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Zoho: A Tech Company like No Other

Core Values Strengthen A Solid Product Offering

Zoho is a software company that sees its technology as a key differentiator in a crowded field. However, while it does offer an impressive portfolio of technology-enabled enterprise applications, Mint Jutras would argue that what really sets it apart from its competitors are the core values upon which the company operates. Those core values include a pledge to stay private with a “never exit” strategy, and a commitment of continuous innovation to create differentiating technology that addresses real business issues. Zoho is also dedicated to preserving customer data privacy and promises never to monetize that data for marketing purposes. But perhaps most importantly, it is the belief that running a business should be about more than just profits that gives Zoho its mission and true purpose.

That said, technology and a strong portfolio of products are indeed the life blood of the company. Those products are the instrument by which it engages with prospects that become customers. And so, Zoho is never willing to sacrifice independence, control or performance and data privacy for the sake of expediency. And as a privately held, self-funded and profitable company, it truly controls its own destiny.

But, as with any living organism, it is the heart that keeps that lifeblood pumping vigorously. And it is this set of core values that gives the company its “heart,” as well as its mission and purpose. That purpose is to create opportunity for people that don’t (already) have it. Values and philosophy are often viewed as far removed from business. But by deeply rooting those values into the business, Zoho has found a way to actually address the social inequality that (still) plagues our world. Not only does it operate Zoho Schools for Learning, teaching relevant skills for real software careers (for free!), it also opens offices across the world in rural communities where opportunities are otherwise limited. Leadership views know-how, culture and capabilities as the true capital of the company. And it has been consistently building that capital for the past 25 years.

Unlike many other software as a service (SaaS) companies that seem content to report operating losses for years, Zoho is profitable and self-funding, plowing much of its profit back into the product. But Zoho measures its own success, not by financial valuation and sterile numbers, but by the impact it has. Here we explore some of this impact, not only on products and technology, but on employees, customers, community and the industry at large.

Why Philosophy and Philanthropy Matters

Zoho’s core values, along with its philosophy, define the company’s mission and give it purpose. That purpose is to create opportunity for those who do not have it. So, of course, this philosophy includes humanitarian efforts and philanthropy, which in of itself is not unique in the corporate world. However, Zoho’s approach is quite unique. Other companies talk about social equality, promote volunteerism and donate software. They might even make donations of essential products and cash to worthy causes. Zoho does some of this as well. When the recent global pandemic hit, Zoho made Remotely, a Remote Work Suite including chat, video conferencing, office apps and more, available to small businesses for free. It served over 10,000 meals made in its own kitchens (with produce from its own gardens) to neighboring communities. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Zoho goes much further.

At a time when many companies around the world decry a shortage of skills, the Zoho leadership firmly believes there is no lack of raw talent, just lack of exposure. They recognize there is a tremendous amount of latent talent waiting for an opportunity, and much of this talent lives in small towns and rural villages across the globe. And so, instead of opening offices in the traditional technology meccas around the world, Zoho seeks these more rural locations. And Zoho not only provides jobs, but it also provides the education needed to qualify for those jobs. This focus on rural jobs is localism at its best.

To that end, it operates Zoho Schools of Learning for the express purpose of giving young people a chance at a higher level of education. Candidates for the schools are between the ages of 17 and 20 and have no schooling beyond a secondary education. In India that is described as those that “do not have any academic qualification higher than Class 12 or 10+3 diploma.”

Zoho Schools teaches hands-on software engineering, relevant English communication skills, and helpful mathematical concepts – skills relevant for real software careers. There is more of an emphasis on skillsets and abilities rather than paper credentials. Students are not charged any fees; in fact they are paid a stipend – starting at Rs 10,000  per month – throughout the course of study. After the successful completion of the course, students automatically become employees of Zoho. 

This approach is reminiscent of a quote from the 12th century philosopher, Maimonides: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” While other companies might provide hand-outs, Zoho provides a hand up. In the words of Zoho CEO Sridhar Vembu, “We help them take the first step on the ladder. They figure it out from there. I wish we could do it all over the world.” Today Zoho runs two schools in India but accepts applications from all over the country. And no one who knows Zoho would be surprised to eventually see more in other locations around the world.

This is just one example of Zoho’s core values making an impact when put into practice. Another example, which speaks volumes, is its overall response to the COVID-19 crisis.

COVID-19 Response

While Zoho Schools has the biggest impact on employees, actions taken because of the global pandemic impact not only employees, but also customers and the community, including partners.

At the very beginning, even before the full impact of this devastating crisis was clearly understood, Zoho made a promise to its employees that there would be no layoffs as a result of the pandemic. The company pledged that should things worsen, executive and management level employees’ pay would be cut first, before touching salaries of the rank and file.

Also, in the interest of employee safety, it instituted a work from home policy a full month before any lockdowns were placed into effect. This was certainly facilitated by the fact that Zoho runs on Zoho, in the cloud, and had already been supporting work from remote locations. Each one of its apps is also a mobile app, and even as teams became remote, collaboration was enabled.

At the same time the company made Remotely, a Remote Work Suite including chat, video conferencing, office apps and more, available to small businesses for free.  It also made Zoho Classes available free to schools with less than 100 students. This app allows students to join classes, remotely. Through Zoho Classes, schools can host courses, send assignments, run live sessions, collect fees, and more. Zoho also powered COVID call centers in India with free software.

And for those small businesses whose operations were negatively impacted by the shutdown, Zoho waived subscription fees for six months. Yet, during that time, it continued to pay commissions to partners. And it has offered free product training for all products, in all regions. For those customers and partners that kept employees on while experiencing a slowdown in business, this created the perfect opportunity to take that time to learn.

Zoho was able to do all this because the company was in good shape and had built in reserves for emergencies such as this, although nobody could have predicted a crisis of this scale. However, Zoho has continued to grow, although at a somewhat reduced rate, throughout the pandemic. And this has allowed the company to continue to innovate, reinvesting income at almost the same (impressive) percentage as prior years.

And so, this brings us back to the technology and applications we alluded to earlier as the lifeblood of the company.

The “Full Stack” Approach to Technology

Zoho takes a “full stack” approach to developing its software in order to provide a seamless, superior customer experience. This means Zoho owns (and controls) all core aspects of the technology stack. That stack includes everything from the applications themselves, the services, and middleware software, to the hardware, infrastructure, network, and data centers. While (a very few) other enterprise application solution providers might claim to offer an equally broad portfolio, typically this is as a result of partnerships (think Amazon, Microsoft, Salesforce, etc.) and/or acquisitions. Zoho does not.

A year ago, Mint Jutras wrote about The Pros and Cons of the “Full Stack” Approach, asking the question: Are control, independence, data privacy (and more) worth the cost?

From that report a year ago:

 “This full stack approach comes at a time when most other native Software as a Service (SaaS) solution providers are choosing to leverage tools and technology from public cloud providers like Microsoft (Azure), Amazon (AWS) and Google, in order to focus their efforts on their core competency, which is the application itself. Some do create their own development platforms, while others turn to giants in the industry like Salesforce and its Force.com platform. They do organically develop new features, functions and new products. But they also plug gaps in functionality and expand into new markets through acquisition and partnerships. And in doing so, they also sacrifice a level of independence, control and sometimes performance and data privacy.

“Zoho is unwilling to sacrifice any of this, and is also committed to providing seamless integration and a single, unified data model. But that comes at a price. There are no shortcuts. Zoho must develop everything itself. While this might appear to be a serious constraint, its solution stretches well beyond the usual boundaries of enterprise applications to include productivity tools like Mail (think Outlook), Sheet (think Excel), Show (think PowerPoint), Writer (think Word), Meeting Bridge (think Microsoft Teams or Zoom), and much more, totalling 47 apps today and growing. Plus it continually innovates its products, embedding new technologies like natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI). And it somehow manages to deliver an average of five new products a year.”

Indeed, this year there are more than 50 apps, even though we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. In answer to the question of whether it is worth it, we concluded:

While this would appear to be a high price to pay, Zoho is more than well-equipped to pay it. Zoho spends a very healthy percentage of its revenue on research and development. The result is an incredibly diverse range of applications, including both your traditional enterprise apps, and also a full complement of productivity apps, as well as a growing list of technical tools. Unlike some other cloud-native solution providers that still rely on capital investment even after many years, even decades, Zoho is profitable and self-funded.

Zoho is able to take this approach for two reasons. First of all, because it is privately held with no external investment (no venture capital, no private equity, no “Wall Street” stockholders), it is free to invest in what the company decides to invest in. Having no external shareholders demanding an immediate return allows Zoho to be patient, with more long-term vision. But it also forces the company to be prudent and not spend beyond its means. Which brings us to the second reason why it is able to be successful in this approach. Zoho has no debt. It has been profitable from day one. Cash is plowed back into the business and the products, to the benefit of customers, not external shareholders.

So how does Zoho decide what to invest in? First of all, the leadership is smart and not easily dazzled by glitz, glitter and elegant technology in search of a problem. But more importantly, it listens to its customers. Throughout the past year, even during a global pandemic, innovation continued as usual, with only a slight decline in the percentage of revenue reinvested. It redirected some of its marketing budget to maintain levels of R&D, but those humanitarian and philanthropic activities were not without cost. But because Zoho responds to real customer needs, where research and development directed its efforts was heavily influenced by the pandemic. Needs changed in 2020 and Zoho responded accordingly.

As a result, Zoho developed a new online event management application, Zoho Backstage. In the current climate where virtual events (still) predominantly replace in-person affairs, Backstage helps event organizers to plan and run conferences, meetups, and product launches efficiently. And Zoho further invested in its productivity and collaboration tools and released its new Collaboration Platform. Indeed there are a variety of apps that foster collaboration, products like Zoho Workplace and Zoho Connect.

Please refer back to last year’s report to learn more about what is included in this “full stack.”

De-Layering the “Full” Stack of Technology

Zoho’s Full Stack

In addition, you will now hear Zoho talking about “de-layering” its stack. When depicted in the figure shown, layers seem to make a lot of sense. But what Zoho really means by this is the complete vertical integration of all the different elements. For the business user, it will be hard to tell where one app ends and another begins. But that’s okay because everything simply just seems to work. Even though most of these different apps can be run stand-alone, they also can all work together as if they were a single app. If you need to call up a customer invoice, does that function reside in Zoho Books (finance and accounting) or in CRM (customer relationship management)? The real answer should be, “Who cares?”

Because the different apps all share a single data model, this has really always been the case. But now Zoho is blending productivity and collaboration tools right in the apps. The real advantage to the business user will be clear when they need to do something that would typically require them to exit the application and go into a separate productivity app. Let’s say an employee in accounts receivable calls up that customer invoice and has questions for the sales rep. He or she won’t have to exit to go into a separate email app or fire up a messaging app to chat. Those functions are embedded directly into the accounting apps.

The Full Stack’s Impact on Customers

If you recall, Zoho measures its own success, not only by financial metrics, but on its impact on employees, customers, community and industry. The actions taken in Zoho’s COVID-19 response (free software and subscription waivers) had a direct impact on customers. But this full stack approach is what gave many customers a leg up in facing very significant challenges as the world was plunged into a global crisis of epic proportions. These customers are not likely to describe Zoho’s full stack approach as the reason they survived and thrived. But they will point to the ability to address new requirements quickly and seamlessly, the ability to support processes that were never a part of their business before. They will point to the ability to customize, integrate and deploy new apps quickly and easily. These benefits are all a direct result of this full stack approach.

Take for example Purolite, a Zoho One customer. As a world leader in resin-based separation, purification and extraction technology used in many industries including public drinking water supplies, Purolite was deemed an “essential” business, and therefore has remained fully operational during the pandemic. While production staff continued to report to their facilities, sales and administrative employees transitioned to working from home.

While Zoho’s Software as a Service (SaaS) offering paved the way for remote workers, according to Amanda Dolan-Riddle, CRM Integration Manager for Purolite, “The most important thing in the transition to remote work was smoothing out any roadblocks in the software so employees could just focus on their work. This required automating and centralizing processes and making it as easy as possible for employees to stay connected and up to date.”

This actually meant introducing new systems that simply weren’t on Purolite’s radar prior to the pandemic. Suddenly though, issues like collecting employee information, expenses, and HR became much harder when administrators were also remote. Without the ability to simply walk down the hall and ask a friend (or IT or HR), any new software introduced had to be easy to learn and as automated as possible. Fortunately, as a result of this full stack approach, Zoho One also offers a variety of productivity tools not typically offered by a CRM or Human Resources (HR) software vendor. For example…

May and June are a busy time for Purolite’s HR department. Open enrollment for its healthcare benefits plans usually involve one-on-one meetings with employees and group sessions to help employees learn about the various plan options. This year the HR team is using Zoho Meeting for benefits webinars. HR has also started using Zoho Bookings to allow employees to sign-up for remote HR discussions using Zoho Meeting. This offers employees a way to communicate with HR in a private, secure setting remotely. And for those production workers on site, the company also set up two computer stations, monitored by Zoho Assist so that the HR team can offer live assistance to employees who are signing up for plans.

In light of new health and safety protocols, Purolite has also implemented new procedures to ensure a clean and safe work environment for its production staff. The need to purchase supplies related to personal protection (PPE) and disinfection for Covid-19 required that it add new categories to its accounting ledgers. Zoho Expense made it easy to add the new accounts and categories so that employees can be reimbursed for these important supplies.

In addition to providing PPE, and in order to keep track of employee health, Purolite had to start collecting employee temperatures. It is now using Zoho Forms as a way for employees to log their temperature each day when reporting to work. The form is easily deployed on mobile phones so that employees can record their temperature with no disruption.

Employees also needed new ways to stay connected to each other and to continue learning. To help employees stay in touch, Purolite’s marketing team has used Zoho Campaigns to distribute a daily newsletter called The Exchange. Each day they include a different topic, sometimes business related, or Covid-19 related as well as an employee spotlight segment. Purolite has also begun using Zoho Showtime to launch an educational series.

As a result of Zoho’s approach, all these productivity and collaboration tools were easily added to Purolite’s deployed stack of technology.

C.A.R.S. Protection Plus is another Zoho One customer that has transitioned quite easily to having employees work from home. Like Zoho itself, C.A.R.S. cares deeply about making sure employees’ needs are being met across the board—this includes access to the right data, information, technology, and even hardware to make sure their home environment is as conducive to productivity as their work environment. 

“One of the biggest pitfalls of remote work is that people tend to start feeling like they’re not on a team,” said Rick Tudor, Director of Operations. “The best way to combat that is to ramp up communication, even to the point where you may feel like you’re over-including folks.” Zoho Cliq, a team communication tool, has been essential for bringing everyone together. “Cliq allows us to stay in constant contact with our staff, and we generally touch base daily at a supervisor-to-employee level,” said Rick. “It allows remote workers to feel included, not on an island, and informed of what’s going on company-wide.” C.A.R.S. also conducts a stand-up call each morning via Zoho Meeting, which it has found to be critical for keeping everyone in the loop and reproducing some workplace normality.

While new “work from home” initiatives resulting from the global pandemic provide all sorts of proof that customers benefit from this full stack approach, Zoho has an even broader impact on customers. Agappe Diagnostics is the fastest growing company in the IVD (in-vitro diagnostic) industry in India with 30,000 customers across the country. Priding itself on providing customers with the best customer experience, Agappe’s mission is to provide their customers with up-to-date, innovative, and high-quality services backed by promptness. To do this, it needed an account management system that could support both sales and service functions seamlessly, for both domestic (India) and international processes that needed geo-specific support.

Zoho CRM was implemented as the first step in the plan and remains at the heart of the transformation. Zoho CRM became Agappe’s centralized application that would serve all their sales and service needs.  A custom module was designed to capture its sales process automation. This included customer and product information along with the lead-to-order process details. Zoho CRM also serves as the single point for running field operations, capturing orders and leads and converting those leads into potential business orders. Zoho Desk, the customer service software from Zoho, serves as the back-end and the Zoho Desk and Zoho CRM integration ensures that all service-related processes can be handled from within Zoho CRM. The automation also triggers an SMS on service ticket creation and completion from within the CRM system. This gives the team at Agappe a complete view of the customer with all relevant information,

Agappe also uses Zoho Survey to obtain customer feedback, Zoho Analytics to get complete reporting and analytics on sales and service processes and Zoho Expense to manage employee travel. Employee attendance data is managed using Zoho People and recruitment is handled with Zoho Recruit. Zoho Cliq is used to manage internal communication and notifications. All these different apps are fully integrated with Zoho CRM. But it is not just Zoho-product integrations in play; Agappe continues to use Microsoft Dynamics Navision as its ERP software to manage all its financial billings. Data flows from the ERP system to Zoho CRM provide a complete 360o view for sales and service.

These are just a few examples of how Zoho’s full stack approach impacts customers every day.

Summary and Key Takeways

Zoho’s core values include a pledge to stay private with a “never exit” strategy, and a commitment to continuous innovation to create differentiating technology that addresses real business issues. This allows the company to take a “full stack” approach to technology with an uncompromising attitude. Unwilling to sacrifice independence, control, performance or data privacy, Zoho is also committed to providing seamless integration and a single, unified data model.

While these core values are admirable, it is the belief that business should be about more than profits that truly sets it apart and gives it a mission and purpose. That purpose is to create opportunity for those who don’t have it. While other companies talk about social inequality, Zoho takes steps to eliminate it.

Over the course of the last 25 years, Zoho has been building capital. But it defines capital, not in financial valuation, but in a culture based on know-how, skills and the ability to work together for a common cause. This culture has developed a deep root system, based on values. What will the next 25 years bring? The only certainty is that it will be very different from the last 25 years. To make the best of the future, Zoho is committed to de-layering the technology stack, addressing the social inequality through localism and supporting a distributed environment with remote tools, and continuing to develop a strong shared culture. Zoho is rooted and connected.

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Rootstock‘s Low-Code, Business-Driven Cloud ERP Release

Couldn’t Have Come at a Better Time

Rootstock Software’s latest release takes full advantage of Salesforce’s Lightning user experience and its “clicks not code” approach to deliver agility, speed and intelligence to its Cloud ERP customers. Much more than a pretty new user interface, Lightning also includes Lightning Flows, an App Builder, Community Builder and Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools, all designed to put more power directly in the hands of the business users on the front line during these volatile times.

Of course, the risk of disruption is not entirely new. Last year our Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study found 90% of companies already believed they face some level of risk in their businesses 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. On top of these are all the traditional forms of disruption like expansion, reorganizations and regulatory compliance. And now… a global pandemic. Not only has COVID-19 wreaked havoc on manufacturing, distribution and supply chains, it has also abruptly forced many companies into new ways of conducting business. Business experts like Robert K Bratt DLA Piper can provide some invaluable insight into how your business can thrive in the digital world.

This abrupt change has a cascading impact on the enterprise applications used in running the business, especially on Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). And let’s face it… it has not always been easy for ERP solutions to turn on a dime, that is why hiring ERP selection consultants is so important. Without the latest in advanced technology, business users needed to wait in line for busy Information Technology (IT) departments or hire expensive consultants. Meanwhile, the pace of change continues to accelerate and the coronavirus has put it into overdrive. If you must wait for IT to work off its backlog, by the time it gets to your request, things will likely have changed again. And so, being able to quickly respond has gone from being a luxury (available only to those with deep pockets) to necessary for the very survival of your business.

And therefore, Rootstock’s timing of this release couldn’t have come at a time when it was needed more. Click here to read the full report to explore what this “clicks not code” approach can deliver (registration required).

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The Secret Benefits of ERP You Can’t Afford to Ignore

                                                                                    April 2020

And the Key to Unlocking Them

Is the ERP that is running your business able to help you effectively achieve your goals in the current market? Does it take advantage of the kind of advanced technology that we have all come to rely on in our personal lives? Is it agile and flexible? Does it adapt easily to our rapidly changing world? Does it provide the level of connectivity needed to successfully operate in today’s global, digital economy? Or are you running a solution that may have once been state of the art, the best of the best available at the time, but is now stuck – stuck on an older release because of customizations that built barriers to innovation? Or stuck because you simply can’t justify the cost and effort of upgrading for the limited business benefit, because you’ll still be constrained by older technology?

If you are indeed stuck, your best path forward is most likely replacing it. But for decades ERP replacement was likened to brain surgery. It was reserved for dire cases only. “Rip and replace” was to be avoided at all costs. Today these perceptions are just as outdated as the solutions to which they apply. Yes, early ERP solutions were rigid and inflexible, limited in functionality, hard to install and implement and even harder to use. Innovation was painfully slow due to rigid architectures and older technology.

You can’t really blame those early solutions or the software companies that created them. The kind of technology needed for flexibility, ease of use and agility simply didn’t exist, making those conclusions justified. Why go through all the blood, sweat and tears, not to mention the cost, of implementing a newer solution just to wind up right back where you started?

But the world, and your business continued to change, and so have newer, next generation ERP solutions. Solutions now are far more flexible and technology-enabled, provide many more features and functions, are easier to install, easier to implement and easier to use. They bring far more benefits than ever before, but for those with lingering (mis)perceptions about ERP today, they remain hidden. And in today’s fast-moving, global, digital economy, you simply can’t afford to ignore them. The key to unlocking these secret benefits is in understanding the potential and then mapping out a plan to realize them.

Advanced Technology Holds the Key

What makes today’s next generation ERP so different? A variety of different type of advanced technologies can be embedded in enterprise applications today. It is through these kinds of embedded technologies that new ERP systems provide additional value. Of course, some vendors do a better job than others in leveraging them, and hence provide more value than others. This is why I’ve included a section later that provides some insight on how to best evaluate ERP solutions in order to ensure success. In the meantime, Table 1 presents some results from my 2019 Enterprise Solution Study, on the perceived value of several of these technologies. Note this study collected feedback from 464 survey respondents from companies of all shapes and sizes.

Table 1: Perceived Value of Advanced Technologies

Source: Mint Jutras 2019 Enterprise Solution Study

While a growing percentage of respondents perceive these technologies as providing strong value, on average (across all) 30% are unsure of the value. Essentially, they are saying, “Show me.” More than one in five (22%) see little or no value and another 10% simply don’t know. And therefore, it falls to industry experts and the vendors themselves to educate their audiences in order to prove the value and unlock these secrets. Let’s start that process by exploring a few of these.

Platforms and Architecture

Development platforms and microservices architectures, on which applications are built, provide the perfect example of those secret benefits. For the reader with a technical background, a microservice architecture is defined (by Wikipedia) as an architectural style that structures an application as a collection of loosely coupled services. For those nontechnical readers, think of it as constructing a solution from a set of Lego building blocks.

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

These platforms and technologies provide a level of agility, configurability and extensibility to today’s applications to help us respond to change.

Cloud and SaaS

We see more interest in cloud enablement and Software as a Service (SaaS). Indeed, whether you run a solution on your own premises or in a private or public cloud, the ability to access anytime, from anywhere is a significant advantage and cloud-enablement opens the door for the kind of connectivity you need as a full and active participant in the digital economy. Yet still, last year only half of our survey participants perceive it as bringing strong value. We suspect that if we were to ask this question today, given the current need for distancing and remote work, this might change.

But there are other benefits to moving to the cloud in general and SaaS in particular. We see subscriptions to software rapidly replacing the traditional license. When you license a copy of the software you take on the responsibility for maintenance and upgrades. This is especially important in light of the fact that when asked to select the top three challenges in achieving maximum value from ERP, “cost and disruption of upgrades prevent us from innovating” was at the very top of the list, selected by 40% of our respondents. With a SaaS solution, the solution provider assumes that responsibility and does the heavy lifting for you.

Artificial Intelligence

Technologies like machine learning, natural language processing and other forms of artificial intelligence have become quite prevalent in consumer technology (think Siri and Alexa, or GPS that learns your favorite route). Now is the time to bring them into the enterprise, much like they were insinuated into our personal lives – by adding value and embedding them.

Apple customers didn’t demand the ability to converse with their mobile devices. Apple just delivered it, not as an option and certainly not without adding to the cost. But they didn’t charge extra for it. Other device manufacturers followed suit. Pretty soon virtual assistants became commonplace features. And people got hooked. It was only after this secret was unlocked that people willingly went out and bought stand-alone devices like the Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home.

Make no mistake – the same thing is happening with applications for the enterprise. Modern platforms add a level of configurability and extensibility that adds agility needed to keep pace with the unprecedented pace of change in technology and business. Cloud and SaaS add speed and contribute to affordability. Pretty soon all sorts of artificial intelligence technologies will be generally available for the enterprise, but you won’t be able to take advantage of them if you are still stuck on old legacy solutions.

Automation

Robotic Process Automation (RPA), as the name implies, is all about automating routine tasks in order to free up time available to perform tasks which require more strategic thought and therefore contribute more value to your business. For decades ERP has claimed to streamline and automate these processes, but the term “automate” was used quite loosely, to say the least. Today’s technologies truly enable these tasks to be performed with little or no manual effort. Automating the filing of travel expenses, reconciling data for a month or year-end close, three-way matching and applying cash to outstanding invoices are all examples of routine tasks that can be largely automated, requiring manual intervention only when exceptions are detected.

And of course, the more intelligence you can add to these automated processes, the fewer the number of exceptions that require manual intervention. Embedding artificial intelligence and machine learning enables RPA to better detect anomalies and prevent errors. With these added capabilities, the more they are used and the more data that is collected, the more they continue to learn, adding more intelligence over time. Today’s “intelligent ERP” solutions are nothing like legacy applications of yesteryear.

Advanced Analytics

The addition of advanced analytics, often in the form of predictive or cognitive analytics, is another way to make ERP smarter. Early ERP solutions were notorious for being far easier to get data into than information out of. You had to know exactly where to look and how to get there if you had any hope at all of getting answers to business questions. And you had to ask all the questions because the solutions didn’t offer up much to notify you of issues.

That has all changed with new next generation solutions. Today decision makers are often greeted with role-based, personalized dashboards with data presented in charts, graphs and other visually appealing and meaningful ways. These dashboards become their portal, a gateway so to speak, to all the data previously hidden in applications. They get alerts and notifications on those dashboards and on their mobile devices. Not only have user interfaces become more intuitive, making systems easier to use, some have even learned to “listen” and “speak.”

All next generation solutions today do a better job of presenting data to you. But data driven decision-making requires more than just reporting. Predefined reports help you answer relatively static questions like: How much did I sell by customer type or region? Analytics present the bigger picture and can help you figure out what questions to ask like: Where and how will I have the most success in regaining and /or growing revenue? In your quest to answer that you might ask: Are all sales down, or only by region or customer type or sales rep or product? This might take several iterations and the exact path you will take in your questioning won’t be apparent until you start to drill down.

Smarter analytics (like predictive and cognitive analytics) can spot patterns that produce fewer sales. Smarter analytics can do predictive scoring and modeling to identify those patterns early and exploit them for guided decision- making. The smartest solutions will then continue to learn, getting better at spotting issues earlier, hopefully in time for you to course correct.

Tips For Your Evaluation

Looking for a new ERP solution is not something you do every day. If it has been awhile since you have been through this exercise, take note: A lot has changed.

Whereas fit and functionality once drove most decisions, basic and even not so basic features and functions are table stakes today. While an 80% fit used to be acceptable, today’s flexible and technology-enabled solutions should get you much closer to 100% than ever before, without the need for invasive customization.  Of course, you still need to perform due diligence and confirm robust functionality, including industry-specific features and functions, but if you haven’t looked around for awhile, expect to be pleasantly surprised.

Yet while features and functions are indeed important, there is danger in making a decision solely based on what you need today, because it might not be what or all that you need in the future. Last year my Enterprise Solution Study found 90% 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 don’t forget all the traditional forms of disruption like expansion, reorganizations and regulatory issues. 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. For that you need the right approach to innovation and the right architecture and platform to support it.

Also equally important today is the whole user experience, including easy navigation, visual appearance and personalization. And don’t forget integration capabilities and the quality of built in reporting and analytics. Any evaluation today requires you to raise the bar in terms of your search.

So…Where do you Start?

The answer to that question may be closer to home than you think. Just because you are not running a next generation ERP, enabled with the latest and greatest technology, doesn’t necessarily mean your current ERP solution provider hasn’t stepped out ahead of you.

SAP might be the perfect example of this. A longtime leader in the market, SAP is perhaps one of the very few, if not the only “household name” in ERP. However, many of its customers have yet to move to its latest, most technically advanced product, SAP S/4HANA. While SAP also has products that target the small to midsize market (SAP Business One and SAP Business ByDesign), it is also the incumbent in many very large multi-national enterprises that have invested heavily in predecessors to S/4HANA. And if these solutions date back far enough, chances are they have been heavily customized. Without the advantage of platforms and architectures available today, any kind of modification or invasive customizations created barriers to moving forward. And therefore, the move to S/4HANA is certainly no simple migration.

However, if you are currently running your business on an outdated solution, whether it is an older version of SAP’s ERP or a legacy solution from any vendor, simply migrating to a newer, more technology-enabled system means you will drag along decisions that were made when ERP was far less feature rich, technology enabled and flexible. You shouldn’t be looking to recreate what you are doing today, but instead automating, improving efficiency and productivity, providing added visibility and giving yourself the ability to make more data-driven, strategic decisions. You should also look for a return on your investment (ROI) in terms are real cost savings and/or the generation of increased revenue. For this, you need to treat it like a re-implementation, with all the careful planning and commitment that implies.

Not sure where to look for this kind of ROI? I would strongly encourage you to examine these real-world SAP Success Stories.

Conclusion and Recommendations

If you are currently running an ERP solution that you cannot legitimately call modern, intelligent or next generation, you might still be viewing its replacement like brain surgery. I prefer to treat it more like joint replacement. You suffer with that bum knee or hip until you can’t stand the pain any longer, or you simply can’t function properly. Many ERP implementations today suffer from pain, and prevent you from being flexible and able to do what they need to do.

Whether you view ERP as brain surgery or joint replacement, there is no such thing as non-invasive surgery. It can and should have a serious impact on your business, but hopefully in a positive way.

Here are a few recommendations for a successful ERP journey:

  • Don’t wait until the patient is critical. Making a selection and running an implementation project when the business is under duress does not create an atmosphere of careful consideration, planning and execution. You will be tempted to take shortcuts that you may later regret.
  • Need it but can’t afford it? Consider the potential cost savings. Most ERP solutions pay for themselves in less than two years. If capital funds are not available to support the project, consider SaaS deployment with less up-front cost.
  • Set goals and measure. Before embarking on your ERP project, decide which metrics will measure success. Establish a base line, set goals and measure progress against those goals. When you reach them, set another goal. Continue to measure and continue to reap more benefits.

An ERP implementation is not easy. Just like surgery, there will be some “recovery” time. But that doesn’t mean your business stops during that recovery period. It just means you need to take extra care to insure a full recovery, with the result being a healthy business that is able to function better than ever.

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Innovation Fuels Acumatica’s Accelerated Growth

An Innovative Approach to Business, Coupled with Continual Product Innovation

Acumatica, a prominent provider of cloud Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, has been calling itself “the world’s fastest-growing cloud ERP company” for several years now. But growth can be measured in many different ways – as an absolute or a percentage increase, measured by revenue, number of customers and/or employees, just to name a few. This opens the door to multiple competitors claiming that top spot of “fastest growing.” But as Acumatica shared some statistics at its recent Acumatica Summit 2020, it would appear that it is indeed moving away from the pack.

As a subsidiary of Swedish investment firm EQT Partners, Acumatica does not disclose revenue, but does share some numbers. License revenue from all deployment models grew 72% year over year. Acumatica signed on 1,300 in 2019, bringing the total to over 6,500. A year ago there were no user groups. Today there are nine. In 2019, 1,500 people attended the annual conference.  This year, over 2,500 were in attendance at Acumatica Summit 2020, with thousands more tuning into the live stream.

Given the growing acceptance of cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS) in recent years, Mint Jutras has been expecting (hoping) to see at least one of the native cloud solution providers enter a period of explosive growth. Thus far we have been disappointed, but now Acumatica appears to be doing just that. How has Acumatica been able to achieve what others have strived but failed to do? We see several factors combining synergistically to create a perfect storm to drive growth. The common theme across all these contributing factors is Acumatica’s ability to continually innovate, not just in terms of the product, but in terms of its own business model.

Click here to read the full report where we will look at how innovation fuels growth from both of these perspectives, starting with how Acumatica does business.

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Rootstock Delivers on the Value Proposition of the Salesforce Manufacturing Cloud

                                                                                   

Providing the Much Sought After 360o View

How do you achieve a 360o view of your customer? While this has been a popular catch phrase for solution providers offering Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems for years now, there have always been missing pieces to this panorama. A good CRM, as the acronym implies, can indeed help you manage the relationship with your customers, often starting at a point when the customer is still a prospect. CRM solutions do a good job of managing a pipeline from initial contact to quote, and perhaps even to the point where the quote is turned into an order. If this is all it does, it might be more appropriately classified as Sales Force Automation (SFA). But of course, some CRM solutions extend beyond this. But no CRM, on its own, really manages an order, creates an invoice or manages accounts receivable and collects cash – all necessary for that 360o view. That is the domain of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).

Salesforce CRM is indeed one of the most mature CRM solutions on the market today. While lighter versions exist for even the tiniest companies, those that tap into its full and extended functionality are able to effectively digitize marketing, manage diverse channels, connect sales and service and derive business insights and intelligence about all things customer-related. This may be sufficient for some types of businesses, but manufacturers face some additional challenges. If sales and operations are not properly aligned, if revenue forecasts can’t accurately predict demand at a detailed product level, then manufacturing can’t deliver completely and on time without inflating inventory. And even with padding inventory, can it deliver the kind of customized or personalized product many markets demand today?

In order to address these specific challenges of manufacturing, Salesforce recently introduced its Salesforce Manufacturing Cloud to “deliver transparency and predictability across your ecosystem… Align sales and operations, unify account planning and forecasts, and deliver greater transparency with a tailor-made CRM for manufacturers.” But in order to make good on this promise, Salesforce itself must tap into its own ecosytem. Enter Rootstock, providing Cloud ERP for Manufacturing, Distribution and Supply Chain organizations. As such, Rootstock plays a key role in helping Salesforce deliver on its declared value proposition of delivering the much sought after, but often elusive, 360o view of the manufacturer’s customer.

Click here to read the full report

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Plex Systems: Connect to Transform

Accelerating Out of the Curve of its Own Transformation

Over the last few decades Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions for manufacturing have evolved from their roots in Material Requirements Planning (MRP), and have become quite mature. Throughout that time we’ve seen solutions and solution providers proliferate and then consolidate, leaving a select few that develop and support a single ERP solution dedicated to filling the needs of manufacturers. Plex Systems is one of those few, but even within this select group, Plex is unique. Not only does its Plex Manufacturing Cloud (PMC) satisfy the back-office needs of manufacturers, it also dives deep into the shop floor, with strength in quality management and manufacturing execution. Born in the cloud, Plex’s ERP has been offered exclusively as Software as a Service (SaaS) since 2001, making the company a true cloud pioneer.

For years following 2001 Plex Systems was in the high-speed lane on the straight-away, rapidly expanding its depth and breadth of functionality. PMC became the performance engine driving growth and profits for a steadily growing customer base. But just as manufacturers today must undergo a transformation in order to compete effectively in the global, digital economy, so must Plex. And in the course of that transformation it must navigate some curves. It must evolve its platform and architecture, embrace new digital technologies, support disruptive business models and adapt to changing expectations of today’s workforce.

Whether driving a muscle car or a business, you know you need to ease up a bit on the accelerator as you enter a curve in the road. But if you have a performance engine under the hood, there is nothing more exhilerating than accelerating out of that curve. Where is Plex Systems today? Is it about to explode out of the final turn?

The Straight-Away: A Bit of History

In its early years Plex offered the only ERP for manufacturing that was available exclusively as Software as a Service (SaaS). In order to fully appreciate why Plex was indeed in the fast lane, on the straight-away, you have to understand why Plex became a “SaaS only” company in 2001. It wasn’t because SaaS and cloud were the hottest topics back then. Back in 2001 “SaaS” and “cloud” were not even part of the vocabulary of the typical manufacturer. It wasn’t because the company wanted to be on the bleeding edge of new deployment options. Most manufacturers weren’t even knowingly and willingly considering SaaS.

The real reason was because the founders had developed technology and processes to rapidly develop applications and SaaS was the only way they could deliver software as fast as they could develop it. They wanted to share new functionality and new technology as it was developed, not 12 to 18 months later, when the next release was scheduled. As a result, early on, customers didn’t buy the Plex Manufacturing Cloud because it was SaaS. They bought it because of the broad and deep functionality and the company’s willingness and ability to respond to their needs… in spite of the fact that it was deployed and delivered through the cloud.

And yet back in the early 2000’s Plex was not only a fledgling company, but also a self-funded SaaS solution provider. Of course, back in 2001, ERP systems in general, especially those offered by small start-ups like Plex, were not as full-featured as today and this naturally led to gaps. However, when you have a development team excited about new rapid application development tools and anxious to please customers, those gaps get filled quickly. During this “straight-away” phase, Mint Jutras once observed that in the time it took a traditional development organization to tell its customers/business users why something couldn’t be done, the Plex development team would have had a proto-type of the solution up and running.

Unlike most providers of multi-tenant SaaS solutions, Plex willingly “customized” the software. But the enhanced software wasn’t custom for long (if at all). Plex always incorporated these enhancements into the product. As a multi-tenant SaaS solution, every single customer runs the exact same software. It just might not look or behave identically from customer to customer because most of these enhancements could be selectively turned on… or not.

Throughout this time, the lion’s share of innovation came from customer-driven enhancements. In the early days, customer-driven also meant customer funded. So, a customer would pay Plex Systems to enhance the product and other customers would benefit. In other user communities this does not happen, at least not consistently. The typical way of thinking is, “I paid for it and it’s mine and only mine.” In the land of Plex, customers simply viewed this as making a contribution to the community. And they expected others to do the same. Each gave a little, and everyone got a lot. When everyone is running the same software, literally, not figuratively, it creates a unique sense of community, one of being “all in” together.

The Turning Point

This strategy worked brilliantly for years, but then Plex reached a point in its own maturing process where it no longer made as much sense. The gaps in functionality had been filled and Plex needed to formulate its own strategy for growth, rather than let itself be led entirely by its customers. Adding functionality that was not mainstream, or features that perhaps led down a path Plex deemed not to be strategic, would only add unwanted complexity to the solution. So, several years ago Plex took charge of the roadmap and began to phase out customer-funded development and increased its R&D investment.

But there were other factors at play here as well. This decision came at a time when disruption had become the norm. We live in disruptive times. Last year, the 2018 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study found 89% 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. Software delivered as a service is only one of the ways innovation is delivered and consumed faster and more easily. This speed is largely dependent on the way your ERP solution is constructed and the platform on which it sits. This caused Plex to focus some attention on the underlying architecture and what Mint Jutras calls “foundational” technologies.

Table 1 shows how our survey participants perceive the value of foundational technologies that are embedded in enterprise applications.

Table 1: Perceived Value of Embedded (or Foundational) Technologies

Source: Mint Jutras 2019 Enterprise Solution Study

While a growing percentage of manufacturers perceive these technologies as providing strong value, on average almost one in three (32%) are unsure of the value. Essentially, they are saying, “Show me.” And another 9% (the average across all) simply don’t know. And yet investment in these kinds of technologies is essential to the continued health and well-being of any solution used to run a business today. As Plex turned its attention to these underlying technologies, it very likely appeared as if innovation was slowing down. In fact, investment increased; Plex was (and is) just navigating a curve. To understand what Plex is doing, and why, we need to step back and look at what is going on in the world around us all in terms of how solutions today are built and delivered.

“Suite in a Box” or Best of Breed? Yes

First, we need to re-examine a debate that has been waged throughout the world of enterprise applications for decades: choosing an integrated suite or “Best of Breed” approach. Many ERP vendors have been preaching the benefits of a complete, end-to-end solution and arguing against the proliferation of disparate applications for almost as many decades.

This is exactly what Plex has been delivering and it would certainly appear to be what Plex customers want. Plex customers have participated actively in Mint Jutras surveys for many years now. They tend to have more complete solutions than manufacturers running other solutions, and strongly favor a single vendor, single solution.

We asked the survey participants in our 2019 Enterprise Solution Study to choose between a “Suite in a Box” – a complete end-to-end solution that is pre-integrated and ready right “out of the box,” or a more “Best of Breed” approach with a strong core, coupled with the ability to purchase or develop additional functionality and easily (we use the term loosely) connect it back to the core. We recognize the choice is not always so cut and dried, and therefore added some options that are more of a mix but leaning in one direction or the other. The results (Figure 1) surprised us a little. We expected a higher percentage would prefer the Suite in a Box approach.

Figure 1: Which approach is most appealing to you?

Source: Mint Jutras 2019 Enterprise Solution Study

Since collecting this data, Mint Jutras actively sought out discussions with companies, posing the same question, and got very similar results. But then we asked, “Why?” The short answer: most are interested in a fully integrated, fully functional solution, but they want the freedom and flexibility to implement incrementally, in their own determined sequence. In other words, they want both.

Many are also in the midst of a transition to cloud solutions. This may mean a complete shift, starting with the migration or replacement of an on-premise ERP solution. Or it may mean a more gradual shift, often leaving in place on-premise ERP solutions and surrounding them with cloud-based added apps.

The core points of any debate between suite and Best of Breed center around the trade-offs between ease of integration and depth and breadth of solution. With a suite approach, all modules share a common database and are developed using the same tools and technology. This eliminates data redundancy and any need for separate integration efforts.

In the past specialty functionality built into ERP was lighter and less feature-rich and definitely not “best of breed.” While that may have been the case early on, over the years, ERP solution providers added more robust features and functions through a combination of their own development efforts and sometimes through acquisition. Today they are often (not always) able to compete head to head against stand-alone “best of breed” applications.

With the exception of two acquisitions (DemandCaster for supply chain planning and DATTUS for Industrial Internet of Things connectivity) Plex’s functionality has been internally developed and therefore intrinsically built into the suite. This includes rich functionality connecting the shop floor to the top floor. The Plex Manufacturing Cloud can certainly hold its own against so-called best of breed applications in several categories, including quality management (QMS) and manufacturing execution (MES).

So, if companies can get best of breed functionality in a suite, without the need to manage separate integrations, what drives the desire for the “Best of Breed” approach as we articulated it in our question?

We find many articulate their desire as a “Best of Breed” approach because they equate the suite to a monolithic architecture and an “all or nothing” kind of decision. In some ways that is true, but not entirely so. Most any ERP solution is comprised of modules (e.g. general ledger, accounts payable, inventory management, purchasing, order management, shop floor control, etc.) and certainly some are optional. There is always a preferred logical sequence to implementation because of dependencies in the data. Foundational data like charts of accounts, customers and part or product masters must be established early. But once the foundation is built each company is free to decide what comes next and how far to go. This is certainly the case with Plex customers. Most go live when they have the basics established, but then have further steps planned.

But with a monolithic architecture few, if any of the modules are designed to stand alone. Sure, you can just implement general ledger, or inventory management perhaps, but you can’t just implement the manufacturing execution system (MES) that is built into ERP. Or the Quality Management System (QMS). Which is one of the primary reasons why Plex Systems is actively engaged in decomposing its monolithic solution and reconstructing it as loosely coupled components. This is at least one of the curves Plex is navigating.

What, if any, significance does this have on existing Plex customers and prospects? For those customers looking for a complete end-to-end solution, it allows Plex to once again speed the delivery of added features and aids them in providing last mile functionality without adding complexity. Instead of building customer-driven enhancements into the base, it can assemble a unique set of components to deliver industry-specific functionality for each of the segments of manufacturing on which Plex focuses.

For prospects looking to start their own cloud journey or digital transformation, it provides an option to start small, perhaps with MES instead of a full ERP solution. And of course, that provides Plex with added growth opportunity.

But “decomposing the solution” is not the only way Plex is navigating this curve and transforming the company and its solution. It is actually hitting on all of the different aspects listed back in table one. The most obvious is the transition to cloud and SaaS. While not exactly a “technology,” it is the only entry in the table that is even close to mainstream. But this requires no transition for Plex. PMC was born in the cloud and has always been offered as a multi-tenant SaaS solution. Enough said.

However, let’s hit on a few of the others listed.

Platforms and Architecture

Development platforms and microservices architectures are key to this decomposition. For the reader with a technical background, a microservices architecture is defined as an architectural style that structures an application as a collection of loosely coupled services. This is the process of decomposition to which Plex refers in its roadmap. For those nontechnical readers, think of it as constructing a solution from a set of Lego building blocks. Purists hate this analogy, and yes, it is an over-simplification. But it is an effective analogy that resonates with most business users that don’t have the interest or inclination to dive deep in technical jargon.

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

Plex is actively engaged in developing this type of platform and is probably about a year away from completion. But in the meantime, it is delivering value through other associated technologies, starting with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Industrial Internet of Things (IoT)

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

This is where Plex’s acquisition of DATTUS comes in. Providing an alternative is what DATTUS is all about. Think of it as the bridge between you and your machines. The platform is a hardware/software combination, which collects data from PLCs, VFDs, industry protocols like MTConnect, and popular enterprise applications including Salesforce, SAP and (of course) Plex. The goal: making this data available for analysis and decision-making.

The majority of the original DATTUS customers are not sophisticated and therefore beyond the physical connection Plex is concentrating on developing applications to be used right out of the box, rather than just providing a tool set and leaving it up to customers to connect manufacturing equipment and sensors to the cloud and to PMC. DATTUS is now Plex Industrial IoT and the first applications are centered around visualization of the sensor data, combining it with data from PMC, adding thresholds for alerting production supervisors when a process is about to go out of spec. But the team is already working on connecting data to MES and QMS to complete the genealogy and traceability and for anomaly detection to prevent machine failure. But this anomaly detection will require some artificial intelligence.

Artificial Intelligence

Technologies like machine learning, natural language processing and other forms of artificial intelligence have become quite prevalent in consumer technology (think Siri and Alexa, or GPS that learns your favorite route). Now is the time to bring them into the enterprise, much like they were insinuated into our personal lives – by adding value and embedding them.

The concept of machine learning in an industrial setting employs computer algorithms that learn and improve over time with use, often drawing on data, not only from enterprise applications, but also from equipment on the shop floor or even from smart products in the field. Between the data already being collected in PMC and the data that can be potentially collected through Plex IIoT, Plex is sitting on a potential gold mine of data to use in machine learning. The team is laying the ground work for future initiatives.

In the meantime, the development team is already experimenting within PMC by analyzing settings to discover combinations that produce great (implementation) results and those that can spell disaster, in order to guide new customers and even warn them of pending disaster. Delivering this kind of artificial intelligence provides value, not only to those looking to connect to the IIoT, but to all Plex customers. And therefore, Plex is following the same path Apple took in delivering a voice-activated virtual assistant (Siri). Nobody asked Apple to deliver this and Apple didn’t make it a separate option (with a separate price tag). Once customers started using it, they saw the value and it became a prerequisite for any smart phone. Will Plex set the standard in terms of performance evaluation of a SaaS solution for manufacturing?

Accelerating Out of the Curve

Like any good business competing effectively in the today’s global, digital economy, Plex Systems has been undergoing a transformation. Unlike other SaaS-only solution providers that operate in the red, Plex is cash flow positive and spending more in R&D than ever before in order to fund and fuel this transformation.

For more than a decade and a half, the development team worked swiftly to build out robust functionality that connected the shop floor to the top floor, through practical (often customer-funded) innovation. But today we live in a different world. Both the pace of business and the pace of change are accelerating. The road to success is not necessarily a straight path. Disruption throws us some curves.

And therefore, Plex must find new ways of listening and new ways of solving problems – problems its customers might not even know they have. Apple (think Siri) and Steve Jobs provides some inspiration.

“Get closer than ever to your customers. So close, in fact, that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.” Steve Jobs

Plex’s customers aren’t asking Plex to “decompose” its full suite, but customers like Accuride that operates Plex in some of its divisions, while also running SAP and Workday, see the benefit of being able to insert (Plex’s) MES in other divisions currently running SAP.

Customers transitioning from legacy, on-premise solutions face new challenges and have all sorts of different priorities. The shortest path to their goals may not be the traditional road, but rather a road less travelled. Customers (and prospects) that think artificial intelligence is still the stuff of science fiction aren’t asking Plex to predict machine failures on the shop floor, but they will most definitely benefit.

All this potential for change and disruption, shifting priorities and technology innovation makes the foundational work Plex is doing invaluable. And so are the new technologies it is introducing to its solution. There is nothing more exhilarating than accelerating out of a curve. If you are a Plex customer or prospect, buckle up… it’s about to get very exciting!

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Add Aera Technology’s Cognitive Decision Board to Your Team

To Help Your Team Continuously Learn and Improve

In its quest to enable the Self-Driving Enterprise, last fall Aera Technology introduced its Cognitive Workbench. Using billions of data points collected with its patented data crawlers (real-time crawling technology), Aera’s processing engine analyzes data continuously (even while you sleep) to detect business risk and opportunities. After utilizing decision trees and algorithms to recommend the best course of action, its Cognitive Workbench presents personalized, time-sensitive, and prescriptive recommendations to drive capital efficiency, productivity, growth and customer satisfaction.

Now, Aera further augments and digitizes decision making, tracking decisions made by all your team members, including those made autonomously by your newest virtual team member: its new Cognitive Decision Board. Working interactively through the Decision Board you gain better visibility into your decision making process, and understand the impact of each decision. By tracing steps taken and the reasons why they were taken, you are able to get quick insights about those decisions. Did you accept Aera’s recommendations and if not, why not? Through this monitoring, measuring and feedback, Aera continues to learn and therefore can make better recommendations and your entire team can make better decisions.

Click here to read the full report.

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Introducing QAD Adaptive Applications

Adaptive ERP and More, all built on the QAD Enterprise Platform

QAD Adaptive Applications is a portfolio of flexible solutions for manufacturers, with QAD Adaptive ERP at its core. Founded in 1979 by Pamela Lopker, QAD has always set out to provide an integrated system, laser focused on manufacturing. That focus has never wavered, but over time the underlying technology and the functional footprint have evolved. Just as Material Requirements Planning (MRP) evolved into Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) for manufacturing, QAD’s solutions have also grown and matured. Even as disruptive technology is killing off older companies, QAD is still growing strong. But the leadership is smart enough to recognize, “What got us to here won’t get us to where we are going.”

For years now the company has been committed to the Effective Enterprise, defined as “every business process running at peak efficiency and perfectly aligned to the company’s strategic goals.” QAD remains just as committed as ever to this goal, but now adds the ability to adapt. In the words of CEO Anton Chilton, “We need the Adaptive Enterprise to sense – plan – act. For this you need a different kind of technology.”

The journey that led to this different kind of technology began at a pivotal point in 2013 when QAD mapped out what it wanted to achieve:

  • full functionality operating in the cloud
  • easy extendability with no or low code
  • modular upgrades without redoing extensions
  • Internet of Things (IoT) support
  • real-time analytics
  • a powerful, web-based user experience

This realization led to the launch of a multi-phased internal project, called the Channel Islands Initiative. By 2018, what started out as a user experience initiative had been been transformed into an enterprise platform. The result: a re-architected underlying application infrastructure, a fresh set of RESTful application programming interfaces (APIs), and a new future-proofed user interface (UI), including the framework for connecting devices.

While features and functions are still important today – actually more important than ever – the secret to “adaptive” applications lies in the QAD Enterprise Platform.

Click here to read the full report.

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Epicor: Firing on All Cylinders

More Cloud, More Connected, More Intelligent, More Innovation

Epicor’s mission is to be the cloud vendor of choice in the markets it serves. Those markets are manufacturing, the automotive aftermarket, wholesale distribution, service, lumber, and retail. Its latest user conference, Epicor Insights 2019, served to provide a progress report on that mission, including some exciting new product announcements. Over the past 18 months, the company has invested heavily in its major go-forward product lines. It has published 54 software releases (15 major, 39 minor), and brought a brand new Epicor Retail Cloud to market, completed as planned and on-time. As of three weeks before the event all its strategic product lines had been modernized and Software as a Service (SaaS) enabled. And its SaaS business is growing at an impressive clip, with year over year cloud revenue increasing over 90%. A brand new artificial intelligence (AI) based Epicor Virtual Agent (EVA) was unveiled at the event, along with new industry capabilities, built on cloud technologies, to power digital transformation and enhance the customer experience.

All of this news represents good progress, but Epicor is still fighting the battle of establishing a name for itself as what Mint Jutras last year called “the new Epicor.” As we noted then, “The Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) market is very mature. Some solution providers have been around a long time, dating back to even before the acronym ERP was coined. Epicor Software Corporation is one of those vendors. With that level of maturity comes both pros and cons. On the plus side, as a mature provider, it brings to the market more than 45 years of experience and a set of robust and feature-rich products. On the down side, prospective buyers of enterprise software who might have encountered Epicor in the past may think they know the company and its solutions. But their knowledge and perceptions may be severely outdated.”  A year later, we (still) suspect many customers and prospects alike don’t really know the new Epicor.

The new Epicor is firing on all cylinders. Unlike the rigid, monolithic solutions of the past, its go-forward products are supported by modernized, component-based architectures that support connectivity, accelerate innovation and support the intelligence needed to compete in today’s global, digital economy. While Epicor still offers a choice of deployment models, it operates under a “cloud first” policy that encourages (but doesn’t force) customers and prospects to harness the power of the Internet. But not everyone seems to have gotten the memo. Perhaps if we review some of the recent steps Epicor has taken, we might be able to enlighten those who have not.

Click here to read the full report

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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 couple starts out as friends, don’t be friend zoned forever. If he/she shows you affection, give them a chance who knew it might work. 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. The child custody attorneys from Tri Cities can help.

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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