ERP

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.

Save

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

New Group at Infor Helps Customers Navigate Digital Disruption

Hook & Loop has been part of Infor now for several years. It is the “creative lab” inside of Infor. Notice I didn’t say “creative agency.” That is a term that is typically associated with advertising agencies, full of those creative types like writers and graphic artists, even filmmakers. There are a lot of those creative types at Hook & Loop, but its charter goes way beyond that of the typical agency. In their own words, Hook & Loop’s is “a collaborative team of designers, information architects, developers, project managers, writers, and filmmakers who are redesigning the user experience for Infor’s software products and envisioning the future of the Infor brand itself. Our mission: change the way people work and think about work.”

Back in early 2015, Diginomica’s Jon Reed did a great job of describing what Hook & Loop was setting out to accomplish. If you aren’t up to speed, you might want to take a moment and review Jon’s Inside the Enterprise UX revolution – a day at Infor’s Hook & Loop. But for here and now, it suffices to say that the Hook & Loop charter went beyond a fresh new user interface (UI). It set out to create a whole new “holistic” user experience (UX) using a unified design methodology.

Infor is now taking this a step further and spinning out a new group from Hook & Loop. It’s called H&L Digital and its proclaimed mission is to create “Differentiation through personalized digital experiences at scale that help enterprises outpace digital disruption and unlock digital growth opportunities.” That’s a mouthful that exposes Hook & Loop’s “agency” lineage.

So let’s move beyond the “agency-speak.” The real purpose of the new group is to help customers navigate digital disruption and achieve a competitive advantage. How do they do that? At its recent Innovation Summit (really an industry analyst day held at corporate headquarters in New York City), Infor attempted to answer that question through examples. We heard about some of its biggest, best and most impressive projects.

Among them was Sports City, a large franchise of stores featuring sports apparel and accessories. H&L Digital helped them transform their brand from a big box retailer surviving on promotion-driven transactions to a branded, sporting goods community leader, attracting those with a passion for sports. This was as much of a branding exercise as it was an ecommerce project, but indeed there were many moving parts from store design to custom application development.

Part of the project was developing an app for coaches of clubs, community and school teams. Through this app, coaches can share online all the equipment kids on the team will need, including specific product options and recommendations within different price ranges and even a pre-owned marketplace. Equipment fitting and a fitting room app also help take the guesswork out of shopping for equipment. That results in Sports City brand loyalty and increased sales. Coaches also can set up their own dashboards for player performance and team optimization, making Sports City the “go to” online destination for all their needs – a far cry from a big box retailer.

H&L Digital also helped transform Nutritious Feed Co. from an animal feed supplier to an animal health provider. Several different customer-facing applications emerged from that project, including Connected Cow Tracker, Total Farm Management, Farmer App, and Animal Health – hardly apps that are in the typical enterprise app portfolio. But the project also attacked more universal challenges like employee engagement and operational efficiency.

Through these presentations and others I was struck by how truly innovative this approach is. H&L Digital helped these companies not only with tools to help them run their businesses; they helped them uniquely re-brand themselves in a completely new light within a digital economy. But I also walked away thinking, these are very big, very custom projects. Translation: very expensive.

In a way it felt like déjà vu all over again. These “custom” projects were reminiscent of the homegrown apps of the 70’s and 80’s. Nobody believed you could have pre-packaged apps back then. Companies believed themselves to be unique and therefore built their own applications. And of course only large companies with deep pockets could (can) afford something with this kind of “Wow!” factor. So the big companies got bigger and stronger and smaller companies “made do.”

Of course, we all know what happened after the 70’s and 80’s. Over time vendors were able to package more functionality and more flexibility, at a more affordable price, so the playing field was leveled and virtually everyone began using pre-packaged solutions. But sitting through these presentations I was beginning to feel like the playing field was no longer level. There would definitely be the “haves” and the “have nots.” Somehow I don’t see Connected Cow Trackers and coaching dashboards becoming part of a standard enterprise application portfolio. So is H&L Digital destined to simply be a high-end provider of custom “luxury” apps?

That’s what I thought at first, but a visit to the H&L Garage (where all this stuff is built) made me think differently. The “creative” teams at H&L Digital do indeed start with a pretty blank sheet when they start to strategize and design. But when it comes to delivering new applications, it is very much an assembly process. The teams talk a lot about creating “wizards.” Wizards essentially assemble a series of components – some custom, some standard (re-usable) under a unique, custom-designed skin, so to speak. This is what makes each project look and feel entirely unique and custom. But if you look under the covers, the components of many of these “unique” processes share a lot of common components.

Outfitting a little leaguer is really just a standard configure-price-quote function and Infor has standard products that deliver that functionality. Is managing player performance really all that different from a sales manager monitoring sales rep performance? The metrics used might be different, but the dashboards probably look and behave quite similarly. Couldn’t you use a lot of the capabilities of monitoring movement of a fleet of trucks to help track cows? I bet “maintenance” schedules of equipment and cows share some common components as well, even though the user interface might appear very different.

So far all these projects have a healthy dose of custom development. But the more of these components Infor develops, the more it will have on the shelf. Over time, more and more components will be standard. This is crucial because companies of all sizes face risk of digital disruption.

Our 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study asked survey respondents to identify the level of risk of their industry (and their business) being disrupted, citing examples like Uber, Airbnb, NetFlix, etc. Almost two thirds (63%) face medium to high and imminent risk and the risk level of small companies (those with revenues under $25 million) is only slightly lower.

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

Infor fig 1Source: 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study

And yet small to mid-size companies are not nearly as well prepared to face these challenges.

Figure 2: How prepared are you for today’s digital economy?

Infor fig 2Source: 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study

So if Infor is able to successfully come down market and satisfy the needs of both large and small companies – even those with small budgets – there is certainly a big market waiting for it. I, for one, am routing for the little guys and hope to see H&L Digital continue to leverage Infor’s vast tool set and product portfolio to become the “go to” vendor for all companies facing the challenges of digital disruption.

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Protected Flow Manufacturing: A New Approach To Production Planning and Execution

 Overcoming the Limitations of MRP and Finite Scheduling

Back in the day, Material Requirements Planning (MRP) was a game changer. In taking a combination of actual and forecasted demand, cascading it through multiple levels of bills of material, netting exploded demand against existing inventory and planned receipts, it was able to create a plan that included purchase orders, shop orders and reschedule messages. Given these bills of material can be many layers deep and encompass hundreds or even thousands of component parts and subassemblies, without automated MRP there is simply too much data and complexity for a human to possibly work with.

Yet, while MRP was able to replace other archaic, clumsy and inaccurate planning methodologies, it has always had its limitations. Because MRP only planned for materials, it ignored labor and equipment resources and assumed infinite capacity. Finite scheduling helped but both were slow and static (and often clumsy), while the pace of business accelerated and change became the only constant. The harsh reality is: Even today, production planning and execution are still largely dependent on spreadsheets, hand-written schedule boards and the ubiquitous daily production meeting, leading many to desperately think, “There has to be a better way!”

That is exactly what MRP veteran Richard T. (Dick) Lilly thought. As an early pioneer, working alongside Ollie Wight, he helped make MRP the game-changer that it was in the 1960’s. He later went on to become the founder of three successful software companies, including Lilly Software Associates where he obtained a United States Patent (5,787,000) for his concurrent (finite) scheduler. He later sold that business to Infor, but he still continued to search for “a better way.” And he found it.

It’s called Protected Flow Manufacturing, a new methodology that simplifies planning and execution. Protected Flow Manufacturing prevents premature release of work, reduces time jobs spend waiting, protects promise dates and provides a clear priority to each operation, without complicated finite scheduling. It accurately predicts when each job will arrive at a specific work center (resource), monitors risk and makes the decision about what to work on next dead simple.

 What’s Wrong With MRP?

The introduction of packaged Material Requirements Planning (MRP) software for the masses (of discrete manufacturers) back in the late 1970’s was transformational, although nobody really called it that back then. “Transformative” innovation is very much a 21st century term. But MRP truly was game-changing back in the day.

While the concept dates back to the 1950’s, for years afterwards, many struggled to apply the methodology. Although the concept was simple enough, bills of material could be many layers deep and encompass hundreds or even thousands of component parts and subassemblies. Without software to automate MRP there is simply too much data and complexity for a human to possibly keep track of. Adding to the dilemma in the period from the 1950’s through the 1970’s, the concept of packaged software solutions was scoffed at. The prevailing sentiment was that (of course) everyone is different and needs a custom-designed system. This left automated MRP systems available only to those with large information technology (IT) staffs capable of developing their own custom versions of MRP.

That started to change in the late 1970’s when packaged applications made an entrance, not just on massive mainframes, but on “mini-computers” as well. But MRP didn’t turn out to be the savior the experts expected it to be. Why not?

Infinite Capacity Throughout the Black Hole of Production

First of all, MRP assumes infinite capacity and “trusts” production run times and supplier lead times implicitly. These assumptions proved to be troublesome for some and a fatal flaw for others. First of all, lead times are treated as constants, even though they can be quite variable. Even when the lead-time of a manufactured product is calculated from setup and run times, it can be inaccurate because of the added lead-time component of wait (or queue) time. MRP treats this as a constant as well when in fact it is anything but.

MRP took a demand due date and backed off the lead-time to give you a release date for production orders. It didn’t really concern itself with what happened in between those two dates. It was up to you to figure that out. Most manufacturers used backward scheduling for the individual operations…again ignoring capacity. Capacity requirements planning (CRP) modules were used to highlight trouble spots, but didn’t offer much else.

Some might argue that finite scheduling is the answer. But the reality is: Finite schedulers are beyond the reach of many companies, require a lot of work and assume standards are more accurate than they typically are. And even if those setup, run and wait times are an accurate measure of the average time, they are just that – an average. Finite schedulers treat them as a constant, when again, they can often be quite variable.

Finite schedulers must determine relative priorities of tasks and tend to do so on an order-by-order basis. Traditionally finite scheduling assumes jobs have the same relative priority throughout all operations. But that’s not necessarily the case, sometimes sacrificing efficiency and due dates unnecessarily in order to preserve that priority.

Speed and Complexity

And then there is the issue of speed and complexity. It was not unusual for early MRP runs to take a full weekend to process, and during that time nobody could be touching the data. This didn’t work so well in 24X7 operations or where operations spanned multiple time zones. Of course over time, this was enhanced so that most MRPs today run faster and can operate on replicated data, so that operations can continue. But that only means it might be out of date even before it completes.

And MRP never creates a perfect plan. So while most planners were relieved of the burden of crunching the numbers, they were also burdened with lots of exceptions and expedited orders.

Human Nature: It’s a Trust Issue

And finally, there is human nature. MRP required a paradigm shift and the planning process executed by MRP is complex. Not everyone intuitively understands it. While MRP is not rocket science it is hard to rewind, step through and “see” all that is going on. And if planners and schedulers, or even operators don’t really understand it, they are unwilling to relinquish control, hence the end-runs and work-arounds with spreadsheets, scheduling boards and meetings.

It’s basically a trust issue. Without complete and implicit trust, it’s just human nature to pad standards to create a buffer, allowing for disruptions along the way and Murphy’s Law (if something can go wrong, it will). As these estimates (vendor lead times, production and wait times) get inflated, performance might look good on paper, but in reality it declines along with productivity and utilization.

Yes, MRP brought a new dimension to material planning. But has it really helped manage the execution of the plan? No. Some might even argue it was never intended to. It might help get the materials to supply the production process on time, maybe even just in time. It can tell you when to release an order and when to complete it. But it does little to help in between, which is where the real execution happens.

Yet through the past three decades, planning and execution hasn’t changed all that much. Yes MRP has gotten faster. Yes, there are viable finite schedulers on the market. But in general, solution providers have primarily addressed issues by throwing technology at solutions, assuming the functionality was perfected decades ago.

Next generation solutions add speed. They are moving to the cloud, becoming accessible through mobile devices and are perhaps even enhanced with analytics. But little has been done to improve the methodology or the functionality. Protected Flow Manufacturing is the first completely new approach to production planning and execution in decades.

It’s Time for a Fresh Approach

Recognizing all these limitations, Mr. Lilly and his associates formed a new company called LillyWorks, and set about re-evaluating how MRP and other scheduling tools were implemented in the real world. In doing so, the group challenged assumptions that were made decades ago, but were somehow never revisited. This resulted in a new concept they call Protected Flow Manufacturing.

The concept is based on Little’s Law. Since few manufacturing folks are interested in queuing theory, suffice to say it is based on the same theory we all intuitively employ in our daily lives. When you walk into a bank (or store, or registry of motor vehicles), the fewer people there, the less time you wait.

Applying that same reasoning to a work center or piece of equipment, the less work you bring out to the shop floor, the less time jobs wait between operations. And you know that wait (or queue) time is the reason why it takes you four weeks to complete a job even though run and setup times add up to a single week.

So Protected Flow Manufacturing prevents the premature release of work. You might think you are being smart in starting early, in order to allow yourself some extra time, but doing so can result in unintended consequences that have a negative impact on this and other jobs. Everyone would agree releasing a job too late is bad. But releasing it too early can be equally bad. That implies there is a “right” time to release it. And Protected Flow Manufacturing will calculate that.

In doing so, Protected Flow Manufacturing uses setup, run and move time to calculate the “operating time,” but ignores queue times at individual work centers or operations.

In a perfect world, with nothing else competing for resources, this operating time is how long it would take you to manufacture the product. But of course we don’t live in a perfect world and of course you don’t simply work on one job at a time. You have different orders competing for the resources on the shop floor.

Therefore we have to budget in some protection. But even though traditional queue time is defined as a constant, it is indeed quite variable. Trying to predict that variability at the level of granularity of each operation is complicated, maybe even impossible. But you know generally how long it takes to get something all the way through the process. Maybe that is four weeks. And you know the operating time. Let’s say that is one week. That means you are actively working the job for a week and it spends another three weeks waiting. So you have a 3:1 ratio of buffer time to operating time and in this case, a buffer of three weeks.

So that’s exactly what Protected Flow Manufacturing has you do: Define the ratio of work to buffer time for the entire work order, or maybe even a category of work orders. If you have a 3:1 ratio today and are largely hitting your due dates, maybe you set it at 2.5:1. See how it works for you. Chances are you will find yourself whittling that down over time as you build more confidence in the system.

Sounds simple enough, but your next question might be, “Without queue times for each operation, how do I schedule the order?” The answer is, you don’t. Not in the traditional “order by order” sense. Instead, you predict what will happen at each of the resources (work center, machine, etc.) at future moments in time. After the work order has been released, that’s actually where the decisions must be made. With multiple jobs sitting in the queue, which should the operator work on next? Protected Flow Manufacturing provides a clear priority to each operation without finite scheduling.

Once these decisions are made, you find you actually have an implicit schedule for each work order, step by step, indicating when the work will arrive at the resource and when the operation will start. If you follow the rules, you will be able to predict when the job will be completed. And along the way, you can assess the risk of missing that due date. But Protected Flow Manufacturing is designed to minimize that risk and protect promised dates.

Sounds like a lot of work? Perhaps if you had to do this manually, but of course all these predictions can be automated, just like MRP was automated.

Here’s How It Works

Protected Flow Manufacturing calculates when each operation of each job will start and finish, based on

  • Resource capacity
  • Estimated setup and run times (and move times if applicable)
  • A defined buffer to operating time ratio
  • Other jobs also waiting for the same resources
  • Material availability (which may include lead time for ordering additional material)

Protected Flow Manufacturing starts with a due date for the job. It then calculates the operating time from the setup, run and move times for each operation and adds a buffer based on the ratio you define. Let’s say you have Job A where you will spend 3 days working and you have 12 days of buffer (a ratio of 4:1). Protected Flow Manufacturing would make the order available to be worked on 15 days prior to the due date, and not before.

At that point you could start working on the first operation, but obviously only if the resource is available. It might sit waiting for that resource. No work is being done, but some of the buffer is being eaten up. When released, it has 100% of its buffer left. After two days of no activity, it has 83.3% of its buffer remaining. If there is another job (Job B) waiting for that resource, when it is projected to free up, Protected Flow Manufacturing says you should work on the one with the smallest percentage of its buffer remaining. If Job B has less than 83.3% of its buffer remaining, it goes first. Meanwhile more buffer will get eaten away on Job A until it is the job projected to have the smallest percentage of its buffer remaining at the next (future) moment in time when you would need to decide “what’s next?”

In order to accurately predict outcomes, Protected Flow Manufacturing travels forward in time to these future moments. That might be when capacity will become available (an operation is predicted to finish) or an operation is predicted to arrive at a resource. Protected Flow Manufacturing then answers the question of “what’s next?” based not on the conditions of the present moment, but on conditions projected for that future moment in time. It then “loads” that job.

Ultimately Protected Flow Manufacturing loads all work left to be scheduled and completed. With all the parameters established (capacity, operating times and buffer ratios), this can all be automated. Operators simply need to follow the rules and suddenly planners/schedulers can turn their attention to improving processes rather than figuring all this out and then fighting fires when the best laid plans go astray.

What About Materials?

The accuracy of predicted start and completion of operations is predicated on the needed materials being available. So even if the resource has the required capacity available when the operation is predicted to arrive, Protected Flow Manufacturing will not load the job unless the materials are available. How does it do that without MRP? It links them directly to the operation. Of course it can “see” existing inventory and looking out into the future, it can determine from scheduled receipts when additional material is due to arrive. If there are no (or insufficient) scheduled receipts, it uses the lead-time.

This is fairly intuitive for simplistic, single level bills of material (BOMs), but unless you are running a simple repetitive manufacturing process, seldom do you have the luxury of a single-level or a simple linear and sequential process. If you do, you are probably using much simpler methodologies than MRP.

In a more complex environment, perhaps in a job shop, there is a lot more involved than just a multi-level BOM. You might have multiple processes overlapping or running in parallel, perhaps making subassemblies or semi-finished goods, then converging in a final stage. Or perhaps you start with a common process and then diverge. Think of cutting a piece of sheet metal and then sending different cuts to different work orders.

So instead of relying on a multi-level BOM, the Protected Flow Manufacturing concept assumes a multi-level work order, where the interdependencies are not just implied, but defined specifically. This might add a level of complexity to your operation, but it also makes it a lot more like the real world.

This approach also addresses an additional limitation of MRP. MRP assumes a shop order for each level in the BOM. Even a very simple product assembled from two manufactured items requires three shop orders: one for each of the components and a third to assemble them. Also, MRP requires you to receive these components back into stock even if you never keep an inventory of them on hand. You might record the receipt to inventory and then immediately issue them back out to the shop floor. Oftentimes this is a paper-only transaction that never really occurs, which creates extra, unnecessary transactions.

Also, each shop order has its own due date. Yet the due dates of the shop orders making the components are not directly connected to the final assembly order. So when the due date from the customer changes, someone has to remember to go back and adjust the due dates for the shop orders making the manufactured components. These limitations are most troublesome in a job shop environment where work is driven by actual orders for non-standard products.

Protected Flow Manufacturing’s multi-level work order approach eliminates these problems. So, does this mean Protected Flow Manufacturing is applicable only to job shops where material is purchased directly for individual jobs and nothing is ever made to stock? No, it just means it needs to accommodate stock orders for both purchased and manufactured parts.

Bonus: Rush Orders Become Self-Expediting

With the automation of MRP, planners/schedulers really became expediters. MRP came up with a plan, but no plan is ever perfect and neither is supplier or shop floor performance. Capacity is proven to not be infinite. Due-dates change. Suppliers miss scheduled deliveries. And of course a rush order trumps all other exceptions. So how does Protected Flow eliminate expediting of a rush order?

Remember Job A? It had 3 days of work and 12 days of buffer. So we released it 15 days before it was due. What if all of a sudden you only have 10 days to complete a similar job? When you release the job with the rush due date, it has already lost 5 days of its buffer. So it hits the first operation and instead of having 100% of its buffer remaining, it only has 58.3% of its buffer remaining. It will automatically get prioritized ahead of those released with the full buffer, with absolutely no manual intervention.

Conclusion

Protected Flow Manufacturing obviously takes a new and novel approach to execution. But is it better? It is definitely a lot more simple and easy to understand than MRP and finite schedulers. It addresses the real-life challenges job shops have perennially faced and reflects the realities of actual operations, whether you are operating in the mode of make-to-stock, make-to-order or somewhere in between.

It is “better” because it makes predictions that respect the reality that job priorities change over time, including the ripple effect to upstream and downstream operations. It reflects what is likely to occur in the future when workers perform according to the priorities that it calculates for them, while also acknowledging limited capacity resources. And it enhances the material plan with a production schedule that can be trusted and executed simply by following the rules.

But the proof is in the execution. Interested in how Mr. Lilly and his associates at LillyWorks have incorporated Protected Flow Manufacturing concepts into a new solution? Click here to learn more.

Tagged , , , , , ,

NetSuite In Transition

 From “Graduations” to Full-Scale Replacements

After years of supporting “graduations” from the likes of QuickBooks and desktop solutions, more and more larger, more well-established companies are turning to cloud native NetSuite for whole-scale replacement of entrenched Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions. This transition comes at an opportune time as the demand for scaleable solutions escalates and the acceptance of software as a service (SaaS) grows. NetSuite OneWorld’s cloud-based ERP, including support for global financial consolidation and embedded omnichannel commerce, along with its scaleable platform that supports customization and extensibility, makes it a viable contender as a replacement strategy for legacy solutions.

Cloud and SaaS, Not Just For the Little Guys

Many confuse the terms cloud and SaaS. In fact Mint Jutras has been guilty of using them interchangeably. But in fact they are not the same and this means not all “cloud” solutions should be viewed as equals.

  • Cloud refers to access to computing, software, storage of data over a network (generally the Internet.) You may have purchased a license for the software and installed it on your own computers or those owned and managed by another company, but your access is through the Internet and therefore through the “cloud,” whether private or public.
  • SaaS is exactly what is implied by the acronym. Software is delivered only as a service. It is not delivered on a CD or other media to be loaded on your own (or another’s) computer. It generally is paid for on a subscription basis and does not reside on your computers at all.

All SaaS is cloud computing, but not all cloud computing is SaaS. Traditional on-premise or hosted solutions might (or might not) be accessed via the cloud, although this is more likely to be a private cloud. NetSuite is a real multi-tenant SaaS solution, which puts it in a different class of applications than those that just deliver web-based access.

For many years, many also made the assumption that SaaS was just for small companies. And yet for the past several years, Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies have found a growing preference for SaaS across all sizes of companies. Below we present those results in two different ways.

Figure 1 shows the progression of preference over the past several years, in intervals of two years. The question posed to survey respondents was this: If you were to select a solution today, which deployment options would you consider? Respondents are allowed to select all that apply.

Figure 1: Which Deployment Options Would You Consider?

NS Fig 1Source: Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies

* Option added in 2015

We found 2013 to be a turning point, where we saw a very sharp drop-off in willingness to even consider a traditional on-premise solution, and in 2015 we saw almost a 20% increase in willingness to consider SaaS. Very early feedback from our 2016 Enterprise Solution Study indicates both trends are continuing.

But this doesn’t answer the question as to whether SaaS is just for small companies. To answer this question we need to examine the responses by size of company. Figure 2 defines size of company by annual revenue and we find nearly as much interest in SaaS in large enterprises as we do in small companies.

Figure 2: Percentage that Would Consider SaaS (by company size)

NS Figure 2Source: Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study

Note: annual revenues determine company size:

  • Small: Annual revenues under $25 million
  • Lower Mid: $25 to $250 million
  • Upper Mid: $250 million to $1 Billion
  • Large: Over $1 billion

Mint Jutras believes this is largely fueled by the way companies grow and expand today. Gone are the days when companies grew to be large, monolithic giants. While companies may be large and centrally owned and operated, they typically expand into multiple operating locations, oftentimes distributed across the globe. Indeed 80% of companies surveyed in our 2015 study operate in more than one location (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Number of Operating Locations (by company size)

NS Figure 3Source: Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study

Even where these operating locations are semi-autonomous subsidiaries, when it comes to software that runs the business, it is no longer common to leave those decisions to the individual business units. The vast majority (87%) has defined corporate standards for these applications. As the company grows, along with the number of operating locations, the potential for complexity grows faster. What better way of managing and enforcing these standards than through a centrally maintained SaaS solution like NetSuite OneWorld?

Case In Point: Dent Wizard International

Dent Wizard International has been the leader in the development of Paintless Dent Removal (PDR) technology since its establishment in 1983, and today is North America’s leading provider of SMART Repairs (Small to Medium Area Repair Techniques). In 2010, Dent Wizard was acquired by a private equity firm, and therefore needed to transition off its legacy IT environment, including an on-premise ERP and custom accounts receivables and payroll applications running on an IBM AS/400. With over 1,800 employees, 1,500 of which are service technicians in the field, Dent Wizard needed a solution with access to business data any time, from anywhere capabilities, so cloud was a “must.” But beyond that, Dent Wizard sought added scalability and the ability to automate labor-intensive processes. Dent Wizard was specifically looking for:

  • a broad range of functionality to run complex and mission-critical business processes across multiple subsidiaries on the same platform;
  • speed of implementation and time to value;
  • a platform that removes the burden of having to manage upgrades and servers and dealing with version lock issues;
  • real-time visibility into and control of its business across all business entities and subsidiaries through a single version of the truth;
  • the agility, scalability and flexibility to support business growth.

When it first selected NetSuite in 2012, the majority of its invoices were entered manually, which necessitated a massive amount of data entry. Since then, the company’s revenue has grown by more than 60% and it now processes more than 1.8 million invoices per year, and has increased electronic invoice processing by 30%.

Many of those invoices are filed directly by field service technicians using its Wizard Pro mobile invoicing application running on mobile devices. This eliminates the need for the lion’s share of that manual data entry. The mobile application was developed using the NetSuite platform and integrates directly with OneWorld. It gives technicians the ability to manage tools and equipment on site through NetSuite inventory management.

Value and scalability were key elements of the decision to go with NetSuite OneWorld. “NetSuite gives us a platform for growth and scalability, and from an IT infrastructure standpoint—we don’t have to manage servers,” said Tammy Conner, Dent Wizard Chief Information and Accounting Officer. “NetSuite has enabled us to run a very lean IT department, and that makes our organization much more efficient. Our people are happy with NetSuite and routinely evaluate how we can optimize the solution for our business.”

Now Is the Time

Now is certainly an opportune time for NetSuite itself to be graduating into this new realm. Only 36% of Mint Jutras survey respondents gave us a definitive “no” when asked if they would purchase an ERP system within the next two years. Of course some (20%) of the remaining 64% are still undecided and some of these purchases will be “graduation” from a solution like QuickBooks that might not qualify as a full-fledged ERP. But a follow-on question lends a bit more clarity around those switching out old solutions versus supporting new sites or perhaps even a first time purchase. While 38% will be replacements, another 43% will combine replacement with accommodation for a new site not previously supported by ERP (Figure 4). Needless to say, this is a huge opportunity for ERP solution providers.

Figure 4: First Time Purchase or a Replacement?

NS Figure 4Source: 2015 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study

We know the time is right for NetSuite, but is the time right for you? If you are in the “undecided” camp, it may be helpful to understand what spurs these replacements. We asked survey respondents to select the top three reasons that would prompt a replacement of a current solution. Figure 5 shows the five reasons with the most votes.

Figure 5: What Prompts Replacement? (select top 3)

NS Figure 5Source: Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies

Interestingly enough these align quite well with what we find to be the appeal of SaaS (see sidebar). Quite often legacy solutions fail to meet the functional needs of their owners. Early solutions lack the depth and breadth of functionality available in newer solutions based on advanced technology, leading to customizations that further exacerbate the problem by building in barriers to upgrades and innovation.

Not only does a multi-tenant SaaS solution lend itself to more frequent updates (the vendor has only a single line of code to maintain), but also NetSuite’s platform makes extending the solution relatively easy. Dent Wizard’s Wizard Pro mobile invoicing application is the perfect example. This mobile process is quite unique to Dent Wizard and therefore not likely to be satisfied right out of the box. But in treating this as an extension to OneWorld the barriers traditionally built in with invasive code changes are removed. Even as NetSuite delivers innovation, this type of extension simply moves forward as well. Nothing breaks.

A SaaS solution also is a key enabler of growth. No capital expenditure required; no need to build out a data center, or even put hardware or a huge information technology (IT) staff in country. The access any time, from anywhere nature of a cloud solution is conducive to supporting distributed users and bringing up remote sites rapidly and easily while conforming to and enforcing those corporate standards mentioned earlier.

Those saddled with outdated technology can rest assured they will never wind up in such a situation in the future. A good SaaS solution also addresses the cost of obsolescence.

And finally, sometimes you need to spend money to save money. An old, outdated solution can be costing you in terms of time, effort and real money to maintain it. The good news is that with a SaaS solution such as NetSuite’s you don’t need a capital investment.

Based on survey responses gathered in past Mint Jutras surveys, NetSuite customers place a lot of emphasis on costs. Back in 2013, in rating the appeal of SaaS, 50% of NetSuite customers selected lower total cost of ownership (TCO). Two years later when we asked what actual benefits had been realized, NetSuite seemed to have over-delivered on this promise with 61% indicating they had realized lower TCO.

Conclusion

Indeed, the time is right for NetSuite to be coming up market, targeting not only those seeking their first ever real ERP solution, but also those who are hindered by older solutions that lack the functionality and the technology to keep pace with growth and change. NetSuite’s solution has been developed over its long history as a cloud-native solution to address the needs of larger, global and distributed environments with financials and consolidation. Customers have proven the solution can handle massive transaction volumes while helping organizations like Dent Wizard run lean and efficiently.

Do your current solutions allow you to grow efficiently? If not, perhaps the time is right for you. If so, NetSuite is definitely worth a look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , ,

SAP Anywhere Moves Beyond eCommerce to Provide Complete Front Office

Marketing, Sales and Service for SMBs

At first glance SAP Anywhere might appear to be just another new eCommerce solution for online retailers. But if you dig a little deeper you find much more. Purpose built for the small to medium size business (SMB) with a digital presence, it is a complete front office solution. It is a multi-channel commerce and marketing platform designed to be mobile first, low-touch and easily extensible. It supports SMBs in their efforts to:

  • Design and manage marketing programs and leads
  • Manage inside sales and customer service
  • Have visibility into what’s being sold, through which channel
  • Process online and in-store orders in one place
  • Track and manage inventory

Yes, SAP Anywhere targets retailers, but also recognizes the evolution in the way products are bought and sold today. Not only do retailers sell through multiple channels (online, in store and anything in between), but also more and more manufacturers and distributors have at least one sales channel where they eliminate the middleman and sell directly to the consumer. This places new demands on the business at the point of sale, demands typically not easily addressed by back office solutions such as enterprise resource planning (ERP).

SAP has taken a modular approach to satisfying these needs. Rather than building more complexity into the ERP solution itself, forcing upgrades or replacement, it loosely couples the front office to existing back office solutions. If you are an SAP Business One or SAP Business By Design customer, the integration is out of the box. But the platform approach of SAP Anywhere also allows it to be easily connected to any back office – virtually anywhere.

Supporting Any Model, Anywhere

When it comes to managing the sale of goods, retail and manufacturing/ distribution are typically worlds apart. In retail, at the point of sale you deal with cash, check or debit/credit card; the customer walks away with goods in hand and inventory is depleted. In manufacturing you process your customer’s purchase order, create a sales order and subsequently ship and invoice, relieving inventory and creating accounts receivable. Later you receive cash and apply the cash receipt against accounts receivable either on an open item or a cash balance basis.

Receiving cash in a traditional point of sale system in a retail environment, either in store or online is easy. Managing an open account is more difficult. For a manufacturer or distributor using an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, managing accounts and accounts receivable is standard practice. Processing a cash sale is more difficult.

In a retail store, the cash in the drawer is reconciled against the sales recorded at the end of the day. In a manufacturing or distribution environment shipments, invoices and cash receipts are reconciled at the end of the month. Yet in all cases, everything must be posted to the general ledger in order to create a balance sheet and profit and loss statement.

So what happens when a manufacturer or distributor sells directly to a consumer? It happens more and more today in showrooms and factory outlets, as well as online. In eliminating the traditional retailer, does the manufacturer need to invest in a retail point of sale (POS) solution, an eCommerce solution, as well as a back office ERP solution… and then interface or integrate them all in the hope they will one day all work seamlessly?

SAP Anywhere supports all these different environments at the point of sale without causing you to jump through hoops, automatically sending the necessary transactions back to ERP, whether you post an order, to be followed by shipment, invoice and payment or whether it all happens at once. And with SAP Anywhere, it’s not just about being able to take cash for a product in hand. Manufacturers or distributors might have a virtual showroom from which you can place a more traditional business-to-business (B2B) order. The manufacturer or distributor might have the goods in stock to be shipped and invoiced, or it might take an order, source the product and have it shipped directly to the customer. SAP Anywhere supports any and all of these different business models.

And these business models, and even prices, may vary by channel. Are you selling direct, through distributors or through online commerce companies like Amazon or Alibaba? Today are they all forced to use the same catalog and pricing? Or are you forced to create (maintain) separate catalogs for each? Can you tie a channel to a specific warehouse or fulfill all orders from a central distribution point or anything in between? If using a central warehouse, can you reserve inventory for a specific channel? All of these options are supported by SAP Anywhere. Perhaps SAP should call it SAP Anywhere Anyhow.

Flexibility in Payment

SAP Anywhere can also accept a variety of payment methods common in a combination of online and physical retail outlets including in store, showroom, warehouse or simply “in person” transactions (think about a service technician selling a spare part). These payment methods include cash, debit card and stripe (payments infrastructure).

In a physical setting, the application itself supports bar code scanning directly from the mobile device on which the sale is captured, without any added hardware. Or you can add an external scanner connected via Bluetooth. In addition to the scanner you might also connect a printer and make use of cash drawer functions that allow the use of any personal computer with a “locked” cash drawer, all while keeping track of total sales for any day broken out by payment method.

Customer Lead Generation

Completing a sale is great, but not necessarily unique to SAP. However, there is more to the front office function than just selling. The front office is also tasked with creating demand and acquiring new customers. These marketing functions are typically supported by separate applications, if at all. Many SMBs today see digital marketing as an affordable alternative to more traditional software to manage marketing campaigns. But they then struggle to tie these digital campaigns back to the transactions for closed loop marketing.

The next area of investment in developing SAP Anywhere is in the realm of digital marketing. Look for instant integration with Constant Contact and Mail Chimp, both of which can track clicks and other campaign statistics. Next on the docket are search (think Google ads) and integration with social media to integrate campaigns into Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Where and When?

SAP Anywhere isn’t available everywhere… yet. It launched in Beijing in October, in partnership with China Telecom. SAP is planning to launch in the United Kingdom soon, to be followed shortly thereafter in North America. But it will need to continue to expand geographically if it wants to achieve its goal of 100,000 customers within five years. Along with that customer count goal comes an annual revenue goal of $200 million. Because this solution is completely cloud-based, all sales will be by subscription.

If you do the math, this means average annual revenue per customer of just $2,000, making it quite affordable and appealing to the SMB market.

In Summary…

SAP seems to have very aggressive plans for SAP Anywhere, targeting growing SMBs interested in having more customers. And today, who isn’t? The Internet levels the playing field for expansion and growth. But growing your customer base today also requires a digital presence – one that is very carefully orchestrated from lead generation to customer acquisition to customer retention. Don’t settle for just one piece of the puzzle. Make sure you start down a path that can take you Anywhere you want to go. Perhaps SAP Anywhere can help.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Intacct Advantage 2015: Education, Collaboration, Inspiration and lots of Predictions

The tag line for Advantage 2015, Intacct’s annual user conference, was “Education, Collaboration, Inspiration.” But the real message I heard was this: The world is changing rapidly and Intacct is doing everything in its power to help customers survive and thrive by helping them keep up with change. In order to keep up today, you can’t sit back and wait for change to occur; you need to anticipate it. You need to make predictions, which was an additional theme running as an undercurrent on the main stage. Indeed Intacct’s CEO Rob Reid delivered some predictions of his own, promising customers, “We are your partner… thinking ahead, innovating ahead, scaling ahead.”

For those of you not familiar with Intacct, it is a cloud financial management solution provider. Bringing cloud computing to finance and accounting, Intacct’s applications are the preferred financial applications for AICPA business solutions and are used by more than 10,500 organizations from startups to public companies. The solution has evolved over time to provide all of the functions necessary to provide an operational and transactional system of record for the types of businesses the company sells to, bringing it more into the realm of an industry-specific ERP.

The Intacct system includes accounting, cash management, purchasing, contract management, financial consolidation, revenue recognition (a particular strength), project accounting, fund accounting, inventory management and financial reporting.

Here are Mr. Reid’s predictions:

Prediction #1: 20 is the new 80

While today finance executives spend 80% of their time completing tasks and 20% of their time planning for the future, Mr. Reid predicts that Intacct customers will flip these percentages, spending 20% of their time completing tasks and 80% planning strategically. I buy into the concept, but perhaps not at that level. Sure you can automate a lot of the tasks performed manually today, but I worry a little about leaders spending four times as much time planning as executing on the strategy.

Prediction #2: The business model is liberated

I view this as less of a prediction than an observation. New business models are disrupting whole industries. You’re already familiar with many of the consumer-oriented examples including Uber (transportation), Airbnb (hospitality), Netflix (entertainment), iTunes (music). But this business model disruption is affecting many other industries. More and more are moving away from simply delivering a product for a price and instead moving into subscription model pricing and delivery. Intacct is well positioned to support customers moving in this direction, including enhancements to its contract billing functionality. So this prediction is meant to exhort customers to adapt models to let their customers consume offerings the way they (the Intacct customers’ customers) want.

Prediction #3: Project finances get a freeze frame and zoom lens.

In this prediction, “project” is used as a noun, not a verb (as in “to project”). This is a prediction with about 100% probability of coming about, because it was simply a means of introducing Intacct Project Management. While Intacct has long been strong in project accounting, this new offering is an exception-based module meant to be used to evaluate progress and performance and predict profitability and utilization… i.e. manage the project rather than just do the accounting. In doing so, customers can assess project health and the impact on financials. Dashboards are meant to “freeze the frame” and give a snapshot of status in real time, also allowing managers to “zoom” in by drilling down to the detailed transactions.

Prediction #4: Finance is strategic planning

Mr. Reid is predicting that the finance department will become “the ultimate strategist.” This has actually been the goal of CFOs for a long time now and there was a time when many were marching determinedly in that direction. Then came Sarbanes Oxley and many took a U-turn and focused primarily on governance and control. By automating finance processes and reporting, many are now in a position to resume that march towards innovation and strategic purpose. But good strategy can’t be just guesswork and bright ideas. It needs to be based on real data and many CFOs still wait for the metrics needed to formulate a strategic plan. When finance departments spend hours, days or weeks gathering this data and formulating the metrics, they are often out-of-date, or even downright wrong, by the time they reach the desk of the CFO.

In days gone by C-level executives, including the CFO, rarely ever put their hands directly on accounting and ERP systems. It was far easier to get data in than to get data and insights back out, and they were just too hard to navigate. That is changing however. Today executives at the majority of companies have direct access to data within these systems, but some take more advantage of this access than others. Those running SaaS solutions (like Intacct’s) seem better positioned to take full advantage (Figure 1).

Figure 1: What level of access does your top executive management have to ERP?

Figure 1 IntacctSource: Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study

Intacct has been hard at working delivering several different vehicles of communication to make this enterprise data easier to consume, including dashboards and a particular delivery method called “ Intacct Digital Board Books.” With both, decision-makers have instant access to data organized for action. However, Digital Board Books are very industry-specific and the first one off the shelf is designed for software businesses that, like Intacct, deliver software as a service (SaaS).

So for those finance departments running Intacct in a SaaS software business, this prediction is spot on. For nonprofits that depend on fundraising, the prediction is likely to become a reality this fall, when Digital Board Books for Fundraising is scheduled for release. Intacct customers in other segments might have to wait a bit longer, but all the (technical) heavy lifting has been done in producing the first Digital Board Books. Now it is just a question of Intacct selecting and defining the right metrics and developing the content for the “books.” Intacct intends to produce these for each of the major segments in which it is strong, and will also continue to innovate those for SaaS software companies and nonprofits.

Prediction #5: You’ll do more with less. Others will fall behind

This sounded more like a promise than a prediction, a promise of new technologies, faster speed and more automation. This was actually a great segue to Intacct CTO, Aaron Harris, who approached the stage on a hover board. Once on stage he proceeded to demo the new Intacct Collaborate, a new “social” capability based on Salesforce.com’s Chatter product. Through Collaborate, Intacct customers can initiate conversations online, in real time, but more importantly, those conversations can be stored along with the business objects that are the subjects of the conversation: customers, orders, products, etc.

Mint Jutras research consistently finds “social” capabilities at the very bottom of the list of priorities for selecting finance and accounting and ERP solutions. However, when we separately ask how important some of those actual capabilities are (without calling them “social”), the ability to capture and retain conversations is consistently rated as valuable. Forty percent (40%) rate it as useful and 21% say it is a “must have.” And when we look at the responses by millennials, the percentage that rate it as “must have” almost doubles. No surprise there. These younger workers that never knew life without the Internet, are quite accustomed to electronic conversations. It is often their first communication method of choice.

Some of the baby boomers out there might need a little push in this direction, but once there, the value of keeping an audit trail of communication will become very obvious. And the good news is, even though it is based on Salesforce Chatter, you don’t have to be a Salesforce customer in order to use Collaborate. Even better news: it’s free (included in your standard subscription fee).

In addition to Collaborate, Intacct has been investing in its data centers, including the installation of new servers that are 35% faster, with 2X more application server memory. And beyond investing in more computing power, it has also been using newer technology (including in-memory computing) to speed the processing and analysis of data. It has achieved some pretty impressive results:

  • Intacct can now process 1 million customer invoices in 4 seconds
  • It can produce an analysis report on 20 million orders in 45 seconds
  • And it can produce a vendor ledger with 30 million transactions in 33 seconds

All of this investment puts Intacct customers in a very competitive position. We’ll be watching to see if they can make these predictions come true.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Deltek On Track to Deliver More by Working Smart

When I think of Deltek, I think projects. But there are lots of different kinds of projects, both internal and external. In its own words, “Deltek provides software solutions specifically designed to meet the needs of project-driven businesses.” If all you need is software to manage the projects themselves, there is a plethora of software products to choose from – as many different options as there are different kinds of projects. It’s one of the most fragmented software categories in the market today, with hundreds of companies and products from which to choose. But when it comes to software that manages the business that is built around projects, that’s an entirely different story. Now we’re not only talking about ERP, but also a special kind of ERP… and possibly much more. And there are far fewer solutions on the market that are purpose-built to manage these project-based businesses. Deltek is not only the proud owner of not one, but several of these solutions.

In fact over the years, through organic development and acquisition, Deltek has collected a dizzying array of products: specialized enterprise solutions for government contractors and a wide range of professional services organizations including architecture and engineering (A&E) firms, management consultants, advertising, PR and marketing agencies and more. The one thing all these segments have in common is this: They are all people-centric, providing services, largely delivered through projects. Beyond this point of commonality, they can be very different. They don’t go after the same type of business; their customers are worlds apart; some are heavily regulated; others operate under few constraints. Some are small; others are large. Some manage projects that last days or weeks and others span multiple years. A general-purpose kind of solution just doesn’t work well here.

Other vendors that do offer general-purpose ERP solutions often make acquisitions in an attempt to grab market share. They buy out competitors and wind up with similar, often competing products. Few have been successful in rationalizing portfolios, and most promise never to “sunset” a product, but seldom do all products get equal attention. Some will be declared “strategic” while others slip quietly into maintenance mode.

But the combination of Deltek’s development and acquisitions has led it into a variety of different markets. Deltek Costpoint serves government contractors. Deltek Vision serves first and foremost A&E, but also has customers in management consulting. The Axium acquisition, which brought Deltek Ajera to the portfolio also serves A&E but allows Deltek to come down market from where Vision competes. Deltek Maconomy targets Professional Services organizations. While there might be some overlap between the targets of each of these product lines, rationalizing to a single product would add a level of complexity that really doesn’t serve the customer well.

There might be some opportunity to merge Vision and Ajera, because they both target the same industry, just at different ends of the market. But Deltek is smart enough to know it would have to do so very cautiously. Not only are Ajera customers quite loyal to the product, but being small companies, most of the leaders within these companies also contribute to revenue generation. Migrating to a new solution might very well be at the expense of generating direct revenue, leaving it low on the list of priorities.

So this leaves Deltek with a rather difficult challenge of providing continued innovation across a broad portfolio. But there are different ways of delivering innovation. Of course Deltek needs to add new features to the core of its products. Often this is driven by customer request.

But innovation of enterprise software is an interesting mix of push and pull. Customers push for new features and enhancements either because their business has changed or because they have discovered functional gaps or missing features, or because processes are clumsy and inefficient.

On the other side of the same coin you also see solution providers who want to be trendsetters. They incorporate new technology and offer new functionality and then try to pull their customers along. In some cases the vendors have better foresight than the customers who might be too busy fighting fires in the trenches to look up and recognize the possibilities of the brave new digital world.

Deltek has been doing both. It’s not enough to just cover the basics today. If you look at its full complement of products, you see that Deltek has been expanding the footprint of its solutions for quite some time now. You’ll see that Costpoint has been extended with a human resources (HR) solution and planning and budgeting and more. Vision has robust customer relationship management (CRM). People Planner extends Maconomy with resource planning and Traffic LIVE (acquired from Sohnar) was added as a front-end to help creative marketing communications agencies seamlessly create estimates and quotes, schedule resources, capture time worked, bill clients, and track tasks at a glance. And this is by no means a complete list. But as you can see, in the past these were most likely to be developed (or acquired) for specific product lines.

But that started to change earlier this year when it acquired HRSmart, a leading provider of global, unified talent management solutions with over 1,000 customers around the world. This acquisition both broadened and deepened Deltek’s portfolio of Human Capital Management (HCM) solutions by delivering cutting-edge, cloud-based talent management capabilities that are essential to project- and people-driven businesses…essential but often overlooked. This is not your run-of-the-mill HR system, but an integrated suite that supports talent acquisition, performance and compensation management, as well as learning and career development.

The goal of this acquisition was not to (only) satisfy Costpoint or Vision or Maconomy customer requirements. It was about bringing added value to all Deltek customers. Deltek Talent Management will be delivered as an external component, but with seamless integration back to all these products. This represents a shift in overall company/product strategy that we are also now seeing applied to other new modules even with initiatives that had previously been underway.

Other add-ons being developed include Deltek CRM, Deltek Resource Planning and a new user experience dubbed iAccess. iAccess will supplant previous user interface efforts such as Maconomy Navigator. The plan is to have a unified Deltek front office solution that can front-end the different back office (ERP) solutions. These new products will be introduced with this new experience (UX) and then gradually this new UX will find its way into each of the back office solutions. During this transition period customers will have a choice of the old and the new UX, with the old user interface eventually phased out.

This kind of approach is smart. It leverages development efforts across a range of products and should ultimately allow Deltek to deliver more innovation across its entire portfolio. The fact that these new modules/components are cloud-based is also significant. Deltek’s transition to the cloud seems to be an unintentionally well-kept secret. Even some of it customers haven’t “heard” that all three of its major product lines (Costpoint, Vision and Maconomy) have all made the transition into the cloud and are offered as multi-tenant SaaS solutions (note the applications are multi-tenant but each customer has its own instance of the data base, and Deltek does support a single instance installation exceptionally, on customer request). Multi-tenant SaaS solutions have the most potential for delivering more innovation, faster and these efforts are also reinforced by Deltek embracing rapid application (agile) development methodologies of late.

Why is this new approach so important?

I have been tracking priority of selection criteria for the better part of 10 years. For many years “fit and functionality” was, by far, the top selection criterion. The Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study, and other prior year studies asked participants to prioritize individual selection criteria (Table 1) on a scale of 1 to 5. And over a period of the last 5 years, we observed a change.

Table 1: Selection Criteria

Deltek Table 1Source: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study

While fit and functionality still had the highest percentage of participant votes for “must have/most important,” ease of use took the top spot in terms of overall priority. Having all the functionality in the world is meaningless if you can’t figure out how to use it.

But the results were so close we wondered what would be the priority if respondents had to choose. So in 2015 we changed the format of the question, again listing the different criteria, but this time consolidating to 10 criteria and forcing the participants to stack rank them from 1 (least important) to 10 (most important). We substituted some of the prior criteria for new factors which had risen in importance in prior research and replaced “ease of use” with “user experience.” The overall results are clear. The top three criteria are all related to features and functionality.

Table 2: Selection Criteria Priorities Stack Ranked from 1 to 10

Deltek table 2Source: Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study

User experience is still in the top half, but when forced to choose, it fell in importance. Most are not willing to sacrifice functionality for what some vendors call “beautiful software” today. But “ease of use” means different things to different people, particularly across generational boundaries.

Figure 1: Defining Ease of Use by Generation (top 3 factors)

Deltek fig 1Source: Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study

Our survey respondents were asked to select the top three most important aspects of “ease of use.” While baby boomers and Gen Xers define it first and foremost in terms of efficiencies, millennials are far more likely to simply equate it to the visual appeal of the user interface (Figure 1). While baby boomers equate efficiency to intuitive navigation, millennials take intuitive navigation for granted. They have never used software that required a user manual. To them, a visually appealing user interface, which was at the very bottom of the priorities for baby boomers and GenXers, is most important. To their credit, while “beautiful software” is most important to ease of use, beauty is not the most important factor in selecting solutions.

There is an important lesson to be learned here. Most companies have representatives of all generations using ERP, which further validates Deltek’s efforts in re-architecting the way users engage with its products.

All told Deltek seems to be moving in the right direction to satisfy the growing requirements of project-based businesses and it is doing so much more aggressively than in the past. All goods news for customers and prospects alike.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,