AI

Introducing Aera’s Cognitive Technology

Enabling The Self-Driving Enterprise

Cognitive capabilities are highly valued in human beings. They make people smart, and smart is good. According to the Oxford Dictionary, cognition is “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.” Yet as automation becomes more and more prevalent, we expect more and more functions and processes to be performed without human assistance. Can technology really imitate human cognition? Why not? After all, we live in a world where self-driving cars, although not yet ubiquitous, are a reality. And in a world where terabytes of data are being replaced with zettabytes, is it even possible for a human to process data at the speed and granularity necessary for timely, data-driven decisions?

Enterprise applications have been used to streamline and automate transactional processes for several decades now, particularly where simple and straight forward rules can be applied. When inventory falls below safety stock, order more. But how do you know when to change safety stock? How do you balance inventory across your distribution network or work off excess inventory? How accurate is your forecast? Is it possible to automate the cognitive functions that understand (recognize patterns and learn from the past), predict the future, and not only make recommendations, but also take action? Aera Technology not only thinks it is possible, it is delivering on that promise today to enable the Self-Driving Enterprise.

Aera is quite a unique kind of company. Headquartered in Mountain View, California, it serves some of the world’s largest enterprises from its global offices located in San Francisco, Portland, Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca, Paris, Munich, London, and Pune. Using proprietary data crawling, industry models, machine learning and artificial intelligence, Aera’s goal is to revolutionize how people relate to data and how organizations function. It offers what it calls a “cognitive operating system.”

The Self-Driving Enterprise

Aera starts with the premise that if built-in intelligence can drive a car, then it should be able to drive a company. Like a self-driving car, a self-driving enterprise must connect all the different data points both inside (engine, accelerator, steering wheel, brakes) and outside (roadways and road conditions, other vehicles, pedestrians). It must do all this in real-time, because speed and direction changes must occur immediately as any of those conditions change. And it must be always on and always thinking. No snoozing at the wheel allowed. It also must be able to operate autonomously. With no driver, a self-driving car has to take action without being told what to do.

A self-driving enterprise will still have humans at the helm. Aera is not setting out to eliminate the decision-makers, but it is trying to make them smarter and more effective, able to use all the data available, not just the usual subset contained in an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution.

If this has you curious to learn more, click here to read the full report.

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Leaders Rule with Sage Intacct

Sage Plus Sage Intacct “Lead The Future”

Sage Intacct describes itself as a “best in class cloud financial management software company, 100% invested in meeting the needs of financial professionals.” Bringing cloud computing to finance and accounting, Sage Intacct’s applications are the preferred financial applications recommended by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and are used by more than 11,000 organizations from startups to public companies. The solution has evolved over time and today the company has a broader impact on its customers than just transactional accounting, bringing not only governance and control, but also insights necessary for effective tactical and strategic decision-making.

The theme of its most recent user conference, Sage Intacct Advantage 2017, is reflective of this evolution of both the company and its solutions. The theme: “Lead the future.” Let’s take a look at what this means for Sage Intacct, its customers, and the finance leaders in those organizations.

Leaders Are in For the Long Haul

Intacct was acquired by Sage in July 2017, becoming Sage Intacct. All the top executives from Intacct remain in place post-acquisition. They are led by Rob Reid, former Intacct Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and current Executive Vice President (EVP) and Managing Director (MD) of Sage Intacct. Mr. Reid and his direct reports remain commited to leading the company, not just through the transition, but for the longer term, providing stability and continuity. But not content with the status quo, Mr. Reid is inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

It would appear that both Intacct and Sage gained from the acquisition. According to Sage President Blair Crump, Sage was attracted to Intacct because of its leadership, not only in terms of the people, but also in terms of growth within North America and in customer satisfaction. It was also a good strategic fit with respect to Sage’s commitment to being “cloud 1st.Born in the cloud and offered exclusively as a multi-tenant software as a service (SaaS) solution, Intacct’s portfolio of products makes a nice addition to the newly announced Sage Business Cloud. While Sage itself is already strong at the low end of the small to medium size business (SMB) market, with its Sage 50 and Sage Live products for small businesses, Sage Intacct’s cloud financial management solutions are complementary. With very little overlap in target companies, Intacct should help Sage be stronger up market. While it is quite easy to outgrow those low-end solutions, it is much harder for companies to outgrow Sage Intacct. Together Sage and Sage Intacct intend to offer the “only financial management solutions a company will ever need.”

Good for Intacct = Good for Its Customers

Obviously Sage benefits tremendously from this acquisition. But can the same be said for Intacct? We believe so, if for no other reason that it paves the way for global expansion. Expansion into new global markets means customers must deal with the complexities of new tax, regulatory and compliance requirements, and potentially new accounting standards. With its focus on finance, this is not entirely new territory for Sage Intacct. Yet it has mostly been successful in North America, while Sage is more global, bringing both functional experience as well as global reach, including expanded local support.

And a side benefit to Sage: While it has become almost a household name in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, it does not enjoy that level of brand awareness in North America. So the strengths of Sage and Sage Intacct are complementary.

As part of Sage, Intacct also has access to more resources and technology. For example, Sage Intacct can benefit from the experience gained by Sage in natural language processing (NLP) through the development and introduction of its virtual assistant (chatbot) Pegg.

However, this type of technology transfer is hardly a one-way street. Intacct appears to have been far ahead of its (now) parent company in developing artificial intelligence (AI) through deep machine learning. But because Sage can also benefit from this effort, Intacct will likely be able to draw on more resources than it could afford on its own.

The third component in terms of “leading the future” is helping people evolve as leaders. More specifically, helping the finance leaders that are playing key roles in the companies that are Sage Intacct customers. Sage Intacct is not stopping at just streamlining and automating tasks in the accounting department. Those are table stakes in today’s financial management applications. Mr. Reid feels, “Our job is to transform the way people think and work, removing barriers to achieve success and lifting them up so they can achieve more.” A lofty goal indeed, but what does that really mean?

Mr. Reid acknowledges three different styles of leadership within the community of finance leaders: the historian, the business analyst and the data scientist. The historian relies on traditional reporting, while the business analyst leverages data and analytics to drive decisionmaking. The data scientist takes that analysis to a whole new level in terms of cognitive, predictive and prescriptive analysis.

Mint Jutras takes a slightly different view, looking at these, not so much as styles of leadership, but rather skills sets that must grow and evolve progressively. The business analyst can’t afford not to be a historian. And the data scientist can’t afford not to be a business analyst. Can finance leaders today be all three? Not without the right set of tools. While analytical skills might be a common trait amongst good finance leaders, they are not data scientists. Which is why Sage Intacct must build business analysis and data science into the solution. That takes aggressive innovation.

Leading with Innovation

As the pace of change accelerates today, the need for more features and better functionality doesn’t stop once you get a new solution up and running. We live in an age of disruption. As a result, the pace of innovation must accelerate. We asked participants in our 2017 Enterprise Solution Study how the pace of innovation had changed since they had first implemented (Figure 1). Indeed, 39% report that upgrades are now delivered more frequently.

Figure 1: Change in Pace of Innovation Since Implementing?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

However, it is one thing to deliver innovation more frequently, but quite another to consume it. If we average the frequency of delivery across all our respondents, we find upgrades being delivered just about every 6 months. We also asked our participants how often they upgraded and found they consumed those upgrades about once every 13 months. If we contrast SaaS deployments to those licensed, we found upgrades consumed far more frequently (Figure 2) when delivered through SaaS. And yet we know this can vary quite significantly from vendor to vendor.

Figure 2: How frequently are these upgrades “consumed?”

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Delivering more innovation through more frequent (and robust) updates not only delivers more value, but is also one of the most differentiating factors in comparing cloud solutions. While some of the potential benefits of a cloud-based solution are inherent in the cloud itself, the cadence and method of delivery of innovation are not among them, varying significantly from one solution provider to another.

With four releases a year, including about 30 enhancements in each, Sage Intacct is keeping pace with the top SaaS solution providers. Below are some highlights by industry of the 150 product enhancements that have been delivered over the past year.

Nonprofit Organizations

Sage Intacct, along with new partner GuideStar, introduced the Sage Intacct Nonprofit Financial Board Book. The concept of a “guide book” or “Intacct Digital Board Book” was introduced back in 2015. They are designed as vehicles of communication , making enterprise data easier to consume, with instant access organized for action.

These Digital Board Books are very industry-specific and the first one off the shelf was designed for software businesses that, like Intacct, deliver software as a service (SaaS). This new one is designed specifically for nonprofits along with the assistance of GuideStar, the world’s largest source of nonprofit information.

The Nonprofit Financial Board Book is based on the framework developed by GuideStar to monitor the financial performance of nonprofit organizations. It uses real-time transactional data from the system of record in Sage Intacct to automate the calculation of key financial and operational metrics that GuideStar uses to not only demonstrate the financial health of nonprofit organizations, but also ensure the organization is on track in accomplishing its mission – a key element in attracting donors for funding.

Professional Services and Project-based Businesses

Sage Intacct also recently unveiled its new Project Manager Digital Board Book, which also includes new project budgeting capabilities. It is designed to empower project managers with better insight into project status and performance, keep projects on track so resources are available for the next highest priority, and uncover key insights to eliminate waste and improve productivity.

Software and SaaS Businesses

For software and SaaS companies, the contract is at the core of managing the lifecycle of the relationship with their customers. Sage Intacct recognizes the transition to the new ASC 606 revenue recognition guidelines is making the contract the new “unit” of Accounting. Back in May 2016 Sage Intacct Contract and Revenue Management was one of the first solutions to address the new complexities in revenue recognition created by the upcoming changes. Further enhancements were announced to enable companies to more fully integrate and automate the entire sales and finance process.

These are are just some highlights from the 150 product enhancements delivered over the past year by Sage Intacct via four quarterly releases. While these continue to supply Sage Intacct customers with a steady stream of useful and consumable enhancements, it was a preview of the future that was perhaps the most innovative and the most exciting of all.

Vision of the Future: Taking Intelligence to the Next Level

To sweeten the pot even more, Sage Intacct introduced its vision for a new digital assistant to the CFO. Its name is Pacioli. Think of it as a Siri or Alexa for enterprise applications. Pacioli will dramatically change the way the user interacts and interfaces with the software.

What’s in a Name? Pacioli

Fra Luca Bartolomeo de Pacioli (sometimes Paccioli or Paciolo; c. 1447–1517) was an Italian mathematician, Franciscan friar, collaborator with Leonardo da Vinci, and a seminal contributor to the field now known as accounting. He is referred to as “The Father of Accounting and Bookkeeping” in Europe and he was the first person to publish a work on the double-entry system of book-keeping in this continent.”

Like da Vinci, Pacioli was a polymath.

Source: Wikipedia

On the surface, Pacioli might look a lot like some other “virtual assistants” offered by other vendors recently, including Sage’s Pegg. Sage calls Pegg “the world’s first and only accounting chatbot,” but it’s not the only virtual assistant that can capture expenses from your mobile device and give you some visibility into cash flow.

While Pacioli is not yet ready for prime time and Sage Intacct may very well leverage Sage’s work with NLP, it is far ahead in terms of true AI – a good example of how the acquisition could have mutual benefits to both parties.

Although Pacioli makes use of advanced new technology, including deep machine learning, Sage Intacct doesn’t want to deliver it as a general technology tool, but instead will look for problems to solve and develop specific solutions to solve them. This is smart since its typical customers will not seek out or purchase technology for technology’s sake. Other vendors, far bigger than Sage Intacct, have struggled to gain traction when they released elegant new technology in search of a problem. Current and future Sage Intacct customers start with a problem and search for a solution.

Pacioli will have to start out with fairly simple questions, much like Siri, Alexa and even IBM Watson do. All these digital assistants must be trained to answer anticipated questions. Current AI technology isn’t good at coming up with brand new answers to questions nobody has thought of before. It is good at recognizing the question as one with a (stored) answer. Even with current limitations it can add tremendous value because we’re not talking about a few questions and answers; we’re talking thousands or more.

While many today have begun to fear that AI will take jobs away, much like the automation that occurred in the latter part of the 20th century, one Sage Intacct customer, Meals on Wheels doesn’t fear it. The nonprofit’s chief financial and administrative officer, Don Miller welcomes it, “If it saves us time and gives us more time to work strategically, that is useful progress. Some might worry about job security. But if it takes five hours to pull data together and AI can do it in minutes, I’m all for it.” This is consistent with the objective Mr. Miller had when he came on board: It’s all about eliminating “stupid work.”

For Intacct, it’s all about delivering a tool that will maximize the human potential. It has the potential of automating and eliminating the tedious, time-consuming tasks that keep a knowledge worker from working efficiently and effectively, without wasting time searching for data, policies or processes.

But… Is Intacct Getting Too Far Ahead of its Customers?

Sometimes software companies must take a leadership role in terms of innovation, inspiring customers and prospects to apply leading edge technologies in new and creative ways to create a competitive advantage. Without this push, many (most?) companies can become complacent. If the software that runs the business isn’t broken, there’s no need to fix it.

Eighty-four percent (84%) of survey respondents participating in the 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study agree that digital technologies of today (those that serve to connect operations, people and processes through the power of the Internet) have the potential to fundamentally change the way we all do business. Furthermore, 88% understand that embracing digital technologies is necessary for survival. And yet, we found the vast majority still coasting or riding the brakes when it comes to digital transformation.

Last year we also found that while 58% of participants felt they were well prepared for the digital economy, in peeling back the onion, we concluded that many were perhaps over-confident in their progress, often held back by old ways of thinking and a lack of understanding and appreciation of what is possible today.

So in our 2017 study we dug a little deeper to assess how well companies understand these technologies, and the potential they hold for their businesses. We selected 14 different kinds of technology and asked respondents to assess their level of familiarity with each in terms of how they relate (or not) to their business. The technologies that Pacioli might utilize are shown in Table 1 (in no particular order).

With the exception of predictive analytics and IoT, those that are unfamiliar, only somewhat familiar and/or don’t perceive the value outnumber those that have embraced these technologies. And yet these technologies have actually insinuated themselves into the lives of many consumers. And most of us don’t even realize it.

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

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Anyone using Siri, Alexa or Cortana has used a virtual assistant and natural language processing. Google, Spotify and Pandora all employ “deep learning” (aka machine learning) to create a better play list for you. Did you ever notice that your GPS seems to get smarter over time, suggesting the routes you actually prefer? And the more you use any of these “apps”, the smarter they get.

These technologies are no longer science fiction. They are woven into the fabric of our lives. Apple, Amazon and Microsoft didn’t require you to buy something extra. They just made it part of what you got with your new device. And didn’t those features make you want the latest and greatest device?

That is exactly what Sage Intacct is setting out to do: take the lead in weaving these technologies into the fabric of the software we use to run our businesses.

Key Takeaways

Sage Intacct, with the backing of its new owner, Sage, has indeed set its sights on “leading the future.” The global reach and resources of Sage, combined with the stability and continuity of a strong leadership team positions it quite well. It will need to continue to aggressively provide innovation, continue to listen to its customers, while also leading them in new and innovative directions. It must continue to support the historians, while making them better business analysts. If it can deliver on its vision of the future, effectively incorporating artificial intelligence into decision-making, it can bring data science into the world of finance, without requiring its customers to be data scientists.

 

 

 

 

 

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Infor Ushers In the Age of Networked Intelligence

Leveraging The Rise of Networks and Data To “Bend the Curve of Progress”

Even amidst all the hype around disruptive and game-changing technology, few innovations have had the ability to truly change the game or dramatically alter the course of history. The steam engine enabled advancements in transportation and trade, completely changing the game in terms of how people and goods moved across what used to be viewed as vast distances. What else has had the same dramatic effect?

In more recent times, the Internet and the mobile phone, which evolved into the smart phone, were perhaps the two most significant game-changers. Infor, a leading provider of business applications, specialized by industry and built for the cloud, believes the rise of networks, coupled with the intelligence that can be derived from the massive amounts of data available today, will be the next such game-changer that will truly “bend the curve of progress.”

And Infor believes it is well-positioned to leverage these two factors and accelerate that movement.

The Evolution of a Strategy

Since the current management team, led by CEO Charles Phillips, took over about six years ago, Infor’s strategy has been evolving. Its mission: to “build beautiful business applications with last mile functionality and insights for select industries, delivered as a cloud service.” As a privately held company with a recent infusion of capital by Koch Industries, Infor has been able to spend billions of dollars developing and acquiring that last mile of functionality for a growing number of vertical and sub-vertical industries. The goal is to totally eliminate the need for invasive customization.

Having grown through acquisition, Infor has a very broad portfolio of products, including multiple Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions, some more modern and strategic than others. Its strategic solutions have been re-architected to run in the cloud and as a result, its cloud revenues have been growing faster than the industry average. As companies move to a public cloud environment, it becomes even more critical to eliminate customizations that create barriers to innovation.

The Network Economy

Infor also recognizes the continued shift to more distributed environments and global trade relationships. This shift started decades ago when low-cost country sources made “outsourcing” very appealing. As companies have tended to become less vertically integrated, reducing costs and focusing instead on their core competencies, this necessitates new ways of doing business with each other. The move away from vertical integration and towards the Internet and cloud-based computing has spurred the rise of the network economy.

In response, two years ago Infor acquired GT Nexus and its cloud-based, global commerce platform. More and more of the communication, collaboration and business processes of any company are likely to extend beyond the four walls of the enterprise. Focused on the supply chain, GT Nexus largely applies to those industries that must manage the movement of materials, but also has an impact outside of traditional manufacturing and wholesale distribution. The procurement of supplies in industries like healthcare and hospitality has not changed in decades and are ripe for innovation.

Whether you deal with a physical product or services, the value chain has lengthened and become more complicated. Yet expectations of response time and delivery performance have risen dramatically. Hence the need for an added level of intelligence in dealing with this new digital, network economy.

Business Intelligence (BI) and Analytics

Which leads to the next step in the evolution of Infor’s strategy. Earlier this year it acquired Birst, Inc., a pioneer of cloud-native, business intelligence (BI), analytics, and data visualization. The tools are available immediately, while Infor works to replace any existing data cubes and content (previously Cognos-based) with the newly acquired technology and also build out additional applications, content and migration tools. Existing Infor BI customers will be able to migrate, trading in (like for like) old licenses for new Birst tools.

Of course, this will be easiest for those already operating in the cloud. About 8,500 out of 90,000 Infor customers are in the cloud today, leaving many still on premise and often operating on outdated products and technology. This represents both a risk and an opportunity to Infor. But the addition of Birst to the Infor product portfolio should only serve to add more incentive to move to the most current CloudSuite for any customer’s particular vertical.

AI: Taking Intelligence to the Next Level

To sweeten the pot even more, Infor has now introduced the Coleman AI Platform. On the surface, Coleman might look a lot like some other “virtual assistants” offered by other vendors recently. However, it doesn’t take long to realize that under the surface, Coleman is quite different. This is partly because it actually resides under the surface. It is not a “bolted on” application, but is a platform that will be embedded in Infor’s CloudSuites. In fact, while the world is just now learning about it, Infor has been working on Coleman for a few years and has embedded it in a few spots already.

Some examples are predictive inventory management for healthcare, price optimization management for hospitality, and forecasting, assortment planning, and promotion management for retail. Where it is embedded, adding new features to existing solutions, these capabilities are delivered to existing customers with no additional license or subscription fees.

Coleman changes the way the user interfaces with the software. Think of it as a Siri or Alexa for enterprise applications. Infor suggests some of the questions you might ask it:

  • Coleman, what is the accounts receivable balance for ACME Corp?
  • Coleman, what’s the next best offer for this customer?
  • Coleman, who is the sales rep on the ABC Labs account?
  • Coleman, what price should I charge for a hotel room?
  • Coleman, what are sales by month for the NW region this year?
  • Coleman, how much PTO [paid time off] do I have left?
  • Coleman, create a requisition for item 4321
  • Coleman, approve the promotion for Nurse Jones

For now, these are fairly simple questions, but Infor anticipates the kinds of questions asked will become much more predictive in nature as the application of the technology matures.

Its natural language processing is the same technology that powers Amazon’s Alexa. But it doesn’t stop there. Infor has been quietly acquiring machine learning technology and scouring the open source community for tools and technology for several years. There is much more to come, including image recognition to chat, hear, talk, and recognize images to help people access growing volumes of structured and unstructured data more efficiently.

While many today have begun to fear that AI will take jobs away, much like the automation that occurred in the latter part of the 20th century, Infor prefers to focus on delivering a tool that will instead maximize the human potential. It has the potential of automating and eliminating the tedious, time-consuming tasks that keep a knowledge worker from working efficiently and effectively, without wasting time searching for data, policies or processes.

The predictive capabilities have traditionally been what have drawn attention to artificial intelligence and machine learning. The most common application of predictive technologies is in the case of asset performance and maintenance. Given Infor’s strength in Enterprise Asset Management (EAM), this is indeed a prime target.

Where Coleman and IoT Meet

Of course assets like equipment and machines have been equipped with sensors for decades now, which have brought access to an unprecedented volume of data. But for decades that data has gone largely underutilized and has had little connection to any kind of system used for decision-making. So companies still lose precious production time for (potentially unnecessary) preventive maintenance. Or they run the risk of disrupting schedules by running until a failure occurs. Embedding Coleman for condition monitoring can potentially predict equipment failures in order to schedule maintenance (with the necessary repair parts) just in time, minimizing downtime for maintenance and maximizing production.

Demand Planning and Forecasting

When it comes to forecasting demand, there is an old saying: The one (and only) thing you can count on with absolute certainty is that it will be wrong. The corollary of course is that the more data you have, the more accurate the forecast. But you can also reach a point of having more data than a human can assimilate and analyze. Coleman knows no such limit. And so, forecasting demand should be an excellent application of Coleman’s capabilities.

But what about brand new products with no history? For decades we’ve simply made assumptions. Intuitively we use prior experience with similar products, but that’s a lot of guesswork and it’s never easy. Infor is predicting that Coleman will shatter previous demand planning and forecasting performance in these (and all) situations. How can it do that? By analyzing a vast array of attributes about the new product and correlating them against the attributes of products with a history. The deep industry-specific functionality of the Infor CloudSuites, combined with the extensive data available from the GT Nexus Commerce Network will help make more of this kind of data available for analysis – a winning combination. Time will tell, but given the credentials of Infor’s Data Science Labs (65 PhD’s in a laboratory setting), and the business data available from Infor’s CloudSuites and GT Nexus, our money is on Coleman.

But… Is Infor Getting Too Far Ahead of its Customers?

Coleman was announced at Infor’s annual user event, Inforum 2017. Most customers, while intrigued and interested, still view the kind of AI delivered with Coleman as “bleeding edge.” Infor has recently been seeing much more success in working some very innovative projects with some vary large customers, especially when it brings Hook & Loop Digital (a creative lab within Infor) and its Data Science Lab to bear. However, the vast majority of its installed base is comprised of small to midsize enterprises (SMEs). How will Coleman impact the rank and file?

Sometimes software companies must lead the charge in terms of innovation, inspiring customers and prospects to apply leading edge technologies in new and creative ways to create a competitive advantage. Without this push, many (most?) companies can become complacent. If the software that runs the business isn’t broken, there’s no need to fix it. So they stay on legacy solutions instead of moving to an appropriate Infor CloudSuite.

Eighty-four percent (84%) of survey respondents participating in the 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study agree that digital technologies of today (those that serve to connect operations, people and processes through the power of the Internet) have the potential to fundamentally change the way we all do business. Furthermore, 88% understand that embracing digital technologies is necessary for survival. And yet, we found the vast majority still coasting or riding the brakes when it comes to digital transformation. Infor customers are no exception.

Last year we also found that while 58% of participants felt they were well prepared for the digital economy, in peeling back the onion, we concluded that many were perhaps over-confident in their progress, often held back by old ways of thinking and a lack of understanding and appreciation of what is possible today.

So in our 2017 study we dug a little deeper to assess how well companies understand these technologies, and the potential they hold for their businesses. We selected 14 different kinds of technology and asked respondents to assess their level of familiarity with each in terms of how they relate (or not) to their business. The technologies that Coleman might utilize are shown in Table 1 (in no particular order).

With the exception of predictive analytics and IoT, those that are unfamiliar, only somewhat familiar and/or don’t perceive the value outnumber those that have embraced these technologies. And yet these technologies have actually insinuated themselves into the lives of many consumers. And most of us don’t even realize it.

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

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Anyone using Siri, Alexa or Cortana has used a virtual assistant and natural language processing. Google, Spotify and Pandora all employ “deep learning” (aka machine learning) to create a better play list for you. Did you ever notice that your GPS seems to get smarter over time, suggesting the routes you actually prefer? And the more you use any of these “apps”, the smarter they get.

These technologies are no longer science fiction. They are woven into the fabric of our lives. Apple, Amazon and Microsoft didn’t require you to buy something extra. They just made it part of what you got with your new device. And didn’t those features make you want the latest and greatest device?

That is exactly what Infor is setting out to do: weave these technologies into the fabric of the software we use to run our businesses. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as easy to “trade up” to a new ERP solution as it is to get a new mobile device. But Infor has a program to make it as easy as possible. It’s called UpgradeX.

UpgradeX provides customers with different options, but the most value will be derived from moving to the latest release of one of its strategic solutions, running in the cloud. This may mean upgrading to the latest release of a solution already implemented or moving to a new solution quickly, cost-effectively, and with minimal business disruption.

The process typically begins with working with an Infor Value Engineering team to build a “board-ready” business case for upgrading that includes a proposed solution architecture and roadmap, projected business process improvements, and anticipated return on investment (ROI). Infor can also offer consulting services, delivered by 3,500 professionals in 50 countries.

While Infor has promised never to force any existing customer to upgrade, migrate or abandon a product that is installed, the only way for customers to take full advantage of Infor’s vast investments in technology is to be running one of its industry-specific CloudSuites. You don’t have to run in the cloud, although Mint Jutras would argue that is exactly how you will get the most value: Eliminate the cost of obsolescence of hardware and software; let Infor manage the upgrades, and allow your company to take full advantage of the innovation Infor can deliver.

Key Takeaways

We do indeed live in a world where digital technologies have the potential of fundamentally changing the way we do business. Cloud computing and technologies such as AI, natural language processing, machine learning and predictive capabilities are infiltrating our personal lives. It is now time to bring them into the enterprise.

At the same time, the network economy and vast amounts of data are a reality for any company today. The more intelligence companies can derive from that data, the better equipped they will be to leverage the vast potential of opportunities.

Infor is uniquely positioned to help its customers “bend the curve of progress.” Its purpose-built CloudSuites provide deep functionality for industry verticals and sub-verticals. Running in the cloud on Amazon’s AWS relieves customers of the burden of maintenance and obsolescence. GT Nexus provides a platform to connect to a vast commerce network. The recent addition of BI and analytical tools promises to bring a new level of insights and intelligence. And the Coleman AI platform is the logical next (and final?) step in completing the journey of digital transformation.

Yet too few of its 90,000 customers have stepped up to the plate. To those Infor customers still running on old versions or older, non-strategic products: Complacency is your enemy. The same applies to non-Infor customers limping along on legacy products built on old and outdated technology. For years ripping and replacing ERP solutions was simply not worth the time, effort and money. It simply resulted in something different and not a whole lot better. Those days are long gone.

While digital technologies such as AI, machine learning, natural language processing and even predictive analytics are still nascent, by embedding them in the fabric of the software that runs the business, they truly have the potential of becoming mainstreamed into the Infor community. Don’t sit by complacently while your competitors gain an advantage over you. Start to bend that curve of progress. Infor can help.

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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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