Cindy Jutras

FinancialForce Leverages the Power of the Salesforce Platform

Targeting The Emerging Services Economy

In a recent Mint Jutras report, Leveraging the Power of a Platform for Enterprise Applications, we encouraged business leaders to leverage the power of a modern, technically advanced development platform for agility, usability, extensibility and speedy innovation. In order to thrive in today’s global, digital economy, businesses need to be able to turn on a dime. We live and work in disruptive times and this potential disruption can have a cascading impact on the enterprise applications you use to run your business. In this report we take a closer look at how one enterprise application provider, FinancialForce, has responded to this challenge as it relates specifically to the new services economy. Built natively on the Salesforce Platform, FinancialForce provides enterprise applications purpose-built for service-based businesses.

Agility and the New “Services Economy”

While the name FinancialForce may imply a solution largely for the office of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), its product(s) extend beyond accounting. In fact that is the hidden message when FinancialForce describes itself as “a customer-centric ERP.” Architected around the customer lifecycle, in this case “customer” actually refers to FinancialForce’s customers’ customers. With an eye towards full engagement with that customer, from opportunity to delivery and revenue, it offers a full-fledged enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution for the services industry. It leaves the domain of manufacturing and distribution to others, but that doesn’t mean it has limited growth potential. The company grew 38% year over year this past year.

Indeed, management at FinancialForce is betting big on the global, digital economy rapidly becoming a services economy. FinancialForce’s CEO Tod Nielsen is a firm believer in Marc Andreessen’s prediction and explanation of “Why Software is Eating the World.” That Wall Street Journal article was published in 2011. Now Mr. Nielsen contends, “Services are devouring the galaxy.” Today’s “everything as a service” (XaaS) environment is creating new, disruptive business models.

As noted in our prior report, the 2018 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study found the vast majority (90%) of survey respondents felt there was some level of risk in their industry (and therefore their business) being disrupted. In the past much of this disruption would have been caused by the introduction of new, innovative products. But today it is more likely to come from new ways of selling/pricing existing products (think subscription to services), entirely new business models, or some combination of all of the above (Figure 1).

Figure 1: What is most likely to cause this disruption?

Source: Mint Jutras 2018 Enterprise Solution Study

Indeed, in many industries today subscriptions for services have replaced the outright sale of a product or service. This can have an enormous impact on the way business is transacted, as can entirely new business models – new ways that your old applications, including ERP, may not be able to accommodate. In the services industry, managed services and new technical services are often added to existing portfolios of service offerings. So how does FinancialForce address these challenges?

First of all, FinancialForce is purpose-built for services industries, which means it knows how to invoice and account for subscriptions and recurring revenue, in addition to the more traditional types of services delivered. In fact it prides itself on supporting “unlimited revenue models.”

SaaS + PaaS + IaaS supports XaaS

Having been born in the cloud, FinancialForce is delivered exclusively using a Software as a Service (SaaS) model. It is built natively on Salesforce’s Cloud Platform as a Service (PaaS) and is offered through Salesforce’s data centers using its Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). This positions the company well in understanding all the nuances of what is rapidly becoming the “everything as a service” (XaaS) model.

As mentioned in our previous report, enterprise applications delivered as software as a service (SaaS) have the potential to deliver more innovation through more frequent updates. And multi-tenant SaaS solutions are the most likely to deliver more innovation, more frequently. FinancialForce is now, and has always been a multi-tenant SaaS solution, which means the company only has to manage a single line of code for any and all of its products.

But we also noted the speed with which innovation is delivered will depend a lot on the strength of the underlying platform. So how does the Salesforce platform stack up?

The short answer is that it stacks up quite well. The popularity of the platform speaks for itself. Also noted in the previous report, there is strength in numbers (of developers), particularly when you are reluctant to invest in your own. The more developers attracted to the platform, the more applications get developed, which ultimately can be shared. Features, functions and extensions have the potential to start to grow, if not exponentially, at least much faster than the typical linear sequence of development.

Salesforce is literally a “force” in the industry. The Salesforce AppExchange is the largest online marketplace of its kind, offering over 3,000 products built on a single, consistent platform. Salesforce estimates the platform speeds development by a factor of five, and cuts the cost of development in half. As a result, both solution providers and customers benefit. For a partner like FinancialForce, it means fewer wheels to (re)invent, by taking advantage of application services already built into the platform, including:

  • Support for a multi-tenant SaaS environment
  • A workflow engine, access and identity management
  • Other rapid developer services include Salesforce standard user interface templates, (business) object orientation and built-in mobile support
  • Support for collaboration through online chats (through Salesforce Chatter)
  • Salesforce Communities provide a social channel, a public platform to encourage active engagement between customers, partners and employees where all can voice individual opinions, while encouraging more personal interactions, creating a deeper connection to brands
  • Embedded analytics with Salesforce Einstein Analytics, a cloud-based data platform as well as a data-analysis front end designed to analyze not just ERP data, but also any third-party app, desktop or public data you bring in. And Einstein Analytics will also add the element of guided discovery.

Microservices Architecture

The architecture of the Salesforce platform contributes to its success. In our previous report we introduced the concept of microservices. For the reader with a technical background, microservices, also known as the microservice architecture, is defined (by Wikipedia) as an architectural style that structures an application as a collection of loosely coupled services. For those nontechnical readers, think of it as constructing a solution from a set of Lego building blocks.

The Salesforce Platform makes it possible to quickly and easily deliver microservices in a couple of different ways. Developers can code custom microservices in any development language they prefer, including Ruby, Java, JavaScript, C++, Python, and Node.js. The result is a “Lego-like” component that can be easily plugged into FinancialForce as an extension without mucking around in the source code of the application, extending the functionality with minimal disruption.

This is extremely important for any application that is “purpose-built” for an industry. A purpose-built solution is intended not only to satisfy the basic needs of any business, but also the last mile functionality specific to certain industries. This is the route FinancialForce has taken. It is not a horizontal, “one size fits all” kind of solution, but instead has been developed to address the specific needs that arise from being a services business. In today’s XaaS environment this often means subscription billing, recurring revenue and a host of other needs. Addressing these needs has resulted in further products (beyond financial management), including Services Automation, Subscription and Usage Billing, Revenue Recognition and Forecasting.

However, FinancialForce customers come in all sizes, large and small and many have selected a strong SaaS solution provider for the express purpose of not having to invest in information technology (IT) staff and developers. Of course, there are Salesforce and FinancialForce partners that can assist, but many prefer a more “self-service” approach.

The alternative to writing code is to use Lightning App Builder (Lightning), an intuitive point-and-click visual tool, which allows developers and business users alike to create data objects and business actions without ever writing a line of code. While Lightning provides an updated user interface (UI) with a focus on displaying data graphically, rather than relying on text and numbers, it is also more than just a UI. Lightning Experience is a new user experience designed to help you work faster and smarter. With the launch of Lightning Experience, the focus is on delivering a higher level of productivity with a re-imagined desktop. As a result, FinancialForce customer, Rich Tolocka of Phase 2 Technology, describes Lightning as a “game changer.”

“Lightning is a game changer. We now have a blurring of the boundaries between business systems, data and analytics. I can sit in one application and see backlog from Salesforce and actual and accounts receivable from FinancialForce. I don’t have to go into another tool. I could do all this in classic, but it didn’t really look right.”

Rich Tolocka, Phase2 Technology, FinancialForce customer

As a result, the Lightning Experience and the Salesforce Platform address two issues we raised in Leveraging The Power of a Platform for Enterprise Applications – the user experience and configuration/tailoring without invasive code changes. But the user experience today means much more than a pretty face or an intuitive, customizable look and feel. Web-based access for access any time, from anywhere has become table stakes today. Access from a mobile device is fast becoming table stakes as well. The Salesforce Platform takes care of both of these, safely and securely.

Now we need to turn our attention to other means of communicating and connecting, including advanced technologies like voice recognition and natural language processing (NLP). This is the user interface of the future even though few business users are asking for it now. But we also recognize that consumers never asked for virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa and Google Home. Yet once delivered, we all got hooked. At some point, the same thing will happen in the enterprise and solution providers that ignore this eventuality will be left behind. FinancialForce will rely on Salesforce to prepare for this while it focuses squarely on the new and ever-changing functionality required for the (still) emerging services economy.

Figure 2 depicts the current solution offered by FinancialForce and its ecosystem, including Salesforce.

Figure 2: FinancialForce’s Solution Ecosystem

Source: FinancialForce

Summary and Key Takeaways

In Leveraging The Power of a Platform for Enterprise Applications we suggested before your company makes a significant investment in enterprise applications, that you ask the tough questions about platform of any prospective purveyor of enterprise applications. For those of you in services-based businesses, we include those questions below, along with an abbreviated answer (in bold font) as it pertains to FinancialForce.

  • Does it take advantage of the latest technology that has brought us into the digital age? FinancialForce is built natively with the Salesforce Cloud Platform, which continues to be one of the most popular and powerful in the industry. As a “force” in the industry Salesforce invests heavily to keep up with new and ever-advancing technology.
  • Look carefully at the entire user experience, including mobile capabilities and other ways of interacting with the solution. The user experience is very subjective. We encourage you to try before you buy. It is not enough to see a demo done by the professionals, put your own hands on the solution and experience it for yourself. But rest assured Salesforce is investing heavily in mobile access and other technologies such as voice recognition and NLP.
  • Is it a platform that supports configurability over invasive customization? Look carefully at the Lightning Experience. Ask for a demo. Don’t look just at the result, but demand to see how it is accomplished.
  • Is it easily extended without invasive customization? Beyond the Lightning Experience, the Salesforce Platformmakes it possible to quickly and easily deliver microservices in any development language, including Ruby, Java, JavaScript, C++, Python, and Node.js. The result is a “Lego-like” component that can be easily plugged into FinancialForce as an extension without mucking around in the source code of the application, extending the functionality with minimal disruption.
  • Are analytics built in? Einstein Analytics from Salesforce is the vehicle by which these will be delivered. FinancialForce has already developed dashboards and datasets; analysis is completed in Einstein Analytics, with more investment to come, which will include artificial and augmented intelligence, along with external data feeds.
  • What deployment options are offered? What is the vendor’s cloud strategy and is it conducive to providing innovation that is easily consumed? FinancialForce and Salesforce are both offered exclusively as multi-tenant SaaS solutions. The underlying platform is a Platform as a Service. All of this is conducive to more innovation, delivered more frequently.
  • And finally… how popular is it? Will you be searching for developers or searching through a large marketplace of add-ons and extensions? The Salesforce Platform is one of the most popular development platforms on the market today and its AppExchange is the largest of its kind.

In today’s fast-paced, global, digital economy it is necessary to prepare yourself for the inevitable disruption. Don’t be complacent with the status quo. Recognize the threat and prepare yourself to take positive action. You may not be investing in developing the application, but the speed and volume of innovation that can be delivered depends on you selecting the right platform. If you are now or are becoming an active participant in the new services economy, FinancialForce is certainly worth a look.

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Can SAP’s Partner Program Hit a Trifecta In the World of ERP for SMB?

The Odds Have Never Been Better for a Win-Win-Win

In any normal, healthy business relationship, two parties seek a win-win. But in the software partner world, you really need to hit a triple – a win-win-win. In order to truly succeed you need the partner, the software vendor and the end customer all to win. You can’t afford to compromise the success of one for the success of another; you need a perfect trifecta. At the recent SAP Partner Summit immediately preceding SapphireNow 2018 it struck me the odds had never been better for a trifecta, not only in SAP’s home turf of the large enterprise, but also in the world of small to medium size businesses (SMBs).

While it is often hard to sort through all the different products and messages at events like these, particularly for a company the size and breadth of SAP, one message came through loud and clear: SAP needs partners, particularly in the SMB space. The partners are the trusted advisors and the face of SAP. The partners are faster, more nimble and more appropriately sized for dealing with smaller companies that might be intimidated by the likes of SAP, the 800 pound gorilla of ERP.

Many seem to forget (or ignore) the fact that SAP has a huge presence in the SMB market for ERP. Even competitors dismiss SAP as a threat in this space. Agreed, these competitors aren’t seeing SAP in deals, but they should be seeing its channel partners. SAP has one of the most mature partner programs in the industry. It works exclusively through channels in the SMB space and therefore has a vested interest in attracting new partners, and helping and empowering new and existing partners to actively pursue new business more effectively and at a lower cost of sale. More partners means more feet on the street , a broader reach into new geographic territories and even new industry sectors. Quite often partners bring specific and very deep industry expertise.

With over 60,000 customers using SAP Business One and about 4,000 using SAP Business ByDesign, how is it legitimately possible to dismiss SAP as a competitive threat in the SMB market? If those competitors are not seeing these products in competitive situations, that tells me there are a lot deals they just aren’t getting into.

But the 100% channel focus down market is not new. Why are the odds stacked in favor of SAP and its SMB-focused partners now? Let’s back up a little and examine motives here.

What Vendors and Partners Want

During the summer of 2013 Mint Jutras conducted a research project designed to provide insights to enterprise applications vendors engaged in developing and maintaining partner strategies. The study collected input from two different communities: the end users that consume enterprise applications and the solution providers that author and/or sell the solutions. “Solution providers” included both vendors that “manufacture” and “publish” the solutions, as well as their partners. While the data collected is now five years old, many of the insights gleaned are still very relevant today.

The study found the single most important objective of the vendors (in engaging with partners) was expanding their addressable market. SAP seems no different today. Growth would appear to be a high priority. But markets can be expanded in different ways, including geographical expansion into new territories, adding new industries or macro-vertical markets, or expanding within existing industries or verticals by diving deeper into micro-verticals.

Hold that thought for a moment!

So what do these partners look for in a partnership? Figure 1 gives us a general sense of priorities. While priorities vary significantly, the top priority is clearly the quality and functionality of the product itself. Sixty-six percent (66%) of partners interviewed rated this at the very top of the list.

Figure 1: Priorities in choosing a vendor to partner with

Source: Mint Jutras Partner Strategies Study
Note: While partners were asked to sequence these from 1 to 8 where 1 was most important, the scaling was reversed in the analysis. The higher the number presented, the higher the priority

So what do these two perspectives tell us? The ERP product itself is key to the success of both the vendor and the partners. And I would also argue it is very important to the end customer too. The latest (re-)organization around the SMB product offerings at SAP, along with the introduction of a platform approach to development, lead me to believe SAP also agrees with that conclusion.

A year ago in SAP Business One: The Next 20 Years | Becoming an ERP Platform I wrote:

SAP Business One is becoming more than just ERP. It is becoming a business process platform. That means it will be open, extensible, and poised to meet very specific needs across many different verticals… and fully capable of being delivered through the cloud as a service.

SAP continues to invest (and invest heavily) in the ongoing development of the generic core ERP, including new features and functions, as well as the user experience. It will also invest in the underlying architecture and technologies that enable partners to more easily enhance and extend the solution for the specific needs of different vertical, and in some cases even more specialized micro vertical industries.

Remember I told you to hold that thought about micro-verticals?

Many of SAP’s partners have been developing extensions to SAP Business One for years. It is part of the value they add. Yet up until now they have also been very likely to customize the software for individual customers. Yet some have approached it differently – I would say they are being smarter in packaging up specialized functionality for specific verticals. For example:

  • Produmex offers solutions for industry verticals including life sciences, consumer products, food & beverage, wholesale & distribution, including third party logistic providers (3PLS).
  • Liberali offers SAP Business One with complementary solutions for agriculture management.
  • VistaVu Solutions specializes in industrial field service companies, including those in the oil and gas industry.
  • beas Manufacturing offers a bit more generalized solution, but specifically for manufacturing.
  • MTC Integration Technology is very specialized, offering the MTC Chicken Integration Solution built on SAP Business One.

These are just a few of the hundreds of partners that have been creating add-on solutions that complement SAP Business One for years. The plan now is to open up the platform, making it more extensible (i.e. easier to add new functionality) while preserving the integrity of the core. SAP will encourage loose coupling of these extensions through modern APIs (application programming interfaces) and discourage invasive customization.

Now SAP is taking this one step further. It has combined the development teams for SAP Business One and SAP Business ByDesign to further encourage development of shared components. Where new features and functions require deep and complex integration with existing code (on either product), they might (still) be embedded in the existing product. A new field service mobile app for SAP Business One is a perfect example.

But where the new component has a limited number of touch points with the existing product, it can be loosely coupled. In these cases it will be developed once and simply connected to one (or both) using product specific APIs.

While obviously a win for SAP, why is this a win for the partners? The partner gets more product to sell to a larger audience (both installed bases combined). This of course is further encouragement for SAP Business One partners (the larger of the two partner communities) to take Business ByDesign into their own stable of products to sell. For partners that might be starting to hit a ceiling with Business One (for size and multi-company requirements), it allows them to continue up market a bit as well.

What About Customers?

Quite simply, the customers get more innovation, faster. So how important is this? In our study we also asked the customers to prioritize the different types of value add they might look for from a partner. Figure 2 shows the results. (Note: Hopefully I haven’t confused you. Forgive me, but I got a little lazy here and did not reverse the scaling as I did in the previous figure. Here, the lower the number, the higher the priority.)

Figure 2: Customer Priorities for “Value-Add”

Source: Mint Jutras Partner Strategies Study

Note: Customers were asked to sequence these from 1 to 6 where 1 was most important. We DID NOT reverse scaling in this analysis. The lower the number presented, the higher the priority

The important take-away here is that functionality is key. Over the years customers have been conditioned to expect and request additional functionality in terms of customization, which has been invasive and often built barriers to applying further innovation. We hope that in the future these types of requests will be satisfied, not by invasive customization, but by extending the solution. SAP is providing the architectures, tools and technology to make this happen, but it will require a culture shift for both customers and partners to embrace this new approach.

To further drive that point home, there currently exists about 3,500 add-ons to SAP Business ByDesign and 60% of ByDesign customers use at least one. As a multi-tenant SaaS solution it was never possible to develop modifications with invasive code changes, so ByDesign Is already a step ahead of Business One in this regard. But it is not quite “there” yet, as evidenced by the fact that most are still one-offs. So that culture shift amongst customers and partners still needs to happen.

To that end, SAP is not only supplying the development platform on which to base this shift, but also a digital commerce platform. There is a whole new team at SAP dedicated to this kind of digital transformation. According to Bertram Schulte, SAP’s chief digital officer, “The ability to represent our ecosystem offerings side-by-side with related SAP IP [intellectual property] on sap.com is powered by the SAP App Center. We have over 1,500 applications from 1,100+ partners that provide the type of open marketplace where our customers can find the solutions they are looking for.” For SAP customers, searching for, finding and purchasing a new add-on solution is facilitated. I don’t believe this will have a major impact on the acquisition of a new ERP customer, but once you are a customer, the whole process from start to end is dead simple.

Click here to listen to Bertam talk about this digital transformation.

Conclusion

So, are you a betting man or woman? What do you think the odds are that SAP, along with its partners and customers in the SMB space, can hit a trifecta? Will SAP be successful in growing its business in a way that is lucrative for its partners and satisfies the needs of its customers? Where are we in terms of this culture shift to last mile functionality through extensions rather than customization? Who stands to gain the most? Does anyone stand to lose? Is everyone ready for some change?

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Workday Leverages the Power of its Cloud Platform for Application Innovation

The “Power of One” In a Hyper-Connected World

In a recent report, Leveraging the Power of a Platform For Enterprise Applications, Mint Jutras encouraged readers to seek out and leverage the power of a modern, technology-enabled development platform in order to bring agility, usability, extensibility and more innovation to the enterprise applications they use to run their businesses. Agility is an absolute must today as new, innovative products, new ways of selling and pricing products and services, and entirely new business models emerge seemingly overnight. Meanwhile consumer technolgy has raised expectations for how we interact with these solutions, and the pace of innovation must accelerate to match the pace of change. Here we explore how one solution provider, Workday, is responding to change today and the change ahead in today’s hyper-connected world.

The “Power of One” Shared

We live in disruptive times… or as Workday likes to say, “Shift happens.” Not only must the pace of innovation accelerate, but also that innovation must be easily consumed without adding disruption of its own. That means the application must be easily tailored (configured) without invasive code changes, and it must be extensible. Platforms play a very key role in delivering against these requirements.

Workday’s strength lies in what it calls the “power of one” – one code line, one security model, one mobile app, one data model, one user experience (UX), one version, and most pertinent to our exploration here… one platform. Indeed, one platform facilitates the rest. And therefore, taking a platform approach to development is not new for Workday. It has always developed its cloud-based business applications using a solid and modern platform. But up until recently Workday employees were the only developers allowed to use that platform.

However, last year it soft launched the Workday Cloud Platform, feeling it was time to open it up to third party developers and its own customers in order to further accelerate innovation. Quite simply, the Workday Cloud Platform enables customers and partners to build applications that run on and integrate with Workday. It provides all the tools needed to manage the application life cycle, complete with data modeling and a single Application Programming Interface (API) point of integration. Having worked with early adopters for some period of time, the platform is now ready for prime time.

Workday’s vision for the Platform is in line with how Mint Jutras defines “leverage.” The vision is stated in terms of three objectives:

  • To enable specific industries and geographies with last mile functionality beyond the core functions required by any business
  • To be the engagement layer for all employees in an enterprise
  • To expand and strengthen the Workday ecosystem

This vision aligns quite well with the kind of strong development platform we described in our prior report.

In that report we talked about platforms providing “a better way” to tailor, customize and extend solutions… better than waiting for long development cycles or invasive code changes. “Better” becomes “best” in combining cloud computing and a modern, next generation architecture that delivers the kind of “application services” that speed and simplify development.

While the cloud is certainly a factor, Mint Jutras contends that Software as a Service (SaaS) and associated Platforms as a Service (PaaS) have a bigger impact on innovation. Workday’s Cloud Platform (still in limited availability) indeed qualifies as a PaaS, and the Workday applications are true, multi-tenant SaaS solutions.

Enterprise applications delivered as software as a service (SaaS) have the potential to deliver more innovation through more frequent updates, while also reducing the cost and effort of upgrades. The cost and effort part is intuitive and universal – the solution provider does the heavy lifting when it comes time to upgrade. But not all cloud-based SaaS solutions provide more innovation, more frequently.

Some SaaS solution providers offer the option of running the same solution on-premises, in private clouds and/or as SaaS. While many today value this choice, there is a price to be paid for it. Solution providers that deliver on-premises solutions are forced to maintain multiple versions of the software. Instead, Workday leverages the power of one, maintaining a single line of code in a strong, safe and secure multi-tenant environment, and delivers significant new capabilities every six months. But this multi-tenancy (all companies use the same instance of the software) only increases the need for configurability and extensibility because no two companies operate identically.

Let’s explore how the three elements of Workday’s vision align with some of the most important elements of architecture.

Features and Functions

At the very core of innovation is the development of new features and functions in support of the business, either to provide core basics or some level of differentiation. When applications were developed as tightly integrated, monolithic structures, this not only meant developing new code, but also modifying existing code in order to “fit” the new features or functions into the overall application. But in our prior report we introduced the concept of component-based architectures. New components can be added as extensions, or used to replace existing components without having to invasively modify that monolithic structure. By taking a platform approach, modern architectures support loose coupling of these extensions by providing APIs (application programming interfaces) that negate the need for invasive customization.

As a refresher, we described microservices. For the reader with a technical background, microservices, also known as the microservice architecture, is defined (by Wikipedia) as an architectural style that structures an application as a collection of loosely coupled services. For those nontechnical readers, think of it as constructing a solution from a set of Lego building blocks.

Think about how you build a structure from Legos. Each Lego block is made of the same kind of material and is attached (connected) to the other Lego blocks the same way. In many ways they are interchangeable. But by choosing different colors and sizes, and connecting them with a different design, you can make a structure that is very unique. And once constructed, if you want to change it, decoupling some of the blocks and replacing them doesn’t destroy the parts that are not affected. There is far less disruption introduced than if you had constructed it with timber, a hammer and nails.

This is indeed how Workday envisions delivering a complete end-to-end solution (Figure 1), something their customers have been asking for. Customers have indicated a strong desire to consolidate within Workday.

Figure 1: A Consistent Platform for All Development

Source: Workday

Core functionality is delivered within Workday applications, but industry-specific, and regional requirements (localizations such as tax and regulatory compliance requirements) can be packaged as optional extensions. The platform ensures these extensions are seamlessly integrated with the core applications, but can be optionally selected and deployed. This prevents having to add unwanted complexity to the core applications.

While configuration is preferred over customization that involves the development of code, custom components or applications can be justified when they bring customers a level of differentiation in their markets. These are simply extensions that are not shared across a segment or the larger installed base of Workday customers. Independent Software Vendor (ISV) applications are also a form of extension (also easily and seamlessly integrated with Workday applications) but are made commercially available. These will either fill a gap in the Workday solution or address industry-specific requirements, much like those extensions that Workday will provide.

An Engagement Layer for the User Experience

We used to talk about the end user experience solely in terms of intuitive and easy navigation and perhaps general look and feel. But Workday’s efforts to improve the user experience stretch well beyond the look and feel, encompassing many different facets and different roles within any company that uses Workday. It has invested heavily in developing a user experience (UX) layer that encourages engagement and tailoring (configuring without code) different types of experiences. This investment has zeroed in on three principles of design: simple, clever and fast.

Individual users can configure their own “home pages,” which include most frequently used applications and functions within those applications. These might be specific inquiries or transactions in Workday. Users can easily create new “cards,” which might also bring external data into Workday. Think of a card as a new box or tile on the screen.

Workday users can also create “Natural Workspaces,” which allows them to access Workday functions right from the workspace or tool they are already in (Slack, email, etc.) without having to jump from app to app. These Natural Workspaces can also include workplace hubs supported by collaboration tools like Slack, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams. Indeed, Workday and Slack have recently formed a partnership to deliver a productized integration that will be delivered in 2018 and beyond (in phases).

For many, those frequently used tools include spreadsheets. Workday understands the love-hate relationship most of us have with spreadsheets. We can’t seem to live without them despite the obvious problems they create. Once extracted from the system of record, the data in a spreadsheet takes on a life of its own; it can’t be governed, controlled or audited. And mistakes are incredibly easy to make. So Workday provides a viable alternative: Workday Worksheets is a cloud-based enterprise spreadsheet platform. First introduced in its Release 27 (September 2016), along with another important element of business management – planning, budgeting and forecasting, they now power three different Workday applications, and have customers live across multiple industries.

Workday Worksheets look and feel just like a spreadsheet, but you get this level of familiarity and functionality without ever leaving Workday’s secure enterprise environment. You can create models and scenarios, applying application rules and logic, using over 500 different standard functions (like SUMF, VLOOKUP and CONCATENATE), while leveraging live transactional data. The technology behind Workday Worksheets came from its acquisition of Gridcraft.

Workday has also introduced a new concept called Livepages, which help you create a narrative about your data, incorporating live data and charts, and supporting secure collaboration. Workday Assistant, a conversational user experience (think Siri, Alexa, Cortana for the enterprise) also supports collaboration with real-time conversations. But instead of having to follow up through the application later, users can take immediate action from and during those conversations, retrieving information and performing tasks.

While these different elements of the Workday UX target the business user and don’t require special technical skills, Workday also supports a new kind of persona: the “citizen developer.” According to Workday,

“A citizen developer is a technically skilled person who builds new business applications using development and runtime environments sanctioned by their corporate IT team, which in turn allow [the] company to more quickly and efficiently solve business problems. This persona is filled by employees within our customer, partner, and developer organizations worldwide. While we have surfaced capabilities since the beginning for citizen developers to configure their Workday deployment, the Workday Cloud Platform provides a complete toolset for the citizen developer to create their own Workday application experiences.”

To address the needs of the citizen developer, Workday has announced its new Workday Canvas Design System, which provides all of the resources needed (including standards and guidelines) to design and create new experiences that look and feel like Workday. As more customers start to take advantage of this design system, we expect to see the Workday community of developers grow, which brings us to the last of the three goals for the Platform.

Expanding and Strengthening the Ecosystem

As we noted in our previous report, the better the development platform, the more likely it will attract more developers. The more developers attracted to the platform, the more applications get developed, which ultimately can be shared. Features, functions and extensions have the potential to start to grow, if not exponentially, at least much faster than the typical linear sequence of development.

There are currently about 300 developers in the community of the Workday Cloud Platform, but remember, the platform has only been recently opened up. We expect this community to grow very quickly.

One More Thing – Intelligence

While analytics and intelligence are not necessarily stated goals of the Workday Cloud Platform, that doesn’t mean Workday isn’t addressing what Mint Jutras sees as an important element of any platform. In fact last October we recognized Workday as getting smarter and smarter.

In many ways, intelligence is a new currency in the global, digital economy (the hyper-connected world). While many solution providers talk about intelligent applications, they often deliver the minimum you should expect today, which is new ways of interacting with the solution and analytics that help you derive more and better insights from the data. Workday has gone beyond this, through acquisition and its own development efforts, aggressively taking steps towards real intelligence. Workday Prism Analytics, Benchmarking and Data as a Service (DaaS), machine learning, and natural language processing combine to make Workday smarter and smarter. By blending these capabilities with the Workday Cloud Platform, Workday is able to provide powerful insights and intelligence, not through separate bolt-on tools, but embedded in a single solution.

Summary and Key Takeaways

For many years Workday resisted the urging of pundits and industry observers to become a “platform” company, characterizing itself instead as an “application company.” Its strength has always been in what it calls the “power of one” – one code line, one security model, one mobile app, one data model, one user experience (UX), one platform, and one version. The introduction of the Workday Cloud Platform doesn’t change this; it only serves to strengthen it. The goal is not to become a platform or technology company, but instead to better leverage technology (through a platform approach) to foster and promote application innovation by (also) allowing others to innovate and extend the solution.

We are just beginning to see the rewards of this decision come to fruition, but Mint Jutras fully expects as the Workday Cloud Platform gains traction those rewards will grow and multiply quickly.

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ECi To Help Macola Evolve

Embracing a Platform Approach to Create More Innovation

The theme for this year’s Macola Evolve user conference was Embrace –Create – Innovate. Indeed these three words, along with the name of the conference itself, epitomizes the recent past and the projected future of the product. Macola, the product is evolving into Macola, the platform. The goal is to make it easier for customers to create their own unique customized solutions through configuration, not code, and to be able to extend and innovate with less disruption. A key to this configurability and extensibility is an open architecture that facilitates integration and makes it easy to “plug in” added functionality. This transformation has been underway for the past several years, but has been energized and accelerated as Macola has found a new home.

Last August Dutch software company Exact Group B.V. (Exact) announced that an agreement had been reached to sell Exact’s Specialized Solutions division, which included Macola, JobBOSS and MAX. The division was acquired by Apax Partners and combined with ECi Software Solutions, under the leadership of ECi. ECi is a business management and e-commerce software publisher, comprised of four business units specializing in serving small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in manufacturing, wholesale/retail distribution, building and construction, and field services. Macola, along with JobBOSS and MAX, joins ECi’s M1 in the product portfolio of the manufacturing business unit of ECi to become ECi Macola/MAX, LLC. While previously each operated autonomously, ECi is planning on the four manufacturing product teams working more collaboratively, leveraging best practices and creating shared services and synergy. An open platform facilitates the sharing of common services, while allowing each to serve its own, differentiated market.

What Does a Platform Approach Mean?

While Mint Jutras is a strong proponent of taking a platform approach, we realize the typical business decision maker might not fully understand or appreciate what this means today. To a certain extent any Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution is built on a development “platform.” In the early days of ERP, the platform equated to the programming language, the operating system and the data structures used (e.g. a flat file structure or a relational data base). Data structures for enterprise applications tended to be hierarchical in nature and rather complex. Enterprise application solution providers would develop standard routines for common tasks like retrieving and storing data or printing, but there was still a lot of heavy lifting to be done in developing code, and most so-called platforms were closed in that it was hard for anyone apart from the original author to add value beyond invasive customization.

Today a platform approach means much more. Modern platforms allow developers to create software without the complexity of building and maintaining the infrastructure and services typically associated with developing an enterprise application. Clearly developers benefit from using the services delivered with a platform, speeding the development process. But how does this translate to benefits to the business?

While there are numerous benefits, the most important is that it brings agility – the ability to easily innovate, evolve and respond to the rapidly accelerating change all businesses face today. Furthermore, an open platform encourages more innovation, not just from the original software developer, but also potentially from an expanded ecosystem.

The Growing Need For Agility

Upon observing the growing disruptive forces in the economy today, we started asking questions about disruption in our 2016 Enterprise Solution Study (our annual survey). Citing examples like Uber, Airbnb and Netflix, we asked survey participants to assess the level of risk they faced in their industries (and hence their businesses) being disrupted. At the time we found 88% of companies believed they faced some level of risk in their businesses and/or industries being disrupted by new innovative products, new ways of selling or pricing existing products or services, entirely new business models, or some combination of all of the above. And then of course there are still the more traditional disruptive factors like expansion and growth, organizational restructuring and regulatory changes, just to name a few.

We repeated that question in our most recent 2018 study and found similar results (Figure 1). The risk has not lessened, but we suspect the speed of that disruption has increased. We also found that speed was reported as the single biggest challenge to growth.

Figure 1: How much risk do you face in your industry being disrupted?

Source: Mint Jutras 2016 and 2018 Enterprise Solution Studies

All this disruption can have a cascading impact on business application requirements, making agility – the ability to easily innovate, evolve and change – even more important than current functionality.

As a result of this potential for disruption, we made innovation a centerpiece for our 2017 Enterprise Solution Study. The days of slow and limited innovation are long gone. Our survey participants last year confirmed many solution providers have increased the pace and volume of upgrades (Figure 2).

Figure 2: How has the pace of innovation delivered changed?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

This obviously puts more pressure on Macola (and ECi) to remain competitive. How much pressure? We also asked respondents, on average, how frequently new releases (not just bug fixes) are delivered today (Figure 3).

Figure 3: How frequently are new releases delivered?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

If we average the responses, we find solution providers offer a new release every 5.2 months. This frequency is higher than expected. We suspect this was largely due to the high percentage of companies surveyed in 2017 that had deployed ERP as cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS). The breakdown is noted in the sidebar to the left.

The Role Cloud and SaaS Play

Continuous innovation is really only feasible with solutions. This is one of many of the potential benefits of SaaS, and one of the many reasons why fewer and fewer manufacturers (Macola’s target market) will no longer even consider a solution that is only available through traditional on-premise licenses. And also why one of the goals of parent company ECi is to speed the transition of Macola to the cloud. This transformation was already underway under its prior owners, with new extensions to the product being designed and delivered with a “cloud first” strategy, but we expect the pace of this transition to accelerate now.

We’ve been assessing preferences for deployment models in our annual Enterprise Solution Studies for years now. The question: If you were to select a new solution today, which deployment options would you consider?

Figure 4: Which deployment options would you consider today? (manufacturing only)

Source: Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies

* Hybrid option added in 2015

Participants are allowed to select as many as they desire. Figure 3 gives an historical perspective to this question based only on participants in manufacturing. Between 2011 and 2013 the percentage that would even consider a traditional on-premise solution went over a cliff and never recovered. Correspondingly, the percentage that will consider SaaS has slowly but steadily risen. Solutions hosted by the solution provider are also popular and, when cloud-based, often serve as an interim step for both the solution provider and its customers.

This year we added a follow on question, listing all the deployment options selected and asking which is the top choice. Over half (56%) of all manufacturers surveyed selected SaaS and 81% of those that would consider SaaS, indicated it is their first choice. The time has truly come for SaaS.

Architecture is Equally Important

Agility and the ability to transition to the cloud both require a strong foundation built on a modern architecture. Early ERP solutions were monolithic structures, eliminating data redundancy and the need for separate integration efforts. The good news was: All of the modules and all the departments affected, moved forward together in lock step. The bad news: Everyone had to move forward in lock step.

That meant purchasing couldn’t move forward until order management, shop floor control and inventory management modules (and people) were ready to move. It takes massive efforts of coordination by the vendor to make sure all the pieces of the puzzle more forward together. And it takes similarly massive efforts of coordination for all departments within their customers’ organizations to take those next steps altogether.

But what if a supplier (or, even worse, a customer) demands that your enterprise change the way you conduct business with them? In our disruptive times, the likelihood of this happening, and happening quickly, increases. What if your current solution can’t support that new way of doing business?

Today’s modern technologies solve this problem by creating solutions as components rather than a single monolithic line of code. New components can be added as extensions, or used to replace existing components without having to invasively modify that monolithic structure. By taking a platform approach, modern architectures support loose coupling of these extensions by providing modern APIs (application programming interfaces) that negate the need for invasive customization.

This type of loose coupling is often described as microservices. For the reader with a technical background, microservices, also known as the microservice architecture, is defined (by Wikipedia) as an architectural style that structures an application as a collection of loosely coupled services. For those nontechnical readers, think of it as constructing a solution from a set of Lego building blocks.

Think about how you build a structure from Legos. Each Lego block is made of the same kind of material and is attached (connected) to the other Lego blocks the same way. In many ways they are interchangeable. But by choosing different colors and sizes, and connecting them with a different design, you can make a structure that is very unique. And once constructed, if you want to change it, decoupling some of the blocks and replacing them doesn’t destroy the parts that are not affected. There is far less disruption introduced than if you had constructed it with timber, a hammer and nails.

Many other vendors have started to introduce this kind of architecture by refactoring the underlying code. Again, for the nontechnical reader, think of it as restructuring the code without changing the behavior or the functionality. These other vendors may be making it easier to work with their ERP, perhaps reducing complexity and the cost to maintain, but the refactoring itself adds no new features or functions.

ECi Macola/MAX, LLC is taking a slightly different approach. Instead of refactoring the underlying code, it is instead attaching a new layer with which new services and new functionality may be connected. Think of it as adding that Lego-like coupling to modular structures that may have been built with a hammer and nails. It has added more than 200 of these connections in the form of APIs and has also used this approach in modernizing the user experience (UX).

A year ago Mint Jutras recognized (Exact) Macola’s new UX as more than just a pretty face. We concluded Macola 10.5 brought some added new features and functions along with its pretty new face. These included:

  • A newly re-architected tablet-led user interface that uses size and fonts, color and contrast or added visual clarity, along with the ability to collapse or expand sections to take better advantage of the real estate on the screen
  • Progressive disclosure, keeping added detail (clutter) hidden until needed
  • Responsive design of software, which behaves differently depending on the device in use
  • Special search capabilities that ask the question as you type, “Did you mean…?”
  • Intuitive screens (but don’t take our word for it, see for yourself)
  • Available in the cloud

This year, we see the momentum continue with Macola 10.7. According to ECi Macola/MAX, LLC, “The key features and benefits of Macola 10.7 include:

The End of Version Lock
By creating a powerful and flexible extension layer to the platform, Macola will virtually eliminate the “version lock” that has plagued ERP systems for generations. This will revolutionize the way customers think about extending their ERP system—liberating them from the fear of upgrading. 

 An Expanding Ecosystem

Macola 10.7 continues to expand the Macola ecosystem with yet another round of API coverage, including hundreds of new API functions available for systems integrators to use. Macola’s “expanding ecosystem” ensures visibility of real-time data and control of enterprise processes through integrated third-party apps.

 Doubling Down on User Experience and Streamlined Processes
Continued Focus on User Experience – focusing on the UX, 10.7 has incorporated convenience features such as “at a glance” status indicators that instantly let customer service personnel determine the status of orders. 10.7 has also redesigned one of the more complicated aspects of Macola 10—the “features and options” configurator—which has been dramatically simplified to increase speed and simplicity when getting orders into the system. Lastly, with 10.7, customers who use multiple divisions can now simply toggle between divisions without disrupting their workflow.
Streamlined Processes – to further streamline processes, such as order entry, billing selection, searching and filtering orders, the quoting and creating of credit memos has been streamlined and simplified to closer mimic the way people do their jobs.”

Summary and Conclusions

ECi Macola/MAX, LLC is indeed embracing technology to create, innovate and evolve. Its product’s transition to the cloud and its goal of becoming a platform to sustain configurability and innovation continues. With this approach customers enjoy industry-specific functionality and are also able to differentiate themselves within their individual sectors.

After having been combined with ECi Software Solutions, it has not strayed from its declared path. But all signs point to an accelerated journey, learning from ECi’s own cloud transition and leveraging the combined efforts of multiple product teams in the manufacturing business unit. While all of the different products in the ECi manufacturing business unit target different sectors, there is enough overlap between targets to provide synergy. Macola customers and prospects should rest assured investment will not only continue, but should effectively increase.

Neither Macola nor ECi are exactly household names in the world of ERP for manufacturing. But Mint Jutras suspects the days of relative anonymity are about to end. As Macola settles into its new home and ECi strengthens its executive ranks with a new Chief Marketing Officer and a new Manufacturing Division President, expect to hear and see more… lots more.

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Infor: Building Innovation From the Inside Out

Realizing Potential through AI, Analytics, Network, Cloud, and Industry

Infor has a mission: to “build beautiful business applications with last mile functionality and insights for select industries, delivered as a cloud service.” Behind this mission is a solid strategy to deliver industry-specific functionality to a growing number of specialized micro-verticals, through “Cloudsuites” that leverage the power of Internet-based networks, analytics and artificial intelligence (AI). Over the past several years the privately held company has spent billions of dollars acquiring and developing technology to execute this mission, providing a steady stream of innovation along the way. In the last 12 months alone the company has delivered 176 new products.

And yet, Infor is still one of the largest enterprise application solution providers of which you may never have heard. Even some of its customers (those running acquired legacy solutions) are not aware of how innovative Infor is. This is, at least in part, because of its approach. In the enterprise application market it is not unusual for a vendor to pre-announce its latest, greatest, most innovative idea with a big splash. Then as it begins to execute on this idea it realizes just how much foundational work needs to be done to deliver on it. In the meantime it grows quiet (or announces its next big idea) and (often several years) later when (and if) the first deliverables are finally ready, it makes another big splash.

Infor has taken an entirely different approach, building innovation from the inside and working its way out. It too had a vision of tremendous new innovation driven by advanced technology, but it also had the foresight to clearly see that much of the work needed to deliver on this vision was foundational. And therefore, while others were “splashing,” so to speak, Infor was building that foundation behind the scenes, but with a clear vision of the possible. It is now time to emerge from under the covers as the potential is being realized.

A Smarter Approach

This approach is even smarter than it might appear to be on the surface. Having grown through acquisition, Infor has a very broad portfolio of enterprise applications, including multiple Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions, some more modern and strategic than others. But Infor’s portfolio also contains other applications that extend the capabilities of ERP, such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Asset Management (EAM), Human Capital Management (HCM), Supply Chain Management (SCM) and more. The different strategic ERP solutions can benefit from these complementary applications, some more so than others. So how can Infor integrate all of these applications and also individually bring them to their full potential without a lot of duplication of effort? The answer lies in taking a two-pronged approach.

Infor has invested in building a strong foundation, which has evolved into the Infor OS (operating service). Infor OS provides a common set of shared services to augment its applications (Figure 1). Rather than reworking each individual user interface, for example, Infor developed a common user experience (UX), which further serves to unify the experience when working across different but complementary applications.

Figure 1: Infor OS Augments the Cloudsuite(s) with Common Shared Services

Source: Infor

But before these strategic enterprise applications could take full advantage of those shared services, they had to be transformed. The transformations took time and effort in parallel with the development of Infor OS. But these efforts proved to be invaluable. Once complete (and even to a certain extent during the process), rather than working on security, connecting to the Internet of Things (IoT), country-specific localizations, or a host of other elements of the infrastructure, the individual enterprise application development teams could focus on delivering features and functions specific to their target markets.

Infor OS: The Journey to Microservices Architecture

While the name (Infor OS) is fairly new, the development of this foundation has been evolving for almost 10 years. First introduced as the Intelligent Open Network (ION), it was based on the same premise as Infor’s prior Open SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) (circa 2006 to 2009). That premise: to provide an environment that enables new functionality to be developed once and shared by multiple products in the Infor portfolio. However, unlike Infor’s Open SOA, which had become very heavy and took years to develop, ION was kept lightweight and simple. Over the years the name has changed and it has evolved to support what is commonly referred to today as a microservices architecture.

Never heard of microservices? You’re not alone. For the reader with a technical background, a microservices architecture, is defined (by Wikipedia) as an architectural style that structures an application as a collection of loosely coupled services. Unfortunately the reference to “loosely coupled” often conjures up the old argument of an integrated suite versus “best of breed.” But this is not that.

For those nontechnical readers, think of it as constructing a solution from a set of Lego building blocks. Think about how you build a structure from Legos. Each Lego block is made of the same kind of material and is attached (connected) to the other Lego blocks the same way. In many ways they are interchangeable. But by choosing different colors and sizes, and connecting them with a different design, you can make a structure that is very unique. And once constructed, if you want to change it, decoupling some of the blocks and replacing them doesn’t destroy the parts that are not affected. There is far less disruption introduced than if you had constructed it with timber, a hammer and nails.

Infor needed to transform existing strategic solutions by refactoring the underlying code to introduce microservices. Again, for the nontechnical reader, think of it as restructuring the code without changing the behavior or the functionality. You might be wondering, why bother to change the code if you aren’t changing what it does? There may be any number of reasons, including enabling the solution to take advantage of those common shared services. But Mint Jutras feels the most valuable by-product of refactoring is to make it more “extensible.” In the context of ERP: to make it easier for Infor (and possibly its partners) to add specialized features and functions to a solid code base, with minimal disruption.

This is really the (not so) secret sauce behind Infor’s ability to deliver “last mile” functionality, not just for major industries like manufacturing, or even verticals like food and beverage, but also micro-verticals like dairy, beverage, bakers, confectionary, ingredients, prepared/chilled foods and meat/poultry/fish. While some features and functions might be the same across all manufacturing, food and beverage manufacturers and distributors also must deal with lot and sub-lot traceability and recall. Many within food and beverage must also deal with catch weights.

Catch Weight is a food industry term that means “approximate weight” because unprocessed food products (particularly meats) naturally vary in size. A retailer might order a case of 12 turkeys. The manufacturer (food processor) will estimate the price of the order by the approximate weight (e.g. 15 pounds per turkey), but will then invoice for the exact weight shipped. This can wreak havoc in an ERP solution not well-prepared to handle it.

But catch weight doesn’t affect all food industries in the same way in. It is also used in the cheese industry to manage shrinkage as the cheese ages. So handling catch weight varies for different types of food. By handling all the different types of catch weights in a single line of programming code, you add a level of complexity that adds little or no value to the customer beyond the single problem it is facing. A cheese processor doesn’t care if you can satisfy the needs of a butcher. Having different “Lego blocks” of code to insert depending on the needs of the specific micro-vertical preserves simplicity without sacrificing very specific functionality.

Beyond Features and Functions

But there is more to be gained than industry-specific features and functions from this foundational approach. Most companies today are forced to undergo a digital transformation. Two years ago our 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution study found that 88% of participants felt that digital technologies were necessary for survival and 80% agreed that digital technologies are truly transformative in the way they connect operations to systems such as ERP. And yet at the time almost half still relied at least partially on spreadsheets and/or manual processes for maintaining their operational and transactional systems of record (i.e. conducting business). Our latest 2018 study shows at least half of companies still rely at least in part on spreadsheets to satisfy needs of various departments. So obviously those transformations are still a long way from being completed.

One strategic acquisition by Infor could go a long way in supporting these digital transformations. In 2015 Infor acquired GT Nexus, a cloud-based global commerce platform. This acquisition represents a marked shift in acquisition strategy. In its formative years Infor aggressively acquired its competitors with more of an eye to growing market share than filling gaps in its portfolio. By comparison, the acquisition of GT Nexus is quite strategic.

As we noted a year ago in Infor Ushers In the Age of Networked Intelligence:

More and more of the communication, collaboration and business processes of any company are likely to extend beyond the four walls of the enterprise. Focused on the supply chain, GT Nexus largely applies to those industries that must manage the movement of materials, but also has an impact outside of traditional manufacturing and wholesale distribution. The procurement of supplies in industries like healthcare and hospitality has not changed in decades and are ripe for innovation.

Whether you deal with a physical product or services, the value chain has lengthened and become more complicated. Yet expectations of response time and delivery performance have risen dramatically. Hence the need for an added level of intelligence in dealing with this new digital, network economy.

In addition, it is worth noting that last year Infor also acquired Birst, Inc. a pioneer of cloud-native Business Intelligence (BI), analytics and data visualization tools. The addition of Birst’s analytical tools was also a step forward, but Mint Jutras sees it more like another investment in infrastructure and shared services rather than a true differentiator. While the executives that came along with the acquisition might argue Birst is better (the best?) in terms of capability and speed of data discovery and easy to use analytics, most of the existing Birst customers are running enterprise applications that are not part of the Infor portfolio and it is still sold as a stand-alone tool. So you don’t have to run an Infor application to benefit from them.

That said, the tools were made immediately available to Infor customers as a like-for-like trade-in. Since then Infor has been working to replace any existing data cubes and content (previously Cognos-based) and also build out additional applications, content and migration tools.

Enhanced Data Management

Birst allows Infor customers to draw from all sorts of data sources for analysis. But the better story is what Infor has done in terms of data management in general, and to understand that you need to look across several different components “inside” Infor, including artificial intelligence, which requires you to select algorithms, train models and deploy data science. Because we’re talking about advanced technology, this can get very technical very quickly.

A business decision-maker seldom knows the difference between linear regression, neural topic modeling, K-means clustering and a boosted decision tree. Nor should they have to. From a business decision-maker’s point of view, it is more important to understand the potential, and that is quite simple. It’s all about answering these questions:

  • What happened?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What should I do?

To Infor’s credit, this is exactly what it is offering, even though it often falls into the trap of offering TMI (too much (technical) information) to nontechnical business folks.

What happened?

This is all about collecting data. It might be structured data from enterprise applications (yours or your trading partners’), semi-structured data like XML or CSV (maybe you get orders or payments from customers in XML files or streams of IoT data) or entirely unstructured data from social media or other community-based data. You need a common place to put all this data and Infor’s answer to this is its Data Lake. A data lake is a storage repository that holds raw data (usually vast amounts of it) in its native format. Yet while the data is in its native format, Infor also provides a catalog that can be used to determine connections between the different data elements (e.g. an order is connected to a customer, a dollar amount is connected to a key performance indicator).

But you need to consume that data in order to determine what really happened. Figure 2 (provided by Infor) is a bit on the technical side. The key takeaways from it: You might use Birst for analysis of the data; you might use the data in universal searches within the Infor applications; or you can develop your own applications using Infor’s Mongoose development platform.

Figure 2: Infor Data Lake: How to consume data from the data lake

Source: Infor

Why did it happen?

For the “Why?” question, Infor leverages the different connections within the data and does a correlation analysis, looking for causal factors. Did sales go down because prices went up? Or did they go down because sales reps were on vacation or left the company? Was the weather to blame? Or a sluggish economy? For some of these questions you need massive amounts of data, not all of which resides in your enterprise applications.

Infor claims to have no shortage of insights to offer across customer relationship management (CRM), financials, human capital management (HCM), procurement and more. An example of the types of financial insights are shown in the sidebar to the left.

What should I do?

This is where the real data science comes to play. Since announcing the Coleman AI Platform Infor has been developing its first AI data science applications. These are generally predictive in nature, drawing on deep machine learning for forecasting, optimization and decision execution. Some examples include patient demand forecasting for hospitals, a predictive framework to predict asset failure, inventory optimization across a number of different industries, predicting estimated time of arrival for logistic providers and benchmarking performance across industry. Benchmarking of course requires access to large quantities of external data.

And don’t worry if you don’t have data scientists on staff. Infor has over 100 of them ready and waiting to help.

Conclusion and Recommendations

For a company of its size Infor has been exceptionally quiet over the past several years. In the software industry staying quiet often means there is little or no new innovation to share. In the case of Infor, this could not be farther from the truth.

Infor is led by a group of executives with both the vision and the expertise to understand the true potential of advanced digital technologies today. Oftentimes before you can ever hope to take full advantage of this advanced technology you must lay a strong foundation, and this might go largely unnoticed as it is being developed behind the scenes. But Infor’s executives were not afraid to dig in and lay that foundation.

Infor is now starting to reap the rewards of these efforts. It is time to share them with the world, not quietly, but loudly and proudly. Even many of its own customers remain unaware of all that Infor has developed. There are over 90,000 Infor customers and many are still running on old versions or older, non-strategic products. They seem to think none of this new technology is for them.

Mint Jutras would caution them (and other companies running non-Infor legacy applications) against this train of thought. If not for you, then who?

To those running these old solutions: Don’t expect massive (any?) innovation for your old products. They aren’t going to get you where you need to go in order to compete effectively in the global digital economy. For decades ripping and replacing ERP solutions was avoided at any and all cost. Those days are over. If you are running an old, outdated solution, it is unequivocally time to rip and replace. You’ll be happy you did.

To Infor: You’ve developed a lot of great stuff. Get on your bandwagon and shout!

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Leaders Rule with Sage Intacct

Sage Plus Sage Intacct “Lead The Future”

Sage Intacct describes itself as a “best in class cloud financial management software company, 100% invested in meeting the needs of financial professionals.” Bringing cloud computing to finance and accounting, Sage Intacct’s applications are the preferred financial applications recommended by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and are used by more than 11,000 organizations from startups to public companies. The solution has evolved over time and today the company has a broader impact on its customers than just transactional accounting, bringing not only governance and control, but also insights necessary for effective tactical and strategic decision-making.

The theme of its most recent user conference, Sage Intacct Advantage 2017, is reflective of this evolution of both the company and its solutions. The theme: “Lead the future.” Let’s take a look at what this means for Sage Intacct, its customers, and the finance leaders in those organizations.

Leaders Are in For the Long Haul

Intacct was acquired by Sage in July 2017, becoming Sage Intacct. All the top executives from Intacct remain in place post-acquisition. They are led by Rob Reid, former Intacct Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and current Executive Vice President (EVP) and Managing Director (MD) of Sage Intacct. Mr. Reid and his direct reports remain commited to leading the company, not just through the transition, but for the longer term, providing stability and continuity. But not content with the status quo, Mr. Reid is inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

It would appear that both Intacct and Sage gained from the acquisition. According to Sage President Blair Crump, Sage was attracted to Intacct because of its leadership, not only in terms of the people, but also in terms of growth within North America and in customer satisfaction. It was also a good strategic fit with respect to Sage’s commitment to being “cloud 1st.Born in the cloud and offered exclusively as a multi-tenant software as a service (SaaS) solution, Intacct’s portfolio of products makes a nice addition to the newly announced Sage Business Cloud. While Sage itself is already strong at the low end of the small to medium size business (SMB) market, with its Sage 50 and Sage Live products for small businesses, Sage Intacct’s cloud financial management solutions are complementary. With very little overlap in target companies, Intacct should help Sage be stronger up market. While it is quite easy to outgrow those low-end solutions, it is much harder for companies to outgrow Sage Intacct. Together Sage and Sage Intacct intend to offer the “only financial management solutions a company will ever need.”

Good for Intacct = Good for Its Customers

Obviously Sage benefits tremendously from this acquisition. But can the same be said for Intacct? We believe so, if for no other reason that it paves the way for global expansion. Expansion into new global markets means customers must deal with the complexities of new tax, regulatory and compliance requirements, and potentially new accounting standards. With its focus on finance, this is not entirely new territory for Sage Intacct. Yet it has mostly been successful in North America, while Sage is more global, bringing both functional experience as well as global reach, including expanded local support.

And a side benefit to Sage: While it has become almost a household name in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, it does not enjoy that level of brand awareness in North America. So the strengths of Sage and Sage Intacct are complementary.

As part of Sage, Intacct also has access to more resources and technology. For example, Sage Intacct can benefit from the experience gained by Sage in natural language processing (NLP) through the development and introduction of its virtual assistant (chatbot) Pegg.

However, this type of technology transfer is hardly a one-way street. Intacct appears to have been far ahead of its (now) parent company in developing artificial intelligence (AI) through deep machine learning. But because Sage can also benefit from this effort, Intacct will likely be able to draw on more resources than it could afford on its own.

The third component in terms of “leading the future” is helping people evolve as leaders. More specifically, helping the finance leaders that are playing key roles in the companies that are Sage Intacct customers. Sage Intacct is not stopping at just streamlining and automating tasks in the accounting department. Those are table stakes in today’s financial management applications. Mr. Reid feels, “Our job is to transform the way people think and work, removing barriers to achieve success and lifting them up so they can achieve more.” A lofty goal indeed, but what does that really mean?

Mr. Reid acknowledges three different styles of leadership within the community of finance leaders: the historian, the business analyst and the data scientist. The historian relies on traditional reporting, while the business analyst leverages data and analytics to drive decisionmaking. The data scientist takes that analysis to a whole new level in terms of cognitive, predictive and prescriptive analysis.

Mint Jutras takes a slightly different view, looking at these, not so much as styles of leadership, but rather skills sets that must grow and evolve progressively. The business analyst can’t afford not to be a historian. And the data scientist can’t afford not to be a business analyst. Can finance leaders today be all three? Not without the right set of tools. While analytical skills might be a common trait amongst good finance leaders, they are not data scientists. Which is why Sage Intacct must build business analysis and data science into the solution. That takes aggressive innovation.

Leading with Innovation

As the pace of change accelerates today, the need for more features and better functionality doesn’t stop once you get a new solution up and running. We live in an age of disruption. As a result, the pace of innovation must accelerate. We asked participants in our 2017 Enterprise Solution Study how the pace of innovation had changed since they had first implemented (Figure 1). Indeed, 39% report that upgrades are now delivered more frequently.

Figure 1: Change in Pace of Innovation Since Implementing?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

However, it is one thing to deliver innovation more frequently, but quite another to consume it. If we average the frequency of delivery across all our respondents, we find upgrades being delivered just about every 6 months. We also asked our participants how often they upgraded and found they consumed those upgrades about once every 13 months. If we contrast SaaS deployments to those licensed, we found upgrades consumed far more frequently (Figure 2) when delivered through SaaS. And yet we know this can vary quite significantly from vendor to vendor.

Figure 2: How frequently are these upgrades “consumed?”

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Delivering more innovation through more frequent (and robust) updates not only delivers more value, but is also one of the most differentiating factors in comparing cloud solutions. While some of the potential benefits of a cloud-based solution are inherent in the cloud itself, the cadence and method of delivery of innovation are not among them, varying significantly from one solution provider to another.

With four releases a year, including about 30 enhancements in each, Sage Intacct is keeping pace with the top SaaS solution providers. Below are some highlights by industry of the 150 product enhancements that have been delivered over the past year.

Nonprofit Organizations

Sage Intacct, along with new partner GuideStar, introduced the Sage Intacct Nonprofit Financial Board Book. The concept of a “guide book” or “Intacct Digital Board Book” was introduced back in 2015. They are designed as vehicles of communication , making enterprise data easier to consume, with instant access organized for action.

These Digital Board Books are very industry-specific and the first one off the shelf was designed for software businesses that, like Intacct, deliver software as a service (SaaS). This new one is designed specifically for nonprofits along with the assistance of GuideStar, the world’s largest source of nonprofit information.

The Nonprofit Financial Board Book is based on the framework developed by GuideStar to monitor the financial performance of nonprofit organizations. It uses real-time transactional data from the system of record in Sage Intacct to automate the calculation of key financial and operational metrics that GuideStar uses to not only demonstrate the financial health of nonprofit organizations, but also ensure the organization is on track in accomplishing its mission – a key element in attracting donors for funding.

Professional Services and Project-based Businesses

Sage Intacct also recently unveiled its new Project Manager Digital Board Book, which also includes new project budgeting capabilities. It is designed to empower project managers with better insight into project status and performance, keep projects on track so resources are available for the next highest priority, and uncover key insights to eliminate waste and improve productivity.

Software and SaaS Businesses

For software and SaaS companies, the contract is at the core of managing the lifecycle of the relationship with their customers. Sage Intacct recognizes the transition to the new ASC 606 revenue recognition guidelines is making the contract the new “unit” of Accounting. Back in May 2016 Sage Intacct Contract and Revenue Management was one of the first solutions to address the new complexities in revenue recognition created by the upcoming changes. Further enhancements were announced to enable companies to more fully integrate and automate the entire sales and finance process.

These are are just some highlights from the 150 product enhancements delivered over the past year by Sage Intacct via four quarterly releases. While these continue to supply Sage Intacct customers with a steady stream of useful and consumable enhancements, it was a preview of the future that was perhaps the most innovative and the most exciting of all.

Vision of the Future: Taking Intelligence to the Next Level

To sweeten the pot even more, Sage Intacct introduced its vision for a new digital assistant to the CFO. Its name is Pacioli. Think of it as a Siri or Alexa for enterprise applications. Pacioli will dramatically change the way the user interacts and interfaces with the software.

What’s in a Name? Pacioli

Fra Luca Bartolomeo de Pacioli (sometimes Paccioli or Paciolo; c. 1447–1517) was an Italian mathematician, Franciscan friar, collaborator with Leonardo da Vinci, and a seminal contributor to the field now known as accounting. He is referred to as “The Father of Accounting and Bookkeeping” in Europe and he was the first person to publish a work on the double-entry system of book-keeping in this continent.”

Like da Vinci, Pacioli was a polymath.

Source: Wikipedia

On the surface, Pacioli might look a lot like some other “virtual assistants” offered by other vendors recently, including Sage’s Pegg. Sage calls Pegg “the world’s first and only accounting chatbot,” but it’s not the only virtual assistant that can capture expenses from your mobile device and give you some visibility into cash flow.

While Pacioli is not yet ready for prime time and Sage Intacct may very well leverage Sage’s work with NLP, it is far ahead in terms of true AI – a good example of how the acquisition could have mutual benefits to both parties.

Although Pacioli makes use of advanced new technology, including deep machine learning, Sage Intacct doesn’t want to deliver it as a general technology tool, but instead will look for problems to solve and develop specific solutions to solve them. This is smart since its typical customers will not seek out or purchase technology for technology’s sake. Other vendors, far bigger than Sage Intacct, have struggled to gain traction when they released elegant new technology in search of a problem. Current and future Sage Intacct customers start with a problem and search for a solution.

Pacioli will have to start out with fairly simple questions, much like Siri, Alexa and even IBM Watson do. All these digital assistants must be trained to answer anticipated questions. Current AI technology isn’t good at coming up with brand new answers to questions nobody has thought of before. It is good at recognizing the question as one with a (stored) answer. Even with current limitations it can add tremendous value because we’re not talking about a few questions and answers; we’re talking thousands or more.

While many today have begun to fear that AI will take jobs away, much like the automation that occurred in the latter part of the 20th century, one Sage Intacct customer, Meals on Wheels doesn’t fear it. The nonprofit’s chief financial and administrative officer, Don Miller welcomes it, “If it saves us time and gives us more time to work strategically, that is useful progress. Some might worry about job security. But if it takes five hours to pull data together and AI can do it in minutes, I’m all for it.” This is consistent with the objective Mr. Miller had when he came on board: It’s all about eliminating “stupid work.”

For Intacct, it’s all about delivering a tool that will maximize the human potential. It has the potential of automating and eliminating the tedious, time-consuming tasks that keep a knowledge worker from working efficiently and effectively, without wasting time searching for data, policies or processes.

But… Is Intacct Getting Too Far Ahead of its Customers?

Sometimes software companies must take a leadership role in terms of innovation, inspiring customers and prospects to apply leading edge technologies in new and creative ways to create a competitive advantage. Without this push, many (most?) companies can become complacent. If the software that runs the business isn’t broken, there’s no need to fix it.

Eighty-four percent (84%) of survey respondents participating in the 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study agree that digital technologies of today (those that serve to connect operations, people and processes through the power of the Internet) have the potential to fundamentally change the way we all do business. Furthermore, 88% understand that embracing digital technologies is necessary for survival. And yet, we found the vast majority still coasting or riding the brakes when it comes to digital transformation.

Last year we also found that while 58% of participants felt they were well prepared for the digital economy, in peeling back the onion, we concluded that many were perhaps over-confident in their progress, often held back by old ways of thinking and a lack of understanding and appreciation of what is possible today.

So in our 2017 study we dug a little deeper to assess how well companies understand these technologies, and the potential they hold for their businesses. We selected 14 different kinds of technology and asked respondents to assess their level of familiarity with each in terms of how they relate (or not) to their business. The technologies that Pacioli might utilize are shown in Table 1 (in no particular order).

With the exception of predictive analytics and IoT, those that are unfamiliar, only somewhat familiar and/or don’t perceive the value outnumber those that have embraced these technologies. And yet these technologies have actually insinuated themselves into the lives of many consumers. And most of us don’t even realize it.

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

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Anyone using Siri, Alexa or Cortana has used a virtual assistant and natural language processing. Google, Spotify and Pandora all employ “deep learning” (aka machine learning) to create a better play list for you. Did you ever notice that your GPS seems to get smarter over time, suggesting the routes you actually prefer? And the more you use any of these “apps”, the smarter they get.

These technologies are no longer science fiction. They are woven into the fabric of our lives. Apple, Amazon and Microsoft didn’t require you to buy something extra. They just made it part of what you got with your new device. And didn’t those features make you want the latest and greatest device?

That is exactly what Sage Intacct is setting out to do: take the lead in weaving these technologies into the fabric of the software we use to run our businesses.

Key Takeaways

Sage Intacct, with the backing of its new owner, Sage, has indeed set its sights on “leading the future.” The global reach and resources of Sage, combined with the stability and continuity of a strong leadership team positions it quite well. It will need to continue to aggressively provide innovation, continue to listen to its customers, while also leading them in new and innovative directions. It must continue to support the historians, while making them better business analysts. If it can deliver on its vision of the future, effectively incorporating artificial intelligence into decision-making, it can bring data science into the world of finance, without requiring its customers to be data scientists.

 

 

 

 

 

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Workday: Getting Smarter and Smarter

Enter the Age of Intelligence

In a recent Mint Jutras report, “How Smart Are Your Enterprise Applications?” we outlined some of the different ways solution providers are adding a new level of intelligence to their offerings… or not. While “intelligence” has become the holy grail of enterprise applications of late, not all vendors are delivering on the promise of smarter applications. For some, it’s just the latest buzzword added to their marketing collateral and some are simply playing catch up to current next generation applications. Others are taking their first baby steps, but a select few are truly entering the “age of intelligence.”

Where is Workday along this progression? Since its inception in 2005, it has never been a company that over-inflated its capabilities with bravado and marketing spin. Born in the cloud and built on a next-generation platform that continues to evolve, Workday also never had to play catch-up. And the first steps it took in moving into the age of intelligence were not baby steps, but instead bold ones, including some strategic acquisitions.

Workday’s acquisition of Identified in 2014 was an important step in incorporating predictive analytics and machine learning into its portfolio. In 2015 it acquired Gridcraft and last year it acquired Platfora. With both of these acquisitions, Workday sought to build insights [read intelligence] directly into its applications. More recently its benchmarking capabilities take insight and intelligence to another whole level by putting Data as a Service (DaaS) in the context of your business performance, in comparison to your peers. And Workday has opened the doors to more innovation from a broader community by making its Workday Cloud Platform available beyond its own development team.

It is clear Workday is getting smarter and smarter with each new release.

Smart, Smarter, Smartest

So, what does it take to make an enterprise application smart? In our previous report we distinguished different levels of intelligence:

  • Smart: We concluded any enterprise application is smart in that it’s not dumb. It can follow instructions – instructions like, IF <this condition> THEN <do this> ELSE <do that>. Business applications have been built on IF THEN ELSE statements since the earliest computer programs were developed. Workday applications are no exception and indeed, they can now go beyond simply following specific instructions. They are starting to learn to take some simple rule-based actions on their own. For example, the recruiting module is smart enough to decline any outstanding applicants once a position is filled, and yet keep them on file to review when other vacancies open up.
  • Smarter: To make an application smarter, you need to make it easier to use and better at communicating. Progressive releases of Workday have made the user experience very compelling while also adding more and more insights. Workday has also borrowed concepts from consumer technology, putting more power in the hands of users using mobile devices, not only alerting managers to exceptions, issues and required approvals, but allowing them to take immediate action. Workday Talk provides a “chat” capability modeled after social media. Participants can follow conversations attached to business objects like sales orders, customers or products. Groups and teams can be assembled to foster collaboration. When people are better informed, they can make more intelligent decisions, faster.
  • Smartest: But the smartest applications today combine the pattern recognition capabilities of machine learning to produce artificial intelligence (AI) and predict the future. The highest level of intelligence will be achieved in combining a variety of technologies together: AI, deep machine learning, Natural Language Processing (NLP), image recognition and predictive analytics are all at the forefront of this movement. And Workday has all these technologies in its kit bag. It has already taken some initial steps in leveraging them. For example, it has embedded machine learning capabilities into its Talent Insights to identify retention risk. Look for more use cases to be delivered using data from both inside and outside of Workday.

It is quite clear that Workday’s Human Capital Management (HCM), Financial Management, Student Management and Planning solutions are smarter than your average enterprise applications. Let’s dig a little deeper into some ways they will get even smarter.

Building Insights In: Prism Analytics

Good reporting is a necessary backbone of applications like HCM and financial management. Reports provide a historical perspective, help you assess your current position and answer questions you have about your performance. But analytics provide a deeper level of understanding and help you ask the right questions. Analytics are iterative by nature. You start with a question, issue or problem: Sales are down. Reports might tell you what regions or products are problematic, but you won’t really know why until you drill down, and you are never quite sure what path you need to take until you find out more. And you won’t even be prompted to investigate until you already have a problem.

Predictive analytics help you anticipate conditions, prompting you to investigate a situation before the problem rears its head. You would like to be able to conduct this kind of investigative work right in the familiar environment of the solution running your business. But it is even more powerful when you can look beyond the structured data that resides within your enterprise applications. Workday has woven the technology acquired from Platfora, into the fabric of its solution, rather than bolting on components. And yet Workday Prism Analytics will not be limited to Workday data, but will also bring in non-Workday data, which can then be presented through Workday reports, scorecards, and dashboards for analysis.

Typically this type of mix of data requires data preparation to be done by a data administrator with the technical skills needed to load the external data, cleanse and prepare it and then create reports, queries and/or dashboards. This activity doesn’t go away with Workday Prism Analytics, but it is simplified enough for a technical business user to perform – and perform quickly enough to be of value. And the data can be blended with, transformed and enriched by your transactional system of record (Workday data). In doing so Workday has struck a nice balance between having a super powerful tool on the back end but also super easy to use on the front end, avoiding the usual trade-offs.

Workday is in the early stages of delivering this, and also has plans down the road for data discovery. Data discovery typically goes after big data in search of patterns that may not be intuitively obvious. Using the right visualization tools, it helps you understand which data is most relevant to your problem, even if you don’t know exactly what to ask for.

Benchmarking Performance with Data as a Service (DaaS)

It takes a different kind of intelligence gathering to understand your business performance in relation to others in similar roles or industries. As a multi-tenant SaaS solution provider, Workday is in a unique position to provide you with access to this kind of comparative data. But of course, you must be willing to give, in order to receive. Workday needs permission to use this data, but paraphrasing the words of Workday leadership: We don’t take customers’ data. They give it to us.

Workday sits on a large volume of data collected from hundreds of customers subscribing to its software. This is data that can be invaluable to the entire Workday community for benchmarking against peers. Customers must opt in to contribute secured aggregated data. In turn, they receive benchmarks. Today this Data as a Service (DaaS) is available for customers to explore Workday usage and HCM results, including workforce composition, diversity, turnover, etc. Financial management data is coming soon. Within the first three weeks of this service being available, Workday reported 100 customers had opted in and contributed data. Obviously, as this number grows, so will the value of the data.

Expect more from Workday along these lines in the future, including data from other sources (private and public) not included in Workday.

Machine Learning and AI

Of course the availability of a growing volume and diversity of data opens the door for machine learning and therefore artificial intelligence. Workday’s acquisition of Identified in 2014 was an important step in incorporating predictive analytics and machine learning into its repertoire of capabilities. Identified’s patented SYMAN (Systematic Mass Normalization) technology mines Facebook for social data and then uses artificial intelligence to transform that data into professional intelligence. The “learning” comes from continued use, validating predictions with outcomes from Workday employee data on performance and retention.

Workday released Workday Talent Insights in 2015, identifying retention risk and delivering a talent scorecard. Through this introduction Workday learned that customers prefer an embedded experience, not a standalone application and that the overall user experience is paramount, along with access to data for training algorithms.

The Power of a Platform

Since it was founded in 2005, Workday has always insisted it was (and is) an applications company, rather than a technology company. It has always offered cloud-based business solutions. While it built these applications on a solid and modern platform, it always resisted the urging of pundits and industry observers to become a “platform” company. Until now.

The Next Chapter for Workday

Now it will be both a “platform” player as well as a business solution provider. The Workday Cloud Platform was soft launched a few months ago with selected service partners. Built on the principles of openness, Workday will provide the tools needed to manage the complete application life cycle, with data modeling and a single Application Programming Interface (API) point of integration.

So how does this make Workday applications smarter? Of course there are no guarantees, but by opening up the platform, along with all the presentation services, conversation services, and analytics Workday uses to make its solutions smarter, the level of intelligence is more likely to deepen. The Platform will include both Workday Talk (NLP) and BOT for anomaly detection.

So, what are developers building on the platform? Here are a few examples:

  • Talent Mobility, allowing employees to visualize career opportunities and connect with employees across globe.
  • ID Services to manage security badges
  • Supplier requisitioning that allows suppliers to directly populate data in Workday
  • Safety services management

Summary

The Innovation Keynote at the 2017 Workday Rising Event was entitled “The Age of Intelligence.” The Keynote was presented by Mike McNamara, the CEO of one of Workday’s largest customers, Flex (a contract manufacturer formerly known as Flextronics). In his opening remarks, Mr. McNamara summed up this new age by saying, “Today it’s not about controlling land and resources, but rather about applying intelligence.”

In many ways, intelligence is a new currency in the global, digital economy. And yet, when most solution providers today talk about intelligent applications, they often simply mean new ways of interacting with the solution and analytics that help you derive more and better insights from the data. But this is the minimum you should expect today. Workday has aggressively taken steps towards real intelligence, through acquisition and its own development efforts. Workday Prism Analytics, Benchmarking and DaaS, machine learning, natural language processing and the Workday Cloud Platform all combine to provide powerful insights and intelligence, not through separate bolt-on tools, but embedded in a single solution.

If your current solutions are not headed down the path towards intelligent applications, if you are starting to look for new, smarter ones, Workday is a good place to start.

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SAP Business ByDesign: SAP’s Best-kept Secret

It has been almost 10 years since SAP Business ByDesign was first introduced. This enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution has always and only been offered as software as a service (SaaS). It was born in the cloud and launched in September 2007 with great fanfare. This came at a time when SaaS ERP solutions were still quite rare and just beginning to gain acceptance. Since then it has been deployed in more than 3,600 companies in 109 countries. And yet while customers seem very happy with their choice of solutions, in many ways SAP Business ByDesign is the Rodney Dangerfield of ERP – it just doesn’t seem to get any respect. While some of its most direct competitors would be thrilled with the level of success it has achieved, somehow pundits and some industry observers just won’t give SAP a break on the ByDesign front. Rumors of its death have surfaced periodically, and yet it lives on, but quietly. Perhaps that “quiet” is to blame for the apparent lack of respect. Perhaps it is time for SAP to raise the volume and build trust in the market, beyond its customer ranks.

The Evolution of SAP Business ByDesign

Before SAP Business ByDesign was first introduced, SAP already had two ERP products and deep market penetration. SAP ERP (which has gone through its own evolution and several different names) targeted the large (and very large) enterprise, while SAP Business One was aimed at small to mid-size businesses (SMBs). There was (is) also SAP Business All-in-One, but in reality that was never a separate product, but rather SAP ERP packaged with “best practices” aimed at simplifying the (large enterprise) solution for mid-size businesses in specific industries.

In order to offer a SaaS solution, SAP could have taken a few different paths, including moving either of these products to the cloud. SAP ERP was the more robust solution, but to come down market, it would have had to shed some of that complexity or be overkill for an SMB or even for a subsidiary or division of a large enterprise.

Ultimately, starting over allowed SAP to architect the solution specifically for the cloud, drawing on acquired and organically developed leading edge infrastructure. And even more importantly, SAP was able to draw on the thousands of person-years of experience accumulated by its staff in addressing the needs of the large enterprise. After all, the needs of mid-size companies are not all that different from the needs of their larger counterparts. But they don’t have the deep pockets of a large enterprise and can’t afford the time it takes to wade through the complexities that had evolved with the large enterprise solution. The initial goal of SAP Business ByDesign was to simplify for the mid-market, while also delivering a 100% cloud-based solution, a clear differentiator at the time.

Both of those goals were achieved early on in its life, but that proved not to be enough. The earliest version of SAP Business ByDesign was a single-tenant solution. While the first charter customers were perfectly happy with this choice, SAP was not. Single tenancy proved to be an obstacle to the profitability needed to sustain a level of aggressive development of both the software and the market. This resulted in the need to re-architect the product, causing SAP to go quiet as it developed this new architecture.

The re-architected SAP Business ByDesign became the platform of choice for development of all cloud offerings at SAP – for a time. But then came the acquisition of SuccessFactors and the accompanying infusion of “cloud DNA”. All of a sudden the ByDesign platform wasn’t important. The powers that be at the time (SapphireNow May 2012) said, “Customers don’t care about platforms. They only care about beautiful applications.”

Then came Sapphire Madrid (November 2012) and there was a new platform in town: The HANA platform. It was decreed that SAP Business ByDesign must now run on HANA, SAP’s “game changing” in-memory database and the basis for this cloud platform. From a database perspective, SAP Business ByDesign gained little from this since it already had in-memory powers built in. The real benefit would come later in conforming to SAP standards and therefore benefiting from technology being developed by other groups (under other budgets). And thus another quiet time ensued as the development team was (again) working under the covers.

What’s Next? A 3-Pronged Strategy

Now that the heavy lifting has been done in terms of re-architecting for the HANA platform, it’s time to kick things into high gear. So, what’s next? SAP has a three-pronged strategy for SAP Business ByDesign:

  • Deliver best in class innovation
  • Drive meaningful demand
  • Develop successful partnerships

Sounds simple, but then the most successful strategies usually are. Interestingly enough, while it was the shifts in platform that kept the lid on SAP Business ByDesign in the past, Mint Jutras believes it will be the platform that could potentially blow the lid off, or at least provide a stronger voice in the future. And the first part of the strategy (best in class innovation) is likely to play a very meaningful role in enabling the other two.

Delivering best in class innovation

Innovation encompasses both technical strength and functionality. The underlying platform brings the technical muscle. But yes, functionality is also still important, and SAP is setting about enhancing the functionality built in to SAP ByDesign, specifically for the core verticals where it has enjoyed the most success. While it has been sold into 29 different industries, its strongest presence is in professional service organizations, wholesale distribution, high tech and consumer products, industrial machinery and components (IM&C), the public sector and higher education. We expect to see the team place more focus on manufacturing and production in the coming months as well.

But SAP will choose where to invest within these industries carefully in order to fill gaps in the market. Higher education provides a good example. SAP has chosen not to invest in student management or student loans, simply because those needs are already well addressed by other solutions. The focus here instead will be on integration.

But integration swings two ways. Solutions for student management or loans are most likely to come from existing or potential partners. But SAP will also be integrating SAP Business ByDesign with apps and tools from its own portfolio. Some of the apps fall into the category of what SAP calls its own “best of breed line of business (LOB)” applications. These include SuccessFactors Employee Central for employee management and Concur for expense management and the Ariba supplier network. It will also take advantage of the business intelligence tools from the Business Objects side of the house and layer analytics on top of SAP Business ByDesign.

The user experience (UX) provides a good example of how the SAP Business ByDesign team is now able to leverage innovation developed by other SAP teams – one of the advantages of the prior work done “under the covers.” The team was able to use the underlying UX libraries created by the teams developing the SAP Fiori apps for SAP ERP. SAP Business ByDesign doesn’t have to develop any style guides. They simply use those developed by the Fiori team. This was how the SAP Business ByDesign team was able to completely renovate its user interface from Silverlight to HTML5 quickly.

The conversion to the HANA platform is SAP Business ByDesign’s ticket to other services as well, services that lead to more features and functions. Like invoice as a service – the ability to take a picture of a document and turn it into an invoice with no optical character recognition (OCR) software required. To the business user, this conversion appears to be magic. The HANA platform is the pixie dust sprinkled on (or rather under) SAP Business ByDesign that makes the magic happen.

And the other advantage of the HANA pixie dust is the dramatic simplification of the data model. How is that possible? Doesn’t the operational and transactional system of record of your business require the same level of complexity, perhaps even more complexity, as even the smallest companies deal in global markets and a digital economy? The simple answer is, “No.”

Think about how and why the data in systems has become more complex. A single transaction needs to capture essentially the same pieces of data it always did. Getting this kind of transactional data into ERP has always been fairly easy. Getting insights, answers and decisions out? Not so easy. Just sorting through all the raw transactional data each and every time you had a question simply took too long, even with simple questions like, “How much inventory do I have?” You couldn’t very well add up all the stock going in and out since the beginning of time. It would simply take too long.

So you had to anticipate what you would need up front and address those needs by adding aggregates (totals). But a single aggregate wasn’t enough. Over time you learned you needed to know the total receipts and issues in a given month. And having monthly totals led you to ask for quarterly and annual totals. You anticipated that and added those aggregates in. It works for a while, but then you find you need those totals by country or region or business unit. But you didn’t anticipate that, so you can’t answer that question without long processing times (to find and add up the transactions), or an invasive and disruptive change to the system. And what happens when you reorganize territories or business units?

The speed of HANA now allows you to eliminate many of those aggregates. For very complex join operations it still makes sense for SAP Business ByDesign to pre-calculate rather than re-calculate each time (and it does). But why bother to keep track of simple transactional data month-to-date, quarter-to-date, year-to-date, by country, region or business unit, when in the blink of an eye you could add it all up? And if all of a sudden you need to slice and dice the data a different way? No problem. And think of the amount of code no longer needed just to maintain those totals. That is development time that can now be spent providing real and impactful innovation. A simplified data model leads to added agility in the solution, which translates into added agility in your business.

The Value of Agility

We live in disruptive times. The 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study found 88% of companies believe they face some level of risk in their businesses and/or industries being disrupted by new innovative products, new ways of selling or pricing existing products or services, entirely new business models, or some combination of all of the above. And then of course there are still the more traditional disruptive factors like expansion and growth, organizational restructuring and regulatory changes, just to name a few. All this disruption can have a cascading impact on business application requirements, making agility – the ability to easily innovate, evolve and change – even more important than current functionality.

Our 2017 Enterprise Solution Study confirmed many solution providers have increased the pace and volume of upgrades (Figure 1).

Figure 1: How has the pace of innovation delivered changed?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

But Mint Jutras knows of no other solution provider other than SAP that has gone down the path of removing aggregates to simplify the data model and the associated code – certainly not to this extent.

Driving Meaningful Demand

So will this innovation immediately drive meaningful demand? Not necessarily and not if SAP remains quiet. It must raise the volume with new and different ways of marketing the solution, new ways that are reflective of how searches for new software are conducted today. Like other functions in any organization today, marketing must go through a digital transformation.

The SAP Business ByDesign team is responding by building out a Digital Demand Generation Engine (DDE). They understand people don’t respond to the same efforts that used to work. They know the majority of B2B potential buyers conduct research outside of the normal 9-to-5 workday. Search engine optimization (SEO) is critical. Does SAP Business ByDesign even show up in online searches? And what happens when it does? The speed with which SAP responds and acts on any inquiries will have a direct impact on whether it is even invited to the party. The goal is to respond immediately 24/7.

This of course, will have a significant impact on its success in the third prong of its strategy. By developing a “virtual agency” that delivers all components of a campaign (emails, landing pages, supporting materials for telemarketing and social media), SAP can provide real (and much needed) marketing support to its partners.

Developing Successful Partnerships

Much of SAP Business ByDesign’s early success was achieved through direct sales efforts. But that has changed. In 2016 partners wrote 70% of SAP Business ByDesign contracts. Indeed it would appear the platform has continued to bolster this transition, as evidenced by the 2,641 partner-built add-ons available today.

This is necessary in order to get to the next level, and if successful could lead to explosive growth. A partner strategy is at the very root of SAP’s prior success in the SMB market with SAP Business One. That means building a successful indirect channel. It may indeed tap into the existing SAP Business One channel, which has grown that installed based to over 55,000 customers, supporting over a million users. Or it could recruit from its competitors. Either way, SAP plans to double the SAP Business ByDesign partner capacity in the next year.

ConClusions

It’s about time for SAP Business ByDesign to leave its Rodney Dangerfield image behind. SAP’s three-pronged strategy for SAP Business ByDesign…

  • Deliver best in class innovation
  • Drive meaningful demand
  • Develop successful partnerships

… seems to cover all the bases. It will continue to invest in the core functions of ERP. In fact SAP has vowed to add an additional 100 developers to the team. It will begin to leverage its investment in the underlying architecture to improve the user experience and integrate to other “best of breed” functionality within its own portfolio, in its partner community and perhaps even beyond.

And it plans to raise the volume of its marketing beyond the whisper that it has been, with the hope of attracting new partners and even more new customers.

In combining these three, Mint Jutras would contend that the platform – the very thing that caused SAP to go quiet in the past – should now be the reason to shout. A word of advice to SAP: Shout loud and clear.

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Epicor’s Mission: Ease of Everything

Simplicity seems to be the holy grail of enterprise software these days. It’s no wonder with the rising levels of complexity in the global, digital economy. Streamlining and automation of business processes modeled by enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems should reduce that complexity and yet the ever-present demand for more – more features, more options, more access, more mobility, more technology – conspire against the desire for simplicity. A lot of software vendors today go to market with the message of “simple” but few (if any) can rival Epicor in its quest to provide ease of use, ease of upgrading, ease of access, ease of deployment, and ease of learning… while also becoming a company that is increasingly easy to do business with.

Yes, Epicor’s mission is “ease of everything” and it has made very significant progress on its journey, and has plans to do much more.

Easy to Use

According to Joe Cowan, president and CEO of Epicor, “What we’ve got to do is look at everything the customer does and understand how to make it simpler to do.” When it comes to making the software itself easy to use, Mint Jutras has long recognized that “ease of use” means different things to different people. So every year we ask the survey participants of our annual Enterprise Solution Studies to select what they feel are the top three most important aspects of ease of use. The aggregated answers tell us only a part of the story. For the past several years we’ve started comparing answers across three different “generations.” While all generations agree on some aspects, in others, we find some significant differences (Figure 1), making the job of delivering “easy to use” all that much more challenging.

Efficiency (minimizing the time to complete tasks) is clearly a priority for all. But the different generations have different views on how to achieve that goal:

  • Baby Boomers value intuitive navigation, while it would appear that Millenials simply take it for granted. They grew up playing electronic games and using mobile apps for which a user manual would be a foreign concept.
  • Baby Boomers like to operate from a central point of command, while Millenials are more adept at jumping around.
  • Millenials like “pretty,” as evidenced by placing more value on a visually appealing user interface. And they want it their way – more highly customizable. Baby Boomers apparently are more willing to sacrifice form for function.
  • And Gen X, with the largest representation in our sample, appear to be (appropriately enough) somewhere in between.

Figure 1: Top 3 Most Important Aspects of Ease of Use

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

So where do Epicor customers fit in terms of perceptions of ease of use? The priorities of all respondents (its prospects) and its customers are both important to Epicor decision-making. We were fortunate to have almost 80 Epicor customers participate in our survey this year. Clearly Epicor customers lean more toward the practical aspect of user experience (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Top 3 Most Important Aspects of Ease of Use to Epicor Customers

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Epicor customers place a higher value on the efficiency factors: minimizing time to complete tasks, easily and naturally. While intuitive navigation is right up near the top of the list, the emphasis on simply getting the job done places a very high priority on fit and function, which requires continuous innovation.

Features and functions are very important in order to make a solution easy to use without invasive customizations that create barriers to further innovation. But don’t forget the second most important aspect of ease of use (to Epicor customers) was intuitive navigation. For this, you need a modern user interface.

The different Epicor products are at different stages of development, but one thing you can be sure of is that Epicor is developing new user experiences (UX). The next release (10.2) of Epicor ERP for example will include a new role-based and personalized “Home Page.” It will have a whole new look that is clean and bright, but more importantly, will make decision makers better informed and more productive. It will feature active tiles that will present key metrics that change as you watch – live. You can configure your own “data discovery” through a variety of different presentation styles including ordinary charts, and also maps of just about anything ranging from your own warehouse to maps of the world.

Say you are looking for inventory on hand. You can look at it in normal bar or line chart form in aggregate, or you can see it on a map of your warehouse. And this is not just static data. You can look at it as of a point in time, looking back or looking forward. By dragging your mouse across the date, you see it in a format that appears like time-lapse photography. Need more detail? Click on a bin for details.

To really appreciate this new UX, you indeed need to experience it. Ask for a demo and press your Epicor representative for estimated delivery for the product you either run now or are considering. We think you will be impressed. We think it will make your life easier. But you need to be the judge.

For more on Epicor’s efforts to makes its solutions easy to upgrade, easy to deploy, easy to access, easy to learn, while making the company easy to do business with, click here for the full report.

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IFS Labs Puts Creativity First in the Quest for Digital Transformation

Handling Disruption Successfully With the Help of Agile Technologies

Sometimes software companies must lead the charge in terms of innovation, inspiring customers and prospects to apply leading edge technologies in new and creative ways to create a competitive advantage. Without this push, many companies, particularly those in traditional industries like manufacturing, energy and service, can become complacent. If the software that runs the business isn’t broken, there’s no need to fix it. These are markets served by IFS, primarily select asset- intensive and product-centric industries. They are also the markets IFS Labs is looking to disrupt.

IFS Labs is a small development group within IFS. While the regional leadership concentrates on solving the problems customers face today, IFS Labs is focused on solving the problems of tomorrow – or perhaps the problems and opportunities customers just don’t (yet) know they have.

Putting creativity first, IFS Labs seeks to learn from early adopters. Using a relatively small core team, yet drawing from other development resources across the company, depending on the product expertise required, it tends to have 6 to 12 projects underway at any point in time. These endeavors are essentially “proof of concept” projects, often (but not always) conducted with real, live customers. IFS Labs keeps the projects small because, with the requisite license to fail, it must decide to pursue the concept and apply it universally, or fail fast in order to move on to the next potentially disruptive project.

With this approach, IFS Labs hopes to provide guidance and inspiration to influence customers to disrupt, rather than be disrupted, applying agile technologies to produce that competitive advantage.

Do Customers Need a Little Push?

Last fall Mint Jutras published a report, IFS Helps Customers Accelerate Out of the Curve of Digital Transformation. In it we acknowledged that asset intensive industries, such as those served by IFS, are also likely to be capital intensive, where cost of entry is steep and product lifespans tend to be measured in decades. Once you are an established player in this world, you are tempted to hit cruise control. Change comes slowly. But the digital economy has thrown you a curve, and riding the brakes never gives you a competitive edge. Which is why IFS has set out to help its customers accelerate out of the curve.

We also found asset intensive industries weren’t alone in needing a push in the digital direction. Eighty-two percent (82%) of manufacturers participating in the 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study agree that digital technologies of today (those that serve to connect operations, people and processes through the power of the Internet) have the potential to fundamentally change the way we all do business. Furthermore, 86% understand that embracing digital technologies is necessary for survival. And yet, we found the vast majority still coasting or riding the brakes when it comes to digital transformation.

Last year we discovered IFS had already taken some steps to help customers accelerate digital transformation, releasing two new products. IFS Enterprise Operational Intelligence (EOI) essentially creates a cockpit for navigating the business, and IFS IoT Business Connector is instrumental in collecting, discovering and operationalizing data. Together they bridge the gap between data collection and analysis and between analysis and action. Through plug and play connectivity with the Microsoft Azure IoT Suite, customers can identify actionable observations that can trigger user-defined, automated or semi-automated actions.

These steps are all worthwhile and help companies address the challenges of today, pushing them to add digital technologies to their current solutions, without the major disruption of a rip and replace. And yes, a push is still needed. Last year we found that while 67% of manufacturers felt they were well prepared for the digital economy, in peeling back the onion, we concluded that many were perhaps over-confident in their progress, often held back by old ways of thinking and a lack of understanding and appreciation of what is possible today. Indeed, IFS conducted its own research along these lines and found world-wide the greatest challenge faced in digital transformation was resistance to change and in North America in particular it was the absence of the right organizational and governance model.

So in our 2017 study we dug a little deeper to assess how well manufacturers understand these technologies, and the potential they hold for their businesses. We selected 14 different kinds of technology and asked respondents to assess their level of familiarity with each in terms of how they relate (or not) to their business. These technologies, shown in Table 1, are presented in no particular order.

Adoption rates today are quite low, but note that the two with the highest level of familiarity, and the most likely to be deployed, align with the products IFS introduced last year: IFS EOI for predictive analytics (21%) and IFS IoT Business Connector for IoT (18%). Those that understand these technologies far outnumber those who are not familiar or only somewhat familiar. This is not surprising in that predictive analytics has been around for quite some time, and after all, who doesn’t want to predict the future? The underpinnings of the Internet of Things (IoT) is also well-entrenched in manufacturing and related asset-intensive industries simply because these companies have been collecting data with sensors for decades. However, much of the value of this data has not been realized because it has remained disconnected from enterprise solutions used for decision-making. The Internet and products like IFS IoT Business Connector are needed to bridge that gap and realize the full potential.

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

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

So it would appear that IFS chose well last year in its first steps in helping customers accelerate out of the curve. Now what?

Now IFS Labs is beginning to attack these other technologies that are obviously far less well-understood. For technologies like Blockchain (distributed ledgers), digital twins, beacons and augmented reality, those who lack familiarity outnumber those who understand and perceive relevance to their businesses. The role IFS Labs plays is to research, experiment and prove the value – or not. To that end, we highlight some active projects.

Blockchain for Aviation “Through Life Asset Management”

Given almost half (47%) of the 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study participants are not familiar at all with Blockchain, a bit of explanation seems appropriate. Blockchain, the technology behind the Bitcoin, is most often associated with the transfer of money. While many of us take non-cash transactions for granted these days, the transfer of funds through checks, credit cards and electronic fund transfers (EFT) is actually quite a complicated process, typically left in the domain of banks and other financial institutions. These financial institutions serve as intermediaries between the transacting parties. Even though they might not understand what goes on behind the scenes, most intuitively understand the role these institutions play and more importantly trust that funds will be transferred and recorded securely and accurately. And yet there is always the risk of fraud.

Blockchain is meant to eliminate the need for these intermediaries, while also eliminating the risk of fraudulent activity. Blockchain is a distributed ledger that provides a way for information (data) to be recorded and shared by a community. Each member of the community maintains his or her own copy of the information and all members must validate any updates collectively. Each update is a “block” added permanently to the “chain” creating a complete and auditable system of record. Encryption and protocols replace third party intermediaries as keepers of the trust. The distributed ledger is a shared ledger where transactions are verified and stored on a network without a governing central authority.

But the transfer of monetary funds is not the only application possible with Blockchain technology. It might apply to any chain of activity or transfer of ownership. IFS has chosen the aviation industry for its proof of concept, primarily for two reasons. First of all, in its privately conducted survey, IFS found the aviation industry to have the highest level of digital maturity among those industries it targets. Secondly, because aviation can really use the help in terms of what IFS calls “through life asset management (TLAM).”

Think about it. A typical aircraft consists of two to three million parts. The provenance of those items (i.e. where they came from, who owns what and when ownership transfers) is critical. These parts must be tracked, not only through the manufacturing of the aircraft, but throughout its life. We’re talking potentially decades of supply chain, production and service transactions, which are today captured in all different systems. Records may be written and verbal, often incomplete, generating large volumes of paper storage. There are limited standards and limited traceability in a highly regulated industry, driving the costs of compliance literally and figuratively sky high.

What if instead the aviation industry could write transactions back to a connected permission-based ledger in addition to applications like ERP? IFS envisions developing a purpose-built aviation Blockchain, to provide a single picture of truth. There are many potential benefits like improved data quality, accurate maintenance history, lighter administrative loads and lower costs, all from a single traceable record with trust built in.

But as with any distributed (shared) ledger, this requires cooperation across the community, in this case including those manufacturing, servicing and maintaining the aircraft, software providers and regulators. A technology consortium to administer the Blockchain is required and there will be gradual adoption. There are still issues to be resolved, issues like transaction latency and compatibility with existing information technology (IT) systems. But none of these issues will ever be resolved without companies like IFS taking some bold first moves and being willing to fail at first attempts.

Working with forward-thinking early adopters will help shape the future. While adoption rates are still very low across all of the technologies listed in Table 1, we found those with World Class ERP implementations were two to five times as likely to have deployed or were in the process of deploying them. Those with World Class implementations were a full five times as likely to have taken first steps with Blockchain in particular. IFS Labs will start small in the aviation industry, developing proofs of concept, and then eventually look for other applications.

Wearable Devices and Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is another of those technologies where a large percentage of our survey participants lacked familiarity or saw little value. Augmented reality generally requires some sort of wearable device. While Google Glass was initially a flop in the consumer market, there are some very practical uses for this kind of technology in the industrial world.

In fact our 2016 Enterprise Solution Study found a high level of interest in wearable devices (Figure 1).

Figure 1: What level of interest do you have in using wearable devices?

Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

What makes wearable devices interesting to manufacturers? Seventy percent (70%) of manufacturers that expressed interest see the potential for hands free operations. In asset-intensive industries like those IFS serves, the potential is very real, particularly in terms of servicing and maintaining these assets. Think about the potential for overlaying a schematic over a piece of equipment in trouble-shooting, or providing a check list for diagnostics or routine maintenance.

We also found 36% of our survey respondents saw wearable devices as the “device of the future” and 39% view them as just another device that needed to be considered in the context of “bring your own device (BYOD).” Could a material handler’s personal Apple Watch replace those ruggedized RFID/bar code scanners so prevalent in warehouses and in the field today? In these cases, it will be important to connect back to ERP, either to retrieve data or to record transactions.

And yet despite last year’s apparent interest, this year we found very few making the connection between these wearable devices and augmented reality. We feel this is largely due to the current limitations of the wearable devices themselves. It is largely the head mounted device (similar in concept to the original Google Glass) that will bring the most value to asset intensive industries. And these devices are still quite new, feel a bit clumsy, and many don’t produce a completely hands-free experience. Plus software developers like IFS Labs are still experimenting with designing the user experience.

But there will come a time, in the not so distant future, when these devices will be no clumsier than a pair of standard safety glasses. When that time comes, in environments where eye protection is required, why not build additional functionality in? We believe it is important to be experimenting now with these use cases and design because there is still much to be learned.

Leveraging IoT in New and Creative Ways

While IoT is clearly a reality today, we have just begun to scratch the surface in terms of leveraging its full potential. And that is why IFS Labs is working directly with some early adopters of IFS IoT Business Connector, not only in collecting and analyzing the data collected by sensors, SCADA systems, PLCs and OLE (object linking and embedding) for Process Control (OPC), but perhaps even in creating new revenue sources?

But Can IoT Build a Better Mouse Trap?

Many business innovators set out to build a better mouse trap – figuratively speaking that is. But IFS customer Anticimex took on that challenge quite literally. Anticimex became an early adopter of the IFS IoT Business Connector once the product was added to the roadmap.  It is an example of an IFS customer that is benefitting from product innovation that came out of an IFS Labs proof of concept (POC) project several years ago.

Anticimex provides pest control services. Controlling pests like mice, rats and other small rodents means eliminating those pests. Eliminating them without damaging the structure in which they reside, means first catching them. Traditionally this has not been a high-tech business. It involves setting traps, checking the traps and getting rid of the trapped pests. That means sending service technicians on site for inspection and removal.

But what if you were to put sensors in those traps that allowed you to monitor them remotely? What if those sensors could not only tell you when you’ve caught a pest, but whether the trap is full? What if those sensors could also monitor the battery charge in the traps and tell you when that battery is near end of life?

If you were able to collect all this data and monitor it remotely, think about the technicians’ time you could save. If you could store and analyze this data, you could detect and even predict and avoid an infestation. Could you use this data to potentially sell your services to the neighboring businesses closest to your customer?

Figure 2: Anticimex IoT Solution Overview

Source: IFS Labs

This is how Anticimex, with the help of IFS Labs, is leveraging IoT, along with IFS applications, in a new and innovative way.

Wrap Up

Although IFS Labs is a relatively small group within IFS, it has a big job to do. Its job is to disrupt. Putting creativity first, the team is able to draw from resources corporate-wide in order to experiment and learn from forward-thinking early adopters. It is very important for a group like this to have a license to fail. By keeping proof of concept projects small, the team can be daring, failing fast in order to learn and move on to the next innovative concept.

But IFS Labs must do more than just disrupt. It must educate customers and prospects, provide guidance and inspiration, and influence them to leverage the disruptive digital technologies of today and of tomorrow.

We wish them lots of luck and hope to see these efforts continue.

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