The New Sage: Who and What Is It? Where Is It Going?

Early in his opening keynote for Sage Summit 2016, CEO Stephen Kelly announced, “Our real purpose is to champion the ambitions of entrepreneurs.” This sentiment goes well beyond the development and delivery of software products. Mr. Kelly himself is a business ambassador to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, representing the interests of small and midsize businesses to governments, in global markets, at colleges and universities, and on the political front as well. He has pledged to bring Sage’s products to the cloud and more innovation to the products. And he has declared that Sage is “The only company providing your digital heartbeat from Start-up to Scale-up to Enterprise.” [These are the new monikers for the markets in which Sage plays, replacing references such as “small” and “mid-size.”]

But, having grown through acquisition, Sage faces some challenges, not the least of which is the sheer number of products it owns, many of which are based on older technology and run exclusively on premise. I’ve never done a specific count, but based on a quote from Mr. Kelly presented in a Diginomica article by Stuart Lauchlan back in May after a mid-year earnings call,

“Our historic, federated and fragmented and de-centralized business model meant that we couldn’t fully leverage the scale and the global reach for the benefit of our customers or ourselves. In fact, it was actually hindering our ability to grow.

Our acquisition-led growth strategy compounded the internal fragmentation and complexity. And this fragmentation I’ve shared with some of you before in terms of 270 different products, 73 different code bases, over 150 different sales compensation plans, 139 sites, 105 databases from management accounting, 21 different CRM systems. I could go on and on.”

Wow! That’s a heck of a lot to consider. But Mr. Kelly seems up to the challenge. Make no mistake: This is a new Sage. Over the past year there has been a changing of the guard, with many departures, and many more new faces. But more to the point, Sage has re-architected its positioning. This started a year ago when Mr. Kelly declared Sage would no longer sell ERP, noting the acronym should really stand for expense, regret and pain. This year that sentiment persisted.

Throughout the keynotes, we heard reference to “accounting, payroll and payments,” but never “ERP.” Couple this with the heavy dose of “entrepreneurship” and you walk away thinking Sage is the place to be for small businesses in need of an accounting solution. With enormous installed bases from acquired products like Peachtree, AccPac and Simply Accounting, you might say, of course they are.

But what about all those “enterprise” customers running Sage 100, Sage 300 and Sage X3 where the founder of the business has long since exited? I found myself wanting to be their champion amidst all the accolades for the entrepreneurs in the audience. These enterprises need more than accounting, payroll and payments. They need to manage the complete system of record of the business, including orders and/or contracts. Fortunately the Sage products formerly known as ERP do just that.

And I felt for the partners who sell these products into the ERP market. When a new prospect wants to buy a new ERP solution, with this new positioning and the declaration that ERP is dead, will they even give Sage a look? Precise percentages might vary, but experts today estimate 60% to 70% of the evaluation process happens before a single vendor is ever contacted. Will those in the market for a new ERP system ever find Sage? The answer is maybe – but not necessarily because of Sage’s efforts, but rather because others still hang on to that label.

As I wrote last year, I have never been a big fan of the “ERP is dead” mentality. To my way of thinking, although the acronym itself has lost a lot of its meaning over the years, ERP is a convenient label. While early ERP solutions were fraught with problems, and indeed some of those problems persist today, calling it something else doesn’t fix it.

Based on my conversation this year with Mr. Kelly I understand his intent. This statement was his way of sparking some controversy, something Sage had previously been unwilling to do. However, based on how vigorously some of his Sage colleagues have defended this stance, I worry a little that the spark has become a flame that continues to burn at Sage. This is not only troublesome for existing ERP customers and partners, but also for those start-ups that will eventually scale up and become full-fledged enterprises. If Sage wants to continue to provide the “digital heartbeat” for these growing companies, it needs to provide a logical path forward that doesn’t require any steps back.

Sage provides different products for different stages of company growth. Early on, startups might run Sage One or the newer Sage Live (built on the Salesforce platform, which allows it to take advantage of many of the cloud, mobile and social capabilities inherent in the platform). But as the company starts to scale, perhaps it makes a move to Sage 50c, the Sage product most recently enhanced with integration to Microsoft Office 365. Or it might go to Sage 100, Sage 300 or skip right on up to Sage X3.

But Sage itself admits that it needs to catch up in terms of new features and technology. To its credit, Sage is not satisfied with just catching up, but wants to leapfrog its competition. But will all products along the path have some of the nifty new features inherited from the Salesforce platform or added to Sage Live? An example of this leapfrog effect was seen in a demonstration that linked Sage Live to TomTom WebFleet to record mileage as an expense in Sage Live without any human intervention whatsoever. In the future it will be possible to record billable hours this way using a Siri-like conversation to “start the clock.”

Another leapfrog moment on stage was the introduction of Pegg, an accounting chatbot that can take input from Slack and Facebook Messenger (for now, others to come) to report expenses using natural language English. Pegg combines a natural language interface with machine learning and intelligence to potentially do much more. Sage even describes it as a “personal trainer” for your business, but I suspect it needs to mature a lot before that really happens.

But what happens to this innovation when the customer outgrows Sage Live? Does it too get carried forward? Does the integration to Office 365 carry forward? Can you bring Pegg along or your TomTom? When you look at all the different paths forward, you start to realize the devil is indeed in the details. And all the permutations can be daunting.

This potential complexity is the reason why I think the most important Sage Summit announcement of all was the Sage Integration Cloud. During the keynote, we watched Nick Goode, EVP of Product Management integrate Sage One with Expensify in just a few minutes and a few clicks. As Nick said on stage, “No code, no fuss, no maintenance, no techy skills required.”

It was so incredibly simple, you knew there had to be something more to it than met the eye. And there is. This is built on Cloud Elements, an API Integration Platform for application providers. And the author of the “add-on” product (in this case Expensify) has to do some work in order to allow customers to connect it this easily. The level of preparatory effort will depend a lot on the technology and architecture of the solution(s). But Cloud Elements has created a Sage Hub, which means in connecting it to one Sage product, it connects to all (relevant) Sage products.

This is incredibly important for those on older Sage products, particularly as Mr. Kelly reinforced a commitment he made to customers at last year’s Sage Summit:

  • No forced migration.
  • No end of life for any Sage products.
  • If you love your current Sage solution, whether it is desktop or cloud, Sage will support your continued use of it.
  • When you are ready to move to cloud, full mobility and real-time accounting, then Sage is ready to take you there.

Sage is essentially promising never to “sunset” a product. Sage is not the only company making this promise. Infor, which also grew through acquisition and faces similar challenges, makes a similar promise, although Infor is also clear on saying it provides no real innovation to these non-strategic products. That’s the difference. I sense that Sage is (or should be) going down this “no innovation beyond compliance” path, but has not been as forthcoming with that statement. But both Infor and Sage continue to support a very broad and diverse portfolio.

On the surface this might seem quite noble of both Sage and Infor, or perhaps simply the right thing to do. But is it? Do they actually do a disservice to these customers by making it too easy to simply stay where they are and continue to be severely limited by this old technology? We understand the fear of disruption of ripping out an existing solution and replacing it, but in reality this fear and these older solutions are holding these customers hostage.

In order to make it less easy to stay put, Sage will most definitely use the carrot and not the stick. And the Sage Integration Cloud could be a very appetizing carrot. By offering some add-on components that might help these customers emerge out of the dark ages, Sage could “show them the light” (so to speak) and get them hooked on the opportunities newer technology provides. But in order for these customers to make a giant leap to a newer cloud product, with mobile and social capabilities built in, they will need to drag these new components along with them. That is the role the Sage Integration Cloud can play.

And it will also serve to make the Sage solution much more than “accounting, payroll and payments.” Sounds a lot more like ERP (and more) to me. This whole positioning exercise sort of reminds me of when Prince changed his name to a symbol. Everyone simply started calling him “the artist formerly known as Prince.” Ultimately (and fortunately) Prince went back to just being Prince, only better than ever. I am still hoping Sage might come full circle too.

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Host Analytics: Where Planning and Performance Management Meet

Today we live in a new world where the Internet levels the playing field for small, mid-size and large enterprises, breaking down barriers to entering new emerging markets. And yet we also face new challenges with rapidly changing commodity prices, fluctuating exchange and interest rates and an accelerating pace of business across a global economy. Whether you are looking to grow and expand or just accelerate profits, you need a plan.

A recent Mint Jutras report posed the question: Is Planning & Performance Management a Marriage Made In Heaven? We concluded that having a comprehensive plan is the first step towards achieving any specific outcome. But to optimize growth and profits, that plan needs to be a living plan, capable of evolving as goals and business conditions change. The key to breathing life into your plan is to actively link it to enterprise performance management. While that might seem intuitively obvious, too often the plan simply goes on the shelf as you go about business as usual. To monitor, manage and predict performance against the plan, you need to marry the right solutions with the right data.

The tools available to help you succeed range from spreadsheets to suites of applications that also might range from simple, basic tools to comprehensive solutions built on modern, enabling technology. Host Analytics provides a comprehensive Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) platform that is simple and affordable enough for the small to mid-size enterprise, but comprehensive and robust enough to support a growing mid-size company as it transforms itself into a large enterprise. Delivering its solution exclusively as Software as a Service (SaaS), Host prides itself in offering an EPM solution you can’t outgrow.

The Right Mix

In our report, Is Planning & Performance Management a Marriage Made In Heaven? we found companies with World Class implementations use a more extensive set of tools to plan, monitor and manage performance (Figure 1). The tools shown in the figure below fall into four general categories: specific applications, reporting, analytics, and, of course, the ubiquitous spreadsheet. Host Analytics provides the first three as part of a comprehensive suite and also helps you control the inevitable use of spreadsheets.

Figure 1: Tools To Monitor, Plan and Predict Corporate Performance

Host Figure 1Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

Note that Mint defines “World Class” in terms of the performance of the implementation of enterprise software that runs the business. Survey responses are used to measure cost savings and other improvements since implementation, progress made in achieving goals and selected current performance metrics that can apply universally to any business. The top 15% in performance is categorized as “World Class” and the remaining 85% are referred to as “All Others.”

While its solution is quite comprehensive today, being a cloud-only solution allows Host Analytics to offer frequent enhancements and improvements through monthly maintenance releases and quarterly feature releases. Over the past year Host Analytics has delivered about 185 enhancements and announced some very strategic partnerships. Key investment areas include:

  • User Experience
  • Performance
  • Consolidation
  • Data integration
  • Planning
  • Modeling
  • Productivity
  • Analytics
  • Security

“We Speak Finance, not Klingon”

According to Dave Kellogg, Host Analytics’ CEO, “Our first language is finance.” Hence the applications delivered serve the office of finance. He goes on to clarify with, “We speak finance, not Klingon.” That tongue in cheek reference to the language of the alien culture encountered in the journey of the USS Enterprise (of Star Trek fame) is a subtle reference to competitors who speak only in the language of information technology (IT), which will mean little to the finance department.

As an interesting side note, the Klingons appeared in the original Star Trek series as enemies of the Starfleet Federation, but became allies in later generations of the entertainment franchise. We can only assume Mr. Kellogg is referring to Klingon in those later series because Host Analytics is actually quite IT-friendly, building on a modern technology foundation. Certainly IT is not viewed as the enemy, even if the staff does speak a different language.

However, Mr. Kellogg goes on to point out that while those in the office of finance might speak finance, they don’t care exclusively about finance. They care about the performance of all departments and disciplines across the enterprise. This is an important factor, and one covered in depth in our prior report. You need more than a financial plan. You also need an operational plan. This could potentially present a problem to a solution provider focused exclusively on the office of finance, which is why it weighs heavily in determining Host Analytics’ strategic approach to its product portfolio.

Focus, Partner and Unite

Mr. Kellogg described the company’s strategic approach at the recent Host Analytics World 2016. “We have three options to choose from. As a solution provider we could ignore the problem. But that would most likely mean the plan would be retired to a drawer and used only for executive compensation purposes. We could go a mile wide and an inch deep, attempting to build functional performance management applications for all functions. Or we could focus, partner and unite.”

Host Analytics chooses the third option, focusing on building financial apps and partnering with other companies that speak the languages of supply chain, manufacturing, services, marketing, sales, etc. Key to that decision: Host allows partners to build these apps within its Modeling Cloud. When they do, Host can bring the financial plan together with the full operational plan in a single cloud model. In doing so, Host is hoping to eliminate the need for “shadow finance” organizations that tend to spring up across the enterprise when departmental and functional needs aren’t met by a financial (only) plan.

Planning modules within the suite allow you to plan, budget, forecast and report all from one application. Modeling helps you create operational plans that align with financial plans. Multidimensional modeling helps you anticipate outcomes using financial and non-financial drivers. New dimensions can be added for granular “what if?” scenarios.

Analytics Tie It All Together: Think Quick and Qlik

Analytics are important tools in bringing the financial and operational plan together. In our prior report we noted that World Class implementations were 43% to 180% more likely to use various types of analytics.

Host Analytics has had a long-standing relationship with Qlik, who is also its customer. That relationship has now been strengthened and Qlik is embedded within the Host Analytics suite. No more exports from Host to Qlik required. Access and data is available in real time right from Host.

This partnership and integration brings data discovery and visualization tools to the Host Analytics suite. Pre-built dashboards can be easily tailored and configured by business users, adding a level of self-service and independence for the business user without over-reliance on IT. Presentation quality story boards can be created and integrated with Host’s Financial Package Publisher. The (combined) solution becomes browser agnostic (Windows and Mac), and fully supports mobile devices.

Direct integration with Host financial data comes right out of the box, but customers and partners will also be able to integrate other models and third party applications in order to mash up data from a variety of sources. Host has also expanded in-memory support and implemented incremental updates of data cubes and dashboards. Early results have yielded 50% to 90% improvements in performance across various planning and reporting scenarios.

Expanding the Circle: Workforce Planning & Analytics

While Host Analytics’ primary focus is on financials, it is not drawing a circle too tightly around finance. In fact it is expanding its boundaries to include an element of workforce management, including the delivery of workforce planning and analytics. Workforce planning is a logical extension of the financial plan since headcount determination and resulting costs are often included as part of the financial plan. The new analytics will provide improved visibility to headcount, compensation, benefits, open requisitions and other employee detail. But for more specific planning activities, such as incentive compensation planning, Host has chosen a partner that speaks that language. A partnership and integration with Xactly was also announced at Host Analytics World 2016.

How Does Host Analytics Stack Up?

We concluded our prior report with a checklist of sorts to be used in looking for a solution that effectively manages planning and performance management. So how does Host Analytics stack up?

  • Look for planning and performance management tools that complement each other. While Host positions itself as an EPM player, its planning and modeling capabilities are a good fit for many companies, particularly in the small to mid-size range. While the volumes very large enterprises must deal with might have over-taxed its solution in the past, the new in-memory capabilities might just address that.
  • Make sure you can connect your overall financial plan to your operational plan. Host Analytics focuses on the financial plan, but has recently expanded to include workforce planning. Partners are required for other operational plans, but the partnership and integration with Qlik should help bring it all together in the end, provided the necessary operational plans are available. Expect some setup work to be required if bringing together data from applications in third party applications, but those offered by certified Host partners should slide in more easily.
  • Select tools that encourage rather than prohibit collaboration. Host Analytics has embedded social collaboration with in-context discussion threads and activity streams and the ability to annotate a plan. Host has partnered with SocialCast, but also supports integration with other collaboration tools such as Slack and Yammer. In addition, new “reporting” capabilities also support export to Google Sheets and Google Drive and Host will continue to build out this integration for bi-directional updates.
  • Consider a cloud approach. Host Analytics’ solution is delivered entirely and exclusively as Software as a Service (SaaS).
  • Evaluate not only the traditional desktop/laptop user interface but also the overall user experience, including the ability to support the mobile executive, on the device(s) of choice. Ask for a demo to evaluate the overall User Experience. Host is browser agnostic and adapts well to various devices.
  • Look for solutions that play well with others. Host has designed its solution with this in mind. But don’t be afraid to ask for specifics on your own configuration of solutions.
  • Work with your information technology (IT) staff, but seek a level of independence in the planning and performance management process itself. Think of your most complex test case for planning/modeling. For example, do you need driver-based planning? Host Analytics supports it. But does Host support all the methods and/or algorithms you might need? Make sure you ask. With the embedding of Qlik, data discovery and visualization took a giant leap forward, but always ask for a test drive. It’s one thing to watch an expert make the software sing and dance. How does it look and feel and how flexible is it when you are in the driver’s seat?
  • Understand clearly what kind of reporting and analytics are available right out of the box. Same as above: look at the demo but the proof of tailor-ability is in doing. Again, ask for a test drive.
  • How much data can the solutions handle? How fast can they process it? Host now supports SQL Server 14, which provides new in-memory capabilities. In addition, Qlik dashboards preload all data needed into memory. This combined with the ability to incrementally update reporting cubes and dashboards provides good support for high speed, real-time access to data.

Conclusion

Host Analytics’ claim to be a leader in cloud-based enterprise performance management (EPM) is valid. Its platform of financial applications for modeling, planning, consolidation, reporting and analytics effectively marry the planning and performance management activities in companies from small to large. While Host “speaks finance” it has also created a platform on which partners that speak other functional languages (supply chain, sales, marketing, etc.) can add their own value. Together with those partners, along with its special partnership with Qlik, the happy couple expands to become a true blended family.

If your current financial plan sits in a drawer for the majority of the year…

If you can’t align your financial plans with your operational plans…

If you are struggling to make sense out of a collection of spreadsheets…

If you find yourself in fear of mistakes buried in those spreadsheets leading to bad decisions…

You owe it to yourself to look for a new solution that can help you plan, monitor and manage your performance. But of course, only if you want to maximize your opportunity to optimize growth and profits.

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Oracle and NetSuite: Separate Fact from Speculation

Since last week when Oracle announced it had entered into a definitive agreement to acquire NetSuite, I have been amazed at the volume of incorrect information and speculation and opinions thrown around as fact. Just this morning I read an article referencing the projected $9.3 billion transaction as the largest acquisition by Oracle since the Peoplesoft acquisition for $10.4 billion in 2014. Well… the author was only off by about a decade. Oracle announced the proposed merger in 2004 but the deal was not consummated until 2005. The article also stated that Oracle would run NetSuite as an independent company. That too is inaccurate. What Mark Hurd was quoted in the press release as saying was, “Oracle and NetSuite cloud applications are complementary, and will coexist in the marketplace forever. We intend to invest heavily in both products—engineering and distribution.” That is a far cry from saying the company would stay independent.

These are just a couple of examples. Many others are disclosing “the real reasons” for the acquisition as fact, when in fact these are just opinions and personal conclusions. I stayed silent because I never simply regurgitate a press release, and beyond the price of the offer and a few quotes by Oracle co-CEOs, NetSuite founder, CTO and chairman, Evan Goldberg and NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson, everything else is just speculation. NetSuite can’t talk about it and Oracle won’t. But with all the commentary, I feel compelled to remind my readers not to misinterpret opinions as fact.

I consider myself somewhat of a reluctant expert in M&A. During my 40+ year career I have survived 15 of them, sometimes as the acquirer, sometimes as the one acquired. Sometimes I was intimately involved in the details; other times I simply observed from the sidelines. Acquisitions often generate excitement, but also fear, uncertainty and doubt. Sometimes they go smoothly, but more often they are disruptive – to the companies involved, the individuals (employees) and even sometimes the market. In the end, they can be very unpredictable.

There are a few very common motivations for one company acquiring another:

  • Grab market share: Some companies would prefer to acquire new customers in blocks of hundreds or thousands, rather than closing them one by one. This can apply to grabbing more share of your existing market or entering a new one.
  • Fill a product and/or talent gap: It can be far easier to acquire functionality than to develop it yourself. This can make the company more competitive, provide cross-sell and up-sell opportunity, or both. But don’t assume there is any M&A pixie dust that will magically integrate products overnight.
  • Upgrade technology: Similar to filling a product gap, but at the foundational level. It is much easier to build a new product from scratch with newer technology (or acquire one) than to retrofit new technology into old products.
  • Eliminate a competitive threat: If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em.

So… what do I think is the motivation behind this acquisition? I think it is mostly about cloud market share. Of course, this is my opinion, but Larry Ellison’s stated goal of being the first company to reach $10 billion in cloud revenue is a pretty good hint. A secondary factor may very well be the cloud DNA, so to speak, that would come with a company and solution born in the cloud.

And there is no doubt in my mind that is the direction most prospective buyers are pointed in as well. I have been asking the same hypothetical question in my enterprise solution studies for the past 10 years: If you were to select a solution today, which deployment options would you consider? While back in the 2006-2007 time period less than 10% would even consider SaaS ERP (back then I called ERP the last bastion of resistance to SaaS), those preferences have slowly shifted. Between 2011 and 2013 the percentage that would even consider a traditional on-premise deployment dropped off a cliff and today SaaS is the most widely preferred option (Figure 1). And while Oracle was late getting out of the SaaS gate, NetSuite was a pioneer.

Figure 1: Deployment Options That Would be Considered for ERP

SaaS Fig 1Source: Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies

But I also believe the other 3 reasons contribute to the attractiveness of NetSuite to Oracle.

Oracle probably already has all the different pieces that NetSuite brings to the table (and more), but NetSuite brings them all together in a seamlessly integrated, end-to-end solution. When I ask my survey respondents to stack rank 10 different selection criteria for ERP, fit and functionality still takes the top spot, but is followed closely by completeness of solution. This is particularly important for small to midsize businesses that don’t have deep pockets or the IT staff to roll their own solution or even integrate different parts. While Oracle does play in the SMB space, NetSuite plays better, as evidenced by some competitive wins against Oracle (usually in the upper midmarket). And it is built on a solid architecture of advanced technology.

So there is a lot on the plus side of the equation for Oracle. What’s in it for NetSuite? If you can believe Zach Nelson’s enthusiasm (his quote: “NetSuite will benefit from Oracle’s global scale and reach to accelerate the availability of our cloud solutions in more industries and more countries. We are excited to join Oracle and accelerate our pace of innovation.”), NetSuite will be able to expand its solution footprint and its global reach faster. Only time will tell on both aspects and a lot depends on how and how well the acquisition is executed and the companies are integrated.

While it is true that NetSuite never achieved a GAAP profit, that was heavily influenced by stock-based compensation and it did not really suffer from cash flow problems. As a result, it also didn’t suffer from a lack of innovation. And there is more overlap between products than some enthusiasts would lead you to believe.

And what about global scale? NetSuite could benefit from Oracle’s global reach. But integrating sales efforts might prove tricky. So the jury is still out on that front as well.

And then there is customer sentiment. Anecdotally, you can find NetSuite customers that made a conscious decision to avoid doing business with Oracle. When the acquisition actually happens, will that cause NetSuite customers to jump ship rather than become Oracle customers? My guess is no. ERP is just too big an investment (of time and money) to make such an emotional decision. Will there be some attrition over time? Probably. But again, a lot depends on how the acquisition is managed and the net impact on support, prices and contracts. NetSuite has never been the cheapest date, so there is not likely to be any immediate sticker shock.

All told, I think there are a lot more questions than answers right now. In the meantime keep your ear to the ground, but be wary of those who think they already have all the answers.

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Anaplan’s Smart Business Platform

A Different Kind of Platform for Planning

Call something a “platform” today and most people intuitively think of a technology platform – a development tool. In the hands of a skilled information technology (IT) professional, it can do anything and everything. That’s the good news. The bad news is, business leaders must rely on limited IT staff to deliver all the functionality required to do their jobs. As a result, business leaders typically prefer pre-built business applications.

Now, the good news about these business applications is they are purpose-built to perform the functions needed right out of the box. The bad news: Those pre-built applications might not operate exactly as needed. So either the business leaders make some compromises or they get back in line and wait for the IT staff to work their magic.

What if you could have the best of both worlds – a platform that is flexible enough to adapt to your specific needs, but easy enough for a nontechnical business user to design, set up and configure? What if it was available with some “use cases” pre-built to use as a starting point in building your own? That’s exactly what Anaplan set out to deliver with its cloud planning platform. The team at Anaplan calls it “The Smart Business Platform™” and it can be used for any combination of financial and operational planning to create an integrated plan for your business.

A Business Platform for Planning

Anaplan focuses exclusively on planning. But in order to make the Anaplan plan a living plan – one that lives and breathes as business conditions and real-life plans change – it fuses planning with performance management.

The pre-built application approach tends to work quite well in supporting business transactions. After all, how many different ways can you move inventory, pay suppliers, invoice customers and collect cash? But when it comes to planning, you enter a whole new world… or rather a whole new set of different worlds.

Not only does each type of business have its own nuances when it comes to planning, all the different functions in the organization approach it completely differently. The finance department needs financial planning and budgeting. Sales operations need sales forecasting. Supply chain planners need sales and operation planning (S&OP) and demand planning. Manufacturing needs inventory planning and optimization and resource planning. Corporate strategists need some combination of revenue, workforce and facility planning. The CFO needs to predict cash flow. The CEO needs visibility across the board. The list goes on.

If you take a purely business application approach to address all of these disciplines, you run the risk of creating a solution that’s a mile wide and an inch deep. So a platform approach to planning makes sense in that it helps you perform all these different kinds of planning in whatever flexible way needed.

But how do you take a platform approach and not become over-reliant on IT? You do what Anaplan has done and turn it into a business platform. What’s the difference? A technology platform is a set of tools for the technologist, while a business platform is a set of tools for the business leader. That’s the first step, but Anaplan didn’t stop there. Anaplan made it The Smart Business Platform™.

It’s smart because it naturally integrates all of the different plans, making it a complete and connected plan, across (potentially) every functional area of the business. It’s smart because it fuses planning and performance management together. You essentially manage performance from the plan. All the reporting and analyses tie back to the plan, which makes it a living, breathing plan. It’s smart because the planning engine uses Anaplan’s patented HyperblockTM calculation engine to perform modeling, including the ability to do simulations prior to making changes. And it’s smart because its in-memory technology gives you the speed needed plan at the right level of granularity, with all the detail you need for accuracy without sacrificing productivity.

Click here to download the full report.

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Unit4 Lines Up Vertically: Higher Education Setting An Example

Unit4’s specialty has long been people-centric organizations. In fact its tag line today is, “In business for people.” These people-centric organizations not only include service-oriented commercial businesses, but also non-profits, higher education, governments and other public services. While some might call this people centricity a “vertical” focus, in fact Unit4’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution (although Unit4 prefers the term SRP for Services Resource Planning) has quite broad appeal. You might even call it more of a horizontal play across the services industries. But that is now changing.

In the past Unit4 built its strategy and its messaging around its VITA architecture’s ability to easily accommodate change. It was indeed a very broad (horizontal?) message targeting businesses living in change (BLINC). BLINC became Unit4’s mantra and in some ways, it is even more relevant today than when the acronym was first crafted. Every type of business and organization not only faces change today, but at an accelerating pace. And while change has always been hard to manage, today it can be dangerously so, especially when that change is disruptive.

After watching Uber disrupt the taxi industry, Netflix and iTunes disrupt entertainment and Airbnb disrupt hospitality, today we live in a world where nobody can predict which segment will be disrupted next. Our 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study asked participants to rate the risk of their industry being disrupted (Figure 1).

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

Unit4 fig 1Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

Few feel they are exempt from any risk. This disruption might come from new product introductions (26%), new ways of selling/pricing existing products (29%), entirely new business models (12%) or some combination of the above (33%).

But in spite of the continued relevance of managing change, there comes a time when old messaging has to make way for new. The next new message from Unit4 was its concept of “self-driving ERP”. Self-driving ERP is all about making ERP a productivity driver rather than a productivity killer. It’s about automating low value tasks, so that high value individuals can combine the right skills and knowledge with the right information to produce better outcomes.

This is a great goal and Unit4 is well on its way to delivering on its promises, particularly with its recently announced Digital Assistant and Business World On!. But self-driving ERP is still a rather broad, horizontal message that can be applied to a plethora of industries and circumstances. So in taking a more verticalized strategy, is Unit4 abandoning prior strategies around BLINC and self-driving ERP? Absolutely not. Think of it more as a refinement of strategy.

Service-oriented businesses and people-centric organizations have a lot in common, but there are also some very clear and distinct differences within this general category. As with any type of organization, each is a bit different, but some are more different than the rest. Over the years, in focusing attention on a service orientation (as opposed to product-centric businesses), Unit4 has been building on those similarities. Now it is time to accentuate the unique elements that distinguish higher education from non-profits, professional service organizations from public service providers (including governments), healthcare from real estate, just to name a few. Each of these people-centric organizations has its own unique requirements.

In combination with this, Unit4’s new tag line is “in business for people.” Given its focus on people-centric organizations, at first glance this doesn’t appear to be anything new. But Unit4 is adding a new dimension to the “people” part. Ordinarily ERP is for the people running the business or the organization. Take higher education as an example. Yes Unit4 is in education to help the people running the college or university (the administration). But it is also in education for the students. And it is in education for the alumni. And for the donors and benefactors. And the professors. And for all that, you need more than your typical ERP with a service orientation.

If you are in education for (all of the) people, you need a student management system. This is definitely not your typical core ERP module. It is an application that helps students enroll in the right courses for their degree programs. It’s an application that supports student recruitment and entrance applications. It helps manage tuition payments, student loans and more.

Then again, if you are in education for professors, you also need to help manage research efforts, from the feasibility study and due diligence to proposal development and financial planning to project planning, management and completion. Plus you need to manage assets and facilities on campus and probably the occasional special project. And of course you still need ERP for financials, procurement, HR and payroll.

Unit4 provides all of this, but not all in a single giant monolithic ERP solution. Let’s face it: Most other service-oriented organizations don’t need student management. You don’t want to overburden other types of customers with features and functions they will never use. So Unit4 packages up student management separately. Yes, it is integrated to ERP where appropriate. After all, tuition bills create accounts receivables and payments impact cash management, the income statement and balance sheet.

But Unit4’s student management application can also run stand-alone. This is actually more important than you might think. Providing a full verticalized solution for any industry today is a delicate balancing act for both solution providers and those consuming those solutions. Theoretically you would like a single integrated solution to meet all the needs of your organization. But the urgency of satisfying different needs varies across different functions within the organization, and so does the readiness of different departments. Maybe whatever you are using to manage your back office is “good enough”, at least for now. But you are in desperate need to better manage student services. You don’t want to have to wait until finance is ready before you provide online enrollment to courses.

This is exactly the type of requirement that has blazed the trail towards loosely coupled versus tightly integrated ERP solutions. A tightly integrated solution shares a common set of data, is developed under a common development environment and all moves forward in lock step. That is both good news and bad news for organizations. The good news is obvious: integration is inherent, no redundancy or duplication of data that needs to be synchronized, etc. But the fact that all the different parts of the organization must move forward together often slows the process and builds barriers to consuming new features.

Tightly integrated can be bad news for the solution provider as well. Development efforts across a a wide footprint needs to be tightly orchestrated and packaged together. A feature that is completed in March might not be delivered until December. And in order to satisfy a specific need (like student management), an entire integrated solution must be ripped out and replaced. When an organization is not quite ready for that, the vendor loses the deal either to no decision or because a competitor’s solution can stand alone.

The solution to this dilemma is loosely coupling the different functions so they might move forward separately, without losing the integration. By offering specialty functions like student management as (also) stand-alone solutions, the vendor is able to satisfy the urgent need without disrupting the entire organization. But the best of both worlds is to offer the add-on functionality that can stand alone, but also be fully integrated with a complete back-end ERP – now or later.

This is Unit4’s strategy. Higher Education is leading the way in execution, largely because of the acquisition a year ago of Three Rivers Systems and its Comprehensive Academic Management System (CAMS). Unit4’s current installed base of customers in higher education is a mix of those originally sold by Unit4 (prior to the acquisition) and those brought to the party by Three Rivers. In fact the latter represents the lion’s share of customers in this segment in North America. While all of the original Unit4 customers run its ERP and about 75% also run a version of student management authored by Unit4, all (100%) of the prior Three Rivers customers run student management, but run a mix of ERP solutions, including Unit4’s. In the future, the combined company will lead with student management in this segment, but expect to pull an ERP system along in about 50% of deals. In order for this to work, student management and ERP must be separate, but (optionally and seamlessly) integrated.

Looking to the future, I expect to see Unit4 replicating this strategy in other people-centric segments, starting with Professional Services organizations (watch for functionality to support contingent workforces), followed by not-for-profits (building on strengths in grants and research management) and then governments and public services. But I also see Unit4 diving deeper into what you might call sub or micro-verticals. Community colleges are a big market for Unit4 today, but the recruitment process for a private university like Harvard Law School (also a Unit4 customer) is just one aspect that is entirely different.

In order for Unit4 to successfully execute on this vertical strategy it will need to aggressively leverage all the work it has done previously. The same architectural principles that helped businesses living in change navigate through changing business conditions should help those same customers weather the potential storm of looming disruption. And if Unit4’s self-driving ERP can relieve them of some of the burden of the mundane, they stand a far better chance of deciding on the right (next) destination and how best to get there… either incrementally or all at once.

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Top 10 Quotes from NetSuite’s SuiteWorld 2016

It has been an extraordinarily busy spring conference season. I personally attended 10 events over the past eight weeks and missed a few more because of scheduling conflicts. Of all those I attended, I think NetSuite’s gets the prize for the best sound bites produced in an event. Here are my top 10 favorite quotes from SuiteWorld 2016.

“I love the smell of GL systems in the morning.”

Not. Of course this was said tongue in cheek by Zach Nelson, CEO, and was actually a veiled reference to the context of the next quote. Zach (somewhat proudly) noted that Gartner’s ranking of NetSuite’s Financial Management System (FMS) had progressed from #8 in 2014 to #6 in 2015.

“We didn’t set out to build a Financial Management System (FMS). Our goal was to build a system to run the business.”

Actually NetSuite originally started with three goals: to build an end-to-end system, deliver it only over the cloud, and include ecommerce natively. Of course, in order to deliver an end-to-end solution, it needed a back office accounting solution, but that was just one piece of the puzzle, not the end game. Through the years they were tempted to put servers on premise, especially in the early days before Software as a Service (SaaS) had come into its own. But they resisted. And they made sure even the early solution had a web store.

“We spent $1 billion so you didn’t have to.”

Continuing on the theme of including eCommerce, Zach touted the speed of Suite Commerce, giving some statistics on how it outperforms other leading sites. In a follow-on to Zach’s opening keynote, CTO Evan Goldberg (also one of the original NetSuite founders) noted they had delivered a 33% faster sales order save and 40% faster Suitecommerce advanced page load time. Obviously there is a cost associated with delivering speed and performance, but not a cost that comes directly out of NetSuite customers’ pockets.

“Security bugs? We find ‘em; we fix ‘em. The next morning, all are running with the appropriate patches.”

The reference to security bugs was in the context of a security bug, purportedly reported to and fixed by rival SAP three years ago. Yet some customers had yet to apply the patch and were therefore still vulnerable. My tweet with this quote sparked a bit of a push back from someone coming to SAP’s defense:

This was an SAP API fix that broke ISV integrations if applied, hence SAP made optional. Cloud companies have similar probs

To which I responded: would venture to say in a #SaaS environment, problems don’t linger 3+ years

His response: API fix is a little different, SAP gave customers option because fix could break ISV integrations – it was a useful defect

“Useful defect?” Is there really such a thing? And have we really become so inured to fixes of any kind “breaking” integrations? I hope not.

But the real point here is the value of a multi-tenant SaaS environment. First of all, the customer is relieved of the burden of applying patches. The SaaS vendor pushes them out in (hopefully) a timely manner. And with only a single line of code to maintain, more innovation should come along faster.

The other implied benefit is the value of a platform that allows partners and customers to customize and extend the code without fear of it breaking when fixes and enhancements are delivered.

“Customization is not a dirty word at NetSuite.”

The caveat to this is obviously… as long as you can upgrade. NetSuite customers are all running the same code, yet all are a little different. One of the unique features of NetSuite’s platform (unique for a SaaS-only solution anyway) is the ability to make even complex changes to the data model with no negative impact. This feature is becoming more and more popular among NetSuite’s customers. Within the last year, the ability to add custom fields went from the 5th most used feature to number 1. This actually comes as no surprise to me. My 2016 Enterprise Solution Study asked survey participants what type of customization they required. Fifty-seven percent (57%) selected user-defined fields. Only custom and ad hoc reporting were more widely selected (63% and 62% respectively).

In fact much of the “customization” that is typically required by NetSuite customers does not require you to muck around in code at all. Much can be done through tailoring and configuring, or personalizing screens. But let’s say you want to develop a whole new function that is either very industry-specific or helps you differentiate your individual business. NetSuite does provide development tools for this, including SuiteScript. Per NetSuite: SuiteScript is a JavaScript-based scripting solution for sophisticated coding and debugging within NetSuite that enables developers to build new applications, processes and business rules.”

In addition, a beta version of SuiteCloud Development Framework has recently been released after a multi-year effort. This framework includes all the tools for coding that you know and love, now with team development collaboration, richer code completion, version control, change and dependence management (i.e. discover what code might break if you make this change).

“SuiteScript allows you to do anything your wife wants you to do.”

This quote came from Evan Goldberg, one of the original NetSuite founders. When not performing his duties as NetSuite’s chief technologist, his alter-ego manages his wife’s ecommerce site, which she happens to run on NetSuite SuiteCommerce. The new release of the NetSuite Development Tools has had a profound impact on all developers, including Evan and his alter-ego as both took the stage. While it was quite hard to decipher everything going on (the font was way too small for my eyes, and I haven’t written code in almost 4 decades), it was clear the new code created for Mrs. Goldberg’s web storefront was a lot shorter and faster..

“Our goal is to stay out of your way [to innovate] in your business.”

While first spoken by Evan, this phrase proved to be thematic, popping up in other keynotes and sessions as well. Revamped developer tools were just the beginning. What the NetSuite development team has accomplished with the tools is equally important, if not more so. Among the new features and enhancements were many in the finance area, a new SuiteBilling module, complete with support for new revenue recognition rules for ACS 606 and IFRS 15, and “intelligent” order management. NetSuite places the dual goals of streamlining the development process and customers’ business processes on equal footing.

Disruption caused by today’s digital economy makes digital transformation compelling and the need for agility crucial. Traditionally ERP solutions were more likely to hold you back than to enable transformation. Can NetSuite be an enabler? They can certainly try. And trying is even more important than ever as business complexity increases.

“In the cloud economy everything gets more complex.”

Actually I would say it is the digital economy that makes things more complex. Perhaps in this quote, “the cloud economy” was meant to be synonymous with “the digital economy.” Indeed, it is hard to have a digital economy without the cloud. But I think there is a subtle difference. Cloud is an enabler in helping us participate in the digital economy, both as consumers as well as enterprises. On the one hand, the cloud has made our personal lives simpler. We can order dinner, entertainment, or a taxi ride online. We can shop online and have goods delivered right to our doors. But we can also still shop in a store. Or we can order online and pick up the goods in a store. This is the very definition of “omnichannel.” As we simplify our personal consumer experience, we complicate matters for the enterprise.

“Hybrid business models are the new black.”

Can one system handle all these different ways of conducting business? Certainly traditional ERP solutions made this difficult. They either catered to a retail/cash sale environment or an order-to-pay environment. But today blended environments are becoming more and more common. Many try to accomplish this with different systems. But when these systems don’t talk to each other the customer experience suffers.

But this isn’t the only example of a hybrid business model. We are rapidly entering a subscription-based economy. The software industry led the charge here. Enterprises and consumers alike used to license software and bring it on premise. While this didn’t really mean they “owned” it, as they might own a pair of shoes, in some ways they did own a copy of it. Today, these same software companies are much more likely to sell a subscription to the software.

Now even companies that sell and ship physical products are likely to sell a subscription either along with the product, or instead of it. Consider the water filter company that ships you a device that filters your water for free and then invoices you monthly based on how much water you filter. After a certain period of time, the filter needs to be changed and they charge you when they ship you a new one. Chances are you don’t own the DVR in your home. Your cable provider does. You simply pay for the cable service as a subscription.

More and more companies must invoice based a hybrid business model, invoicing for some combination of product, services or “as a service.”

“If you can sell it, we can bill it (and recognize it.)”

NetSuite’s SuiteBilling module not only supports all these different invoicing methods, but it can also combine them all on a single invoice. While this sounds simple, trust me, there are many solutions out there today that will struggle with supporting all these different billing methods at all, even without trying to combine them on a single order and then a single invoice. I applaud NetSuite for rejecting the option of trying to optimize for the intersection. Instead NetSuite chose to but have to optimize for each and make it easy to combine them.

And because many of these new ways of billing have a signed or at least implied contract, there won’t be too many companies that are not going to be impacted by the convergence of ACS 606 and IFRS 15 (Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2014-9, Revenue from Contracts with Customers (Topic 606 and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) 15, Revenue from Contracts with Customers.)

These converged standards for revenue recognition go into effect the beginning of 2018 for public entities, and in 2019 for privately held organizations, bringing very significant changes to financial statements and reporting for any company doing business under customer contracts. While revenue recognition, including expense and revenue amortization and allocation, has never been simple, with these changes, it is about to get harder – at least for a while.

Why? First of all, while you can prepare for the change, you can’t jump the gun. You can’t recognize revenue based on the new rules until those new rules go into effect in 2018. At that point public entities must report under the new guidance and private companies can, but they have an additional year before they are required to do so. So any public entity better be ready to flip the switch, so to speak. But flipping the switch doesn’t only mean recognizing revenue in a new way. For any contract with outstanding, unfulfilled obligations, you also have to go back and restate the revenue for prior periods under the new rules. And for some period of time, you will need to do dual reporting: old and new. In addition, when contracts change, this can potentially have an impact on revenue previously recognized, including reallocation and amortization of revenue and expenses.

NetSuite has been working on this for quite awhile, starting with the support for multiple sets of books, which is how it will accommodate the dual reporting. It is not too early to be planning for this change and using multiple sets of books, you can be looking at how the revenue will be recognized in the future. I have seen some of these before and after revenue reports and the changes are not particularly intuitive. Best to understand what is coming or your revenue predictions for 2018 are going to way out of whack.

Bonus Quotes

While those were my top 10 favorites coming out of SuiteWorld 2016, there were a couple more that you might find interesting:

“Luck should not be a business strategy”

No further explanation required. Real “luck” is a combination of careful planning and hard work.

“The Cloud is the last computing architecture, the last business architecture.”

Sorry Zach, I just can’t agree with this one. I am sure some will immediately think of the famous quote: “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” While some give credit to Charles H. Duell, the Commissioner of US patent office in 1899, others point to a more contemporary source, a book published in 1981 titled “The Book of Facts and Fallacies” by Chris Morgan and David Langford. Either way, whoever said it, was wrong. Maybe Zach is right, but personally whatever the last computing or business architecture will be, I’m pretty sure nobody has even thought of it yet.

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ACS 606 and IFRS 15 Revenue Recognition Rules Are Coming

Are You Prepared? Intacct Has You Covered.

In May 2014, FASB issued Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2014-9, Revenue from Contracts with Customers (Topic 606). At the same time the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) also issued International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) 15, Revenue from Contracts with Customers. In doing so, these two governing bodies largely achieved convergence, with some very minor discrepancies. These converged standards for revenue recognition go into effect the beginning of 2018 for public entities, and in 2019 for privately held organizations, bringing very significant changes to financial statements and reporting for any company doing business under customer contracts. And of course with these changes come new audit challenges.

“The core principle is that an entity should recognize revenue to depict the transfer of goods or services to customers in an amount that reflects the consideration to which the entity expects to be entitled in exchange for those goods or services.”

Source: FASB ASC 606-10-5-3 and 606-10-10-2 through 10-4

As a result of these changes, revenue is no longer recognized on cash receipt, but instead on the delivery of performance obligations. In summary, there are 5 steps:

  1. Identify the contract with the customer
  2. Identify the performance obligations in the contract
  3. Determine the transaction price for the contract
  4. Allocate the transaction price to the performance obligations
  5. Recognize revenue when or as the entity satisfies the performance obligation

Sounds simple enough, right? Not really. Unless your business is dead simple and you operate on a completely cash basis, the process of billing, accounting for and forecasting revenue, in conjunction with expense and revenue amortization and allocation has never been simple. But with these changes, it is about to get harder – at least for a while.

Why? First of all, while you can prepare for the change, you can’t jump the gun. You can’t recognize revenue based on the new rules until those new rules go into effect in 2018. At that point public entities must report under the new guidance and private companies can, but they have an additional year before they are required to do so. So any public entity better be ready to flip the switch, so to speak. But flipping the switch doesn’t only mean recognizing revenue in a new way. For any contract with outstanding, unfulfilled obligations, you also have to go back and restate the revenue for prior periods under the new rules. And for a period of time, you will need to do dual reporting: old and new. In addition, when contracts change, this can potentially have an impact on revenue previously recognized, including reallocation and amortization of revenue and expenses.

If you are managing billing, accounting and/or revenue forecasting with spreadsheets today… good luck. If you are an Intacct customer, luck is on your side. Earlier this week Intacct announced a new Contract and Revenue Management module. Intacct claims it is the first solution to fully automate the new complexities created by ASC 606 and IFRS 15. They are certainly not the only company working on it. In fact QAD (which targets a completely different market: the world of manufacturing) highlighted its efforts in its own event in Chicago recently. But I have to say, Intacct seems to be right out front leading the charge in helping companies deal with what is sure to be a complex and potentially disruptive transition.

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QAD Channel Islands: Multiple Stops on the Journey to the Effective Enterprise

QAD defines the Effective Enterprise as one “where business processes are operating at peak efficiency and perfectly aligned with strategic goals.” Yet given the ever-accelerating pace of change in our world today, QAD also recognizes that the Effective Enterprise is more of a journey than a destination. The journey is one of continuous improvement and carefully balanced objectives.

The same could be said for the software that runs the business. Which is why its “Channel Islands” initiative is divided into milestones that have QAD (figuratively) hopping from one island to the next. A year ago it released Anacapa and this year Santa Cruz is ready for early adopters. Next year, it will navigate to Santa Rosa and in 2018, San Miguel. With two releases a year planned, chances are San Miguel will simply be another stop along the never-ending journey, but by then QAD will likely be on to other additional adventures suitable to whatever the future might bring.

Channel Islands: An Appropriate Metaphor

In the meantime, QAD appears to have chosen the name of its latest initiative well. QAD’s Channel Islands initiative has a dual purpose. The metaphor is perfect because the first goal of the initiative is to re-invent the entire user experience of QAD ERP, making it more natural (intuitive), visually appealing and easy to use. The Channel Islands of California are a chain of eight islands located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern California along the Santa Barbara Channel near QAD headquarters. The main attraction of the real Channel Islands is their natural beauty, providing relief from the cluttered, hard-to-navigate urban setting.

But the second goal of the initiative makes it even more appropriate. The islands are divided into two groups—the Northern Channel Islands and the Southern Channel Islands. The four Northern Islands used to be a single landmass, but as water levels rose (thousands of years ago), Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel emerged and evolved as separate islands. While QAD ERP was originally developed as a single, tightly integrated solution that needed to move forward in lock step, the goal now is to support more modular upgrades, allowing different modules and disciplines (think finance versus purchasing or production) to move forward independently at their own pace. Mint Jutras often refers to this approach as “loosely coupled” versus tightly integrated, but it should not be confused with a collection of point solutions with arm’s length interfaces. Just like the Northern Islands, under the surface all these different functional areas are still connected.

In fact that was why QAD named the first phase Anacapa. Of the four Northern Channel Islands, Anacapa appears to be the smallest, but in fact has an enormous land mass hidden under the surface of the water. This is representative of the work done to re-architect the underlying infrastructure, reworking the application programming interface (API) structure and protocols, and future proofing the user interface (UI), including the framework for connecting devices. This supports the theory that sometimes the best UI is no UI at all and paves the way for succeeding phases (Islands).

To better understand how QAD is delivering on this modular upgrade approach as well as a new and improved user experience, read the full report (no registration required):

QAD Channel Islands: Multiple Stops on the Journey to the Effective Enterprise

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Women in Manufacturing & Technology At PowerPlex 2016

I recently had the opportunity to participate in Plex Systems’ second annual Women in Manufacturing and Technology Forum. Held at PowerPlex 2016, Plex’s annual user conference, this year’s forum brought together over 85 women, providing an opportunity for networking and discussion. Plex also put together a moderated panel (on which I was honored to sit) to kick off the discussion. But in spite of the name of the forum, the topic of discussion wasn’t manufacturing or technology, but rather the challenges women face in working in what is still very much a man’s world.

So if the discussion didn’t touch on manufacturing or the Plex Manufacturing Cloud, or any kind of software for that matter, why did Plex do this? I believe it is ultimately because Plex cares deeply about its customers and their success. The depth of interest is evident in the level of customer engagement that strikes me as exceptional every time I meet Plex customers or attend one of its events. And while the software is the focal point of the engagement, customer success is always a combination of people, process and technology.

On the people side, amidst an overall skills shortage in manufacturing, women have so much to offer. Yet while our ranks are growing slowly, we remain a small minority. It is very challenging for a woman to get ahead and make it to the top and we need to support each other along the way. The best way to accelerate gender diversity in the worlds of manufacturing and technology is to create a supportive environment and highlight success. In the famous words of former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, “There should be a special place in hell for women that don’t help other women.”

Plex happens to have some great role models, with three women among its C-level executives: Heidi Melin, Chief Marketing Officer, Lilian Reaume, Chief Human Resource Officer and Elisa Lee, Chief Legal Counsel. These three women actively sponsored the forum. I applaud them for that. I would also like to share with everyone a couple of the main themes we discussed, as there are some good lessons both men and women can carry away from them.

Don’t Limit Yourself

While some women are indeed shattering the “glass ceiling” today, many (not all) of the limitations that hold others back are self-imposed. While no two women are exactly alike (just as no two men are), when asked to rate themselves on skills and accomplishments, women tend to under-estimate their own effectiveness, while men tend to over-estimate theirs. A woman will say she is good at A, okay at B and has never done C. A man with the same skill set will say he excels at A and B and could very easily learn C. It’s all about the presentation and the self-confidence with which it is presented. I am not advocating for shameless self-promotion, but whether this reticence stems from a lack of confidence or an overactive sense of modesty, it is equally detrimental in seeking advancement as it is in interviewing for a new job.

Believe in Yourself, But Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help

If you are a woman and have trouble believing in yourself, you’re not alone. Many of the most successful women in the world today grew up believing they could do anything they set out to do. Very often they had the support of family or an early mentor who encouraged them to pursue their dreams.

I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Condoleeza Rice speak recently and walked away with a quote that I think is priceless. She was talking about growing up with the support of her parents. Dr. Rice and I are about the same age. But while I had the advantage in the 1950’s of growing up white in the northeast, she was a little black girl in Birmingham, Alabama where segregation was the norm. And yet she said, “Somehow my father believed that the little black girl that couldn’t order a hamburger at the lunch counter at Woolworth’s, could grow up to be the president of the United States.” That belief system carried Dr. Rice very far.

But just as many women (probably more) didn’t have that level of encouragement growing up and still don’t have it today. But it’s never too late. Seek out that encouragement. It doesn’t have to come from another woman, but it should be someone who is successful in his or her own right, either in business or just in life.

Be Yourself

One of the most common mistakes women make in entering a man’s world is trying to think, behave, act or communicate like a man. A piece of advice from someone who has worked in a man’s world for over 40 years … Don’t. Yes, develop your ability to think, analyze and be decisive. Yes, work on your communication skills, both listening and speaking. Yes, be conscious of how you come across (confidently or defensively). The list of skills you should develop will vary based on your role. Regardless of your role, trust me, it will be long. But as you work on that list, work just as hard to be yourself. Don’t try to be a man. It’s OK – even good – to be a woman in a man’s world as long as you remain you. If you haven’t figured out who that is yet, don’t worry, you will. I may not see it before I retire, but if we all do that, perhaps the man’s world will indeed give way to a world of diversity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Welcome to the New World of Exact Macola

Did you ever walk purposefully into another room and forget what you came for? It happens to me all the time. My pantry is less than 20 steps from my kitchen, and yet, 9 times out of 10, I open the door, step in and wonder what I came for. I wind up stepping out, looking back into the kitchen to see what I was doing. Usually that will trigger my memory. It’s gotten worse with age, but I’m not that old. It happens to all of us. When something we need is not visible and clearly within reach, it’s easy to get distracted and lose track of what you’re looking for.

It’s bad enough when you’re puttering around the house or making dinner. It’s even worse when it happens when you’re sitting at your desk at work. You get a call or an alert on your smart phone, or something doesn’t look quite right on that report you’re scrolling through, or you’re preparing to present performance results to your boss and you need to dig a little deeper. You have a question in mind but even though you know the answer is buried someplace in your enterprise data, it’s not immediately visible and clearly within reach. If you have to hunt and peck, traversing a series of menus, to find what you’re looking for, it’s easy to be distracted along the way. Sometimes you wind up going down a rat hole and 2 hours later, you realize you still haven’t answered your own question. No wonder the days just seem to get longer and longer.

This is clearly the problem Exact Macola is trying to solve in its newest version of Workspaces. A Workspace in Exact Macola 10 gathers together all the data you might need to perform a process, make a decision or monitor performance… in other words, to do your job. Some will come right out of the box. But because your role in your organization and your job is unique, new Workspaces must be easily constructed and standard Workspaces must be easily tailored.

Exact Macola describes Workspaces as “one of the most unique and powerful pieces of Exact Macola 10 – allowing personalized role-based views of your business information and creating a natural and intuitive experience.” I came into the Exact Macola Evolve conference last year with a pretty favorable impression of this technology and that impression became even more favorable as I watched the “Dueling Developers” session this year, which pitted a senior consultant (Thijs Verberne) against product manager David Dozer, in creating Workspaces on the fly as the audience watched.

That exercise proved development was fast and easy. But how does this keep users from wandering into the pantry and forgetting what they came in for? A new feature of Workspaces 2.0 is the ability to add Workspaces menus to transaction screens and/or perform transactions directly from Workspaces. Do you have a job where you spend the majority of your time in transaction screens (e.g. you’re a buyer researching and creating purchase orders)? You can stay there all day doing your primary job, but when you need to do some further investigation, (right from a transaction) you can bring up a Workspace from a pull down menu and it appears as a popup. This feature alone drew a huge round of applause from the audience.

Or maybe you are a manager that prefers to monitor status of a series of key performance indicators (think dashboard). But occasionally you need to perform a transaction like approving those purchase orders or requesting a change. You can stay in your dashboard-like Workspace, and attach a drop down menu (or 2 or 10) that allows you to divert and run a transaction without ever leaving your preferred space.

Marry these two features together and you don’t have to worry about anticipating all your needs up front. Get the basics set up and let your work naturally direct the evolution of your Workspaces. At first you might not think you would ever have a need to go directly to a transaction. But sure enough…. No problem, it can be added in minutes (really!)

While Workspaces 2.0 was (in my mind anyway) the highlight, it is not the only innovation that has been delivered by Exact Macola over the past year. Here are some other areas the team has been working on:

  • Phase 1 support for IFRS
  • Workflow conditional statements (rules, if-then statements, more control and flexibility)
  • Financial consolidation across divisions
  • Business Intelligence delivered through a partnership with Qlik, but sold by Exact under the Exact Insights brand
  • Forecast Pro integration
  • Avalara integration
  • New web services and some underlying architectural changes

All this innovation (and more to come) seemed to infuse a new energy and vibrancy into the Exact Macola community and created more urgency for those still running older solutions like Exact Progression or the Enterprise Suite (ES) to upgrade/migrate to the newer Exact Macola 10.

Not only has the Exact Macola team been delivering innovation at a much accelerated pace, it has also been responding to several trends in the market today. Beyond those features listed above, Exact Macola has been working on full web enablement and the overall user experience. In addition to Workspaces, the company has renewed its focus on ease of use, bringing in experts to help deliver a more natural user experience (UX). This includes both the access anytime, anywhere convenience of the cloud, as well as more mobility. After delivering mobile functionality on iOS last year, it added Android this year. And it has been delivering more analytics, as well as a more end-to-end integrated solution.

Indeed these are exciting times for Exact Macola and its customers. But for those still running those older solutions (Progression and ES), the excitement might soon fade, unless of course they decide to make the leap forward. I would strongly encourage them to do so.

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