Deltek

Purposeful Innovation Helps Deltek Turn Challenges into Opportunity

Deltek is unique within the world of enterprise applications. Focused squarely on meeting the needs of project-driven businesses, on the one hand, it is like hundreds of other solution providers offering some flavor of project management software. On the other hand, it is unique in offering an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) designed specicially for projects-based businesses. Yes, other ERP vendors target similar industries and also offer complementary project management solutions, but no other vendor combines these two software categories quite like Deltek. In the realm of (just) project management, Deltek must face the challenge of differentiating itself in a highly fragmented market. But in creating a software category where only a single vendor qualifies, a different kind of challenge looms. Competitors bring validation.

While Deltek is laser-focused on project-based businesses, this “sector” also brings a tremendous level of diversity. Government contractors are starkly different than advertising, PR and marketing agencies. Architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) differs from legal, healthcare or management and IT consulting services. Energy, oil and gas is different than aerospace and defense. Operating a for-profit business is different than running a nonprofit. Some sectors are heavily regulated; others operate under few constraints. Some manage projects that last days or weeks and others span multiple years. And yet Deltek addresses the needs of all these different types of project-driven businesses – and does it very well.

A general-purpose kind of solution can’t do this effectively, and therefore over the years, through internal development and acquisition, Deltek has collected quite an array of products, leaving it with the added challenge of providing continued innovation across a broad portfolio. And yet it has proven over time its ability to leverage this portfolio to go beyond the traditional 80/20 rule of ERP to deliver last-mile functionality.

And of course, Deltek is confronted with some universal challenges all software companies face today. Technology is rapidly changing the way we do business. At the same time, the workforce is undergoing a generational shift and the access anytime, from anywhere, collaborative promise of the cloud is becoming a “must have.”

Can Deltek’s plans to leverage technology for “purposeful innovation” address these challenges and also unlock the potential for more opportunity for both Deltek itself and its customers? Let’s see.

The Challenge of Being “One of a Kind”

In today’s global, digital economy, competition is fierce and every company strives to differentiate itself. So at first glance, being the only software company competing for market share in a particular software category may appear to be a good thing. Yet while it does put that company in a position of strength, it never means winning business is a slam dunk. Every company has competition, and Deltek is no exception. On the plus side, Deltek recognizes this and never attempts to beat its chest and portray itself as truly “one of a kind.” But, the type of competition it faces will vary depending on what the prospect does and what it sets out to buy.

If a Deltek prospect, say a government contractor, is looking for ERP (think accounting, procurement, inventory, manufacturing, etc.), Deltek will face certain qualified ERP providers. The prospect may not even necessarily think, “I need to find an ERP solution to support my project-based business.” Instead it thinks, “I need a software solution to run my business.” And therefore, Deltek’s differentiation as ERP for project-driven businesses doesn’t necessarily narrow the field of competition at the outset. The door is open for any or all ERP competitors. It then falls on the Deltek sales team to educate the prospect on the differentiating features for a project-based government contractor. When that effort is successful, then the tables are turned and that “one of a kind” status will serve to eliminate the other contenders.

But if the prospect, say a professional services organization, is simply looking for a better way to schedule projects, Deltek has moved away from the “one of a kind” challenge. Here it faces a whole different set of potential competitors in the category of project scheduling software. And this field is  highly fragmented, with offerings that range from simple desktop solutions to robust, multi-faceted solutions for budgeting, project accounting, scheduling, risk management and analytics.

Here oftentimes the issue is the age-old debate between a suite-based solution or a “Best of Breed,” and this debate has been hotly contested for just as long. An integrated suite that provides a complete end-to-end solution (including project management) on which to run your business has been the holy grail of the ERP world for decades. For project-based businesses, this is the premise behind Deltek’s ERP. But if the prospect is just looking for something to help them manage the projects themselves, putting a full ERP solution in front of them will appear as overkill.

To better determine where we stand today in this debate, we asked survey participants in our 2019 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study to choose between a “Suite in a Box” – a complete end-to-end solution that is pre-integrated and ready right “out of the box,” or a more “Best of Breed” approach with a strong core, coupled with the ability to purchase or develop additional functionality and easily (we use the term loosely) connect it back to the core. We recognize the choice is not always so cut and dried, and therefore added some options that are more of a mix but leaning in one direction or the other. Figure 1 paints an interesting picture, made even more interesting in the context of project management.

Figure 1: Which approach is most appealing to you?

Source: Mint Jutras 2019 Enterprise Solution Study

Over time the pendulum has swung back and forth between preferences for the two choices, predicated primarily on two factors. When the debate first emerged, the proponents of an integrated suite pointed to the ease of integration. If you used the functionality built into your ERP, there was no added cost or effort in integrating multiple applications. But the “Best of Breed” camp reasoned against this approach, using the “depth or breadth” argument. They implied integrated suites were a mile wide, but an inch deep, pointing out that the functionality built in was lighter and less feature-rich and definitely not “best of breed.” This is the exact assumption Deltek disproves with its project-based ERP.

And yet, Figure 1 shows the Best of Breed approach is favored over the full suite 2:1. There are actually some very good explanations for this preference amongst project-driven businesses.

Take, for example, a small professional services firm with 10 to 20 consultants. This type of small business may think it is too small for ERP. While Mint Jutras would disagree, we do recognize many might be adequately served by solutions like QuickBooks or desktop or cloud-based simple accounting systems. Yet projects are the lifeblood of their businesses and therefore they need robust tools to schedule and manage those projects.

At the opposite end of the spectrum you might also have large enterprises that have invested heavily in a corporate ERP system chosen for its depth and breadth of administrative and financial capabilities. Many of these corporate ERP solutions lack the operational capabilities required to help the business function efficiently. And therefore, divisions or entire corporations turn to Best of Breed solutions to better manage projects. Deltek not only has that base covered, but also makes it easy to integrate back to any ERP.

Deltek’s broad portfolio of products helps it turn the challenge of being “one of a kind” into a strength. Rather than attempting to serve the varied needs of a very diverse market with a single general purpose, horizontal solution, it offers several different suites targeting the needs of different verticals, as well as a more “best of breed” project and portfolio management solution. But the breadth of its product portfolio comes with its own set of challenges.

The Challenge of Last Mile Functionality in a Diverse Market

The ERP market has long been dominated by the 80/20 rule. With few exceptions, most early solution providers cast a wide net. Unwilling to turn any potential business away without a try, they came to market with very broad solutions. By trying to please everyone, they never had a complete solution for anyone. The 80-20 rule prevailed. Nobody expected a solution to satisfy all their needs (an 80% fit was often the goal), resulting in complexity, as well as invasive (and sometimes expensive) customizations that built barriers to further innovation.

Deltek has been unique in never succumbing to this 80/20 rule, choosing instead to acquire and develop purpose-built solutions that address the needs of specific industries, including what many view as the elusive “last mile functionality.” Its latest acquisition of ComputerEase is yet another example of this pursuit. ComputerEase is the recognized standard in construction accounting, project management, and field management software for contractors. 

Earlier in the year, Deltek acquired Avitru to bolster its Specification Solutions with a library of master specifications (MasterSpec®), specification writing software and professional and spec-writing services. These are just two examples of how Deltek delivers true last mile functionality to the AEC industry.

While these requirements are very unique to AEC, even functional areas that might seem quite generic to other businesses have some unique characteristics across different project-based businesses. Procurement for government contracts differs (a lot) from procurement in residential or industrial AEC sectors, and these differences carry over into accounts payable , otherwise typically a pretty generic function.

But as different as these businesses are from each other, they always share some common requirements.  General ledger is general ledger, even though projects may carry into the chart of accounts. Cash collection is cash collection. Currency conversion, tax rates and multi-company consolidations are applied universally.

Both of the acquisitions above are examples of how Deltek extends the functionality of its core solutions, rather than embedding features through invasive code changes. Yet the types of (potentially shared) services are typically built into the core solution, rather than included as extensions.

Embedding core functionality is reflective of how ERP has traditionally been built, and Deltek ERP solutions are no exception here. Early ERP solutions were monolithic structures. They were likely comprised of modules (e.g. general ledger, accounts payable, inventory management, purchasing, order management, etc.) and certainly some were optional, but none of these could stand alone. All modules shared a common database and all were developed using the same tools and technology. The good news: they all moved forward in lock step, data redundancy was eliminated along with any need for separate integration efforts. But this approach makes it hard for different solutions to share commonly required features and functions and means Deltek must develop the same or similar functionality within several different software suites.

Disruption: A Contributing Factor

This wasn’t too much of problem when requirements for this type of core functionality were quite stable. That is no longer the case. We live in disruptive times. The pace of change and the pace of technology innovation has accelerated beyond anyone’s expectations and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

We asked our 2018 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study participants to assess the level of risk their industries faced in terms of the potential for disruption.

Figure 2: What risk do you face in your industry being disrupted?

Source: 2018 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study

While all but 10% acknowledged some level of risk, the majority (84%) feel the risk is low to medium rather than high or imminent. Yet we feel compelled to ask the question: How do you think the taxi industry would have answered this question on the eve of the launch of Uber? Nobody saw that disruption coming and therefore few (if any) were adequately prepared.

This type of disruption is unlike the disruption of the past that was largely due to new innovative products. Not only can it bring change almost overnight, but it can fundamentally change the way we do business. That kind of change has a cascading impact on the core requirements of ERP.

Technology Helps

Fortunately, today technology exists that can help companies like Deltek to address new or changed common requirements once and apply that solution across different solutions. This kind of technology is foundational.

While early ERP solutions were rigid, monolithic structures, today’s modern solutions are more component-based, also referred to as microservices architectures. Every technologist in our audience knows a microservice architecture is defined 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. Purists hate this analogy, and yes, it is an over-simplification. But it is an effective analogy that resonates with most business users that don’t have the interest or inclination to dive deep into technical jargon.

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 a hammer, timber and nails.

With this type of architecture, enhancements, customizations and extensions can be built and consumed much more quickly, and companies like Deltek can develop functionality once and deploy it across multiple products. Not all of Deltek’s solutions today are there yet, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be refactored to take advantage of this kind of technology, and in fact its Vantagepoint product already does.

This noninvasive approach was instrumental in bringing a new, modern user interface, Deltek iAccess, to all its applications. While each Deltek customer will likely be running only one of Deltek’s ERP solutions, Deltek has been delivering more and more functionality via cloud-based add-ons, including Deltek CRM, Deltek Resource Planning and Deltek Talent Management. With iAccess providing that front end across all products, users experience a consistent look and feel throughout, making the integration appear seamless. Mint Jutras expects that this kind of approach will eventually be used to bring change and new innovation to the different cores as well.

In the meantime, iAccess is also a step in the right direction to address another challenge – that of the generational shift in today’s workforce.

The Challenge of A Generational Shift

This generational shift is a given today. Baby Boomers are retiring at an accelerating rate, passing the torch primarily (but not exclusively) to Generation X. But it is not the Gen Xers as much as the Millennials that are creating demand for access to data from anywhere, from any device, with a new and improved user experience. This generation never knew a world without the Internet, smart phones and on-demand access to technology. They never used software that came with (or needed) a user manual. And they are more transient. Employees don’t come to a company and stay forever or even for a long time. As more Baby Boomers retire, the tribal knowledge they have accumulated over decades goes out the door with them, contributing to a skills shortage.

Many of the younger generation have developed a dependency on technology. Without decades of experience, they have come to rely on it to guide them through business processes. At the same time, we’re all asked to do more, and we’d love to accomplish this without working longer hours and making sacrifices. Never before has the home/work life balance been more top of mind.

New intuitive user interfaces, like iAccess, are certainly a giant leap in the right direction. But this is just a start. Deltek is also taking two other, equally important steps through adding automation and intelligence.

Robotic Process Automation for the Mundane

Have you ever secretly wished for a personal assistant who could relieve you of the burden of repetitive, mundane and time-consuming tasks that really don’t require the kind of smarts or skills you hope you bring to your job? If you are a Baby Boomer who launched your career in a business setting back in the 1970’s, you probably had access to the services of a secretary or an administrative assistant. After all, you couldn’t survive without one to help navigate the administrative nightmare of a generation that was completely dependent on paper and manual processes. Today technology has made us far more self-sufficient, but we’re also expected to get more done – a lot more. While nobody misses those golden olden days, everyone from every generation sure could use some help today.

Often called “bots,” Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can in fact relieve employees of repetitive, mundane and time-consuming tasks. RPA is part user interface, making use of natural language processing (think Siri or Alexa for the enterprise) and part artificial intelligence (AI) to help people automate and complete repetitive tasks in a fraction of the time it has always taken, without introducing the occasional (but inevitable) human error. Adding bots to your workforce can boost productivity, thereby helping humans get more of the “real” work done. It sure would be nice if Deltek customers could say, “Hey Deltek! Help me out.”

And so…Deltek is partnering with Alirrium, an authorized reseller of UiPath, a leading Robotic Process Automation software provider, to offer Deltek customers RPA for automating processes within and across Deltek solutions, as well as between Deltek and third party applications.

In addition to natural language processing (NLP) for voice communication, it will also use optical character recognition (OCR) and in the future, combine it with machine learning (ML) in order to turn OCR into ICR or intelligent character recognition. For example, if you take a picture of your receipt, that added intelligence can distinguish a receipt for a meal from a parking receipt. In many of the industries served by Deltek even time and expense reporting is compliance driven. Deltek’s goal therefore is to make it easy by combining mobile, OCR, machine learning and GEO location tracking to not only improve efficiency and assure compliance, but also add a level of intelligence.

Building the Company Brain

While automation is a necessary step in making companies and people more efficient and productive today, it is really just the first step in a longer journey. As noted above, Deltek’s innovation strategy also includes adding intelligence to both processes and decision-making. Deltek views this journey as an evolution of the company brain.

Project-based companies today are awash with data from operations, customers, projects, the workforce… The question is: What to do with all this data. The possibilities are endless to augment human decision-making, making it more predictive with AI and ML. Whether they realize it or not, everyone makes decisions constantly that involve prediction:

  • What is the probably of winning a deal?
  • Is this prospect a good fit?
  • What is the probability of project success?
  • What will be the schedule outcome?
  • Will a vendor deliver on time?
  • What makes an employee a “good employee”?
  • Who should we hire next?
  • How can we improve days sales outstanding (DSO) and cashflow?

In order to make the best decisions, with the most predictable outcome, we consciously or perhaps unconsciously look for patterns in data to determine what makes projects, teams and resources successful.  But the human brain is limited in how much it can examine, absorb and analyze. AI and ML know no such limitations and can operate at speeds that can only be described as super-human. This is power Deltek is looking to leverage.

An early example of this is its recently launched Acumen Touchstone , the first product in the next generation of Deltek’s Project and Portfolio Management (PPM) tools and a key step towards its Project Intelligence Cloud (PIC). According to Deltek:

“The Project Intelligence Cloud is a technology refresh designed to solidify Deltek as the industry leader in the PPM space. This web-based technology will ultimately have many functions designed for project-based business, including cost, schedule and risk management, analytics and workflow.”

The immediate benefit of Deltek Acumen Touchstone is in its time-saving capabilities, automating the project schedule process. Schedule submissions are analyzed using schedule diagnostic AI for quality and deliverability. If it does not meet the required standard, the submitter is automatically emailed a report showing the metric score and deficiencies to be corrected.

This is the kind of purposeful innovation that not only helps Deltek overcome its own challenges, but also assists customers in seizing opportunity.

Wrap Up

In the world of project-driven business, Deltek is both unique and one of many. As a pure play project management solution provider, it must differentiate itself in a fragmented market. It does so through its depth and breadth.

But if you are looking for an ERP solution provider that focuses exclusively on project-based business, there is only one: Deltek. Yes, other ERP vendors target similar industries and also offer complementary project management solutions, but no other vendor combines these two software categories quite like Deltek.

However, the market in which Deltek competes is far from uniform. Government contracting, AEC, A&D, professional services, management consulting, legal, healthcare, creative agencies, energy, oil and gas are all very different from one another. A one size fits all solution simply doesn’t work. Deltek’s broad portfolio of products helps it turn this challenge into a strength. Rather than attempting to serve the varied needs of a very diverse market with a single general purpose, horizontal solution, it offers several different suites targeting the needs of different verticals.

This too presents its own set of challenges, but advanced technologies like microservices architecture, cloud-based computing and all the various forms of AI are the key to turning those challenges into real opportunity. But leveraging technology for technology sake is not the answer. Purposeful innovation that effectively leverages technology to produce real, tangible value is Deltek’s answer. But this is a long and evolutionary process – one that we will be watching closely, not necessarily from afar, but from the outside. If you are a project-based business, you might want to consider watching from inside the fold.

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Can Deltek be the Easy Button for Project-Based Business?

VantagePoint Unveiled at Deltek Insight 2018

Deltek is laser-focused on meeting the needs of project-driven businesses. Unlike a myriad of solution providers that simply provide software used to manage the projects themselves, Deltek takes a giant leap beyond, also providing software that runs the projects-based business. This type of software is typically referred to as enterprise resource planning (ERP). But in Deltek’s case we’re not only talking about ERP, but also a special kind of ERP. Deltek’s stated goal is to become the recognized global standard for running project-based organizations.

In order to accomplish this, the company has taken a simple and direct approach: Deltek’s promise to its customers is to be:

  • Easy to access (think cloud and mobile)
  • Easy to use
  • Easy to understand
  • Easy to do business with

Over the years, through organic development and acquisition, Deltek has collected quite an array of products: specialized enterprise solutions for government contractors and a wide range of professional services organizations including architecture and engineering (A&E) firms, management consultants, advertising, PR and marketing agencies and more. The one thing all these segments have in common is this: They are all people-centric, providing services, largely delivered through projects.

Beyond this point of commonality, they can be very different. They don’t go after the same type of business; their customers are worlds apart; some are heavily regulated; others operate under few constraints. Some are small; others are large. Some manage projects that last days or weeks and others span multiple years. A general-purpose kind of solution just doesn’t work well here.

This leaves Deltek with a rather difficult challenge of providing continued innovation across a broad portfolio of products, but a challenge the company has embraced with vigor. Its innovation strategy involves investigating new technology, not for technology sake, but to determine its applicability, incorporating it into its solutions for a practical use. Over the years it has invested in social (Deltek Kona), analytics, mobile and cloud technologies. Next up is artificial intelligence (AI), including machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) and it is looking into geo location and optical character recognition (OCR). All these help organizations operate more smoothly, like hitting the easy button… well almost.

Introducing Deltek Vantagepoint

Deltek Vantagepoint, unveiled at Deltek Insight 2018, is the perfect example of the fruit of these efforts. It is the next evolution of Deltek Vision, its purpose-built solution for professional services firms including those in consulting and the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industries. Available as an upgrade for Deltek Vision customers, Vantagepoint has been reengineered to enhance the user experience and deliver more innovation through advanced technology.

All Deltek customers got a preview of this new technology two years ago at Deltek Insight2016 when Deltek iAccess was announced. At the time Deltek described iAccess as an “Easy to use front office solution,” a front end to Deltek’s ERP solutions that provided a new way to navigate. But it was than just a pretty face, it also included three distinct workspaces specific to three different functions:

  • Business Development Workspace provided a lot of the functionality typically associated with sales force automation, supporting those charged with developing business, including managing clients, contacts and opportunities
  • Project Management Workspace helped project managers monitor projects and identify problems before it’s too late
  • Employee Workspace made it easier to keep timesheets and expense reports up to date from anywhere

While Deltek iAccess was browser-based, all three of these new components were available and integrated with both cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) and on-premise deployments of ERP. It provided a uniform look and feel across multiple products and was very well-received across its customer base. The message now is: if you liked iAccess, you’re going to love Vantagepoint.

But equally important as the new user experience is the underlying technology that allows Deltek to deliver more innovation, faster. Vantagepoint takes advantage of microservices architectures. If you are unfamiliar with the term, don’t feel bad. You’re in good company. Our 2018 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study asked survey respondents about investments and plans for microservices architectures and other foundational technologies (Table 1) and found the largest percentages in the category of “no activity / no plans.”

Cloud enablement and Software as a Service (SaaS) is the only “technology” in Table 1 that is even close to being mainstream. This comes as no surprise. Whether you run a solution on your own premises or in a private or public cloud, the ability to access anytime, from anywhere is a significant advantage and cloud-enablement opens the door for the kind of connectivity you need as a full and active participant in the digital economy.

Table 1: Embedded (or foundational) digital technologies

Source: 2018 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study

However, in spite of lack of interest, which also implies lack of knowledge, development platforms and microservices architectures, on which applications are built, are very important. These platforms and technologies provide a level of agility, configurability and extensibility to today’s applications to help us respond to change.

For the reader with a technical background, a 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 a hammer, timber and nails.

Technologies like machine learning, natural language processing and other forms of artificial intelligence have become quite prevalent in consumer technology (think Siri and Alexa, or GPS that learns your favorite route). Now is the time to bring them into the enterprise, much like they were insinuated into our personal lives. Note that Table 1 has a special column inserted “Expect vendors to deliver (as part of your subscription or maintenance.)” Note the low percentages in this column as well.

Customers are not demanding these technologies from their solution providers, or even expecting them. And yet more and more vendors, including Deltek, are working on delivering them, much like Apple delivered Siri. Apple customers didn’t demand the ability to converse with their mobile devices. Apple just delivered it. Other device manufacturers followed suit. Pretty soon virtual assistants became commonplace features. And people got hooked. It was only after the value was recognized that people willingly went out and bought stand-alone devices like the Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home.

Hey Deltek!

Deltek is taking this same approach and has introduced a new digital assistant., Hey Deltek! This is the ability to interact with Vantagepoint through voice, using natural language. According to Deltek, “With natural language commands, you can simply tell Vantagepoint to remind you to do something through a common language phrase, and it will create that reminder activity for you. You can use this same interface to create new records or navigate to a specific record within the different hubs. This great new feature extends the accessibility of the solution and makes it that much easier for someone to start using with very little training.”

While this is a step in the right direction, and certainly valuable, these are just a couple of examples of new technology that can accelerate the pace of innovation. These new features are embedded in Vantagepoint, only one of Deltek’s products. We are hoping that it can further leverage these types of development efforts across a range of products and ultimately allow Deltek to deliver more innovation across its entire portfolio.

Handling Disruption

This is especially important in an era of disruption because it makes it much easier for customers to consume innovation, allowing more agility in responding to growth and change.

The pace of change has accelerated beyond anyone’s expectations and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Technology innovation is partly to blame but is also the answer in helping us handle disruption. And indeed, we live in disruptive times.

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

Source: 2018 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study

We asked our 2018 survey participants to assess the level of risk their industries faced in terms of the potential for disruption (Figure 1).  While all but 10% acknowledged some level of risk, the majority (84%) feel the risk is low to medium rather than high or imminent. Yet we feel compelled to ask the question: How do you think the taxi industry would have answered this question on the eve of the launch of Uber? Do you think the hotel industry anticipated Airbnb? Did Block Buster foresee the devastating impact Netflix would have on its business?

Nobody saw those types of disruption coming and therefore few (if any) were adequately prepared. But Deltek has spent the last few years preparing. According to Bret Tushaus, Deltek Vice President of Product Management:

“… for the past decade or so, we’ve been thinking about how transformational trends will impact the next generation of our solutions. We have been following the trajectory of things like big data, the millennial workforce, globalization, cloud and the internet of things. As a result, tens of thousands of lines of code have been written and hundreds of screens and applications have been reimagined, refactored and enhanced to bring Vantagepoint to life… the most exciting feature is what is at the heart of this solution: INNOVATION.”

Courtesy of Deltek, here are some of the new features and functions included:

  • A Command Center to manage the entire project lifecycle– Known as the Project Hub this gives project managers a command-center-like interface for managing an entire project from pursuit to closeout. The Project Hub acts as a one stop shop for managing project information – from the day you begin the pursuit, to getting project estimates, gathering general project information, building project plans, tracking project finances, collaborating with team members, and monitoring project performance.
  • Dashboards, providing the right data at the right time– Dashboards are a key tenet of Vantagepoint, with a focus on metrics relevant to professional services businesses. It’s a powerful tool providing simple, graphical views of very complex data to drive informed decision making. Key performance indicators target specific roles like project manager, business developer, principal, controller or executive.
  • A graphical proposal builder to generate winning proposals– Proposals in Vantagepoint give business developers the ability to harness a vast amount of project, employee, and experiential information managed by the solution. Critical for professional services firms, this tool has a drag-and-drop WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) interface and provides information that can be used to create polished proposals documents to help win new work.

Continuing its focus on innovation and the user experience, another innovation Deltek is exploring is the use of Optional Character Recognition (OCR) for intelligent expense capture. With this feature, the Vantagepoint mobile app can be used to take a picture of a receipt and quickly and effortlessly generate the expense report entry.

Wrap Up

So again, we pose the question: Can Deltek be the easy button for project-based business? Deltek is already recognized for its broad, deep and specialized functionality. It takes a giant leap beyond other companies vying for attention in a crowded field of project-related solutions. It was among the first, if not the first, to attack, not just projects (as in scheduling, managing and costing) but the organizations committed to running successful projects. Deltek knows it can’t serve all project-based businesses with a “one size fits all” solution. It knows it must keep up with the technology that is creating the potential for disruption. It knows advanced technology like artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing is destined to become mainstream, just as it has in consumer technology. The key to adoption of these technologies is to make it easy to access, easy to use and easy to understand. The proof in being easy to do business with comes only through experience.

If you are project-based organization that is struggling to keep up with fast pace of business, if your business or your “market” is undergoing change, you owe it to yourself to check out new options. Deltek might be a good place to start.

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Deltek iAccess: More Than Just a Pretty Face

Deltek’s Secret Sauce to Innovation

Deltek is laser-focused on meeting the needs of project-driven businesses. Unlike a myriad of solution providers that simply provide software used to manage the projects themselves, Deltek takes a giant leap beyond, also providing software that runs the projects-based business. This type of software is typically referred to as enterprise resource planning (ERP). But in Deltek’s case we’re not only talking about ERP, but also a special kind of ERP.

Over the years, through organic development and acquisition, Deltek has collected a dizzying array of products: specialized enterprise solutions for government contractors and a wide range of professional services organizations including architecture and engineering (A&E) firms, management consultants, advertising, PR and marketing agencies and more. The one thing all these segments have in common is this: They are all people-centric, providing services, largely delivered through projects.

Beyond this point of commonality, they can be very different. They don’t go after the same type of business; their customers are worlds apart; some are heavily regulated; others operate under few constraints. Some are small; others are large. Some manage projects that last days or weeks and others span multiple years. A general-purpose kind of solution just doesn’t work well here.

This leaves Deltek with a rather difficult challenge of providing continued innovation across a broad portfolio of products, but a challenge the company has embraced with vigor. What is the secret sauce to keeping a potentially diverse set of customers able to keep up with the demanding requirements of our digital economy? Deltek iAccess.

What is Deltek iAccess?

Deltek describes iAccess as an “Easy to use front office solution.” But unless you count each and every employee in a project-driven firm as an occupant of the front office, you completely underestimate what iAccess can do. Mint Jutras would suggest you think of it instead as a front door, an entry point into some of the most critical functions performed in a project-based business.

As a front end to Deltek’s ERP solutions, iAccess provides a new way to navigate and therefore it does provide a new user interface, which will eventually work its way throughout the various applications. iAccess will supplant previous user interface efforts such as the Maconomy Portal and Vision Smart Client. But for the functions it serves today, it is more than just a user interface.

Three Workspaces Touch Much of the Organization

Deltek iAccess is more like an extension of your Deltek ERP. Today it provides three distinct workspaces that are specific to three different functions performed by employees and in doing so, covers much of what is accomplished in a project-based business:

  • Business Development Workspace provides a lot of the functionality typically associated with sales force automation, supporting those charged with developing business, including managing clients, contacts and opportunities
  • Project Management Workspace helps project managers monitor projects and identify problems before it’s too late
  • Employee Workspace makes it easier to keep timesheets and expense reports up to date from anywhere

While Deltek iAccess is browser-based, all three workspaces are available and integrated with both cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) and on-premise deployments of ERP. And it also provides a uniform look and feel across multiple products. Of course each Deltek customer will likely be running only one of Deltek’s ERP solutions, but all the features and functions required are not necessarily embedded within ERP. In fact Deltek has been smart in delivering extended functionality, particularly in light of its diverse portfolio of products.

Consistent Look and Feel Across Extended Products

Deltek has been delivering more and more functionality via cloud-based add-ons, including Deltek CRM, Deltek Resource Planning (RP) and Deltek Talent Management. With iAccess providing that front end across all products, users experience a consistent look and feel throughout, making the integration appear seamless while also fostering engagement at all levels of the organization.

In days gone by a select few ever put their hands directly on ERP. Today we find over 50% of employees typically have direct access. The access any time, from anywhere advantage of the cloud has contributed to this rise in engagement, but also ease of use and intuitive navigation. The prevalence of consumer technology has changed expectations and the user experience delivered through iAccess is meeting and exceeding those expectations.

More Innovation, Easier to Consume

This kind of approach is also smart. It leverages development efforts across a range of products and should ultimately allow Deltek to deliver more innovation across its entire portfolio. While the needs of project-based businesses vary across different industries, they do share some common requirements.

The fact that these new modules/components are cloud-based is also significant. All three of its major product lines (Costpoint, Vision and Maconomy) have all made the transition into the cloud and are offered as multi-tenant SaaS solutions. Note the applications are multi-tenant but each customer has its own instance of the data base, and Deltek does have an Enterprise Cloud offering for those customers that require a single instance type environment. Multi-tenant SaaS solutions have the most potential for delivering more innovation, faster.

The fact that these new modules are delivered as add-on components is equally important. It addresses two key issues. First, as noted earlier, it allows Deltek to leverage development efforts across a range of products and should ultimately allow Deltek to deliver more innovation across its entire portfolio. Secondly, it makes it much easier for its customers to consume innovation.

Adding new functionality to ERP in a way that makes it easy to consume has long been a challenge. The very definition of ERP (at least the definition according to Mint Jutras) contributes to this challenge. Mint Jutras defines ERP as an integrated suite of modules that forms the operational and transactional system of record of a business.

A core ERP solution has historically been a monolithic structure. Not only do all modules of an ERP solution share a common database, but also all are developed using the same tools and technology (platform) and traditionally they all move forward in lock step. This eliminates data redundancy and any need for separate integration efforts. And a common platform for development is beneficial to both the customer and the vendor.

When new features and functions are added to ERP, this tight integration implies that all modules, all functions, and therefore all departments within an organization must move forward together. This can slow down the upgrade cycle. But even more troublesome: It takes massive efforts of coordination for all departments within a customer’s organization to take those next steps all together. And all might not have the same level of motivation.

So what’s the alternative to this tight integration? The alternative is often referred to these days as “loosely coupled,” but that terminology frequently conjures the “best of breed” approach of yesterday, where you had independent point solutions that needed to be interfaced or integrated back into ERP. We’re not advocating taking a step backwards. Perhaps a better way of describing the newer alternative would be “component-based” or “service-based.” Deltek’s add-on solutions (CRM, RP, Talent Management) are good examples.

When it comes time to offer up new features and functions, instead of inserting lines of code directly into ERP, you might instead call upon a standard “service.” When it comes time to upgrade or add new functionality, simply swap out the old “service” for the new. You might also view these services as external components. While this is an oversimplification, it conceptually describes how next generation ERP can effectively deliver new, targeted innovation without forcing all departments served by ERP to march forward together.

Innovation has never been more important than it is today. We live in disruptive times.

Handling Disruption

We asked survey participants in our 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study to estimate the level of risk they face in their industry (and therefore their business) being disrupted (Figure 1). We 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.

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

deltek-fig-1Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

While only 10% felt that risk was high and/or imminent, most do understand the risk is real. While about one in three (34%) feel the risk is low, we have to ask: How do you think the taxi industry might have answered this question on the eve of the launch of Uber? Do you think the hotel industry anticipated Airbnb? Did Block Buster foresee the devastating impact Netflix would have on its business?

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. The Internet has leveled the playing field, allowing even small to midsize companies to establish a global presence and take advantage of unprecedented growth opportunities. But with these opportunities come change and the need for more (not less) innovation.

Wrap Up

Deltek iAccess is indeed more than just a pretty face. It is the face of innovation. It not only provides easier access and intuitive navigation, it adds functionality. When coupled with other cloud-based components, it will help Deltek handle universal needs while also delivering purpose-built functionality specific to different types of project-driven businesses. That is Deltek’s secret sauce.

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Deltek On Track to Deliver More by Working Smart

When I think of Deltek, I think projects. But there are lots of different kinds of projects, both internal and external. In its own words, “Deltek provides software solutions specifically designed to meet the needs of project-driven businesses.” If all you need is software to manage the projects themselves, there is a plethora of software products to choose from – as many different options as there are different kinds of projects. It’s one of the most fragmented software categories in the market today, with hundreds of companies and products from which to choose. But when it comes to software that manages the business that is built around projects, that’s an entirely different story. Now we’re not only talking about ERP, but also a special kind of ERP… and possibly much more. And there are far fewer solutions on the market that are purpose-built to manage these project-based businesses. Deltek is not only the proud owner of not one, but several of these solutions.

In fact over the years, through organic development and acquisition, Deltek has collected a dizzying array of products: specialized enterprise solutions for government contractors and a wide range of professional services organizations including architecture and engineering (A&E) firms, management consultants, advertising, PR and marketing agencies and more. The one thing all these segments have in common is this: They are all people-centric, providing services, largely delivered through projects. Beyond this point of commonality, they can be very different. They don’t go after the same type of business; their customers are worlds apart; some are heavily regulated; others operate under few constraints. Some are small; others are large. Some manage projects that last days or weeks and others span multiple years. A general-purpose kind of solution just doesn’t work well here.

Other vendors that do offer general-purpose ERP solutions often make acquisitions in an attempt to grab market share. They buy out competitors and wind up with similar, often competing products. Few have been successful in rationalizing portfolios, and most promise never to “sunset” a product, but seldom do all products get equal attention. Some will be declared “strategic” while others slip quietly into maintenance mode.

But the combination of Deltek’s development and acquisitions has led it into a variety of different markets. Deltek Costpoint serves government contractors. Deltek Vision serves first and foremost A&E, but also has customers in management consulting. The Axium acquisition, which brought Deltek Ajera to the portfolio also serves A&E but allows Deltek to come down market from where Vision competes. Deltek Maconomy targets Professional Services organizations. While there might be some overlap between the targets of each of these product lines, rationalizing to a single product would add a level of complexity that really doesn’t serve the customer well.

There might be some opportunity to merge Vision and Ajera, because they both target the same industry, just at different ends of the market. But Deltek is smart enough to know it would have to do so very cautiously. Not only are Ajera customers quite loyal to the product, but being small companies, most of the leaders within these companies also contribute to revenue generation. Migrating to a new solution might very well be at the expense of generating direct revenue, leaving it low on the list of priorities.

So this leaves Deltek with a rather difficult challenge of providing continued innovation across a broad portfolio. But there are different ways of delivering innovation. Of course Deltek needs to add new features to the core of its products. Often this is driven by customer request.

But innovation of enterprise software is an interesting mix of push and pull. Customers push for new features and enhancements either because their business has changed or because they have discovered functional gaps or missing features, or because processes are clumsy and inefficient.

On the other side of the same coin you also see solution providers who want to be trendsetters. They incorporate new technology and offer new functionality and then try to pull their customers along. In some cases the vendors have better foresight than the customers who might be too busy fighting fires in the trenches to look up and recognize the possibilities of the brave new digital world.

Deltek has been doing both. It’s not enough to just cover the basics today. If you look at its full complement of products, you see that Deltek has been expanding the footprint of its solutions for quite some time now. You’ll see that Costpoint has been extended with a human resources (HR) solution and planning and budgeting and more. Vision has robust customer relationship management (CRM). People Planner extends Maconomy with resource planning and Traffic LIVE (acquired from Sohnar) was added as a front-end to help creative marketing communications agencies seamlessly create estimates and quotes, schedule resources, capture time worked, bill clients, and track tasks at a glance. And this is by no means a complete list. But as you can see, in the past these were most likely to be developed (or acquired) for specific product lines.

But that started to change earlier this year when it acquired HRSmart, a leading provider of global, unified talent management solutions with over 1,000 customers around the world. This acquisition both broadened and deepened Deltek’s portfolio of Human Capital Management (HCM) solutions by delivering cutting-edge, cloud-based talent management capabilities that are essential to project- and people-driven businesses…essential but often overlooked. This is not your run-of-the-mill HR system, but an integrated suite that supports talent acquisition, performance and compensation management, as well as learning and career development.

The goal of this acquisition was not to (only) satisfy Costpoint or Vision or Maconomy customer requirements. It was about bringing added value to all Deltek customers. Deltek Talent Management will be delivered as an external component, but with seamless integration back to all these products. This represents a shift in overall company/product strategy that we are also now seeing applied to other new modules even with initiatives that had previously been underway.

Other add-ons being developed include Deltek CRM, Deltek Resource Planning and a new user experience dubbed iAccess. iAccess will supplant previous user interface efforts such as Maconomy Navigator. The plan is to have a unified Deltek front office solution that can front-end the different back office (ERP) solutions. These new products will be introduced with this new experience (UX) and then gradually this new UX will find its way into each of the back office solutions. During this transition period customers will have a choice of the old and the new UX, with the old user interface eventually phased out.

This kind of approach is smart. It leverages development efforts across a range of products and should ultimately allow Deltek to deliver more innovation across its entire portfolio. The fact that these new modules/components are cloud-based is also significant. Deltek’s transition to the cloud seems to be an unintentionally well-kept secret. Even some of it customers haven’t “heard” that all three of its major product lines (Costpoint, Vision and Maconomy) have all made the transition into the cloud and are offered as multi-tenant SaaS solutions (note the applications are multi-tenant but each customer has its own instance of the data base, and Deltek does support a single instance installation exceptionally, on customer request). Multi-tenant SaaS solutions have the most potential for delivering more innovation, faster and these efforts are also reinforced by Deltek embracing rapid application (agile) development methodologies of late.

Why is this new approach so important?

I have been tracking priority of selection criteria for the better part of 10 years. For many years “fit and functionality” was, by far, the top selection criterion. The Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study, and other prior year studies asked participants to prioritize individual selection criteria (Table 1) on a scale of 1 to 5. And over a period of the last 5 years, we observed a change.

Table 1: Selection Criteria

Deltek Table 1Source: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study

While fit and functionality still had the highest percentage of participant votes for “must have/most important,” ease of use took the top spot in terms of overall priority. Having all the functionality in the world is meaningless if you can’t figure out how to use it.

But the results were so close we wondered what would be the priority if respondents had to choose. So in 2015 we changed the format of the question, again listing the different criteria, but this time consolidating to 10 criteria and forcing the participants to stack rank them from 1 (least important) to 10 (most important). We substituted some of the prior criteria for new factors which had risen in importance in prior research and replaced “ease of use” with “user experience.” The overall results are clear. The top three criteria are all related to features and functionality.

Table 2: Selection Criteria Priorities Stack Ranked from 1 to 10

Deltek table 2Source: Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study

User experience is still in the top half, but when forced to choose, it fell in importance. Most are not willing to sacrifice functionality for what some vendors call “beautiful software” today. But “ease of use” means different things to different people, particularly across generational boundaries.

Figure 1: Defining Ease of Use by Generation (top 3 factors)

Deltek fig 1Source: Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study

Our survey respondents were asked to select the top three most important aspects of “ease of use.” While baby boomers and Gen Xers define it first and foremost in terms of efficiencies, millennials are far more likely to simply equate it to the visual appeal of the user interface (Figure 1). While baby boomers equate efficiency to intuitive navigation, millennials take intuitive navigation for granted. They have never used software that required a user manual. To them, a visually appealing user interface, which was at the very bottom of the priorities for baby boomers and GenXers, is most important. To their credit, while “beautiful software” is most important to ease of use, beauty is not the most important factor in selecting solutions.

There is an important lesson to be learned here. Most companies have representatives of all generations using ERP, which further validates Deltek’s efforts in re-architecting the way users engage with its products.

All told Deltek seems to be moving in the right direction to satisfy the growing requirements of project-based businesses and it is doing so much more aggressively than in the past. All goods news for customers and prospects alike.

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Catching Up with Deltek’s Race to Capture the World of Projects

In November I got a chance to catch up with Deltek, a company that pretty much coined the term “project-based ERP.” It is a company that develops and delivers enterprise software and information solutions for project-based businesses. My last real interaction had been back in 2010 when the company acquired Maconomy. Since then a lot has happened. It has:

  • Expanded globally, led primarily by Maconomy’s strength in Europe
  • Acquired Acumen and its set of tools to facilitate project planning, along with performance risk analysis
  • Moved three of its products to the cloud: Vision and Maconomy (although both are still available on-premise), and most recently Costpoint
  • Almost doubled in size and has gone private
  • Acquired Sohnar and its Traffic LIVE cloud-based resource planning solution for creative marketing communications agencies
  • Acquired Axium, bringing A&E solutions to smaller, non-government organizations
  • Gone mobile with Maconomy Touch
  • Gone social with Kona project collaboration tools
  • Introduced a new user experience including Maconomy Navigator
  • Launched a new, cloud-based next generation CRM to power the front office of project-based businesses

All these activities bode well for Deltek to continue its growth, bolstered by what Mint Jutras sees as tremendous opportunity for project-oriented software. The Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study captured the “top five” areas survey respondents were most likely to invest in next. Project Management ranked #1 overall with 22% of almost 800 respondents selecting project management.

But it is project-based businesses that present the most opportunity for Deltek. These project-based businesses span a wide range of industries, from project-based manufacturing like aerospace and defense (A&D), to architectural and engineering (A&E) firms, to professional services organizations (PSO) to marketing communications agencies. While these businesses all share a common thread of projects, they are actually very different types of businesses. And Deltek has different products to address each.

As Deltek continues to grow, expanding both geographically and also stretching the boundaries of its solutions, the trick will be to effectively scale its business. Each of its products addresses a different type of project-based business, so product road maps need to be tailored to individual industry needs. At the same time Deltek would be well advised to leverage certain tools such as Kona and CRM across multiple product lines to better leverage its development efforts across different product lines and different segments of its customer base.

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