants of our annual Enterprise Solution Studies to select what they feel are the top three most important aspects of ease of use. The aggregated answers tell us only a part of the story. For the past several years we’ve started comparing answers across three different “generations.” While all generations agree on some aspects, in others, we find some significant differences (Figure 1), making the job of delivering “easy to use” all that much more challenging.

Efficiency (minimizing the time to complete tasks) is clearly a priority for all. But the different generations have different views on how to achieve that goal:

  • Baby Boomers value intuitive navigation, while it would appear that Millenials simply take it for granted. They grew up playing electronic games and using mobile apps for which a user manual would be a foreign concept.
  • Baby Boomers like to operate from a central point of command, while Millenials are more adept at jumping around.
  • Millenials like “pretty,” as evidenced by placing more value on a visually appealing user interface. And they want it their way – more highly customizable. Baby Boomers apparently are more willing to sacrifice form for function.
  • And Gen X, with the largest representation in our sample, appear to be (appropriately enough) somewhere in between.

Figure 1: Top 3 Most Important Aspects of Ease of Use

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

So where do Epicor customers fit in terms of perceptions of ease of use? The priorities of all respondents (its prospects) and its customers are both important to Epicor decision-making. We were fortunate to have almost 80 Epicor customers participate in our survey this year. Clearly Epicor customers lean more toward the practical aspect of user experience (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Top 3 Most Important Aspects of Ease of Use to Epicor Customers

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Epicor customers place a higher value on the efficiency factors: minimizing time to complete tasks, easily and naturally. While intuitive navigation is right up near the top of the list, the emphasis on simply getting the job done places a very high priority on fit and function, which requires continuous innovation.

Features and functions are very important in order to make a solution easy to use without invasive customizations that create barriers to further innovation. But don’t forget the second most important aspect of ease of use (to Epicor customers) was intuitive navigation. For this, you need a modern user interface.

The different Epicor products are at different stages of development, but one thing you can be sure of is that Epicor is developing new user experiences (UX). The next release (10.2) of Epicor ERP for example will include a new role-based and personalized “Home Page.” It will have a whole new look that is clean and bright, but more importantly, will make decision makers better informed and more productive. It will feature active tiles that will present key metrics that change as you watch – live. You can configure your own “data discovery” through a variety of different presentation styles including ordinary charts, and also maps of just about anything ranging from your own warehouse to maps of the world.

Say you are looking for inventory on hand. You can look at it in normal bar or line chart form in aggregate, or you can see it on a map of your warehouse. And this is not just static data. You can look at it as of a point in time, looking back or looking forward. By dragging your mouse across the date, you see it in a format that appears like time-lapse photography. Need more detail? Click on a bin for details.

To really appreciate this new UX, you indeed need to experience it. Ask for a demo and press your Epicor representative for estimated delivery for the product you either run now or are considering. We think you will be impressed. We think it will make your life easier. But you need to be the judge.

For more on Epicor’s efforts to makes its solutions easy to upgrade, easy to deploy, easy to access, easy to learn, while making the company easy to do business with, click here for the full report.

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IFS Labs Puts Creativity First in the Quest for Digital Transformation

Handling Disruption Successfully With the Help of Agile Technologies

Sometimes software companies must lead the charge in terms of innovation, inspiring customers and prospects to apply leading edge technologies in new and creative ways to create a competitive advantage. Without this push, many companies, particularly those in traditional industries like manufacturing, energy and service, can become complacent. If the software that runs the business isn’t broken, there’s no need to fix it. These are markets served by IFS, primarily select asset- intensive and product-centric industries. They are also the markets IFS Labs is looking to disrupt.

IFS Labs is a small development group within IFS. While the regional leadership concentrates on solving the problems customers face today, IFS Labs is focused on solving the problems of tomorrow – or perhaps the problems and opportunities customers just don’t (yet) know they have.

Putting creativity first, IFS Labs seeks to learn from early adopters. Using a relatively small core team, yet drawing from other development resources across the company, depending on the product expertise required, it tends to have 6 to 12 projects underway at any point in time. These endeavors are essentially “proof of concept” projects, often (but not always) conducted with real, live customers. IFS Labs keeps the projects small because, with the requisite license to fail, it must decide to pursue the concept and apply it universally, or fail fast in order to move on to the next potentially disruptive project.

With this approach, IFS Labs hopes to provide guidance and inspiration to influence customers to disrupt, rather than be disrupted, applying agile technologies to produce that competitive advantage.

Do Customers Need a Little Push?

Last fall Mint Jutras published a report, IFS Helps Customers Accelerate Out of the Curve of Digital Transformation. In it we acknowledged that asset intensive industries, such as those served by IFS, are also likely to be capital intensive, where cost of entry is steep and product lifespans tend to be measured in decades. Once you are an established player in this world, you are tempted to hit cruise control. Change comes slowly. But the digital economy has thrown you a curve, and riding the brakes never gives you a competitive edge. Which is why IFS has set out to help its customers accelerate out of the curve.

We also found asset intensive industries weren’t alone in needing a push in the digital direction. Eighty-two percent (82%) of manufacturers participating in the 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study agree that digital technologies of today (those that serve to connect operations, people and processes through the power of the Internet) have the potential to fundamentally change the way we all do business. Furthermore, 86% understand that embracing digital technologies is necessary for survival. And yet, we found the vast majority still coasting or riding the brakes when it comes to digital transformation.

Last year we discovered IFS had already taken some steps to help customers accelerate digital transformation, releasing two new products. IFS Enterprise Operational Intelligence (EOI) essentially creates a cockpit for navigating the business, and IFS IoT Business Connector is instrumental in collecting, discovering and operationalizing data. Together they bridge the gap between data collection and analysis and between analysis and action. Through plug and play connectivity with the Microsoft Azure IoT Suite, customers can identify actionable observations that can trigger user-defined, automated or semi-automated actions.

These steps are all worthwhile and help companies address the challenges of today, pushing them to add digital technologies to their current solutions, without the major disruption of a rip and replace. And yes, a push is still needed. Last year we found that while 67% of manufacturers felt they were well prepared for the digital economy, in peeling back the onion, we concluded that many were perhaps over-confident in their progress, often held back by old ways of thinking and a lack of understanding and appreciation of what is possible today. Indeed, IFS conducted its own research along these lines and found world-wide the greatest challenge faced in digital transformation was resistance to change and in North America in particular it was the absence of the right organizational and governance model.

So in our 2017 study we dug a little deeper to assess how well manufacturers understand these technologies, and the potential they hold for their businesses. We selected 14 different kinds of technology and asked respondents to assess their level of familiarity with each in terms of how they relate (or not) to their business. These technologies, shown in Table 1, are presented in no particular order.

Adoption rates today are quite low, but note that the two with the highest level of familiarity, and the most likely to be deployed, align with the products IFS introduced last year: IFS EOI for predictive analytics (21%) and IFS IoT Business Connector for IoT (18%). Those that understand these technologies far outnumber those who are not familiar or only somewhat familiar. This is not surprising in that predictive analytics has been around for quite some time, and after all, who doesn’t want to predict the future? The underpinnings of the Internet of Things (IoT) is also well-entrenched in manufacturing and related asset-intensive industries simply because these companies have been collecting data with sensors for decades. However, much of the value of this data has not been realized because it has remained disconnected from enterprise solutions used for decision-making. The Internet and products like IFS IoT Business Connector are needed to bridge that gap and realize the full potential.

Table 1: How familiar are you with these technologies as they relate (or not) to your business?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

So it would appear that IFS chose well last year in its first steps in helping customers accelerate out of the curve. Now what?

Now IFS Labs is beginning to attack these other technologies that are obviously far less well-understood. For technologies like Blockchain (distributed ledgers), digital twins, beacons and augmented reality, those who lack familiarity outnumber those who understand and perceive relevance to their businesses. The role IFS Labs plays is to research, experiment and prove the value – or not. To that end, we highlight some active projects.

Blockchain for Aviation “Through Life Asset Management”

Given almost half (47%) of the 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study participants are not familiar at all with Blockchain, a bit of explanation seems appropriate. Blockchain, the technology behind the Bitcoin, is most often associated with the transfer of money. While many of us take non-cash transactions for granted these days, the transfer of funds through checks, credit cards and electronic fund transfers (EFT) is actually quite a complicated process, typically left in the domain of banks and other financial institutions. These financial institutions serve as intermediaries between the transacting parties. Even though they might not understand what goes on behind the scenes, most intuitively understand the role these institutions play and more importantly trust that funds will be transferred and recorded securely and accurately. And yet there is always the risk of fraud.

Blockchain is meant to eliminate the need for these intermediaries, while also eliminating the risk of fraudulent activity. Blockchain is a distributed ledger that provides a way for information (data) to be recorded and shared by a community. Each member of the community maintains his or her own copy of the information and all members must validate any updates collectively. Each update is a “block” added permanently to the “chain” creating a complete and auditable system of record. Encryption and protocols replace third party intermediaries as keepers of the trust. The distributed ledger is a shared ledger where transactions are verified and stored on a network without a governing central authority.

But the transfer of monetary funds is not the only application possible with Blockchain technology. It might apply to any chain of activity or transfer of ownership. IFS has chosen the aviation industry for its proof of concept, primarily for two reasons. First of all, in its privately conducted survey, IFS found the aviation industry to have the highest level of digital maturity among those industries it targets. Secondly, because aviation can really use the help in terms of what IFS calls “through life asset management (TLAM).”

Think about it. A typical aircraft consists of two to three million parts. The provenance of those items (i.e. where they came from, who owns what and when ownership transfers) is critical. These parts must be tracked, not only through the manufacturing of the aircraft, but throughout its life. We’re talking potentially decades of supply chain, production and service transactions, which are today captured in all different systems. Records may be written and verbal, often incomplete, generating large volumes of paper storage. There are limited standards and limited traceability in a highly regulated industry, driving the costs of compliance literally and figuratively sky high.

What if instead the aviation industry could write transactions back to a connected permission-based ledger in addition to applications like ERP? IFS envisions developing a purpose-built aviation Blockchain, to provide a single picture of truth. There are many potential benefits like improved data quality, accurate maintenance history, lighter administrative loads and lower costs, all from a single traceable record with trust built in.

But as with any distributed (shared) ledger, this requires cooperation across the community, in this case including those manufacturing, servicing and maintaining the aircraft, software providers and regulators. A technology consortium to administer the Blockchain is required and there will be gradual adoption. There are still issues to be resolved, issues like transaction latency and compatibility with existing information technology (IT) systems. But none of these issues will ever be resolved without companies like IFS taking some bold first moves and being willing to fail at first attempts.

Working with forward-thinking early adopters will help shape the future. While adoption rates are still very low across all of the technologies listed in Table 1, we found those with World Class ERP implementations were two to five times as likely to have deployed or were in the process of deploying them. Those with World Class implementations were a full five times as likely to have taken first steps with Blockchain in particular. IFS Labs will start small in the aviation industry, developing proofs of concept, and then eventually look for other applications.

Wearable Devices and Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is another of those technologies where a large percentage of our survey participants lacked familiarity or saw little value. Augmented reality generally requires some sort of wearable device. While Google Glass was initially a flop in the consumer market, there are some very practical uses for this kind of technology in the industrial world.

In fact our 2016 Enterprise Solution Study found a high level of interest in wearable devices (Figure 1).

Figure 1: What level of interest do you have in using wearable devices?

Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

What makes wearable devices interesting to manufacturers? Seventy percent (70%) of manufacturers that expressed interest see the potential for hands free operations. In asset-intensive industries like those IFS serves, the potential is very real, particularly in terms of servicing and maintaining these assets. Think about the potential for overlaying a schematic over a piece of equipment in trouble-shooting, or providing a check list for diagnostics or routine maintenance.

We also found 36% of our survey respondents saw wearable devices as the “device of the future” and 39% view them as just another device that needed to be considered in the context of “bring your own device (BYOD).” Could a material handler’s personal Apple Watch replace those ruggedized RFID/bar code scanners so prevalent in warehouses and in the field today? In these cases, it will be important to connect back to ERP, either to retrieve data or to record transactions.

And yet despite last year’s apparent interest, this year we found very few making the connection between these wearable devices and augmented reality. We feel this is largely due to the current limitations of the wearable devices themselves. It is largely the head mounted device (similar in concept to the original Google Glass) that will bring the most value to asset intensive industries. And these devices are still quite new, feel a bit clumsy, and many don’t produce a completely hands-free experience. Plus software developers like IFS Labs are still experimenting with designing the user experience.

But there will come a time, in the not so distant future, when these devices will be no clumsier than a pair of standard safety glasses. When that time comes, in environments where eye protection is required, why not build additional functionality in? We believe it is important to be experimenting now with these use cases and design because there is still much to be learned.

Leveraging IoT in New and Creative Ways

While IoT is clearly a reality today, we have just begun to scratch the surface in terms of leveraging its full potential. And that is why IFS Labs is working directly with some early adopters of IFS IoT Business Connector, not only in collecting and analyzing the data collected by sensors, SCADA systems, PLCs and OLE (object linking and embedding) for Process Control (OPC), but perhaps even in creating new revenue sources?

But Can IoT Build a Better Mouse Trap?

Many business innovators set out to build a better mouse trap – figuratively speaking that is. But IFS customer Anticimex took on that challenge quite literally. Anticimex became an early adopter of the IFS IoT Business Connector once the product was added to the roadmap.  It is an example of an IFS customer that is benefitting from product innovation that came out of an IFS Labs proof of concept (POC) project several years ago.

Anticimex provides pest control services. Controlling pests like mice, rats and other small rodents means eliminating those pests. Eliminating them without damaging the structure in which they reside, means first catching them. Traditionally this has not been a high-tech business. It involves setting traps, checking the traps and getting rid of the trapped pests. That means sending service technicians on site for inspection and removal.

But what if you were to put sensors in those traps that allowed you to monitor them remotely? What if those sensors could not only tell you when you’ve caught a pest, but whether the trap is full? What if those sensors could also monitor the battery charge in the traps and tell you when that battery is near end of life?

If you were able to collect all this data and monitor it remotely, think about the technicians’ time you could save. If you could store and analyze this data, you could detect and even predict and avoid an infestation. Could you use this data to potentially sell your services to the neighboring businesses closest to your customer?

Figure 2: Anticimex IoT Solution Overview

Source: IFS Labs

This is how Anticimex, with the help of IFS Labs, is leveraging IoT, along with IFS applications, in a new and innovative way.

Wrap Up

Although IFS Labs is a relatively small group within IFS, it has a big job to do. Its job is to disrupt. Putting creativity first, the team is able to draw from resources corporate-wide in order to experiment and learn from forward-thinking early adopters. It is very important for a group like this to have a license to fail. By keeping proof of concept projects small, the team can be daring, failing fast in order to learn and move on to the next innovative concept.

But IFS Labs must do more than just disrupt. It must educate customers and prospects, provide guidance and inspiration, and influence them to leverage the disruptive digital technologies of today and of tomorrow.

We wish them lots of luck and hope to see these efforts continue.

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Oracle Delivers New Release of Next-Generation Cloud Applications

 

Today Oracle announced major innovations across its Oracle Cloud Applications, further extending what is already a suite of cloud applications that is both broad and deep. Release 13 includes hundreds of new features, several new products that are extensions to the current solution, and improvements to the user experience.

If Oracle customers are like the survey respondents to our 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study, Oracle is hitting on all cylinders in terms of what users want.

What Users Want

In our latest study we asked survey respondents to prioritize five different approaches to innovation on a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 was the highest priority. This was a stack ranking, so they were not allowed to give any two the same ranking.

Table 1: How do you want your application vendor to prioritize?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Table 1 is sorted by the first column, which includes all respondents. While not every respondent selected “enhance existing functions” as their top priority, it clearly came out on top. Improving the user experience and extending the solution were number 2 and 3 respectively. Release 13 hits on all 3.

Note: We did have 54 Oracle customers represented in our total pool of about 600 participants, but given the size of the Oracle customer base, we don’t consider that sample size sufficient to be truly representative.

Given this is an announcement of Oracle’s Cloud portfolio, we also have to consider whether priorities are any different when looking at SaaS deployments, hence the additional 3 columns in Table 1. The short answer is no. While there are some slight variations in the relative priority, enhancing existing functions remained at the top regardless of deployment. Those running hybrid deployments (where parts are on-premise and parts are in the cloud) are a bit different, but it is a little harder to draw conclusions from this because of the high degree of variability across hybrid deployments.

We presume that many of these hybrid deployments resulted from a cloud strategy that leaves existing systems in place but surrounds them with cloud/SaaS solutions. This was in fact the top cloud strategy for two years running in our 2016 and 2015 studies, although not by a wide margin (Figure 1).

Figure 1: What best describes your cloud strategy?

Source: Mint Jutras 20176 and 2015 Enterprise Solution Studies

While we didn’t ask this question in 2017, we will continue to watch plans and preferences moving into the future as we observe a lot of movement away from legacy on-premise solutions (finally!)

Some Highlights

So what are some highlights of Release 13? Here are some provided by Oracle:

Oracle SCM Cloud

Oracle SCM Cloud Release 13 extends the SCM suite with the introduction of more than 200 major features and six new products that cover Sales and Operation Planning, Demand Management, Supply Planning, Collaboration, Quality Management and Maintenance. The new innovations are introduced “to help organizations transform their operating models to meet rapidly changing business demands by evolving from traditional supply chain systems to connected, comprehensive, agile, and customer-oriented supply chain management capabilities.”

Oracle CX Cloud Suite

Oracle CX Cloud Suite Release 13 introduces new innovations to Oracle Sales Cloud, which include enhanced mobile and data visualization capabilities, as well as a range of new capabilities that increase sales rep productivity. In addition, Oracle has extended Oracle CX Cloud Suite with the introduction of Oracle Engagement Cloud. The new solution combines sales and service capabilities to enable organizations to increase customer satisfaction, loyalty, and up-sell opportunities.

Oracle ERP Cloud

Oracle ERP Cloud Release 13 builds upon the solution with extended depth and breadth across FinancialsProcurement, and Project Portfolio Management (PPM) and adds deeper domain functionality including Dynamic Discounting and Multi-Funding. In addition, industry coverage for higher education, financial services, and manufacturing, as well as expanded country localizations for India and Brazil are included.

Oracle HCM Cloud

Eighty percent (80%) of enhancements to Oracle HCM Cloud Release 13 were customer driven, extending Oracle’s commitment to customer success. Release 13 enhances Oracle’s complete, end-to-end solution for all HCM processes and introduces expanded user experience personalization and branding, making it easy for everyone to connect on any device. It also includes improved capabilities to support the needs of customers with unionized workforces, such as retail and healthcare, with flexible work models.

Summary

All told, it looks like Oracle’s interest in being the biggest and best cloud solution provider for enterprise applications has not waned. First the acquisition of NetSuite and now what seems to be a very major release as a result of its own development efforts. Combined these efforts indicate Oracle is moving ahead full throttle.

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Looking into the Future of Enterprise Application Deployments

We saw yesterday that SaaS has become the preference of choice, with two thirds of respondents willing to consider it for their next implementation, and over half declaring it as their first choice. Does that mean all software installed will magically become SaaS overnight? No, there are simply too many traditional on-premise deployments out there today. We asked our survey respondents to estimate the percentage of all their business applications (not just ERP) that were SaaS today, and then we asked them to estimate that percentage over the course of time. Here’s what they told us:

Figure 1: What percentage of all business software is SaaS?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

This percentage has been rising slowly but steadily over the past several years and it appears it will continue to do so. But it would seem even 10 years out, there will still be some traditional deployments. After all, there are still some out there that think ERP replacement is like brain surgery – you don’t do it unless the patient is dying. And you’ll have to pry cold, dead hands off some legacy solutions.

But then of course, 10 years in this business is a lifetime. Before I retire, I might just be able to convince those diehards to start thinking about ERP like joint replacement instead of brain surgery – replace it when it becomes too painful, or when it prevents you from doing what you want and need to do!

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Is There a Clear Winner for 1st Choice in Deployment?

So now the answer to yesterday’s question. Is there a strong “first choice” for ERP deployment today? We displayed back to each survey participant all the deployment options he or she had selected and asked, “What is your first choice?”

Figure 1: What is your first choice for deployment?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

As you can see, SaaS wins by a wide margin, with over half of all participants selecting it. But if you look only at those that would consider SaaS, the percentage rises to 70%. Does this mean magically all ERP will be SaaS any time soon? Hardly. Tune in tomorrow to see how quickly the landscape will change – or not.

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Keeping Tabs on Deployment Preferences

I don’t think anyone has been tracking preferences for SaaS or on-premise deployments of ERP any longer than I have. Back in 2006 I started asking the question, “If you were selecting a solution today, which deployment options would you consider?” I can’t share those early results with you since that is data I collected while working for another analyst firm. Let’s just say those that would even consider SaaS ERP didn’t even break double digits. Back then I called ERP the last bastion of resistance to SaaS.

But I can share with you the progression since 2011 when I founded Mint Jutras. See for yourself how much perceptions and preferences have changed just since then. The question has stayed the same (I allow survey participants to select any or all of the options), although in 2015 I added a “Hybrid” option. The figure below shows every other year, simply to fit on the page.

Figure 1: Deployment Options Considered

Source: Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies.

And this year I added a follow-on question to determine a “first choice.” I am going to keep you waiting until tomorrow for those results. Can you guess?

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