customer experience

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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“Ease of Use” of Your Enterprise Software: More than Just a Pretty Face

Or is it? It All Depends on Who You Ask.

For several years now I have been listening to enterprise application software vendors touting “beautiful software.” Yes, the whole customer experience and ease of use of software have become increasingly important, influenced in part by the consumerization of IT. However, I am of the firm belief that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and efficiency is far more important than “beauty.”

This belief has been backed up by data. For the last few years I have asked survey participants in my annual enterprise solution study to select their top three highest priorities for ease of use. The options I provide to them are shown in the chart below (Figure 1). A “visually appealing user interface” is my interpretation of “beautiful software” and has consistently ranked close to the bottom while indicators of efficiency (including time to complete tasks and intuitive navigation) were right up at the top. This year we saw beauty ranking a little higher, but it still comes out towards the bottom

Figure 1: Defining “Ease of Use” by Selecting “Top 3”Figure 1 Blog

Source: Mint Jutras 2014 and 2015 Enterprise Solution Studies

However, with all the talk about the influence of the Millenials in the workforce we decided it was time to get a better picture of this influence. So we captured participants’ age and grouped them accordingly as Baby Boomers (born between 1943 and 1964), Generation Xers (1965 to 1981) and Millenials (since 1982). All three categories had adequate representation for us to make some comparisons, with 61 Millenials, 162 Gen Xers and 108 Baby Boomers. And we found that these priorities depend a lot on who you ask (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Defining “Ease of Use” by Selecting “Top 3”

Figure 2 BlogSource: Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study

While minimizing time to complete tasks still takes the lead for all three generations, it does so with a much wider margin in the Baby Boomer generation. Two out three Baby Boomers selected this, compared to only one out of two Millennials. And look what came in second. A very close second for Baby Boomers was intuitive navigation, while beautiful software (a visually appealing user interface) was virtually tied for first in the youngest of the three generations. Yet only one in five Baby Boomers (and one in four Gen Xers) selected beautiful software as a ”top 3.”

Indeed, if you are an enterprise solution provider targeting Millenials, the visual appeal of the user interface is far more important than if your buyer is a Baby Boomer. The truth of the matter is that all groups are important, particularly in selecting software that essentially runs your business. While it is most likely that a Baby Boomer or a Gen Xer is signing off on the final decision, it is equally certain that Millenials will be part of the evaluation and selection process. And once selected and installed, representatives from all generations are certain to be using the software.

So what happens when software is hard to use? We asked survey participants this exact question, asking them to select one of four possible responses (Figure 3). While many associate the demand for a better user experience with the consumerization of IT and therefore attribute it to the younger generation, we actually find the Baby Boomer generation the least tolerant of software that is hard to use. And this from a generation accustomed to “hard.”

Figure 3: What best describes your response when software is hard to use?

Figure 3 BlogSource: Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study

Let’s face it. Early enterprise solutions, including ERP, were anything but user-friendly. They were hard to learn and hard to use. Because early ERP systems didn’t work exactly the way people worked, workers first had to learn how to do their jobs, and then separately had to learn how to enter data into ERP, and/or how to extract it. Depending on how closely (or not) these two were aligned, the same ERP that was supposed to make life easier, sometimes made it harder. While Baby Boomers might not claim to have walked five miles to school in two feet of snow (uphill both ways?), they were accustomed to “hard.” They didn’t revolt. They adapted, but often that meant working around the system instead of with it. And as you can see, they are still more than twice as likely as younger workers to do just that. Why? Because they can. They’ve been around long enough to know the business inside and out. They don’t need a software package to tell them what to do or guide them in how to do it.

On the other hand, the younger generation is much more dependent on technology and much more easily influenced by “beautiful software.” And they have the Baby Boomer generation to thank… or blame for that.

While Baby Boomers might have simply kept quiet and worked around these early systems, on a personal level they also wanted “better” and “easier” for the next generation. And they delivered that, providing all the “modern conveniences” to their children and grandchildren. And of course the electronics of today were a natural progression for these next generations. They took to Xbox and computer games like fish to water. And games led to computers and cell phones and then smart phones, and then tablets. Computers led them to the Internet. Smart phones and tablets led them to “apps.”

When the generation that grew up with consumer technology entered the “real world” and got jobs, they couldn’t understand why the “apps” they used at work weren’t as easy to use as the ones they were using on their smart phones and tablets. Unlike the older generation that knew the business and the business processes inside and out, and therefore knew how to operate outside of the system, the younger generation had become dependent upon technology.

While years ago only a select few employees within a company ever put their hands directly on solutions that run the business, those days are long gone. Today almost half of employees have some access to solutions like finance and accounting or ERP, beyond those self-service functions like benefits administration, paid time off and purchase requisitioning. And this percentage is growing. How easy the software is to use correlates strongly with how well it is used and the benefits derived. It behooves any company to make sure users can and do make the most and best use of the software. The onus is on the solution providers to make sure the applications are not only robust in terms of features, functions and technology, but also easy to use, including all the different aspects. And it’s a lot easier to like a pretty face.

We are continuing to collect more responses to the Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study so the survey is still open. If you are consumer of enterprise software and are interested in receiving a summary of all our results, please participate by taking the survey. Click here to take the survey. We will need your email address to send you a link to results, but rest assured we never share any contact info and responses are analyzed only in the aggregate.

If you an enterprise solution provider and are either interested in surveying your customers and/or getting more insights into the data we collect and our analysis, please contact Lisa Lincoln at lisa@mintjutras.com.

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SAP Business Suite on HANA: Changing the Conversation

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

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

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

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

A Year Later…

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

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

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

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

Asking the Right Questions Today

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

Cue card

Source: SAP

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

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

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

 Fiori: More Than Just a Pretty Face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making the Human Connection

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

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

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

Key Takeaways

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

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Einstein Inspires SYSPRO USA Brain Trust

Boosting US Manufacturing In 4-Part Partner Program

In December 2013 SYSPRO USA launched a program targeting US manufacturers. The four-part program has ambitious goals, designed to be facilitated by the company’s extensive partner channel.  While SYSPRO has been committed to supporting the global small and mid-sized manufacturing and distribution community for over 30 years as a provider of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), this program reaches far beyond the usual objectives of an enterprise software company. Labeled as a new Brain Boost program, it consists of four “trust” initiatives focused on:

  • Product trust
  • Deployment trust
  • Micro-vertical trust and
  • Economic or community trust

While the first three components are fairly straightforward and less unique-sounding competitively, the fourth “trust” initiative extends beyond the aspirations and scope of most ERP providers. Yet SYSPRO has always emphasized its customer, hence community, focus. Unlike many other enterprise software vendors focused exclusively on increasing market share and share of the customers’ wallet, SYSPRO has always genuinely cared about making its customers both happy and successful.

Now it is stepping beyond the customer, to the manufacturing community at large. This economic trust initiative is all about creating an environment that protects intellectual property, supports job creation and keeps US-based manufacturing companies strong and profitable. Can an ERP company really have this kind of impact? Certainly not all by itself. That’s why it needs a Brain Trust.

Inspired by Einstein

SYSPRO is clearly inspired by the genius of Einstein. Over the years Einstein has influenced many of its initiatives, starting with its “Simply SMARTER” strategy (an acronym: Strategy, Methodology, Accountability, Resources, Technology, Education, Customer Rewards). SYSPRO also built out its own theory of ERP relativity: S=MC2, where M stands for material, and C2 is cost and cash management. S, of course, stands for SYSPRO. Then came the SYSPRO Quantum Architecture, followed by a “wired” Einstein on Espresso, fueling the “always on, on-the-go” mobile (wireless) customer.

The latest inspiration is based on what made the brilliant physicist so special: his brain. Einstein’s brain has long been the subject of speculation and research. At one time, many believed his genius to be a result of his brain being larger than normal, stemming from the observation that he was born with an unusually large head.

However, you might say the child soon grew into his head, which ultimately, for all outward appearances seemed a normal shape and size.  Although clearly “special” in terms of its capabilities, actual measurements proved it to actually be a bit smaller than average. For the role Einstein would play in life, it was clearly built better, not bigger. This is one of the reasons SYSPRO loves to draw these analogies. While not the biggest vendor in the ERP market, SYSPRO fancies itself and its products as “better, not bigger” for the markets it serves.

Yet not being the biggest also means it must build trust in its product and its ability to deploy easily and reliably in the markets it hopes to serve.

Product Trust

SYSPRO is one of only a few remaining ERP vendors that offers a single product suite and therefore it enjoys the luxury of a singular, focused development effort. That focus happens to be on manufacturing and distribution. In addition, SYSPRO, as a privately held company can also afford the luxury of concentrating on satisfying the customer and reseller community, as opposed to the investment community (Wall Street).

This “Product Trust” is based on SYSPRO’s latest Release 7, which represents a time-phased delivery against requirements collected from over 750 small to mid-size manufacturing companies. The SYSPRO ERP product is almost exclusively sold through channel partners. This collection process combines the power of the SYSPRO channel with the relationship SYSPRO enjoys with its customers directly through periodic “SNAP Surveys.” SNAP, short for SYSPRO Needs Answers Please, is the mechanism SYSPRO used to bring features such as enhanced user interfaces, with active tiles and touch capabilities, custom configurability and mobile access to its latest release (Release 7).

The Product Trust is formed through collaboration between its trusted partners (users and resellers) and its own development staff. Not content to rest on its laurels, SYSPRO is constantly strengthening its capabilities both from a functional and technological perspective. Yet the combination of standards-based technology from Microsoft (standards like .NET framework, XML, HTML5) and multi-tier architectures keep it affordable and suitable for a small-scale environment.

But continuous change, even when linked to continuous improvement, can be a challenge for small to mid-size manufacturers. Even though technological advances allow software vendors to bring more innovation to the market, updates and upgrades can be costly and disruptive. While ERP can generate cost savings and other improvements, many manufacturers wind up squandering those savings on the care and feeding of the systems designed to save them money.

Which is exactly why SYSPRO is delivering the innovation of Release 7 in a new way. You might call it “drip feeding” innovation, allowing customers to accept enhancements in smaller, more digestible chunks. This is just one of the ways SYSPRO is helping manufacturers become stronger and more profitable. By making product features and technology easier to consume, manufacturers are able to divert budget from the typical maintenance-related IT spend, freeing up cash and working capital to innovate their businesses. Features, functions and technology that are easier to consume can be deployed faster and more efficiently.

Deployment Trust

While today many narrowly associate “deployment options” with Software as a Service (SaaS), in this case Deployment Trust is more about rapid implementation than it is about cloud versus on-premise deployments. Yes, SYSPRO can be deployed either in a traditional on-premise environment or in the cloud, although cloud implementations are more akin to hosted models than a multi-tenant SaaS solution.

The SYSPRO Deployment Trust has been formed to battle against the bad rap ERP has gotten in general based on potentially long and difficult implementations. Failed implementations are frequently blamed on the software itself and yet often the software attributed to a failed implementation is the same software powering one that is wildly successful. Success is often less about the software, and more about the disciplines and business processes the applications are intended to model.

SYSPRO has long had its own implementation methodology suitable to small to mid-size businesses (SMBs), but it is now investing in new industry-specific business process workflows, account structures, executive dashboards with pre-defined key performance indicators (KPIs), industry roles and reporting. It recognizes the typical SMB faces many of the same pressures as its larger counterparts, but can’t afford to start from scratch and re-invent wheels. So it builds best-practices into the data and process models.

SYSPRO has worked diligently to make sure these templates, structures and process flows are not static. Not only must they be adaptable and configurable to each individual business, but also reflective of the reality that business change is inevitable. Therefore the software must continue to be agile and flexible, able to evolve and change.

Micro-vertical Trust: The Food Industry

The investment in micro-verticals is a natural by-product of the Deployment Trust initiative, since much of the content provided is indeed industry-specific. The first micro-vertical selected for this Brain Trust is the food industry, which provides a unique opportunity for SYSPRO USA. It is an industry that is not only recession-proof, but also faces a very specific and pressing set of operational challenges. The food industry across the world faces rising commodity prices, but in the US, it also faces increased pressure from large retailers like Walmart, added complexities of trade promotions and deductions and intense scrutiny from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

But perhaps top of mind has been the growing concern over food safety. Over the past six years the US has seen some of the biggest food recalls in history, impacting both fresh produce like lettuce, spinach and peanuts, as well as meats (beef, ground turkey, chicken and other poultry) and all sorts of processed foods from cookie dough to frozen dinners and salad dressings.

A result of these growing concerns has been the passing of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011. The goal of the new law is to better safeguard the US food supply and therefore compliance is mandatory, even for small to mid-size companies in the food industry. The law will radically change how many do business. The FSMA gives new legislative power to the FDA, including the ability to mandate a recall and close plants where there is a “reasonable probability” of potential threat. But perhaps most game changing of all, managers can be held personally liable and face the threat of criminal prosecution. The FSMA will be to manufacturing executives what Sarbanes-Oxley was to the accountants. So achieving regulatory compliance and food safety has become an absolute necessity.

Like other manufacturing segments, the food industry must deal with growing supply chain complexities, the need to improve forecasting, reduce inventory and improve customer satisfaction. In addition, it needs to comply with food safety regulations, including complete forward and backward traceability, manage recipes and formulas, replacement ingredients, co-products and by-products. And yet, throughout, it must not lose sight of efficiency, accuracy and profitability, often with razor-thin margins.

Economic Trust

So can SYSPRO build economic trust by addressing the stringent requirements of the food industry and perhaps others? Can a software company help…

  • Protect intellectual property?
  • Modernize processes that lead to profitability?
  • Free up resources wasted now on IT support that adds little value?
  • Stimulate US manufacturing innovation?
  • Facilitate creation of the best kind of US jobs, those based on creating real opportunity for business growth?

This is indeed a tall order. And perhaps software alone can’t achieve these goals. But one thing is certain. Manufacturers cannot compete and contribute to strengthening the US economy today without adequate supporting technology.  ERP has been both a boon and sometimes a burden to bottom lines. Many manufacturers have seen cost savings gained through ERP implementation eaten away by the cost and disruption of upgrades, or even worse, have left money on the table by not taking full advantage of software innovation. Today’s US manufacturing/distribution community could benefit enormously from having a partner focused on reasonably priced ERP technology, innovation that is easy to consume and operational coaching. That is why SYSPRO is committed to turning its channel partners into these dedicated resources.

As a result, SYSPRO is revisiting its Einstein Strategy and turning its Simply SMARTER acronym into the basis for a new SMARTER channel program:

Strategy: While SYSPRO has always sold almost exclusively through the channel, there is a renewed focus on recruiting, not just “life style” partners, but those not only interested in growing a significant business, but also with the knowledge and business acumen to truly add value to manufacturing operations.

Methodology: new and revised implementation methodologies for rapid deployment. This approach also extends back through the selling process, with heightened collaboration and standardized sales methodology, including special bundles and pricing.

Accountability: with program deployment incentives and the measurement of customer lifetime value.

Resources: pre- and post-sale assistance with the addition of ecosystem experts, particularly in food and safety and even assistance in factory layout.

Technology: continuous feature, function and technology innovation that is easily consumed.

Education: in strategy, marketing, sales, implementation, support and application development.

Rewards: customized partner-tailored goals, KPI measurement and management.

Thus far, SYSPRO has been able to bring 37 new partners to close. By concentrating on coaching these partners to success, SYSPRO hopes the channel will be able to “pay it forward’ and in turn coach their customers to the same level of achievement, creating an environment of growth and profits.

Summary

Most ERP software companies would be happy just to sustain or grow their own revenues. While this is important to SYSPRO USA, its executives have a long history of participating in civic, government and economic development. Being focused exclusively on manufacturing and distribution segments, this community holds a special place in SYSPRO USA’s executives’ hearts and minds, as does the desire for a stronger US manufacturing economy. Focus on product innovation and ease of deployment are important elements, particularly in support of the food industry, which feeds the country and helps fuel its growth. By also contributing executive services and educational programs, along with program incentives, SYSPRO USA stands squarely behind and in support of economic growth and job creation. A worthy goal of a Brain Trust? Yes. Genius? Perhaps not. Simply smarter? Definitely.

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ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier? Part 2

This is the second post of a series on Next Generation ERP. If you missed the first in the series, take a moment and read it here.

If you are running an older ERP solution, especially those implemented prior to the year 2000 (Y2K), you may not even be aware of what you can expect from a modern, technology-enabled, next generation ERP. For many, many years ERP selection was largely driven by fit and functionality. Even today, Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study survey respondents put fit and functionality close to the top of the list of selection criteria (ease of use was number 1).

As a result, the footprint of ERP has grown steadily, to the point where it is sometimes hard to figure out where ERP ends and other applications begin. But it isn’t the depth and breadth of functionality that qualifies an ERP solution as “next generation.” It is the underlying technology. And conversely, it is that new technology that enables ERP footprints to expand at an accelerated rate.

Unless you are a technologist (and most business executives are not), you might not know or care about that underlying technology, because you don’t understand it. But it is dangerous to ignore it simply because of what it can do for you. You don’t know how the USS Enterprise achieved warp speed, but you know that it can. You don’t know how the transporter beam works, but you know what happens when Captain Kirk says, “Beam me up, Scottie.” You don’t need to know how the development platform allows your solution provider to deliver more innovation, but it is important that you understand the potential.  It is far less important to understand how this new technology works than it is to know what it can do for you.

The New Basics

The “basics” of ERP used to be defined by basic functionality required by all types of companies. Basics usually referred to core modules of ERP: general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, order management, purchasing and inventory control. For manufacturers it also included MRP and the basic requirements to schedule, create and manage production orders. Those modules are still important today but “basic” functionality has become somewhat of a commodity. Forty-three percent (43%) of survey respondents to the 2013 Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study would consider purchasing core ERP functions like a monthly utility and realigning their selection team to focus on the remaining “value-add” to produce strategic or competitive advantage, or simply to cut costs.

Basics now extend to include some advanced technology modules like work flow, event management (triggers and alerts), process modeling and enterprise portals. Yet, unlike basic functional modules, which are fully implemented by the majority of our survey respondents, these technology basics, including business intelligence and analytics, are still largely under-utilized – even as we gain ground in adoption.

Table 1: Advanced Technology Modules – Fully Implemented

table1 Source: Mint Jutras 2011 and 2013 ERP Solution Studies

Older legacy solutions may not even include these technology options in their portfolios, but any next generation ERP certainly will.

What else should you be looking for? Without fully understanding the technology platform upon which “next generation” ERP solutions are built it may be difficult to recognize them. Here are a few hints you can listen for as vendors describe their offerings: service oriented architecture, object-oriented data models, event-driven and/or message-based technology, semantic layers, mobility, rules engines, in-memory databases, HTML5 and XML. What all these boil down to are new ways of engaging with ERP, ease of configuration versus customization, better integration capabilities and new ways of delivering innovation.

New Ways of Engaging with ERP

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

Next generation ERP attacks this very real problem by making the user interface more intuitive and more personalized. It has been hypothesized that Star Trek’s communication devices inspired the first mobile phones, which of course evolved into today’s smart phones and tablets. Now with the introduction of so many consumer applications on mobile devices, we have all become much more demanding of user interfaces. It’s called “the consumerization of IT” and it is a very real phenomenon. We demand truly intuitive screens and touch technology.

Next generation ERP has responded to these demands with web-based access, making ERP accessible anywhere, anytime with an increasing number of functions available through mobile devices. Touch technology is making its way into the hands of ERP users. Look for this to become more pervasive and for more devices to be natively supported.

And don’t forget enterprise search functions. It is not entirely clear when “Google” became a verb, but that is indeed how we use the term today. We’re very accustomed to conducting Internet based searches on topics and questions. Next generation ERP supports those same search capabilities within its own structured data, adding a level of context not previously available. Next generation search capabilities embedded in ERP can tell the difference between searching for Phillips, your customer, and a Phillips head screwdriver.

New ways of engaging with ERP have put “Ease of Use” at the top of the leader board in terms of selection criteria. But “Ease of Use” means much more today than just an intuitive user interface. Mint Jutras 2013 ERP Solution Study participants were asked to select their top three priorities for ease of use. Results are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Top 3 Most Important “Ease of Use” Issues

Figure1

Source: Mint Jutras  2013 ERP Solution Study

Yet how an accounts payable clerk or a material handler interacts with ERP is (and should be) very different from how an executive decision maker engages. Line of business executives will likely keep tabs on the pulse of the business through a select number of key performance indicators (KPIs). Next generation ERP will present a customized, graphical view of those KPIs but also allow the executive to drill down to successive levels of detail. Those customized views will combine ERP with other tools including email and productivity tools such as Microsoft Office and even chat functions that can record instant messaging “conversations.” And they will be available on a myriad of devices.

In the next part of this series we will explore customization versus configuration and tailoring to be followed by a section on innovation and integration.

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