The Changing Manufacturing Landscape: Why Corporate Performance Excellence is No Accident

Excellent corporate performance seldom happens by accident. In order to excel in performance you need a good plan; you need to monitor, analyze and manage performance against that plan and you need the agility to adjust as business conditions change. This is tough in any type of business, but the complexities of manufacturing are even more challenging, where you are likely dealing with global supply chains, pressures to reduce cost and cycle times, and a new competitive landscape.

This requires planning and reporting applications and analytics. And if you operate in any sort of distributed environment (and most companies do), you need to consolidate across multiple sites/divisions/operating locations.  While most manufacturers have been forced to implement applications like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) just to survive, planning and performance management largely remains buried in spreadsheets. With more choices for solutions and the option for convenient cloud deployment today, there is no longer any excuse for ignoring this need.

Sound Familiar?

Do any of these scenarios describe your current state?

  • Are you operating across multiple manufacturing plants, but only have tools that allow you to plan and manage at a corporate level?
  • Or are you planning and managing at the operating level but unable to consolidate to get the big picture? Does this cause redundancy of capacity even as you struggle to meet customer demand?
  • Are you completely reliant on IT for consolidation and reporting and therefore unable to simulate the potential effect of different scenarios?
  • Is your “plan” still in spreadsheets?

If you answered “Yes” to any of the above, it may be time for a change. While Mint Jutras research indicates the vast majority of manufacturers prefer a suite-based approach to their enterprise solutions, 61% will be cautious before sacrificing functional requirements for either ease of integration or to stay with a single vendor (Figure 1). Planning, performance management and analytics are likely candidates for these “add-on” solutions providing they can effectively interoperate with ERP and the data residing within.

Figure 1: Preferences for a Suite?

Adaptive Fig1

Source: Mint Jutras 2014 Enterprise Solution Study

Most manufacturers today operate across multiple locations, requiring the need for a consolidated view. While rolling up financials is a one-way street, relationships between manufacturing locations can be far more complex and therefore it may actually be easier to plan in a corporate performance management system that is ERP neutral.

While these types of tools used to be only within the reach of very large enterprises, with deep pockets, the good news is that today there are many more options. The overriding goal is to put the right tools directly in the hands of the business decision makers responsible for formulating and executing the plan. Because these solutions may potentially need to interoperate with a variety of different solutions at the corporate level, as well as at various divisions, a cloud-based solution may be the best way to go.

In a study dedicated to understanding perceptions and preferences for SaaS solutions (the Mint Jutras 2012 Understanding SaaS survey), we asked survey respondents to prioritize the various potential benefits of SaaS.

Cost savings remain at the top of the list of perceived benefits, by a significant margin. Reducing the cost and effort of upgrades is second. Next is the support of distributed environments. Sixty-six percent (66%) of manufacturers participating in our Mint Jutras 2014 Enterprise Solution Study operate in a distributed environment with the number of different operating locations increasing with annual revenues, so this is a very common need. It is an aspect particularly relevant in the context of planning and performance management, especially during the process of planning and executing a merger or acquisition. A cloud deployment breaks down the barriers created by existing (or nonexistent) on-premise solutions at remote locations, including those newly acquired.

The fact that no hardware purchase is required, and the on-going maintenance associated with that hardware, is marginally more important than the need for less Information Technology (IT) expertise and staff.


What’s in your plan? Is it a pure macro financial plan or does it dive into the realities at the operational level? Does it incorporate plans for growth? Are those plans just a result of a board level decision to set goals or are they reflective of the capacity required to deliver against the plan? The planning and performance management of a manufacturer requires a delicate balancing of many different moving parts across a potentially distributed environment:

  • Actual and forecasted demand
  • Supply from trading partners and sister divisions
  • Logistics and cycle times
  • Headcount
  • Travel and expenses
  • Facilities and equipment, including factory automation
  • Etcetera….

What level of confidence do you have that you will be able to roll with the punches thrown at you through the course of the planning period? What tools do you have at your disposal to boost that confidence, along with your ability to deliver? If…

  • If your plan is just based on numbers handed down from the top…
  • If it is not reflective of operational realities…
  • If it doesn’t allow for change that is bound to occur during the planning period…
  • If you are still working in spreadsheets…
  • If you are waiting for added features and function from your ERP solution provider…
  • If you assume you can’t afford better tools…

Then you are leaving a lot to chance.

Interested in learning more? Click here to register for an informative webinar sponsored by Adaptive Insights.

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The Mobile Executive’s Connection to ERP


Making it the Path Well-Travelled

While data collected in ERP has always been important to executive level decision-making, in the past very few executives ever put their hands directly on ERP. Instead they relied on subordinates or super users to collect data and investigate, delaying decisions and sometimes even distorting the view from above. Why? Because the perception (and often the reality) was that ERP was complex and hard to use. Executives simply didn’t have the time or inclination to “figure it all out.” And yet today the pace of business has accelerated to the point where any delay in decision-making can be fatal.

This was bad enough when the typical executive’s day was spent in a plush office, sitting behind a desk. But those days are long gone. Whether on the road or spending time with the family, executives need to be “always on,” connected by mobile devices. Forget the laptop that requires a WiFi connection and VPN access. Today executives rely more and more on smart phones and tablets that simply require a signal to their mobile carrier. The resultant intrusion into their personal lives has made them less patient in waiting for analysis and answers.

But do executives really access enterprise apps via their mobile devices? What % of executive management has access to and actually uses ERP? How many receive ERP-related alerts on their mobile devices? Click here to read more in my guest blog post for Edgewater Fullscope:

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ERP with an Easy Button? Plex Systems Says “Yes!”

Last year I got on a Star Trek kick, writing a lot about next generation ERP. In case by some small chance you missed it, you can catch up on the 4-part series here. But if you didn’t (miss it) you might recall one of the four ways to distinguish an ERP as “next generation” was to provide new ways of engaging with ERP. The consumerization of IT and the introduction into the workforce of a new generation that never knew life before the Internet have combined to make stumbling through hierarchical menus unacceptable as the sole means of engaging with ERP.

Plex Systems has really taken this element of next generation ERP to heart, blending a deep understanding of manufacturing with an intimate relationship with its customers to deliver new ways of engaging with the Plex Manufacturing Cloud (ERP). While Plex doesn’t have the largest installed base (it has about 400 customers), I have never encountered a more engaged community. This level of engagement is a direct result of its unique approach to product development, which delivers more of what customers want, exactly the way they want it. So is it any surprise more employees are directly engaged with the product when running Plex?

Our 2014 ERP Solution Study found on average 52% of employees in manufacturing companies use ERP, not including those that only have occasional access through self service functions like paid time off requests, benefit administration, purchase requisition, etc. Overall this percentage isn’t bad, and represents significant progress over the past few years. Yet the average percentage of employees using ERP increases to 63% at companies running any ERP solution deployed as software as a service (SaaS). I believe this is directly linked to the access any time, anywhere nature of SaaS. But this percentage jumps to a whopping 76% at companies running the Plex Manufacturing Cloud. Very impressive and a clear indication that Plex has cracked the code, so to speak, in terms of providing new ways to engage with ERP.

This week I had the opportunity to experience this first hand. Along with Frank Scavo (@fscavo), Dennis Howlett (@dahowlett) and Vinnie Mirchandani (@dealarchitect), I spent a day with the Plex executives in their offices in Troy, MI. We were privileged to get a preview of some of the projects they are working on to be showcased in June at PowerPlex, and I think customers will be pleased. But a highlight of the day was an interactive demo of a manufacturing process that took us from the receipt of material through to shipping of a finished product. This was particularly interesting to me for a number of reasons:

  1. I “grew up” (professionally) in manufacturing, so for me, it was like going home.
  2. I used to do demos for a living. I spent about 10 years in pre-sales from the mid 80’s to the mid 90’s. Although it was quite a long time ago, I still remember what is involved. Back in the day, before the Internet, before web-based access, before solutions were as robust and flexible as they are today, my best demos were the ones where my hands hardly touched the keyboard. I got very, very good at talking a prospect through a process. This was nothing like that. Although there wasn’t even a keyboard in sight.
  3. I got to actually participate … And yet, while I never touched a keyboard, that doesn’t mean I didn’t touch, feel or see the software in action.

No, we didn’t use a keyboard. But we did use scanners and sensors, and yes, there was even a blue button that you might call the “easy button.” Plex had a badge for each of us as employees of a fictitious company called Edge. We scanned our badges to “clock in” and were assigned to work centers and tasked to go make key fobs like the ones we all carry to open our car doors.

We received material (resin) by scanning the label attached by the vendor and we produced a label to attach to the bin where we were directed to put it. We then scanned it again to send it to be injection molded. OK, this part wasn’t really “real.” But when Dennis arrived at the work center the system told him he wasn’t qualified to work there. And the light curtain seemed real enough when it dinged Vinnie for scooping out several molded parts instead of one at a time. Those molded parts were then delivered to the next work center where Frank struggled with some decidedly low-tech assembly and I excelled. (What does that say about me?) And when we had collectively assembled all the parts, the Plex supervisor (aka demo guy) pressed a blue button to signal all were complete and a shipping label was automatically printed. Someone from the group then hit the button again but that just printed a label telling us we couldn’t possibly have made more because no more components had arrived to be assembled.

The demo concluded with the shipment of product and some back office investigation of potentially contaminated material.  This involved some backward and forward lot traceability, which the Plex Manufacturing Cloud handles quite well in terms of requirements of the automotive industry and some other sectors. But look for this aspect of the product to be significantly enhanced in the future.

Also look for Plex’s approach to corporate and product strategy to evolve. Some of the changes will be subtle, some not so much. Plex has been quite well known among its close followers as a company that has uniquely leveraged customer-driven development. This has been unique in two ways. First, the lion’s share of innovation came from customer-driven enhancements and customer-driven also means customer funded. So a customer would pay Plex Systems to enhance the product and other customers would benefit. This was a smart move for an early-stage ERP company in “boot strap” mode.

The second point of differentiation comes from the speed of development. Plex first started delivering ERP in a SaaS model in 2001, not because the company wanted to be a pioneer in SaaS, but because it was already a pioneer in rapid application development (RAD). A SaaS model was simply the only way it could deliver product as quickly as it could develop it. Back a few years ago, as the development team was demonstrating a new feature they were developing for a large customer, I was struck with a rather unique thought. In the time it would have taken your typical development team to tell you why they couldn’t do this, the Plex team had delivered the proto-type.

While this approach has served the company well, it does limit growth potential outside of the markets in which it is already successful. Letting customers guide product direction has many benefits, including an engaged installed base, and a more robust solution to meet the needs of its target market. But significant growth will likely require Plex to expand its target markets. To really grow significantly, Plex will have to take the reins and determine for itself where it needs to take the product. That means less customer-directed enhancements and more Plex-directed (and funded) innovation.

Now is definitely the time for Plex to make this next step. The product has reached a level of maturity that makes it very competitive in manufacturing, which is where Plex intends to stay. So for the markets where it already plays, there are fewer, if any gaps to fill. And with its acquisition by global private equity firm Francisco Partners in June 2012, followed by a $30 million strategic investment by global venture capital and growth equity firm Accel Partners, there is certainly less need to boot strap. But the expectations for growth have also been amplified and accelerated, and there has been a changing of the guard to reflect this. CEO Jason Blessing has spent the past year assembling a strong management team.

But in a category where the market leaders have tens of thousands of customers, Plex has a long way to go before it can claim the mind share it needs to be recognized as a leader. It has taken its first steps in that journey with a well-defined corporate strategy, supported by a strong technology and product road maps. But it also needs to increase its brand awareness and its marketing presence. If you have been following me over the past several years you have probably already heard of Plex. But obviously, a lot of folks haven’t and many of its competitors underestimate the company and the solution, assuming it can’t compete.

Well, you know what they say about people that assume.

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Insights from SAP Insider BI2014 – BI for the Business User?

Those of you who follow me (and my blog posts) might have scratched your heads a bit earlier this week when you saw me Tweeting from the SAP Insider BI event. After all, I generally write for an audience of business users and let’s face it, it is the IT department that buys and uses BI tools. Well, I was there because of all the exciting new advances in BI tools and technology that have the potential to assist you, the business user in gaining insights and intelligence about your business. But more importantly I was there because so few of you are screaming for these new tools. As Steve Lucas, President of SAP Platform Solutions, said on stage, “When was the last time a business user came up to you and asked for more middleware?” Bingo! As business users, you don’t want more (or any) middleware; you want answers to your questions and solutions to your problems. The problem is, many of you have become so frustrated waiting (too long) for simple things, like a new piece of data added to a report, that you’ve stopped asking.

Case in point: You also might have noticed that you only heard from me during the opening keynote. Why? Did I just breeze in and out? Did I lose interest? Was there nothing else of importance to comment on? None of the above. After that first keynote I was never able to actually connect through the network available in the other meeting rooms. In the “Happiest Place on Earth” (yes, we were at a Disney resort), it didn’t make me very happy to have no access to Twitter, HootSuite or any of the other platforms I would have used to communicate. But actually saying “never” is a bit misleading. The reality was, after the first few (or dozen) attempts, I gave up trying. And that’s exactly what happens to the business user in search of the next bit of “intelligence” needed to make a serious impact on the business. After a certain period of frustration (minutes in my case, years in yours) you just assume it is too difficult and it is not worth asking.

While some of this new technology is new enough to be bleeding edge, and not everything that gets presented and discussed is generally available, I can tell you: Now is time to start asking for more. Yes, there will be a price tag, but when did you ever get something for free that really added value? And if it adds enough value, it should pay for itself in a reasonable period of time. But in order to find that potential value-add, you might have to start thinking out of the box. In fact, maybe you should re-evaluate problems that were deemed unsolvable in the past.

That is certainly the case when it comes to predictive analytics. Everyone would love to forecast, predict and plan accordingly, but hardly anyone is really doing it today. I grew up (professionally) in the world of manufacturing. Everyone knows there is one universal truth about the forecast: It is always wrong. It’s just a question of how wrong it is. Of course there are all sorts of different forecasting tools and models to use, but the problem is, they are usually very complex and only as good as the input provided. And how does the typical businessperson know which variables really matter? Are some truly indicative of cause and effect, or is it just a correlation? Do you really understand the difference? What if you didn’t have to?

What if you had a tool that allowed you to just throw a lot of variables at the problem? What if you had a tool that was smart enough to pick out the ones that matter and come back with a prediction with a 99% confidence level? That’s exactly what SAP InfiniteInsight is supposed to do. Never heard of it? I’m not surprised. First of all, the name itself doesn’t exactly speak volumes about what it does. I am a firm believer that the name of the product should tell you (or at least hint at) what the product does. There is really nothing in InfiniteInsight that even implies prediction.

Also, the product comes to SAP through acquisition. The acquired company is KXEN, formerly a privately-held San Francisco-based company. Its specialty:  the automation of (at least many aspects of) prediction so that business users can make forward-looking decisions. So does this mean this is a self-service function and the business user doesn’t have to wait for the technical staff to do something? Not really. Those variables the business user wants to throw at the model? Well, someone has to know where they are and how they are represented in the grand scheme (or schema).  But that should be relatively easy for the technical staff and tech-savvy business analysts might also be able to construct the model. So we’re not talking days or weeks; we should be talking hours. This makes the whole process that much more dynamic. How many times have businesses stuck with a forecasting model that was known to be flawed or no longer reflected the real business environment (after all, things change over time) just because it was too difficult and time-consuming to change?

Production forecasts, sales and operations planning and financial planning are just the tip of the iceberg here though. Getting accurate predictive analytics will become contagious. Get good results in one area and you will start to think of all the other ways you would like to “predict.”

And how many times have massive volumes of data sat largely dormant because there weren’t tools to handles such volumes in real time? Those days are also gone. While the Internet of Things is all the rage right now and spells huge opportunities in many different disciplines, this is not a new problem for manufacturers. Many have been collecting these massive volumes of data from sensors on the shop floor for years. And while these sensors might have the ability to shut down an automated production line as temperature or viscosity or any number of other measures start to drift out of tolerance, how many are able to accurately predict when that might happen?

Since preventive maintenance also causes a line to shut down production, timing is critical. Shut it down too early and you lose more production. Wait too long and you pay an even greater price. And yet without the ability to not only collect, but also process and analyze colossal volumes of data in seconds, that data is massively underutilized. Moving data off storage devices and into memory is the key to improving speed and in this case SAP will turn to HANA.

And finally, a third SAP product will play a key role in drawing the business user out of his or her complacency. All the predictive capabilities and all the speed and processing power in the world will be meaningless to the business user if the tools can’t present the results in a meaningful way. That’s the problem SAP Lumira is intended to solve.

Here’s another product name that doesn’t tell you what it does. No it doesn’t treat rheumatoid arthritis or diabetic nerve pain. Does it illuminate data? Hard to say. But even though it doesn’t tell you what it does, the name has a couple things going for it: it’s short and it doesn’t say the wrong thing; it makes you ask what it is. Here’s what SAP says it does:

“Gather and quickly make sense of your data with SAP Lumira, our easy-to-use, data visualization software. In just a few clicks, you can combine and visualize data from multiple sources – presenting both big picture and granular insights in a single view. Use a drag-and-drop interface to create beautiful visualizations, explore data, and share insights with your team.”

Does this mean as a business user you can do it yourself? My guess is, you will still need some help from IT or that tech-savvy super user. Because you still need to know how your enterprise data is organized. But if you have data in spreadsheets now (and who doesn’t?) you can download it for free and try it out for yourself. You’ll educate yourself on the different possibilities and perhaps even come up with those new (out of the box?) ideas.

The bottom line: you don’t have to be a BI expert or a techie to gather more intelligence and insight today. And you don’t have to be a psychic to predict the future. But if you sit back and think all this stuff is too difficult and time-consuming, you better hope your competitors aren’t figuring out that it isn’t.

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Next Generation ERP: Kenandy’s Approach

Changing the World of ERP, One Click at a Time

It has been a while since I last posted in our Next Generation ERP series. If you haven’t been following, you might want to catch up on the 4 part generic series of posts. This one features the approach of a relatively new entrant into the ERP market: Kenandy Inc. Some of you will immediately recognize Kenandy’s founder, none other than Sandy Kurtzig of ASK and MANMAN fame.

By way of introduction or reminder….

What do Star Trek and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) have in common? Apart from each being a bold adventure, both have experienced a rebirth as a next generation. In our four part series, we describe the next generation of ERP in terms of new technology that enables:

  • new ways of engaging with ERP
  • custom configuration without programming
  • more innovation
  • better integration

The next generation of Star Trek continued the original journey but was faster, more technologically enabled and more in tune with the evolving needs of the galaxy. When Sandy Kurtzig came out of retirement in 2010 and founded Kenandy, she may not have been thinking about Star Trek but she clearly wanted to explore new worlds in her entrepreneurial journey and boldly go where no ERP for manufacturing has gone before. Using new technology, Kenandy designed its new ERP from scratch with a singular purpose in mind: to deliver a robust solution quickly that would also keep pace with the rapidly changing world in which we live.

Does Kenandy Qualify as Next Generation ERP?

Not every ERP solution on the market today qualifies as a “next generation” ERP. The depth and breadth of functionality has increased over the past three decades, which makes it harder for a new entrant to compete in the market. The “basics” are table stakes, but they aren’t so basic anymore, particularly in the world of manufacturing where Kenandy hopes to compete.

While other industries might be able to survive with back office functionality that is limited to accounting or human resource management, manufacturing requires a much broader set of features and functions. Indeed, ERP for manufacturing has evolved from material requirements planning (MRP) to manufacturing resource planning (MRP II), to the full operational and transactional system of record of the business. Even the manufacturing of a simple product can be quite complex when you run lean, but strive to be responsive to your demanding customers.

Any ERP vendor today must compete on functionality, but that is not what makes a solution “next generation.” It is the underlying technology and the power it delivers.  But technology and functionality are closely related, because it is the power of the technology platform that allows solution providers to deliver more features and functions faster. Selecting the right platform on which to build ERP is therefore critical.

While the platform may not be immediately visible to the end user of the software, it is dangerous to ignore it and the power of technology. You probably never knew how the USS Enterprise achieved warp speed, but you knew that it could. You didn’t know how the transporter beam worked, but you knew what happened when Captain Kirk said, “Beam me up, Scottie.” While neither were the only ways to get from point A to point B, both added speed and efficiency.

While Kenandy chose to build an ERP solution from a clean sheet of paper, in order to compete, it needed to find a way to add both speed and efficiency to the development process. Kenandy chose to build on the Salesforce Platform to deliver both. And in doing so, its customers also benefit from speed and simplicity, which together yield efficiency.

ERP: Empower Real PeopleTM

Speed and efficiency are prerequisites for delivering on the first element of next generation ERP: providing new ways of engaging with enterprise software.

Traditionally, users have engaged with ERP through a hierarchical series of menus, which require at least a rudimentary knowledge of how data and processes are organized. Hopefully this organization reflects how the business processes and the enterprise itself are structured, but with a hierarchy of menus, there are no guarantees that navigation is intuitive or that business processes are streamlined and efficient.

When processes within ERP are clumsy and inefficient, employees spend more time trying to work around the system, rather than working with it. Cynics like to refer to ERP not as “enterprise resource planning”, but as “Excel runs production.” Sandy Kurtzig strives for a different goal where ERP stands for “empower real people.” For that to happen you need to reach both up and down the corporate ladder.

Traditionally, a small percentage of employees of any company ever put their hands directly on ERP, and this select group almost never included top-level executive decision-makers. But the speed of required decision-making and the consumerization of IT are making this unacceptable.

So how does Kenandy empower real people? It relies on the Salesforce Platform to deliver a user experience that is appealing to the younger work force that has grown up on the Internet. And in making the solution appealing to the millennials, it also makes it easier for the older crowd to use. It recognizes there are “mobile” and “social” users as well, both of which are addressed by the platform.

The Salesforce Platform also enables collaboration by connecting people to the business and to information. For years, made a big deal out of its “social” capabilities but the manufacturing community is just now appreciating social. While a hot topic among pundits and industry “influencers,” the perceived value was lost on many, particularly in manufacturing. Traditionalists distinguish between a business event and a social event, between a business conversation and a social chat, between a business colleague and a friend or social acquaintance. Many didn’t “get” that social is really just shorthand for new and improved ways of getting and staying informed in a collaborative way. And who doesn’t want that?

By building an ERP on the Salesforce Platform, these social and mobile aspects are built in.

Personalizing with Clicks not Code

While all manufacturers face similar challenges, they also have unique ways of dealing with those challenges, and in doing so, actively seek differentiation in their individual markets. What company today doesn’t believe it is unique in some way?

Being different used to mean customization and with traditional, older generation ERP, this meant programming changes, mucking around in source code and building barriers to upgrade and innovation. To qualify as a “next generation” ERP, most, if not all of this customization must be done without ever touching a line of source code. Configuration, tailoring and personalization should replace customization.

Kenandy likes to say it can personalize with “clicks, not code.” This means adding fields, changing workflows, rearranging the screens. This is an absolute necessity in a Kenandy environment because it is delivered only as multi-tenant software as a service (SaaS). In a multi-tenant environment, multiple companies use the same instance of (hosted) software. Of course, data is protected from access by other companies (tenants), but any “customization” is generally delivered through configuration settings, which vary per company.

Kenandy’s architecture allows you to modify business processes and the user experience, including screens, dashboards and even the device. This doesn’t require programmers. Simplicity and this “Do It Yourself” aspect were among the primary reasons Blue Clover Devices selected Kenandy. These features became obvious to Blue Clover during its trial run of the system.

“I immediately saw how easy it is to add and extend capabilities with Kenandy,” said Pete Staples, President and Co-founder. “I was convinced that this was something we could manage pretty much on our own, and that had a strong appeal to us.” While the other system Blue Clover was considering had many positive features, “We felt like we would have to hire them to do everything for us, and that just made us nervous.”

Beyond the Initial Implementation

While this level of personalization and configuration is important when Kenandy is first being implemented, it becomes even more so as life goes on. Today’s manufacturers are bombarded with change, whether as a result of growth, regulatory requirements or just the desire for continuous improvement. Change doesn’t halt once you implement ERP. In fact, the need for change may accelerate as new functionality and new technology opens doors for growth and improvement.

And yet managing change has traditionally been an obstacle to achieving the goals of an ERP solution. The 2014 ERP Solution Study found this to be the number one challenge with the vast majority (82%) rating it as moderately to extremely challenging.

The ability to handle this kind of change was the primary reason Big Heart Pet Brands (formerly Del Monte Foods) selected Kenandy to support its recent acquisition of Natural Balance Pet Foods. “One of the many reasons Del Monte selected Kenandy was that we wanted a flexible system that easily adapts to business changes, such as acquisitions, while also offering enterprise-class capabilities,” said David McLain, Senior Vice President, Chief Information Officer and Procurement Officer, Big Heart Pet Brands.

Kenandy attributes this post-implementation agility to the flexibility and extensibility of the platform and Stuart Kowarsky, Vice President of Operations at Natural Balance seems to be a big fan. “At Natural Balance and in our corporate systems, we’re replacing a patchwork of applications with one unified, extensible solution that will grow and scale with Big Heart’s needs.”

But Kenandy’s ability to accommodate change is not only attributable to the platform, but also to how it has architected the solution on top of that platform, with a unified data model that takes full advantage of the power of business objects.

“Wide-Body” ObjectsTM

Legacy ERP solution data models consisted of an extensive number of tables. Joining those tables together reflected relationships between data. For example, a sales order header table might need to be joined to line items. In turn, those line items needed to be joined with the products being delivered, and any number of associated tables for validation, like units of measure, product categories, inventory locations, planning and replenishment codes, etc. The sales order also had to be joined with customers, shipments, and invoices. It didn’t take long for the number of tables and joins to proliferate almost exponentially, making a change to any one element a labyrinth of changes.

Kenandy replaces that myriad of tables with what it calls a ”Wide-Body” ObjectTM architecture.  These objects will sound quite familiar: orders, invoices, customers, etc. But by packing lots of information into each object, it significantly reduces the number that needs to be managed. Kenandy has less than 100 Wide-Body Objects.

For example, invoice, credit memo and adjustments share similar data structures and therefore can be expressed as a single object, distinguished by embedded fields. Adding fields is a simple process and only has to be done in one place. Changing workflow steps is equally simple because the workflow connects directly to the objects. Also, these Wide-Body Objects are reusable and it is a simple process to make these changes by pointing and clicking. No database administrator (DBA) required.

More Innovation to Come

The ability to enable change this rapidly also has implications for the on-going development of the product, which impacts the third requirement for next generation ERP: more innovation.

In deciding to build a new product from scratch, Kenandy avoided a lot of the headaches other longer-tenured companies face. In developing a new product, you don’t have to worry about keeping any existing customers happy with product or implementation decisions they may have already made. You can start from a clean slate. It is sort of like building a new house. It is much easier to start with an empty lot and a design plan, than it is to remodel an existing structure.

And yet Kenandy set out to build a very big and complex structure. As noted earlier, the depth and breadth of functionality needed to compete today, particularly in manufacturing, is extensive.

The platform itself comes with an extensive toolbox that accelerates the development process. The power of the platform, combined with its SaaS-only delivery model, supports agile development, managed around “sprints,” a concept familiar to proponents of rapid application development. Innovation doesn’t have to be packaged up to be delivered every 12 to 18 months, but in shorter cycles that include scripting a scenario, designing a solution, building and testing. Think of these more as a series of short proof of concept projects, which are continually being delivered. As a SaaS model, no customer is left behind running an older release.

In an interesting twist on “agile” and “sprints,” Kenandy applies these same concepts to the implementation process. New customers gain access immediately to an instance of the software. They can add data, experiment and test it out in a series of pilots. At the end of the process, teams not only have a working environment, but also have learned how to make changes to business processes, again with clicks, not code. Nothing is cast in concrete as the first (or any) “go live” milestone is achieved, therefore it encourages and supports the popular manufacturing concept of continuous improvement.

These were some of the benefits Del Monte saw in its recent acquisition of Natural Balance. Indeed, Sandra Kurtzig was so confident in Kenandy’s ability to respond quickly, she made a commitment to Del Monte to go live with Kenandy at Natural Balance just 90 minutes after the acquisition was complete. No, that’s not a typo – that’s 90 minutes, not 90 days. In fact, the system was up and running in less time and represented a complete implementation including order-to-cash, planning and production, procure-to-pay and financials.


Like the starship Enterprise, whose five-year mission was to explore new worlds and “to boldly go where no man has gone before,” early versions of ERP charted new territory for enterprise applications. It evolved from MRP (material requirements planning) to MRP II (manufacturing resource planning) and then boldly set out to conquer the “final frontier” of ERP, managing not a small piece of the enterprise, but the enterprise itself.

The new journey Kenandy has embarked on, this next generation ERP, is a far cry from legacy ERP solutions of the past. Not wanting to be constrained by legacy code or preconceived notions, it started with a clean sheet of paper to design a whole new solution. But this new company knew better than to take a further step back in designing its own development platform. Instead it chose a platform that has already proven itself in terms of power, flexibility and reliability.

When Sandy Kurtzig stepped down from her first venture (The ASK Group) she left behind a loyal following within the manufacturing community, where trust is not easily given, but is hard earned. Can she attract the same kind of following in her new venture? In order to compete in this new era she will need:

  • A proven technology platform that allows users to engage with ERP in new and different ways, with intuitive and visually appealing user interfaces, which don’t rely on intimate knowledge of how the system or the data is structured. She’ll need a platform that opens doors to a whole new level of executive involvement… Check
  •  A system that is easily custom-configured, eliminating invasive customization that prevents companies from moving forward with updates and upgrades… Check
  •   To deliver innovation at an increased (and impressive) pace, supported through the use of web-based services, and object-oriented data models… Check
  •  Good integration capabilities that provide a seamless user experience across the enterprise… Check

Manufacturers stuck on older technology with limited functionality might well consider saying, “Beam me up, Sandy.”

This post was derived from a white paper entitled Next Generation ERP: Kenandy’s Approach. Click here to read the full report. The report is free, but registration is required.


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Infor Goes Back to the Drawing Board for Fashion PLM

Product Lifecycle Management Links Design, Development and Commercial Elements in the Fashion Value Chain

On February 19, 2014 Infor announced the availability of its new Infor Fashion Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solution. Built from scratch, it is designed specifically for manufacturers of apparel, footwear, accessories, luxury goods, and textile companies. Although the product itself is brand new, Infor leverages decades of experience in the fashion industry, designing a product that can be sold and run as a stand-alone solution, or as part of a suite that also includes enterprise resource planning (ERP), product configuration and supply chain execution (SCE).

This latest addition to its vast product portfolio is further indication of Infor’s willingness to invest significantly in sectors it has selected as target markets. This is not Infor’s first or only PLM solution. In fact it already had not one, but two different PLM products designed specifically for the fashion industry. Both existing products had been acquired: Runtime by Infor and Freeborders by Lawson, which was later acquired by Infor.

Remodel or New Construction?

It may have been cheaper and faster to get from point A to point B starting with either of these two existing PLM products, but with such an approach, would point B really have been where Infor wanted to go? Infor decided instead to relieve itself of any constraints of prior functionality or technology and design and build from a blank sheet of paper what it viewed as its ideal solution. And of course that view of an ideal solution is heavily influenced by its prior experience with Fashion and with PLM.

In deciding between starting from scratch and modifying an existing product, a lot can be learned from the construction industry. There is a reason why those televised “extreme” home makeovers start with demolition. A remodel is constrained by the existing footprint, foundation and infrastructure. Brand new construction can take advantage of the experience and creativity of the designer, as well as all the latest innovative technology.

The same is true for Infor product development. One of the hallmarks of next generation enterprise software is the ability to bring a new user experience to the game. By changing the way people engage with the software, you draw people to the applications instead of encouraging them to work around them. And that is exactly what older solutions did – encouraged work-arounds. They were based on a hierarchical series of menus that required some knowledge of how the solution and the underlying data were constructed. That would be like requiring a homeowner to have some rudimentary knowledge of the electrical wiring in order to use the appliances.

This level of knowledge requirement was a direct result of software engineers designing the user interface. For them navigation and system operation was intuitive. But it might not have reflected how people really worked. This is why software developers don’t design the user experiences of new Infor products.

Enter Hook & Loop

Instead Infor has its internal design agency, Hook & Loop design the new user experience. These are creative types that don’t presume to understand the underlying business process going into the game. Instead they go ask the people who will be using the solution how they work, or want to work. This of course works much better when designing new software than when remodeling existing solutions with pre-defined processes.

Of course in this case a picture will speak much louder than words. Those interested should actively seek a demonstration and insist on seeing different layouts of the same data and perhaps even ask to watch the configuration process. This is not your father’s PLM.

New ways of collaborating  are also delivered more effortlessly through the use of new advanced technology. Can these types of technology innovations be brought to existing products not natively built on newer platforms? Maybe. But it certainly isn’t as easy as when they are built in. While this is an important consideration in designing any application, it is particularly so in PLM for the Fashion industry.

Empowering Creative, Technical and Commercial Teams

Managing the lifecycle of a product is a team sport. But all too often teams forget this and think about PLM primarily as the vehicle by which new products are launched, throwing a design over the wall to be produced. When PLM is used to manage the lifecycle of a hard good, whether it is for industrial or consumer use, typically it is a group of engineers that are first engaged. These engineering types are at least tech-savvy and perhaps even drawn to enterprise applications. Not so much when the product in question is more of a soft good like apparel, footwear or accessories. These are not designed by technologists but rather by fashonistas. So the experience of using a PLM solution better involve drawings and pretty pictures, with the technical stuff buried deep under the covers.

This also makes managing anything after the initial design that much more of a challenge. Of course they want their designs to be commercially successful but they leave the merchandizing of the product to others. And they are even less interested in theLeft_Vs_Right_Brain development –the nuts and bolts of steps in between where materials are sourced and product is produced. It is the classic left brain versus right brain or “logical” versus “creative” discourse. Whether you believe in this general classification or not, there are differences in the roles different types of people play in life and in business.

Whether they realize it or not, in managing the lifecycle of a fashion product, all have a common goal: Shorten the time to market and increase the likelihood of consumer acceptance. And businesses are more successful in achieving this when all constituents in the process work cooperatively and collaboratively together. What it comes down to is better communication and technology can either facilitate or inhibit that communication.

And Infor Fashion PLM provides a platform of communication that can be easily tailored to appeal to either side of the brain that happens to function best.

“Best of Breed” or Integrated Suite?

This level of communication and collaboration is not only required of the people involved, but also can be facilitated (or inhibited) by the integration of different enterprise applications, in particular PLM with ERP and SCE. Early on in the development process Infor must have considered different alternatives: to build Infor Fashion PLM right into one of its ERP solutions or to build it as a stand-alone solution. Infor actually chose the latter and will use Infor ION technology to connect to ERP.

In doing so, a larger potential market can benefit from this solution, but is that what the market wants? Infor is giving customers the option and best of both worlds thanks to XML and Infor ION technology. Over the past three decades ERP companies have expanded their solution footprints, partly as a growth strategy but also because the vast majority of companies using ERP prefer a single integrated suite from a single vendor. Preliminary results from our 2014 Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study confirms this but also finds most will be cautious before sacrificing functional requirements for ease of integration or a single vendor (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Preference is high for an integrated suite

Figure1 Infor

Source: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study

As implied earlier, the requirements for PLM in the Fashion industry differ substantially from companies using PLM to manage the lifecycle of hard industrial or consumer goods. While the new Infor Fashion PLM solution will not be the only one its kind, it will be the newest, at least for the time being. And it will be able to boast the latest and greatest in technology in terms of .net, user experience, speed and related innovation.

However, it will also need to be integrated to at least two of Infor’s ERP solutions, the two best suited for the Fashion industry. These are Infor M3 (acquired from Lawson) and Infor System21, acquired from JDA. Each has made a name for itself in Fashion and accumulated a loyal installed base.

The development platform and the Infor ION purpose-built middleware also make it relatively easy to integrate with other non-Infor ERP solutions, but these are not likely to be available “out of the box” and therefore will either be less tightly integrated, or require additional effort and cost.


Infor has definitely chosen the path less traveled in delivering a brand new, built from scratch PLM solution for the Fashion industry. Leveraging its expertise in this industry gained through both acquisition as well as experience, it should hit the market with a level of maturity unusual for a new product. Combining this experience with a state of the art development platform and advanced Infor ION technology, it may very well leapfrog its competition with a powerful solution that will empower organizations with “all the tools to convert creative concepts to commercial products more rapidly and accurately.”

















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SAP Business Suite on HANA: Changing the Conversation

It’s Not About the Technology, It’s About the Business

I recently got an update on SAP Business Suite on HANA from Jeff Woods, former industry analyst, currently Suite on HANA aficionado at SAP. Jeff had lots of good stuff to share, including some progress to date:

  • 800+ Suite on HANA contracts have been signed
  • 7,600+ partners have been trained
  • There are 200+ Suite on HANA projects underway
  • 55 of these projects have gone live (and the number is growing)
  • The largest ERP on HANA system supports 100,000 users

So the Suite on HANA is quite real. But the single message that resonated the most strongly with me: the conversation has (finally) changed. While we’ve been hearing about HANA as this wonderful new technology for several years now, for the most part, the talk was about technology and even when the technologists spoke about purported business value, they spoke in very technical terms. But the audience I write for, business leaders in various industries, don’t care about technology for technology sake. Many don’t (care to) understand tech-speak. But they do care about what technology can do for them.

A Year Later…

It was just about a year ago that SAP announced the availability of SAP Business Suite powered by HANA, complete with live and live-streamed press conferences in both New York City and Waldorf, Germany. I don’t think I have ever seen such genuine excitement from SAP folks as was displayed in this announcement, and yet the “influencers” in the audience were a bit more subdued. A year ago I attributed this to the fact that these same influencers tend to be a quite jaded bunch, hard to impress. We had also been hearing about HANA for a few years already. There wasn’t a “newness” or game-changing feel about the announcement. But impressing the influencers is only one step towards the real goal of engaging with prospects and customers.

A year ago I also wrote, “SAP is trying hard to change the conversation to be less about the technology and more about the business value.  What is the real value? In the words of one early adopter: HANA solves problems that were deemed unsolvable in the past.” But uncovering those previously unsolvable problems required some visionary thinking.  Tech-speak is not going to get the attention of the guy (or gal) that signs the check or spur that kind of thinking. And a year ago the conversation hadn’t changed. Just look at how the vision of HANA was portrayed:

  • All active data must be in memory, ridding the world of the “rusty spinning disk”
  • Full exploitation of massively parallel processing (MPP) in order to efficiently support more users
  • The same database used for online transaction processing (OLTP) and analytics, eliminating the need for a data warehouse as a reporting tool for OLTP to support live conversations rather than “prefabricated briefing books”
  • Radically simplified data models
  • Aggressive use of math
  • Use of design thinking throughout the model

Look carefully at those words. They mean nothing to the non-technical business executive. Sure, those words got the attention of some forward thinking CIO’s, and that was enough to kick start the early projects, projects that produced amazing results. But that’s as far as the message got. And even when the message was not articulated in technical terms, it was presented at too high a level of abstraction. Business executives faced with important decisions don’t think in terms of “becoming a real-time business.” Operational managers don’t seek out “transformative innovation without disruption.” They want to get through the day most effectively and efficiently and make the right decisions.

Asking the Right Questions Today

So how do you change the conversation? By asking a different kind of question. Because “faster” is universally accepted as a good thing, in the beginning the HANA conversation might have been kicked off with the question to the CIO: What processes are running too slowly today? But in talking to the business user, you need a different approach. SAP’s “cue card” below is a good start. You are now seeing conversation starters that make more sense to the business leader. Take the time now to read them carefully. If you are a business leader, they will resonate much more than discussions of MPP and column-oriented databases or even speed of processes. I especially like the business practice questions in the rightmost column.

Cue card

Source: SAP

But if I were sitting across the table from a business leader, I might ask questions that are even more direct and down-to-earth. For example:

  • Describe a situation where you have to hang up the phone, dig deeper and get back to your customer or prospect later. (By the way Jeff’s thought was that by hanging up you only encourage them to pick up the phone and call your competitor.)
  • What summary data do you get today that consistently requires more detail before you make a decision? Can you get at that data immediately (no delays) and easily (no hunting around)?
  • What level of granularity are you forecasting revenue? Is it sufficiently detailed? Are you forecasting by region or maybe by product line when you would love to be able to forecast by territory, individual customer and individual product combined?
  • Are there decisions that require you to consult with others? How much time does this add to the decision-making process? How easy or hard is it to keep track of who to contact? How quickly can you make contact? Quickly enough?

The goal really is to improve the business not only in small linear steps, but also to increase speed of decision and therefore efficiency exponentially. The first step is to provide new ways of engaging with the system, which means changing the user experience. But to change the game, you need to make improvements to the process itself. SAP’s new Fiori applications are a good example of this progression.

 Fiori: More Than Just a Pretty Face

Last spring, SAP announced SAP Fiori, a collection of 25 apps that would surround the Business Suite, providing a new user experience for the most commonly used business functions of ERP. While useful in pleasing existing users and perhaps even attracting new users within the enterprise, this first set of apps just changed the user interface and did not add any significant new functionality.

The latest installment has 190+ apps supporting a variety of roles in lines of business including human resources (HR), finance, manufacturing, procurement and sales, providing enhanced user productivity and personalization capabilities. The apps offer users the ability to conduct transactions, get insight and take action, and view “factsheets” and contextual information. The next round of Fiori apps are expected to add even more new capabilities, thereby taking them to the next level in changing the game.

The MRP cockpit is an example of this next generation Fiori app and a perfect illustration of how these new apps can recreate processes, even ones that are 30 years old. If you “know” manufacturing, you probably also know that the introduction of Material Requirements Planning (MRP) software back in the late 70’s was transformational, although nobody really called it that back then. “Transformative” innovation is very much a 21st century term. But it truly was game-changing back in the day.

Last year, even before the conversation had shifted, I saw the parallels between the potential for HANA and the automation of the planning process that MRP brought about. Today the MRP cockpit delivers on that potential.

For those outside the world of manufacturing, in a nutshell, MRP takes a combination of actual and forecasted demand and cascades it through bills of material, netting exploded demand against existing inventory and planned receipts. The result is a plan that includes the release of purchase orders and shop orders and reschedule messages. While the concept might be simple enough, these bills of material could be many layers deep and encompass hundreds or even thousands of component parts and subassemblies. Forecasts are educated guesses and actual demand can fluctuate from day to day. Without automated MRP there is simply too much data and complexity for a human to possibly work with.

As a result, prior to MRP, other ways of managing inventory became commonplace. You had simple reorder points. Once inventory got below a certain point, you bought some more, whether you actually needed it or not. You also had safety stock as a buffer, and the “two bin” system was quite prevalent. When one bin was empty, you switched to the other and ordered more. These simplistic methods may have been effective in some environments, but the net result was the risk of inflated inventory while still experiencing stock outs. You had lots of inventory, just not what the customer wanted, when it wanted it. And planners and schedulers still had to figure out when to start production and they knew enough to build a lot of slack time into the schedule. So lead times also became inflated and customer request dates were in jeopardy.

Once MRP entered the picture, these were seen as archaic and imprecise planning methods. Even so, most didn’t rush right out and invest in MRP when it was first introduced. In fact now, decades later, the adoption rates of MRP in manufacturing still sits at about 78%. Why? The existing practices were deemed “good enough” and, after all, that’s the way it had always been done.

It required a paradigm shift to understand the potential of MRP and the planning process executed by MRP was complex. Not everyone intuitively understood it. And if they didn’t really understand, planners were unwilling to relinquish control. Particularly since MRP runs were notoriously slow.

It was not unusual for early MRP runs to take a full weekend to process, and during that time nobody could be touching the data. This didn’t work so well in 24X7 operations or where operations spanned multiple time zones. Of course over time, this was enhanced so that most MRPs today run faster and can operate on replicated data, so that operations can continue. But that only means it might be out of date even before it completes. And MRP never creates a perfect plan. It assumes infinite capacity and “trusts” production run times and supplier lead times implicitly. So while most planners were relieved of the burden of crunching the numbers, they were also burdened with lots of exceptions and expedited orders.

Yet over time, MRP brought a new dimension to material planning. It brought a level of accuracy previously unheard of and helped get inventory and lead times in check. Manufacturers have experienced an average of 10% to 20% reduction in inventory and similar improvements in complete and on-time delivery as a result of implementing MRP.

But through the past three decades, MRP hasn’t changed all that much. Yes it has improved and gotten faster, but it hasn’t changed the game because it still involves batch runs, replicated data and manual intervention to resolve those exceptions and expedite orders. Now with HANA we’re not talking about speeding up the processes by 10% to 20% but by several orders of magnitude, allowing them to run in real time, as often as necessary. But if it was just about speed, we might have seen this problem solved years ago.

You probably don’t remember Carp Systems International or Monenco, both Canadian firms that offered “fast MRP”. Carp was founded in 1984, and released a product in 1990 bringing MRP processing times from tens of hours down to 10 minutes. It ran on IBM’s RS6000 (a family of RISC-based UNIX servers, workstations and supercomputers). But it was both complex and expensive for its time ranging in price from $150,000 to $1 million). Not only was it expensive and required special servers, in order it to work it needed to replicate the data and then apply sophisticated algorithms.

About the same time Monenco introduced FastMRP, also a simulation tool, but one that ran on a personal computer. While it cost much less than Carp’s product, it was also less powerful and had significantly fewer features.

You won’t find either of these products on the market today. If speed was all that was required they would have survived and thrived. In order to change the game, you also need to change the process, which is exactly what SAP intends with its new Fiori app for MRP.

The new MRP cockpit includes new capabilities, like the ability to:

  • View inventory position looking across multiple plants
  • Analyze component requirements with real-time analytics
  • Perform long term MRP simulations
  • Analyze capacity requirements and suggest alternatives

But this too requires a paradigm shift. Manufacturers, as well as other types of companies, are quite accustomed to making decisions from a snapshot of data, usually in report format, possibly through spreadsheets. They have become desensitized to the fact that this snapshot is just that, a picture of the data, frozen in time.

What if you never had to run another report? Instead, whenever you needed a piece of data or an answer to a question, you had immediate and direct access, not to the data as it was at the beginning of the day, or the end of last week, but to the latest data in real time? Not only will decision-makers need to adjust to thinking in real-time, but will also have to trust the software to automate much of the thinking for them. Will they be able to sit back and let the software iterate through multiple simulations in order to find the best answer to an exception even before it is reported as an exception? I suspect they will if it is fast enough. And HANA is now delivering at speeds that just a few years ago would have been impossible. But with these speeds accelerating by orders of magnitude, the ability to communicate and collaborate effectively must also accelerate.

Making the Human Connection

It is not enough to change the way users engage with the software, it is also necessary to change the way they engage with other people. How often do you or your employees today express sentiments like:

  • If I just knew who to contact for approval/help….
  • I don’t know what to ask
  • I wish I could check with (several) people on this quickly

What if the software could help? As work flows are streamlined, automated and accelerated, so must the lines of communication and potential collaboration. Whether employees are looking to move a process forward, resolve an issue or mature an idea faster, lack of communication and clumsy modes of collaboration can inhibit the game-changing effect of the technology. Which is why SAP has upped its game in the area of Human Capital Management and social collaboration tools. It took a significant step forward with the acquisition of SuccessFactors and JAM and has been blending these capabilities with the HANA platform.

Key Takeaways

Nobody today would disagree that the SAP Business Suite, powered by HANA combines deep and rich functionality with powerful technology. But can it be game changing in terms of how businesses operate? The potential certainly exists, but it’s not just about speed. Changing the game means changing the way we’ve been doing things for decades. Before we can change the process, we need to change the conversation. Are you looking to optimize business processes? Are you ready to talk?

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UNIT4 Changes the Conversation About In-Memory Analytics

 Agresso Analyzer Native to Vita Architecture and Agresso ERP

On December 10, 2013, UNIT4 announced the release of Agresso Analyzer, an in-memory analytics tool that adds rapid data analysis capabilities to its Agresso enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution. Unlike other solutions on the market from its largest competitors that were developed independently in technology labs and later integrated with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions, Agresso Analyzer was built from the inside out. Native to its Vita architecture, best known for its ability to facilitate business-driven change, it is a clear and powerful response to the need to digest and analyze increasing volumes of enterprise data.

With UNIT4, It’s All About Change

You can’t have a conversation with or about UNIT4 ERP without talking about change. After all, its target market for the product is comprised of Businesses Living IN Change (BLINC), particularly those in government and service-oriented segments. The acronym BLINC has become synonymous with UNIT4. But typically in these conversations we’re talking about changes to the business resulting from new or changed regulatory requirements, organizational restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, business process or financial management driven changes. UNIT4’s claim to fame is the underlying Vita architecture that supports post-implementation agility and the ability to easily and quickly reflect these changes in the software with minimal cost and disruption.

This conversation is a little different though. We’re talking about technology and innovation of the software itself. We’re talking about bringing in-memory analytics to the table, which means a technology upgrade. UNIT4 has taken a different approach than it’s two largest competitors, SAP and Oracle, both of which have developed in-memory technology outside of the applications. These technical solutions must then be retrofitted into their enterprise applications, or the applications have to be modified to take advantage of these technologies. UNIT4 did it the other way around, building them from the inside out. While sold as an “add-on,” Agresso Analyzer is native to the Vita architecture. No changes are required to the installed software or the implementation and the tool can be installed and turned on in a matter of hours. And all the data in ERP is fair game for slicing and dicing, analyzing and using for better, faster decisions.

The net result is that businesses, even those living in change, can see the impact of business changes faster. These changes might result from government and/or industry legislation, reorganizations, mergers or acquisitions, financial management or business process changes.

Bringing the Benefits To the Business User

While in-memory is a hot topic today in technical circles, often the value is not obvious to a businessperson. Embedding this capability into the Vita architecture, and therefore into Agresso ERP also helps the typical business user understand the benefits. What businessperson doesn’t want to have better, quicker, more flexible access to data within ERP?

Partly because the largest vendors, those with the loudest voices, have developed in-memory capabilities independently in their technology labs and partly because technologists delivered the message, much of the talk has been in very technical terms. Phrases like massively parallel processing (MPP), column oriented databases, real-time caching, online transaction processing (OLTP), online analytical processing (OLAP) are tossed about assuming the audience understands the significance. The typical businessperson doesn’t.

The vision became one of powerful technology in search of a problem to solve. That’s not at all how business executives and non-technical decision-makers think. Instead they think in terms of business problems. “I have this problem. How are you going to help me solve it?”  Even UNIT4, which usually keeps the conversation at the business level, is talking about associative filtering. Don’t even bother to Google the term. I can follow the discussion (just barely) because I happen to have a degree in mathematics, but the algorithmic explanations will be incomprehensible to most business people.

Suffice to say, in-memory analytics provides you with the ability to process and analyze enormous volumes of data very fast. When we’re talking about the data in ERP systems, the speed is such that the results appear to be instantaneous, allowing you to make decisions from data at a far more granular level.

Analyzer starts with a snapshot of the data. That snapshot can be as simple as a straightforward report that a user already has, like a revenue report. But while a report allows you to analyze the data based on a single dimension (e.g. territory) or maybe two dimensions (product line by territory), in-memory analysis removes these single or dual dimension limitations. As long as the data required for complex, multi-dimensional analysis is included in the defined data set, it can be compressed, presented and analyzed virtually instantaneously. Because the data itself might be complex and requires a level of knowledge about the underlying data structures, it generally takes a super-user to set up the data set to be analyzed. But then putting it in the hands of the business user, it becomes extraordinarily powerful.


By embedding the in-memory capabilities into the Vita architecture and the Agresso ERP, UNIT4 has taken a lot of the mystery out of the powerful technology. By offering it as an extension to ERP, the value also becomes a natural extension. No extraordinary vision required. It allows business decision makers to take the same data they have struggled with in the past, understand it better and get to decisions faster and with greater confidence.

Of course ERP data is not the only data needed for decisions. It remains to be seen how quickly UNIT4 will be able to add in other sources of data. It is already planning to incorporate these capabilities into its recently announced new financial performance products: UNIT4 Cash Flow Planning and UNIT4 Consolidation. These types of applications have the potential to pull in data from many different disparate sources, including from banks and other treasury-related sources.

And then of course there is a wealth of unstructured data available through the Internet. As UNIT4 customers begin to graze from the very consumable and digestible data in ERP, eventually their appetites will grow to encompass a larger menu of potential “feeds.”  This will put pressure on UNIT4 to add more capabilities for more diverse data sources, but this will still give UNIT4 customers a competitive edge over those who might have invested in an elegant technical solution but are still in search of a problem to solve.

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Infor Acquires PeopleAnswers: New Twist to Continuing Trend in ERP and HCM

Big Data, Predictive Talent Analytics Drive Performance

On January 8, 2014, Infor announced it had acquired PeopleAnswers,  a pioneer in cloud-based predictive talent analytics. This continues a trend of large Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) vendor acquisitions in the realm of performance management and recruiting. But unlike other acquisitions, this one adds quite a unique new value proposition to its broadening footprint of Human Capital Management (HCM) solutions. Its software as a service (SaaS) talent analytics capabilities add a measure of data-driven behavioral science to an otherwise “soft” discipline.

Adding Talent Management to ERP

For decades in the world of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), human resource management (HRM) was little more than an afterthought. For many years, the perceived requirements were rudimentary at best and Human Resource Management modules often were just repositories for employee data. They didn’t really manage anything. ERP continued to expand functionality around the transactional system of record of the business. And apart from payroll transactions, which might or might not be included in the HR landscape, HCM really didn’t involve the transactions that fueled trade. Integration didn’t have to be “tight,” leaving a world of opportunity for separate add-on applications.

A Developing Market

This left plenty of room in the market for a lot of smaller HR specialists to seize the opportunity and grab a niche. The overall software category of HRM became broader, turning into human capital management (HCM) and several different “specialty” categories emerged: talent management, including recruiting, performance management (reviews), incentive compensation, as well as skills development and learning, workforce planning and analytics and time tracking. Sometimes payroll was included, sometimes not.

The number of players in the market proliferated.  Because few took the full suite approach, new HCM software vendors could grasp a foothold and gain traction even with a relatively small footprint.  The success of these new vendors proved to the market just how big the demand was (and is) for this type of software.

Customers and ERP Vendors Respond

Today, not only are customers more demanding and less willing to subject employees to the hassle and confusion of multiple systems, but also the big ERP players are no longer content to leave that opportunity on the table. The result: A big round of consolidation has begun. The year 2012 saw SAP’s acquisition of SuccessFactors and Oracle’s acquisition of Taleo. Last year NetSuite announced its intention to acquire TribeHR. All three of these are cloud-based, software as a service (SaaS) solutions in the talent management arena. So Infor’s announcement was the fourth major ERP vendor to announce an acquisition of a talent management solution, and a cloud-based one as well.

This is not Infor’s first venture into the realm of HCM however. It already has quite a comprehensive offering across the HCM landscape, offered either on-premise or SaaS. Its acquisition of Lawson back in 2011 was a major step forward, particularly in satisfying the human capital needs of certain industries, including healthcare, retail and hospitality. Coincidentally, all three of these industries are human capital-intensive. It later rounded out its offering with its acquisition of CertPoint, which filled an important gap in learning management. Now it is seeking further differentiation through PeopleAnswers’ decade-long investment in “big data” and its unique approach of including behavioral science.

How is PeopleAnswers Unique?

Some areas of HCM categories might struggle to produce hard data that supports evidence of return on investment (ROI). After all human resource management is a relatively “soft” discipline. Manufacturing can accurately produce hard measurements such as production output, lead times, and quality metrics. Sales can measure bookings and revenue against quota. Marketing can count leads captured and converted. Finance can measure discounts lost, days sales outstanding, earnings and profits. But capturing human capital metrics related to performance and employee engagement are indeed softer and harder to measure.

Yet the metric PeopleAnswers attacks most directly is much more firm and definitive. Although its product can legitimately be characterized as both performance management (employee assessments) and recruiting, the real metric that drives ROI is turnover. The premise: By accurately assessing the performance of individuals, you improve your ability to hire the right people. By hiring the right people you improve overall performance and retention. Customers routinely report reduction in turnover by 40%, and even higher returns in reducing involuntary turnover.

How does it do that?

PeopleAnswers uses a data-driven scientific approach to objectively tie individualized performance metrics to the key behaviors of its customers’ best employees. This is not a fluffy, feel-good approach to performance management, but patent-pending scientific research. PeopleAnswers has a science team, including 10 individuals with PhDs in behavioral science.

Through its research, this team has determined that skills alone are not predictive of the future performance of a new hire. The team developed a list of 39 attributes that correlate most directly with performance, including ambition, discipline, energy, acceptance of authority, attention to detail, flexibility, conscientiousness, and empathy. Good hiring managers have been subjectively evaluating these traits for decades. PeopleAnswers takes the subjectivity out and puts consistency in.

The implementation process starts by developing customized Performance Profiles™ from employee assessments, focusing specifically on characteristics and behaviors of top performers and weighting the 39 attributes differently for different jobs and perhaps even geographies. These Performance Profiles become the benchmark for selection, development, and succession planning.

Candidates are required to fill out a questionnaire uniquely tailored to the company and the position. This is used to construct what PeopleAnswers calls the Behavioral DNA™ of the candidate. It then compares that against the Performance Profiles of top performers and “scores” the candidates to help identify future superstars.

PeopleAnswers is also unique in how it charges for its service. It is not unusual to charge on a per-use basis (per assessment and/or per applicant) in this category of software, and PeopleAnswers certainly can accurately measure this. However it prefers to eliminate any excuse for delaying, reducing, or skipping the assessment process in order to save money. To get the most value from the solution, you need to assess every employee and every candidate that applies for a job.  So PeopleAnswers doesn’t charge based on the number of assessments but rather a flat, all-inclusive fixed fee that includes unlimited assessments.

Data Needed

This eliminates any (valid) excuse for not entering an assessment and makes the calculation of ROI that much easier. Of course any customer needs to start the implementation with some clear baseline metrics. Figure out your current turnover and estimate the cost of losing an employee. This might be different for voluntary and involuntary turnover, but even a single estimate will provide a good starting point. From these two numbers you can figure out what turnover is costing you today. If you, like other PeopleAnswers customers, can reduce turnover by 40%, the software will probably pay for itself pretty quickly.

But apart from simplifying the math, providing incentives to collect as much data as possible only makes sense. This is particularly important since without data, the model is useless. In fact without a lot of data, it would seem the model is useless. The more employees you have, the more recruiting you do for the same or similar positions, the more value can be derived directly from the tool. So this may not have the same value proposition for small companies, as it will for large companies. And human capital-intensive industries will benefit more. So a small manufacturer operating in a highly automated plant might not gain the same ROI as perhaps a large healthcare facility staffed with hundreds of nurses, or a retail environment with thousands of in-store personnel.

Who Will Benefit?

Infor’s installed base of customers includes all of these different profiles. At the time of the announcement, Infor and PeopleAnswers have 80 joint customers. About 70% of this customer overlap is from prior Lawson customers, which are most likely to fit the “human capital-intensive” bill. So that will be the first order of business as Infor starts the integration process. The goal is to deeply integrate the PeopleAnswers’ Behavioral DNA into the current Infor Talent Management suite, starting with the Lawson product. If the Lawson acquisition is an indicator of success, this first wave of integration should take about 120 days. Note, this time frame is the current plan and is reflective of past performance, but many factors can impact development plans. So this should not be interpreted as a hard commitment. The timing of future releases and Infor’s development plans remain at the sole discretion of Infor.

This effort will also include bringing Infor 10x enabling technology to the PeopleAnswers products, including Infor ION (light weight middleware), Infor Ming.le (a centralized platform for social collaboration, business process improvement, and contextual analytics) and Infor Motion (mobility).

At the same time, it will be making the Infor Enwisen HR Service Delivery platform more “behavioral.” Infor will then move on to integrating PeopleAnswers to the Infinium product line.

What Does the Future Hold?

While this new addition to the Infor family of products may not be uniformly applicable to its entire installed base of 70,000 customers, it certainly adds clear and measurable value to the subset that operates in human capital-intensive industries where making the right (or wrong) hiring decisions can make (or break) a company. But the potential value might not stop there.

Acquisitive companies typically look to improving bottom line performance by eliminating redundancies between the merged companies. This is an effective approach when those redundancies are limited to back office administration. But when staff reductions start to hit the development team, it can become counter-productive. Infor recognizes this and tends to not only protect the acquired development staff, but also add to it.

The first order of business after the acquisition is completed will be to integrate PeopleAnswers with selected Infor products (Lawson S3). Infor intends to preserve the PeopleAnswers team in order to expedite this. But at the same time it will bring Infor10x technology to the PeopleAnswers product. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Infor will actually add development staff to do this. While at other acquisitive companies an acquisition may trigger layoffs, at Infor it is just as likely to trigger hiring.

As big data and analytics continue to make their way to the forefront of employee and business performance management, it will be interesting to see what other results the addition of a “science team” can produce at Infor. And as the combined Infor and PeopleAnswers teams start to work more cooperatively together, who knows what other value behavioral science can bring to a whole host of other activities beyond recruiting.

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Cloud ERP: Is Kenandy and a marriage made in heaven?

When Marc Benioff talked Sandy Kurtzig into coming out of retirement and founding Kenandy back in 2010, it was clearly seen as a business marriage of sorts. You can define marriage today any number of different ways, some of which are very controversial, some quite safe. Erring on the side of safe, I would define marriage as a “union of two things.” In this case the marriage is between an application development platform ( and an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) application. While the marriage between Kenandy Cloud ERP and Salesforce might not be made in heaven, the wedding at least was right up there in the cloud.

While I am not overly superstitious, when I got married I wanted to stack the deck in favor of marital bliss. I wore something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. It must have worked because more than 37 years later, I am still happily married. So amidst all the seemingly obligatory predictions for the New Year (no I don’t publish mine), let’s apply the same old adage to Sandy’s new venture and see if we can predict its success. Can we find something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue in this union?

Something Old

When I look for something old, my thoughts first go to “old friends.” I joined Sandy’s first company (ASK) exactly 30 years ago today: January 2, 1984. While this is a new company for Sandy, there is a lot to be gained from the experience in building that first one. During her 20 years as founder, chairman and CEO of the ASK Group, she grew the company from a one-woman show to one of the ten largest software companies in the world.

Her first product, MANMAN, short for Manufacturing Management, was an enterprise application that helped manufacturing companies run their business. In fact it still is. Having survived several acquisitions, MANMAN is now owned by Infor and still has fans in manufacturers around the world. In spite of running on what is now old and outdated technology, for more than a few, you will have to pry MANMAN from their cold, dead hands. Their perception: It just works.

Her new product, Kenandy Cloud ERP, has similar aspirations. Like MANMAN, its target market is manufacturing. Those that “know” manufacturing intimately understand the complexities associated with this type of business. Those that don’t tend to over simplify the solution needed. Fans of Workday for example constantly laud the company for its simplicity. Workday has a great product, but of course it is simpler. First of all it is Human Capital Management (HCM) and financial management (accounting) software, but it isn’t full ERP. And second, it doesn’t even try to address the manufacturing market. It takes a lot of manufacturing experience to satisfy this market. Sandy “knows” manufacturing.  You might say she is an “old hand” at it.

Something New

But it is not MANMAN that Kenandy is selling. It is a completely new product. As I mentioned before, MANMAN is now based on old and outdated technology. While many are satisfied with what it can do, quite frankly, they shouldn’t be. Any company still running MANMAN, or any number of other older business applications, are at a very serious competitive disadvantage today.

I wrote a lot about “Next Generation ERP” in 2013. If you are running an older ERP solution, especially those implemented prior to the year 2000 (Y2K), you may not even be aware of what you can expect from a modern, technology-enabled, next generation ERP. A lot of the basics required by a manufacturer today are the same, but the basics aren’t enough any more. The footprint of ERP has grown steadily, to the point where it is sometimes hard to figure out where ERP ends and other applications begin. So you need a very broad footprint to compete.

But it isn’t the depth and breadth of functionality that qualifies an ERP solution as “next generation.” It is the underlying technology. And conversely, it is that new technology that enables ERP footprints to expand at an accelerated rate. This is what makes the marriage of Kenandy Cloud ERP with the platform so important. When Kenandy decided to enter the market, the company started by building a new product from scratch. In one way, this made it much easier. As you are developing a new product, you don’t have to worry about keeping any existing customers happy with product or implementation decisions they may have already made. You can start from a clean slate. It is sort of like building a new house. It is much easier to start with an empty lot and a design plan, than it is to remodel an existing structure.

And yet Kenandy set out to build a very big and complex structure. One of my all-time favorite quotes from Sandy Kurtzig dates back to that year I joined ASK. I don’t remember who we were talking to, but I remember what she said just as clearly as if she said it yesterday, not 30 years ago. We were talking about the software competitive landscape. ASK was a market leader at the time and Sandy was very confident in its ability to maintain that leadership role. She said, “To get into the software business and compete, you have to match me line for line of code. It’s like having a baby. You can’t put nine women on it and do it in a month.”

Yet when I first communicated with Sandy in the early days of Kenandy, what she emphasized most was the speed of development that was possible with the platform. I reminded her of that quote from 30 years ago and asked her if she was trying to put nine women on it and do it in a month. Sandy chuckled, but didn’t really answer. I think time has answered the question. It is now almost three years later and Kenandy has delivered the baby. In order for it to be a real “baby” it needed to live and breathe on its own. That means for any company running it, it must provide a complete operational and transactional system of record for a (potentially complex) manufacturing business. I can’t tell you exactly when the baby was first delivered so it is hard to say whether it took the traditional nine months or more like three. But it is living and breathing in a handful of companies.

And I would say it meets the qualifications I have been promoting as necessary to be classified as a next generation ERP. It must include new technology that enables:

  • new ways of engaging with ERP
  • custom configuration without programming
  • more innovation
  • better integration

Many of these capabilities are derived directly from the platform.

The Kenandy baby didn’t necessarily need to walk or run when it was first delivered. But if it wants to compete against the big guys, those mature ERP solutions offered by big companies with deep pockets for continued development, it better help the baby grow up quickly. The more advanced features it can add easily through the platform, features like mobility and social collaboration, the faster the baby will grow and mature.

This will be particularly important to Kenandy because the target customer is also somewhat different from the old ASK customer. Yes, Kenandy is still squarely focused on manufacturing, but it is diverging from the MANMAN target, as well as the prime target for most other cloud companies. The sweet spot for MANMAN was in the lower end of the mid-market, often a division of a large company, but seldom a large enterprise. This has typically also been the target for emerging Software as a Service (SaaS) providers. Not so for Kenandy. It has its eye squarely on the large multi-national enterprise. While my data does confirm that the interest level in cloud ERP actually increases with the size of the company, I question the size of the target market. There are far more small companies in the world to sell to than large, and selling to the large enterprise is typically a replacement sale. So Kenandy not only has to sell into a large enterprise, they also have to oust the incumbent – certainly not an impossible task, but count on it being a long and involved sales cycle.

Something Borrowed

Quite frankly, no company could produce a product from scratch and make it competitive in three years without borrowing. Much of the technology that supports new and advanced features will come from the platform. So in a way, you could say it is borrowing those features. The best news about borrowing in this context: you never have to give it back. You gain the benefits for life.

But perhaps even more important is borrowing that knowledge of manufacturing from prior experience, and also the philosophy that made ASK a leader in its day.  Part of the evaluation process in selecting business software has always included checking references. As in any major purchase, before making a capital investment (or even taking on operating expense in a cloud environment) a prospect wants to talk to someone else that has walked in its shoes. Typically the software vendor provides one or more references.

But how much confidence does this really build in the prospect? By definition, any reference provided by the software vendor will be a good reference. Would it voluntarily provide a bad reference? Of course the prospect could instead get involved in user groups and/or do research on its own, but that is time consuming. And will the prospect even be able to get beyond the screening processes that occur naturally today? ASK used to handle references differently. When asked for a reference, the sales rep would hand over the entire customer list. As the customer list grew the “thud factor” alone was enough to win business. It will be awhile before Kenandy achieves that thud factor, but it fully intends to provide its entire customer list as references.

Something Blue

OK, so have we run out of our analogy with this final “something?” Hardly. Blue could represent any number of factors. Back in the ASK days, blue meant Big Blue, or IBM. In the early days when ASK was delivered on minicomputers, they were definitely not blue. The likes of BPCS (owned by SSA, now Infor) and PRMS (owned by Panasophic, then Computer Associates, then SSA, now Infor) ran on Big Blue. ASK ran on HP and DEC. But that all changed with UNIX and open architectures. Underlying hardware was no longer a point of differentiation. And with the entrance of SaaS and cloud, it is no longer even a consideration.

Blue could refer to blue sky. And blue sky could be exactly where the cloud resides, which is where the wedding took place: Kenandy Cloud wedded to ERP the cloud-based development platform.

But I prefer to consider blue sky in the context of: creative, knowing no limitations or boundaries. The sky’s the limit. After all, isn’t that the case if a marriage is made in heaven? As a woman and as an entrepreneur, perhaps I am a bit biased. While I will continue to watch and even be critical where appropriate, nothing would please me more than seeing this marriage achieve exactly what I was seeking in wearing something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue: marital bliss.

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