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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 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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