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Workday Family of Planning Applications Grows

Proposed Acquisition of Adaptive Insights

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

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

From a Marriage, A Family Emerges

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

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

Preserving the “Power of One”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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FinancialForce Leverages the Power of the Salesforce Platform

Targeting The Emerging Services Economy

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

Agility and the New “Services Economy”

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

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

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

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

Source: Mint Jutras 2018 Enterprise Solution Study

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

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

SaaS + PaaS + IaaS supports XaaS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Microservices Architecture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rich Tolocka, Phase2 Technology, FinancialForce customer

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

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

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

Figure 2: FinancialForce’s Solution Ecosystem

Source: FinancialForce

Summary and Key Takeaways

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 1: What is your first choice for deployment?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

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

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Keeping Tabs on Deployment Preferences

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

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

Figure 1: Deployment Options Considered

Source: Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies.

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

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Unit4: Delivering Not Only What People Need, But Also What They Want

The ‘People Platform’ is The Secret Sauce

Is there a difference between what people in people-centric businesses need and what they want? You betcha! They need applications like finance, human resource information systems (HRIS), procurement and all the different pieces needed to maintain the system of record of their businesses. In other words, virtually everyone needs basic Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). But ERP isn’t new and exciting. What they really want are the cool features, functions and applications that help them clearly differentiate themselves and make them stand out from the pack. They need those routine back office processes to run smoothly, but they also need the agility to respond to change and embrace new ideas and new technologies.

A recent Mint Jutras report asked the question: Is “Agile ERP” an Oxymoron? For decades using “agile” to describe ERP was indeed the conjunction of incongruous and even contradictory terms – the very definition of an oxymoron. Unit4, a software solution provider that specializes in people-centric businesses, has always prided itself in its agility. For many years the goal of Business World (its flagship ERP solution) was to effectively and efficiently meet the needs of businesses living in change (BLINC). Yet over those years Unit4’s product portfolio has also been extended to include additional solutions that can address more specific vertical needs and provide a level of differentiation. These additions came, not only through both its own development efforts, but also through acquisition.

Most notably Unit4 has acquired a Student Information System (SIS) for higher education, a Professional Services Automation (PSA) solution for professional services organizations and Corporate Performance Management (CPM) for all types of people businesses. While these might fall into the category of “the cool stuff,” Unit4 isn’t stopping there. At the same time, it has been developing a range of microservices that will help all these and its Business World ERP take advantage of new and disruptive technologies in order to unleash their full potential. At the core of these innovative services is the Unit4 People Platform.

Business Applications of the Future

Business applications of the future are more flexible, configurable and (perhaps most importantly) more extensible. In Is “Agile ERP” an Oxymoron? we talked about the importance of components-based architectures and the ability to extend the foundational solution that runs your business. We also talked about the importance of the underlying development platform. The speed of innovation and the ease of consuming it are largely dependent on the platform on which your ERP solution is built. A development platform can provide “application services” for things like file handling, security, searches and access from mobile devices. The value of the development platform is derived largely from developing a service once and re-using it throughout a product or suite of modules.

But with a diverse portfolio of products, Unit4 also deals with different development platforms. For example, Unit4 Business World is based on an architecture previously branded as Vita. But its newly acquired PSA solution is based on Microsoft Dynamics 365. How can Unit4 develop a service once and leverage it throughout its growing portfolio of products? The answer lies in its People Platform. While its different products may be based on different development platforms, the People Platform is a different kind of platform.

The Unit4 People Platform

Technically not a development platform, think of the Unit4 People Platform more as a collection of innovative services, beyond the typical file handling and security.

Figure 1: Unit4’s Platform for Innovation

Source: Unit4

These innovative services are meant to open doors to the growing number of digital technologies just coming of age. These are the type of services the People Platform is putting within the reach of Unit4 customers. Most notable are alerts and a virtual assistant (Wanda) that takes advantage of both natural language processing (think Siri or Alexa for enterprise applications) and machine learning (the more you use it, the smarter it gets). And also the business intelligence delivered with it CPM solution, including predictive analytics.

Unit4 is being proactive in making use of these new and potentially disruptive technologies. The 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study found a large percentage of our survey population in services types of businesses lacked familiarity with these technologies, and/or saw little value to their businesses (Table 1).

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

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

We point this out, not to imply there is little value – quite the contrary. We recognize enormous value and applaud Unit4 for playing a role in educating its customers and getting out ahead of the demand. Let’s take a look at an example.

Who (or What) is Wanda?

Unit4’s Wanda is the perfect example of the kind of value delivered using the People Platform. It is currently available for Unit4 Business World customers, but Unit4 is working hard on bringing it to its PSA and SIS constituents as well.

Wanda is a new way of interacting with Unit4’s enterprise applications. She makes use of natural language processing (yes, you can talk to her) and machine learning to help people automate, prioritize and complete repetitive tasks in a fraction of the time it has always taken. As a virtual assistant, Wanda is embedded in the user interface and accessed through Skype, Slack or Facebook messenger. This allows users to communicate and interact with the solution through a “chat,” much like they would with a colleague. And Wanda is smart enough to understand when multiple topics might be mixed in a single conversation, so no need to artificially compartmentalize. All of this is possible without formally logging into the application.

And in fact if you are already comfortable communicating with Alexa in your home setting, you have a head start in using Wanda. That is because Alexa has already met Wanda and in the not too distant future you can use her to ask Wanda questions. Click here to see and hear a live demonstration.

This is made possible through the use of Microsoft’s Language Understanding Intelligent Service (LUIS). This is the underlying technology that gives Wanda the ability to understand what a person wants through the spoken word, not codes or clicks.

Why Are These Innovative Services important?

While delivering what people want, instead of or in addition to what they need, sounds very appealing, there is more than just a wish list involved here. Agility and the ability to extend current solutions to do more, including providing differentiation, is becoming a “must have” today. Why? We live in disruptive times. The 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study found 88% of companies believe they face some level of risk in their businesses and/or industries being disrupted by new innovative products, new ways of selling or pricing existing products or services, entirely new business models, or some combination of all of the above. And then of course there are still the more traditional disruptive factors like expansion and growth, organizational restructuring and regulatory changes, just to name a few.

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

While only 10% of our 2016 survey participants felt that risk was high and/or imminent, most do understand the risk is real. While about one in three (34%) feel the risk is low, we have to ask: How do you think the taxi industry might have answered this question on the eve of the launch of Uber? Do you think the hotel industry anticipated Airbnb? Did Block Buster foresee the devastating impact Netflix would have on its business? What kind of disruption is lurking out there for you?

The Internet and the digital economy made all of these disruptions possible and none were decades in the making. Compared to slow, evolutionary changes of the past, they literally happened almost overnight. The Internet has leveled the playing field, allowing any company, even small ones, to establish a global presence. This creates new competition, along with new opportunity. While new windows of opportunity open every day, they can also close as fast as they open.

Change is inevitable, bringing about new requirements. As your business changes, along with the world around you, the speed with which new features and functions can be developed, delivered and consumed will clearly impact your agility.

Key Takeaways and Recommendations

Agile ERP is no longer the oxymoron it once was, and yet many of the solutions installed today remain rigid and require extensive modifications to meet the changing needs of enterprises today. And the pace of change does not appear to slowing down. Even traditional types of business change resulting from growth, expansion, organizational restructuring, and/or regulatory changes are accelerating along with the pace of business itself. Add to that the threat of disruption made possible by the digital economy. A stagnant solution may just put you ahead in the race to the bottom.

Unit4’s People Platform and the company’s drive to deliver innovative services that can complement and extend your solution to put you back in the race to the top of your game. Unit4 is in business for people. Whether you operate in a professional services organization, higher education or in one of a growing number of people-centric businesses, Unit4’s People Platform, together with one (or more) of its purpose-built applications, could very well be your secret sauce in getting you what you want while satisfying what you need.

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NetSuite to Leverage Oracle’s Global Resources and Reach

Massive Global Expansion Initiatives Planned

Back in December 2016 Mint Jutras posed the question: Does Oracle’s Acquisition Mean More, More, More for NetSuite? And if it represents more, is it more of the same or something new? The answer back then was, “Yes.” While this is one of a long list of acquisitions by Oracle (i.e. more of the same), there were indeed some new twists. The first new twist was the declaration that NetSuite would continue to enjoy an unprecedented level of independence as a separate global business unit (GBU). Secondly, the NetSuite products will “live forever.” Oracle would not only continue to invest in these products, but invest heavily. And finally, NetSuite would gain entrance to global markets instantly.

“Globalization” was indeed one of three major announcements at the 7th annual SuiteWorld in Las Vegas. Suiteworld 2017 was NetSuite’s biggest event ever, providing the perfect stage from which to announce its global strategy, along with two other initiatives: Suite People and SuiteSuccess. More on those other two announcements in separate reports. Here we focus on the massive global expansion initiatives planned for the Oracle NetSuite Global Business Unit.

Where Does NetSuite Fit?

Because NetSuite’s products are now part of Oracle’s (extensive) product portfolio, it is important to first understand where they fit, not only within the Oracle portfolio, but also the market as a whole. The NetSuite GBU will be positioned for businesses with 1,000 employees or less, although the product will be designed and available for anyone from small business to enterprise. Oracle’s eBusiness Suite will be positioned for those with more than 1,000 employees. While these are not the only two ERP products in the Oracle portfolio, they are clearly the two most strategic. Other ERP solutions (acquired from Peoplesoft and JD Edwards) live on but do little to help Oracle achieve its publicly stated goal to be the first company to reach $10 billion in cloud revenue.

While Oracle has drawn a line in the sand in terms of number of employees, that line is indeed drawn in the sand and not in concrete. It will be allowed to shift based on specific customer/prospect requirements or preferences.

It is in that context that we observe NetSuite OneWorld is already in use in more than 100 countries around the world. That might sound like NetSuite already had quite a global reach. However, much of this global reach was attained through selling to multi-national companies headquartered in the United States. Yes, it had some (physical) presence outside the United States, but not enough to fuel the kind of explosive growth Oracle feels is possible.

It also might sound like targeting small to mid-size enterprises (SMEs) is a big change for NetSuite GBU. Indeed, some of its competitors used these multi-national deals as proof that NetSuite was abandoning the small to midmarket. The reality was (and is) a bit different. While a good chunk of NetSuite’s revenue came from a few large enterprises, the bulk of its customers have always been firmly planted in the midmarket.

Even the midmarket is driving software companies to go global these days. It used to be only large companies that were multi-location, multi-national enterprises. But the Internet has leveled the playing field, allowing even small companies to be able to build a global brand. Operating across a distributed environment has become a way of life for a large percentage of businesses today, even smaller ones.

Figure 1: Environments Are More Distributed and Remote

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

In fact 81% of all survey participants in the 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study had more than one operating location served by ERP (Figure 1). This percentage has been growing steadily over the past few years and even those with annual revenues below $25 million average 3.53 operating locations. In addition, almost half (47%) are already multi-national, dealing with the complexities of multiple legal entities.

The digital economy has created unprecedented opportunities. To capitalize on this opportunity, small to mid-size companies will need to take some chances and be willing to fail, but fail (or succeed) rapidly in order to move on to the next opportunity. They will need to leverage technology in order to simplify, manage, control and reduce risk, but they will also need to move quickly. They will not have the deep pockets or the time needed to build out infrastructure. They can’t afford to take years to implement solutions to run the business.

Cloud ERP to the rescue. 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. And the market seems to be increasingly receptive to cloud and SaaS.

Mint Jutras has been following perceptions and preferences for SaaS versus on-premise software for years now. Between 2011 and 2013, the demand for traditional on-premise deployments went over a cliff. Since then, prior concerns over reliability and security have been addressed and the preference for SaaS (versus hosting) has continued to climb.

Figure 2 shows the progression of preference over the past several 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. Today, SaaS is the top choice.

Figure 2: Which Deployment Options Would You Consider?

Source: Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies

* Option added in 2015

And this year we added a follow-on question, displaying back the options that would be considered and asking respondents to select a single first choice. Seventy percent (70%) of those that would consider it also selected SaaS as their first choice.

But with this opportunity also comes challenges in satisfying the specific needs of new geographies, and also in maintaining governance and control. In the past all these different operating locations may have been left to their own devices to select and implement a local operational solution. Those days are long gone. Today, most all companies define and adhere to corporate standards for enterprise solutions (Figure 3).

Figure 3: What kind of standards do you have?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

While Oracle hopes to be the standard at corporate headquarters, NetSuite is trying very hard to establish its OneWorld product as that corporate standard in the operating divisions. But this places an added burden on the local solution to play nicely in a multi-national corporate setting. Mint Jutras has long been a fan of cloud solutions as an enabler of growth, particularly when it comes to expansion beyond national boundaries. And yet cloud alone isn’t enough. Not only might you have multi-language requirements, but also the solution must be localized to meet the tax and regulatory requirements of the new location. And finally, you need special functionality to handle multi- company financial and operational needs once you establish multiple legal entities.

NetSuite is currently localized for eight different countries and has long been planning to expand to more. Those plans have now been accelerated. With the new infusion of capital, it has an additional 22 on the drawing board.

NetSuite has also been working on that added functionality. New features announced at SuiteWorld 2017 include new advanced intercompany journal entries, complete with a new auto-balance button and automated currency conversion. In keeping with the theme of SuiteWorld – Next Starts Now – NetSuite also laid out what’s next for global functionality:

  • Global customers, employees and projects (think global master data management)
  • Global business process configuration (think interoperability between operating sites)
  • Automated inter-company accounting (not a simple task and while the devil is in the details, Oracle has a lot of experience to bring to bear)
  • Suite Tax (think of all the different tax methodologies around the world)
  • Cash management
  • Enhanced Suite GL and Suite Segments
  • Year end closing journal

These plans represent a lot of work ahead, but NetSuite is planning on adding a lot of new employees to pitch in and help. In fact in fiscal year 2018 (which is starting soon), NetSuite plans to hire more people than were working at NetSuite in 2012. However, don’t expect the pace of innovation to ramp up instantaneously. NetSuite first has to find the talent, train the new hires on its technology and its solution, and only then will they be productive. Once that happens, we expect the pace of development to increase sharply.

But that pace will be needed in order to deliver on the additional plans NetSuite has laid out. Note these come directly from Oracle + NetSuite’s press releases:

Data Centers

NetSuite plans to more than double its data center footprint from five data centers globally to 11. NetSuite currently operates five data centers, three in North America, one in Amsterdam, Netherlands and one in Dublin, Ireland. NetSuite expects to add a fourth North American data center in Chicago. As part of the global expansion plans, NetSuite will leverage existing Oracle data centers in Europe and Asia. In Europe, NetSuite is scheduled to open a data center in Frankfurt, Germany. In Asia Pacific, NetSuite plans to initially launch facilities in Australia and Singapore, followed by Japan and China.

Field offices

NetSuite expects to double its global presence, expanding from offices in 10 countries to 23 spread across the globe. NetSuite is establishing a new presence in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, France, Germany, Sweden, Dubai, China, India, Malaysia and New Zealand. In addition, NetSuite is expanding headcount in existing field offices by over 50%.

Development centers

The NetSuite global business unit is leveraging existing Oracle development centers across India, China and Japan. The development centers will be able to accelerate the development of international, regional and local features and functionality within NetSuite OneWorld.

Summary and Conclusions

We go back to the initial question posed: Does the Oracle acquisition of NetSuite represent more, more, more for NetSuite? The answer is clearly yes. These announcements represent a massive expansion plan to accelerate its international growth. The expansion initiatives will enable Oracle NetSuite Global Business Unit to launch more data centers, more field offices and more development centers globally, which will help to bring the suite to more organizations around the world.

This expansion will no longer be led by the US-based NetSuite customers, but instead by a carefully planned strategy. And as a result, we will believe NetSuite customers will benefit from Oracle’s vast global scale and resources. While NetSuite has poured as many resources as it could afford into developing the products, Oracle has deeper pockets and can also bring its own resources to bear in terms of products, people and global reach. So NetSuite will enjoy “more of the same” …but “more” is a relative term. In this case, we believe “more” means “lots more.”

As one customer puts it: “Oracle’s increased investment in all areas of the NetSuite product and operations offers more opportunities to customers, particularly growing international businesses like PageGroup,” said Mark Hearn, Finance Director of recruitment company PageGroup. “As we continue our global roll-out of NetSuite OneWorld, I am reassured by the even greater capabilities and resources behind the product. A commitment to strong and sustained investment in OneWorld functionality will enable international companies like us to continue to grow with NetSuite in the future.”

While many in the industry have pointed to Oracle’s prior acquisitions as proof positive that NetSuite will fade into the sunset, Mint Jutras believes this will be very different. Thus far, it has had little impact on NetSuite employees, except to add strength to future plans. As Oracle CEO Mark Hurd said to SuiteWorld 2017 attendees, “We didn’t spend $9.3 billion to kill it.” Instead Oracle is looking for NetSuite to pay for itself quickly with this massive global expansion.

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What Acumatica Customers Want – And Get

Openness, Collaboration, Innovation, Acceleration

Talk to any Acumatica customer and very quickly you hear the word “open.” That’s most often cited as a primary reason the company chose Acumatica’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) over other solutions. Why? Because these customers value fit and functionality and completeness of a solution, but they also need flexibility, and often “best of breed” and/or customized functionality to help them differentiate themselves from their competition. But customizing the solution can’t build barriers to growth and change. And for these small to midsize enterprises (SMEs), a flexible, differentiated solution can’t add unwanted complexity and it can’t break the bank.

While many ERP providers today try to be “one stop shops,” the downside of this is added complexity and cost. Acumatica instead chooses to provide an open platform and take a collaborative approach to accelerate innovation, collaborating with customers to plot a product roadmap and with partners to fill gaps and provide specialized functionality. While Acumatica customers don’t necessarily expect ERP to satisfy all their needs, they also don’t want to wind up with a hodge podge of disparate, disconnected solutions. In fact, that is what many are replacing. They turn to Acumatica to facilitate easy integration and connectivity.

This “open” approach provides the added benefit of agility. Face it: We live in disruptive times and disruption can have a cascading impact on business application requirements, making the ability to easily innovate, evolve and change – equally, if not more important than current functionality.

Click here to read the full report

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Does Oracle’s Acquisition Mean More, More, More for NetSuite?

Something New or More of the Same? Yes

On December 7, 2016 Oracle completed its acquisition of NetSuite. While Oracle acquisitions are nothing new – the company has executed dozens and dozens of them over the years – this one is indeed a unique mix of new and “more of the same.” NetSuite is not the first Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) player to be acquired by Oracle, but there are some “firsts:”

  • The first ERP acquired that was born in the cloud, bringing along that all-important cloud revenue (not to mention SaaS DNA)
  • The first time Oracle has openly and loudly declared the “products will go on forever”
  • The first time the acquired company will be run as a separate global business unit, preserving the brand identity and keeping the leadership largely in tact

Oracle and NetSuite have always had close ties. Larry Ellison invested early in the company and owned close to 40% of the stock prior to the acquisition. Zach Nelson, former CEO of NetSuite, has a very close relationship with Mr. Ellison. And the foundation on which NetSuite’s products are built takes advantage of the “Oracle stack.” That said, they were still rivals. In fact, prior to closing, both companies claimed they were the #1 Cloud ERP company. By combining the two, Oracle is now declaring victory in that battle.

But there are also a couple of “softer” firsts. Perhaps because of the Ellison-Nelson relationship, or perhaps because of NetSuite’s proven success in the market (or both), never before have we seen such respect from Oracle for the accomplishments of the target company or such a welcoming embrace. Mark Hurd, in addressing a group of influencers (including press, industry and financial analysts) lauded NetSuite for “serving a community we have not served well.” That statement alone is one for the record books: Oracle (the company which previously claimed to be the #1 Cloud ERP company) admitting it had not served a market well.

All combined, this bodes well for the NetSuite community.

What “More” Did NetSuite Gain?

When the announcement of Oracle’s intent to acquire NetSuite first hit the wire in July, it was quite clear what Oracle was looking for: more share of the cloud market. “Cloud” is where it’s at today. Mint Jutras has been following perceptions and preferences for SaaS versus on-premise software for years now. Between 2011 and 2013, the demand for traditional on-premise deployments went over a cliff. Since then, preference for SaaS (versus hosting) has continued to climb.

Figure 1 shows the progression of preference over the past several 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?

Source: Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies

*Option added in 2015

Combine these preferences with Mr. Ellison’s publicly stated goal of being the first company to reach $10 billion in cloud revenue and you have a pretty good idea of what Oracle was looking to achieve.

The benefit to NetSuite was perhaps not quite as clear. The company was already successful on its own. While it never seemed to record a profit under GAAP reporting, it did show positive cash flow and was profitable by non-GAAP measures. This was largely due to the way GAAP treats stock-based compensation and the fact that just about every employee owned a little piece of NetSuite. So NetSuite was able to invest in the development of its products and was already making steps to expand globally.

But that’s the key to unlocking the motivation… from the NetSuite point of view they couldn’t do either fast enough. As a public company, the leadership was often forced to focus on metrics other than those most conducive to growth. As a business unit of Oracle, the team can focus on what matters most to them, not Wall Street. And it is clear, what matters most is bringing more products to more markets faster.

Being part of the Oracle family means NetSuite gains access to Oracle resources in the form of:

  • Supporting products (think platform and infrastructure). This includes Oracle’s Platform as a Service (PaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Data as a Service (DaaS).
  • More applications to sell (think complementary extensions like supply chain management, human capital management, enterprise performance management and configure-price-quote). NetSuite already had some of these and partnered for others, but this significantly adds product to the bags the sales representatives carry.
  • More people to develop NetSuite products. Oracle has pledged increased funding. It is not clear whether these will be new hires or people who already work for Oracle today on other products. It is likely to be some combination of both.
  • Global presence (think people and business infrastructure around the world) – instantly. NetSuite had started to expand, but only offered support in English and Japanese. Oracle not only has the additional language skills in support, but many more support locations. It also has far more data centers around the world to address the issues (both real and perceived) of where data must be stored when operating in the cloud. This of course, also puts additional feet on the street globally, not only to support, but also to sell.

Conclusion

We go back to the initial question posed: Does the Oracle acquisition of NetSuite represent something new or is it more of the same? The answer is yes. While Oracle is an old hand at acquisitions (so more of the same), this one does have some “firsts,” so there is indeed something new. Oracle has declared the NetSuite products will “live forever,” so this is an instance of “more of the same.” Yet while NetSuite has poured as many resources as it could afford into developing the products, Oracle has deeper pockets and can also bring its own resources to bear in terms of products, people and global reach. So NetSuite will enjoy “more of the same” …but “more” is a relative term. In this case, we believe “more” means “lots more.”

While there may have been some initial trepidation, particularly from NetSuite customers who specifically chose not to purchase a solution from Oracle, it would appear that Oracle is intent on allaying those fears. By operating the acquired company as a global business unit, it preserves the perceived value of NetSuite as a pioneering SaaS vendor. By committing to the continued development of the products while adding depth and weight to its offerings, it would appear product development will be accelerated. And NetSuite gains entrance to global markets instantly. From the outside looking in, Mint Jutras is actually surprised (and pleased) to say that it seems like a win-win.

PS: For those of you not familiar with NetSuite, here is a quick primer:

NetSuite is a leading provider of cloud-based business management software, delivered exclusively as software as a service (SaaS).

Some quick facts about NetSuite at the time of the acquisition:

  • Founded in 1998
  • Publicly traded on NYSE: “N”
  • 5,350 employees
  • $741.1 million in annual revenues for FY 2015, ending 12/31/2015
  • Grown by 30%+ in each of the last 16 consecutive quarters, as of June 30, 2016
  • Used by 30,000+ organizations (includes subsidiaries and affiliates) in more than 100 countries
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Is SAP Still in SMB Stealth Mode? Watch Out, Changes are Looming

Many think SAP is just for the big guys. The company is the closest you get in the ERP market to a household name, and, after all, it was in the large enterprise where it made that name for itself. In reality though, SAP plays in markets that include companies of all sizes. A good 80% of its customers are in the small to midsize enterprise range. And yet today small to midsize companies in search of a solution don’t immediately think “SAP” and they will have a difficult time discovering all that SAP has to offer them.

SAP’s competitors perpetuate the “big guy only” misconception, along with  “expensive” and “complex” qualifiers. They are like a dog with a bone, refusing to let go, hoping to lead prospects away from the 800-pound gorilla. Pundits who largely follow the large enterprise space contribute as well, along with the publicity (both good and bad) from high profile customers that are also household names. But SAP must also share some of the blame because of one thing it is so very good at: Speaking in one voice.

SAP employees stay on message. And the message is couched in the native language of SAP, which is the language of IT in the large enterprise. Although the latest overarching message these days is “Run Simple,” that alone doesn’t say enough. SAPers either talk at such a high level of abstraction that it becomes meaningless (your world will be a better place), or they talk technology.

In speaking to the decision makers and business leaders in small to midsize businesses (SMBs), you might as well be talking Klingon. They have their feet firmly planted on the ground. They want to hear how a solution will solve their immediate problems, address their challenges and bring value to the business. They want specifics. And they want to buy from a company they can trust.

The combination of negative hype and the “one voice” of SAP also might lead SMBs to think SAP is a one trick pony, with only a single product to offer, one that is clearly beyond their reach. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only does SAP have three separate and distinct ERP offerings, it also has other offerings that sit on the periphery, outside the boundaries of ERP. These include talent management (SuccessFactors), travel and expense (Concur), a supplier network (Ariba), analytics (Business Objects) and a front office (SAP Anywhere). And this is just a partial list.

Let’s start with core ERP. At the top is SAP ERP, which has been brought to market under different names during its evolution. But make no mistake; this is definitely a solution that is meant to satisfy the needs of the largest, most complex enterprises in the world. Older versions were known as SAP R/2 and R/3 but more recently it was simply referred to as SAP ERP or ECC, providing the core of a larger Business Suite(adding CRM, SRM, SCM and PLM to ERP). The latest incarnation is S/4HANA, which is both evolutionary and revolutionary at the same time. It provides the same functionality as SAP ERP but has undergone a rewrite to take advantage of the powerful in-memory technology of SAP HANA. This is the large enterprise ERP for which SAP is famous (infamous?).

But this is not a “one size fits all” solution. SAP also offers SAP Business One and SAP ByDesign. Up until recently, it also marketed Business All in One, but in fact that was/is not a separate product. It was a version of SAP ERP packaged with industry templates and best practices, purportedly designed to simplify the implementation, thereby making SAP ERP more digestible for the mid-market. Because it was essentially the same product but with a different name, it also added some confusion. SAP appears to be backing away from that branding. I think that is smart. Can SAP S/4HANA work for this midmarket? The answer is yes, particularly where that smaller, midsize company is a division of a large enterprise that has standardized on SAP solutions. But these will be the exceptions to the rule.

SAP is also getting smarter about how it targets these three products to different segments. SAP has formed an SMB team to specifically address the market of companies with 1500 employees or less, and has defined “small” as companies with less than 250 employees. It will market SAP Business One to small companies looking for an on-premise or hosted solution (partners will provide the hosting). It will be sold largely through partners, which will provide both advocacy and intimacy to the customer. SAP Business ByDesign is available exclusively as a multi-tenant SaaS (software as a service) solution supported by SAP itself. The target is generally the mid-market but can come down into the small company range for those interested in a true SaaS solution from SAP.

However, both SAP Business One and SAP Business ByDesign have suffered from a lack of respect in the market. Competitors often write Business One off, telling me they hardly ever see it in a competitive deal. And yet Business One is implemented in over 50,000 small companies around the world and SAP is adding about 1,000 new customers a quarter. That tells me there are hundreds of deals where these competitors never get invited to the party.

Rumors of the death of Business ByDesign have been rampant for years and unfortunately SAP has allowed its critics to have had a louder voice in the market than SAP itself. In the meantime, SAP has been (rather quietly) growing the installed base to about 1,000 customers, which is larger than many customer bases of some of those competitors. Respected journalists and analysts have recently admitted ByDesign is in fact not dead. I couldn’t/can’t resist saying, “I told you so.”

This might all seem like SAP 101 to veteran industry observers. But it also might come as a surprise to learn that your typical decision maker and business leader of a small to midsize business doesn’t follow the (ERP) space that closely. Those business leaders are too busy following their own industries. So they are easily confused by the progression of product names and even more easily confused when target markets for different products overlap. And they are not well equipped to distinguish hype and myth from reality. To convince them one way or the other, you have to understand how they approach software selection and you have to speak their language. And you have to speak it loudly and clearly. That is where SAP has not done a good job.

I am optimistic that is about to change under some new leadership at SAP. Barry Padgett took over as President of the SMB team last July. He came over from the Concur team, bringing a new perspective. Barry “gets” SMBs. They need a lot of the same features and functions that their larger counterparts need, but they don’t have the large IT staffs or the deep pockets. They expect products to work seamlessly – open and connected. They don’t go out looking for technology. They go out looking for solutions to problems and answers to questions. They expect value. They need to see a path forward. And to connect with them, you need to be talking in terms they clearly understand.

Barry and his new CMO Mika Yamamoto (who came to SAP from Amazon) also understand how most software searches begin these days. Much of the legwork and due diligence is done before a prospect ever engages with a potential solution provider. Today an online search for solutions for SMBs does not lead directly to SAP. And even if you land on SAP’s website, there is no clear path to show you what you need or how SAP can help. So clearly SEO and website redesign is top on Mika’s priority list.

But both Barry and Mika know that it can’t end there. They must have a louder voice than their critics. And remember all those products in SAP’s portfolio that sit on the edges of a solution: talent management, supplier networks, analytics, travel and expense, eCommerce (front office)? SMBs have the same kind of needs as their larger counterparts in all of these areas. But they don’t have the internal expertise to assemble a solution that is not already seamlessly connected.

It is not enough that these edge solutions are available from SAP; they must be both affordable and integrated to SAP Business One and SAP Business ByDesign. These kinds of connections are certainly on the roadmap, but they can’t come too soon.

The Internet has leveled the playing field, allowing SMBs to participate in a growing, global market. But many won’t be able to compete effectively with their existing solutions. This opens up a world of opportunity to SMB solution providers. Look at the success SAP has had in the small to mid-market already. I am not advocating the SMB folks at SAP go off message, but I am advocating they articulate that message in a different voice. That voice needs to be loud and proud. They need to keep the dialogue going with existing customers and keep the development engines churning. While I also believe there is plenty of opportunity for all those with good, solid, technology-enabled solutions, if the new leadership team can deliver on these fronts, they will truly be a force to be reckoned with.

 

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IFS Helps Customers Accelerate Out of The Curve of Digital Transformation

Making Asset Intensive Industries Lighter on their Feet

Asset intensive industries are quite likely to be capital intensive industries. Cost of entry is steep, but once you are an established player, you are tempted to hit cruise control. Living in a world where product lifespans tend to be measured in decades, growth and change come slowly. Or at least that’s the way it used to be. The digital economy has thrown you a curve. And when you are speeding down the business highway, a serious curve causes you to hit the brakes in order to safely negotiate the turn. But if you are riding a performance engine, there is nothing more exhilarating than accelerating out of that curve.

Digital technologies of today, those that serve to connect operations, people and processes through the power of the Internet, fuel that performance engine. Eighty-two percent (82%) of manufacturers participating in the 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study agree and 86% understand that embracing digital technologies is necessary for survival. And yet, we find the vast majority still coasting or riding the brakes when it comes to digital transformation.

IFS, a global enterprise applications company specializing in solutions for asset intensive industries, is setting out to help its customers accelerate out of the curve. Asset intensive businesses are very likely to be sitting on vast amounts of data gathered from products, assets and equipment. Yet few are able to leverage it fully. IFS IoT Business Connector, recently introduced at the IFS World Conference 2016, helps bridge the gap between data collection and analysis and between analysis and action. Through plug and play connectivity with the Microsoft Azure IoT Suite, customers can identify actionable observations that can trigger user-defined, automated or semi-automated actions for predictive maintenance, service management, asset management and manufacturing.

Need a Little Push?

As noted above, the majority of manufacturers today have an appreciation for the significance of digital technologies. In our 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study we asked survey participants how much they agreed with various statements about these new, advanced technologies (Table 1).

Table 1: How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following?

ifs-table1Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

Only 3% to 6% disagreed at all with any of the statements above and a relatively small percentage was neutral. The majority of manufacturers understand that digital technologies can be truly transformative. This data is consistent with data collected by IFS from its customers on perceptions about the Internet of Things (IoT) in particular. According to IFS, 86% of its installed base realize the importance of IoT, but 40% have no IoT strategy in place.

Mint Jutras actually finds these findings refreshingly candid. When we asked survey respondents how well prepared they were for the digital economy, we found a high level of confidence, with over half (58%) of all respondents indicating they were very well-prepared or at least close. And manufacturers claimed to be even more well prepared (Figure 1).

Figure 1: How well prepared are you for the digital economy?

ifs-fig-1Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

Yet subsequent questions about digital systems of record, as well as how activities were monitored, managed and performed, proved otherwise. The vast majority were found to still rely, at least partially, on spreadsheets, paper and manual processes. This not only indicates that many, manufacturers in particular, overestimate their level of preparedness and underestimate the impact digital technologies can and should have on the enterprise applications that are used to run the business, as well as the business itself.

Those in asset intensive industries are perhaps even slower to respond. Because their businesses tend to be more capital-intensive, they can’t turn on a dime like those businesses that require less capital for growth and change, thereby making them lighter on their feet.

So what is IFS doing to make them lighter on their feet and more nimble?

Cloud Helps

First of all, we see IFS offering cloud options. Many of these businesses require capital to be invested in assets necessary to run their businesses. By running IFS enterprise resource planning (ERP), field service management (FSM) and enterprise asset management (EAM) solutions in the cloud, they lighten the load of capital required to manage back office and front office processes. Indeed IFS reports that 34% of new business closed is now cloud-based and running on the Microsoft Azure platform.

While preferences and perceptions vary quite significantly across the different regions in which IFS operates, at least within the United States Mint Jutras research finds software as a service (SaaS) is the most preferred option for new deployments. However, we expect the worldwide market will be in transition for the next ten years or more. This is partially because the United States tends to lead the world, and partially because there are simply so many on-premise deployments today. The inertia that keeps manufacturers from actively researching and investigating new technologies is the same inertia that keeps these solutions in place long after their glory years. IFS addresses this by providing multiple deployment options and also by adding other solutions that allow customers to make strides in digital transformation while leaving existing solutions in place.

Cloud-based IFS IoT Business Connector will play an important role, but perhaps equally important is IFS Enterprise Operational Intelligence (EOI), to which it is connected.

IFS IoT Business Connector

According to IFS, “IFS IoT Business Connector turns IoT insights into actions in IFS Applications” (including ERP, FSM and EOI). The goal is to observe the environment and turn perceived challenges into opportunities – a lofty goal. But what is it and how does it do that?

Before we answer that question, it is important to understand the different steps the IFS IoT Business Connector facilitates in order to transform challenges faced into opportunities for growth and improvement.

Data, Devices and Communication

The first step is in collecting the data itself. This might be done through sensors on assets or equipment on the plant floor or in products in the field. This is not especially new in the world of manufacturing and/or field service maintenance. Often data comes through:

  • supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems used for remote monitoring and control
  • programmable logic controllers (PLCs) for the control of manufacturing processes, or any activity that requires high reliability and process fault diagnosis
  • OLE (object linking and embedding) for Process Control (OPC), which is a series of standards and specifications for industrial communication of real-time plant data between control devices.

The connections might be made through local network protocols or Internet communication. It has never been hard to collect millions or even billions of sensor readings. The IFS IoT Business Connector isn’t about the data collection. It is more about connecting that data to make better use of it, in real-time where appropriate.

Discovery

In order to take full advantage of the data collected, it is necessary to go through a discovery phase. The IFS IoT Discovery Manager (a component of IFS IoT Business Connector) provides additional management and monitoring capabilities when using Microsoft Azure IoT Suite as the discovery platform.  It automates the creation and connection of all IoT Suite components (hubs, streams, buses etc.) in accordance with the IFS IoT Business Connector reference architecture.

However, it is important to note that Microsoft Azure IoT Suite is not a mandated requirement. A customer may use a different solution for discovery, in which case IFS provides an API (application programming interface) to receive observations to be used in subsequent steps of the process.

Operationalizing the Data

IFS IoT Discovery Manager can receive and store thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of “observations.” But how do you interpret what the data is telling you? In order to operationalize the data, you need to be able to take action.

You will want to analyze data streams in real time in order to mine the data to help you discover potential problems and/or opportunities. You will want to apply some sort of decision-making algorithms that work 24/7, even when humans are asleep, sick or busy with other value-add tasks. And finally you will want to visualize the data, presenting it in a way that highlights issues, both good and bad, quickly.

Often the action taken must be recorded or reflected in the enterprise software that is running your business. The IFS IoT Gateway (another component of IFS IoT Business Connector) enables communications between the cloud-based discovery and analytics of IoT data and the on-premise or cloud-based IFS applications.

The failure of a door to open on public transportation can trigger a service call. A pest trap that is full and requires emptying can alert a service engineer in a pest control company. Variations in vibration, temperature or voltage of a piece of equipment can send a warning signal that results in a call to a maintenance company during off hours, preventing a halt to production. These are just three examples of how early adopters of IFS IoT Business Connector are looking to operationalize the data collected, either with the help of human review and augmentation or through (prescriptive) automated actions, or both.

Business Optimization

But the real results will come only when you effectively use the data, discovery and operations to optimize your business. That means monetizing it to develop new sources of revenue. That may require a different way of thinking. Even companies that have exclusively made money from making and moving product in the past, will likely find new revenue streams through services and/or data. IFS likes to call it the “servitization” of business. Whether you replace or supplement your product sales, new revenue opportunities can come from maintenance or consulting services, software (as a service) or even outcomes like hours of successful operation or output.

IFS IoT Controller (the third component of IFS IoT Business Connector) helps you determine what actions to take based on the analysis of observations about your business. It helps you map your operational technology to your business applications like ERP.

Cascading Effect on Business Applications

However, the connection back to ERP (and perhaps other applications like Field Service) might not be so intuitive. New sources of revenue might require new methods of invoicing and revenue recognition. It is one thing to ship and invoice for a physical product, but quite another to create invoices (and recognize revenue) for services and/or subscriptions.

Guessing how new business models will impact invoicing, revenue and cash is just that – a guess. As the digital economy also becomes the subscription economy, companies today need to be able to handle new and different revenue streams, often in conjunction with more traditional ones. And with the upcoming changes to revenue recognition as a result of the merging of accounting standards (ASC and IFRS), this places new functional requirements on ERP.

Changes to existing accounting software are not insignificant. In fact, they can be quite extensive. IFS is still working on these changes, but with an eye towards the 2018 deadline for implementing new rules.

Apart from these (very specific) accounting requirements, the real key to business optimization lies just beyond the scope of the IFS IoT Business Connector. As we mentioned earlier, equally, if not more importantly, is enterprise operational intelligence. Notice the lack of capitalization. In this case we use the phrase as a goal. Hopefully we don’t confuse our audience in saying IFS Enterprise Operational Intelligence or EOI is the means to this end (goal). The level of importance of EOI is further amplified in that it is one of those solutions that helps customers take those transformative first steps without requiring the full-scale replacement of ERP.

IFS Enterprise Operational Intelligence (EOI)

IFS describes EOI as the the key that unlocks intelligent business operations for its customers, “integrating real-time analytics into business processes to empower organizations to make better, faster decisions based on [their] strategic objectives.” Of course analytics are becoming much more mainstream today, but there are two differentiators here – strategy and action.

The first is that last qualifier, linking analytics to strategy. This starts with the first of three core steps: Map, monitor and manage.

  • Map: capturing and visualizing the business model, which of course is subject to change much more frequently than in days gone by, due to the potentially disruptive nature of digital technologies.
  • Monitor: connecting and visualling performance. After mapping the business, you then connect various data sources, including IFS applications, the IoT, other databases and applications and even Excel spreadsheets. These are presented in “cockpits.” These are more than just pretty charts on a dashboard. IFS distinguishes these from your typical (passive) dashboard by allowing you to take action right from the cockpit.
  • Manage: analyzing and improving business operations. IFS has embraced continuous improvement methodologies including PDCA (plan–do–check–act or plan–do–check–adjust) and OODA (the decision cycle of observe-orient-decide-act).

Customers using EOI prefer embedding this type of solution into their IFS enterprise applications rather than purchasing separate business intelligence (BI) and/or business process management (BPM) solutions that either run stand-alone or must be custom-integrated into the solutions that run their businesses. But even more importantly, it allows them to take some incremental steps in digitally transforming their businesses, without the major disruption of a full-scale upgrade or replacement.

Wrap Up

It seems quite appropriate that IFS’s recent marketing efforts have led the company to sponsor a Formula One racing team. Earlier this year IFS announced it had become a Principal Partner of the Sauber F1 Team for the 2016 FIA Formula One Championship. Why is it appropriate? According to Mark Boulton, chief marketing officer of IFS, “This new partnership between IFS and the Sauber F1 Team is based on strong foundations, as both companies are commited to innovation, focused on design, and treasure the power of effective teamwork. It’s these qualities that … are lived by our employees and partners every day as we continue to empower our growing global customer base with IFS’s leading software and solutions.”

Mint Jutras agrees that IFS has built a strong foundation, but more importantly, one which helps customers face those upcoming curves in the road caused by the looming inevitability of digital disruption. Just as you don’t want to be changing the tires (or the engine) while you are speeding down the road, IFS customers won’t want or need to switch out the engine that powers their businesses, nor will they be blindly steering into those turns.

IFS Enterprise Operational Intelligence (EOI) can put them in the cockpit and IFS IoT Business Connector can keep them connected to the data they need to make the decisions required to accelerate out of the curve.

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