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Exact’s New UX for Macola 10.5: More Than Just a Pretty Face

Adding Functionality and Value Too

At its annual user conference Macola Evolve 2017 in New Orleans (April 20, 2017), Exact unveiled Macola 10.5. Much of the new release of its enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is focused on enhancing the usability of the software with new tablet-led user interfaces, “aligning with how and where manufacturing and wholesale distribution customers use the software on a day-to-day basis.” While new user interfaces are often just about screen navigation and visual appeal, the new usability features of Macola 10.5 add more than just a pretty new face. They make existing functionality more visible and accessible, while also adding new functionality. Will Macola users fall into the typical trap of resisting change or will they welcome it with open arms? It’s all about perceived value.

Overcoming Resistance to Change

It is not uncommon today for ERP solution providers to be transforming the user experience. In fact, it is almost a necessity. After all, the millennial generation grew up with technology in the palms of their hands. The concept of a user manual is as foreign to them as vinyl records and turntables. But with the introduction of so many consumer applications on mobile devices, even Baby Boomers have succumbed to the siren call of mobile technology and have 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.

But this isn’t the first time user interfaces have undergone a transformation. Those of us in the older generation remember the “green screens” of yesteryear. And we also remember how difficult it was to get the users to abandon those green screens in favor of a graphical user interface (GUI). When GUIs were first introduced in a major release, if you asked a typical user, “What was the hardest part of the upgrade to the new release?” the answer was almost universally, “The new user interface.” It was a real struggle to get the users to abandon the devil they knew. But if you asked the follow on question, “What was the best value delivered with the upgrade?” the answer was almost universally, “The new user interface.” Even though transitions were tough, they proved worth the effort.

So what have we learned from this prior transition? The key to overcoming resistance is to add value. Even if you hate the existing user interface, once you get used to it, it is indeed the devil you know. But if the new user interface is just different, adds nothing new, doesn’t solve a problem, then you can’t blame the user for resisting.

Personal experience at the Macola Evolve event provides us with an analogy. The event was held at the Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street in New Orleans, right on the border of the French Quarter. A popular location for events of this size, I had been to several located in this 41-story hotel, but they were all held 15+ years ago. Since then, the Sheraton had installed new “smart” elevators. These smart elevators had a new “user interface.” Instead of just pressing the up or down arrow, you entered the floor you wanted to go to as you were calling the elevator. This eliminated the need for any buttons inside the elevator itself. I loved them.

Interestingly one of the main stage presenters at the event, a Chief Information Officer (CIO) at a manufacturer of consumer products, bemoaned this new elevator user interface. He hated it. He wanted the old buttons back inside the car.

Why did this CIO resist them, while I embraced them? Well, for one thing, it provided him with a tongue-in-cheek example of how IT projects would go so much more smoothly if it weren’t for the users. Just kidding, but put something new in front of them, and they are likely to baulk. I would partially agree, but only if what you put in front of them doesn’t immediately solve a problem or add real value. I loved the new elevators because they solved a problem I had recently experienced.

The previous week I was at an event with sessions on three different floors of a hotel. Not only did the hotel not have enough elevators, they didn’t provide any access to stairs (so no work-around). This caused a severe bottleneck. But as one elevator was filled and more people wanted to get on, they couldn’t just press the up or down button because that would cause the doors of the filled car to reopen. They had to wait until it was away to call the next one. And there was no way to organize the group by destination so every elevator stopped at every floor.

With the smart elevator, each passenger could enter his or her destination in advance. This not only allowed the elevator(s) to optimize the routes, often making them express to a particular floor, but never recalled a full elevator car. And a new one was coming before the full one was away.

The CIO’s perception: they took away my buttons. My perception: they made the elevators smart and my ride faster. There are two lessons here. The first to the CIO: Never introduce a new upgrade without being able to convey the value. The second to the solution provider: It’s not enough to just put a pretty face on the software. Make it do more.

Is Macola 10.5 Adding Value?

Macola 10.5 does have a pretty new face. The look and feel is a radical departure from prior releases. The goals from a visual perspective were to strive for clarity, avoiding clutter. And yet users tend to want and need lots of data for insights and decision-making. Power users in particular are likely to ask for more and more data at their fingertips. But the more you add to the screen, the longer it takes a user to react and respond.

Exact has reconciled these two apparently contradictory needs with something called “progressive disclosure.” Simply put, make that added data available, but hide it until you press the little arrow that signals you want more. Progressive disclosure adds more functionality to any particular screen without necessarily adding clutter.

This is particularly important as users move from desktops and laptops to tablets and even smart phones. It’s called “responsive design.” Exact starts with a tablet-first design. A tablet is more constrained in size. Size and fonts, use of color and contrast become more important for visual clarity, along with the ability to collapse or expand sections to take better advantage of the real estate on the screen. A tablet has touch access, but no mouse. Think about how you often use a mouse today to hover over a field to get more information. No mouse, no hover. That hover is a sort of search and help mechanism.

Therefore the way you search needs to change. Think about texting or typing on your smart phone. Once you start typing the word, it gives you suggestions for finishing it. Do you ever miss that when you are typing a document or accessing ERP from your desktop or laptop? Of course you do. You will start to miss it even more when you get used to Macola 10.5 giving you similar suggestions. Start typing a customer name in order entry and Macola 10.5 will show you a list of who you might be looking for, just like your email does when you start typing an email address with which you have communicated previously.

Macola 10.5 is not only striving for clarity, but combining the best features of your different worlds – smart phone, tablet, laptop, email, ERP, etc. – whether you are at your desk or on the move. The goal is to preserve the power of the solution while reducing the complexity of how you interact with the solution and the data.

What Users Want

These added bits of functionality bring value just like the smart elevator brings speed and efficiency. But if usability is the ultimate goal, do these efforts align with what users want? The 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study asked survey participants to select the top three most important elements of ease of use (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Most Important Elements of Ease of Use (top 3 selected)

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

We find speed and efficiency at the very top of the list. Macola 10.5’s progressive disclosure, device independence, type-ahead search that requires less data to be entered, infinite scrolling and sort-able table columns all speak to speed and efficiency.

Of course with intuitive navigation, second on the list, the proof is in putting your hands on it. If you are an Exact customer or prospect, ask for a demo. But don’t be content to watch one of the Macola experts demonstrate the new user interface. Of course it seems intuitive when you are watching someone who’s done it about a million times. You will only know if it is intuitive if you try to use it with little or no instruction. We think the software will speak for itself, but you need to be the judge.

Third on our list is “Easy access from anywhere, any time.” Loosely translated, this means cloud. Cloud brings tremendous value, but cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) brings more. What’s the difference?

  • Cloud refers to access to computing, software and storage of data over a network (generally the Internet.) You may have purchased a license for the software and installed it on your own computers or those owned and managed by another company, but your access is through the Internet and therefore through the “cloud,” whether private or public.
  • SaaS is exactly what is implied by the acronym. Software is delivered only as a service. It is not delivered on a CD or other media to be loaded on your own (or another’s) computer. It is generally paid for on a subscription basis and does not reside on your computers at all.

All SaaS is cloud computing, but not all cloud computing is SaaS. Traditional on-premise or hosted solutions might (or might not) be accessed via the cloud, although this is more likely to be a private cloud.

We could write volumes on the benefits of cloud and/or SaaS. For many, cost savings are the prime advantage. Beyond cost considerations, the other types of possible benefits include:

  • More innovation through more frequent updates
  • Better support of distributed environments and remote workforces
  • Risk mitigation

Macola has been available to run in the cloud for a long time. Everything demonstrated at Macola Evolve 2017 was running in Microsoft Azure.

And finally, rounding out the top four most important elements of ease of use is “Does what I need it to do easily and naturally.” This was a primary goal of Macola 10.5. “In any given day, our customers may be on the shop or warehouse floor managing operations, out of the office visiting customers or suppliers, or sourcing new materials. The latest update to our ERP and business software is focused on empowering users to more efficiently and seamlessly access the information they need to do their jobs, wherever they are at the time,” said Derek Ochs, director of development, Exact, Macola division. “With Macola 10.5, we are matching our software to the way our customers do their jobs. In the end, if Macola is truly doing its own job, the user hardly knows the software is there.”

Beyond Macola 10.5

Of course Exact will continue to develop its road map for Macola. But in addition it is also experimenting with a new “hackathon” approach. Periodically it takes teams of developers across all divisions of Exact and allows them to work on any new idea they might come up with, encouraging them to be creative and courageous. This can result in some pretty cool stuff that may or may not ever get into the product.

One that we think is very likely to make it in is a new login screen that uses facial recognition. Think about collecting transactions on a shop floor. Seldom does every worker have his or her own device for data entry to collect hours worked and quantity completed. At the lunch break or the end of a shift, are they queued up to record a half or full day of work? If so, wouldn’t it be great if they could just walk up to a screen and the system would automatically recognized them, log them in and maybe even bring up the production order in process? How much time and aggravation would that save?

Or how about a Macola Chat Bot (based on Microsoft’s bot engine) to do basic things in Macola just by chatting with it using Skype? Perhaps this might be an alternative user interface for occasional users so they don’t have to understand the system in order to get data and answers from it. Or how about a preferences engine that might suggest other items that are likely to be purchased as you add a line item in order entry?

These are just a few examples of sprint-like projects that are being conceived and developed through these hackathons. None of these are out of the realm of possibility with technology available today. Perhaps the biggest stumbling block to moving forward with these potential innovations is a lack of familiarity, and therefore appreciation for what technology can do today.

In our 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study we selected 14 different kinds of technology and asked respondents to assess their level of familiarity with each in terms of how they relate (or not) to their business. All respondents were asked about all 14, even though we realize some are more relevant to some industries than to others. Those shaded in the lighter green are primarily applicable to those making and/or moving a physical product, while those in the darker green are likely to be applied more universally (Table 1).

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

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Adoption rates are still quite low and in many instances, those that have little or no familiarity outnumber those that understand it well. So in many cases Exact can’t rely on its customers to ask for these features. But even if customers aren’t pushing in this direction, perhaps Exact can pull them along, potentially transforming businesses as it does.

 Summary

Macola 10.5 brings some added new features and functions along with its pretty new face. These include:

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

These are exciting times for the developers at Exact. If you are a customer, share in their excitement. If you are considering replacing your current ERP solution, Macola is definitely worth a look. Dive in to Macola 10.5 to see what you are missing.

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SYSPRO Delivers on the Practical Side of Digital Technologies

Bringing Technology, People and Processes Together In a Winning Combination

Advanced technologies and automation have been transforming manufacturing and distribution for decades now. Through these advances we have streamlined production and eliminated waste and variability. We make products better and faster. But the digital technologies of today, those that serve to connect operations, people and processes through the power of the Internet, have the potential of fundamentally changing the way we do business. Eighty-two percent (82%) of manufacturers participating in the 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study agree and 86% understand that embracing digital technologies is necessary for survival.

And yet few manufacturers seem to fully grasp the potential digital technologies have to truly change the game. In some ways, this is perfectly understandable. While we are constantly bombarded with examples of how digital technologies can transform our world, most of the examples fall into the category of consumer technology (social, home, shopping, fitness…). The reference to this technology in the context of the enterprise is very often at a level of abstraction that leaves down-to-earth manufacturers either scratching their collective heads or thinking it is way beyond their reach. While we might buy the latest consumer gadget just because we can, manufacturers and distributors make investment decisions with their feet planted firmly on the ground.

This is why SYSPRO is announcing six new capabilities that help manufacturers and distributors take practical advantage of advanced digital technologies. If you are one of these pragmatic individuals, you might be so busy dealing with day-to-day challenges that you let inertia keep you mired in spreadsheets and paper. If so, you’re not alone. But don’t let that stop you. SYSPRO’s new advanced capabilities might be just what you need to justify that leap into digital transformation.

Do Manufacturers and Distributors Care?

As noted above, the majority of manufacturers and distributors today have an appreciation for the significance of digital technologies. In our 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study we asked survey participants how much they agreed with various statements about these new, advanced technologies (Table 1).

Table 1: How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following?

syspro-table-3Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

Only 3% to 6% disagreed at all with any of the statements above and a relatively small percentage was neutral. The majority of those in manufacturing and distribution companies today understand that digital technologies can not only facilitate the connection between companies, people and processes, but can also automate the connection between different enterprise systems. Whether this is a continuation of your current plans for information technology (IT) and/or automation, or a brand new direction, you need to implement them in order to forge that connection. While 86% agree these technologies are necessary for basic survival, we find evidence they have not been embraced with the level of priority and urgency that will give companies a competitive advantage.

Table 2: To what extent are these activities performed/managed digitally?

syspro-table-2Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

Table 2 is a sad reminder of the continued prevalence of spreadsheets and paper. Of course some use of spreadsheets is simply the result of familiarity and comfort level. But that doesn’t make it any less troublesome or the data any more real-time.

Come to find out, SYSPRO USA also gathered its own intelligence on this topic through one of its SNAP surveys, sent to its own customers. From this latest poll, SYSPRO concluded, “Companies are confused or have never heard about the newest, high-impact technologies.” This conclusion was based on the question: “Have you read or heard about [insert technology]?” The technologies included were predictive analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT) and bots. In each case, less than half (about 45%) said “Yes.” The remainder said, “No, I don’t know” or, in the case of bots, “Not sure.”

While this actually could help explain this lack of urgency, Mint Jutras interprets the answers a little differently. Individuals may be confused, but more likely these responses indicate they simply are not paying attention and therefore don’t make the connection between problems and challenges faced and digital technologies. For those that follow technology trends closely, the hype over digital technologies is impossible to miss. But your typical manufacturing or distribution professionals are far less likely to follow technology just for the sake of technology. They are far too busy fighting those pesky fires on a day to day basis.

Talking about predictive analytics won’t get their attention. Talking about ways to better forecast demand or predict revenue and profits might. Connecting the dots is not only practical, but also a winning combination.

Discussing the Internet of Things is an intellectual discussion. Suggesting ways to make better use of data captured today on the shop floor (i.e. through the IoT), whether it is for the purpose of increasing throughput or quality or customer service, is not only practical, but also a winning combination.

Bots in general still seem quite futuristic and “pie in the sky” to many, in spite of the fact that all kinds of production and material handling automation is already quite prevalent in many manufacturing and distribution companies. But investment in that kind of automation has traditionally been expressly for the purpose of making and/or moving more product, better and faster, not making the business itself, or the people that run it any more productive or efficient. But think about where supervisors and managers can be the most effective – not sitting at their desks, but out on the floor. The problem in the past arose from the fact that as soon as they leave the comfort of their offices and venture out on the floor, they have been instantly disconnected from enterprise data. Demonstrating how communicating with devices in a hands-free manner can facilitate control and decision-making is not only practical, but also a winning combination.

That’s really what SYSPRO’s new capabilities are all about: practical ways of bringing technology, people and processes together in a winning combination.

SYSPRO’s New Digital Capabilities

So what are these new capabilities? They combine the power of digital technologies with analytics, cloud deployment, big data and some other cool, high-impact technologies like that used for facial recognition. But think beyond faces; think about blemishes on raw ingredients, components or fabricated products. Here’s the rundown:

SYSPRO Azure Cloud Platform

SYSPRO has teamed up with Microsoft to deliver infrastructure as a service (IaaS) now and platform as a service (PaaS) in 2017. SYSPRO’s ERP will be delivered in the Azure cloud in 2016, but will also move beyond this to deliver the SYSPRO Azure Operation Center. This is more than just a data center. It will be staffed with SYSPRO employees that will provide managed services to assist companies looking to move from on-premise to cloud deployments. Early on SYSPRO customers may want to lift and shift from existing on-premise deployment and then move more fully into a SaaS environment in order to take full advantage of software as a service (SaaS). But these SYSPRO employees will also be available for new installations and will be armed with templates and tools for rapid deployment.

Additional services offered will include backups of course, but also system monitoring, incident management, disaster recovery and high availability (think automatic rollover and scaling).

Mint Jutras research finds SaaS deployment is the most preferred option for new deployments, but the market will be in transition for the next ten years or more because there are simply so many on-premise deployments today. The inertia that keeps manufacturers and distributors from actively researching and investigating new technologies is the same inertia that keeps these solutions in place long after their glory years. SYSPRO can help make that transition smoother and more appealing.

SYSPRO Harmony

SYSPRO describes this as a “cloud-based multi-user experience platform that unites social media capabilities, internal/external collaboration, machine learning, cognitive services and data analytics into a single offering for accomplishing targeted or highly complex tasks.” That’s a mouthful. What does it really mean?

To the manufacturing or distribution professional who might think “social” is something employees should do on their own free time, think of it more as an application that lets you keep your finger on the pulse of all the “stuff” going on concerning your production, orders, operations and finances.

Many business leaders in manufacturing and distribution companies downplay the importance of “social” capabilities, equating them to social media. But when we break down the really useful capabilities, and don’t necessarily label them as “social” we get a very different response. Suddenly these concepts become useful or even “must have!”

Table 3: Would these capabilities be useful? Shhh… don’t call them “social”

syspro-table-1Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

If you aren’t already a fan of “social” the concept of “following” might not seem familiar to you. But chances are, you are already following someone or something either in your professional or personal life. Perhaps you follow the stock price of specific companies, or you watch a stock exchange like NASDAQ or the Nikkei. Or maybe you follow the stats of your favorite sports teams. Maybe you do that through newspapers, online or using an app on your mobile device. Perhaps newsfeeds are delivered to you through email. Regardless of the delivery method, the objective is to stay informed.

What if you could easily apply that same concept to your customers, orders or prospects? Perhaps you need to keep tabs on that big deal you hope to close by the end of the quarter. Wouldn’t it also be helpful to “follow” the trail of activity that has already occurred during the sales cycle? What if you could see the conversations or chatter between sales rep and manager? What documents have been delivered to the prospect? And what if this potential deal is with an existing customer? Wouldn’t you like to be able to scroll through the support activity over the past few months, including the calls, issues, resolutions? Has the customer experienced any quality or delivery issues? Have they been consistently paying their bills on time or is their outstanding balance over 90 days?

And what if all that activity was collected for you and presented in a single stream? The result of monitoring these types of activity streams is fewer surprises and more proactive versus reactive management. And to present this coherently you need a “consumer grade” user interface. This is what SYSPRO Harmony is all about.

SYSPRO Predictive Search

Enterprise search capabilities should be quite self-explanatory, but don’t mistake just any kind of current search capability for a true enterprise search. Of course you can look up a part by its description or a customer number by the customer’s name. ERP solutions have had this kind of search capability since the 1990’s. But can you search across your entire enterprise database for any reference to a particular customer, including contacts, conversations, sales orders, invoices, dunning notices, cash receipts? It’s not entirely clear when “Google” became a verb, but can you “Google” your customer and include the data in your ERP?

SYSPRO’s Predictive Search can be used to search like this within the confines of your ERP. It is predictive just like your consumer device or your productivity tools (think email and messaging) are predictive. You start typing and it anticipates what you are looking for. And best of all, it puts that search into a specific context of a customer or an order or any relevant business object.

SYSPRO BOTS

Sometimes you might think when you are looking for an answer to your question, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just ask for something in plain English?” Many smart phones today allow you to do just that, using voice activated commands. You say, “Hey Siri” and an automated bot responds. With SYSPRO Bots, you initiate a similar conversation with, “Hey chatbot.” And guess who and what is at your service? It is actually a self-service agent lurking in the background, one that never needs a coffe break or a day off.

SYSPRO Webviews (User Interface)

SYSPRO has completely rethought dashboards, making them configurable to the extent that a single individual can construct his or her own “single view” of the world. Tailorable by power users (without the assistance of a developer), the traditional “read only” view of the world becomes interactive. For example, an order can be released from a dashboard via a single click – no need to open it up, browse through and then take action.

The Age of Digital Disruption

Eighty-one percent (81%) of manufacturers and distributors agree that embracing digital technologies will give them a competitive advantage. And yet 77% to 91% still rely at least partially on spreadsheets or (even worse) manual efforts to plan and manage activities. This is a far cry from “embracing” digital. So what are they waiting for? What are you waiting for?

The Internet levels the playing field in our global economy, allowing companies of any size to establish a presence and compete on a global basis. That’s the good news. The bad news is that those same windows of opportunity you might encounter, are also open to your competitors. And those competitors come in many different shapes and sizes. So as you take your place on the world stage, be careful what you wish for. The enterprise applications that got you where you are today simply may not be able to take you where you need to go. In order to participate and become a real player, you need to embrace the cloud and take advantage of digital technologies in many different shapes and forms.

The age of digital disruption is upon us. As a result, you better be pretty flexible in terms of where you want – and need – to go. Giving examples like Uber, which disrupted the taxi industry, Airbnb, which disrupted hospitality and Netflix and iTunes, which disrupted entertainment, we asked our 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study participants, “How much risk do you face in your industry being disrupted?” Figure 1 shows the majority (79%) peg the risk as low to medium. But how do you think the taxi industry would have responded shortly before Uber came on the scene? These kinds of game-changing disruptions can occur right out of the blue. Are you ready? Would you survive?

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

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

What will be the compelling events that drive this disruption? Will it come from the introduction of new products or from new ways of selling/pricing existing products, or entirely new business models? Or might it come from some combination of sources, making it even more unpredictable?

Are You Listening?

Manufacturers and distributors face difficult challenges, not only in the possibility of disruption, but just in dealing with the increasing complexities of an already complex world. You don’t have time to constantly surf the web and other information sources looking for that one new digital technology that just might change the game (and your life). So in keeping abreast of new, potentially high-impact technologies, select your source carefully. SYSPRO has the practical experience, the vision, the expertise and the platform to deliver. If you are looking to better embrace digital technologies for practical use, to connect enterprise systems directly to people and processes, to gain a competitive advantage… SYSPRO speaks your language.

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