Business Objects

Next Generation ERP: Kenandy’s Approach

Changing the World of ERP, One Click at a Time

It has been a while since I last posted in our Next Generation ERP series. If you haven’t been following, you might want to catch up on the 4 part generic series of posts. This one features the approach of a relatively new entrant into the ERP market: Kenandy Inc. Some of you will immediately recognize Kenandy’s founder, none other than Sandy Kurtzig of ASK and MANMAN fame.

By way of introduction or reminder….

What do Star Trek and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) have in common? Apart from each being a bold adventure, both have experienced a rebirth as a next generation. In our four part series, we describe the next generation of ERP in terms of new technology that enables:

  • new ways of engaging with ERP
  • custom configuration without programming
  • more innovation
  • better integration

The next generation of Star Trek continued the original journey but was faster, more technologically enabled and more in tune with the evolving needs of the galaxy. When Sandy Kurtzig came out of retirement in 2010 and founded Kenandy, she may not have been thinking about Star Trek but she clearly wanted to explore new worlds in her entrepreneurial journey and boldly go where no ERP for manufacturing has gone before. Using new technology, Kenandy designed its new ERP from scratch with a singular purpose in mind: to deliver a robust solution quickly that would also keep pace with the rapidly changing world in which we live.

Does Kenandy Qualify as Next Generation ERP?

Not every ERP solution on the market today qualifies as a “next generation” ERP. The depth and breadth of functionality has increased over the past three decades, which makes it harder for a new entrant to compete in the market. The “basics” are table stakes, but they aren’t so basic anymore, particularly in the world of manufacturing where Kenandy hopes to compete.

While other industries might be able to survive with back office functionality that is limited to accounting or human resource management, manufacturing requires a much broader set of features and functions. Indeed, ERP for manufacturing has evolved from material requirements planning (MRP) to manufacturing resource planning (MRP II), to the full operational and transactional system of record of the business. Even the manufacturing of a simple product can be quite complex when you run lean, but strive to be responsive to your demanding customers.

Any ERP vendor today must compete on functionality, but that is not what makes a solution “next generation.” It is the underlying technology and the power it delivers.  But technology and functionality are closely related, because it is the power of the technology platform that allows solution providers to deliver more features and functions faster. Selecting the right platform on which to build ERP is therefore critical.

While the platform may not be immediately visible to the end user of the software, it is dangerous to ignore it and the power of technology. You probably never knew how the USS Enterprise achieved warp speed, but you knew that it could. You didn’t know how the transporter beam worked, but you knew what happened when Captain Kirk said, “Beam me up, Scottie.” While neither were the only ways to get from point A to point B, both added speed and efficiency.

While Kenandy chose to build an ERP solution from a clean sheet of paper, in order to compete, it needed to find a way to add both speed and efficiency to the development process. Kenandy chose to build on the Salesforce Platform to deliver both. And in doing so, its customers also benefit from speed and simplicity, which together yield efficiency.

ERP: Empower Real PeopleTM

Speed and efficiency are prerequisites for delivering on the first element of next generation ERP: providing new ways of engaging with enterprise software.

Traditionally, users have engaged with ERP through a hierarchical series of menus, which require at least a rudimentary knowledge of how data and processes are organized. Hopefully this organization reflects how the business processes and the enterprise itself are structured, but with a hierarchy of menus, there are no guarantees that navigation is intuitive or that business processes are streamlined and efficient.

When processes within ERP are clumsy and inefficient, employees spend more time trying to work around the system, rather than working with it. Cynics like to refer to ERP not as “enterprise resource planning”, but as “Excel runs production.” Sandy Kurtzig strives for a different goal where ERP stands for “empower real people.” For that to happen you need to reach both up and down the corporate ladder.

Traditionally, a small percentage of employees of any company ever put their hands directly on ERP, and this select group almost never included top-level executive decision-makers. But the speed of required decision-making and the consumerization of IT are making this unacceptable.

So how does Kenandy empower real people? It relies on the Salesforce Platform to deliver a user experience that is appealing to the younger work force that has grown up on the Internet. And in making the solution appealing to the millennials, it also makes it easier for the older crowd to use. It recognizes there are “mobile” and “social” users as well, both of which are addressed by the platform.

The Salesforce Platform also enables collaboration by connecting people to the business and to information. For years, salesforce.com made a big deal out of its “social” capabilities but the manufacturing community is just now appreciating social. While a hot topic among pundits and industry “influencers,” the perceived value was lost on many, particularly in manufacturing. Traditionalists distinguish between a business event and a social event, between a business conversation and a social chat, between a business colleague and a friend or social acquaintance. Many didn’t “get” that social is really just shorthand for new and improved ways of getting and staying informed in a collaborative way. And who doesn’t want that?

By building an ERP on the Salesforce Platform, these social and mobile aspects are built in.

Personalizing with Clicks not Code

While all manufacturers face similar challenges, they also have unique ways of dealing with those challenges, and in doing so, actively seek differentiation in their individual markets. What company today doesn’t believe it is unique in some way?

Being different used to mean customization and with traditional, older generation ERP, this meant programming changes, mucking around in source code and building barriers to upgrade and innovation. To qualify as a “next generation” ERP, most, if not all of this customization must be done without ever touching a line of source code. Configuration, tailoring and personalization should replace customization.

Kenandy likes to say it can personalize with “clicks, not code.” This means adding fields, changing workflows, rearranging the screens. This is an absolute necessity in a Kenandy environment because it is delivered only as multi-tenant software as a service (SaaS). In a multi-tenant environment, multiple companies use the same instance of (hosted) software. Of course, data is protected from access by other companies (tenants), but any “customization” is generally delivered through configuration settings, which vary per company.

Kenandy’s architecture allows you to modify business processes and the user experience, including screens, dashboards and even the device. This doesn’t require programmers. Simplicity and this “Do It Yourself” aspect were among the primary reasons Blue Clover Devices selected Kenandy. These features became obvious to Blue Clover during its trial run of the system.

“I immediately saw how easy it is to add and extend capabilities with Kenandy,” said Pete Staples, President and Co-founder. “I was convinced that this was something we could manage pretty much on our own, and that had a strong appeal to us.” While the other system Blue Clover was considering had many positive features, “We felt like we would have to hire them to do everything for us, and that just made us nervous.”

Beyond the Initial Implementation

While this level of personalization and configuration is important when Kenandy is first being implemented, it becomes even more so as life goes on. Today’s manufacturers are bombarded with change, whether as a result of growth, regulatory requirements or just the desire for continuous improvement. Change doesn’t halt once you implement ERP. In fact, the need for change may accelerate as new functionality and new technology opens doors for growth and improvement.

And yet managing change has traditionally been an obstacle to achieving the goals of an ERP solution. The 2014 ERP Solution Study found this to be the number one challenge with the vast majority (82%) rating it as moderately to extremely challenging.

The ability to handle this kind of change was the primary reason Big Heart Pet Brands (formerly Del Monte Foods) selected Kenandy to support its recent acquisition of Natural Balance Pet Foods. “One of the many reasons Del Monte selected Kenandy was that we wanted a flexible system that easily adapts to business changes, such as acquisitions, while also offering enterprise-class capabilities,” said David McLain, Senior Vice President, Chief Information Officer and Procurement Officer, Big Heart Pet Brands.

Kenandy attributes this post-implementation agility to the flexibility and extensibility of the platform and Stuart Kowarsky, Vice President of Operations at Natural Balance seems to be a big fan. “At Natural Balance and in our corporate systems, we’re replacing a patchwork of applications with one unified, extensible solution that will grow and scale with Big Heart’s needs.”

But Kenandy’s ability to accommodate change is not only attributable to the platform, but also to how it has architected the solution on top of that platform, with a unified data model that takes full advantage of the power of business objects.

“Wide-Body” ObjectsTM

Legacy ERP solution data models consisted of an extensive number of tables. Joining those tables together reflected relationships between data. For example, a sales order header table might need to be joined to line items. In turn, those line items needed to be joined with the products being delivered, and any number of associated tables for validation, like units of measure, product categories, inventory locations, planning and replenishment codes, etc. The sales order also had to be joined with customers, shipments, and invoices. It didn’t take long for the number of tables and joins to proliferate almost exponentially, making a change to any one element a labyrinth of changes.

Kenandy replaces that myriad of tables with what it calls a ”Wide-Body” ObjectTM architecture.  These objects will sound quite familiar: orders, invoices, customers, etc. But by packing lots of information into each object, it significantly reduces the number that needs to be managed. Kenandy has less than 100 Wide-Body Objects.

For example, invoice, credit memo and adjustments share similar data structures and therefore can be expressed as a single object, distinguished by embedded fields. Adding fields is a simple process and only has to be done in one place. Changing workflow steps is equally simple because the workflow connects directly to the objects. Also, these Wide-Body Objects are reusable and it is a simple process to make these changes by pointing and clicking. No database administrator (DBA) required.

More Innovation to Come

The ability to enable change this rapidly also has implications for the on-going development of the product, which impacts the third requirement for next generation ERP: more innovation.

In deciding to build a new product from scratch, Kenandy avoided a lot of the headaches other longer-tenured companies face. In developing a new product, you don’t have to worry about keeping any existing customers happy with product or implementation decisions they may have already made. You can start from a clean slate. It is sort of like building a new house. It is much easier to start with an empty lot and a design plan, than it is to remodel an existing structure.

And yet Kenandy set out to build a very big and complex structure. As noted earlier, the depth and breadth of functionality needed to compete today, particularly in manufacturing, is extensive.

The platform itself comes with an extensive toolbox that accelerates the development process. The power of the platform, combined with its SaaS-only delivery model, supports agile development, managed around “sprints,” a concept familiar to proponents of rapid application development. Innovation doesn’t have to be packaged up to be delivered every 12 to 18 months, but in shorter cycles that include scripting a scenario, designing a solution, building and testing. Think of these more as a series of short proof of concept projects, which are continually being delivered. As a SaaS model, no customer is left behind running an older release.

In an interesting twist on “agile” and “sprints,” Kenandy applies these same concepts to the implementation process. New customers gain access immediately to an instance of the software. They can add data, experiment and test it out in a series of pilots. At the end of the process, teams not only have a working environment, but also have learned how to make changes to business processes, again with clicks, not code. Nothing is cast in concrete as the first (or any) “go live” milestone is achieved, therefore it encourages and supports the popular manufacturing concept of continuous improvement.

These were some of the benefits Del Monte saw in its recent acquisition of Natural Balance. Indeed, Sandra Kurtzig was so confident in Kenandy’s ability to respond quickly, she made a commitment to Del Monte to go live with Kenandy at Natural Balance just 90 minutes after the acquisition was complete. No, that’s not a typo – that’s 90 minutes, not 90 days. In fact, the system was up and running in less time and represented a complete implementation including order-to-cash, planning and production, procure-to-pay and financials.

Summary

Like the starship Enterprise, whose five-year mission was to explore new worlds and “to boldly go where no man has gone before,” early versions of ERP charted new territory for enterprise applications. It evolved from MRP (material requirements planning) to MRP II (manufacturing resource planning) and then boldly set out to conquer the “final frontier” of ERP, managing not a small piece of the enterprise, but the enterprise itself.

The new journey Kenandy has embarked on, this next generation ERP, is a far cry from legacy ERP solutions of the past. Not wanting to be constrained by legacy code or preconceived notions, it started with a clean sheet of paper to design a whole new solution. But this new company knew better than to take a further step back in designing its own development platform. Instead it chose a platform that has already proven itself in terms of power, flexibility and reliability.

When Sandy Kurtzig stepped down from her first venture (The ASK Group) she left behind a loyal following within the manufacturing community, where trust is not easily given, but is hard earned. Can she attract the same kind of following in her new venture? In order to compete in this new era she will need:

  • A proven technology platform that allows users to engage with ERP in new and different ways, with intuitive and visually appealing user interfaces, which don’t rely on intimate knowledge of how the system or the data is structured. She’ll need a platform that opens doors to a whole new level of executive involvement… Check
  •  A system that is easily custom-configured, eliminating invasive customization that prevents companies from moving forward with updates and upgrades… Check
  •   To deliver innovation at an increased (and impressive) pace, supported through the use of web-based services, and object-oriented data models… Check
  •  Good integration capabilities that provide a seamless user experience across the enterprise… Check

Manufacturers stuck on older technology with limited functionality might well consider saying, “Beam me up, Sandy.”

This post was derived from a white paper entitled Next Generation ERP: Kenandy’s Approach. Click here to read the full report. The report is free, but registration is required.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier? Part 4

This is a short one – the 4th post of a series on Next Generation ERP. If you missed the first three in the series, take a moment and catch up with Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. You can find the links to the right in “Recent Blog Posts.” Next up after this will be a series of posts featuring some of the major ERP players.

A Final Step “Into Darkness

Have you forgotten how we started with our Star Trek analogy? The latest movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, has the crew of the USS Enterprise saving the world from destruction. So the story line doesn’t really support our analogy. ERP might help your business gain competitive advantage, but it doesn’t save the world. The title “…Into Darkness” is however quite relevant to the final stage, and perhaps the final frontier of ERP.

As the basics of ERP become more of a commodity it becomes all that much more of a basic necessity of business, including the more advanced technology that enables easier access and configuration (without customization), better integration and more innovation. As those basics become commoditized, ERP might appear to slip into the background: “The darkness” of uniformity, of non-differentiation. While all companies have common needs, specific industries create specialized needs and it also becomes increasingly important for companies to seek competitive differentiation. But it is not in the core functionality where this source of differentiation lies, but in the services and functions that surround the core.

So let’s continue our space analogy and imagine ERP in the center – as in the center of the solar system. Circling the sun are planets drawing sustenance in the form of light and heat, which makes them habitable. Equate habitable to easy access and intuitive user interfaces that can be configured and personalized. In a real solar system it is gravity that holds the planets in orbit, and the source of gravity is the sun at the core. In our software solar system with ERP at its center, the gravity is drawn from the platform on which the ERP is built. Building ERP and all the surrounding applications on a common platform and standardized business objects will insure a strong connection but with a loose coupling that can be easily disconnected and reconnected.

What about other components not developed on these native platforms – components that might be based on pre-existing or acquired technology? Of course other satellites can also be circling the sun, but it might take some additional propulsion to keep them in orbit. Similarly, it might take some remedial effort to make that older technology compatible enough to reap some of the benefits of the next generation platform.

Key Takeaways

Next generation ERP is a far cry from traditional ERP solutions of the past. New technology platforms allow users to engage with ERP in new and different ways with intuitive and visually appealing user interfaces, which don’t rely on intimate knowledge of how the system or the data is structured. This opens doors to a whole new level of executive involvement.

Next generation solutions are more easily custom configured, eliminating invasive customization that prevents companies from moving forward with updates and upgrades. This is particularly important in light of the increased pace of innovation that is supported through the use of web-based services, object-oriented data models and component architecture. All these combine to support more rapid development of new features and functions, which are more easily consumed as needed.

If your current ERP solution has you stuck in the 20th century, look for an ERP solution that can take you into the darkness and into the light, both at the same time. Look for an ERP solution that can satisfy all your basic, generic needs, quietly in the background, but one that is built on a next generation architecture that supports rapid development and innovation and rock solid but easy integration. Pick one with sufficient gravity to hold all the necessary components in place and let your competitive advantage

Tagged , , , , , ,

UNIT4’s Next Generation ERP for Businesses Living in Change

Don’t BLiNC, Change is Coming at Warp Speed

In a recent report, ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier? we had some fun comparing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to the successful entertainment franchise, Star Trek and the voyages of the USS Enterprise. The starship Enterprise had at its disposal some amazing technology that allowed it to change course and even reverse direction immediately, while traveling at warp speed. Although Star Trek was, and still is science fiction, next generation, technology-enabled ERP solutions are very real. Yet few can turn on a dime and respond to business change at “faster-than-light” speed. UNIT4’s unique VITA architecture is the key to making Agresso Business World the exception. Not only is business change supported, minimizing the resultant cost and disruption, but changes can be made by those who best understand the business impact: the business users themselves.

What Makes an ERP Next Generation?

Not every ERP solution on the market today qualifies as a “next generation” ERP. While the depth and breadth of functionality has increased over the past three decades, that is not what makes a solution “next generation.” It is the underlying technology and the benefits it delivers. In UNIT4 terms, it is the VITA architecture.

Mint Jutras defines the next generation of ERP in terms of new technology that enables:

  • new ways of engaging with ERP
  • more innovation
  • custom configuration without programming
  • better integration

UNIT4 adds another dimension to this definition with its unique ability to aid companies in adapting when changes in their business occur as a result of new financial or regulatory requirements, organizational restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, or new or changed business processes.

Unless you are a technologist (and most business executives are not), you might not know or care about that underlying technology. But it is dangerous to ignore it, largely because of what it can and should deliver. You don’t know how the USS Enterprise achieved warp speed, but you know that it could. You don’t know how the transporter beam worked, but you know what happened when Captain Kirk said, “Beam me up, Scottie.” You don’t need to know how the underlying platform allows UNIT4 to support business change quickly and easily, but for those dealing with an accelerating pace of change (and who isn’t today?), it is important to understand that it does.

While it is less important to know how technology works than it is to know what it can do for you, understanding a few of the supporting concepts certainly helps distinguish between those that really support change and those that simply profess to.

UNIT4’s VITA architecture is a layered architecture that tightly integrates three components: data management, process modeling and delivery of information (analytics and reporting). This concept of component architecture is not unique. Most modern service-oriented architectures today will support a presentation layer (user interface), an object-oriented data model representing standard business objects (think of a customer or an order as a business object) and business logic. This business logic might be a combination of hard-coded programs and externally defined business rules.

To understand how UNIT4 is unique, consider what needs to happen when a business process changes. In first generation ERP, this always meant mucking around in the source code. In next generation ERP, a process change might or might not mean modifying source code. It might just mean changing some business rules. But it also might mean a change to the data model. And it is very likely it will mean a change to the presentation layer to modify what the user sees. That’s potentially a change to each of the individual layers or components. With UNIT4 you make a single change and it is permeated throughout all the necessary components of the solution.

Even in other next generation ERP solutions, the information technology (IT) staff generally needs to implement the changes. But with UNIT4, these changes are implemented through a graphical user interface (GUI) and can generally be done by a business user. Of course, if the business user can implement them, we’re not talking source code modifications. We’re talking about customizing the configuration without programming, one of the hallmarks of a next generation ERP. Some changes will require some knowledge of the system, but others are simply accomplished by an intuitive drag and drop. Which brings us to the first of the four requirements for next generation ERP…

New Ways of Engaging with ERP

Users of ERP used to be a pretty select bunch. First generation ERP required extensive education and training. And it was always easier to get data into ERP than to get answers out. Most executive decision-makers never laid their hands on ERP and had little knowledge or appreciation of how the data and the processes were organized. So they also had little appreciation for the impact change had on ERP implementations – change like that annual reorg or that new compliance requirement. More often than not, they simply blamed IT for being unresponsive or difficult.

One approach might be to educate those executives as to why change should take so long to be reflected in an application like ERP. After all, ERP essentially runs your business. But that’s not the approach UNIT4 has taken. It has instead eliminated the delay with a “do it yourself” approach. Here’s an example:

Let’s say a reorganization is planned at the end of the quarter which requires many changes in the personnel reporting structure. Groups or individuals might be reassigned to new departments. Perhaps entirely new departments must be created. Think about how that change might be implemented in your own organization, with your current software.

Perhaps all the changes get made on paper first. After all, some of them might be sensitive or confidential. And you can’t really “touch” the employee records until the date of the reorg anyway. The big day rolls around and this paper probably gets turned over to an administrator. And then it is a mad scramble to implement the changes. Murphy’s Law says in the rush something won’t be reflected properly and it will probably take a couple of pay/reporting periods to get corrections made.

Wouldn’t it be nice to instead get all the changes lined up, checked and double-checked, without having to turn them over to administrators that have no involvement in the decisions? Wouldn’t it be nice to have them magically take effect on the prescribed day?

Picture this: The decision-makers bring up a visual representation of the current org chart in a planning meeting. They create a new “leg” in the tree structure. They drag and drop groups from one department to another. They might do it by role first and then move some individuals separately as they tweak the new structure. As they discuss the changes either immediately or over a period of time, they continue to refine the organizational structure. On the big day the changes become effective automatically.

That’s what can happen with UNIT4’s new user interface (UI). These decision-makers don’t have to “figure out” ERP. They just need to “figure out” the structure of the organization.

UNIT4 also intends to add social collaboration capabilities in October 2013, opening up yet another avenue for engaging with ERP. These new collaboration capabilities will allow any user of UNIT4 to connect and be connected to other employees with similar skills, roles and reporting, interests and experience. This is most valuable as organizational reporting structures change as a result of reorgs or mergers and acquisitions when old and familiar ties in the organization may be disrupted.

This new UI is the culmination of a focused effort over a period of four years, starting with an extensive research project. Throughout the project, UNIT4 interviewed users and observed how they interacted with ERP. The research focused on how people work, the processes they complete and the flow of work. It included people in different age groups, people with different jobs, playing different roles. It included people from around the world, primarily in service-based organizations, which is UNIT4’s target market. And service-based businesses have seen more than their fair share of change and the pace of that change continues to accelerate.

The resulting user interface was then incorporated into a new release concept that UNIT4 calls Experience Packs. In fact Experience Packs are not entirely new, but the way UNIT4 is delivering them and the innovation contained therein is both new and very “next generation.”

More Innovation, Easier to Consume

UNIT4’s Experience Packs eliminate the “all or nothing” approach to innovation that is common for enterprise applications. One problem that has plagued software vendors for decades is the fact that they could often deliver innovation a lot faster than their customers could consume it.

Generally speaking, even though most new features are delivered as optional, customers still need to take on a new release in its entirety, and then decide which of the new features to turn on. This upgrade process can be both costly and disruptive and therefore according to the 2013 Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study, almost one in five companies (18%) are likely to skip releases and another 10% never upgrade, leaving new innovation unused.

Experience Packs are delivered in such a way as to allow UNIT4 customers to pick and choose what new innovation they will implement and when. The first wave of Experience Packs includes People Planner and Project Planner, both targeting professional services organizations. Also available is Organizational Modeler, highlighted above. UNIT4 plans to release new Experience Packs every four months. The next wave will feature expenses, time, tasks, absence and travel requests and will be launched in the fall of 2013.

This approach allows UNIT4 to deliver more innovation, faster, while also making it easier for its users to consume it. These Experience Packs can be further enhanced with a series of UNIT4 mobile apps. Many say that the modern cell phone was inspired by Star Trek’s tricorders that allowed crew members to communicate even after they had been beamed to another planet. While employees have yet to venture to other planets, they do need to stay connected even when they are half a world away. Even as we become less and less tethered to a wired connection, we become more and more tethered to the business. UNIT4 mobile apps, natively built for IOS and Android devices, are designed to enrich UNIT4 Agresso Business World ERP and “increase the comfort and efficiency for users,” ensuring they are able to take full advantage of future developments in mobile technology.

Summary

Do you need to change course and even reverse direction immediately, while your business is traveling at warp speed? If you are a business living in change yet still struggling with a first generation ERP solution, change itself may appear to be coming at you at warp speed. Being able to accommodate that change through easy and rapid (non-coding) adjustments rather than exhaustive code modifications may seem as likely as traveling to the far reaches of the galaxy.

  • Changes implemented by business users?
  • Executives that actually put their hands on ERP, working collaboratively with other decision-makers?
  • Business users taking action from mobile devices?
  • The ability to selectively implement new innovation without a long upgrade process?

If this all sounds like the stuff of science fiction, then take a look at UNIT4. You may be surprised to find, the future is now.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Loosely Coupled or Tightly Integrated Enterprise Applications? Why Should a CFO Care?

It seems lately I have been hearing a lot about “loosely coupled” business applications. It started about a year ago at Infor’s customer event (Inforum) and then continued at SAP’s SapphireNow. More recently, with SAP’s introduction of Financials OnDemand, I heard it again. Financials OnDemand is a derivative of SAP Business ByDesign, a cloud-based, tightly integrated suite (that some might call ERP). SAP pulled out the financials that were previously embedded in Business ByDesign so they could stand on their own and be “loosely coupled” to other applications.

But is this what its customers and prospects are looking for? That’s hard to say because it is very unlikely its typical prospect or customer really understands the intended “benefits” of loosely coupled.  In fact, when you start talking about “loosely coupled” to CFOs you are likely to produce that glazed look that says, “I don’t know what you’re talking about… and I don’t really care.” If you refer to “loosely coupled” in contrast to “tightly integrated” you might get a glimmer of understanding, but not an immediate acceptance of the concept.

CFOs might intuitively understand the value gained from tightly integrated applications, particularly in reference to an integrated suite of modules like ERP. After all, who wouldn’t want a complete solution, one where all the pieces just sort of fit and work together, with no integration effort required and no redundant data? While there might be some inherent value to having a loosely coupled solution, that value is not intuitively obvious to a CFO. Yet the opposite is true for both Infor’s CEO Charles Phillips and representatives of SAP, including former SuccessFactor CEO, now SAP’s chief “cloud” guy, Lars Dalgaard. They see enormous value in loosely coupled. As a result they either don’t see a need to explain it, or they have difficulty in explaining something they just intuitively “get.” Either way, the message is just not very clear to your typical financial executive.

So let me try to explain. The biggest reason “loosely coupled” might be of very significant value to a CFO is because things change. Markets change. Companies expand (or shrink). Software is enhanced. Technology innovation happens.  In fact, technology innovation often results from change but is also often the catalyst for change. Yet responding to change is hard.

Let me give you an example that should resonate with a CFO. Let’s say you are the CFO of a mid-size manufacturer who has helped your company expand over the past 10 years.  You implemented an ERP solution back when you were small and your accounting needs were rudimentary. You chose a solution for its strength in managing inventory and production. While you started out operating from a single location, you have expanded globally and now operate in 6 different countries around the world. While the financial modules of your ERP met your needs when you first implemented it, now you struggle with compliance and tax regulations, multiple legal entities, multiple currencies and consolidation. This is a very real scenario. Our latest Mint Jutras survey on ERP indicates 75% of companies today operate with more than one location. Even small companies (those with annual revenues less than $25 million) have an average of 2.6 locations and this average grows to 7.5 in the upper mid-market (revenues from $250 million to $1 billion).

You’d like to move to a newer, more feature-rich accounting solution, but your ERP is still satisfying the needs of manufacturing and since you are continuing to grow, you don’t want to disrupt the business by ripping it out and replacing it. The very thing that attracted you to your solution is now holding you back. Because it is tightly integrated, you can’t just replace a piece of the puzzle without replacing the whole thing.

To make matters worse, your older ERP solution is not really meeting your needs for customer relationship management (CRM). This is not surprising. While the footprint of ERP has been steadily expanding over the past 10 years, the needs of sales and service organizations were not front and center from the beginning. If these needs had been met with early versions of ERP, companies like Salesforce.com would never have taken off like they have. Maybe you too are considering adding a stand-alone CRM to the mix. If so, SAP might be pitching its Customer OnDemand solution in addition to Financials OnDemand.

So is this building a case against tightly integrated, in favor of stand-alone solutions that might need to be integrated? Not necessarily. In a tightly integrated solution there is only one of anything – one chart of accounts, one customer master file, one item master, one supplier master, etc. But these master files are shared across different functions. Purchasing needs to access the supplier master to place a purchase order. But accounts payable also needs a supplier master in order to make a payment. Sales and order management need to maintain information in the customer master, but accounts receivable needs a customer master to apply cash receipts. Pull the accounting solution out and you still need the suppliers and customers. Does the new accounting solution have its own supplier and customer files? Does this mean maintaining two of each? Does the new CRM add yet another customer master? If so, how do you keep them in sync? Or maybe you don’t. But this adds all sorts of new wrinkles.

“Loosely coupled” applications could very well make your life easier. But what’s the difference between “loosely coupled” and what used to be called “best of breed?” This is where it gets harder to explain and I am not entirely convinced all vendors that claim to deliver it are talking about exactly the same thing. It took SAP several tries before I really saw the difference, and I live and breath this stuff. Your typical CFO doesn’t.

In trying to understand SAP’s definition of “loosely coupled” I described the scenario above to the solution marketing team for SAP’s cloud-based financials and asked how the combination of Financial OnDemand and Customer OnDemand would address this issue of redundancy. If each were sold separately (i.e. not delivered as the integrated suite of Business ByDesign) would the customer wind up with two different customer master files? SAP’s answer was no.

Here’s how it works: Think of the customer (master data) as a business object. An older ERP solution will build that customer master file (the business object) right into the solution. Instead, these OnDemand solutions treat the customer master as a separate business object that lives outside of the application. By doing this, both applications can point to, access and reference the same business object.

But what about maintenance? Instead of building the maintenance functions directly into each application, SAP treats that function as a separate function as well. Instead of building that directly into Financials OnDemand and Customer OnDemand, SAP builds it once and puts it in a “business process library” which both (and other) applications can use. The term “business process library” might be a bit confusing because most think of business processes in the context of processes like “order-to-cash” or “procure-to-pay” or “plan-source-make-deliver”. These are workflows that string together different functions. But in this case the business process is much more granular. It refers to the process of maintaining the customer master data.

So by loosely coupling these two applications, the customer still winds up with one customer master file. And both applications use the exact same functions to access and maintain it. These external business objects sort of plug into these applications.

This solves an important problem, but in our scenario, where we are replacing the accounting applications of an existing ERP solution, it is only half of the problem. If that existing ERP is still managing customer orders, it too needs to access the customer master file and it probably assumes the customer master file is the one that is delivered embedded in the ERP. So until or unless you do some potentially invasive surgery to the existing ERP, you are going to have to deal with some redundancy of data.

Of course if you replace that tightly integrated ERP solution with a newer or upgraded solution that has been assembled with loosely coupled external business objects, this problem goes away. In the meantime, SAP, and potentially other solution providers are beginning to re-architect their solutions to make this much easier. They are essentially performing this surgery and delivering applications that make better use of underlying supporting technology to make this happen. Remember the $6 million man and the bionic woman? They were still people, but with some of their “parts” significantly enhanced. Think of it as bionic ERP.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

SAP Business Suite on HANA: Software that Reinvents Business. Reinvented.

Really? Yes, Really!

On January 10, 2013 SAP announced the availability of SAP Business Suite powered by SAP HANA, a new option for SAP Business Suite customers and an opportunity for SAP to deliver “transformative innovation without disruption.” That’s a mouthful, but one that has the employees at SAP super excited. While the announcement was well-received and the audience seemed to like what it heard, this group of IT influencers didn’t seem to exhibit that same level of excitement. But influencers can be a jaded bunch. All too often as you start to dig deeper you find the story just isn’t all that new or different. In this case I believe the tables will be turned. As influencers and SAP customers alike begin to explore and understand the new and very real possibilities, what first appeared to be just “interesting” will truly become exciting. And there is no limit to those opportunities to innovate.

The HANA Story: What It Means to Business

Part of the reluctance to “feel the excitement” might stem from the fact that we’ve been hearing about HANA for a few years now. Six years ago Hasso Plattner, cofounder of SAP and Chairman of its Supervisory Board, had a vision of what the system of the future would look like. That vision included:

  • All active data must be in memory. In Hasso’s words, he wanted to “get rid 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

But such a vision obviously took time to deliver, so for the first few years the world heard about this transformative technology, but couldn’t touch, feel or see it. In 2011 we started to see some results as HANA for analytics became a reality and pioneering companies began to see performance improvements previously unheard of in terms of speed and the ability to handle massive volumes of data.

In 2012 it became real as SAP released HANA as a platform for developers. But the vision was still one of powerful technology and much of the talk over the past six years has been presented in very technical terms. “Here is this super technology; let’s work together to find ways to use it.” That’s not necessarily 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?”

While the ability to “support live conversations” and efficiently “handle more users” might resonate with a business executive, these messages were often over-shadowed. Business executives don’t necessarily perceive the value of eliminating disks, simplifying data models or using math. They don’t know what MPP is or design thinking.

So now, with this announcement, 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.

It is in uncovering these types of solvable business problems that the excitement will build. As Dr. Vishal Sikka, member of the SAP Executive Board, Technology and Innovation said, “Now the software at the heart of thousands of the world’s best-run companies can work and think as fast as our imagination.” But many business executives simply don’t have the same kind of creative imagination as a Vishal Sikka or a Hasso Plattner.

SAP Business Suite might be reinvented on HANA but how does that help customers reinvent their businesses? The trick will be in unleashing their imaginations and helping them see the possibilities. Yet in its attempt to make the message universal and relevant at the highest levels of its customers’ organizations SAP often introduces a level of abstraction that is lost on its audience. So we need to translate some of these high level messages into something that might be a little more concrete.

Becoming a real-time business

SAP’s brochure says, “Becoming a real-time business requires managing daily business transactions of your core business processes in real time, such as finance, sales and production – and as well, to capture data from new sources like social media, mobile apps or machine sensors.” However, how many enterprises today have a stated goal of “becoming a real-time business?” They don’t. They have goals such as growing revenue or reducing costs to improve profits. They may or may not be able to connect the dots between those goals and collecting and analyzing data in real time.

For those dealing directly, or even one step removed from an actual consumer or consumer product, the value of data from social media and/or mobile apps might be intuitive. For these companies, their brand is of paramount importance and they take great risk in ignoring social media or opportunities to connect directly with potential customers through mobile devices. So adding this dimension to the decision-making process should be well-received once you get the customer to think in those terms.

For manufacturers of industrial products… not so much. The world is changing, but slowly. It is entirely possible for them to think “social” isn’t business; it is something someone does on their personal time. And mobile devices are what their kids use to text their friends, play games and listen to music. For those same manufacturers, machine sensors and automated data collection (ADC) devices may have been on shop floors for many years. Those sensors and devices may in fact have the ability to shut down a line of production before bad product is produced. But can the data be effectively analyzed in order to improve products and processes? It is very possible that vast quantities of collected data have been underutilized for years, for one simple reason – there is just too much of it. And because it is collected continuously and automatically, it is constantly in a state of flux.

That thought actually brings to mind a parallel in history that dates back to the 1970’s.

Will HANA Bring to IT what MRP brought to Manufacturing?

The business world hasn’t seen something with this kind of potential impact emerge on the market since the introduction of MRP in the 1970’s. Those outside of the world of manufacturing might not appreciate the real significance MRP had, but there are a lot of parallels between the potential for HANA and the automation of the planning process that MRP brought about.

In a nutshell, MRP (material requirements planning) 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. 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.

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 can experience an average of 10% to 20% reduction in inventory and similar improvements in complete and on-time delivery as a result of implementing MRP.

Now with HANA we’re introducing the potential to improve processes, not by 10% to 20% but by several orders of magnitude. But it also 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? That’s what Hasso envisions when he talks about “live conversations versus prefabricated briefing books.” But those used to making decisions from those briefing books need to be educated on the possibility of the live conversation.

And, oh, by the way, traditional MRP, a game changer in the 1970’s and 1980’s is in for a major transformation.  Early MRP, and even versions of MRP today took and still take a long time to run and need exclusive use of the data. So it is typically run overnight or over a weekend. Think of the possibilities if it could now run in minutes or even seconds. Is that possible? With HANA, yes.

“Transformative Innovation Without Disruption”

In his opening remarks Hasso introduced the concept of “transformative innovation without disruption.”  In fact innovation was a key driver for John Deere, the early adopter of HANA mentioned previously in the context of solving previously unsolvable problems. Derek Dyer, director, Global SAP Services, Deere and Company outlined three ways in which the company views HANA as a game changer:

  • Bringing new innovation to the business by solving problems deemed unsolvable in the past
  • Simplification of the IT stack while introducing the ability to deal with huge volumes of data
  • Better serving the business by providing real-time access to data for better decisions

John Deere was originally attracted to HANA based on the performance aspects of the platform. The “Wow!” it was seeking was speed. It has had some initial success with its early projects, but sees a new world with ERP now on HANA. It intends to transform itself from a manufacturing company to a solutions based business. An example: It plans to take data from sensors in equipment in the field, determine how the equipment is being used, under what conditions. Not only will the data be real-time, but it will also allow them to answer back to the customer with very personalized, specific answers, and also support better collaboration with suppliers, dealers and customers.

Seeking Innovation

John Deere and other early adopters can provide some examples and perhaps some motivation, but each company will have to discover its own possibilities for changing the game. This is where SAP’s reference to “design thinking” comes into play. It is a protocol for discovering new opportunities and for solving problems.  It starts out with defining the problem. Because these problems might, as John Deere points out, have been previously deemed unsolvable, this step might not be as simple as it sounds. But it is the first critical step in finding that “excitement.” It can also be the most difficult. SAP and its partners can help.

What about Disruption?

The very term “disruption” is a source of controversy these days. Many talk about “disruptive technology” and refer to it as a good thing. But there are different kinds of disruption. A new technology that disrupts the way you think about problems and processes can have a very positive influence. But when new software (for example a new release of ERP) disrupts your business because you can’t ship a product or support your customer, it is definitely a bad thing. Upgrades to software like the SAP Business Suite are often viewed as disruptive in the bad sense, rather than in a good way. This is the kind of disruption SAP is promising to avoid.

Customers can take advantage of the Business Suite on HANA without upgrading their existing Business Suite. Current reports and customizations are preserved, including integration with other applications. And even partial migrations are possible. And there is no forced march now or in the future. SAP remains committed to supporting the customer’s choice of databases, including database technology and vendors. So the choice is left to the customer.

Yes, there is a cost associated with moving the Business Suite to HANA, but pricing for the new database works similarly to pricing for other databases even though the customer will experience huge improvements in speed, including 10 to 1000 times faster analytics.

Key TakeAways

It is clear that a key value proposition for SAP HANA is speed, but the vast possibility for business innovation trumps the value gained for improved performance. But each SAP Business Suite customer will have to identify its own possibilities for innovation. For some these opportunities for innovation may be staring them in the face. Others will have to dig deep into existing processes and identify those problems they have been living with for so long that they might appear to be unsolvable. Once uncovered, ask the very real question, “Can I solve this problem today with HANA?”

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

SAP’s Cloud Strategy: Striving For Clarity

Sometimes procrastination pays off. Whenever I attend an event like SapphireNow, I always write something about it. In the case of Sapphire in particular, I usually have several things I want to “say.” But it has been over a week since I headed out from the event (a bit early this year) and yet this is my first attempt to write anything. Why? First of all, I was on the road, but that usually doesn’t stop me. The bigger reason… I had been really looking forward to hearing about (and writing about) SAP’s cloud strategy.  With the acquisition of SuccessFactors and the reorganization of the teams, I had a lot of questions. Unfortunately the presentations (to groups both large and small) this year created more new questions than they answered and I struggled with how I could publicly voice my lingering questions and concerns constructively.

But before I resolved that dilemma, the picture changed.

Yesterday (May 22, 2012) SAP announced it would expand its cloud presence through the acquisition of Ariba. While I know Ariba quite well, I haven’t followed the company closely over the past several years. The SAP announcement said, “Ariba is the second largest cloud vendor and runs the largest global trading network, driving more than $319 billion in commerce transactions among more than 730,000 companies.” The acquisition will make SAP a clear leader in cloud Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) and also has a direct impact on some of my concerns.

My Questions

To put this in context, let me explain some of the questions I had after I heard Lars Dalgaard, former SuccessFactor CEO and now SAP Executive Board Member, speak about the company’s cloud strategy. During his keynote, and also in a press release launched during the show, cloud solutions were announced for four lines of business to manage people, money, customers and suppliers. That statement alone raised no red flags with me. Every company deals with those four elements in some form or another. But the comment Lars made next did cause concern. He added something along the lines of, “That covers everything any company would need.” With my own roots extending deeply in the manufacturing space, my first thought was, “Did I hear that right?” Those four elements are indeed critical to every manufacturer, but there’s also more to manage, like inventory, planning and scheduling, engineering and production. I Tweeted:

Didn’t hear @LarsLuv talk about #Manufacturing processes in #cloud #sapphirenow

So just to be sure, in the press conference that followed, I asked if this had been an oversight or had SAP specifically decided against competing in this market. The answer I got (from Lars himself) was that SAP thought the interest and demand for other solutions far outweighed the interest and demand for manufacturing solutions. This included solutions that surround ERP with functions such as CRM and HCM. History bears this out. Adoption rates for cloud solutions for these extensions far exceeds cloud-based ERP. But that’s more about what’s running in the cloud, not what kind of company is running it. So that implied (but didn’t specifically state) that other applications were a higher priority for the cloud than ERP.

OK, that’s a business decision and SAP appeared to be going where the easiest sell and the most opportunity was. I followed up with another Tweet saying it didn’t look like SAP was going after the same market as Plex Systems, a SaaS only ERP solution provider that markets and sells exclusively to manufacturers. Response in the Twitter stream went like this:

Hide conversation

 

William_Newman: RT @ERP_cindyjutras: Didn’t hear @LarsLuv talk about #Manufacturing processes in #cloud #sapphirenow > can already happen w/ @sapbydesign 11:46am, May 15 from Twitter for iPhone

 

LarsLuv: @William_Newman @erp_cindyjutras @sapbydesign that’s right, and we’re excited about this 2:23pm, May 15 from Twitter for iPhone

Now of course, having followed Business ByDesign since its very first coming out party in New York City in September 2007, I knew it had manufacturing functionality and I have spoken with more than a few manufacturers that use it today. That was partly why I asked the original question. But these exchanges left me more confused. I don’t expect the guy at the top to get mired in the details, but is SAP going after manufacturing with cloud solutions or not? I know it has a strong solution in on-premise solutions (the Business Suite and Business All-in-One plus complementary manufacturing and supply chain planning and execution applications), and I know partners strengthen the Business One offering for manufacturers. But I’m left thinking ByDesign will compete better against NetSuite’s solution for light manufacturing than it will against Plex Systems’ Plex Online or other mature ERP solutions for manufacturers now offered in various flavors of SaaS or hosting.

So what about ERP in general?

The second sentence of the cloud strategy press release continued, referring to the four lines of business, “These are planned to be offered in a consistent way and seamlessly integrated into enterprise resource planning (ERP) business software.” Now we already heard that SAP was responding to demand for other applications that extend and surround ERP (like HCM and CRM), and this statement implies these other applications will be fully integrated with ERP. Indeed Lars talked both about “loosely coupled end-to-end integration” and the press release states, “SAP plans to deliver its multitenant cloud solutions as a loosely-coupled suite of best-of-breed applications.”  But nowhere in the press release did it specifically talk about delivering ERP as part of the cloud strategy. Yet if Business ByDesign isn’t ERP then I wouldn’t know what else to call it today. And it is only available as a multi-tenant SaaS solution (i.e. via the cloud). Does this mean ByDesign will be transformed from ERP into a loosely-coupled suite of best-of-breed applications? Is there a difference?

Loosely Coupled versus Tightly Integrated

The difference lies under the covers. There is work to be done in order to make this transformation. SAP will be pulling different components out of ByDesign so they can stand alone. Finance will be first and in fact will be the solution to satisfy the “money” line of business referenced previously. This allows SAP to bundle different elements together like finance (money) and human capital management (employees). Other functions will be prioritized and extracted in the future, but finance is the logical place to start as it is probably the most marketable as a separate “best of breed” application.

Everyone needs general ledger, accounts payable and accounts receivable and many smaller companies are intimidated by the thought of implementing a full blown integrated ERP. And in offering these loosely coupled applications it provides the customers with more choice to keep other non-SAP solutions or even to buy new non-SAP solutions. While this provides more choice, it also encourages complexity and makes less business sense from a cross-sell and up-sell perspective.

The advantage of a tightly integrated ERP is the ability to eliminate redundant data and reduce complexity. There used to be an intrinsic functional advantage of “best of breed” applications over those included in ERP. The disadvantage (trade-off) of course was lack of integration. But those functional differences have shrunk over the years as ERP solutions offer more robust features and functions even in some non-core modules. And there is no integration required between the modules of ERP – it is all built in.

In terms of redundancy of data, with integrated ERP there is only one customer master shared by order management, accounts receivable and any other function that deals with customers. There is only one supplier master file shared by purchasing and accounts payable and perhaps manufacturing planning. This is one of the reasons most ERP vendors have moved away from selling individual modules in favor of a bundled set of core modules and charging on a per user basis. A customer using fewer modules will have fewer users and pay less. As they expand into new areas, they add more users (and pay more), but there is no additional license or installation to worry about.

SAP appears to be bucking this trend and moving in the opposite direction, moving from fully integrated ERP to loosely coupled best of breed applications. So in pulling out the finance function, SAP will need to bring the customer and supplier master files along with them. OK, that’s just a packaging issue. But those same customer and supplier files will also have to be bundled with best of breed order management and purchasing solutions. Then if a customer buys finance, order management and purchasing, will they have two copies of a customer master and two copies of a supplier master? Probably not. There are other ways to handle this – most likely by defining these masters as meta data. And it makes it easier to deal with multi-vendor solutions. Good for the customer, not as good (business-wise) for SAP. This isn’t especially difficult, but it will mean that developers will be working on this instead of working on innovation.

How does Ariba change the game?

Today all cloud offerings across these four lines of business: customers, money, employees and suppliers are managed in a single business unit run by Lars Dalgaard. When (and of course if) the acquisition is completed, Ariba will run as a separate SAP company. SAP has done this twice before rather successfully – first with Business Objects and then with Sybase. Eventually both were quietly merged into the SAP fold.  But in the meantime, there will be two business entities within the SAP corporate structure that together provide all the cloud offerings. When that happens the supplier area will land in the house of Ariba, as it should.

I actually think this will be a very good thing. Lars has great experience with Human Capital Management. He has a proven track record for delivering on a go-to-market strategy (something that has been lacking with Business ByDesign) and he has the necessary cloud DNA. He’s already brought energy and focus to SAP’s cloud strategy. But a global trading network and experience with supply chains and supplier networks is something that fits much more naturally into a manufacturing (and also a distribution) environment and Bob Calderoni (current CEO of Ariba) clearly has more experience on that front. Will Business ByDesign be divided up and shared or will it stay with Lars? I suspect had Bob been at Sapphire I might have gotten different answers to my questions about manufacturing and maybe even those about Business ByDesign.

Bottom line though… even as Bob and Lars manage different segments of SAP’s cloud strategy it is imperative that they work together as a single cloud team. The SAP co-CEOs said as much. And eventually SAP will quietly merge Ariba into SAP proper. At that point there may only be room for one of these powerful leaders at the top. Will this fact influence the journey up until that happens? Time will tell.

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

SAP responds to the 3 V’s: Increasing Volume, Velocity and Variety of Data

Last week I attended one of the SAP Insider events, the one that combines Financials (Financials2012), Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC2012) and Human Resource Management (HR2012). I have to admit that HR was the odd man out here. I work with the GRC, financial applications and Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) teams at SAP, but I only watch the HCM space from the periphery. That may change over the next year if companies that are, from my perspective, largely “ERP vendors” continue to acquire and invest in this space. For those who have been living under a rock for the last few months, SAP recently acquired HCM solution provider SuccessFactors and Oracle acquired talent management vendor Taleo. Sanjay Poonen (@spoonen), President & Corporate Officer, SAP Global Solutions made an interesting comment about this acquisition in his opening keynote to all three groups. He said that SAP had “followed our customers, who voted through their wallets.” I believe he was referring to both HCM as well as movement to “the cloud.”

Sanjay kicked off the event highlighting a key concern of many business executives today: the difficulty in keeping up with the increasing volume, velocity and variety of data. Actually Sanjay referred to it as “Big Data” although I suspect that phrase has not completely infiltrated the vocabulary of most top executives… at least not yet. I think there is still an education process that needs to happen before many will understand they have a data problem.

There is no doubt that anyone running a business today understands that both the speed of business and the speed of change, hence the velocity continues to accelerate. Nobody would argue that customers are more empowered and connected and expect service instantly and this, together with continued globalization increases the volume of data required. But have top executives really come to understand that data required for planning and decision-making also expands beyond the traditional boundaries of data that is collected and stored in enterprise applications? Some have, but many, particularly those in smaller companies, have not. This is in part impacted by the “social business” movement. CFOs represent the largest target market for Financials and GRC and CFOs are not known to be the most “social” folks on the planet.

That said, even the increasing volume of traditional data might be enough to prompt action. This was the case for Harcourt Houghton Mifflin, highlighted in Sanjay’s keynote. The merger of the two companies resulted in 8 mini companies, disjointed data, fragmented processes. All of this was going on during a financial crisis. The goal was one version of the truth on an integrated platform to support integrated business planning. Of course the reason Harcourt Houghton Mifflin was featured in Sanjay’s opener was because their solution to this problem was SAP’s Business Planning and Consolidation (BPC) solution.

Harcourt Houghton Mifflin needed to get alignment among stakeholders. According to the video played, they were “looking for something easier to use than Hyperion.” They needed to transform the planning process and they feel EPM 10.0 changed the nature of the way people manage performance across finance and operations. The real power comes not from analytics as a separate tool but from embedding them directly into the applications wherever they are needed.

And therefore the one big announcement from SAP during the event serves to emphasize the convergence of these 3 V’s: volume, velocity and variety. The announcement was that BPC is now running on HANA, SAP’s answer to the “big data” problem. According to Sanjay, “The power of SAP HANA enables financial professionals to perform faster planning, query, reporting and analysis, profitability and simulation in real-time. As a result, SAP helps companies accelerate period-end closing and smarter decision-making — faster than other vendor offerings available today.”  So the message transcends the annual planning, budgeting and forecasting exercise and applies equally to the ongoing financial consolidation and reporting exercise.

However, it is only the Netweaver version of BPC that is powered by HANA (there is also a Microsoft version) and for this to work, the customer needs to be running a version of BW on HANA. The reality is that the version of BW sitting on HANA is still in what SAP calls “ramp up” (i.e. early adopter or what other vendors might call beta testing). So customers interested in BPC on HANA either need to be in this ramp up program, or they need to wait until it is generally available. SAP is hoping that it will exit ramp up by Sapphire in May.

I am hoping to do a more in depth analysis on this once customers are running live. In the meantime, the education process around big data and data management strategies needs to continue. This is more than SAP just creating the need in the mind of their customers and prospects for the technology solution it has developed. This is a real problem for many CFOs today. Many simply don’t understand that technology has advanced to the point of providing a solution.

Tagged , , , , ,

Infor ION at the Center of Providing Immediate Value to Lawson and Infor Customers

On July 5, 2011 the acquisition of Lawson Software by GGC Software Holdings, Inc. (an affiliate of Golden Gate Capital) and Infor was completed. The next day Infor wasted no time in announcing integration plans for the company and some of the combined company’s products. Neither Infor nor its new CEO, Charles Phillips, is a stranger to acquisitions. Infor itself has executed over 31 acquisitions in its relatively short history. Mr Phillips’ prior stint at Oracle, known in the industry for fast and efficient integration of acquired businesses, has prepared him well for his first acquisition since taking the helm at Infor. These veterans of the world of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) know that it is important to immediately send a strong message to all customers that the future of the products they use is secure and that the merger actually brings them value.

MERGING THE COMPANIES

In a nutshell, Infor has combined Lawson with SoftBrands, Inc., an affiliate company which was acquired back in 2009. This affiliation enables Lawson/SoftBrands and Infor to share and integrate technology and partner on product offerings. Look for joint cross-selling, marketing and distribution arrangements in the near future. This represents a bit of a divergence from past acquisition strategies. Until it acquired Softbrands, Infor had generally executed mergers where the staff was fully integrated and the acquired company’s brand was subsumed by the Infor brand. The last acquisition approaching this size was the acquisition of SSA Global in 2006 and you would be hard pressed to find any reference today to the SSA brand and only insiders might know that certain Infor employees used to be SSA employees. The value in combining Lawson with Softbrands is not entirely clear to me; Infor tells me it was simply a structural move to consolidate affiliates. But preserving the Lawson brand does make sense, at least for now. It sounds much like the approach SAP took (quite successfully) with both Business Objects and Sybase. While Lawson does not have quite the brand equity of either Business Objects or Sybase, it has particular significance to the Lawson installed base. And the Lawson installed base should be a prime sales target for Infor. When (and if) Lawson and Infor deliver on the promise of a fast pace of development and delivery of deeper industry-specific features for key industries (manufacturing, healthcare, distribution, public sector and hospitality), the importance of the distinction between the two brands will fade. While Infor and Lawson’s product portfolio both compete with and complement each other, come to find out, the two companies share a significant base of common customers. Infor maintains that 9% of Lawson’s active customers also use Infor products, and 48% of Lawson’s top revenue customers use at least one Infor application. Although Infor does not specify the threshold for “top revenue,” one would think this is a large enough segment of customers to present cross-sell opportunities.

 PRODUCT INTEGRATION PLANS ANNOUNCED

But for many of the Lawson (and possibly some Infor) customers, this is just background noise. What they really want to hear is what the new affiliation will mean to them in terms of the products they run. That means both continued support and development plans. Anticipating this question, the Infor and Lawson product development teams have already begun integrating applications using Infor ION. ION is a suite of interoperability and management services designed to facilitate and manage data regardless of whether the data is stored on premise or in the cloud and regardless of which application (or software vendor) “owns” it. This has always included both Infor and non-Infor applications, which certainly makes bringing Lawson software into the mix. Current plans targeted for release later this year follow.

LAWSON S3 AND INFOR FMS SUNSYSTEMS ENTERPRISE

This first integration project targets organizations that have now or plan to implement a two-tier financial management strategy. Lawson S3 would sit at corporate headquarters and larger divisions, while Infor FMS SunSystems Enterprise could be used at smaller operations, potentially distributed globally. This configuration would support multiple countries, languages and currencies. A hidden benefit is that it would also allow each distributed operation to upgrade separately, often a forgotten consideration.

LAWSON S3 AND INFOR EAM

This is an interesting approach since Lawson also offers an Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) solution. Yet the Lawson EAM solution is much more firmly anchored in the manufacturing and distribution sectors, which is where M3 and not S3 plays. The City of Greensboro, N.C. is an example of a public sector customer that Infor and Lawson have in common. Indeed, prior anticipatory announcements called out Lawson’s expertise in the healthcare industry, a sector in which Infor has not really penetrated. The thought appears to be to enhance Lawson S3 with Infor’s EAM and bring the integrated solution to large hospitals, in addition to government and other public sectors.

LAWSON HUMAN CAPITAL MANAGEMENT AND INFOR WORKFORCE MANAGEMENT

While Lawson has made a bigger name for itself (than Infor) in terms of Human Capital Management (HCM), Infor’s strength is more along the lines of direct work force management. This integration could add Time & Attendance as a complement, for example to Lawson’s Nurse Scheduling application.

UNDERLYING TECHNOLOGY

So all this makes sense from a feature/functionality standpoint. But what about the underlying architecture? It is quite clear that the integration projects and future technology development will be based on Infor ION. But while Infor has been developing Infor ION and some follow-on products like Infor Workspace (which Infor calls a new “consumer grade user interface designed to revolutionize the experience of doing business using enterprise applications”) Lawson has not been standing still. In fact Lawson just released Lawson Mashup Designer, which shares a lot of similar features and functions with Infor Workspace. First available for M3, Mashup Designer was recently released for S3 (MAy 2011). So the question will be, will the (integrated) S3 product line be enhanced with Mashup Designer or Infor Workspace? Lawson Mashup Designer is based on Lawson Smart Office (LSO), which was released back in March 2008. LSO was meant to be an intuitive, personalized user interface that allows users to directly access Lawson and Microsoft applications and update data pervasively and instantly across the applications. Mashup Designer builds upon LSO and extends beyond the realm of Microsoft. LSO is the foundation for Mashup Designer. And finally, underlying both M3 and S3 is Lawson System Foundation, a middleware layer insulating the Lawson applications from the underlying operating systems and databases. Because ION can be used to connect both Infor and non-Infor solutions, it would appear than LSF does not need to be replaced immediately, but it also doesn’t make a lot of sense for the combined company to maintain two different teams and parallel development efforts to continue to develop both ION and LSF or Lawson Mashup Designer and Infor Workspace. So there are some open questions for Lawson customers that have invested in LSF, LSO and Mashup Designer.

 KEY TAKEAWAYS

From all appearances it would appear that Infor and Lawson combined are on track to deliver value rapidly to customers, albeit some will see direct benefits sooner than others. What’s in it for Infor and Lawson? • Scale. The larger the company the more resources for innovation and development • Happy customers. And happy customers mean cross-sell and upsell opportunities What’s in it for their customers? • Scale. The customers benefit as well from more development resources and more innovation. • Security. While Infor has been a private company and not subject to the scrutiny of Wall Street per se, Lawson has always kept a close eye on profits. Even during the worst of the recession, when revenues dipped, Lawson CEO Harry Debes kept operating margins on the rise. So Infor is not inheriting a financial mess – far from it. • More solution. The immediate integration efforts will extend options from expanded solutions, although it appears that the S3 installed base will benefit more quickly and will be more differentiated from other Infor products. M3 will become one of several ERP solutions for manufacturers, but heavily targets some industries where Infor touches only lightly. M3 could benefit from the cross-fertilization of manufacturing talent throughout Infor.

Time will tell just what this means for the brands, but by the time that is decided, it probably won’t matter that much.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What’s in a Name? Former and New SAP BI Product Names

In case you hadn’t heard, SAP has changed the names of some of its BI solutions. Name changes can often be confusing and even disruptive in terms of branding and building brand equity. But I do think that in this case the new SAP names are more meaningful and should help in making it easier to identify what the different components of the Business Objects suite actually do. For example, “Dashboards” is much more descriptive than “Xcelsius.” But you might need some help in making that transition. The following “translation” was pulled directly from SAP’s website. I happened to find it in the upper right hand corner of this page: http://www.sap.com/solutions/sapbusinessobjects/large/business-intelligence/data-exploration/explorer/index.epx

 Former Name New Name
SAP® BusinessObjects™ Enterprise SAP® BusinessObjects™ Business Intelligence platform
SAP® BusinessObjects™Xcelsius Enterprise> Xcelsius Enterprise Interactive Viewing SAP® BusinessObjects™Dashboards> SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards Interactive Viewing
SAP® BusinessObjects™Advanced Analysis, Web EditionSAP® BusinessObjects™Advanced Analysis, Office Edition SAP® BusinessObjects™Analysis, edition for OLAPSAP® BusinessObjects™Analysis, edition for Microsoft Office
SAP® BusinessObjects™Web Intelligence SAP® BusinessObjects™Web Intelligence (Installer name and documentation refers to “Interactive Analysis”)
Crystal Reports SAP® Crystal Reports
Tagged , , , , , , ,