Disruption

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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