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.
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.
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.”