analytics

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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Are Digital Technologies for Everyone?

Understanding Just How Well They are Understood and Valued

Industry pundits have been hyping “digital transformation” and “digital technologies” for several years now. This hype tends to make ample reference to the consumer technologies that are indeed making an impact on our personal lives: connected homes, self-driving cars, wearable fitness devices and every kind of “app” you can think of on your smart phone or tablet. That’s easy. The hard part is connecting this transformation to the workplace and the enterprise in a way that seems to bring real value. The pundits make the assumption that these technologies are well-understood and perceived as valuable. But are they?

I don’t make any such assumptions and the results from questions on digital preparedness in my annual enterprise solution study last year confirmed many decision makers are fooling themselves with a false sense of security. While 88% agreed that embracing digital technologies was necessary for survival, the majority still rely at least in part on spreadsheets for something as common as the system of record of business transactions. That contradiction led me to investigate just how well understood various technologies are, and whether value is perceived as real.

How Well Do You Understand?

We are still actively collecting data from this year’s study, but at this point in time we’ve captured over 500 responses – enough to make some early observations. Participants represented a wide range of industries and companies of all sizes, from small to very large.

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. All respondents were asked about all 14, even though we realize some are more relevant to some industries than to others. Those shaded in the lighter green are primarily applicable to those making and/or moving a physical product, while those in the darker green are likely to be applied more universally.

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

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

There is a lot of data and insight buried in this table and there are countless different ways we can cut it and present it. One way of analyzing the data is to divide participants into two groups: those that have no familiarity or are only somewhat familiar with a technology, and those that understand it well. We presume those that have deployed or are deploying it fall into the latter category. Figure 1 depicts this dichotomy graphically.

Figure 1: Either you “get it” or you don’t

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

We seem to be all over the map here, with those that utilize increasingly large volumes of data to provide intelligence most well understood. And yet we don’t see a big uptake in terms of deployment (Figure 2). Only 10% to 20% have even begun deploying the technologies that are most well understood and many just don’t see the applicability to their business.

Figure 2: Deployment Lags Understanding

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Is this due to a lack of education or is it because they really don’t apply? I think it is a little of both. While I still want to do a deeper dive by industry, two preliminary data cuts told me a whole lot. First of all, those that fall into my category of “World Class” have a far greater knowledge and appreciation for these technologies. Just look at the difference in adoption rate (Figure 3) between World Class and All Others.

Figure 3: World Class Deploy More

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Note that I define World Class (the top 15%) through the results achieved since implementing the software that runs the business and progress against company goals. This is not a “world class company” as much as world class use of technology, although better use of technology very often correlates with better company performance in terms of growth and profits. So we’re not surprised to see a higher level of understanding and more adoption in companies that have achieved World Class status.

However, we also recognize that while deployment is about the company, understanding and perception of value is more about the individual. And this is where the second data cut was quite revealing. I looked at levels of understanding based on the age of the survey participants, the vast majority of which fell into the categories of Baby Boomers (23%), Gen Xers (53%) and Millennials (23%).

Figure 4: Millennials Understand Better

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

It is quite clear that the level of understanding of these technologies is inversely proportional to age. This doesn’t mean Millennials are smarter. They were simply born in an age where we rely on technology to make life easier, while Baby Boomers grew up doing things the hard way. In terms of seeing the value, Baby Boomers are definitely harder to convince.

As a Baby Boomer, I am skeptical of technology making us stupid and lazy. I see many examples of this in consumer technology. Smart refrigerators are the perfect example. A simple, online search came up with this:

The Samsung Family Hub fridge has a giant touchscreen built into one of its doors, complete with an app you can use to order groceries online. A line of cameras on the inside will send a picture to your phone when you’re out shopping. An app on the fridge for Samsung’s SmartThings smart home service will let you control your lights, your thermostat, and other connected products right from your refrigerator door.”

My reaction: Really? You need this to manage the inventory of your refrigerator? Are you constantly running out of milk? You can’t flip a light switch or remember to turn down the heat when you leave or go to bed? You want your refrigerator to do that? You really think you’ll save a measurable amount of energy by not having to open the door?

The reaction of my 28-year-old nephew? While he didn’t spring for the Samsung $5,000 model, he did buy a smart refrigerator.

The risk I face is overlooking something that will make a significant impact. The risk my nephew faces is spending too much for too little real value… while perhaps becoming stupid and lazy. But there is hope for both of us. I did invest in a video doorbell this past year, resulting in improved security. Not to mention the fact I actually know when someone is at the door even though my hearing isn’t what it used to be. And my nephew never runs out of milk now and still saved enough money to renovate his kitchen, increasing the resale value of his home.

The lesson for businesses to learn: educate yourself on the real value, but scrutinize the return on investment. Over the next few weeks and months, look for me to dive deeper into these different technologies for help in both areas.

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Is SAP Still in SMB Stealth Mode? Watch Out, Changes are Looming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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What Acumatica 6 Means to Digital Transformation

Productivity, Analytics, Technology

The Internet levels the playing field in our global economy, allowing companies of any size to establish a presence and compete on a global scale. But in order to fully participate in this global, digital economy, most companies must undergo a digital transformation. Digital technologies of today, those that serve to connect operations, people and processes through the power of the Internet, have the potential of fundamentally changing the way we do business. Eighty-four percent (84%) of companies participating in the 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study agree and 88% understand that embracing digital technologies is necessary for survival.

And yet we find evidence most have not embraced “digital” with the level of priority and urgency that will give them a competitive advantage. Almost half still rely on paper and/or manual processes for maintaining their operational and transactional systems of record. And 71% to 82% still rely at least partially on spreadsheets or manual processes to plan and manage key elements of their businesses. Why is that?

Oftentimes it is because the “digital” hype focuses either on consumer technology (social, home, shopping, fitness, etc.) or is discussed at such an advanced (and abstract) level that your typical business leader just can’t figure out how to get from here to there.

Acumatica is looking to change that and its latest release of its cloud ERP, Acumatica 6, provides us with some good examples of how it is going about it.acumatica6

Click here to read the full report.

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SYSPRO U.S. Provides Critical Visibility with Voyage & Container Tracking

Mobile, Cloud or On-Premises Supply Chain Management

In a world where international shipments are so commonplace, it is amazing how many global manufacturers and distributors lack visibility of goods that are in transit, often for weeks at a time. Even though the ownership of purchased goods transfers as soon as a container is closed, for most, particularly for small to medium-size businesses (SMBs), materials simply disappear into a black hole, before they (hopefully) are received from half a continent or half a world away. To solve this problem, and also add visibility to shipped products, SYSPRO U.S. has added a new Voyage & Container Tracking solution to its portfolio and made sure it is fully integrated with its enterprise resource planning (SYSPRO ERP) software and complemented with useful analytics. This is perfectly consistent with its “Einstein” market positioning favoring “simply smarter” solutions for what the mid-market customer actually needs, versus simply succumbing to industry hype.

A Real Solution for a Real Problem

Once upon a time, in the not-so-distant past, globalization was the domain of large, multi-billion dollar enterprises. Yet today, almost every company, regardless of size, trades internationally. Low cost country sources have sent even small manufacturers and distributors in search of lower cost materials and small companies themselves have become more distributed. The 2014 Mint Jutras ERP solution study found 66% of all manufacturers operate from more than one location and even small manufacturers (those with annual revenues less than $25 million) have an average of 1.6 operating sites (Figure 1). These types of changes in the business environment have brought an unprecedented level of complexity to supply chains and those supply chains extend across the globe.

Long lead times add uncertainty, which is difficult for any company to deal with, but particularly so for small to medium-size companies that have fewer resources and less clout with their customers — customers which often are very large and demanding. Yet shipment tracking, accurate determination of true landed costs and visibility into where goods are and where they are coming from, have typically been features only available in specialized software packages that are well beyond the reach of an SMB.

Figure 1: Even small companies operate globally

SYSPRO fig 1Source: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study

Note: Size is based on annual revenue

SYSPRO U.S. turned to its customer base to help define and design the features and functions required to close this gap in visibility and then it spent the last two years refining it with the assistance of one company in particular: Wormser Corporation, a privately held cosmetics manufacturer and distributor based in Englewood, New Jersey. Wormser’s biggest challenge was in tracking shipments from its manufacturing location in Shanghai to its 40 warehouses in the United States.

Three Major Components

The embedded features of SYSPRO U.S.’s new Voyage & Container Tracking solution are delivered through three major components.

  1. Release Matrix: This component identifies and manages items that are available for shipment through a multi-part release operation. Items included in both purchase orders and sales orders can be combined in a single release. Users are provided visibility into what is available and can adjust quantities and view expected departure and delivery dates.
  2. Container Management: This component is used to determine which products or parts will travel in which containers. It provides the flexibility to consolidate releases from multiple orders into a single container or split a single order across multiple containers. While today the solution does not explicitly manage the capacity of each container, it does provide visibility into container usage. SYSPRO U.S. plans to enhance this capability in the future to include optimization of containers. Through the assignment of goods to these containers, the SYSPRO customer gets added visibility and predictability of departure and arrival dates as well as source and destination ports.
  3. Disposition Management: When a container reaches its destination, this component takes over. Each container may be processed separately or all containers on a voyage can be handled as a single shipment. Upon arrival at a port, the goods in the containers may be placed on quarantine hold or transferred to another segment of the journey (e.g. from ocean vessel to truck) for delivery to the next or final destination. This component performs the inventory and fiscal transactions necessary and provides more visibility. Charts and graphs are useful in analyzing elapsed time between ports, management of the number of containers shipped and landed costs.

These charts are just some of the analytical tools provided. SYSPRO U.S.’s survey of a sample of its own customer base convinced the solution provider that the vast majority of its customers found messaging within the enterprise software industry about “big data” and analytics either difficult to understand or only somewhat understandable.

Yet the lack of understanding does not mean there is no value in these types of analytical tools. It simply means small to mid-size manufacturers and distributors need help in understanding how to leverage these tools. And it also means they will only be receptive to learning more if the tools solve a very real and practical problem. They are not interested in elegant technical solutions in search of problems. They have plenty of problems of their own to solve.

Potential Benefits

The potential benefits of SYSPRO U.S.’s new solution should be very appealing to these pragmatic manufacturers and distributors. The potential benefits include:

  • The ability to track shipments both at an order line level, as well as a summary level. This tracking data will also be available for analysis for both strategic and operational decisions.
  • Better visibility to inventory, even with long lead-time items. This visibility will be helpful in improving full, on time delivery.
  • The ability to analyze performance by product origin through the recording of departure and arrival cities and individual ports.
  • Better vendor performance management through more detailed measurement of promised and actual shipments.
  • Full determination of not just material costs, but full landed cost, whether free on board (FOB) or not.
  • Improved communication and collaboration between departments, locations, and vendors, along with fewer mistakes.
  • A single source of the truth. Because of the seamless integration with SYSPRO ERP, all shipping and financial data is combined in a single source of data.

Proof Positive: Wormser Corporation

With six locations around the world, Wormser Corporation’s biggest challenge was in tracking shipments from its manufacturing location in Shanghai to its 40 US-based warehouses. All these different locations were using different systems and ultimately Wormser turned to SYSPRO for a full and integrated solution for its global operations. SYSPRO ERP was a great fit for daily operations, but Wormser approached SYSPRO U.S. for a custom tracking module for overseas inventory tracking. This was the genesis of the voyage and container tracking system now being released as a standard offering.

In October 2012, Wormser’s six international locations (New Jersey, California, Texas, England, Germany and China) went live with SYSPRO ERP and the newly- developed intercompany modules. All supply chain transactions between entities were automated. In addition Wormser tracks partial and full container shipments from vendors.

By collecting all this data, from all these locations, as well as from vendors, Wormser is able to produce analytical reports and graphs that aid in comprehensively managing a complete supply chain. Analysis can be done at an order line level, all the way up to and including location and the full company. Vendor performance is also tracked and Wormser now has data for strategic, as well as operational decisions.

Summary and Key Take-Aways

This new Voyage & Container Tracking solution provides an enormous opportunity for many of SYSPRO U.S.’s customers. Any that deal with long lead times, complex supply chains and/or international, containerized shipments can potentially derive a lot of value from this newest solution. And as a SYSPRO U.S. offering, it is both affordable and pre-integrated to the SYSPRO ERP solution being used to manage back and front offices across the installed base of SYSPRO U.S. customers around the world. By infusing analytics into the solution, it becomes a potentially powerful tool for decision-making – both from an operational and a strategic decision-making perspective. With this new option, SYSPRO U.S. companies faced with real supply chain challenges, particularly those with multiple locations, can gain new efficiencies with real solutions.

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Infor customers: Are you listening?

Once again Inforum, Infor’s annual customer event was chock full of new announcements. At last count I saw 13 press releases issued since the start of the event on Monday September 15th:

Sep 17, 2014 Etam Group Expands Scope of its Marketing Activities with the Help of the Latest Version of Infor’s Marketing Management Solutions

Sep 17, 2014 Brasil Norte Bebidas Adopts Infor Solution to Optimize Logistic Processes

Sep 17, 2014 Kansas City Citizens Receive Enhanced Service from Local Government

Sep 17, 2014 Infor Aligns With MercuryGate To Strengthen Transportation Management

Sep 17, 2014 Infor Helps Ferrari to Accelerate Supply Chain Planning

Sep 17, 2014 Infor Announces Internship and Educational Alliance Programs

Sep 16, 2014 Infor Delivers Robust CloudSuite for Business Management

Sep 16, 2014 Infor Announces New Era of Automated Financials

Sep 16, 2014 Infor CloudSuite Available for Healthcare Delivery Organizations

Sep 16, 2014 Infor Announces New Technology Platform, Infor Xi

Sep 16, 2014Infor Dynamic Science Labs Pioneers New Class of Applications

Sep 16, 2014Infor and Aras Deliver Transformative Cloud PLM Solution

Sep 16, 2014Infor Reports Q1 License Revenue at Double-Digit Growth

Sep 15, 2014Varian Medical Systems and Infor to Add New Data Integration Capability within Varian Software Suite for Planning, Managing, and Delivering Cancer Care

 

As you can see from the list above, this collection of news bites is quite diverse. You might even say it’s all over the map. And still it doesn’t cover everything I found noteworthy from the event. Having grown through acquisition, in the past Infor has struggled to have any focus beyond growth for the sake of growth. But I would argue that in spite of the large volume of news, in spite of the diversity, today Infor does have a focus. And that focus is something I have been writing a lot about lately: the convergence of trends, with goal of making ERP easier to consume.

My recent 2014 Trends in ERP Converge report began as follows:

In 2013 you couldn’t pick up an article without being bombarded with what industry observers were calling the “big trends” in enterprise software. We heard cloud and software as a service (SaaS) deployments would take over, although definitions were just that… cloudy. We heard about the prevalence of mobile devices and the resultant “consumerization of IT.” “Social” took on new meaning as Facebook, Twitter and other social media phenomena not only changed the way many of us communicated with the world but also impacted our business applications. And then, as if we weren’t already bombarded with enough data, we heard all about “big data,” analytics and in-memory computing. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) was not immune to these influential factors and the solution providers strove to brand themselves in the context of these trends. Will these trends continue to dominate, or will we see new waves of innovation? Mint Jutras anticipates 2014 will bring the convergence of these trends, brought together by a common goal of making not only innovation, but also the enterprise applications themselves inherently easier to consume.

 And that was the focus I heard at Inforum. It was all about making software that people want to consume, while making it easier to consume. Infor started down this path with Infor 10x, a platform that delivered a reinvented HTML5 user experience (the SoHo user interface), Infor Ming.le (its social collaboration platform), and embedded analytics. The Infor ION framework (light weight middleware) was integral to this effort. This week Infor announced the next evolution of Infor 10x: Infor Xi, which it calls “an enterprise technology platform for next-generation applications…[which] will deliver a major step in achieving the company’s vision for cloud applications that address specific industry needs with responsive design infused with machine-learning and big data analytics.” That’s a mouthful, but I think it supports my concept of this convergence of trends towards a common goal.

Infor has been talking about “beautiful” software for the past two years, introducing this concept at Inforum 2012. I haven’t always been a big fan of “beautiful” software simply because I think beauty is largely in the eye of the beholder and typically beauty isn’t the primary concern of users. It’s got to be more than a beauty contest.

I have been observing the growing importance of “ease of use” in terms of ERP selection criteria for the past few years. I have asked survey participants to prioritize ERP selection criteria in my annual ERP survey for many years. While “fit and functionality” reigned for years, “ease of use” has bubbled to the top for the past two years (Table 1).

Table 1: Priorities of Selection Criteria in Evaluating ERP

Table 1 InforSource: Mint Jutras 2014 and 2013 ERP Solution Studies

Survey participants were asked to rank the importance of thirteen different selection criteria for ERP on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 was “not a consideration” and 5 was “must have/most important.” There was nothing to stop the respondents from ranking each and every criterion as a “must have,” but they didn’t.

So what does “Ease of use” mean? Glad you asked. I asked that of my survey respondents as well. For this question, I gave them a list of options and asked them to pick their “top 3.” I guess a “visually appealing user interface” is the closest I come to “beautiful software.” As you can see in Figure 1, it is not at the very top of the list. Factors that affect efficiency and productivity outrank beauty. But in spite of the words Infor execs use (beautiful software), I actually think this is what they are striving for.

Figure 1: What does Ease of Use mean? Pick your top 3

Figure 1 InforSource: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study

Sadly enough, all too often in the past, ERP solutions that were meant to streamline and automate processes ended up forcing users to work in ways that simply weren’t natural. That point comes up a lot when talking to Infor execs. In fact they have launched a new initiative (Infor refers to it internally as SoHo Glide) to further improve the user experience. Graphical user interfaces (GUIs) have evolved from legacy command line interfaces. Now Infor wants to take the next step from “graphical” to “natural,” which addresses both the need for intuitive navigation and supporting a natural way of working. I could talk for pages about this, but the best way to understand what they are doing is to ask for a demo.

While many cite “Don’t make me change my business processes” as a “top 3” priority in terms of “ease of use,” I would warn Infor’s (and other vendors’) customers not to use this as a blanket requirement, unless of course all your business processes reflect best practices and/or provide a source of differentiation for you in your market.

Infor has flat out stated that it wants to rid the Infor world of customizations. That’s at the root of its micro-vertical strategy. The goal is to have very industry specific solutions that can address all the requirements of a particular sector without the need for customizations or other point solutions. But that doesn’t mean the software can or should support every idiosyncrasy of your company. “We’ve always done it that way” is not a valid justification, especially if the reason you did something differently was because of a (previous) gap in software functionality or resistance from an individual (who probably doesn’t even work for your company any more). There are a lot better solutions out there today, some of which are offered by Infor.

“Friends don’t let friends build data centers”

One of the reasons Infor is so adamant about removing customizations is because of the move to the cloud. I have lots of data that shows the growing willingness to consider, even the preference for cloud-based solutions. Infor has known for a while that this was happening, but execs on the main stage of Inforum 2014 admitted the push to cloud happened a bit faster than they had anticipated. Hence the “all out” effort to be “all in” on the cloud. And in fact the quote in this heading was from Infor CEO Charles Phillips.

Infor is offering two different paths to the cloud. Its UpgradeX program is probably most attractive to companies that are stuck on older releases, often because of the cost and effort of the upgrade process. Through UpgradeX, Infor gets the customer to the latest release of the software and then lifts and shifts it to the cloud, taking responsibility for its care and feeding, including upgrades. This is more of a hosting option, but relieves the customer of the burden of maintenance of both hardware and software.

I should point out that this option is not available to all customers because not all product lines are cloud (web-) enabled. Those Infor teams are working hard to encourage customers to remove customizations and move forward in anticipation of that day. But I have a better idea. Where Infor has an alternative solution that is modern and technology-enabled, get rid of that older solution and move to something that can more easily, safely and efficiently move you into the future.

You won’t hear Infor say this because it doesn’t want to appear to be abandoning customers or products. And of course, moving forward could mean opening the door to a competitive situation. Quite frankly, when I worked for software companies, some of which are now owned by Infor, I would have said and done the same.

But looking objectively from the outside in, I don’t think this serves the customer well. Suggesting “rip and replace” used to be heresy but today it might just be the fastest, cheapest path to get you to a far more competitive position.

If you do consider trading in an older Infor solution, the other cloud path might be best for you. Re-implement on one of Infor’s industry-specific CloudSuites. These CloudSuites integrate multiple functions traditionally requiring disparate systems into a single suite. Some will be industry-based (e.g. healthcare, manufacturing verticals, wholesale distribution, etc.) and others will be “solution” suites (e.g. financials, human capital management, etc.). These CloudSuites are all destined to be multi-tenant software as a service (SaaS) solutions, although all the necessary components are not multi-tenant today.

The CloudSuites will be available on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud infrastructure. As Infor’s COO Pam Murphy likes to say, “Infor is in the enterprise application software business. We let someone else worry about pipes and feeds.” Of course a significant advantage to customers and Infor both is the elasticity and scale of AWS. Infor will also use leading open source solutions including Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and JBoss Enterprise Middleware, and EnterpriseDB’s Postgres Plus database. And all will be supported by Infor ION®, Infor’s purpose-built, lightweight middleware. Infor ION provides integration and other services.

These suites will feature a consumer-grade user experience from Hook & Loop, Infor’s internal design agency based in its Manhattan headquarters. And they will have embedded analytics. This is an important point. As other vendors are packaging business intelligence (BI) tools and analytic applications and selling them separately, Infor is operating on the belief that analytics are core to next-generation applications and should be a basic part of the solution, with no additional charge.

These analytics will also run on mobile devices. In many ways Infor adopts a “mobile-first” design philosophy that is becoming quite prevalent in new development today. But it also recognizes that a lot of work (both transactional and decision-making) is still done on a desktop, so it is committed to bringing the consumer-grade user experience to all.

In fact this enhanced user experience, based on “beautiful software,” is all about engaging more of its customers’ employees. In the past only a small percentage of employees ever put their hands on ERP – those doing heads-down data entry and a few selected “super users.” Executives in particular couldn’t be bothered to “figure it all out” and were dependent on those super users for answers, causing delays that could be fatal to decision-making.

But today that is changing. The better the experience, the more connected the people running the businesses are to ERP and to each other. And Infor has the stated objective of ending “the tyranny of the super user.” Mint Jutras is already seeing a shift in the market to higher levels of engagement with ERP and cloud deployments seem to play a big role. While overall a little over half (55%) of employees use ERP today, that percentage jumps to 63% when a SaaS solution is deployed (Figure 2).

Figure 2: What percentage of your employees uses ERP?

Figure 2 InforSource: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study

Of course cloud-enablement is not the only factor here, but, apart from the access anytime, from anywhere advantage of the cloud, today’s cloud-based solutions are not saddled with a lot of older technology that stands in the way of a consumer-grade experience.

But Will Infor Customers Move?

The new management that took over Infor a few years back has brought significant change to the culture, the technology and the direction of the company. I think all these seemingly distinct announcements are all pulling Infor in the right direction and we’re really starting to see positive results. But the real question remains: Will its customers follow it into the future?

I went to my first Inforum in 2006 and was stunned to learn that Infor had 70,000 customers. Yet through the years of further acquisitions and more Inforums where the stats offered up about numbers of new customers were impressive, the total remained at 70,000. That told me that some customers (although still running run Infor products) might not be (maintenance) paying customers anymore and/or there was attrition equal to new customer wins. That is troubling for any software company.

This year that changed. In 2013 Infor added 3018 new customers and the total jumped to 73,000. But Infor still has a very large number of customers that simply are not in a position to take advantage of all this new technology, including consumer-grade user experiences, mobile design, cloud connectivity, embedded analytics, etc. etc. Other vendors see that as a huge opportunity.

Having dealt directly with some of these specific customer installed bases in the past, I would say a very large part of the reason these customers stay where they are is inertia. It is the “if it ain’t broken….” syndrome or the philosophy that ERP replacement is like brain surgery. Don’t do it unless the patient is dying. Anyone that follows me knows exactly what I think about that philosophy. Waiting until your business is in distress is not the optimal time to set out on a new ERP implementation.

Infor is offering a lot of options to its customers, but not every customer has the exact same options. These new “natural” customer experiences, new technology, new products and new CloudSuites are quite compelling. But if a customer can’t figure out how to get there, it’s all meaningless. Infor has been working on so much that it can be appear quite overwhelming. And it is very hard to convey this in a general session in front of such a diverse crowd. And it is equally hard to have 73,000 conversations.

The promise of beautiful software is not enough. Infor’s story is much more than that, but are its customers listening?

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