change management

UNIT4 Changes the Conversation About In-Memory Analytics

 Agresso Analyzer Native to Vita Architecture and Agresso ERP

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

With UNIT4, It’s All About Change

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

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

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

Bringing the Benefits To the Business User

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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Two New Performance Apps from UNIT4 Encourage Finance to Embrace Change

Simplicity and Automation Put Analysis In and Take the Fear Out

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It has been said time and again, “Nothing is constant but change.” And yet many Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) and Treasurers live in fear of change, and as a result, they resist it. Whether resulting from new regulations and reporting requirements, a merger or acquisition, organizational restructuring, or new or revised business processes, change can wreak havoc on the finance department’s ability to manage the cash flow, prepare financial statements, close the books and provide transparency to the business.

While all businesses face change, the typical UNIT4 customer faces frequent and/or massive changes. For years now UNIT4’s unique VITA architecture has been the key to helping its customers respond quickly when forced to navigate the sea of change. With two new financial performance management applications, UNIT4 goes one step further: to enable its customers to not only accept change but to seek it out, not for the sake of change itself, but for the growth and performance of the business.

Cash Flow and Consolidation

So, what’s new? In December 2013 UNIT4 introduced two new financial performance applications to the North American market: UNIT4 Cash Flow Planning and UNIT4 Consolidation. These new products will be available in the United States and Canada starting January 1, 2014, but were previously test-marketed on a limited basis in Europe. The pre-launch in selected European markets was successful and yielded 22 net new deals in the past year.

The products themselves stem from acquisition of OCRA, which enjoys 75% market share in financial performance management software on its home turf in Sweden. The acquisition of UK-based Coda and its suite of financial applications have also influenced these new offerings. Both acquisitions occurred in 2008. Since then OCRA has increasingly gone toe-to-toe in competition against the “big three” in financial reporting and financial performance management: Hyperion (now owned by Oracle), Cognos (now owned by IBM) and Business Objects (now owned by SAP).

According to Alar Lange, Managing Director UNIT4 OCRA, his team competes against at least one of these “top three” in 80% of new deals and one of these three products is already installed in about 40% of the companies that invite UNIT4 OCRA into the evaluation for a possible replacement.

One customer, a privately held Scandinavian media group of 175 companies operating in 20 countries, was one such company. Mr. Lange said, “This firm invested first in Cognos in the year 2001; they replaced it with Hyperion in 2005 and after four years were still not up running. They signed with OCRA in late 2009, and went live in the beginning of 2011. Since they went live our overall close rate in competitive deals rose from 60% to 73%.”

Part of the reason for this improvement: Since the acquisition, OCRA has been updated with a new user interface, as well as social and mobile capabilities. OCRA was originally created as a stand-alone application (and can still operate as such), with the ability to unite disparate data sources. But today the integration with UNIT4’s Agresso ERP and Coda Financials is optimized to give these new applications an added advantage, one that is particularly significant for those operating in volatile markets where change is simply a way of life. This is UNIT4’s target market, particularly for its Agresso Business World ERP. Through this seamless integration, the new financial performance applications inherit the ability to deal with change quickly and efficiently. The UNIT4 existing customer base is therefore the initial target.

Why is embracing change so important?

These new solutions fall under the category of performance management. As a result, both are designed to provide visibility to the business, add a level of control and support clear communication. The ability to analyze and compare against plan, as well as answer the ever-present questions of “what if?” are integral to improving performance. But unless this added visibility simply tells you what a good job you are doing, then you need to take corrective action. And taking action means making some changes yourself, in addition to those imposed on you. Any resistance to change will limit your ability to respond, improve performance and perhaps even grow the business.

Yet companies resist change because change is hard. People resist, which makes it harder to make improvements to processes and to the organizational structure itself. And if the enterprise software solutions you are using to run your business are rigid and hard or expensive to change, the tendency is to minimize the impact, which also minimizes any improvement sought.

Those that can react quickly and effectively can better keep pace with necessary changes. Those that actively seek out new ways to change in order to improve and grow, even before change is necessary, can gain a significant competitive advantage. Change seekers do take some risk, but the risk/reward ratio can produce game-changing results.

Change seekers need to start with performance management solutions that help identify risk and opportunity before executing those changes and reflecting them in their enterprise solutions. That is the job of UNIT4 Cash Flow and UNIT4 Consolidation. Here are some of the features built into each.

UNIT4 Cash Flow Planning

UNIT4 Cash Flow Planning uses a simple cash report builder to produce a single-screen environment for analysis and reporting. Finance managers (not technical IT staff) use standard templates and wizards to create charts and graphs to expose liquidity forecasts, net cash position and currency exposure, automating the input of bank balances and other cash planning data.  These decision makers can drag and drop data and drill down by currency and bank account, directly to invoices and other transactions.

Once these visuals have been created, Finance and Treasury can compare and analyze forecasts, spot trends and differences by month, week or day, all managed by a rule-based alert system that logs actions and comments, bringing more participants into the conversation.

UNIT4 Consolidation

UNIT4 Consolidation brings together all the elements of your financial position, from multiple business entities across a group, in order to provide top to bottom visibility to financial performance. Unlike a traditional business intelligence (BI) tool that is only effective in the hands of an IT specialist, UNIT4 Consolidation is a tool for the Finance manager to consolidate income statements and balance sheets and produce key performance indicators (KPIs), not only for finance data, but for operational performance as well. It supports both GAAP and IFRS reporting requirements right out of the box, without extensive setup. There are user-friendly functions for input and reconciliation, a full audit trail and easy drill-down directly to the transaction level.

Logic for consolidation is pre-defined for automatic aggregation and eliminations. The consolidation flow is user-friendly, multi-dimensional and the reporting is transparent from both a legal and management perspective. It comes with pre-defined data values (e.g. monthly, accumulated, quarterly, rolling) and pre-defined flow-steps (e.g. consolidated value, group value, acquisition value), as well as cash flow statements.

But probably most important in the context of a UNIT4 customer, all these dimensions and views are easy to change. You are not locked into a single, set reporting structure and insight can be gained in a cross-dimensional manner. Look at the position of the entire business unit, or analyze sales or other areas across different units. You decide how to analyze to expose risk and opportunity.

And you also have the freedom to decide how you will respond and take action. Would you benefit from an organizational restructure? Should business processes be changed to exert more control? These are changes that need to be reflected in your ERP solution. The last thing you want is to be discouraged from making a change that could improve performance and support growth simply because it is hard to change your ERP once it has been implemented.

Play the “What If?” Game

But how do you determine the best course of action? Perhaps the most important aspect in terms of improving your financial position will be in your ability to answer the most important “What if…?” questions. How will currency fluctuations impact profitability? How will a redistribution of cash across banks, across international boundaries impact interest and investments? How will moving operations impact tax and other liabilities?

Much of this analysis is supported today through multi-dimensional online analytical processing (OLAP), allowing “what-if” functionality that can test many different financial scenarios. These “what-if” capabilities are crucial to effective cash flow planning and are also particularly useful in consolidation and reporting, and therefore UNIT4 has added this to both of these financial performance products.

UNIT4’s Vita Architecture Facilitates Change

This is where UNIT4’s Vita architecture comes in. This VITA architecture tightly integrates three layers: data management, process modeling and delivery of information (analytics and reporting). This type 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 the past IT might have been engaged to make changes to the underlying programs. This also might have taken months to implement and in the meantime the focus (and even the problem) may have changed. With UNIT4’s Vita architecture, no source code changes are required and even if it means changing the business rules, the data model and the user interface, this does not constitute three changes. With UNIT4 you make a single change and it is permeated throughout all the necessary components of the solution. All are on the same page. No delays. Nothing can be out of sync. Of course this doesn’t guarantee your organization will execute well on these changes, but if they don’t, it won’t be because of the ERP solution.

This is why the financial performance solutions alone can only take you so far. But through optimized integration back to an ERP solution that handles change easily, you not only see what you need to do, you are in a position to initiate change for the sole purpose of improvement. You can actually take action without unnecessary cost and disruption.

Summary

Change has not only become a way of life for many businesses, the pace of change is accelerating, requiring better, faster decisions. Companies require better visibility with intuitive graphical interfaces, multi-dimensional analysis and drill down capabilities, particularly when making decisions that impact financial performance. Gone are the days when decision makers could afford to wait for access to new data, or to see data in a new or different way. They need to interact dynamically with data and other individuals. And they need to interact with that data in clear, simple and intuitive ways. The data they need today will not suffice for tomorrow’s decisions.

But seeing the data and being able to analyze it only gets you half way to the goal. It keeps you afloat on the sea of change. But initiating your own changes allows you to set sail for a safe harbor in a new, exciting and perhaps distant land. Do you have confidence you have a complete picture of your business? Can you take action to improve performance, avoid risk and support growth? Can you easily reflect changes in your ERP post-implementation? Does your ERP solution put wind in your sails or send you crashing against the rocks?

For existing and potential new customers of UNIT4, having the ability to respond to change that is forced upon you is a key differentiator. Think what you could do if you could initiate action that could really change the game. Look for synergy with UNIT4 Cash Flow and UNIT4 Consolidation. They could be a force multiplier.

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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.

 

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