Big Data

Acumatica Poised as ERP Trends Converge

 

Partners Attracted by Technology, Innovation and Choice

Acumatica held its annual Partner Summit earlier this week in Broomfield, CO, just outside of Denver. Attendance this year topped 400, with over 100 partner companies represented. Over the past year Acumatica has undergone some management changes, bringing in a new CEO and a new head of partner strategy, a key role considering 100% of its sales are indirect. There was a definite sense of excitement in the air this year, partly as a result of the new management, but largely due to a combination of technology, innovation and choice of cloud-based deployment options offered in response to the latest trends impacting Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).

Mint Jutras has been writing a lot about four specific trends this year. Its report, 2014 Trends in ERP Converge, looked back over these “big trends” in enterprise software from 2013 and concluded that we don’t need any new or different trends for ERP in 2014. Cloud, mobile, social and big data will do just fine. However, we have concluded that it is no longer sufficient to treat them as independent movements. We need them to converge around a single common goal of making ERP easier to consume, thus bringing more value to the business. Enlisting the aid of OEM and VAR partners, Acumatica has set its sights on delivering on this promise of added value.

The Key Trends

As I have noted before (but it is worth repeating), the 2014 Trends in ERP Converge report talked about four specific trends. These should come as no surprise to anyone following enterprise software:

  • Cloud and software as a service (SaaS)
  • Mobile access and the consumerization of IT
  • “Social” as a way to deliver collaboration, connectivity and visibility
  • “Big data” for intelligence and decision-making

It is impossible to talk about the convergence of these trends without mentioning innovation that is easier to consume in a less disruptive way. This often requires new ways of engaging with ERP in order to change the whole ERP customer experience. So how does Acumatica address each of these trends?

Pure Cloud

Acumatica can be characterized as a pure cloud solution. The Acumatica solution was born in a browser and therefore has always had a zero footprint on the client, making it accessible any time, from anywhere. No legacy issues here. It is built from the ground up with cloud technologies: SOAP, web services, HTML5, Azure, Amazon, etc.

Many use the terms “cloud” and “SaaS” interchangeably, but indeed they are not the same. The distinction is quite simple and need not be over-complicated:

  • Cloud refers to access to computing, software, storage of data over a network (generally the Internet.) You may have purchased a license for the software and installed it on your own computers or those owned and managed by another company, but your access is through the Internet and therefore through the “cloud,” whether private or public.
  • SaaS is exactly what is implied by what the acronym stands for: Software as a Service. Software is delivered only as a service. It is not delivered on a CD or other media to be loaded on your own (or another’s) computer. It is accessed over the Internet and is generally paid for on a subscription basis. It does not reside on your computers at all.

Using these definitions, we can confidently say all SaaS is cloud computing, but not all cloud computing is SaaS. Acumatica is cloud-based but not always delivered as SaaS.

The downside of being “cloud only” often means less choice. Typically a cloud-based solution is only available as software as a service (SaaS). Not so with Acumatica. Lots of choices here: multi-tenant SaaS, single tenant SaaS (more like a hosted model), or even traditional on-premise deployments. You can purchase a perpetual license or pay a subscription. It is designed to be a multi-tenant cloud solution, but that doesn’t prevent Acumatica from offering it in a variety of different environments and Acumatica is quite unique in this regard.

Some industry observers, including those that have their own specific definition of what constitutes “true SaaS,” might argue against this approach. While Mint Jutras is seeing a major shift in acceptance of SaaS solutions, our research also proves that there is  continued interest in other delivery options for the access any time, from anywhere advantages of the cloud. But we see a decided decline in interest in traditional, licensed on-premise solutions (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Which deployment methods would you consider today?

Figure 1 AcumaticaSource: Mint Jutras 2011, 2013 and 2014 ERP Solution Studies

Many are simply looking to unburden themselves from the care and feeding of enterprise apps like ERP. They are attracted by lower costs, easier upgrades, less hardware and IT staff and are less worried about a single prescription of how cloud solutions are delivered. They are looking for business partners they can trust and having more choices in how they address these needs can be very attractive.

However, Acumatica does sacrifice some of the advantages of a pure multi-tenant solution through this approach. For those not familiar with the terminology, Mint Jutras uses the following simple definitions:

  • Multi-tenant SaaS: Multiple companies use the same instance of (hosted) software. Configuration settings will vary per company and data is protected from access by other companies (tenants).
  • Single-tenant (or Multi-instance) SaaS: Each company is given its own instance of the (hosted) software.

Those vendors that only support a multi-tenant environment have the luxury of maintaining one single line of code. By not having to worry about multiple instances at different (potentially customized) version levels, they are better positioned to deliver more innovation, faster.

However, at the Partner Summit, Acumatica announced a new Acumatica Grow Program, which leverages the multi-tenant capabilities of its solution within the partner community. FusionRMS for SMB Retail is one example.

Fusion Retail Management System (FusionRMS) is a suite of applications extending the reach of Acumatica to the SMB retail and wholesale distribution markets. Offering added functionality such as point of sale (POS) and warehouse management (WMS), its solutions are seamlessly integrated with Acumatica without effecting core functionality. Now, through the Grow Program, it is also offering multi-tenant SaaS back office accounting supported through Amazon Web Services (AWS).

While this might sacrifice some of the flexibility of choice other Acumatica customers enjoy, Fusion Retail Management manages a single line of code and can pass along savings to its customers. This helps them support clients that otherwise might not be able to afford Acumatica.

Fusion Retail Management not only sells direct, but also other partners bring them small retail clients that might be too small for Acumatica now. This is preferable to simply losing a deal, particularly in knowing they will get them back if the prospect grows. FusionRMS supports these small clients until they grow large enough to justify the purchase or subscription of Acumatica. At that point, FusionRMS turns the client back over to the partner.

A Mobile Framework

The trend towards mobile goes hand-in-hand with cloud, as mobile access is gained through web-enabled services. We are seeing different approaches to mobility in the ERP market these days. Some vendors are adopting a “mobile first” design approach. Any features and functions are being designed to “fit” on the real estate of a tablet or smart phone. Others are taking a “mobile apps” approach where they are releasing multiple, individual purpose-built apps that complement core ERP. Some are building these themselves and others are leaving this development effort to partners. Some are hosting “App stores” where customers can shop. Others simply bundle them into existing software licenses.

Acumatica is taking the approach of providing a mobile development framework, purposely leaving the actual delivery of the mobile apps to the partners in order to provide them more opportunity. But this framework isn’t built for a developer. According to CTO Mike Chtchelkonogov (aka Mike C), “You no longer have to be a developer to target the mobile market. In the past, partners may have needed to hire specialists to create iOS or Android applications, but with Acumatica’s new mobile development framework, any of our partners can do it.”

This is especially important to the Acumatica channel because many partners are business and implementation specialists and not technologists. According to Mike C, the partner [or the customer] can take any part of Acumatica and expose it on the mobile device. So what kind of opportunity are we talking about? That might be in delivering a customized solution through services, or building an app to be sold through Acumatica’s app store.

What About Big Data and Social?

There was not a lot of direct reference to “social” and “big data” at the Acumatica Partner Summit. But that doesn’t mean either is being ignored, only that these trends and concepts are being worked into the product roadmap naturally, not as separate and distinct efforts. In fact many of the new features of its upcoming new release 5.0 indirectly support the goals of a “social” enterprise.

Social can mean different things to different people. It has some intuitive connotations in the world of consumer goods where social sentiment can have a serious impact, both positively and negatively, when shared publicly. But the real impact in any industry, while perhaps not as intuitive, is quite real.

When you take the view that “social” should mean improved collaboration, visibility and connectivity, then you start to understand the connection with the ERP user experience. Much of the development effort that produced the latest release 5.0 has gone into the user experience. Probably the best testament to the result was the fact that several key top executives put their hands on keyboards, or their own mobile devices, and ran their own demos. Not only were these “real” demos (not mock-ups or a series of screen shots in PowerPoint), but no pre-sale consultant or sales engineer was needed.

Simply by putting access to an ERP directly in the hands of high-level decision-makers improves connectivity, which in turn fosters visibility and collaboration.

Another announcement at the Partner Summit reinforced Acumatica’s commitment to another type of connectivity: a deep partnership with Azuqua, a cloud connectivity platform. On stage Azugua demonstrated its recently launched cloud integration service featuring connectivity between a broad range of popular web services (including Salesforce, Office 365 and Hubspot) to Acumatica’s system. Interestingly enough, the integration demonstrated on the main stage was so dead simple that it led to skepticism from industry observers and influencers in the audience. Was it too good to be true? I suspect it is real, but time and partner experience will tell.

As to “big data,” Acumatica was quick to point out its approach was very different from those of ERP giants SAP and Oracle. Instead of building a “big data” platform outside of the ERP system and requiring retrofitting of existing systems, Acumatica is building this kind of capability into its solution. This speaks to speed and ease of handling large volumes of structured data, but downplays (ignores?) the inclusion of massive volumes of unstructured data. It appears this is also something Acumatica might leave to partners and it will take a special kind of partner to deliver on this.

The Convergence of Trends Toward a Goal

If you recall, in our intro, the goal was to have these trends converge around a single common goal of making ERP easier to consume. The better the experience, the more connected the people running the businesses are to ERP and to each other. In fact over the past few years, we’ve observed an increase in the percentage of employees who actually use ERP. Today that percent is about 55%, up from about 20% less than a decade ago. In addition, 62% of survey participants claim top-level executives have direct access to and regularly use ERP. So Acumatica executives are not the only execs in the driver seat when it comes to using ERP. Another 30% indicate these high level execs have at least some access to ERP.

This, combined with expectations raised by the consumerization of IT, is perhaps the catalyst in shifting priorities in terms of ERP evaluations. While fit and functionality was king for many years, it has slipped to number two in the priority of selection criteria. “Ease of use” has taken the number one spot.

But “ease of use” means different things to different people. In fact it means different things to a single individual (Figure 2).

Figure 2: What does ease of use mean? (top 3 priorities)

Figure 2 AcumaticaSource: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study

While many vendors are focusing efforts on “beautiful” software these days, beauty is always subjective. Those using ERP today are more concerned about efficiency and productivity than in a visually appealing user interface. Being a relative new-comer to ERP, Acumatica (founded in 2007) might not have the same depth of features that other more mature solutions have. But the development team seems to be working on a good balance of features and functions, along with better usability and a web platform that helps partners further develop breadth and depth. If the reaction to the main stage demos is any indication, partners and the few customers in attendance at the Partner Summit agree.

Ehrin Dimitry, CEO of AME Corporation, an Acumatica customer said, “I thought I knew what our next steps were until I saw Acumatica 5.0. My wheels are turning!” Customers and partners seemed genuinely excited about this newest release, a clear indication of perceived value.

Summary and Key Takeaways

As a pure cloud solution provider, Acumatica is very well positioned to deliver the benefits of the cloud through a variety of different deployment options. Virtually every partner I spoke with at the Partner Summit was drawn to Acumatica for its technology. Few offer Acumatica exclusively and many of them have experience selling, implementing, servicing or developing other ERP platforms. But that seemed only to strengthen their opinion of and commitment to the Acumatica solution. They like the partner friendliness of a relatively small company that sells exclusively through the channel. They are drawn to cloud computing but like being able to offer choice.

Customers and partners alike were enthusiastic about the latest release and the roadmap forward. Overall Acumatica seems poised to deliver as major trends like cloud, mobile, social and big data start to converge.

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Sage Technology Strategy Leverages Convergence of Trends

Innovation focused on Cloud, Mobility and Data, driving connectivity and collaboration

At the recent Sage Summit 2014 (July 29-31, 2014), Sage North America outlined the strategy driving the company’s technology roadmap, a strategy that leverages three key trends shaping the future of enterprise applications: cloud, mobility, and big data/business intelligence (BI). At the same time it also hit on the fourth trend rocking the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) world: the connectivity and collaboration of “social.” A roadmap is exactly what is needed for any Sage prospect or customer contemplating these trends and navigating the journey into the future.

A recent Mint Jutras report, 2014 Trends in ERP Converge, looked back over these “big trends” in enterprise software from 2013 and concluded that we don’t need any new or different trends for ERP in 2014. Cloud, mobile, social and big data will do just fine. However, it is no longer sufficient to treat them as independent movements. We need them to converge around a single common goal of making ERP easier to consume, thus bringing more value to the business. Indeed the key messages at Sage Summit – cloud, convergence and intelligence – were very much in line with this way of thinking.

The Key Trends

In 2014 Trends in ERP Converge we talked about four specific trends. These should come as no surprise to anyone following enterprise software:

  • Cloud and software as a service (SaaS)
  • Mobile access and the consumerization of IT
  • “Social” as a way to deliver collaboration, connectivity and visibility
  • “Big data” for intelligence and decision-making

It is impossible to talk about the convergence of these trends without mentioning innovation that is easier to consume in a less disruptive way. This often requires new ways of engaging with ERP in order to change the whole ERP customer experience. Sage’s approach to delivering on this promise is to reduce the footprint of core ERP, replacing those functions (over time) with cloud services, while making both cloud and mobility central to its technology strategy. There are some key advantages to this approach both for Sage itself, and its customers. With a diverse portfolio of ERP products, Sage is able to develop new features and functions once and deploy across multiple product lines, delivering more innovation that is easier for its customers to consume. It also facilitates a more incremental, and therefore less disruptive transition to cloud-based systems.

When Less is More

For some it may not be intuitively obvious why we characterize “reducing the ERP footprint” as a step in the right direction in delivering more innovation. Let’s explore how that works. First of all, Mint Jutras defines ERP as an integrated suite of modules that forms the operational and transactional system of record of a business, including all the master data needed to support the full order-to-cash cycle. This is a rudimentary definition because today ERP is likely to do much more than this.

What we refer to as “core” ERP is developed as a tightly integrated set of modules, using a single data base model; integration is built in and there is little or no redundancy of data elements, except where there is a specific need. Not only do all modules of an ERP solution share a common database, but also all are developed using the same tools and technology and they all move forward in lock step.

This eliminates data redundancy and any need for separate integration efforts. But it also means purchasing can’t move forward until order management, shop floor control and inventory management modules are ready to move. It takes massive efforts of coordination by the vendor to make sure all the pieces of the puzzle more forward together. And it takes similarly massive efforts of coordination for all departments within their customers’ organizations to take those next steps altogether.

But what if a supplier (or, even worse, a customer) demands that your enterprise change the way you conduct business with them? What if your current solution can’t support that new way of doing business? Maybe you need to upgrade, enhance or even swap out the purchasing (or order management) module for a new solution that does. If purchasing (or order management) was a separate application you could, although that would most likely require additional effort (and cost) to integrate that separate application with ERP. And when you make a change, the integration would likely require change as well.

What if, instead, you could take that tightly integrated purchasing module of ERP and loosely couple it, or better yet, deliver it as a service? That way, if you wanted to replace it, you would just have to uncouple it and swap in a new one. Or perhaps you just leave the original module in place and enhance it with new services.

In fact, Sage is taking exactly this approach as it develops much of its new functionality, and it is going one step further and placing those services in the cloud. This eliminates the headaches associated with expanding hardware configurations or incompatible infrastructure requirements and it responds to the growing preferences for cloud-based solutions.

Sage uncovered these preferences in its own survey of customers and prospects, but Mint Jutras data also confirms them. Its annual ERP Solution Studies perennially ask which deployment options would be considered if respondents were to purchase a new solution. For years software as a service (SaaS) lagged significantly behind traditional on-premises options, but today SaaS is more likely to be considered than on-premises solutions (Figure 1). In addition, hosted solutions are also favored over those on premises. Most hosted solutions today are also accessed securely through web-based interfaces, but usually employ a private cloud versus the public cloud of a SaaS-based solution.

Figure 1: Which deployment methods would you consider today?

Sage Figure 1Source: Mint Jutras 2011, 2013 and 2014 ERP Solution Studies

Sage presents this as a “hybrid cloud strategy” intended to help customers move incrementally to the cloud, with all the benefits of lower cost, faster implementation, and easy access. But perhaps the bigger benefit is in helping customers add incremental functionality without the usual cost and effort of a full upgrade.

Whether this is a “cloud strategy” or an innovation strategy or both, the net effect will be to surround ERP with a series of “Connected Services,” with cloud and mobility central to all that is developed and delivered.

 Cloud Announcements

With this focus on the cloud, Sage has made several announcements aimed at different segments of its target market (companies with less than 500 employees).

  • Sage 300 Online was launched at Sage Summit. Sage 300 Online targets the small and smaller midsize SMBs that have outgrown their basic accounting software and “are seeking to increase collaboration, streamline their operations and get a complete picture of their business anytime from anywhere.” Running on Microsoft Azure, it is a multi-tenant SaaS solution.
  • Sage also allowed a “sneak peek” of the new Sage One mobile app for “solopreneurs”, expected later this year.
  • And right after Sage Summit, Sage announced limited availability of Sage ERP X3 Online (for medium-sized businesses) in North America as of September 2014. X3 Online will be offered in a hosted environment.

In addition Sage has created the Sage Data Cloud, which is available to all customers whether they are running applications in the cloud or on-premises. Customers have access to 50 gigabytes (or more, if needed) of cloud storage. Three different types of data might be stored in the Sage Data Cloud:

  • Reference data: this is largely master data that would be defined by applications. If the source of the data is an on-premise application, that application is the master of that data and the data in the cloud is replicated, but automatically synchronized.
  • Transactional data: these are transactions (e.g. orders, invoices, payments, etc.) that might originate in a separate cloud application but may need to be processed by or stored in ERP, applying all the same logic and business rules ERP would use if they had been entered directly there.
  • Cloud-only data: This might be additional data used only by the cloud-based application, perhaps something like a reference to other products of interest that might be used by a sales person in efforts to up sell or cross sell.

What About Mobility?

As noted above cloud and mobility are central to all Sage innovation. According to Sage, it is, “Leveraging consumer trends in mobility, [and] making the cloud more actionable for SMBs.” The first of these applications have been Sage Mobile Sales, Sage Mobile Service, and Sage Mobile Payments. Using the Sage Data Cloud, Sage mobile applications are device-native and enable SMBs to use the Cloud in the way that provides real value to the business while imitating the real life of “mobile” individuals today.

Here at Mint Jutras we agree with Sage regarding the importance of mobility. In fact, we would contend that mobility has the potential to be the biggest game changer to impact ERP in the near term. And yet few of the Mint Jutras survey participants seem to recognize this enormous potential (Figure 2).

Figure 2: How important is the ability to access ERP through a mobile device?

Sage Figure 2Source: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study

Why do almost half (44%) think mobile access isn’t all that important? Mint Jutras believes the answer lies in the fact that “mobile access” can be interpreted in many ways and because the real value does not lie in just lifting and shifting traditional ERP functions to a mobile device. The true value is in delivering access that is purpose-built for a particular person, playing an individual role, performing a specific function.

Most individuals that don’t spend the vast majority of their time sitting at a desk all day have specific functions they perform, or questions they are most likely to ask or be asked, or decisions they must make. And they need to make these decisions and answer these questions while not sitting at a desk. They don’t necessarily perceive running ERP as the solution to perform those functions, answer those questions or make those decisions; instead they want an “app for that.” However, that app is most likely to be powered by the data in ERP.

That is exactly what these new mobile apps from Sage do, delivered through the cloud as connected services. This is the convergence Sage is talking about: the convergence of cloud and mobile and the convergence of business skills and personal skills. With the consumerization of IT, individuals have come to expect the same type of ease of navigation and general usability they have become accustomed to in their personal use of smart devices.

 What About Big Data and Social?

While we didn’t see too many specific announcements about either “big data” or “social” coming out of Sage Summit, we did hear about intelligence and data access. In fact we got to see a preview of Sage Intelligence online (or Sage Intelligence Go!), which will leverage existing data inside of Sage ERP with Microsoft Excel to filter, analyze and summarize data. But Sage Intelligence Go! will not be limited to the data within ERP. It will also be able to import data from external sources and summarize it along with internal data. Sage Intelligence Go! will be the cloud version of Sage Intelligence and will be available in 2015.

An emerging trend in ERP discussion lately has been the shift from focusing on process to focusing on data. To that end, Sage presented additional results from its own survey. Sage claims its data shows that access to more intelligence leads to better usability of solutions, resulting in a 10% increase in productivity. Companies with more usable data, with more accessible intelligence grow 35% faster. Without direct access to this survey data, Mint Jutras cannot substantiate those claims, but we point them out because it shows a shift in focus from Sage to reflect these last two of our four trends.

And yes, the discussion of “big data” often leads to the discussion of “social.” Social can mean different things to different people. It has some intuitive connotations in the world of consumer goods where social sentiment can have a serious impact, both positively and negatively, when shared publicly. But does it have the same impact in other industries? The connection is there, although perhaps not so intuitive.

When you take the view that “social” should mean improved collaboration, visibility and connectivity, then you start to understand the connection with the ERP user experience. The better the experience, the more connected the people running the businesses are to ERP and to each other. Mint Jutras is already seeing a shift in the market to higher levels of engagement with ERP. Not too long ago a very small percentage of employees at most companies actually used ERP.

Figure 3: What percentage of your employees uses ERP?

Sage Figure 3Source: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study

This percentage has grown to over half (55%). But here we see the cloud having a very definite impact (Figure 3). Those companies using SaaS ERP have a much higher rate of employee engagement (63%), further reinforcing the value of “access any time from anywhere.”

By combining the ability to share data in real time via the cloud with the convenience of mobility, Sage paves the way for better connectivity and easier collaboration – the real meaning of social.

Summary and Key Takeaways

Seldom has an entire market agreed on what trends are most influential, and yet today, here we are. But this level of consensus brings its own set of challenges. With all enterprise software vendors jumping on the cloud, mobile, big data and social bandwagons, the competition will be fierce. Vendors will have to deliver in order to capture the minds and wallets of both customers and prospects. They must accelerate the pace of innovation, while they improve connectivity, visibility and collaboration in order to draw the biggest crowd of willing users.

This makes the consumers of this technology the big winners.

Sage is well aligned with these trends, given its vision for cloud, mobile and intelligence and its “convergence” mindset. But given its long history of acquisition, in many ways it must reinvent itself. That is exactly what it has in mind. If it can successfully reduce the footprint of its (multiple) core ERP solutions and ramp up innovation through connected services, they just might be able to pull it off. At Sage Summit 2015 we’ll be looking to see if the “old” Sage shows up or if this transformation is complete or still underway. Mint Jutras votes for “still underway” since by this time next year, things will have (of course) changed even more.

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Can Running SAP Business Suite on SAP HANA Be a Game Changer?

It can if you change the conversation

Back in February I posted this update on SAP Business Suite on HANA after having spoken with Jeff Woods, former industry analyst, currently Suite on HANA aficionado at SAP.

As a follow-up I joined Katie Moser for a webcast.

Click here to listen to the webcast

And now for the original post:

Jeff had lots of good stuff to share, including some progress to date:

  • 800+ Suite on HANA contracts have been signed
  • 7,600+ partners have been trained
  • There are 200+ Suite on HANA projects underway
  • 55 of these projects have gone live (and the number is growing)
  • The largest ERP on HANA system supports 100,000 users

So the Suite on HANA is quite real. But the single message that resonated the most strongly with me: the conversation has (finally) changed. While we’ve been hearing about HANA as this wonderful new technology for several years now, for the most part, the talk was about technology and even when the technologists spoke about purported business value, they spoke in very technical terms. But the audience I write for, business leaders in various industries, don’t care about technology for technology sake. Many don’t (care to) understand tech-speak. But they do care about what technology can do for them.

A Year Later…

It was just about a year ago that SAP announced the availability of SAP Business Suite powered by HANA, complete with live and live-streamed press conferences in both New York City and Waldorf, Germany. I don’t think I have ever seen such genuine excitement from SAP folks as was displayed in this announcement, and yet the “influencers” in the audience were a bit more subdued. A year ago I attributed this to the fact that these same influencers tend to be a quite jaded bunch, hard to impress. We had also been hearing about HANA for a few years already. There wasn’t a “newness” or game-changing feel about the announcement. But impressing the influencers is only one step towards the real goal of engaging with prospects and customers.

A year ago I also wrote, “SAP is trying hard to change the conversation to be less about the technology and more about the business value.  What is the real value? In the words of one early adopter: HANA solves problems that were deemed unsolvable in the past.” But uncovering those previously unsolvable problems required some visionary thinking.  Tech-speak is not going to get the attention of the guy (or gal) that signs the check or spur that kind of thinking. And a year ago the conversation hadn’t changed. Just look at how the vision of HANA was portrayed:

  • All active data must be in memory, ridding the world of the “rusty spinning disk”
  • Full exploitation of massively parallel processing (MPP) in order to efficiently support more users
  • The same database used for online transaction processing (OLTP) and analytics, eliminating the need for a data warehouse as a reporting tool for OLTP to support live conversations rather than “prefabricated briefing books”
  • Radically simplified data models
  • Aggressive use of math
  • Use of design thinking throughout the model

Look carefully at those words. They mean nothing to the non-technical business executive. Sure, those words got the attention of some forward thinking CIO’s, and that was enough to kick start the early projects, projects that produced amazing results. But that’s as far as the message got. And even when the message was not articulated in technical terms, it was presented at too high a level of abstraction. Business executives faced with important decisions don’t think in terms of “becoming a real-time business.” Operational managers don’t seek out “transformative innovation without disruption.” They want to get through the day most effectively and efficiently and make the right decisions.

Asking the Right Questions Today

So how do you change the conversation? By asking a different kind of question. Because “faster” is universally accepted as a good thing, in the beginning the HANA conversation might have been kicked off with the question to the CIO: What processes are running too slowly today? But in talking to the business user, you need a different approach. SAP’s “cue card” below is a good start. You are now seeing conversation starters that make more sense to the business leader. Take the time now to read them carefully. If you are a business leader, they will resonate much more than discussions of MPP and column-oriented databases or even speed of processes. I especially like the business practice questions in the rightmost column.

Cue card

Source: SAP

But if I were sitting across the table from a business leader, I might ask questions that are even more direct and down-to-earth. For example:

  • Describe a situation where you have to hang up the phone, dig deeper and get back to your customer or prospect later. (By the way Jeff’s thought was that by hanging up you only encourage them to pick up the phone and call your competitor.)
  • What summary data do you get today that consistently requires more detail before you make a decision? Can you get at that data immediately (no delays) and easily (no hunting around)?
  • What level of granularity are you forecasting revenue? Is it sufficiently detailed? Are you forecasting by region or maybe by product line when you would love to be able to forecast by territory, individual customer and individual product combined?
  • Are there decisions that require you to consult with others? How much time does this add to the decision-making process? How easy or hard is it to keep track of who to contact? How quickly can you make contact? Quickly enough?

The goal really is to improve the business not only in small linear steps, but also to increase speed of decision and therefore efficiency exponentially. The first step is to provide new ways of engaging with the system, which means changing the user experience. But to change the game, you need to make improvements to the process itself. SAP’s new Fiori applications are a good example of this progression.

 Fiori: More Than Just a Pretty Face

Last spring, SAP announced SAP Fiori, a collection of 25 apps that would surround the Business Suite, providing a new user experience for the most commonly used business functions of ERP. While useful in pleasing existing users and perhaps even attracting new users within the enterprise, this first set of apps just changed the user interface and did not add any significant new functionality.

The latest installment has 190+ apps supporting a variety of roles in lines of business including human resources (HR), finance, manufacturing, procurement and sales, providing enhanced user productivity and personalization capabilities. The apps offer users the ability to conduct transactions, get insight and take action, and view “factsheets” and contextual information. The next round of Fiori apps are expected to add even more new capabilities, thereby taking them to the next level in changing the game.

The MRP cockpit is an example of this next generation Fiori app and a perfect illustration of how these new apps can recreate processes, even ones that are 30 years old. If you “know” manufacturing, you probably also know that the introduction of Material Requirements Planning (MRP) software back in the late 70’s was transformational, although nobody really called it that back then. “Transformative” innovation is very much a 21st century term. But it truly was game-changing back in the day.

Last year, even before the conversation had shifted, I saw the parallels between the potential for HANA and the automation of the planning process that MRP brought about. Today the MRP cockpit delivers on that potential.

For those outside the world of manufacturing, in a nutshell, MRP takes a combination of actual and forecasted demand and cascades it through bills of material, netting exploded demand against existing inventory and planned receipts. The result is a plan that includes the release of purchase orders and shop orders and reschedule messages. While the concept might be simple enough, these bills of material could be many layers deep and encompass hundreds or even thousands of component parts and subassemblies. Forecasts are educated guesses and actual demand can fluctuate from day to day. Without automated MRP there is simply too much data and complexity for a human to possibly work with.

As a result, prior to MRP, other ways of managing inventory became commonplace. You had simple reorder points. Once inventory got below a certain point, you bought some more, whether you actually needed it or not. You also had safety stock as a buffer, and the “two bin” system was quite prevalent. When one bin was empty, you switched to the other and ordered more. These simplistic methods may have been effective in some environments, but the net result was the risk of inflated inventory while still experiencing stock outs. You had lots of inventory, just not what the customer wanted, when it wanted it. And planners and schedulers still had to figure out when to start production and they knew enough to build a lot of slack time into the schedule. So lead times also became inflated and customer request dates were in jeopardy.

Once MRP entered the picture, these were seen as archaic and imprecise planning methods. Even so, most didn’t rush right out and invest in MRP when it was first introduced. In fact now, decades later, the adoption rates of MRP in manufacturing still sits at about 78%. Why? The existing practices were deemed “good enough” and, after all, that’s the way it had always been done.

It required a paradigm shift to understand the potential of MRP and the planning process executed by MRP was complex. Not everyone intuitively understood it. And if they didn’t really understand, planners were unwilling to relinquish control. Particularly since MRP runs were notoriously slow.

It was not unusual for early MRP runs to take a full weekend to process, and during that time nobody could be touching the data. This didn’t work so well in 24X7 operations or where operations spanned multiple time zones. Of course over time, this was enhanced so that most MRPs today run faster and can operate on replicated data, so that operations can continue. But that only means it might be out of date even before it completes. And MRP never creates a perfect plan. It assumes infinite capacity and “trusts” production run times and supplier lead times implicitly. So while most planners were relieved of the burden of crunching the numbers, they were also burdened with lots of exceptions and expedited orders.

Yet over time, MRP brought a new dimension to material planning. It brought a level of accuracy previously unheard of and helped get inventory and lead times in check. Manufacturers have experienced an average of 10% to 20% reduction in inventory and similar improvements in complete and on-time delivery as a result of implementing MRP.

But through the past three decades, MRP hasn’t changed all that much. Yes it has improved and gotten faster, but it hasn’t changed the game because it still involves batch runs, replicated data and manual intervention to resolve those exceptions and expedite orders. Now with HANA we’re not talking about speeding up the processes by 10% to 20% but by several orders of magnitude, allowing them to run in real time, as often as necessary. But if it was just about speed, we might have seen this problem solved years ago.

You probably don’t remember Carp Systems International or Monenco, both Canadian firms that offered “fast MRP”. Carp was founded in 1984, and released a product in 1990 bringing MRP processing times from tens of hours down to 10 minutes. It ran on IBM’s RS6000 (a family of RISC-based UNIX servers, workstations and supercomputers). But it was both complex and expensive for its time ranging in price from $150,000 to $1 million). Not only was it expensive and required special servers, in order it to work it needed to replicate the data and then apply sophisticated algorithms.

About the same time Monenco introduced FastMRP, also a simulation tool, but one that ran on a personal computer. While it cost much less than Carp’s product, it was also less powerful and had significantly fewer features.

You won’t find either of these products on the market today. If speed was all that was required they would have survived and thrived. In order to change the game, you also need to change the process, which is exactly what SAP intends with its new Fiori app for MRP.

The new MRP cockpit includes new capabilities, like the ability to:

  • View inventory position looking across multiple plants
  • Analyze component requirements with real-time analytics
  • Perform long term MRP simulations
  • Analyze capacity requirements and suggest alternatives

But this too requires a paradigm shift. Manufacturers, as well as other types of companies, are quite accustomed to making decisions from a snapshot of data, usually in report format, possibly through spreadsheets. They have become desensitized to the fact that this snapshot is just that, a picture of the data, frozen in time.

What if you never had to run another report? Instead, whenever you needed a piece of data or an answer to a question, you had immediate and direct access, not to the data as it was at the beginning of the day, or the end of last week, but to the latest data in real time? Not only will decision-makers need to adjust to thinking in real-time, but will also have to trust the software to automate much of the thinking for them. Will they be able to sit back and let the software iterate through multiple simulations in order to find the best answer to an exception even before it is reported as an exception? I suspect they will if it is fast enough. And HANA is now delivering at speeds that just a few years ago would have been impossible. But with these speeds accelerating by orders of magnitude, the ability to communicate and collaborate effectively must also accelerate.

Making the Human Connection

It is not enough to change the way users engage with the software, it is also necessary to change the way they engage with other people. How often do you or your employees today express sentiments like:

  • If I just knew who to contact for approval/help….
  • I don’t know what to ask
  • I wish I could check with (several) people on this quickly

What if the software could help? As work flows are streamlined, automated and accelerated, so must the lines of communication and potential collaboration. Whether employees are looking to move a process forward, resolve an issue or mature an idea faster, lack of communication and clumsy modes of collaboration can inhibit the game-changing effect of the technology. Which is why SAP has upped its game in the area of Human Capital Management and social collaboration tools. It took a significant step forward with the acquisition of SuccessFactors and JAM and has been blending these capabilities with the HANA platform.

Key Takeaways

Nobody today would disagree that the SAP Business Suite, powered by HANA combines deep and rich functionality with powerful technology. But can it be game changing in terms of how businesses operate? The potential certainly exists, but it’s not just about speed. Changing the game means changing the way we’ve been doing things for decades. Before we can change the process, we need to change the conversation. Are you looking to optimize business processes? Are you ready to talk?

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Insights from SAP Insider BI2014 – BI for the Business User?

Those of you who follow me (and my blog posts) might have scratched your heads a bit earlier this week when you saw me Tweeting from the SAP Insider BI event. After all, I generally write for an audience of business users and let’s face it, it is the IT department that buys and uses BI tools. Well, I was there because of all the exciting new advances in BI tools and technology that have the potential to assist you, the business user in gaining insights and intelligence about your business. But more importantly I was there because so few of you are screaming for these new tools. As Steve Lucas, President of SAP Platform Solutions, said on stage, “When was the last time a business user came up to you and asked for more middleware?” Bingo! As business users, you don’t want more (or any) middleware; you want answers to your questions and solutions to your problems. The problem is, many of you have become so frustrated waiting (too long) for simple things, like a new piece of data added to a report, that you’ve stopped asking.

Case in point: You also might have noticed that you only heard from me during the opening keynote. Why? Did I just breeze in and out? Did I lose interest? Was there nothing else of importance to comment on? None of the above. After that first keynote I was never able to actually connect through the network available in the other meeting rooms. In the “Happiest Place on Earth” (yes, we were at a Disney resort), it didn’t make me very happy to have no access to Twitter, HootSuite or any of the other platforms I would have used to communicate. But actually saying “never” is a bit misleading. The reality was, after the first few (or dozen) attempts, I gave up trying. And that’s exactly what happens to the business user in search of the next bit of “intelligence” needed to make a serious impact on the business. After a certain period of frustration (minutes in my case, years in yours) you just assume it is too difficult and it is not worth asking.

While some of this new technology is new enough to be bleeding edge, and not everything that gets presented and discussed is generally available, I can tell you: Now is time to start asking for more. Yes, there will be a price tag, but when did you ever get something for free that really added value? And if it adds enough value, it should pay for itself in a reasonable period of time. But in order to find that potential value-add, you might have to start thinking out of the box. In fact, maybe you should re-evaluate problems that were deemed unsolvable in the past.

That is certainly the case when it comes to predictive analytics. Everyone would love to forecast, predict and plan accordingly, but hardly anyone is really doing it today. I grew up (professionally) in the world of manufacturing. Everyone knows there is one universal truth about the forecast: It is always wrong. It’s just a question of how wrong it is. Of course there are all sorts of different forecasting tools and models to use, but the problem is, they are usually very complex and only as good as the input provided. And how does the typical businessperson know which variables really matter? Are some truly indicative of cause and effect, or is it just a correlation? Do you really understand the difference? What if you didn’t have to?

What if you had a tool that allowed you to just throw a lot of variables at the problem? What if you had a tool that was smart enough to pick out the ones that matter and come back with a prediction with a 99% confidence level? That’s exactly what SAP InfiniteInsight is supposed to do. Never heard of it? I’m not surprised. First of all, the name itself doesn’t exactly speak volumes about what it does. I am a firm believer that the name of the product should tell you (or at least hint at) what the product does. There is really nothing in InfiniteInsight that even implies prediction.

Also, the product comes to SAP through acquisition. The acquired company is KXEN, formerly a privately-held San Francisco-based company. Its specialty:  the automation of (at least many aspects of) prediction so that business users can make forward-looking decisions. So does this mean this is a self-service function and the business user doesn’t have to wait for the technical staff to do something? Not really. Those variables the business user wants to throw at the model? Well, someone has to know where they are and how they are represented in the grand scheme (or schema).  But that should be relatively easy for the technical staff and tech-savvy business analysts might also be able to construct the model. So we’re not talking days or weeks; we should be talking hours. This makes the whole process that much more dynamic. How many times have businesses stuck with a forecasting model that was known to be flawed or no longer reflected the real business environment (after all, things change over time) just because it was too difficult and time-consuming to change?

Production forecasts, sales and operations planning and financial planning are just the tip of the iceberg here though. Getting accurate predictive analytics will become contagious. Get good results in one area and you will start to think of all the other ways you would like to “predict.”

And how many times have massive volumes of data sat largely dormant because there weren’t tools to handles such volumes in real time? Those days are also gone. While the Internet of Things is all the rage right now and spells huge opportunities in many different disciplines, this is not a new problem for manufacturers. Many have been collecting these massive volumes of data from sensors on the shop floor for years. And while these sensors might have the ability to shut down an automated production line as temperature or viscosity or any number of other measures start to drift out of tolerance, how many are able to accurately predict when that might happen?

Since preventive maintenance also causes a line to shut down production, timing is critical. Shut it down too early and you lose more production. Wait too long and you pay an even greater price. And yet without the ability to not only collect, but also process and analyze colossal volumes of data in seconds, that data is massively underutilized. Moving data off storage devices and into memory is the key to improving speed and in this case SAP will turn to HANA.

And finally, a third SAP product will play a key role in drawing the business user out of his or her complacency. All the predictive capabilities and all the speed and processing power in the world will be meaningless to the business user if the tools can’t present the results in a meaningful way. That’s the problem SAP Lumira is intended to solve.

Here’s another product name that doesn’t tell you what it does. No it doesn’t treat rheumatoid arthritis or diabetic nerve pain. Does it illuminate data? Hard to say. But even though it doesn’t tell you what it does, the name has a couple things going for it: it’s short and it doesn’t say the wrong thing; it makes you ask what it is. Here’s what SAP says it does:

“Gather and quickly make sense of your data with SAP Lumira, our easy-to-use, data visualization software. In just a few clicks, you can combine and visualize data from multiple sources – presenting both big picture and granular insights in a single view. Use a drag-and-drop interface to create beautiful visualizations, explore data, and share insights with your team.”

Does this mean as a business user you can do it yourself? My guess is, you will still need some help from IT or that tech-savvy super user. Because you still need to know how your enterprise data is organized. But if you have data in spreadsheets now (and who doesn’t?) you can download it for free and try it out for yourself. You’ll educate yourself on the different possibilities and perhaps even come up with those new (out of the box?) ideas.

The bottom line: you don’t have to be a BI expert or a techie to gather more intelligence and insight today. And you don’t have to be a psychic to predict the future. But if you sit back and think all this stuff is too difficult and time-consuming, you better hope your competitors aren’t figuring out that it isn’t.

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SAP Business Suite on HANA: Changing the Conversation

It’s Not About the Technology, It’s About the Business

I recently got an update on SAP Business Suite on HANA from Jeff Woods, former industry analyst, currently Suite on HANA aficionado at SAP. Jeff had lots of good stuff to share, including some progress to date:

  • 800+ Suite on HANA contracts have been signed
  • 7,600+ partners have been trained
  • There are 200+ Suite on HANA projects underway
  • 55 of these projects have gone live (and the number is growing)
  • The largest ERP on HANA system supports 100,000 users

So the Suite on HANA is quite real. But the single message that resonated the most strongly with me: the conversation has (finally) changed. While we’ve been hearing about HANA as this wonderful new technology for several years now, for the most part, the talk was about technology and even when the technologists spoke about purported business value, they spoke in very technical terms. But the audience I write for, business leaders in various industries, don’t care about technology for technology sake. Many don’t (care to) understand tech-speak. But they do care about what technology can do for them.

A Year Later…

It was just about a year ago that SAP announced the availability of SAP Business Suite powered by HANA, complete with live and live-streamed press conferences in both New York City and Waldorf, Germany. I don’t think I have ever seen such genuine excitement from SAP folks as was displayed in this announcement, and yet the “influencers” in the audience were a bit more subdued. A year ago I attributed this to the fact that these same influencers tend to be a quite jaded bunch, hard to impress. We had also been hearing about HANA for a few years already. There wasn’t a “newness” or game-changing feel about the announcement. But impressing the influencers is only one step towards the real goal of engaging with prospects and customers.

A year ago I also wrote, “SAP is trying hard to change the conversation to be less about the technology and more about the business value.  What is the real value? In the words of one early adopter: HANA solves problems that were deemed unsolvable in the past.” But uncovering those previously unsolvable problems required some visionary thinking.  Tech-speak is not going to get the attention of the guy (or gal) that signs the check or spur that kind of thinking. And a year ago the conversation hadn’t changed. Just look at how the vision of HANA was portrayed:

  • All active data must be in memory, ridding the world of the “rusty spinning disk”
  • Full exploitation of massively parallel processing (MPP) in order to efficiently support more users
  • The same database used for online transaction processing (OLTP) and analytics, eliminating the need for a data warehouse as a reporting tool for OLTP to support live conversations rather than “prefabricated briefing books”
  • Radically simplified data models
  • Aggressive use of math
  • Use of design thinking throughout the model

Look carefully at those words. They mean nothing to the non-technical business executive. Sure, those words got the attention of some forward thinking CIO’s, and that was enough to kick start the early projects, projects that produced amazing results. But that’s as far as the message got. And even when the message was not articulated in technical terms, it was presented at too high a level of abstraction. Business executives faced with important decisions don’t think in terms of “becoming a real-time business.” Operational managers don’t seek out “transformative innovation without disruption.” They want to get through the day most effectively and efficiently and make the right decisions.

Asking the Right Questions Today

So how do you change the conversation? By asking a different kind of question. Because “faster” is universally accepted as a good thing, in the beginning the HANA conversation might have been kicked off with the question to the CIO: What processes are running too slowly today? But in talking to the business user, you need a different approach. SAP’s “cue card” below is a good start. You are now seeing conversation starters that make more sense to the business leader. Take the time now to read them carefully. If you are a business leader, they will resonate much more than discussions of MPP and column-oriented databases or even speed of processes. I especially like the business practice questions in the rightmost column.

Cue card

Source: SAP

But if I were sitting across the table from a business leader, I might ask questions that are even more direct and down-to-earth. For example:

  • Describe a situation where you have to hang up the phone, dig deeper and get back to your customer or prospect later. (By the way Jeff’s thought was that by hanging up you only encourage them to pick up the phone and call your competitor.)
  • What summary data do you get today that consistently requires more detail before you make a decision? Can you get at that data immediately (no delays) and easily (no hunting around)?
  • What level of granularity are you forecasting revenue? Is it sufficiently detailed? Are you forecasting by region or maybe by product line when you would love to be able to forecast by territory, individual customer and individual product combined?
  • Are there decisions that require you to consult with others? How much time does this add to the decision-making process? How easy or hard is it to keep track of who to contact? How quickly can you make contact? Quickly enough?

The goal really is to improve the business not only in small linear steps, but also to increase speed of decision and therefore efficiency exponentially. The first step is to provide new ways of engaging with the system, which means changing the user experience. But to change the game, you need to make improvements to the process itself. SAP’s new Fiori applications are a good example of this progression.

 Fiori: More Than Just a Pretty Face

Last spring, SAP announced SAP Fiori, a collection of 25 apps that would surround the Business Suite, providing a new user experience for the most commonly used business functions of ERP. While useful in pleasing existing users and perhaps even attracting new users within the enterprise, this first set of apps just changed the user interface and did not add any significant new functionality.

The latest installment has 190+ apps supporting a variety of roles in lines of business including human resources (HR), finance, manufacturing, procurement and sales, providing enhanced user productivity and personalization capabilities. The apps offer users the ability to conduct transactions, get insight and take action, and view “factsheets” and contextual information. The next round of Fiori apps are expected to add even more new capabilities, thereby taking them to the next level in changing the game.

The MRP cockpit is an example of this next generation Fiori app and a perfect illustration of how these new apps can recreate processes, even ones that are 30 years old. If you “know” manufacturing, you probably also know that the introduction of Material Requirements Planning (MRP) software back in the late 70’s was transformational, although nobody really called it that back then. “Transformative” innovation is very much a 21st century term. But it truly was game-changing back in the day.

Last year, even before the conversation had shifted, I saw the parallels between the potential for HANA and the automation of the planning process that MRP brought about. Today the MRP cockpit delivers on that potential.

For those outside the world of manufacturing, in a nutshell, MRP takes a combination of actual and forecasted demand and cascades it through bills of material, netting exploded demand against existing inventory and planned receipts. The result is a plan that includes the release of purchase orders and shop orders and reschedule messages. While the concept might be simple enough, these bills of material could be many layers deep and encompass hundreds or even thousands of component parts and subassemblies. Forecasts are educated guesses and actual demand can fluctuate from day to day. Without automated MRP there is simply too much data and complexity for a human to possibly work with.

As a result, prior to MRP, other ways of managing inventory became commonplace. You had simple reorder points. Once inventory got below a certain point, you bought some more, whether you actually needed it or not. You also had safety stock as a buffer, and the “two bin” system was quite prevalent. When one bin was empty, you switched to the other and ordered more. These simplistic methods may have been effective in some environments, but the net result was the risk of inflated inventory while still experiencing stock outs. You had lots of inventory, just not what the customer wanted, when it wanted it. And planners and schedulers still had to figure out when to start production and they knew enough to build a lot of slack time into the schedule. So lead times also became inflated and customer request dates were in jeopardy.

Once MRP entered the picture, these were seen as archaic and imprecise planning methods. Even so, most didn’t rush right out and invest in MRP when it was first introduced. In fact now, decades later, the adoption rates of MRP in manufacturing still sits at about 78%. Why? The existing practices were deemed “good enough” and, after all, that’s the way it had always been done.

It required a paradigm shift to understand the potential of MRP and the planning process executed by MRP was complex. Not everyone intuitively understood it. And if they didn’t really understand, planners were unwilling to relinquish control. Particularly since MRP runs were notoriously slow.

It was not unusual for early MRP runs to take a full weekend to process, and during that time nobody could be touching the data. This didn’t work so well in 24X7 operations or where operations spanned multiple time zones. Of course over time, this was enhanced so that most MRPs today run faster and can operate on replicated data, so that operations can continue. But that only means it might be out of date even before it completes. And MRP never creates a perfect plan. It assumes infinite capacity and “trusts” production run times and supplier lead times implicitly. So while most planners were relieved of the burden of crunching the numbers, they were also burdened with lots of exceptions and expedited orders.

Yet over time, MRP brought a new dimension to material planning. It brought a level of accuracy previously unheard of and helped get inventory and lead times in check. Manufacturers have experienced an average of 10% to 20% reduction in inventory and similar improvements in complete and on-time delivery as a result of implementing MRP.

But through the past three decades, MRP hasn’t changed all that much. Yes it has improved and gotten faster, but it hasn’t changed the game because it still involves batch runs, replicated data and manual intervention to resolve those exceptions and expedite orders. Now with HANA we’re not talking about speeding up the processes by 10% to 20% but by several orders of magnitude, allowing them to run in real time, as often as necessary. But if it was just about speed, we might have seen this problem solved years ago.

You probably don’t remember Carp Systems International or Monenco, both Canadian firms that offered “fast MRP”. Carp was founded in 1984, and released a product in 1990 bringing MRP processing times from tens of hours down to 10 minutes. It ran on IBM’s RS6000 (a family of RISC-based UNIX servers, workstations and supercomputers). But it was both complex and expensive for its time ranging in price from $150,000 to $1 million). Not only was it expensive and required special servers, in order it to work it needed to replicate the data and then apply sophisticated algorithms.

About the same time Monenco introduced FastMRP, also a simulation tool, but one that ran on a personal computer. While it cost much less than Carp’s product, it was also less powerful and had significantly fewer features.

You won’t find either of these products on the market today. If speed was all that was required they would have survived and thrived. In order to change the game, you also need to change the process, which is exactly what SAP intends with its new Fiori app for MRP.

The new MRP cockpit includes new capabilities, like the ability to:

  • View inventory position looking across multiple plants
  • Analyze component requirements with real-time analytics
  • Perform long term MRP simulations
  • Analyze capacity requirements and suggest alternatives

But this too requires a paradigm shift. Manufacturers, as well as other types of companies, are quite accustomed to making decisions from a snapshot of data, usually in report format, possibly through spreadsheets. They have become desensitized to the fact that this snapshot is just that, a picture of the data, frozen in time.

What if you never had to run another report? Instead, whenever you needed a piece of data or an answer to a question, you had immediate and direct access, not to the data as it was at the beginning of the day, or the end of last week, but to the latest data in real time? Not only will decision-makers need to adjust to thinking in real-time, but will also have to trust the software to automate much of the thinking for them. Will they be able to sit back and let the software iterate through multiple simulations in order to find the best answer to an exception even before it is reported as an exception? I suspect they will if it is fast enough. And HANA is now delivering at speeds that just a few years ago would have been impossible. But with these speeds accelerating by orders of magnitude, the ability to communicate and collaborate effectively must also accelerate.

Making the Human Connection

It is not enough to change the way users engage with the software, it is also necessary to change the way they engage with other people. How often do you or your employees today express sentiments like:

  • If I just knew who to contact for approval/help….
  • I don’t know what to ask
  • I wish I could check with (several) people on this quickly

What if the software could help? As work flows are streamlined, automated and accelerated, so must the lines of communication and potential collaboration. Whether employees are looking to move a process forward, resolve an issue or mature an idea faster, lack of communication and clumsy modes of collaboration can inhibit the game-changing effect of the technology. Which is why SAP has upped its game in the area of Human Capital Management and social collaboration tools. It took a significant step forward with the acquisition of SuccessFactors and JAM and has been blending these capabilities with the HANA platform.

Key Takeaways

Nobody today would disagree that the SAP Business Suite, powered by HANA combines deep and rich functionality with powerful technology. But can it be game changing in terms of how businesses operate? The potential certainly exists, but it’s not just about speed. Changing the game means changing the way we’ve been doing things for decades. Before we can change the process, we need to change the conversation. Are you looking to optimize business processes? Are you ready to talk?

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UNIT4 Changes the Conversation About In-Memory Analytics

 Agresso Analyzer Native to Vita Architecture and Agresso ERP

On December 10, 2013, UNIT4 announced the release of Agresso Analyzer, an in-memory analytics tool that adds rapid data analysis capabilities to its Agresso enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution. Unlike other solutions on the market from its largest competitors that were developed independently in technology labs and later integrated with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions, Agresso Analyzer was built from the inside out. Native to its Vita architecture, best known for its ability to facilitate business-driven change, it is a clear and powerful response to the need to digest and analyze increasing volumes of enterprise data.

With UNIT4, It’s All About Change

You can’t have a conversation with or about UNIT4 ERP without talking about change. After all, its target market for the product is comprised of Businesses Living IN Change (BLINC), particularly those in government and service-oriented segments. The acronym BLINC has become synonymous with UNIT4. But typically in these conversations we’re talking about changes to the business resulting from new or changed regulatory requirements, organizational restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, business process or financial management driven changes. UNIT4’s claim to fame is the underlying Vita architecture that supports post-implementation agility and the ability to easily and quickly reflect these changes in the software with minimal cost and disruption.

This conversation is a little different though. We’re talking about technology and innovation of the software itself. We’re talking about bringing in-memory analytics to the table, which means a technology upgrade. UNIT4 has taken a different approach than it’s two largest competitors, SAP and Oracle, both of which have developed in-memory technology outside of the applications. These technical solutions must then be retrofitted into their enterprise applications, or the applications have to be modified to take advantage of these technologies. UNIT4 did it the other way around, building them from the inside out. While sold as an “add-on,” Agresso Analyzer is native to the Vita architecture. No changes are required to the installed software or the implementation and the tool can be installed and turned on in a matter of hours. And all the data in ERP is fair game for slicing and dicing, analyzing and using for better, faster decisions.

The net result is that businesses, even those living in change, can see the impact of business changes faster. These changes might result from government and/or industry legislation, reorganizations, mergers or acquisitions, financial management or business process changes.

Bringing the Benefits To the Business User

While in-memory is a hot topic today in technical circles, often the value is not obvious to a businessperson. Embedding this capability into the Vita architecture, and therefore into Agresso ERP also helps the typical business user understand the benefits. What businessperson doesn’t want to have better, quicker, more flexible access to data within ERP?

Partly because the largest vendors, those with the loudest voices, have developed in-memory capabilities independently in their technology labs and partly because technologists delivered the message, much of the talk has been in very technical terms. Phrases like massively parallel processing (MPP), column oriented databases, real-time caching, online transaction processing (OLTP), online analytical processing (OLAP) are tossed about assuming the audience understands the significance. The typical businessperson doesn’t.

The vision became one of powerful technology in search of a problem to solve. That’s not at all how business executives and non-technical decision-makers think. Instead they think in terms of business problems. “I have this problem. How are you going to help me solve it?”  Even UNIT4, which usually keeps the conversation at the business level, is talking about associative filtering. Don’t even bother to Google the term. I can follow the discussion (just barely) because I happen to have a degree in mathematics, but the algorithmic explanations will be incomprehensible to most business people.

Suffice to say, in-memory analytics provides you with the ability to process and analyze enormous volumes of data very fast. When we’re talking about the data in ERP systems, the speed is such that the results appear to be instantaneous, allowing you to make decisions from data at a far more granular level.

Analyzer starts with a snapshot of the data. That snapshot can be as simple as a straightforward report that a user already has, like a revenue report. But while a report allows you to analyze the data based on a single dimension (e.g. territory) or maybe two dimensions (product line by territory), in-memory analysis removes these single or dual dimension limitations. As long as the data required for complex, multi-dimensional analysis is included in the defined data set, it can be compressed, presented and analyzed virtually instantaneously. Because the data itself might be complex and requires a level of knowledge about the underlying data structures, it generally takes a super-user to set up the data set to be analyzed. But then putting it in the hands of the business user, it becomes extraordinarily powerful.

Summary

By embedding the in-memory capabilities into the Vita architecture and the Agresso ERP, UNIT4 has taken a lot of the mystery out of the powerful technology. By offering it as an extension to ERP, the value also becomes a natural extension. No extraordinary vision required. It allows business decision makers to take the same data they have struggled with in the past, understand it better and get to decisions faster and with greater confidence.

Of course ERP data is not the only data needed for decisions. It remains to be seen how quickly UNIT4 will be able to add in other sources of data. It is already planning to incorporate these capabilities into its recently announced new financial performance products: UNIT4 Cash Flow Planning and UNIT4 Consolidation. These types of applications have the potential to pull in data from many different disparate sources, including from banks and other treasury-related sources.

And then of course there is a wealth of unstructured data available through the Internet. As UNIT4 customers begin to graze from the very consumable and digestible data in ERP, eventually their appetites will grow to encompass a larger menu of potential “feeds.”  This will put pressure on UNIT4 to add more capabilities for more diverse data sources, but this will still give UNIT4 customers a competitive edge over those who might have invested in an elegant technical solution but are still in search of a problem to solve.

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Infor Acquires PeopleAnswers: New Twist to Continuing Trend in ERP and HCM

Big Data, Predictive Talent Analytics Drive Performance

On January 8, 2014, Infor announced it had acquired PeopleAnswers,  a pioneer in cloud-based predictive talent analytics. This continues a trend of large Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) vendor acquisitions in the realm of performance management and recruiting. But unlike other acquisitions, this one adds quite a unique new value proposition to its broadening footprint of Human Capital Management (HCM) solutions. Its software as a service (SaaS) talent analytics capabilities add a measure of data-driven behavioral science to an otherwise “soft” discipline.

Adding Talent Management to ERP

For decades in the world of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), human resource management (HRM) was little more than an afterthought. For many years, the perceived requirements were rudimentary at best and Human Resource Management modules often were just repositories for employee data. They didn’t really manage anything. ERP continued to expand functionality around the transactional system of record of the business. And apart from payroll transactions, which might or might not be included in the HR landscape, HCM really didn’t involve the transactions that fueled trade. Integration didn’t have to be “tight,” leaving a world of opportunity for separate add-on applications.

A Developing Market

This left plenty of room in the market for a lot of smaller HR specialists to seize the opportunity and grab a niche. The overall software category of HRM became broader, turning into human capital management (HCM) and several different “specialty” categories emerged: talent management, including recruiting, performance management (reviews), incentive compensation, as well as skills development and learning, workforce planning and analytics and time tracking. Sometimes payroll was included, sometimes not.

The number of players in the market proliferated.  Because few took the full suite approach, new HCM software vendors could grasp a foothold and gain traction even with a relatively small footprint.  The success of these new vendors proved to the market just how big the demand was (and is) for this type of software.

Customers and ERP Vendors Respond

Today, not only are customers more demanding and less willing to subject employees to the hassle and confusion of multiple systems, but also the big ERP players are no longer content to leave that opportunity on the table. The result: A big round of consolidation has begun. The year 2012 saw SAP’s acquisition of SuccessFactors and Oracle’s acquisition of Taleo. Last year NetSuite announced its intention to acquire TribeHR. All three of these are cloud-based, software as a service (SaaS) solutions in the talent management arena. So Infor’s announcement was the fourth major ERP vendor to announce an acquisition of a talent management solution, and a cloud-based one as well.

This is not Infor’s first venture into the realm of HCM however. It already has quite a comprehensive offering across the HCM landscape, offered either on-premise or SaaS. Its acquisition of Lawson back in 2011 was a major step forward, particularly in satisfying the human capital needs of certain industries, including healthcare, retail and hospitality. Coincidentally, all three of these industries are human capital-intensive. It later rounded out its offering with its acquisition of CertPoint, which filled an important gap in learning management. Now it is seeking further differentiation through PeopleAnswers’ decade-long investment in “big data” and its unique approach of including behavioral science.

How is PeopleAnswers Unique?

Some areas of HCM categories might struggle to produce hard data that supports evidence of return on investment (ROI). After all human resource management is a relatively “soft” discipline. Manufacturing can accurately produce hard measurements such as production output, lead times, and quality metrics. Sales can measure bookings and revenue against quota. Marketing can count leads captured and converted. Finance can measure discounts lost, days sales outstanding, earnings and profits. But capturing human capital metrics related to performance and employee engagement are indeed softer and harder to measure.

Yet the metric PeopleAnswers attacks most directly is much more firm and definitive. Although its product can legitimately be characterized as both performance management (employee assessments) and recruiting, the real metric that drives ROI is turnover. The premise: By accurately assessing the performance of individuals, you improve your ability to hire the right people. By hiring the right people you improve overall performance and retention. Customers routinely report reduction in turnover by 40%, and even higher returns in reducing involuntary turnover.

How does it do that?

PeopleAnswers uses a data-driven scientific approach to objectively tie individualized performance metrics to the key behaviors of its customers’ best employees. This is not a fluffy, feel-good approach to performance management, but patent-pending scientific research. PeopleAnswers has a science team, including 10 individuals with PhDs in behavioral science.

Through its research, this team has determined that skills alone are not predictive of the future performance of a new hire. The team developed a list of 39 attributes that correlate most directly with performance, including ambition, discipline, energy, acceptance of authority, attention to detail, flexibility, conscientiousness, and empathy. Good hiring managers have been subjectively evaluating these traits for decades. PeopleAnswers takes the subjectivity out and puts consistency in.

The implementation process starts by developing customized Performance Profiles™ from employee assessments, focusing specifically on characteristics and behaviors of top performers and weighting the 39 attributes differently for different jobs and perhaps even geographies. These Performance Profiles become the benchmark for selection, development, and succession planning.

Candidates are required to fill out a questionnaire uniquely tailored to the company and the position. This is used to construct what PeopleAnswers calls the Behavioral DNA™ of the candidate. It then compares that against the Performance Profiles of top performers and “scores” the candidates to help identify future superstars.

PeopleAnswers is also unique in how it charges for its service. It is not unusual to charge on a per-use basis (per assessment and/or per applicant) in this category of software, and PeopleAnswers certainly can accurately measure this. However it prefers to eliminate any excuse for delaying, reducing, or skipping the assessment process in order to save money. To get the most value from the solution, you need to assess every employee and every candidate that applies for a job.  So PeopleAnswers doesn’t charge based on the number of assessments but rather a flat, all-inclusive fixed fee that includes unlimited assessments.

Data Needed

This eliminates any (valid) excuse for not entering an assessment and makes the calculation of ROI that much easier. Of course any customer needs to start the implementation with some clear baseline metrics. Figure out your current turnover and estimate the cost of losing an employee. This might be different for voluntary and involuntary turnover, but even a single estimate will provide a good starting point. From these two numbers you can figure out what turnover is costing you today. If you, like other PeopleAnswers customers, can reduce turnover by 40%, the software will probably pay for itself pretty quickly.

But apart from simplifying the math, providing incentives to collect as much data as possible only makes sense. This is particularly important since without data, the model is useless. In fact without a lot of data, it would seem the model is useless. The more employees you have, the more recruiting you do for the same or similar positions, the more value can be derived directly from the tool. So this may not have the same value proposition for small companies, as it will for large companies. And human capital-intensive industries will benefit more. So a small manufacturer operating in a highly automated plant might not gain the same ROI as perhaps a large healthcare facility staffed with hundreds of nurses, or a retail environment with thousands of in-store personnel.

Who Will Benefit?

Infor’s installed base of customers includes all of these different profiles. At the time of the announcement, Infor and PeopleAnswers have 80 joint customers. About 70% of this customer overlap is from prior Lawson customers, which are most likely to fit the “human capital-intensive” bill. So that will be the first order of business as Infor starts the integration process. The goal is to deeply integrate the PeopleAnswers’ Behavioral DNA into the current Infor Talent Management suite, starting with the Lawson product. If the Lawson acquisition is an indicator of success, this first wave of integration should take about 120 days. Note, this time frame is the current plan and is reflective of past performance, but many factors can impact development plans. So this should not be interpreted as a hard commitment. The timing of future releases and Infor’s development plans remain at the sole discretion of Infor.

This effort will also include bringing Infor 10x enabling technology to the PeopleAnswers products, including Infor ION (light weight middleware), Infor Ming.le (a centralized platform for social collaboration, business process improvement, and contextual analytics) and Infor Motion (mobility).

At the same time, it will be making the Infor Enwisen HR Service Delivery platform more “behavioral.” Infor will then move on to integrating PeopleAnswers to the Infinium product line.

What Does the Future Hold?

While this new addition to the Infor family of products may not be uniformly applicable to its entire installed base of 70,000 customers, it certainly adds clear and measurable value to the subset that operates in human capital-intensive industries where making the right (or wrong) hiring decisions can make (or break) a company. But the potential value might not stop there.

Acquisitive companies typically look to improving bottom line performance by eliminating redundancies between the merged companies. This is an effective approach when those redundancies are limited to back office administration. But when staff reductions start to hit the development team, it can become counter-productive. Infor recognizes this and tends to not only protect the acquired development staff, but also add to it.

The first order of business after the acquisition is completed will be to integrate PeopleAnswers with selected Infor products (Lawson S3). Infor intends to preserve the PeopleAnswers team in order to expedite this. But at the same time it will bring Infor10x technology to the PeopleAnswers product. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Infor will actually add development staff to do this. While at other acquisitive companies an acquisition may trigger layoffs, at Infor it is just as likely to trigger hiring.

As big data and analytics continue to make their way to the forefront of employee and business performance management, it will be interesting to see what other results the addition of a “science team” can produce at Infor. And as the combined Infor and PeopleAnswers teams start to work more cooperatively together, who knows what other value behavioral science can bring to a whole host of other activities beyond recruiting.

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What’s New in the Annual Mint Jutras ERP Survey

I am excited to be preparing to launch my annual 2014 ERP survey. This will be my 8th and I’ve learned a lot through the years about how to ask the questions and how to best analyze the results. Since founding Mint Jutras in 2011 I have gradually shifted the timing of the survey, so that now (and in the future) it will be launched early in January, and I will use and reference the data throughout the year. As most of you know, I collect a massive amount of data. I try to be consistent with many of the questions from one survey to the next in order to make legitimate year over year comparisons, watching prior trends and spotting new ones. But each year I remove some questions that didn’t produce much insight (that’s how I learn) or that really don’t change much in one year. I do that to make room for something new.

It will be interesting to continue to watch trends, particularly around:

  • Buying cycles: Last year the percentage planning to purchase a new ERP within the next three years more than doubled from 24% to 47%, with another 15% undecided.
  • Deployment preferences: In the 18 months between the 2011 and 2013 surveys, the percentage of companies that would consider a traditional on-premise deployment dropped from 56% to 27%. Preference for both SaaS and hosted models increased.
  • ERP is reaching more users: On average 50% of employees actually use ERP today, including more executives. All executives have access to and regularly use ERP in 47% of companies, a far cry from just a few short years ago. We suspect the growing use of mobile devices has been and will continue to be a game-changer here.
  • Results measured since deploying ERP rose considerably with improvement percentages rising from the 5-7% range to double digits. These are improvements like cost reductions and improvements in on-time delivery, customer retention and inventory accuracy. “World Class” ERP implementations produced results in the 20-24% range. Was this an aberration last year or is new technology fostering better results?

What’s New This Year?

But what I am even more excited about is our new approach to capturing information about how the full spectrum of business applications, with ERP at the core, are implemented. Back when I started benchmarking ERP in 2006, I set out to quantify its usage. My first five annual surveys were done while I was at the Aberdeen Group where I came up with a formula for determining the percentage of ERP that was actually used. When I founded Mint Jutras I used what I had learned in those five years and modified that formula in order to get what I felt was a much more accurate result. But after eight years of this type of measurement, not only has this become old news, it is also harder to get an accurate read.

As I have been saying for several years now, the footprint of ERP has grown to the extent that it is becoming more and more difficult to determine where ERP ends and other applications begin. That is not only the case when covering, writing and talking about ERP, particularly as integration capabilities have improved, but for users as well. In prior blog posts this year I have discussed the relative advantages and disadvantages of “tightly integrated” versus “loosely coupled” applications. But this distinction is not intuitively obvious to the typical ERP user that takes our survey, particularly since typically less than 40% of respondents are in IT. Most are business users and may not have intimate knowledge of the purchase or the architecture of the product itself. They simply use ERP to run their businesses. And of course, that is primarily what we benchmark.

Modules versus Extensions: No longer the right question

In prior surveys I distinguished between ERP “modules” and “extensions” to ERP – those separate applications that might surround and complement it. I asked which modules were implemented (fully or partially) and then asked (separately) which additional applications were implemented. But as the footprint of ERP has grown, the overlap between these two lists also grew. While having both for any particular function might happen occasionally (e.g. a manufacturer might use supply chain planning functions of their ERP and also complement that with a separate “best of breed” solution), it would be the exception and not the norm. And yet, the number of instances where survey responses indicated they had both a module and an extension for the same function began to grow, casting a shadow of doubt on the validity of the responses. That told me it was getting too hard for the survey participants to answer the questions.

So this year I am changing it up with a different purpose in mind. This year, we will

  • Determine current state of implementations with a single list of functions, including traditional core functions of ERP (e.g. general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, inventory control, order management, purchasing, etc.) and more advanced or “edge” functions (e.g. warehouse management, cash flow planning, BI and analytics, employee expense reporting, supplier collaboration, etc.) that might be a module or a separate application. The survey respondent will indicate whether it is (perceived as) part of ERP or not and, if separate, the level of integration.
  • Ask “what if?” Maybe this current state came about because of limited functionality and technology at the time of purchase. If the respondent were making the same decisions today, how would they go about it?
  • Ask “What next?” Given the state of their current implementation, what are most likely next steps? Add new components? Trade it all in for newer technology? Replace certain embedded functions? Eliminate separate applications now that ERP does more?
  • Have them choose up to five areas they are most likely to invest in next.

While this will tell us a lot, we’ll also drill a little deeper into plans for two areas, which happen to be among the hottest categories on the market today:

  • Human Capital Management (is it a fluke the big ERP vendors are buying these applications?)
  • Business Intelligence and Analytics (Is it time to take these tools out of the hands of IT and put them in the hands of the business user?)

We have also added a couple “Mobility” questions, along with one that will determine just how “usable” ERP data is.

If you are an ERP user, look for a link to the survey in the beginning of the year. We welcome your response.

If you are an ERP solution provider and think

  • The data we collect will be useful to you in making product roadmap or go-to-market decisions
  • Mint Jutras might be able to develop some good educational content for you with our distinctive “call to action”
  • You might like to benchmark your customers against our World Class

Please shoot me a message or contact Lisa Lincoln (lisa@mintjutras.com)

Lisa and I both wish everyone health and prosperity in the coming year!

Best Independent ERP Blog

Best Independent ERP Blog

 

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Rumors of the Death of SAP Business ByDesign Greatly Exaggerated

I have been hearing rumors about the death of SAP Business ByDesign for several months now. Most of them come to me from SAP competitors, although a few have come through ex-employees. Note the emphasis on “ex.” No employee of SAP has ever confirmed or even hinted at this. However I have to admit the messaging around Business ByDesign has not always been crystal clear, which has allowed for these rumors to spread.

Prior to the SuccessFactors acquisition Business ByDesign was positioned as the platform of choice for development of all cloud offerings. But with the acquisition and the accompanying infusion of “cloud DNA” that story changed. All of a sudden the Business ByDesign platform wasn’t important. The powers that be at the time (SapphireNow May 2012) said,  “Customers don’t care about platforms. They only care about beautiful applications.” We heard less about By Design and more about the benefits of loosely coupled applications over tightly integrated ones. The market interpreted that to mean that Business ByDesign would be broken apart into different bits and pieces and might not survive as an integrated suite. SAP didn’t go out of its way to squash that rumor, so it too spread.

Then came Sapphire Madrid (November 2012) and there was a new platform in town. The HANA cloud platform started showing up on slides with little or no fanfare, and less explanation. The more SAP talked about its cloud strategy, the less we heard about Business ByDesign. Hence more confusion.

Until now

Earlier this week SAP presented a Business ByDesign strategy update to several industry analysts, including yours truly. Most importantly, it positioned Business ByDesign relative to other products in its portfolio. While I often find SAP graphics confusing in that they are too technical and attempt to say too much, I found the graphic shown refreshingly effective.

BBD

But it does assume you know something about SAP products, so let me explain. Business ByDesign is essentially a midmarket product, targeting companies that are smaller than the very large enterprises where the Business Suite is sold, and companies that are bigger than the SMBs which is the intended market for Business One. Business ByDesign shares this space with Business All in One, which sits a little higher. Remember, Business All in One (BAiO) is essentially the same underlying ERP that is a big part of the Business Suite. But BAiO bundles ERP with industry-specific content and best practices to make it a better fit and an easier implementation for those midmarket companies in (many) supported industries – midmarket companies that don’t have quite the deep pockets of the large enterprise.

You’ll notice BAiO also dips down into the Business ByDesign space. Business ByDesign is SaaS; BAiO is not, although SAP does offer some cloud alternatives for the Business Suite and BAiO, which have traditionally been deployed on-premise. But these cloud options are more like a hosting environment than SaaS. This overlap might result because of deployment preference or it might result because industry-specific requirements are not be satisfied with the Business ByDesign suite.

But you will also notice the Business ByDesign block extends upward into the top of the midmarket and also encroaches on the large enterprise space as well. Business ByDesign will be offered as two different packages, under two different names, but with one single code base. Business ByDesign is the complete suite, while SAP Cloud for Financials is a subset, including the finance and accounting piece of ByDesign. Even though it will share a code base, the code base was tweaked so that SAP Cloud for Financials could stand alone, without the other non-accounting “legs” of the solution.

The reasoning behind this split into two packages is to address two different buying patterns. SAP Business ByDesign is intended for “Mid market companies and subsidiaries [that] expect an out-of-the-box ready-to-use suite with open interfaces.” SAP Cloud for Financials (the subset) is for “Large Enterprises [that] expect an open ERP backbone to be complemented with SAP and non-SAP Line of Business applications.” While the Business ByDesign buying pattern is pretty clear, the SAP Cloud for Financials might require a bit more explanation.

Conceptually, these two different approaches aren’t all that different. Few large enterprises today are huge monolithic organizations. Instead they are comprised of operating units, divisions and/or business units. While these units might have some operational autonomy, financials will have to be consolidated at a corporate level. Where these units operate as a separate legal entity, a full ERP solution is most likely needed. While in the past these units may have been left to on their own to select and implement ERP, today, standards are more the norm. The 2013 Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study found 94% of companies (with multiple operating locations) have defined standards for ERP today. What better way to enforce these standards than through a cloud-based SaaS environment?

Where does Business ByDesign fit in this scenario? It fits as an integrated suite at the subsidiary level. A lot of different ERP vendors talk about this two-tier kind of approach. Some even advertise they can integrate with SAP at the corporate level, simply because of SAP’s dominance here. A cloud solution at the subsidiary level has a lot of appeal here because it helps the enterprise assert a level of control while also providing some flexibility and autonomy at the subsidiary level.

But how about if we pull a switch here? What if we start to think that maybe the corporate financials might be due for an update or even a major overhaul? With the siren call of the cloud becoming more and more compelling, why not consider replacing that legacy accounting solution at corporate with a modern, technology-enabled, cloud-based solution? You might not think the financial modules of an ERP designed for a midmarket company have the accounting chops necessary to support a large enterprise. But then most accounting applications designed for the midmarket aren’t built by SAP. In fact, SAP can and has used the same design team for Business ByDesign (and therefore SAP Cloud for Financials) that architected the Business Suite. And at that level SAP has dominated for years.

All told, this one simple graphic speaks volumes about the relative positioning of the SAP products. Is there room in SAP’s strategy for three different products (four if you count BAiO, with its separate go-to-market strategy)? I am not only tempted to say yes, I am tempted to say, “Hell, yes.” Think about it. SAP is the 800 pound gorilla and even 100 pound gorillas can handle a diverse portfolio.

Addressing Concerns

So what about some of the accusations and assumptions that have been floating around the rumor mill? Let’s counter a few of them.

“SAP is pushing Business One in the cloud instead of Business ByDesign.”

ByDesign has two characteristics that define it: it is a midmarket suite and a cloud solution that is deployed exclusively as software as a service (SaaS). It was never intended to replace SAP Business One at the low end of the market, but when a small company wanted SaaS ERP, it was the only product SAP had to sell. Now that a “cloud” option exists for Business One, that is no longer the case. This is a clear segmentation of the market by company size. Also, Business One has momentum. With over 40,000 customers and a large and mature channel in place, now that a cloud option is available it is only logical it is starting to gain its own fair share.

“SAP is no longer developing the product.”

SAP has been continuing to develop Business ByDesign, but these efforts might not have been particularly visible over the past couple of years. While SAP Cloud for Financials and Business ByDesign share a common set of code, some effort was involved in order to allow SAP Cloud for Financials to stand alone and yet be easily “coupled” to other solutions. This tends to be “under the covers” work.

And then there is HANA. Business ByDesign pre-dates HANA.  It was built in the NetWeaver era and used MAX DB (database) and TREX (search and classification). In order to take advantage of its advanced technological capabilities, Business ByDesign also had to transition to HANA, resulting in more “behind the scenes” work.

SAP assured those of us on the recent call that it was continuing to invest in the product and the platform. That said, it is also (better) defining the current target market. SAP will focus on developing the ERP backbone and specific capabilities for service industries, while also adding (open) integration capabilities. It will continue the transition to HANA for scale and extensibility. And it will also transition to HTML5 and benefit from the work done on the Fiori applications for a responsive, mobile-first user interface.

“Business ByDesign is a technological dead end. It is based on Microsoft Silverlight.”

See answer above.

“SAP themselves view it as a failure; otherwise it would be available world wide. Instead it is only available in a few countries.”

Twenty four percent (24%) of Business ByDesign business has been in the US and 32% in Germany. But it is available in 15 different countries. Is it concentrating its attention on all 15? No, but then not all 15 of them have really strong economies today. The SAP installed base is a prime market for Business ByDesign so SAP is going where it has the most customers and can make the biggest bang for its buck. That only makes good business sense.

Three more countries are planned for 2013 (New Zealand, Japan and South Africa) and an additional 3 are planned in 2014 (Brazil, Belgium and Singapore).  In addition customers are running customer-specific localizations in another 31 countries.  How many countries does it need to be in?

Summary

The supposed death of Business ByDesign seems to just wishful thinking on the part of some competitors. Although I also observe other SaaS ERP companies welcoming SAP onto their turf, as much for validation as for healthy competition. Let’s face it, all other ERP companies love to single out those competitive deals where they have beaten SAP.

Instead of a death knell, I am seeing renewed focus and commitment across SAP at the board, and executive level, as well as in the field. This represents a commitment to the cloud strategy in general and Business ByDesign specifically. Now, more than ever, SAP is clear about its target for the product:

  • The SAP installed base and upper mid-market are key for the Business ByDesign suite. Customers with higher revenue and user count threshold are prime targets as well as subsidiaries of large enterprises.
  • Large enterprises will be the target for packages such as SAP Cloud for Financials and other line of business cloud solutions like SAP Cloud for Customers and SAP Cloud for Sales. SAP will stress integration capabilities with SAP and non-SAP cloud / on premise systems.
  • Its primary industry focus will be professional services, public services and distribution.
  • While the product is available in other countries, SAP will focus its sales efforts where it has its largest installed base and where economic indicators signal a strong market. As a result, go to market efforts will focus on the US, Germany, the UK, Netherlands, Canada and Australia.
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Impressions from SAP Americas Partner Summit: Partners Make it Real

Tis the season for partner summits. SAP Americas Partner Summit was the 3rd of these I attended in a week and a half. This was the first of this type of event for SAP since it recently merged North America and Latin America into a single unit under the direction of Rodolpho Cardenuto, President SAP Americas. This merging of the Americas bucks the trend in the industry. As Latin American economies, most particularly Brazil, continue to emerge, it is more likely for Latin America to be spun off from a previously combined unit.

And the combination of the two Americas has a further bit of a unique twist. Typically North America will be the dominant player, and therefore you might expect it to bring its southern neighbors into the fold. Yet at the Summit, it really felt more like Latin America was taking North America under its wing. Presumably this is largely based on the recent successful growth of Latin America under Mr. Cardenuto’s direction.

Over the course of two days we heard lots from SAP executives on the main stage, in smaller groups and one-on-one meetings. Some of what we heard simply reinforced the four pillars we have been hearing about quite consistently at various events over the past year or more, namely how SAP intends to:

  • Leverage the core business applications
  • Deliver in mobile
  • Lead in the cloud
  • Capitalize on big data (read: HANA, HANA, HANA)

But how do these key elements of SAP’s strategy pertain to the partners and the customers they serve?

Leveraging the core business applications

The key message here: industries are important and partners are critical to building out solutions. There will be common processes across all companies. These common processes are easily handled by basic functionality that has become quite commoditized today, making it hard for any software company to differentiate itself solely on the basics. It is equally hard for any customer running “just the basics” to gain a competitive edge.

SAP’s approach to delivering that source of differentiation is to co-innovate with partners and customers. First of all, SAP constructs specific “value maps” for each of 25 different industries, identifying market trends and specific business capabilities required to compete in these markets. It then creates very unique blocks of solutions for each industry.  The goal is to not just deliver technology, but to create more value for its customers, and therefore SAP is taking a design thinking approach. This has been music to my ears, which are tuned more to business issues than pure technology. I spend much of my time and efforts translating techno-speak to business-speak.

Design thinking is becoming more and more popular these days, but in case you are not familiar with the concept, it is a repeatable process for solving problems and discovering new opportunities. It consists of 4 key elements:

  1. 1.    Define the problem
  2. Create and consider many different options
  3. Refine selected directions
    Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you reach…
  4. Pick the winner; execute

As the pace of change accelerates, as technology allows us to solve problems previously deemed unsolvable, SAP understands it can’t possibly deliver all this value itself, and therefore turns to partners. As Chakib Bouhdary, EVP Industry Solutions and Customer Value stated on stage, “We all have to change our tolerance to IP sharing.” This is an important concept and one critical to encouraging partners to develop complementary solutions, along with a go to market plan that includes revenue sharing.

At first glance this “sharing” of IP and revenue might seem to pertain only to the traditional Value Added Reseller (VAR) or the larger service providers/system integrators. But during the Summit SAP also introduced the SAP PartnerEdge program for Application Development, “a simple and comprehensive program designed to empower partners to build, market and sell software applications on top of market-leading technology platforms from SAP.

How is this new and different? Essentially it lowers the cost of entry for small partners, while also simplifying the process of signing up. Partners can choose from a set of “innovation packs” based on the latest platform technologies from SAP, including the SAP HANA platform, SAP HANA Cloud Platform, SAP Mobile Platform, SAP databases and the SAP NetWeaver platform. The innovation packs contain technology-specific license rights, resources and services to help partners rapidly get enabled to develop applications on SAP platforms. The packs are also designed to support custom development for co-innovation with customers, which often is the first step to developing a more commercial, standard application. All for an entry fee of around 2500 euros.

These small partners pay a low annual fee (500 to 1500 euros per year) for each of these innovation packs. In turn they can also offer their wares through the SAP online app store and potentially reach a much broader market and therefore better monetize their efforts. This encourages a larger volume of smaller partners in a very real “win-win” scenario.

Deliver in Mobile

Notice the SAP Mobile Platform is included above as one of the innovation packs. The consumerization of IT has changed expectations of connectivity and accessibility of data. But nobody (in their right mind) really wants to lift and shift the traditional ERP user interface to a mobile device. Mobile executives today want answers to specific questions, hence the increase in demand for more purpose-built mobile apps. Lots of questions potentially generate the need for lots of mobile apps. And the SAP online app store is the perfect place for partners to showcase those they build on SAP’s mobile platform.

Lead in the Cloud

It seems everyone today wants to claim “leadership” in the cloud and SAP is no exception. With all the “mine is bigger than yours” rhetoric in the market today, determining who is on top is difficult and probably a bit subjective. However, after developing its own “born in the cloud” (SaaS only) business management suite (Business ByDesign), two major “cloud only” acquisitions (SuccessFactors and Ariba), 30 million users in the public cloud and the world’s largest business network supporting $460 billion in transactions, SAP has to be right up there on the leader board.

While there is still a lot of confusion over cloud and SaaS, the interest in both has taken a quantum leap over the past couple of years. I’ve written a lot about the benefits of moving to the cloud, but while others predict that very soon the vast majority of applications will be running in the cloud, my research indicates only 33% will be SaaS in 5 to 10 years. I attribute this to the fact that there are so many solutions running on-premise today and many companies are reluctant to rip and replace only to convert to a SaaS deployment model. So does that limit the number of companies that can effectively leverage the benefit of the cloud to those willing to abandon their current software licenses? SAP says, “No.”

Many of the companies running on-premise solutions would love to relinquish the responsibility of managing and maintaining those solutions and reap the benefits of the cloud. SAP’s answer to this is to offer Managed Cloud as a Service (MCaaS). This isn’t a brand new concept. Back in May, SAP announced its SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud. As I wrote back in May…

On May 7, 2013 SAP announced SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud. As the name implies, it is a cloud-based service that allows an organization to move existing (or new) implementations of the SAP Business Suite and SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse, powered by HANA, off their own servers and into SAP’s massive data centers. Why would an enterprise want to do this? The short answer: Speed, power and the benefits of cloud computing without the disruption of replacing existing on-premise solutions. Speed and power come from HANA, adding visibility and agility to the business by enabling decisions to be made in real-time with volumes of data that were inconceivable just a short time ago. Cloud computing lowers cost and adds elasticity, allowing capacity to stretch as your business and your need for data grows.

This is not SaaS and is not a public cloud. It is really a private cloud for the customer managed by SAP. This was a purposeful decision on SAP’s part since the objective is to make the solution truly “elastic.” While this term may be common in technology circles, it is less so in the business community. Essentially, it means the customer is never constrained by hardware limitations. Data center configurations expand (transparently to the customer) as more computing power is required. And if there are any lingering concerns about applications running in a public cloud, those go away with this model.

So what does this mean for partners and how is MCaaS different? It means they can bring the benefits of the cloud to those not quite ready for a SaaS solution. Partners can purchase product licenses and offer them, along with other services on a subscription basis. While this is the same concept introduced with the HANA Enterprise Cloud, HANA is not a requirement, nor is the Business Suite. SAP may be hosting the software, but partners may also sign up to do the same. SAP Business One and Business All-in-One are already offered in this kind of hosting model by several of the larger partners.

Capitalize on Big Data (HANA, HANA, HANA)

This was the first SAP event I have attended in a long while where HANA was not the primary focus. Yet its presence was certainly implied, if not directly referenced. Steve Lucas, President, SAP Platform Solutions talked a lot about “the real time connected enterprise:”

  • Real time business applications
  • With real time integrated analytics
  • Delivered on any device in real time (securely anywhere in the world)

Of course you need HANA for this. But I think the real message for the partners here is that SAP needs them to deliver applications that leverage HANA. This makes Dr. Bhoudary’s comment about SAP’s tolerance to IP sharing even more relevant beyond the concept of building out industry solutions. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and again and again if necessary)…Without this way of thinking, without the development of applications leveraging its technology, HANA is simply an elegant technical solution in search of a problem. And as Steve Lucas said, “No one wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I really want to install HANA.’ They wake up with problems to solve…. Partners make it real.”

 

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