Economy

Einstein Inspires SYSPRO USA Brain Trust

Boosting US Manufacturing In 4-Part Partner Program

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

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

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

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

Inspired by Einstein

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

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

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

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

Product Trust

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

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

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

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

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

Deployment Trust

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

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

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

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

Micro-vertical Trust: The Food Industry

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

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

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

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

Economic Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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Paying Down the US Debt

I don’t use this blog to make political statements, but being a researcher at heart and using data every day, I couldn’t resist sharing a few data points from a short video a friend of mine sent me. The video was produced by an organization called Government Gone Wild and the title is, “Brother, Can You Spare a Trillion?” (As a registered Independent, I don’t subscribe to this or any political organization, but watch it here if you are interested http://governmentgonewild.org/brothercanyouspareatrillion ).
I’ve learned through my research efforts that specific numbers make much more of an impact on the psyche than generalities. So, per the video, did you know?
·         The United States spent $413 billion in interest payments last year
·         Since 1988 the total spent in interest payments has been $8 trillion. That’s a bigger number than many of us can comprehend. Just to put it in some context, it would be enough to buy every citizen in the US a Lotus Evora (luxury sports) car.
·         The Congressional Budget Office predicts by 2021 (just 10 years away), interest payments will be $1.1 trillion a year, which is more than one and a half times what we spend on defence.
·         If our Congress stopped ALL spending today and starting paying down the debt at a rate of $100 million per day, it would take 389 years to pay it off.
No, there is no easy answer.
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Have you heard of the “he-recovery?”

While I mostly keep up with news online, once in a while I like to be nostalgic and watch world news on TV. Last night I managed to catch the news on ABC and learned a new term – the “he-recovery.” As Diane Sawyer said, “The race is on for jobs” and men are definitely winning over women. While during the recession men lost twice as many jobs as women, now the tables are turned. According to ABC, of the 1.3 million jobs gained in the recovery, 1.1 million (that’s 90%) have gone to men and 113,000 (10%) to women.
Why is that?
Some of it has to do with the kind of jobs that have been created through stimulus efforts… think construction and transportation in which women only make up a small percentage of the workforce (13% women in construction and 5% in transportation – also according to ABC). But even in retail, which has traditionally been dominated by female workers, men have gained 100,000 jobs while women have lost 100,000. Others that were interviewed in the segment last night also hypothesized that men were given more jobs because they needed them more as the traditional breadwinner of the family. Yet women are the chief breadwinners of 40% of households in the US. Hmmmm.
I’ve officially been in the workforce for 36 years, and I had summer and part time jobs (sometimes more than one) while I was in school for 7 years before that.  During that time I would venture to say that I’ve seen it all.  I’ve been associated with some male-dominated environments, and others that are not so much. My first job out of college was working for a manufacturing company. There were plenty of women, but one other woman and I were the only two that were salaried and managers. Later I worked for a software company started by a woman who was then the president and CEO. I had plenty of women peers but I carried the title of Manufacturing Consultant (or a Manager of that same position) and I looked about 18 years old (I was in my 30’s). I knew when I went into a company for the first time I had about 37 seconds to prove my credibility or they would write me off. Nobody wrote me off.
I went to college in the early 70’s, during the height of the feminist movement, but I have never been much of a feminist. I always just concentrated on getting the job done and expected to be paid fairly for it.  But I have also worked for companies where I experienced a glass ceiling in spite of the fact that I am damn good at what I do. This tended to be where the “old boys’ network” was firmly in place, but I have experienced a “young boys’ network” as well. Same result, but it hurt more.
The bottom line is there is still a gender gap. A different ABC news segment also reported that the amount women earn (as compared to men) had increased by two cents over the past year. That’s the good news. The bad news is that means women (in aggregate) still earn $.81 for every $1 earned by men in similar positions in spite of the fact that women are now as well-educated as men. There is always speculation about why that is. Men tend not to interrupt careers for babies, but then fewer and fewer women today do any more. Some point to personality differences, but let’s face it, women are not all alike just as men are not all alike.
I do however think that women in general need to be assertive, not aggressive and younger women need more female role models and mentors. I’ve done my part through the years in working for corporations mentoring both men and women. As I start my own company, I start down a new and different path – one that by definition has no ceiling at all, glass or otherwise. Any women out there in need of coaching and support, give me a shout (cindy@mintjutras.com) .
For those that would like to listen to the ABC news segment….
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Plex Systems grows while others stall

I’ve been watching Plex Systems now for about 5 years. It is one of the bigger small ERP solution providers. Not being one of “the big guys” you might not have heard of them. But if you are a manufacturing company in search of an ERP solution, the company is one you might want to get to know – that is if you are either in active search for or are at least willing to consider SaaS ERP. Because that is all they offer. Unlike some of the new entrants into the SaaS ERP market, “as a service” is the only way Plex delivers its solution. But also unlike these new entrants, Plex has been serving up SaaS ERP for more than 10 years.
How and why they began offering a SaaS deployment model for ERP long before it was “hot” is an interesting aside. Plex’s founder didn’t go looking for SaaS. He was an advocate and a pioneer of rapid application development and he was looking for a way to deliver new enhancements at an equally rapid pace. SaaS was his answer. But SaaS presented an obstacle to selling in its early days, particularly in selling ERP. When I was at Aberdeen and first started following the SaaS ERP market I called ERP “the last bastion of resistance” to SaaS and openly questioned whether it was a chicken or egg kind of problem. Were companies unwilling to consider SaaS ERP because there weren’t many options back then or were there not many options because people weren’t willing to consider it?
That’s a moot point today because the barriers are starting to break down and there are more options to choose from. But interestingly enough, one of the reasons software vendors were unwilling to offer SaaS models was because of the subscription-based pricing that now seems so appealing to both software suppliers and consumers of software. In an era when budgets were cut and credit was tight, accounting for the purchase as an operating expense instead of a capital expense was (and still is) very appealing.
However, making a move from selling on-premise solutions to SaaS has some immediate impact on fiscal reporting. When you sell an on-premise license, you get a bunch of money up front. The on-going maintenance is of course a recurring revenue stream, but that nice chunk up front was pretty hard to give up and if the software supplier gave up too much of that too quickly, revenues would also take a hit. If you were a public company that could very well be a hit you couldn’t afford to take.
You might think that Plex System dodged that bullet by offering a SaaS solution throughout the last 10 years. But in reality, the company didn’t always price their solution as SaaS. In the early days, prospects bought Plex in spite of its being SaaS, not because of it. In order to counter this and remove one obstacle, Plex priced it just like an on-premise solution. In fact it was quite a creative answer to a problem, but it did leave money on the table. That revenue leakage was something they knew they would eventually have to plug up. And they did. Several years ago they made the switch to more traditional (for SaaS) subscription-based pricing but they were smart enough to do it while they were (and are) still a private company and didn’t have Wall Street breathing down their necks.
They not only survived and thrived through that transition, but they are now very actively growing. During a year when most ERP solution providers struggled with a downturn during the first half of the year (some started to see growth in the second half), Plex saw substantial growth. They not only added 54 new employees (they now have 175 so the percentage growth is even more impressive) but they grew revenues by 27% and software sales subscriptions by 26%.
How did they do that? While they may still be a relatively small ERP solution provider, their solution is anything BUT small. I lost count of the number of modules they offered long ago – suffice to say it is a lot and quite complete. It also dives deeper into the shop floor than the typical ERP solution and they have particular strength in automotive. Not surprising because in their early days much of their selling was done locally in and around Auburn Hills, Michigan.  But today their strength pushes well beyond automotive to food processing, medical devices, aerospace/defense, industrial and consumer products. Part of the reason for the impressive footprint is the approach to rapid application development that drove them to SaaS in the first place.
The other significant factor is their very engaged installed base of customers. Enhancement of the product is driven entirely by customer and prospect requests and innovation is delivered every day. So in one way, everything is customized. But in another way, nothing is customized, because all enhancements are added to the product in such a way that the customer opts in to turning them on.
Mark Symonds, CEO of Plex Systems sees this growth continuing through 2011, with specific opportunity arising within the food-and-beverage industry because of the new federal food safety laws. Compliance and traceability has been part of the Plex DNA from the beginning and should position the company well in this new era of requirements and regulations.
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