Plex Systems Accelerates Push Into IoT With DATTUS Acquisition

Customers: Prepare for a Tsunami of Data

On July 31, 2018 Plex Systems, a cloud ERP and MES solution provider for manufacturing, announced it had completed the acquisition of DATTUS, Inc. a leader in Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) connectivity technologies. This is an important step in executing on its product strategy, which includes connecting to more IIoT data for more actionable insights, along with enhancing manufacturing and business processes.

As a solution provider of enterprise resource planning (ERP), the Plex Manufacturing Cloud provides the operational and transactional system of record of your business. But looking beyond business transactions, Plex’s goal has always been to connect the shop floor to the top floor. But that is often easier said than done.

While sensors, machines and equipment on the shop floor have been collecting vast volumes of operational data for decades now, that data has not always been “connected” or accessible for decision making. Indeed the very fact that this data collection has been happening for decades contributes to the problem. Many of the machines and software put in place decades ago pre-date the Internet and therefore have no ability to connect to a network. Retrofitting equipment or replacing it is expensive and most of these machines were designed to last a lifetime. Expensive custom integration projects are beyond the expertise and budgets of all but the largest manufacturers. So what’s the alternative?

Providing an alternative is what DATTUS is all about. DATTUS solutions connect manufacturing equipment and sensors to the cloud. Think of it as the bridge between you and your machines. The platform is a hardware/software combination, which collects data from PLCs, VFDs, industry protocols like MTConnect, and popular enterprise applications including Salesforce, SAP and (of course) Plex.

In addition to this plug and play connectivity, DATTUS also brings IIoT data management and industrial analytics. The data management and analytics capabilities previously offered by Plex were sufficient for managing the volumes of data within ERP. But as customers are empowered to bring almost any data stream into the Industrial Internet of Things, they now need to be prepared for a tsunami of data.

Giving Manufacturers a “Leg Up”

The IIoT is just one of several inter-related digital technologies we continue to watch, and what we most often see is limited progress being made in terms of leveraging these technologies. Our 2018 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution study explored plans and investments in selected digital technologies normally associated with Industry 4.0. We find very low rates of adoption (Table 1) and many have no plans to change that. In spite of all the hype around all these technologies we confirmed many are still sitting on the sidelines of the latest manufacturing revolution.

Table 1: Digital Technologies Plans and Investments in Manufacturing

Source: 2018 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study

*Includes those that expect vendors to deliver at no additional cost

Running legacy solutions based on outdated technology forcibly sidelines some. And others are hamstrung by decades-old equipment on their shop floors. Plex Systems’ acquisition of DATTUS can’t help with the first unless those running legacy solutions are willing to trade up to a more modern, technology-enabled solution. But it can help in connecting those disconnected machines.

While all adoption rates are quite low, we do find IoT has the lowest percentage of manufacturers with no plans and no activity and close to the highest percentage of those that have already made some investment (second only to 3D printing). This tells us manufacturers have at least a grasp of its potential. Indeed manufacturers have been collecting vast volumes of data from sensors on the shop floor for decades. And yet that data has gone largely underutilized because manufacturers fail to connect the data back to the enterprise applications, and the business decisions. And this is where DATTUS can open new doors.

Instead of retrofitting equipment or developing custom connections, the DATTUS platform provides “out-of-the-box” direct connectivity for machines using cellular capabilities. It can capture data from non-networked, discrete industrial assets while remaining agnostic to data type, machine protocol, and infrastructure. It is a hardware-agnostic IIoT solution that can reliably collect and manage data and make it available for further analysis and open doors to several other of the technologies listed in Table 1.

The availability of more data increases the need for analytics in order to make sense of it. The data within an ERP solution lends itself to historical reporting and perhaps even ad hoc queries. Both are designed to answer questions you already have. But where do you turn when it is not intuitively obvious which questions you should be asking in order to optimize production or grow your business?

Therein lies one of the primary differences between reporting and analytics. While reporting answers a series of pre-defined questions, the discovery process and the iterative nature of analytics helps you ask the right questions. Reporting helps you identify a problem. The right kind of analytics helps you avoid it. Reporting seldom helps you recognize an opportunity. Analytics help you seize it.

But as volumes of data start to grow exponentially, you eventually reach a point where the human mind is no longer able to assimilate and cope with that volume. This is where machine learning can add a level of intelligence that is simply not possible without technology. Data sets have grown rapidly in recent years, thanks, at least in part, to information-sensing devices such as those to which the DATTUS solutions connect.

And the shop floor provides us with some of the most often cited use cases for artificial intelligence and machine learning. The ability to constantly scan data collected by machinery and equipment on the shop floor, searching for patterns that have previously led to failures, have saved manufacturers countless hours (and costs) associated with preventive maintenance. By predicting failures, you only need to bring production to a halt to perform maintenance when it is really needed.

Similarly, in environments regulated by strict adherence to specifications, by monitoring sensor data continuously, machine learning can alert operators before out-of-spec product is made. While shop floor supervisors are only able to scan, monitor and cope with a limited amount of data, machine learning knows no such limitations. Machine learning can recognize patterns and correlate data points that a human does not recognize as relevant. And as more data is gathered, it keeps on learning. That is what continuous improvement is all about.

DATTUS adds capabilities for analytics on data-in-motion, quickly providing insights in support of decision making on the shop floor. This includes:

  • Anomaly detection (quality control)
  • Custom event rules
  • Real-time production and efficiency reports
  • Performance forecasting
  • Predictive analytics
  • Machine learning

As part of Plex Systems, we also see the potential of applying these industrial analytics capabilities to the business side of the equation within ERP for supply chain planning, financial planning and budgeting, forecasting and more. The possibilities are endless.

Mint Jutras believes these digital technologies are destined to be absorbed into the enterprise in general, and manufacturing in particular, in much the same way as technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) have insinuated themselves into our personal lives.

Think about it. As consumers, we didn’t loudly voice our desire for AI or NLP. But that didn’t stop Apple from delivering Siri on an iPhone. Pretty soon Microsoft delivered Cortana on Windows 10; Google delivered Google Now; Amazon delivered Alexa and now Bixby is on your (newer) Samsung Galaxy. We see these digital technologies being absorbed into the manufacturing landscape in much the same way, as long as solution providers like Plex and DATTUS continue to innovate and push them into the mainstream.

Conclusion

While the technologies in Table 1 are typically outside the scope of ERP, in order for them to be truly transformative, they must interoperate and/or integrate with the enterprise applications like ERP in the front and back office. When purchased separately it is often a daunting task to connect back to ERP and in turn, the business itself. But without this connection, factories don’t get any smarter and neither do the leaders making business decisions. And that’s the real goal of digital transformation in manufacturing: a smart factory and smarter business decisions. And therefore this acquisition makes perfect (and practical) sense.

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Workday Family of Planning Applications Grows

Proposed Acquisition of Adaptive Insights

A couple of years back, in May 2016 Mint Jutras posed the question: Is Planning & Performance Management A Marriage Made In Heaven? We concluded that if you find the two live entirely separate lives, either consciously or unconsciously avoiding each other or (even worse) they are in a contentious relationship, perhaps it’s time for a divorce. Conversely, with the right solutions, you can marry actual performance to the plan, in all the relevant detail. And that plan can evolve over time to lead you down the most effective path to growth and profits. Ahhh… marital bliss!

That same year we reported on how Workday Brings the “Power Of One” To Planning and Analytics, having wedded the two by unifying financial and workforce planning with transactions in one cloud system. Organically built as part of the Workday system, the new (at the time) planning application was designed to simplify setup and support collaborative planning. Since then about 250 Workday customers have subscribed to the solution, but those customers and a maturing market is pushing for more. Workday’s recent announcement of its intent to acquire Adaptive Insights and its cloud-based platform for business planning signals a commitment to accelerate the delivery of exactly that – more and better planning.

From a Marriage, A Family Emerges

Any marriage starts off as a two-some, but marital bliss often results in a growing family. If we start off with the concept of marrying planning and performance management, the natural offspring would be the different components of planning. It all starts with a business plan, followed by financial planning, budgeting and workforce planning. Of course Workday could conceive, give birth to and nurture these different components through its own development efforts. But just as the capacity of two people to go forth and multiply is limited by the human gestation cycle, so is the ability of a software company limited by software development cycles. To grow a human family more quickly, couples might choose to adopt. To grow a software portfolio more quickly, companies might choose to acquire.

But if a company chooses the merger and acquisition (M&A) route, how does it ensure the product acquired doesn’t turn into the redheaded stepchild? This often happens because some companies aren’t very good at integrating acquired products and companies. However, Workday happens to do this very well.

Preserving the “Power of One”

Workday’s strength lies in what it calls the “power of one” – one code line, one security model, one mobile app, one data model, one user experience (UX), one platform, one version. And the “power of one” has already survived several acquisitions.

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

After acquiring the technology in early 2014, Workday released Workday Talent Insights in 2015, identifying retention risk and delivering a talent scorecard. Workday learned that customers preferred an embedded experience, not a standalone application and that the overall user experience was key, along with access to data for training algorithms.

In 2015 it acquired Gridcraft and in 2016 it acquired Platfora. With both of these acquisitions, it has woven the technology into the fabric of its solution, rather than bolting on components. More recently it announced the acquisition of Rallyteam, for the express purpose of adding more intelligence to optimize talent. In its accompanying blog post Workday said:

“With Rallyteam, we gain incredible team members who created a talent mobility platform that uses machine learning to help companies better understand and optimize their workforces by matching a worker’s interests, skills, and connections with relevant jobs, projects, tasks, and people.”

It would appear that this acquisition was made for the express purpose of acquiring talent to accelerate its machine learning efforts, and therefore poses no threat to diminishing Workday’s power of one.

But the acquisition of Adaptive Insights is a different animal. Adaptive Insights has been a Workday certified partner since 2015 and the two companies have somewhere between 30 and 40 joint customers, so integration already exists. Workday has already stated it will harmonize the data models of the two solutions and Aneel Bhusri, co-founder and CEO of Workday is committed to applying the power of one. However this is a very small slice of the 3,800 Adaptive Insights customers and part of the mutual attraction between the two companies is their shared customer-centricity. The benefit to the Workday installed base is obvious. But it is unclear what impact this will have on and the potential benefit it will bring to the larger population of Adaptive Insights customers.

It is also too early to say exactly how and when Workday will preserve its power of one, although Mint Jutras suspects the two companies will be hard at work figuring that out even prior to the anticipation of closing the deal later this year. Workday has admitted in the past that bringing innovation and acquired technology to the (Workday) market has been slower than some might expect because additional care and effort is taken to embed innovation at the platform level. Again, the benefits to Workday customers is clear, but the impact on Adaptive Insight’s non-Workday customers is unclear.

Also unclear is the impact on any pre-existing partnerships Adaptive Insights has with other ERP players. One in particular, Plex Systems, will likely be preserved because of Workday’s existing partnership with Plex. The two solution providers partner to present a cohesive two-tier solution (Workday as the corporate financial and human capital management solution and Plex Systems at manufacturing subsidiaries), so a shared planning platform between corporate headquarters and subsidiaries could be a huge plus. Plex also runs Workday to manage its own (software) business.

Conclusion

The acquisition of Adaptive Insights appears to be mutually beneficial to both companies. Workday stands to accelerate its financial planning and budgeting roadmap while freeing up some of its current staff to concentrate more fully on the workforce planning aspects of its current planning solution – a particular strength of Workday. Adaptive Insights finds a home that is compatible with its employee and customer-centric values and will likely be able to come up market a bit.

There are still many outstanding questions as to how Workday will preserve its power of one, a key strength and differentiator. But both parties seem committed to the concept and we suspect they will be hard at work figuring it all out even before the ink is dry on the final deal.

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FinancialForce Leverages the Power of the Salesforce Platform

Targeting The Emerging Services Economy

In a recent Mint Jutras report, Leveraging the Power of a Platform for Enterprise Applications, we encouraged business leaders to leverage the power of a modern, technically advanced development platform for agility, usability, extensibility and speedy innovation. In order to thrive in today’s global, digital economy, businesses need to be able to turn on a dime. We live and work in disruptive times and this potential disruption can have a cascading impact on the enterprise applications you use to run your business. In this report we take a closer look at how one enterprise application provider, FinancialForce, has responded to this challenge as it relates specifically to the new services economy. Built natively on the Salesforce Platform, FinancialForce provides enterprise applications purpose-built for service-based businesses.

Agility and the New “Services Economy”

While the name FinancialForce may imply a solution largely for the office of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), its product(s) extend beyond accounting. In fact that is the hidden message when FinancialForce describes itself as “a customer-centric ERP.” Architected around the customer lifecycle, in this case “customer” actually refers to FinancialForce’s customers’ customers. With an eye towards full engagement with that customer, from opportunity to delivery and revenue, it offers a full-fledged enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution for the services industry. It leaves the domain of manufacturing and distribution to others, but that doesn’t mean it has limited growth potential. The company grew 38% year over year this past year.

Indeed, management at FinancialForce is betting big on the global, digital economy rapidly becoming a services economy. FinancialForce’s CEO Tod Nielsen is a firm believer in Marc Andreessen’s prediction and explanation of “Why Software is Eating the World.” That Wall Street Journal article was published in 2011. Now Mr. Nielsen contends, “Services are devouring the galaxy.” Today’s “everything as a service” (XaaS) environment is creating new, disruptive business models.

As noted in our prior report, the 2018 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study found the vast majority (90%) of survey respondents felt there was some level of risk in their industry (and therefore their business) being disrupted. In the past much of this disruption would have been caused by the introduction of new, innovative products. But today it is more likely to come from new ways of selling/pricing existing products (think subscription to services), entirely new business models, or some combination of all of the above (Figure 1).

Figure 1: What is most likely to cause this disruption?

Source: Mint Jutras 2018 Enterprise Solution Study

Indeed, in many industries today subscriptions for services have replaced the outright sale of a product or service. This can have an enormous impact on the way business is transacted, as can entirely new business models – new ways that your old applications, including ERP, may not be able to accommodate. In the services industry, managed services and new technical services are often added to existing portfolios of service offerings. So how does FinancialForce address these challenges?

First of all, FinancialForce is purpose-built for services industries, which means it knows how to invoice and account for subscriptions and recurring revenue, in addition to the more traditional types of services delivered. In fact it prides itself on supporting “unlimited revenue models.”

SaaS + PaaS + IaaS supports XaaS

Having been born in the cloud, FinancialForce is delivered exclusively using a Software as a Service (SaaS) model. It is built natively on Salesforce’s Cloud Platform as a Service (PaaS) and is offered through Salesforce’s data centers using its Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). This positions the company well in understanding all the nuances of what is rapidly becoming the “everything as a service” (XaaS) model.

As mentioned in our previous report, enterprise applications delivered as software as a service (SaaS) have the potential to deliver more innovation through more frequent updates. And multi-tenant SaaS solutions are the most likely to deliver more innovation, more frequently. FinancialForce is now, and has always been a multi-tenant SaaS solution, which means the company only has to manage a single line of code for any and all of its products.

But we also noted the speed with which innovation is delivered will depend a lot on the strength of the underlying platform. So how does the Salesforce platform stack up?

The short answer is that it stacks up quite well. The popularity of the platform speaks for itself. Also noted in the previous report, there is strength in numbers (of developers), particularly when you are reluctant to invest in your own. The more developers attracted to the platform, the more applications get developed, which ultimately can be shared. Features, functions and extensions have the potential to start to grow, if not exponentially, at least much faster than the typical linear sequence of development.

Salesforce is literally a “force” in the industry. The Salesforce AppExchange is the largest online marketplace of its kind, offering over 3,000 products built on a single, consistent platform. Salesforce estimates the platform speeds development by a factor of five, and cuts the cost of development in half. As a result, both solution providers and customers benefit. For a partner like FinancialForce, it means fewer wheels to (re)invent, by taking advantage of application services already built into the platform, including:

  • Support for a multi-tenant SaaS environment
  • A workflow engine, access and identity management
  • Other rapid developer services include Salesforce standard user interface templates, (business) object orientation and built-in mobile support
  • Support for collaboration through online chats (through Salesforce Chatter)
  • Salesforce Communities provide a social channel, a public platform to encourage active engagement between customers, partners and employees where all can voice individual opinions, while encouraging more personal interactions, creating a deeper connection to brands
  • Embedded analytics with Salesforce Einstein Analytics, a cloud-based data platform as well as a data-analysis front end designed to analyze not just ERP data, but also any third-party app, desktop or public data you bring in. And Einstein Analytics will also add the element of guided discovery.

Microservices Architecture

The architecture of the Salesforce platform contributes to its success. In our previous report we introduced the concept of microservices. For the reader with a technical background, microservices, also known as the microservice architecture, is defined (by Wikipedia) as an architectural style that structures an application as a collection of loosely coupled services. For those nontechnical readers, think of it as constructing a solution from a set of Lego building blocks.

The Salesforce Platform makes it possible to quickly and easily deliver microservices in a couple of different ways. Developers can code custom microservices in any development language they prefer, including Ruby, Java, JavaScript, C++, Python, and Node.js. The result is a “Lego-like” component that can be easily plugged into FinancialForce as an extension without mucking around in the source code of the application, extending the functionality with minimal disruption.

This is extremely important for any application that is “purpose-built” for an industry. A purpose-built solution is intended not only to satisfy the basic needs of any business, but also the last mile functionality specific to certain industries. This is the route FinancialForce has taken. It is not a horizontal, “one size fits all” kind of solution, but instead has been developed to address the specific needs that arise from being a services business. In today’s XaaS environment this often means subscription billing, recurring revenue and a host of other needs. Addressing these needs has resulted in further products (beyond financial management), including Services Automation, Subscription and Usage Billing, Revenue Recognition and Forecasting.

However, FinancialForce customers come in all sizes, large and small and many have selected a strong SaaS solution provider for the express purpose of not having to invest in information technology (IT) staff and developers. Of course, there are Salesforce and FinancialForce partners that can assist, but many prefer a more “self-service” approach.

The alternative to writing code is to use Lightning App Builder (Lightning), an intuitive point-and-click visual tool, which allows developers and business users alike to create data objects and business actions without ever writing a line of code. While Lightning provides an updated user interface (UI) with a focus on displaying data graphically, rather than relying on text and numbers, it is also more than just a UI. Lightning Experience is a new user experience designed to help you work faster and smarter. With the launch of Lightning Experience, the focus is on delivering a higher level of productivity with a re-imagined desktop. As a result, FinancialForce customer, Rich Tolocka of Phase 2 Technology, describes Lightning as a “game changer.”

“Lightning is a game changer. We now have a blurring of the boundaries between business systems, data and analytics. I can sit in one application and see backlog from Salesforce and actual and accounts receivable from FinancialForce. I don’t have to go into another tool. I could do all this in classic, but it didn’t really look right.”

Rich Tolocka, Phase2 Technology, FinancialForce customer

As a result, the Lightning Experience and the Salesforce Platform address two issues we raised in Leveraging The Power of a Platform for Enterprise Applications – the user experience and configuration/tailoring without invasive code changes. But the user experience today means much more than a pretty face or an intuitive, customizable look and feel. Web-based access for access any time, from anywhere has become table stakes today. Access from a mobile device is fast becoming table stakes as well. The Salesforce Platform takes care of both of these, safely and securely.

Now we need to turn our attention to other means of communicating and connecting, including advanced technologies like voice recognition and natural language processing (NLP). This is the user interface of the future even though few business users are asking for it now. But we also recognize that consumers never asked for virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa and Google Home. Yet once delivered, we all got hooked. At some point, the same thing will happen in the enterprise and solution providers that ignore this eventuality will be left behind. FinancialForce will rely on Salesforce to prepare for this while it focuses squarely on the new and ever-changing functionality required for the (still) emerging services economy.

Figure 2 depicts the current solution offered by FinancialForce and its ecosystem, including Salesforce.

Figure 2: FinancialForce’s Solution Ecosystem

Source: FinancialForce

Summary and Key Takeaways

In Leveraging The Power of a Platform for Enterprise Applications we suggested before your company makes a significant investment in enterprise applications, that you ask the tough questions about platform of any prospective purveyor of enterprise applications. For those of you in services-based businesses, we include those questions below, along with an abbreviated answer (in bold font) as it pertains to FinancialForce.

  • Does it take advantage of the latest technology that has brought us into the digital age? FinancialForce is built natively with the Salesforce Cloud Platform, which continues to be one of the most popular and powerful in the industry. As a “force” in the industry Salesforce invests heavily to keep up with new and ever-advancing technology.
  • Look carefully at the entire user experience, including mobile capabilities and other ways of interacting with the solution. The user experience is very subjective. We encourage you to try before you buy. It is not enough to see a demo done by the professionals, put your own hands on the solution and experience it for yourself. But rest assured Salesforce is investing heavily in mobile access and other technologies such as voice recognition and NLP.
  • Is it a platform that supports configurability over invasive customization? Look carefully at the Lightning Experience. Ask for a demo. Don’t look just at the result, but demand to see how it is accomplished.
  • Is it easily extended without invasive customization? Beyond the Lightning Experience, the Salesforce Platformmakes it possible to quickly and easily deliver microservices in any development language, including Ruby, Java, JavaScript, C++, Python, and Node.js. The result is a “Lego-like” component that can be easily plugged into FinancialForce as an extension without mucking around in the source code of the application, extending the functionality with minimal disruption.
  • Are analytics built in? Einstein Analytics from Salesforce is the vehicle by which these will be delivered. FinancialForce has already developed dashboards and datasets; analysis is completed in Einstein Analytics, with more investment to come, which will include artificial and augmented intelligence, along with external data feeds.
  • What deployment options are offered? What is the vendor’s cloud strategy and is it conducive to providing innovation that is easily consumed? FinancialForce and Salesforce are both offered exclusively as multi-tenant SaaS solutions. The underlying platform is a Platform as a Service. All of this is conducive to more innovation, delivered more frequently.
  • And finally… how popular is it? Will you be searching for developers or searching through a large marketplace of add-ons and extensions? The Salesforce Platform is one of the most popular development platforms on the market today and its AppExchange is the largest of its kind.

In today’s fast-paced, global, digital economy it is necessary to prepare yourself for the inevitable disruption. Don’t be complacent with the status quo. Recognize the threat and prepare yourself to take positive action. You may not be investing in developing the application, but the speed and volume of innovation that can be delivered depends on you selecting the right platform. If you are now or are becoming an active participant in the new services economy, FinancialForce is certainly worth a look.

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Can SAP’s Partner Program Hit a Trifecta In the World of ERP for SMB?

The Odds Have Never Been Better for a Win-Win-Win

In any normal, healthy business relationship, two parties seek a win-win. But in the software partner world, you really need to hit a triple – a win-win-win. In order to truly succeed you need the partner, the software vendor and the end customer all to win. You can’t afford to compromise the success of one for the success of another; you need a perfect trifecta. At the recent SAP Partner Summit immediately preceding SapphireNow 2018 it struck me the odds had never been better for a trifecta, not only in SAP’s home turf of the large enterprise, but also in the world of small to medium size businesses (SMBs).

While it is often hard to sort through all the different products and messages at events like these, particularly for a company the size and breadth of SAP, one message came through loud and clear: SAP needs partners, particularly in the SMB space. The partners are the trusted advisors and the face of SAP. The partners are faster, more nimble and more appropriately sized for dealing with smaller companies that might be intimidated by the likes of SAP, the 800 pound gorilla of ERP.

Many seem to forget (or ignore) the fact that SAP has a huge presence in the SMB market for ERP. Even competitors dismiss SAP as a threat in this space. Agreed, these competitors aren’t seeing SAP in deals, but they should be seeing its channel partners. SAP has one of the most mature partner programs in the industry. It works exclusively through channels in the SMB space and therefore has a vested interest in attracting new partners, and helping and empowering new and existing partners to actively pursue new business more effectively and at a lower cost of sale. More partners means more feet on the street , a broader reach into new geographic territories and even new industry sectors. Quite often partners bring specific and very deep industry expertise.

With over 60,000 customers using SAP Business One and about 4,000 using SAP Business ByDesign, how is it legitimately possible to dismiss SAP as a competitive threat in the SMB market? If those competitors are not seeing these products in competitive situations, that tells me there are a lot deals they just aren’t getting into.

But the 100% channel focus down market is not new. Why are the odds stacked in favor of SAP and its SMB-focused partners now? Let’s back up a little and examine motives here.

What Vendors and Partners Want

During the summer of 2013 Mint Jutras conducted a research project designed to provide insights to enterprise applications vendors engaged in developing and maintaining partner strategies. The study collected input from two different communities: the end users that consume enterprise applications and the solution providers that author and/or sell the solutions. “Solution providers” included both vendors that “manufacture” and “publish” the solutions, as well as their partners. While the data collected is now five years old, many of the insights gleaned are still very relevant today.

The study found the single most important objective of the vendors (in engaging with partners) was expanding their addressable market. SAP seems no different today. Growth would appear to be a high priority. But markets can be expanded in different ways, including geographical expansion into new territories, adding new industries or macro-vertical markets, or expanding within existing industries or verticals by diving deeper into micro-verticals.

Hold that thought for a moment!

So what do these partners look for in a partnership? Figure 1 gives us a general sense of priorities. While priorities vary significantly, the top priority is clearly the quality and functionality of the product itself. Sixty-six percent (66%) of partners interviewed rated this at the very top of the list.

Figure 1: Priorities in choosing a vendor to partner with

Source: Mint Jutras Partner Strategies Study
Note: While partners were asked to sequence these from 1 to 8 where 1 was most important, the scaling was reversed in the analysis. The higher the number presented, the higher the priority

So what do these two perspectives tell us? The ERP product itself is key to the success of both the vendor and the partners. And I would also argue it is very important to the end customer too. The latest (re-)organization around the SMB product offerings at SAP, along with the introduction of a platform approach to development, lead me to believe SAP also agrees with that conclusion.

A year ago in SAP Business One: The Next 20 Years | Becoming an ERP Platform I wrote:

SAP Business One is becoming more than just ERP. It is becoming a business process platform. That means it will be open, extensible, and poised to meet very specific needs across many different verticals… and fully capable of being delivered through the cloud as a service.

SAP continues to invest (and invest heavily) in the ongoing development of the generic core ERP, including new features and functions, as well as the user experience. It will also invest in the underlying architecture and technologies that enable partners to more easily enhance and extend the solution for the specific needs of different vertical, and in some cases even more specialized micro vertical industries.

Remember I told you to hold that thought about micro-verticals?

Many of SAP’s partners have been developing extensions to SAP Business One for years. It is part of the value they add. Yet up until now they have also been very likely to customize the software for individual customers. Yet some have approached it differently – I would say they are being smarter in packaging up specialized functionality for specific verticals. For example:

  • Produmex offers solutions for industry verticals including life sciences, consumer products, food & beverage, wholesale & distribution, including third party logistic providers (3PLS).
  • Liberali offers SAP Business One with complementary solutions for agriculture management.
  • VistaVu Solutions specializes in industrial field service companies, including those in the oil and gas industry.
  • beas Manufacturing offers a bit more generalized solution, but specifically for manufacturing.
  • MTC Integration Technology is very specialized, offering the MTC Chicken Integration Solution built on SAP Business One.

These are just a few of the hundreds of partners that have been creating add-on solutions that complement SAP Business One for years. The plan now is to open up the platform, making it more extensible (i.e. easier to add new functionality) while preserving the integrity of the core. SAP will encourage loose coupling of these extensions through modern APIs (application programming interfaces) and discourage invasive customization.

Now SAP is taking this one step further. It has combined the development teams for SAP Business One and SAP Business ByDesign to further encourage development of shared components. Where new features and functions require deep and complex integration with existing code (on either product), they might (still) be embedded in the existing product. A new field service mobile app for SAP Business One is a perfect example.

But where the new component has a limited number of touch points with the existing product, it can be loosely coupled. In these cases it will be developed once and simply connected to one (or both) using product specific APIs.

While obviously a win for SAP, why is this a win for the partners? The partner gets more product to sell to a larger audience (both installed bases combined). This of course is further encouragement for SAP Business One partners (the larger of the two partner communities) to take Business ByDesign into their own stable of products to sell. For partners that might be starting to hit a ceiling with Business One (for size and multi-company requirements), it allows them to continue up market a bit as well.

What About Customers?

Quite simply, the customers get more innovation, faster. So how important is this? In our study we also asked the customers to prioritize the different types of value add they might look for from a partner. Figure 2 shows the results. (Note: Hopefully I haven’t confused you. Forgive me, but I got a little lazy here and did not reverse the scaling as I did in the previous figure. Here, the lower the number, the higher the priority.)

Figure 2: Customer Priorities for “Value-Add”

Source: Mint Jutras Partner Strategies Study

Note: Customers were asked to sequence these from 1 to 6 where 1 was most important. We DID NOT reverse scaling in this analysis. The lower the number presented, the higher the priority

The important take-away here is that functionality is key. Over the years customers have been conditioned to expect and request additional functionality in terms of customization, which has been invasive and often built barriers to applying further innovation. We hope that in the future these types of requests will be satisfied, not by invasive customization, but by extending the solution. SAP is providing the architectures, tools and technology to make this happen, but it will require a culture shift for both customers and partners to embrace this new approach.

To further drive that point home, there currently exists about 3,500 add-ons to SAP Business ByDesign and 60% of ByDesign customers use at least one. As a multi-tenant SaaS solution it was never possible to develop modifications with invasive code changes, so ByDesign Is already a step ahead of Business One in this regard. But it is not quite “there” yet, as evidenced by the fact that most are still one-offs. So that culture shift amongst customers and partners still needs to happen.

To that end, SAP is not only supplying the development platform on which to base this shift, but also a digital commerce platform. There is a whole new team at SAP dedicated to this kind of digital transformation. According to Bertram Schulte, SAP’s chief digital officer, “The ability to represent our ecosystem offerings side-by-side with related SAP IP [intellectual property] on sap.com is powered by the SAP App Center. We have over 1,500 applications from 1,100+ partners that provide the type of open marketplace where our customers can find the solutions they are looking for.” For SAP customers, searching for, finding and purchasing a new add-on solution is facilitated. I don’t believe this will have a major impact on the acquisition of a new ERP customer, but once you are a customer, the whole process from start to end is dead simple.

Click here to listen to Bertam talk about this digital transformation.

Conclusion

So, are you a betting man or woman? What do you think the odds are that SAP, along with its partners and customers in the SMB space, can hit a trifecta? Will SAP be successful in growing its business in a way that is lucrative for its partners and satisfies the needs of its customers? Where are we in terms of this culture shift to last mile functionality through extensions rather than customization? Who stands to gain the most? Does anyone stand to lose? Is everyone ready for some change?

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Workday Leverages the Power of its Cloud Platform for Application Innovation

The “Power of One” In a Hyper-Connected World

In a recent report, Leveraging the Power of a Platform For Enterprise Applications, Mint Jutras encouraged readers to seek out and leverage the power of a modern, technology-enabled development platform in order to bring agility, usability, extensibility and more innovation to the enterprise applications they use to run their businesses. Agility is an absolute must today as new, innovative products, new ways of selling and pricing products and services, and entirely new business models emerge seemingly overnight. Meanwhile consumer technolgy has raised expectations for how we interact with these solutions, and the pace of innovation must accelerate to match the pace of change. Here we explore how one solution provider, Workday, is responding to change today and the change ahead in today’s hyper-connected world.

The “Power of One” Shared

We live in disruptive times… or as Workday likes to say, “Shift happens.” Not only must the pace of innovation accelerate, but also that innovation must be easily consumed without adding disruption of its own. That means the application must be easily tailored (configured) without invasive code changes, and it must be extensible. Platforms play a very key role in delivering against these requirements.

Workday’s strength lies in what it calls the “power of one” – one code line, one security model, one mobile app, one data model, one user experience (UX), one version, and most pertinent to our exploration here… one platform. Indeed, one platform facilitates the rest. And therefore, taking a platform approach to development is not new for Workday. It has always developed its cloud-based business applications using a solid and modern platform. But up until recently Workday employees were the only developers allowed to use that platform.

However, last year it soft launched the Workday Cloud Platform, feeling it was time to open it up to third party developers and its own customers in order to further accelerate innovation. Quite simply, the Workday Cloud Platform enables customers and partners to build applications that run on and integrate with Workday. It provides all the tools needed to manage the application life cycle, complete with data modeling and a single Application Programming Interface (API) point of integration. Having worked with early adopters for some period of time, the platform is now ready for prime time.

Workday’s vision for the Platform is in line with how Mint Jutras defines “leverage.” The vision is stated in terms of three objectives:

  • To enable specific industries and geographies with last mile functionality beyond the core functions required by any business
  • To be the engagement layer for all employees in an enterprise
  • To expand and strengthen the Workday ecosystem

This vision aligns quite well with the kind of strong development platform we described in our prior report.

In that report we talked about platforms providing “a better way” to tailor, customize and extend solutions… better than waiting for long development cycles or invasive code changes. “Better” becomes “best” in combining cloud computing and a modern, next generation architecture that delivers the kind of “application services” that speed and simplify development.

While the cloud is certainly a factor, Mint Jutras contends that Software as a Service (SaaS) and associated Platforms as a Service (PaaS) have a bigger impact on innovation. Workday’s Cloud Platform (still in limited availability) indeed qualifies as a PaaS, and the Workday applications are true, multi-tenant SaaS solutions.

Enterprise applications delivered as software as a service (SaaS) have the potential to deliver more innovation through more frequent updates, while also reducing the cost and effort of upgrades. The cost and effort part is intuitive and universal – the solution provider does the heavy lifting when it comes time to upgrade. But not all cloud-based SaaS solutions provide more innovation, more frequently.

Some SaaS solution providers offer the option of running the same solution on-premises, in private clouds and/or as SaaS. While many today value this choice, there is a price to be paid for it. Solution providers that deliver on-premises solutions are forced to maintain multiple versions of the software. Instead, Workday leverages the power of one, maintaining a single line of code in a strong, safe and secure multi-tenant environment, and delivers significant new capabilities every six months. But this multi-tenancy (all companies use the same instance of the software) only increases the need for configurability and extensibility because no two companies operate identically.

Let’s explore how the three elements of Workday’s vision align with some of the most important elements of architecture.

Features and Functions

At the very core of innovation is the development of new features and functions in support of the business, either to provide core basics or some level of differentiation. When applications were developed as tightly integrated, monolithic structures, this not only meant developing new code, but also modifying existing code in order to “fit” the new features or functions into the overall application. But in our prior report we introduced the concept of component-based architectures. New components can be added as extensions, or used to replace existing components without having to invasively modify that monolithic structure. By taking a platform approach, modern architectures support loose coupling of these extensions by providing APIs (application programming interfaces) that negate the need for invasive customization.

As a refresher, we described microservices. For the reader with a technical background, microservices, also known as the microservice architecture, is defined (by Wikipedia) as an architectural style that structures an application as a collection of loosely coupled services. For those nontechnical readers, think of it as constructing a solution from a set of Lego building blocks.

Think about how you build a structure from Legos. Each Lego block is made of the same kind of material and is attached (connected) to the other Lego blocks the same way. In many ways they are interchangeable. But by choosing different colors and sizes, and connecting them with a different design, you can make a structure that is very unique. And once constructed, if you want to change it, decoupling some of the blocks and replacing them doesn’t destroy the parts that are not affected. There is far less disruption introduced than if you had constructed it with timber, a hammer and nails.

This is indeed how Workday envisions delivering a complete end-to-end solution (Figure 1), something their customers have been asking for. Customers have indicated a strong desire to consolidate within Workday.

Figure 1: A Consistent Platform for All Development

Source: Workday

Core functionality is delivered within Workday applications, but industry-specific, and regional requirements (localizations such as tax and regulatory compliance requirements) can be packaged as optional extensions. The platform ensures these extensions are seamlessly integrated with the core applications, but can be optionally selected and deployed. This prevents having to add unwanted complexity to the core applications.

While configuration is preferred over customization that involves the development of code, custom components or applications can be justified when they bring customers a level of differentiation in their markets. These are simply extensions that are not shared across a segment or the larger installed base of Workday customers. Independent Software Vendor (ISV) applications are also a form of extension (also easily and seamlessly integrated with Workday applications) but are made commercially available. These will either fill a gap in the Workday solution or address industry-specific requirements, much like those extensions that Workday will provide.

An Engagement Layer for the User Experience

We used to talk about the end user experience solely in terms of intuitive and easy navigation and perhaps general look and feel. But Workday’s efforts to improve the user experience stretch well beyond the look and feel, encompassing many different facets and different roles within any company that uses Workday. It has invested heavily in developing a user experience (UX) layer that encourages engagement and tailoring (configuring without code) different types of experiences. This investment has zeroed in on three principles of design: simple, clever and fast.

Individual users can configure their own “home pages,” which include most frequently used applications and functions within those applications. These might be specific inquiries or transactions in Workday. Users can easily create new “cards,” which might also bring external data into Workday. Think of a card as a new box or tile on the screen.

Workday users can also create “Natural Workspaces,” which allows them to access Workday functions right from the workspace or tool they are already in (Slack, email, etc.) without having to jump from app to app. These Natural Workspaces can also include workplace hubs supported by collaboration tools like Slack, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams. Indeed, Workday and Slack have recently formed a partnership to deliver a productized integration that will be delivered in 2018 and beyond (in phases).

For many, those frequently used tools include spreadsheets. Workday understands the love-hate relationship most of us have with spreadsheets. We can’t seem to live without them despite the obvious problems they create. Once extracted from the system of record, the data in a spreadsheet takes on a life of its own; it can’t be governed, controlled or audited. And mistakes are incredibly easy to make. So Workday provides a viable alternative: Workday Worksheets is a cloud-based enterprise spreadsheet platform. First introduced in its Release 27 (September 2016), along with another important element of business management – planning, budgeting and forecasting, they now power three different Workday applications, and have customers live across multiple industries.

Workday Worksheets look and feel just like a spreadsheet, but you get this level of familiarity and functionality without ever leaving Workday’s secure enterprise environment. You can create models and scenarios, applying application rules and logic, using over 500 different standard functions (like SUMF, VLOOKUP and CONCATENATE), while leveraging live transactional data. The technology behind Workday Worksheets came from its acquisition of Gridcraft.

Workday has also introduced a new concept called Livepages, which help you create a narrative about your data, incorporating live data and charts, and supporting secure collaboration. Workday Assistant, a conversational user experience (think Siri, Alexa, Cortana for the enterprise) also supports collaboration with real-time conversations. But instead of having to follow up through the application later, users can take immediate action from and during those conversations, retrieving information and performing tasks.

While these different elements of the Workday UX target the business user and don’t require special technical skills, Workday also supports a new kind of persona: the “citizen developer.” According to Workday,

“A citizen developer is a technically skilled person who builds new business applications using development and runtime environments sanctioned by their corporate IT team, which in turn allow [the] company to more quickly and efficiently solve business problems. This persona is filled by employees within our customer, partner, and developer organizations worldwide. While we have surfaced capabilities since the beginning for citizen developers to configure their Workday deployment, the Workday Cloud Platform provides a complete toolset for the citizen developer to create their own Workday application experiences.”

To address the needs of the citizen developer, Workday has announced its new Workday Canvas Design System, which provides all of the resources needed (including standards and guidelines) to design and create new experiences that look and feel like Workday. As more customers start to take advantage of this design system, we expect to see the Workday community of developers grow, which brings us to the last of the three goals for the Platform.

Expanding and Strengthening the Ecosystem

As we noted in our previous report, the better the development platform, the more likely it will attract more developers. The more developers attracted to the platform, the more applications get developed, which ultimately can be shared. Features, functions and extensions have the potential to start to grow, if not exponentially, at least much faster than the typical linear sequence of development.

There are currently about 300 developers in the community of the Workday Cloud Platform, but remember, the platform has only been recently opened up. We expect this community to grow very quickly.

One More Thing – Intelligence

While analytics and intelligence are not necessarily stated goals of the Workday Cloud Platform, that doesn’t mean Workday isn’t addressing what Mint Jutras sees as an important element of any platform. In fact last October we recognized Workday as getting smarter and smarter.

In many ways, intelligence is a new currency in the global, digital economy (the hyper-connected world). While many solution providers talk about intelligent applications, they often deliver the minimum you should expect today, which is new ways of interacting with the solution and analytics that help you derive more and better insights from the data. Workday has gone beyond this, through acquisition and its own development efforts, aggressively taking steps towards real intelligence. Workday Prism Analytics, Benchmarking and Data as a Service (DaaS), machine learning, and natural language processing combine to make Workday smarter and smarter. By blending these capabilities with the Workday Cloud Platform, Workday is able to provide powerful insights and intelligence, not through separate bolt-on tools, but embedded in a single solution.

Summary and Key Takeaways

For many years Workday resisted the urging of pundits and industry observers to become a “platform” company, characterizing itself instead as an “application company.” Its strength has always been in what it calls the “power of one” – one code line, one security model, one mobile app, one data model, one user experience (UX), one platform, and one version. The introduction of the Workday Cloud Platform doesn’t change this; it only serves to strengthen it. The goal is not to become a platform or technology company, but instead to better leverage technology (through a platform approach) to foster and promote application innovation by (also) allowing others to innovate and extend the solution.

We are just beginning to see the rewards of this decision come to fruition, but Mint Jutras fully expects as the Workday Cloud Platform gains traction those rewards will grow and multiply quickly.

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ECi To Help Macola Evolve

Embracing a Platform Approach to Create More Innovation

The theme for this year’s Macola Evolve user conference was Embrace –Create – Innovate. Indeed these three words, along with the name of the conference itself, epitomizes the recent past and the projected future of the product. Macola, the product is evolving into Macola, the platform. The goal is to make it easier for customers to create their own unique customized solutions through configuration, not code, and to be able to extend and innovate with less disruption. A key to this configurability and extensibility is an open architecture that facilitates integration and makes it easy to “plug in” added functionality. This transformation has been underway for the past several years, but has been energized and accelerated as Macola has found a new home.

Last August Dutch software company Exact Group B.V. (Exact) announced that an agreement had been reached to sell Exact’s Specialized Solutions division, which included Macola, JobBOSS and MAX. The division was acquired by Apax Partners and combined with ECi Software Solutions, under the leadership of ECi. ECi is a business management and e-commerce software publisher, comprised of four business units specializing in serving small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in manufacturing, wholesale/retail distribution, building and construction, and field services. Macola, along with JobBOSS and MAX, joins ECi’s M1 in the product portfolio of the manufacturing business unit of ECi to become ECi Macola/MAX, LLC. While previously each operated autonomously, ECi is planning on the four manufacturing product teams working more collaboratively, leveraging best practices and creating shared services and synergy. An open platform facilitates the sharing of common services, while allowing each to serve its own, differentiated market.

What Does a Platform Approach Mean?

While Mint Jutras is a strong proponent of taking a platform approach, we realize the typical business decision maker might not fully understand or appreciate what this means today. To a certain extent any Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution is built on a development “platform.” In the early days of ERP, the platform equated to the programming language, the operating system and the data structures used (e.g. a flat file structure or a relational data base). Data structures for enterprise applications tended to be hierarchical in nature and rather complex. Enterprise application solution providers would develop standard routines for common tasks like retrieving and storing data or printing, but there was still a lot of heavy lifting to be done in developing code, and most so-called platforms were closed in that it was hard for anyone apart from the original author to add value beyond invasive customization.

Today a platform approach means much more. Modern platforms allow developers to create software without the complexity of building and maintaining the infrastructure and services typically associated with developing an enterprise application. Clearly developers benefit from using the services delivered with a platform, speeding the development process. But how does this translate to benefits to the business?

While there are numerous benefits, the most important is that it brings agility – the ability to easily innovate, evolve and respond to the rapidly accelerating change all businesses face today. Furthermore, an open platform encourages more innovation, not just from the original software developer, but also potentially from an expanded ecosystem.

The Growing Need For Agility

Upon observing the growing disruptive forces in the economy today, we started asking questions about disruption in our 2016 Enterprise Solution Study (our annual survey). Citing examples like Uber, Airbnb and Netflix, we asked survey participants to assess the level of risk they faced in their industries (and hence their businesses) being disrupted. At the time we found 88% of companies believed they faced some level of risk in their businesses and/or industries being disrupted by new innovative products, new ways of selling or pricing existing products or services, entirely new business models, or some combination of all of the above. And then of course there are still the more traditional disruptive factors like expansion and growth, organizational restructuring and regulatory changes, just to name a few.

We repeated that question in our most recent 2018 study and found similar results (Figure 1). The risk has not lessened, but we suspect the speed of that disruption has increased. We also found that speed was reported as the single biggest challenge to growth.

Figure 1: How much risk do you face in your industry being disrupted?

Source: Mint Jutras 2016 and 2018 Enterprise Solution Studies

All this disruption can have a cascading impact on business application requirements, making agility – the ability to easily innovate, evolve and change – even more important than current functionality.

As a result of this potential for disruption, we made innovation a centerpiece for our 2017 Enterprise Solution Study. The days of slow and limited innovation are long gone. Our survey participants last year confirmed many solution providers have increased the pace and volume of upgrades (Figure 2).

Figure 2: How has the pace of innovation delivered changed?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

This obviously puts more pressure on Macola (and ECi) to remain competitive. How much pressure? We also asked respondents, on average, how frequently new releases (not just bug fixes) are delivered today (Figure 3).

Figure 3: How frequently are new releases delivered?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

If we average the responses, we find solution providers offer a new release every 5.2 months. This frequency is higher than expected. We suspect this was largely due to the high percentage of companies surveyed in 2017 that had deployed ERP as cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS). The breakdown is noted in the sidebar to the left.

The Role Cloud and SaaS Play

Continuous innovation is really only feasible with solutions. This is one of many of the potential benefits of SaaS, and one of the many reasons why fewer and fewer manufacturers (Macola’s target market) will no longer even consider a solution that is only available through traditional on-premise licenses. And also why one of the goals of parent company ECi is to speed the transition of Macola to the cloud. This transformation was already underway under its prior owners, with new extensions to the product being designed and delivered with a “cloud first” strategy, but we expect the pace of this transition to accelerate now.

We’ve been assessing preferences for deployment models in our annual Enterprise Solution Studies for years now. The question: If you were to select a new solution today, which deployment options would you consider?

Figure 4: Which deployment options would you consider today? (manufacturing only)

Source: Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies

* Hybrid option added in 2015

Participants are allowed to select as many as they desire. Figure 3 gives an historical perspective to this question based only on participants in manufacturing. Between 2011 and 2013 the percentage that would even consider a traditional on-premise solution went over a cliff and never recovered. Correspondingly, the percentage that will consider SaaS has slowly but steadily risen. Solutions hosted by the solution provider are also popular and, when cloud-based, often serve as an interim step for both the solution provider and its customers.

This year we added a follow on question, listing all the deployment options selected and asking which is the top choice. Over half (56%) of all manufacturers surveyed selected SaaS and 81% of those that would consider SaaS, indicated it is their first choice. The time has truly come for SaaS.

Architecture is Equally Important

Agility and the ability to transition to the cloud both require a strong foundation built on a modern architecture. Early ERP solutions were monolithic structures, eliminating data redundancy and the need for separate integration efforts. The good news was: All of the modules and all the departments affected, moved forward together in lock step. The bad news: Everyone had to move forward in lock step.

That meant purchasing couldn’t move forward until order management, shop floor control and inventory management modules (and people) were ready to move. It takes massive efforts of coordination by the vendor to make sure all the pieces of the puzzle more forward together. And it takes similarly massive efforts of coordination for all departments within their customers’ organizations to take those next steps altogether.

But what if a supplier (or, even worse, a customer) demands that your enterprise change the way you conduct business with them? In our disruptive times, the likelihood of this happening, and happening quickly, increases. What if your current solution can’t support that new way of doing business?

Today’s modern technologies solve this problem by creating solutions as components rather than a single monolithic line of code. New components can be added as extensions, or used to replace existing components without having to invasively modify that monolithic structure. By taking a platform approach, modern architectures support loose coupling of these extensions by providing modern APIs (application programming interfaces) that negate the need for invasive customization.

This type of loose coupling is often described as microservices. For the reader with a technical background, microservices, also known as the microservice architecture, is defined (by Wikipedia) as an architectural style that structures an application as a collection of loosely coupled services. For those nontechnical readers, think of it as constructing a solution from a set of Lego building blocks.

Think about how you build a structure from Legos. Each Lego block is made of the same kind of material and is attached (connected) to the other Lego blocks the same way. In many ways they are interchangeable. But by choosing different colors and sizes, and connecting them with a different design, you can make a structure that is very unique. And once constructed, if you want to change it, decoupling some of the blocks and replacing them doesn’t destroy the parts that are not affected. There is far less disruption introduced than if you had constructed it with timber, a hammer and nails.

Many other vendors have started to introduce this kind of architecture by refactoring the underlying code. Again, for the nontechnical reader, think of it as restructuring the code without changing the behavior or the functionality. These other vendors may be making it easier to work with their ERP, perhaps reducing complexity and the cost to maintain, but the refactoring itself adds no new features or functions.

ECi Macola/MAX, LLC is taking a slightly different approach. Instead of refactoring the underlying code, it is instead attaching a new layer with which new services and new functionality may be connected. Think of it as adding that Lego-like coupling to modular structures that may have been built with a hammer and nails. It has added more than 200 of these connections in the form of APIs and has also used this approach in modernizing the user experience (UX).

A year ago Mint Jutras recognized (Exact) Macola’s new UX as more than just a pretty face. We concluded Macola 10.5 brought some added new features and functions along with its pretty new face. These included:

  • A newly re-architected tablet-led user interface that uses size and fonts, color and contrast or added visual clarity, along with the ability to collapse or expand sections to take better advantage of the real estate on the screen
  • Progressive disclosure, keeping added detail (clutter) hidden until needed
  • Responsive design of software, which behaves differently depending on the device in use
  • Special search capabilities that ask the question as you type, “Did you mean…?”
  • Intuitive screens (but don’t take our word for it, see for yourself)
  • Available in the cloud

This year, we see the momentum continue with Macola 10.7. According to ECi Macola/MAX, LLC, “The key features and benefits of Macola 10.7 include:

The End of Version Lock
By creating a powerful and flexible extension layer to the platform, Macola will virtually eliminate the “version lock” that has plagued ERP systems for generations. This will revolutionize the way customers think about extending their ERP system—liberating them from the fear of upgrading. 

 An Expanding Ecosystem

Macola 10.7 continues to expand the Macola ecosystem with yet another round of API coverage, including hundreds of new API functions available for systems integrators to use. Macola’s “expanding ecosystem” ensures visibility of real-time data and control of enterprise processes through integrated third-party apps.

 Doubling Down on User Experience and Streamlined Processes
Continued Focus on User Experience – focusing on the UX, 10.7 has incorporated convenience features such as “at a glance” status indicators that instantly let customer service personnel determine the status of orders. 10.7 has also redesigned one of the more complicated aspects of Macola 10—the “features and options” configurator—which has been dramatically simplified to increase speed and simplicity when getting orders into the system. Lastly, with 10.7, customers who use multiple divisions can now simply toggle between divisions without disrupting their workflow.
Streamlined Processes – to further streamline processes, such as order entry, billing selection, searching and filtering orders, the quoting and creating of credit memos has been streamlined and simplified to closer mimic the way people do their jobs.”

Summary and Conclusions

ECi Macola/MAX, LLC is indeed embracing technology to create, innovate and evolve. Its product’s transition to the cloud and its goal of becoming a platform to sustain configurability and innovation continues. With this approach customers enjoy industry-specific functionality and are also able to differentiate themselves within their individual sectors.

After having been combined with ECi Software Solutions, it has not strayed from its declared path. But all signs point to an accelerated journey, learning from ECi’s own cloud transition and leveraging the combined efforts of multiple product teams in the manufacturing business unit. While all of the different products in the ECi manufacturing business unit target different sectors, there is enough overlap between targets to provide synergy. Macola customers and prospects should rest assured investment will not only continue, but should effectively increase.

Neither Macola nor ECi are exactly household names in the world of ERP for manufacturing. But Mint Jutras suspects the days of relative anonymity are about to end. As Macola settles into its new home and ECi strengthens its executive ranks with a new Chief Marketing Officer and a new Manufacturing Division President, expect to hear and see more… lots more.

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Infor: Building Innovation From the Inside Out

Realizing Potential through AI, Analytics, Network, Cloud, and Industry

Infor has a mission: to “build beautiful business applications with last mile functionality and insights for select industries, delivered as a cloud service.” Behind this mission is a solid strategy to deliver industry-specific functionality to a growing number of specialized micro-verticals, through “Cloudsuites” that leverage the power of Internet-based networks, analytics and artificial intelligence (AI). Over the past several years the privately held company has spent billions of dollars acquiring and developing technology to execute this mission, providing a steady stream of innovation along the way. In the last 12 months alone the company has delivered 176 new products.

And yet, Infor is still one of the largest enterprise application solution providers of which you may never have heard. Even some of its customers (those running acquired legacy solutions) are not aware of how innovative Infor is. This is, at least in part, because of its approach. In the enterprise application market it is not unusual for a vendor to pre-announce its latest, greatest, most innovative idea with a big splash. Then as it begins to execute on this idea it realizes just how much foundational work needs to be done to deliver on it. In the meantime it grows quiet (or announces its next big idea) and (often several years) later when (and if) the first deliverables are finally ready, it makes another big splash.

Infor has taken an entirely different approach, building innovation from the inside and working its way out. It too had a vision of tremendous new innovation driven by advanced technology, but it also had the foresight to clearly see that much of the work needed to deliver on this vision was foundational. And therefore, while others were “splashing,” so to speak, Infor was building that foundation behind the scenes, but with a clear vision of the possible. It is now time to emerge from under the covers as the potential is being realized.

A Smarter Approach

This approach is even smarter than it might appear to be on the surface. Having grown through acquisition, Infor has a very broad portfolio of enterprise applications, including multiple Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions, some more modern and strategic than others. But Infor’s portfolio also contains other applications that extend the capabilities of ERP, such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Asset Management (EAM), Human Capital Management (HCM), Supply Chain Management (SCM) and more. The different strategic ERP solutions can benefit from these complementary applications, some more so than others. So how can Infor integrate all of these applications and also individually bring them to their full potential without a lot of duplication of effort? The answer lies in taking a two-pronged approach.

Infor has invested in building a strong foundation, which has evolved into the Infor OS (operating service). Infor OS provides a common set of shared services to augment its applications (Figure 1). Rather than reworking each individual user interface, for example, Infor developed a common user experience (UX), which further serves to unify the experience when working across different but complementary applications.

Figure 1: Infor OS Augments the Cloudsuite(s) with Common Shared Services

Source: Infor

But before these strategic enterprise applications could take full advantage of those shared services, they had to be transformed. The transformations took time and effort in parallel with the development of Infor OS. But these efforts proved to be invaluable. Once complete (and even to a certain extent during the process), rather than working on security, connecting to the Internet of Things (IoT), country-specific localizations, or a host of other elements of the infrastructure, the individual enterprise application development teams could focus on delivering features and functions specific to their target markets.

Infor OS: The Journey to Microservices Architecture

While the name (Infor OS) is fairly new, the development of this foundation has been evolving for almost 10 years. First introduced as the Intelligent Open Network (ION), it was based on the same premise as Infor’s prior Open SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) (circa 2006 to 2009). That premise: to provide an environment that enables new functionality to be developed once and shared by multiple products in the Infor portfolio. However, unlike Infor’s Open SOA, which had become very heavy and took years to develop, ION was kept lightweight and simple. Over the years the name has changed and it has evolved to support what is commonly referred to today as a microservices architecture.

Never heard of microservices? You’re not alone. For the reader with a technical background, a microservices architecture, is defined (by Wikipedia) as an architectural style that structures an application as a collection of loosely coupled services. Unfortunately the reference to “loosely coupled” often conjures up the old argument of an integrated suite versus “best of breed.” But this is not that.

For those nontechnical readers, think of it as constructing a solution from a set of Lego building blocks. Think about how you build a structure from Legos. Each Lego block is made of the same kind of material and is attached (connected) to the other Lego blocks the same way. In many ways they are interchangeable. But by choosing different colors and sizes, and connecting them with a different design, you can make a structure that is very unique. And once constructed, if you want to change it, decoupling some of the blocks and replacing them doesn’t destroy the parts that are not affected. There is far less disruption introduced than if you had constructed it with timber, a hammer and nails.

Infor needed to transform existing strategic solutions by refactoring the underlying code to introduce microservices. Again, for the nontechnical reader, think of it as restructuring the code without changing the behavior or the functionality. You might be wondering, why bother to change the code if you aren’t changing what it does? There may be any number of reasons, including enabling the solution to take advantage of those common shared services. But Mint Jutras feels the most valuable by-product of refactoring is to make it more “extensible.” In the context of ERP: to make it easier for Infor (and possibly its partners) to add specialized features and functions to a solid code base, with minimal disruption.

This is really the (not so) secret sauce behind Infor’s ability to deliver “last mile” functionality, not just for major industries like manufacturing, or even verticals like food and beverage, but also micro-verticals like dairy, beverage, bakers, confectionary, ingredients, prepared/chilled foods and meat/poultry/fish. While some features and functions might be the same across all manufacturing, food and beverage manufacturers and distributors also must deal with lot and sub-lot traceability and recall. Many within food and beverage must also deal with catch weights.

Catch Weight is a food industry term that means “approximate weight” because unprocessed food products (particularly meats) naturally vary in size. A retailer might order a case of 12 turkeys. The manufacturer (food processor) will estimate the price of the order by the approximate weight (e.g. 15 pounds per turkey), but will then invoice for the exact weight shipped. This can wreak havoc in an ERP solution not well-prepared to handle it.

But catch weight doesn’t affect all food industries in the same way in. It is also used in the cheese industry to manage shrinkage as the cheese ages. So handling catch weight varies for different types of food. By handling all the different types of catch weights in a single line of programming code, you add a level of complexity that adds little or no value to the customer beyond the single problem it is facing. A cheese processor doesn’t care if you can satisfy the needs of a butcher. Having different “Lego blocks” of code to insert depending on the needs of the specific micro-vertical preserves simplicity without sacrificing very specific functionality.

Beyond Features and Functions

But there is more to be gained than industry-specific features and functions from this foundational approach. Most companies today are forced to undergo a digital transformation. Two years ago our 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution study found that 88% of participants felt that digital technologies were necessary for survival and 80% agreed that digital technologies are truly transformative in the way they connect operations to systems such as ERP. And yet at the time almost half still relied at least partially on spreadsheets and/or manual processes for maintaining their operational and transactional systems of record (i.e. conducting business). Our latest 2018 study shows at least half of companies still rely at least in part on spreadsheets to satisfy needs of various departments. So obviously those transformations are still a long way from being completed.

One strategic acquisition by Infor could go a long way in supporting these digital transformations. In 2015 Infor acquired GT Nexus, a cloud-based global commerce platform. This acquisition represents a marked shift in acquisition strategy. In its formative years Infor aggressively acquired its competitors with more of an eye to growing market share than filling gaps in its portfolio. By comparison, the acquisition of GT Nexus is quite strategic.

As we noted a year ago in Infor Ushers In the Age of Networked Intelligence:

More and more of the communication, collaboration and business processes of any company are likely to extend beyond the four walls of the enterprise. Focused on the supply chain, GT Nexus largely applies to those industries that must manage the movement of materials, but also has an impact outside of traditional manufacturing and wholesale distribution. The procurement of supplies in industries like healthcare and hospitality has not changed in decades and are ripe for innovation.

Whether you deal with a physical product or services, the value chain has lengthened and become more complicated. Yet expectations of response time and delivery performance have risen dramatically. Hence the need for an added level of intelligence in dealing with this new digital, network economy.

In addition, it is worth noting that last year Infor also acquired Birst, Inc. a pioneer of cloud-native Business Intelligence (BI), analytics and data visualization tools. The addition of Birst’s analytical tools was also a step forward, but Mint Jutras sees it more like another investment in infrastructure and shared services rather than a true differentiator. While the executives that came along with the acquisition might argue Birst is better (the best?) in terms of capability and speed of data discovery and easy to use analytics, most of the existing Birst customers are running enterprise applications that are not part of the Infor portfolio and it is still sold as a stand-alone tool. So you don’t have to run an Infor application to benefit from them.

That said, the tools were made immediately available to Infor customers as a like-for-like trade-in. Since then Infor has been working to replace any existing data cubes and content (previously Cognos-based) and also build out additional applications, content and migration tools.

Enhanced Data Management

Birst allows Infor customers to draw from all sorts of data sources for analysis. But the better story is what Infor has done in terms of data management in general, and to understand that you need to look across several different components “inside” Infor, including artificial intelligence, which requires you to select algorithms, train models and deploy data science. Because we’re talking about advanced technology, this can get very technical very quickly.

A business decision-maker seldom knows the difference between linear regression, neural topic modeling, K-means clustering and a boosted decision tree. Nor should they have to. From a business decision-maker’s point of view, it is more important to understand the potential, and that is quite simple. It’s all about answering these questions:

  • What happened?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What should I do?

To Infor’s credit, this is exactly what it is offering, even though it often falls into the trap of offering TMI (too much (technical) information) to nontechnical business folks.

What happened?

This is all about collecting data. It might be structured data from enterprise applications (yours or your trading partners’), semi-structured data like XML or CSV (maybe you get orders or payments from customers in XML files or streams of IoT data) or entirely unstructured data from social media or other community-based data. You need a common place to put all this data and Infor’s answer to this is its Data Lake. A data lake is a storage repository that holds raw data (usually vast amounts of it) in its native format. Yet while the data is in its native format, Infor also provides a catalog that can be used to determine connections between the different data elements (e.g. an order is connected to a customer, a dollar amount is connected to a key performance indicator).

But you need to consume that data in order to determine what really happened. Figure 2 (provided by Infor) is a bit on the technical side. The key takeaways from it: You might use Birst for analysis of the data; you might use the data in universal searches within the Infor applications; or you can develop your own applications using Infor’s Mongoose development platform.

Figure 2: Infor Data Lake: How to consume data from the data lake

Source: Infor

Why did it happen?

For the “Why?” question, Infor leverages the different connections within the data and does a correlation analysis, looking for causal factors. Did sales go down because prices went up? Or did they go down because sales reps were on vacation or left the company? Was the weather to blame? Or a sluggish economy? For some of these questions you need massive amounts of data, not all of which resides in your enterprise applications.

Infor claims to have no shortage of insights to offer across customer relationship management (CRM), financials, human capital management (HCM), procurement and more. An example of the types of financial insights are shown in the sidebar to the left.

What should I do?

This is where the real data science comes to play. Since announcing the Coleman AI Platform Infor has been developing its first AI data science applications. These are generally predictive in nature, drawing on deep machine learning for forecasting, optimization and decision execution. Some examples include patient demand forecasting for hospitals, a predictive framework to predict asset failure, inventory optimization across a number of different industries, predicting estimated time of arrival for logistic providers and benchmarking performance across industry. Benchmarking of course requires access to large quantities of external data.

And don’t worry if you don’t have data scientists on staff. Infor has over 100 of them ready and waiting to help.

Conclusion and Recommendations

For a company of its size Infor has been exceptionally quiet over the past several years. In the software industry staying quiet often means there is little or no new innovation to share. In the case of Infor, this could not be farther from the truth.

Infor is led by a group of executives with both the vision and the expertise to understand the true potential of advanced digital technologies today. Oftentimes before you can ever hope to take full advantage of this advanced technology you must lay a strong foundation, and this might go largely unnoticed as it is being developed behind the scenes. But Infor’s executives were not afraid to dig in and lay that foundation.

Infor is now starting to reap the rewards of these efforts. It is time to share them with the world, not quietly, but loudly and proudly. Even many of its own customers remain unaware of all that Infor has developed. There are over 90,000 Infor customers and many are still running on old versions or older, non-strategic products. They seem to think none of this new technology is for them.

Mint Jutras would caution them (and other companies running non-Infor legacy applications) against this train of thought. If not for you, then who?

To those running these old solutions: Don’t expect massive (any?) innovation for your old products. They aren’t going to get you where you need to go in order to compete effectively in the global digital economy. For decades ripping and replacing ERP solutions was avoided at any and all cost. Those days are over. If you are running an old, outdated solution, it is unequivocally time to rip and replace. You’ll be happy you did.

To Infor: You’ve developed a lot of great stuff. Get on your bandwagon and shout!

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Kenandy Customers Find a New Home With Rootstock

Two Salesforce Platform-Based Cloud ERP
Providers Become One

On January 11, 2018, Rootstock announced it would acquire Kenandy. Both companies have built Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) products on the Salesforce Platform. Both sell into manufacturing and distribution companies with supply chain requirements. Both were founded by industry veterans. From those similarities come synergies that should serve to accelerate growth for the combined company. And unlike some other ERP acquisitions in the past, this was a friendly merger. Rootstock wasn’t looking to make a land grab, but it was growing and hiring. So when Kenandy put itself on the block, the opportunity to acquire the exact kind of talent it was seeking made the acquisition quite appealing, especially since that talent came along with a solid product and a revenue stream.

Also, unlike other acquisitions that seem to drag on forever, this one happened very quickly. Therefore the executives at Rootstock are still in discovery mode. But CEO Pat Garrehy has made it quite clear: The intent was not to simply drive out the competition. The Kenandy product will live on; Rootstock will continue to service the customers and it hopes to substantially grow the installed base. While it is still too early to predict exactly where the Kenandy product will go from here, or where that growth will come from, Mint Jutras sees no reason for Kenandy customers to worry, and in fact may benefit greatly from those synergies previously alluded to.

The Similarities

The similarities between Rootstock and Kenandy stem largely from two factors. First of all, both target companies that make, move and sell a physical product. This sets them apart from other ERP companies that avoid the complexities of a manufacturing environment. Manufacturing and distribution are joined at the hip (so to speak) through a supply chain and many today are blended businesses. In fact very early results from our latest Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution study indicate 51% of manufacturers also do distribution and 17% of distributors perform some (usually light) manufacturing. All are active participants in a supply chain.

The other common factor is the underlying platform. Both are built on the Salesforce Platform, and the development teams at both companies have specific experience with the platform itself, and also Salesforce IoT, Einstein Analytics and the same user interface (Lightning UI).

The Salesforce Platform is categorized as a Platform as a Service (PaaS). Does this matter? The short answer is yes. Why? Here’s an excerpt from a 2016 Mint Jutras report on why selecting the right platform is so important.

Platform as a Service (PaaS) is a category of cloud computing services that provides developers with a platform to create software without the complexity of building and maintaining the infrastructure and services typically associated with developing an enterprise application. Clearly developers benefit from using the services delivered with a platform, speeding the development process. But how does this translate to benefits to the business? The obvious answer is in delivering more features, functions and innovation in ways that help companies keep up with the accelerating pace of change. But not all platforms are created equal. Some simply deliver more value through more services, in a wider variety of ways… which makes the choice of platform even more important.

Nowhere is this more critical than in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). After all, this is the software that runs your business. In order to survive, grow and compete in the digital age, you need an ERP that is highly flexible and able to adapt. This means it must be easily configurable and extensible. ERP can benefit tremendously from the availability of application services that ease and speed development and customization, as well as from the ecosystem that develops around the platform.

A strong development platform is more of a significant factor today than ever before simply because of the accelerating pace of change, creating the need for more agility and more innovation. By way of proof, we asked survey participants in our 2018 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study to self-assess their own risk of disruption (Figure 1). The vast majority (93%) recognizes the potential, and over half (59%) describe it as medium to high and imminent risk. For the remainder, we might ask: How do you think the taxi industry might have answered this question on the eve of the launch of Uber and how long did it take for it to become a major disruptive influence?

Figure 1: How much risk do you face in your industry being disrupted?

Source: Mint Jutras 2018 Enterprise Solution Study

In order to best address the need for more rapid development and innovation, both Rootstock and Kenandy came to the same decision: to build on the Salesforce Platform. Therefore both reap similar benefits. Salesforce estimates the platform speeds development by a factor of five, and cuts the cost of development in half. This can be a big win, not only for the software developers, but for their customers as well. Both benefit from the ease and speed of development, as well as the vast ecosystem that has grown around the platform.

For the developers (Rootstock and Kenandy) it means fewer wheels to (re)invent, by taking advantage of application services already built into the platform, including:

  • Support for a multi-tenant SaaS environment
  • A workflow engine, access and identity management
  • Other rapid developer services include Salesforce standard user interface templates, (business) object orientation and built-in mobile support
  • The ability to tie “social” online chats (through Salesforce Chatter) directly back to business objects
  • Embedded analytics with Salesforce Wave, a cloud-based data platform as well as a data-analysis front end designed to analyze both the ERP data, along with any third-party app data, desktop data, or public data you bring in

Use of any development platform requires a unique set of skills, as well as knowledge about the industries the software vendor serves. But the skills required are the same for Rootstock and Kenandy, because they serve similar markets and are built on the same platform. So in acquiring Kenandy, Rootstock embraced the opportunity to strengthen its talent base.

The Ultimate Product Question

So, given the similarities between the two, this begs the ultimate question regarding products moving forward: Will the resulting combined company continue to develop, maintain and support two distinct products? And should it? Mr. Garrehy has already made it clear that the Kenandy product will live on, and has further speculated that the combined company will likely have two distinct product lines, serving at least somewhat different markets. While not cast in stone, perhaps the Kenandy ERP will move in the direction of light manufacturing and distribution, while the Rootstock product will support heavy-duty, more complex manufacturing.

On the one hand, this is smart. Early ERP solutions made the mistake of thinking a “one size fits all” solution was the right approach, or at least a “one size fits all manufacturers.” As a result, the 80-20 rule prevailed. Nobody expected a solution to satisfy all their needs (an 80% fit was often the goal), resulting in invasive (and sometimes expensive) customizations that built in barriers to further innovation. But this can be problematic for companies running a multi-tenant SaaS solution, particularly given the diversity of manufacturing environments. While all manufacturers share some common requirements, the way you plan, fabricate and ship heavy equipment is very different than how you plan, package and ship food and beverages. Making customized products to order is a far cry from shipping a commodity from stock.

Having two different product lines increases the likelihood of Rootstock being able to deliver a more complete, yet simpler solution. But even as a software developer seeks to deliver that “last mile” of differentiating functionality, it can’t forget the common requirements. Every company requires fundamental accounting features and functions. Every manufacturer and distributor has basic purchase requisition and inventory needs. All must manage and account for travel expense reimbursements and paid time off.

Traditionally basic functionality, like accounting, has been developed and delivered through tightly integrated modules, resulting in a monolithic solution. The benefit has been tight integration. The good news: all modules move forward together in lock step. The bad news: all modules must move forward together in lock step. This tends to slow down innovation and prevents different departments within an organization from taking full advantage of new features until all are ready. Of course a multi-tenant SaaS solution addresses some of this challenge by taking much of the burden of upgrading off the shoulders of the customers. The SaaS solution provider does the heavy lifting.

But modern technology allows developers to take a different approach, one that can provide significant advantages to Rootstock. Object orientation and microservices allow developers to replace those monolithic solutions with component-based solutions. For the reader with a technical background, microservices, also known as a microservice architecture, is defined (by Wikipedia) as an architectural style that structures an application as a collection of loosely coupled services. For those nontechnical readers, think of it as constructing a solution from a set of Lego building blocks.

Think about how you build a structure from Legos. Each Lego block is made of the same kind of material and is attached (connected) to the other Lego blocks the same way. In many ways they are interchangeable. But by choosing different colors and sizes, and connecting them with a different design, you can make a structure that is very unique. And once constructed, if you want to change it, decoupling some of the blocks and replacing them doesn’t destroy the parts that are not affected. There is far less disruption introduced than if you had constructed it with timber, a hammer and nails.

How can Rootstock benefit? Continuing with the example of accounting, both Rootstock and Kenandy have accounting modules. Regardless of how the two product lines might diverge in the future, does developing and maintaining two sets of accounting functionality add enough value to justify keeping two different lines of code? Probably not. Could these two product lines share a common set of functionality? Probably.

Will Rootstock move in this direction? Only time will tell, but the fact that the Rootstock product line already provides a choice in terms of accounting packages indicates the architecture is supportive of this approach. Rootstock offers its own offer version of basic functionality of accounts receivable, accounts payable, cash management, general ledger (journals) and the ability to generate financial statements. But it is also pre-integrated with other financial applications, including FinancialForce, QuickBooks and Sage Intacct. It is certainly not out of the realm of possibility that Rootstock could integrate with Kenandy’s global financials. Once that integration is in place, the need for Rootstock to maintain its own accounting modules may just disappear.

The fact that the two products share a common development platform makes it far easier to accomplish. And the synergies don’t have to stop with just basic accounting. Rootstock is currently developing a new module (component?) for time and attendance. What’s to prevent the Kenandy customer base from benefiting from that development effort as well? Kenandy has been using Salesforce Einstein to develop analytic capabilities. What’s to prevent Rootstock customers from benefitting from that development effort?

If Rootstock takes this approach, it could combine the best of two worlds: separate product lines, sharing common components, all built on a common platform.

Summary

In summary, the merger of Rootstock and Kenandy would seem to be a big win for all. Yes, there is one less player in the field of ERP for manufacturing, but there is still plenty of healthy competition. The two companies share many similarities. Both target similar markets and are built on the same platform. Rootstock should be able to effectively leverage the talent the merger brings, along with the strength of the underlying Salesforce Platform to provide more focus on delivering a more complete solution to selected industries to be named later.

These similarities, together with a promise that both products will live on, bring synergies that should provide additional growth opportunities while also serving to make Kenandy customers feel welcome and right at home.

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Introducing Aera’s Cognitive Technology

Enabling The Self-Driving Enterprise

Cognitive capabilities are highly valued in human beings. They make people smart, and smart is good. According to the Oxford Dictionary, cognition is “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.” Yet as automation becomes more and more prevalent, we expect more and more functions and processes to be performed without human assistance. Can technology really imitate human cognition? Why not? After all, we live in a world where self-driving cars, although not yet ubiquitous, are a reality. And in a world where terabytes of data are being replaced with zettabytes, is it even possible for a human to process data at the speed and granularity necessary for timely, data-driven decisions?

Enterprise applications have been used to streamline and automate transactional processes for several decades now, particularly where simple and straight forward rules can be applied. When inventory falls below safety stock, order more. But how do you know when to change safety stock? How do you balance inventory across your distribution network or work off excess inventory? How accurate is your forecast? Is it possible to automate the cognitive functions that understand (recognize patterns and learn from the past), predict the future, and not only make recommendations, but also take action? Aera Technology not only thinks it is possible, it is delivering on that promise today to enable the Self-Driving Enterprise.

Aera is quite a unique kind of company. Headquartered in Mountain View, California, it serves some of the world’s largest enterprises from its global offices located in San Francisco, Portland, Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca, Paris, Munich, London, and Pune. Using proprietary data crawling, industry models, machine learning and artificial intelligence, Aera’s goal is to revolutionize how people relate to data and how organizations function. It offers what it calls a “cognitive operating system.”

The Self-Driving Enterprise

Aera starts with the premise that if built-in intelligence can drive a car, then it should be able to drive a company. Like a self-driving car, a self-driving enterprise must connect all the different data points both inside (engine, accelerator, steering wheel, brakes) and outside (roadways and road conditions, other vehicles, pedestrians). It must do all this in real-time, because speed and direction changes must occur immediately as any of those conditions change. And it must be always on and always thinking. No snoozing at the wheel allowed. It also must be able to operate autonomously. With no driver, a self-driving car has to take action without being told what to do.

A self-driving enterprise will still have humans at the helm. Aera is not setting out to eliminate the decision-makers, but it is trying to make them smarter and more effective, able to use all the data available, not just the usual subset contained in an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution.

If this has you curious to learn more, click here to read the full report.

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Leaders Rule with Sage Intacct

Sage Plus Sage Intacct “Lead The Future”

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

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

Leaders Are in For the Long Haul

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

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

Good for Intacct = Good for Its Customers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leading with Innovation

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

Figure 1: Change in Pace of Innovation Since Implementing?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

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

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

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

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

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

Nonprofit Organizations

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

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

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

Professional Services and Project-based Businesses

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

Software and SaaS Businesses

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

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

Vision of the Future: Taking Intelligence to the Next Level

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

What’s in a Name? Pacioli

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

Like da Vinci, Pacioli was a polymath.

Source: Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

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

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

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

Key Takeaways

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

 

 

 

 

 

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