enterprise applications

ERP with an Easy Button? Plex Systems Says “Yes!”

Last year I got on a Star Trek kick, writing a lot about next generation ERP. In case by some small chance you missed it, you can catch up on the 4-part series here. But if you didn’t (miss it) you might recall one of the four ways to distinguish an ERP as “next generation” was to provide new ways of engaging with ERP. The consumerization of IT and the introduction into the workforce of a new generation that never knew life before the Internet have combined to make stumbling through hierarchical menus unacceptable as the sole means of engaging with ERP.

Plex Systems has really taken this element of next generation ERP to heart, blending a deep understanding of manufacturing with an intimate relationship with its customers to deliver new ways of engaging with the Plex Manufacturing Cloud (ERP). While Plex doesn’t have the largest installed base (it has about 400 customers), I have never encountered a more engaged community. This level of engagement is a direct result of its unique approach to product development, which delivers more of what customers want, exactly the way they want it. So is it any surprise more employees are directly engaged with the product when running Plex?

Our 2014 ERP Solution Study found on average 52% of employees in manufacturing companies use ERP, not including those that only have occasional access through self service functions like paid time off requests, benefit administration, purchase requisition, etc. Overall this percentage isn’t bad, and represents significant progress over the past few years. Yet the average percentage of employees using ERP increases to 63% at companies running any ERP solution deployed as software as a service (SaaS). I believe this is directly linked to the access any time, anywhere nature of SaaS. But this percentage jumps to a whopping 76% at companies running the Plex Manufacturing Cloud. Very impressive and a clear indication that Plex has cracked the code, so to speak, in terms of providing new ways to engage with ERP.

This week I had the opportunity to experience this first hand. Along with Frank Scavo (@fscavo), Dennis Howlett (@dahowlett) and Vinnie Mirchandani (@dealarchitect), I spent a day with the Plex executives in their offices in Troy, MI. We were privileged to get a preview of some of the projects they are working on to be showcased in June at PowerPlex, and I think customers will be pleased. But a highlight of the day was an interactive demo of a manufacturing process that took us from the receipt of material through to shipping of a finished product. This was particularly interesting to me for a number of reasons:

  1. I “grew up” (professionally) in manufacturing, so for me, it was like going home.
  2. I used to do demos for a living. I spent about 10 years in pre-sales from the mid 80’s to the mid 90’s. Although it was quite a long time ago, I still remember what is involved. Back in the day, before the Internet, before web-based access, before solutions were as robust and flexible as they are today, my best demos were the ones where my hands hardly touched the keyboard. I got very, very good at talking a prospect through a process. This was nothing like that. Although there wasn’t even a keyboard in sight.
  3. I got to actually participate … And yet, while I never touched a keyboard, that doesn’t mean I didn’t touch, feel or see the software in action.

No, we didn’t use a keyboard. But we did use scanners and sensors, and yes, there was even a blue button that you might call the “easy button.” Plex had a badge for each of us as employees of a fictitious company called Edge. We scanned our badges to “clock in” and were assigned to work centers and tasked to go make key fobs like the ones we all carry to open our car doors.

We received material (resin) by scanning the label attached by the vendor and we produced a label to attach to the bin where we were directed to put it. We then scanned it again to send it to be injection molded. OK, this part wasn’t really “real.” But when Dennis arrived at the work center the system told him he wasn’t qualified to work there. And the light curtain seemed real enough when it dinged Vinnie for scooping out several molded parts instead of one at a time. Those molded parts were then delivered to the next work center where Frank struggled with some decidedly low-tech assembly and I excelled. (What does that say about me?) And when we had collectively assembled all the parts, the Plex supervisor (aka demo guy) pressed a blue button to signal all were complete and a shipping label was automatically printed. Someone from the group then hit the button again but that just printed a label telling us we couldn’t possibly have made more because no more components had arrived to be assembled.

The demo concluded with the shipment of product and some back office investigation of potentially contaminated material.  This involved some backward and forward lot traceability, which the Plex Manufacturing Cloud handles quite well in terms of requirements of the automotive industry and some other sectors. But look for this aspect of the product to be significantly enhanced in the future.

Also look for Plex’s approach to corporate and product strategy to evolve. Some of the changes will be subtle, some not so much. Plex has been quite well known among its close followers as a company that has uniquely leveraged customer-driven development. This has been unique in two ways. First, the lion’s share of innovation came from customer-driven enhancements and customer-driven also means customer funded. So a customer would pay Plex Systems to enhance the product and other customers would benefit. This was a smart move for an early-stage ERP company in “boot strap” mode.

The second point of differentiation comes from the speed of development. Plex first started delivering ERP in a SaaS model in 2001, not because the company wanted to be a pioneer in SaaS, but because it was already a pioneer in rapid application development (RAD). A SaaS model was simply the only way it could deliver product as quickly as it could develop it. Back a few years ago, as the development team was demonstrating a new feature they were developing for a large customer, I was struck with a rather unique thought. In the time it would have taken your typical development team to tell you why they couldn’t do this, the Plex team had delivered the proto-type.

While this approach has served the company well, it does limit growth potential outside of the markets in which it is already successful. Letting customers guide product direction has many benefits, including an engaged installed base, and a more robust solution to meet the needs of its target market. But significant growth will likely require Plex to expand its target markets. To really grow significantly, Plex will have to take the reins and determine for itself where it needs to take the product. That means less customer-directed enhancements and more Plex-directed (and funded) innovation.

Now is definitely the time for Plex to make this next step. The product has reached a level of maturity that makes it very competitive in manufacturing, which is where Plex intends to stay. So for the markets where it already plays, there are fewer, if any gaps to fill. And with its acquisition by global private equity firm Francisco Partners in June 2012, followed by a $30 million strategic investment by global venture capital and growth equity firm Accel Partners, there is certainly less need to boot strap. But the expectations for growth have also been amplified and accelerated, and there has been a changing of the guard to reflect this. CEO Jason Blessing has spent the past year assembling a strong management team.

But in a category where the market leaders have tens of thousands of customers, Plex has a long way to go before it can claim the mind share it needs to be recognized as a leader. It has taken its first steps in that journey with a well-defined corporate strategy, supported by a strong technology and product road maps. But it also needs to increase its brand awareness and its marketing presence. If you have been following me over the past several years you have probably already heard of Plex. But obviously, a lot of folks haven’t and many of its competitors underestimate the company and the solution, assuming it can’t compete.

Well, you know what they say about people that assume.

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SAP Business Suite on HANA: Changing the Conversation

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

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

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

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

A Year Later…

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

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

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

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

Asking the Right Questions Today

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

Cue card

Source: SAP

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

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

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

 Fiori: More Than Just a Pretty Face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making the Human Connection

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

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

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

Key Takeaways

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

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UNIT4 Changes the Conversation About In-Memory Analytics

 Agresso Analyzer Native to Vita Architecture and Agresso ERP

On December 10, 2013, UNIT4 announced the release of Agresso Analyzer, an in-memory analytics tool that adds rapid data analysis capabilities to its Agresso enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution. Unlike other solutions on the market from its largest competitors that were developed independently in technology labs and later integrated with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions, Agresso Analyzer was built from the inside out. Native to its Vita architecture, best known for its ability to facilitate business-driven change, it is a clear and powerful response to the need to digest and analyze increasing volumes of enterprise data.

With UNIT4, It’s All About Change

You can’t have a conversation with or about UNIT4 ERP without talking about change. After all, its target market for the product is comprised of Businesses Living IN Change (BLINC), particularly those in government and service-oriented segments. The acronym BLINC has become synonymous with UNIT4. But typically in these conversations we’re talking about changes to the business resulting from new or changed regulatory requirements, organizational restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, business process or financial management driven changes. UNIT4’s claim to fame is the underlying Vita architecture that supports post-implementation agility and the ability to easily and quickly reflect these changes in the software with minimal cost and disruption.

This conversation is a little different though. We’re talking about technology and innovation of the software itself. We’re talking about bringing in-memory analytics to the table, which means a technology upgrade. UNIT4 has taken a different approach than it’s two largest competitors, SAP and Oracle, both of which have developed in-memory technology outside of the applications. These technical solutions must then be retrofitted into their enterprise applications, or the applications have to be modified to take advantage of these technologies. UNIT4 did it the other way around, building them from the inside out. While sold as an “add-on,” Agresso Analyzer is native to the Vita architecture. No changes are required to the installed software or the implementation and the tool can be installed and turned on in a matter of hours. And all the data in ERP is fair game for slicing and dicing, analyzing and using for better, faster decisions.

The net result is that businesses, even those living in change, can see the impact of business changes faster. These changes might result from government and/or industry legislation, reorganizations, mergers or acquisitions, financial management or business process changes.

Bringing the Benefits To the Business User

While in-memory is a hot topic today in technical circles, often the value is not obvious to a businessperson. Embedding this capability into the Vita architecture, and therefore into Agresso ERP also helps the typical business user understand the benefits. What businessperson doesn’t want to have better, quicker, more flexible access to data within ERP?

Partly because the largest vendors, those with the loudest voices, have developed in-memory capabilities independently in their technology labs and partly because technologists delivered the message, much of the talk has been in very technical terms. Phrases like massively parallel processing (MPP), column oriented databases, real-time caching, online transaction processing (OLTP), online analytical processing (OLAP) are tossed about assuming the audience understands the significance. The typical businessperson doesn’t.

The vision became one of powerful technology in search of a problem to solve. That’s not at all how business executives and non-technical decision-makers think. Instead they think in terms of business problems. “I have this problem. How are you going to help me solve it?”  Even UNIT4, which usually keeps the conversation at the business level, is talking about associative filtering. Don’t even bother to Google the term. I can follow the discussion (just barely) because I happen to have a degree in mathematics, but the algorithmic explanations will be incomprehensible to most business people.

Suffice to say, in-memory analytics provides you with the ability to process and analyze enormous volumes of data very fast. When we’re talking about the data in ERP systems, the speed is such that the results appear to be instantaneous, allowing you to make decisions from data at a far more granular level.

Analyzer starts with a snapshot of the data. That snapshot can be as simple as a straightforward report that a user already has, like a revenue report. But while a report allows you to analyze the data based on a single dimension (e.g. territory) or maybe two dimensions (product line by territory), in-memory analysis removes these single or dual dimension limitations. As long as the data required for complex, multi-dimensional analysis is included in the defined data set, it can be compressed, presented and analyzed virtually instantaneously. Because the data itself might be complex and requires a level of knowledge about the underlying data structures, it generally takes a super-user to set up the data set to be analyzed. But then putting it in the hands of the business user, it becomes extraordinarily powerful.

Summary

By embedding the in-memory capabilities into the Vita architecture and the Agresso ERP, UNIT4 has taken a lot of the mystery out of the powerful technology. By offering it as an extension to ERP, the value also becomes a natural extension. No extraordinary vision required. It allows business decision makers to take the same data they have struggled with in the past, understand it better and get to decisions faster and with greater confidence.

Of course ERP data is not the only data needed for decisions. It remains to be seen how quickly UNIT4 will be able to add in other sources of data. It is already planning to incorporate these capabilities into its recently announced new financial performance products: UNIT4 Cash Flow Planning and UNIT4 Consolidation. These types of applications have the potential to pull in data from many different disparate sources, including from banks and other treasury-related sources.

And then of course there is a wealth of unstructured data available through the Internet. As UNIT4 customers begin to graze from the very consumable and digestible data in ERP, eventually their appetites will grow to encompass a larger menu of potential “feeds.”  This will put pressure on UNIT4 to add more capabilities for more diverse data sources, but this will still give UNIT4 customers a competitive edge over those who might have invested in an elegant technical solution but are still in search of a problem to solve.

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Cloud ERP: Is Kenandy and Force.com a marriage made in heaven?

When Marc Benioff talked Sandy Kurtzig into coming out of retirement and founding Kenandy back in 2010, it was clearly seen as a business marriage of sorts. You can define marriage today any number of different ways, some of which are very controversial, some quite safe. Erring on the side of safe, I would define marriage as a “union of two things.” In this case the marriage is between an application development platform (Force.com) and an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) application. While the marriage between Kenandy Cloud ERP and Salesforce Force.com might not be made in heaven, the wedding at least was right up there in the cloud.

While I am not overly superstitious, when I got married I wanted to stack the deck in favor of marital bliss. I wore something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. It must have worked because more than 37 years later, I am still happily married. So amidst all the seemingly obligatory predictions for the New Year (no I don’t publish mine), let’s apply the same old adage to Sandy’s new venture and see if we can predict its success. Can we find something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue in this union?

Something Old

When I look for something old, my thoughts first go to “old friends.” I joined Sandy’s first company (ASK) exactly 30 years ago today: January 2, 1984. While this is a new company for Sandy, there is a lot to be gained from the experience in building that first one. During her 20 years as founder, chairman and CEO of the ASK Group, she grew the company from a one-woman show to one of the ten largest software companies in the world.

Her first product, MANMAN, short for Manufacturing Management, was an enterprise application that helped manufacturing companies run their business. In fact it still is. Having survived several acquisitions, MANMAN is now owned by Infor and still has fans in manufacturers around the world. In spite of running on what is now old and outdated technology, for more than a few, you will have to pry MANMAN from their cold, dead hands. Their perception: It just works.

Her new product, Kenandy Cloud ERP, has similar aspirations. Like MANMAN, its target market is manufacturing. Those that “know” manufacturing intimately understand the complexities associated with this type of business. Those that don’t tend to over simplify the solution needed. Fans of Workday for example constantly laud the company for its simplicity. Workday has a great product, but of course it is simpler. First of all it is Human Capital Management (HCM) and financial management (accounting) software, but it isn’t full ERP. And second, it doesn’t even try to address the manufacturing market. It takes a lot of manufacturing experience to satisfy this market. Sandy “knows” manufacturing.  You might say she is an “old hand” at it.

Something New

But it is not MANMAN that Kenandy is selling. It is a completely new product. As I mentioned before, MANMAN is now based on old and outdated technology. While many are satisfied with what it can do, quite frankly, they shouldn’t be. Any company still running MANMAN, or any number of other older business applications, are at a very serious competitive disadvantage today.

I wrote a lot about “Next Generation ERP” in 2013. If you are running an older ERP solution, especially those implemented prior to the year 2000 (Y2K), you may not even be aware of what you can expect from a modern, technology-enabled, next generation ERP. A lot of the basics required by a manufacturer today are the same, but the basics aren’t enough any more. The footprint of ERP has grown steadily, to the point where it is sometimes hard to figure out where ERP ends and other applications begin. So you need a very broad footprint to compete.

But it isn’t the depth and breadth of functionality that qualifies an ERP solution as “next generation.” It is the underlying technology. And conversely, it is that new technology that enables ERP footprints to expand at an accelerated rate. This is what makes the marriage of Kenandy Cloud ERP with the Force.com platform so important. When Kenandy decided to enter the market, the company started by building a new product from scratch. In one way, this made it much easier. As you are developing a new product, you don’t have to worry about keeping any existing customers happy with product or implementation decisions they may have already made. You can start from a clean slate. It is sort of like building a new house. It is much easier to start with an empty lot and a design plan, than it is to remodel an existing structure.

And yet Kenandy set out to build a very big and complex structure. One of my all-time favorite quotes from Sandy Kurtzig dates back to that year I joined ASK. I don’t remember who we were talking to, but I remember what she said just as clearly as if she said it yesterday, not 30 years ago. We were talking about the software competitive landscape. ASK was a market leader at the time and Sandy was very confident in its ability to maintain that leadership role. She said, “To get into the software business and compete, you have to match me line for line of code. It’s like having a baby. You can’t put nine women on it and do it in a month.”

Yet when I first communicated with Sandy in the early days of Kenandy, what she emphasized most was the speed of development that was possible with the Force.com platform. I reminded her of that quote from 30 years ago and asked her if she was trying to put nine women on it and do it in a month. Sandy chuckled, but didn’t really answer. I think time has answered the question. It is now almost three years later and Kenandy has delivered the baby. In order for it to be a real “baby” it needed to live and breathe on its own. That means for any company running it, it must provide a complete operational and transactional system of record for a (potentially complex) manufacturing business. I can’t tell you exactly when the baby was first delivered so it is hard to say whether it took the traditional nine months or more like three. But it is living and breathing in a handful of companies.

And I would say it meets the qualifications I have been promoting as necessary to be classified as a next generation ERP. It must include new technology that enables:

  • new ways of engaging with ERP
  • custom configuration without programming
  • more innovation
  • better integration

Many of these capabilities are derived directly from the Force.com platform.

The Kenandy baby didn’t necessarily need to walk or run when it was first delivered. But if it wants to compete against the big guys, those mature ERP solutions offered by big companies with deep pockets for continued development, it better help the baby grow up quickly. The more advanced features it can add easily through the Force.com platform, features like mobility and social collaboration, the faster the baby will grow and mature.

This will be particularly important to Kenandy because the target customer is also somewhat different from the old ASK customer. Yes, Kenandy is still squarely focused on manufacturing, but it is diverging from the MANMAN target, as well as the prime target for most other cloud companies. The sweet spot for MANMAN was in the lower end of the mid-market, often a division of a large company, but seldom a large enterprise. This has typically also been the target for emerging Software as a Service (SaaS) providers. Not so for Kenandy. It has its eye squarely on the large multi-national enterprise. While my data does confirm that the interest level in cloud ERP actually increases with the size of the company, I question the size of the target market. There are far more small companies in the world to sell to than large, and selling to the large enterprise is typically a replacement sale. So Kenandy not only has to sell into a large enterprise, they also have to oust the incumbent – certainly not an impossible task, but count on it being a long and involved sales cycle.

Something Borrowed

Quite frankly, no company could produce a product from scratch and make it competitive in three years without borrowing. Much of the technology that supports new and advanced features will come from the Force.com platform. So in a way, you could say it is borrowing those features. The best news about borrowing in this context: you never have to give it back. You gain the benefits for life.

But perhaps even more important is borrowing that knowledge of manufacturing from prior experience, and also the philosophy that made ASK a leader in its day.  Part of the evaluation process in selecting business software has always included checking references. As in any major purchase, before making a capital investment (or even taking on operating expense in a cloud environment) a prospect wants to talk to someone else that has walked in its shoes. Typically the software vendor provides one or more references.

But how much confidence does this really build in the prospect? By definition, any reference provided by the software vendor will be a good reference. Would it voluntarily provide a bad reference? Of course the prospect could instead get involved in user groups and/or do research on its own, but that is time consuming. And will the prospect even be able to get beyond the screening processes that occur naturally today? ASK used to handle references differently. When asked for a reference, the sales rep would hand over the entire customer list. As the customer list grew the “thud factor” alone was enough to win business. It will be awhile before Kenandy achieves that thud factor, but it fully intends to provide its entire customer list as references.

Something Blue

OK, so have we run out of our analogy with this final “something?” Hardly. Blue could represent any number of factors. Back in the ASK days, blue meant Big Blue, or IBM. In the early days when ASK was delivered on minicomputers, they were definitely not blue. The likes of BPCS (owned by SSA, now Infor) and PRMS (owned by Panasophic, then Computer Associates, then SSA, now Infor) ran on Big Blue. ASK ran on HP and DEC. But that all changed with UNIX and open architectures. Underlying hardware was no longer a point of differentiation. And with the entrance of SaaS and cloud, it is no longer even a consideration.

Blue could refer to blue sky. And blue sky could be exactly where the cloud resides, which is where the wedding took place: Kenandy Cloud wedded to ERP Force.com the cloud-based development platform.

But I prefer to consider blue sky in the context of: creative, knowing no limitations or boundaries. The sky’s the limit. After all, isn’t that the case if a marriage is made in heaven? As a woman and as an entrepreneur, perhaps I am a bit biased. While I will continue to watch and even be critical where appropriate, nothing would please me more than seeing this marriage achieve exactly what I was seeking in wearing something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue: marital bliss.

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Einstein Inspires SYSPRO USA Brain Trust

Boosting US Manufacturing In 4-Part Partner Program

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

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

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

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

Inspired by Einstein

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

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

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

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

Product Trust

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

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

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

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

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

Deployment Trust

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

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

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

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

Micro-vertical Trust: The Food Industry

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

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

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

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

Economic Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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Technology and Best Practices Fuel Growth for SAP Brazil

SAP’s growth in Brazil has outpaced growth in not only other parts of the world but also growth in the Brazilian market. As an emerging economy, rapid growth is to be expected, but along with that growth comes the usual challenges. These obstacles are amplified in Brazil, a difficult business environment burdened by challenging tax and regulatory requirements. This demanding environment not only presents an impediment to growing Brazilian companies, but also the enterprise software vendors that would love to help, and in doing so, fuel their own growth. SAP’s exceptional success stems from a value proposition that combines new, innovative technology with localized business best practices. And a focused, purposeful plan doesn’t hurt either.

How Much Growth?

The first half of this year SAP Brazil grew its software business by 80%, far ahead of the growth of the overall software market.  Indirect business grew faster than direct, which for SAP means growth in small to medium size enterprises (SMEs), serviced exclusively by its channel partners.

Part of this growth resulted from a regional focus. While the concept of sales regions is widely accepted and even natural in other large countries like the United States, this type of sales approach was new for the vast territory that makes up Brazil. After introducing this regional concept, SAP Brazil saw triple-digit growth in some regions. Software revenues in the northeast part of the country grew by 400%. Just having undivided attention and a more local presence seems to pay off.

Is Brazil a Land of SME Opportunity?

Historically Brazil has been a country of extremes. It is home to some of the largest corporations in the world. And yet according to Endeavor, a non-profit dedicated to promoting long-term economic growth through mentoring and supporting entrepreneurs, about 90% of companies in Brazil are micro-companies. While definitions of a micro-company might vary around the world, they are generally very small. Small companies have tended to stay small in Brazil for two reasons.

Brazil is not a country known for entrepreneurship. Many more startups were born from unemployment than from an entrepreneurial spirit. And once a certain revenue threshold is exceeded, (still) small companies are subject to the same tax and regulatory requirements as very large enterprises. Where the small company lacks the manpower and expertise to handle these stringent requirements, it stays small by design. As many of these businesses are now being passed on to a new generation, the desire for growth is met with frustration. Most have yet to invest in solutions that can help fuel growth. Those vendors that truly understand these local requirements and can offer affordable services and solutions that meet these needs will be most likely to capitalize on this opportunity.

SAP obviously plays in the large enterprise and as a result has a lot of knowledge and expertise available to bring to bear on the problem. Much of what it has learned in supporting large multi-nationals is relevant and the knowledge is transferrable.

But the largest potential for growth in Brazil is in this SME segment. SAP identified 400,000 (out of a total of 2 to 2.5 million small businesses) as being in its addressable market. Today about 1% (4,000) of them are SAP customers and SAP is on a mission to significantly increase that percentage.

Is the Growth Sustainable? Partners Play a Big Role

But is the growth achieved thus far sustainable? Because SAP sells exclusively through the indirect channel in the SME segment, its continued success depends a lot on its partners. For the most part these partners are local (Brazilian) companies and with the exception of the big multi-national consultants and systems integrators, they too are SMEs. So they understand the market and are well positioned to help SMEs deal with Brazilian bureaucracy.

Combining this expertise with SAP’s investment in technology is key. Not every enterprise software vendor has deep enough pockets to address these local requirements. SAP does, and is going two steps further. Step one is in its investment in transformative (some call it disruptive) technology. Step two involves using that technology to embed localized best practices into its solutions.

Because partners are so critical to the success equation, I spoke at length with one of them about what has made SAP and its partners so successful this past year.

Partner Profile: Cienci

Cienci is a partner offering a broad portfolio of SAP products. I asked Ricardo Nobrega da Silva, Director of Cienci to share what he felt was the secret to SAP (and its own) recent successes. His answer: SAP has evolved from an ERP company to a technology company, providing businesses large and small the kind of innovation they need to compete and grow. This is reflected in Cienci’s own broad portfolio. Selling to the mid to large segment of SMEs in Brazil, it offers:

  • SAP ERP, both as ECC (Enterprise Central Component, the heart of the Business Suite) and packaged for the SME as Business All-in-One
  • SAP GRC Nota Fiscal Electronica (SAP NFE) to support companies in complying with the requirements of the Brazilian authorities for electronic invoicing
  • SAP Vendor Invoice Management (VIM) by OpenText, a prepackaged application that works with SAP ERP to stream-line accounts payable processes
  • HANA
  • Fiori, a new collection of 25 apps that will surround SAP ERP, providing a new user experience for the most commonly used business functions of ERP
  • Mobility solutions including
    • SAP Mobile Platform (SMP)
    • Sybase Unwired Platform (SUP)
    • Syclo, a work management mobile app for field service productivity and safety
    •  Afaria to manage devices
    • Apps it has natively developed for mobile devices
  • Integration services using SAP NetWeaver Process Integration (PI) and Gateway
  • Other services in support of SAP products and implementations

In addition, Cienci signed the first Managed Cloud as a Service (MCaaS) contract for Fiori in the world and is also certified for SAP CRM Sales Mobile Rapid Deployment Solution (RDS). It also focuses on SAP HCM solutions and SuccessFactors and signed the first OEM contract for SuccessFactors in the world.

“All the latest technology trends are important in Brazil, just as they are in other parts of the world. This includes social, mobile, cloud and big data. SAP is a big company and has invested a lot in bringing innovation to the market faster across a broad portfolio. Take mobility as an example. It is the only company that can deliver both a platform to manage devices [Afaria] as well as a development environment to develop mobile applications,” said Mr. Nobrega.

Is Technology Enough?

That said, even though Brazilians are generally receptive to new technology, Mr. Nobrega cautions they will only buy it if the technology adds business value. While he feels SAP is making the right response to the market with the right solutions, smaller companies need to be educated on the potential business impact. Like smaller companies around the world, they tend to focus on cost only and are reluctant to invest.

So educating these small companies is a necessary step in the process. The challenge for SAP and its partners is to prove the value, particularly if the technologies, and even sometimes the issues, are not well understood.

This issue is not unique to Brazil. Most small and medium size business executives are not technologists, and unless they are, they might not know or care about that underlying technology, because they don’t understand it. They might feel the systems they have today are the best on the market. In other words, they don’t know what they don’t know. Or they may simply feel they can’t afford anything better.

There is danger in this type of thinking. Those lagging behind in technology-enabling their businesses don’t need to understand how new technology works but they do need to understand what it can do for them.  They also need to understand that solutions today are more affordable than ever. And finally they need to be able to quantify the potential return on investment. This education process is a job for both SAP and partners like Cienci.

The first step in this education process might be in dispelling some SAP myths.

Myth #1: The first myth is that SAP is only for big companies. The reality is that a large majority of SAP’s customers, numbering more than 80,000, are SMEs.

Myth #2: The second is the SAP only offers complex and expensive ERP. In fact SAP offers three different solutions in Brazil:

  • The SAP Business Suite with ECC at its core
  • SAP Business All-in-One, which also has ECC at its core, but is pre-configured for specific industries and packaged with best practices to speed and ease implementation
  • SAP Business One, an entirely separate and distinct ERP product designed for small companies (generally with fewer than 100 employees)

Myth #3: The next myth is that SAP solutions are only offered as a traditional on-premise deployment. In fact there are several different cloud deployment options, including managed services in the cloud (MCaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS).

Myth #4: And the final myth is that all implementations are long, slow and cost millions of dollars. The reality is the speed and ease of implementations has been steadily improving over the past decade and there are instances where first go-live milestones are achieved in weeks, not months and years. As to the cost, get a quote.

Of course any company, large or small, will need to cost justify a solution. For this, we would point to Mint Jutras research that quantifies the results measured since implementing ERP. And these results might surprise you.

Figure 1: Improvements Realized Since Implementing ERPSAP Brazil Fig 1

Source: Mint Jutras 2013 ERP Solution Study

The improvements shown in Figure 1 come from the 2013 Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study. These improvements were measured “since implementing ERP”. While it would be tempting to call them results achieved “as a result of ERP”, in reality improvements like these always result from a combination of people, process and technology. ERP can’t take all the credit, but is often the catalyst and vehicle by which they are achieved. World class denotes the top 20% in terms of performance measured by results, progress against goals and current performance in selected (universal) key performance indicators. Note that even those not world class achieve very significant results, typically enough to cost justify the investment.

Summary and Key Takeaways

The growth SAP has enjoyed in Brazil over the past year has resulted from combining its efforts with those of its local partners. Leveraging its heavy investment in development and its experience with large enterprises around the world, it has brought the necessary functionality to its solutions. Deep pockets and a focus on disruptive technology have allowed it to stay ahead of the technology curve. The challenge will be in not getting too far ahead of the adoption curve. SAP and its partners will have to work together to educate prospects and even existing customers to better understand the potential, not for technology sake, but in demonstrating the impact on the business itself.

But to pave the way for this technology-enablement, SAP and its partners first need to mentor and guide small growing businesses through the Brazilian jungle of bureaucracy, tax and regulatory compliance.

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What’s New in the Annual Mint Jutras ERP Survey

I am excited to be preparing to launch my annual 2014 ERP survey. This will be my 8th and I’ve learned a lot through the years about how to ask the questions and how to best analyze the results. Since founding Mint Jutras in 2011 I have gradually shifted the timing of the survey, so that now (and in the future) it will be launched early in January, and I will use and reference the data throughout the year. As most of you know, I collect a massive amount of data. I try to be consistent with many of the questions from one survey to the next in order to make legitimate year over year comparisons, watching prior trends and spotting new ones. But each year I remove some questions that didn’t produce much insight (that’s how I learn) or that really don’t change much in one year. I do that to make room for something new.

It will be interesting to continue to watch trends, particularly around:

  • Buying cycles: Last year the percentage planning to purchase a new ERP within the next three years more than doubled from 24% to 47%, with another 15% undecided.
  • Deployment preferences: In the 18 months between the 2011 and 2013 surveys, the percentage of companies that would consider a traditional on-premise deployment dropped from 56% to 27%. Preference for both SaaS and hosted models increased.
  • ERP is reaching more users: On average 50% of employees actually use ERP today, including more executives. All executives have access to and regularly use ERP in 47% of companies, a far cry from just a few short years ago. We suspect the growing use of mobile devices has been and will continue to be a game-changer here.
  • Results measured since deploying ERP rose considerably with improvement percentages rising from the 5-7% range to double digits. These are improvements like cost reductions and improvements in on-time delivery, customer retention and inventory accuracy. “World Class” ERP implementations produced results in the 20-24% range. Was this an aberration last year or is new technology fostering better results?

What’s New This Year?

But what I am even more excited about is our new approach to capturing information about how the full spectrum of business applications, with ERP at the core, are implemented. Back when I started benchmarking ERP in 2006, I set out to quantify its usage. My first five annual surveys were done while I was at the Aberdeen Group where I came up with a formula for determining the percentage of ERP that was actually used. When I founded Mint Jutras I used what I had learned in those five years and modified that formula in order to get what I felt was a much more accurate result. But after eight years of this type of measurement, not only has this become old news, it is also harder to get an accurate read.

As I have been saying for several years now, the footprint of ERP has grown to the extent that it is becoming more and more difficult to determine where ERP ends and other applications begin. That is not only the case when covering, writing and talking about ERP, particularly as integration capabilities have improved, but for users as well. In prior blog posts this year I have discussed the relative advantages and disadvantages of “tightly integrated” versus “loosely coupled” applications. But this distinction is not intuitively obvious to the typical ERP user that takes our survey, particularly since typically less than 40% of respondents are in IT. Most are business users and may not have intimate knowledge of the purchase or the architecture of the product itself. They simply use ERP to run their businesses. And of course, that is primarily what we benchmark.

Modules versus Extensions: No longer the right question

In prior surveys I distinguished between ERP “modules” and “extensions” to ERP – those separate applications that might surround and complement it. I asked which modules were implemented (fully or partially) and then asked (separately) which additional applications were implemented. But as the footprint of ERP has grown, the overlap between these two lists also grew. While having both for any particular function might happen occasionally (e.g. a manufacturer might use supply chain planning functions of their ERP and also complement that with a separate “best of breed” solution), it would be the exception and not the norm. And yet, the number of instances where survey responses indicated they had both a module and an extension for the same function began to grow, casting a shadow of doubt on the validity of the responses. That told me it was getting too hard for the survey participants to answer the questions.

So this year I am changing it up with a different purpose in mind. This year, we will

  • Determine current state of implementations with a single list of functions, including traditional core functions of ERP (e.g. general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, inventory control, order management, purchasing, etc.) and more advanced or “edge” functions (e.g. warehouse management, cash flow planning, BI and analytics, employee expense reporting, supplier collaboration, etc.) that might be a module or a separate application. The survey respondent will indicate whether it is (perceived as) part of ERP or not and, if separate, the level of integration.
  • Ask “what if?” Maybe this current state came about because of limited functionality and technology at the time of purchase. If the respondent were making the same decisions today, how would they go about it?
  • Ask “What next?” Given the state of their current implementation, what are most likely next steps? Add new components? Trade it all in for newer technology? Replace certain embedded functions? Eliminate separate applications now that ERP does more?
  • Have them choose up to five areas they are most likely to invest in next.

While this will tell us a lot, we’ll also drill a little deeper into plans for two areas, which happen to be among the hottest categories on the market today:

  • Human Capital Management (is it a fluke the big ERP vendors are buying these applications?)
  • Business Intelligence and Analytics (Is it time to take these tools out of the hands of IT and put them in the hands of the business user?)

We have also added a couple “Mobility” questions, along with one that will determine just how “usable” ERP data is.

If you are an ERP user, look for a link to the survey in the beginning of the year. We welcome your response.

If you are an ERP solution provider and think

  • The data we collect will be useful to you in making product roadmap or go-to-market decisions
  • Mint Jutras might be able to develop some good educational content for you with our distinctive “call to action”
  • You might like to benchmark your customers against our World Class

Please shoot me a message or contact Lisa Lincoln (lisa@mintjutras.com)

Lisa and I both wish everyone health and prosperity in the coming year!

Best Independent ERP Blog

Best Independent ERP Blog

 

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Infor’s Next Generation ERP: Energized and “ION”ized

Yet another post in our series on ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier, this time featuring Infor’s Purpose-Built ERP and Lightweight Middleware

Best Article: ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier?

Best Article: ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier?

In the original series ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier, we described the next generation of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) in terms of new technology that enables:

  • new ways of engaging with ERP
  • custom configuration without programming
  • more innovation
  • better integration

We predicted the core functions of ERP would retreat “into darkness,” surrounded by newer, easy to consume, intuitive consumer grade apps that would deliver innovation and competitive advantage. For Infor Global, the future is now. Over the past two years new management has come in to re-energize the business and raise the bar for innovation. At the center of Infor’s next generation solutions are Infor 10x, a collection of purpose-built ERP suites, and ION, a modern, lightweight middleware.

Delivering New Ways of Engaging with ERP

In the past ERP was used by a fairly select subset of employees within a company. These users were responsible for maintaining the master data and entering the transactions that form the system of record of the business. Middle management might use the reporting capabilities, but seldom did executives ever put their hands on the system.

Yet times are changing. The latest 2013 Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study found (on average) 50% of employees actually use ERP, a significantly higher percentage than in years gone by. In addition, 47% of companies claim their executives have access to and regularly use ERP. As a result, expectations are rising. Clerical tasks are more automated, which means knowledge workers are replacing clerical workers. Executives are more comfortable with technology and more impatient for data for decision-making. All these changes combine to make old ways of engaging with ERP obsolete. Next generation ERP must provide new ways either through evolution or revolution. Infor’s path to engagement combines a little of both.

In March 2011 Infor announced Infor Workspace, calling it a new “consumer grade user interface designed to revolutionize the experience of doing business using enterprise applications.” Built on Microsoft SharePoint with significant investment, Infor Workspace delivered the next generation user experience by blending a common user interface across a mix of enterprise applications, web services and business intelligence. It is an evolutionary step because Workspace sits on top of existing applications.

This was an important step since Infor had grown primarily through acquisition. These acquisitions added new ERP solutions to its product portfolio, as well as other complementary solutions that filled functional gaps. As a result of these acquisitions Infor will never have a single tightly integrated suite with a single data model. But that doesn’t mean the end user can’t have a single user interface.

Infor Workspace also accommodates how people work today. Nobody spends his or her day in a single application anymore. Automation has eliminated that kind of “heads down” data entry job. Most people jump from applications to email to desktop productivity tools (like Microsoft Office), to the Internet and back to the same or different applications. Infor Workspace allows the user to establish a home base of operations from which to operate all day.

But the “user experience” is more than just a unified user interface. Ask an executive why he or she doesn’t engage directly with ERP and chances are the answer will be something like, “I don’t have time to figure ERP out.” Even if navigation through the menu structure or any particular screen were intuitive, traditionally you would still need to generally know where to look. That means having some idea of how the application and the data is structured. And no, most executives won’t take the time to learn that. To avoid that requires a completely different, revolutionary way of engaging.

That’s where Infor’s latest product, Ming.le comes in. Infor describes Ming.le as a “next-gen enterprise collaboration platform” and a social workflow tool embedded in core business applications, connecting structured and unstructured processes. Ming.le was designed primarily with the Gen-Y folks in mind, using a lot of the concepts and approaches popularized by social media. Those concepts and the description above might not mean much to Baby Boomer managers – until they see it in action that is. Figure 1 is a screen shot of a Ming.le home page. As a manager, at any level in the organization, you will have a few key metrics upon which your performance is measured. If you have a graphical representation of those metrics on your own personal home page, it’s a pretty sure thing that’s where your attention will be.

And while you’re on this home page, why not put your entire “to do” list on it? Ming.le alerts you to potential problems and reminds you of specific tasks. You prioritize your actions. And oh by the way, if you have direct access to ERP from here, you can actually take action yourself. You don’t have to wait for the proverbial, “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

Figure 1: Infor Ming.le Home Page

Infor figure 1 Source: Infor

When one of your metrics starts to stray outside of an acceptable range, you’ll want more information. You will want to reach out and touch the offending number in order to learn more. You will want to immediately contact others in the organization that can help get that number back on track. You will want to tap into conversations that (you hope) are already underway. And you will want to follow those conversations. “Keep me in the loop” takes on a whole new meaning when a major order is in trouble, or a customer threatens to take business elsewhere, or a supplier doesn’t deliver on time, etc., etc., etc.

Figure 2 is an example of a “feed” from all the business objects you have chosen to “follow,” including customers, suppliers, customer orders, production orders, purchase orders, products, employees, etc. Click on links in those activity streams and conversations and suddenly you will be in ERP without ever really knowing how you got there.

In fact with a personalized view and the mobile capabilities of Infor Motion, it won’t “feel” like you’re in ERP at all. The more untethered devices become, the more tethered you become to work. With a customized view and a strong connection back to the enterprise data in ERP, the constant connection is less disruptive to your personal life. Instead of waiting for data critical to decisions, you access the data, take action and move on.

Figure 2: Infor Ming.le “Feed”

Infor figure 2Source: Infor

Customization versus Configuration

“Customizing” ERP can mean many different things and today configuration is often confused with customization. As noted in ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier, customization used to mean mucking around in source code, resulting in hard-coded logic that was difficult to change. Source code modifications also made it difficult to keep up with updates and upgrades offered by your ERP vendor. If you couldn’t take advantage of innovation delivered, you were essentially letting some of your maintenance dollars go to waste. And as ERP (and your competitors) moved forward, you were stuck.

Infor is taking a dual-pronged approach to customization. First of all, with projects and products like Workspace and Ming.le, it is making it much easier to tailor the solution without customization. When Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study survey participants were asked what kinds of customization were needed, custom reporting, personalized screens and tailored workflows dominated the responses. Combine Workspace and Ming.le with a good report-writing facility and you satisfy the vast majority of requirements without touching a single line of code.

But 24% of respondents indicated “custom logic” was required and sometimes this does require programming. But Infor has publicly stated that its goal is to reduce this type of customization to zero. How does it expect to accomplish this? First of all, it offers multiple ERP suites targeting different vertical markets. That means it is willing and able to build in industry-specific functionality. As some of its advertisements say today:

  • Building plumbing parts is different than serving hotel guests
  • Packaging peas is different than designing shoes
  • Making tires is different than processing milk

This is what Infor means by “purpose-built” ERP. And it doesn’t stop at the typical vertical. While others might view “food and beverage” as a target, Infor will dive deeper and distinguish solutions for dairies, breweries, meat packagers or bakers. A feature that might require customization to a general-purpose ERP can be built in to a solution that is purpose-built. But if you really need something that is not already built in to the selected ERP suite, Infor says, “Tell us and we’ll put it in the product.”

Infor has quite a backlog of such requests right now, but has been gearing up to deliver on its theme of “moving faster.” In the past year alone it has hired 1,700 new employees, including 600 engineers, and it has produced 5,293 new product features… which brings us to the next defining factors of next generation ERP: innovation and integration.

More Innovation, Easier Integration

When it comes to innovation and integration, Infor’s secret sauce is its innovative Intelligent Open Network (ION), a lightweight middleware, which it also refers to as “purpose-built.” Why purpose-built? Because Infor isn’t in the middleware business; therefore ION wasn’t designed to be sold as a stand-alone middleware product. ION was designed to easily integrate Infor and third-party software applications.

So how does ION help Infor deliver more innovation? The answer lies in understanding Infor’s commitment to moving from tightly integrated solutions to ones that are more loosely coupled. ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier introduced this concept and talked about the benefits, not so much from a technical perspective, but the benefits it brings to the business.  In short, the biggest reason “loosely coupled” might be of very significant value to a business is because things change. Markets change. Companies expand (or shrink). Customers make new demands. Compliance requirements change. Software is enhanced. Technology innovation happens. Yet responding to change is hard.

Think of enterprise applications as different cars in a train. Each of those cars is separate and distinct, but when coupled together they all ride smoothly together and you can easily pass from one car to the next. Need to replace one of those cars? No problem, just decouple it and replace it with another one. But that assumes all the cars use the same standard coupling. ION provides the mechanism by which they are coupled together. But that means they all need that “standard coupling.”

Infor has spent the past few years making sure all its strategic products are adequately equipped with that standard coupling. You might say it has been IONizing its products. That means when Infor develops a new component of functionality, that functionality can be added to not just one of its ERP products, but to many. So Infor can develop functionality once and re-use it across multiple products. This amplifies the volume and accelerates the pace of innovation.

Sometimes that functionality can simply be layered on top of existing products. That would be the equivalent of linking a new car to the train – sort of like adding a cocktail lounge linked to the dining car. However, if there is already a bar in the dining car and you want to significantly expand it to be a cocktail lounge, then you could suspend service in the dining car while you make renovations in place, or you could replace the entire dining car with a different (larger) one. Both options are quite disruptive. More likely you will add the cocktail lounge as a separate car and just stop serving liquor in the bar in the dining room once it is connected.

Traditionally ERP has been one of the cars in the train. If you need to make a significant change, you need to replace the whole car, which can be costly and disruptive to your business. Some of the functionality that is being developed by Infor is already deeply embedded in its current products in some form. Infor doesn’t necessarily need to remove that functionality. We didn’t need to remove the bar from the dining room. But as Infor starts to deliver new features as components (like the new car with the cocktail lounge), the number of features deeply embedded in ERP that are actually being used will shrink. Passengers on the train won’t go to the bar in the dining room for a cocktail; they will go to the new cocktail lounge car.

On the other hand, if the dining car in the train has no bar, if the owners of the train want to add this “feature”, they can certainly add a new car for the bar. But what if the real objective is to enhance the dining experience? That means they need to add this feature to the dining car.

Look for Infor to do some of each. By adding external components to ERP, it will essentially shrink the footprint of the ERP itself. But because it has multiple, purpose-built ERP solutions targeting specific markets, expect it to add enhancements directly to an ERP product that might be specific to an industry (enhancements that would not be used across different verticals or micro-verticals).

So the industry-specific functional footprint will expand even as the general-purpose footprint might shrink. We anticipated such a move in ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier, predicting ERP might appear to slip into the background: “the darkness” of uniformity, of non-differentiation. Yet we also noted: While all companies have common needs, specific industries create specialized needs and it also becomes increasingly important for companies to seek competitive differentiation. But it is not in the core functionality where this source of differentiation lies, but in the services and functions that surround the core – like the industry-specific enhancement requests Infor is encouraging.

In fact Infor is now working off that backlog of these requests, a backlog that has been growing while it was IONizing products. In fact for some products this backlog might extend back to the time before Infor acquired the product. By growing its engineering staff, it has positioned itself to truly “move faster.”

Not All Infor Products Are Created Equal

All of the products in Infor’s extensive portfolio will not necessarily move faster at the same pace. With Infor’s long history of acquisition came ERP solutions that could accurately be called “legacy” applications, or some might prefer the term “heritage applications” (legacy apps you are proud of). Either term you use, these are applications that are built on older, technology. This means not all of Infor’s products can legitimately be called “next generation.”

Outdated technology makes it much harder to IONize them and this imposes some limitations on how much of Infor’s strategic initiatives customers running these applications can leverage. Getting these customers running a next generation ERP solution would be ideal, but many of them are quite loyal to the (legacy) products and many are running highly customized versions. These customizations date back to a time long before solutions were as feature-rich as today and as highly configurable.

But that doesn’t mean Infor is abandoning them. In fact, Infor wants to help. And with over 600 customers having come back on maintenance after previously letting their maintenance lapse, it would appear a good portion are receptive. Of course migrating to one of Infor’s other solutions that are already next generation is one option. But another option on the table: upgrade to the latest release of your current product, get rid of any customization, move it to the cloud and let Infor run it for you.

This may not be as difficult as it sounds because a newer release is likely to eliminate the need for many of those customizations and added configurability of newer releases could very well take it the last mile. Make no mistake, though; this will not be an easy transition for most. But then Infor takes over and the burden of on-going maintenance becomes Infor’s problem, not the customer’s.

All this is new and still “futures” so it is not yet possible to compare costs between current maintenance and the subscription fees paid to Infor. But chances are, if the customer takes into account internal costs and the cost of lost opportunity resulting from being “stuck” in the past, there should be a break-even point, if not a gain in terms of return on investment.

 No ERP is an Island

In order for Infor’s ERP solutions to qualify as next generation, it is not enough to just integrate with each other. While Infor would love to have every customer be an “Infor only” shop, that is not the reality. And even if it were, its customers would still need to interoperate with their customers and suppliers. Professional services from Infor Consulting Services will be available to integrate additional third-party and custom applications via the ION Factory and Infor is actively seeking partners to help meet demand.

Moving Faster: Means Time to Decision As Well

In ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier, we had some fun with comparing ERP’s next generation to Star Trek and the USS Enterprise. ERP is becoming more agile, allowing it to navigate and change direction much more quickly. Yet unlike the starship Enterprise, it still can’t operate at warp speed. However, new advances in in-memory databases and technology are starting to dramatically speed up run times. We are now entering a new phase of ERP’s evolution.

But if Infor remains a business application company, and not a middleware and technology vendor, can it keep up? The answer is yes, but it will need to rely on some other commercially available technology in order to make that happen. That is exactly what it is doing with its “big data initiative” called Sky Vault.

Sky Vault leverages ION, extracting transactions from Infor ERP, formatting them in industry standard (XML) documents and sends normalized data to the cloud for further analytics. Once in the cloud Infor uses Amazon Web Services (AWS) to enable customers to accelerate time to decision from transactional data streams. Among the planned features Infor lists for Infor Sky Vault are:

  • Pre-built, domain-specific business analytics, reporting and dashboards powered by Infor ION BI (business intelligence) that incorporate industry and role-based best practices built on Infor ION Business Vault (a repository of standard business documents and transactional data)
  • Cloud-optimized data repository powered by Amazon Redshift (a fast and very reasonably priced petabyte-scale data warehouse service in the cloud) to more quickly, easily, and securely go-live and scale as data volumes grow
  • Industry-leading workflow and integration platform with Infor ION to support application interoperability and data transition between on-premise and cloud
  • Services from Infor Consulting Services to XML enable applications via the ‘ION Factory,’ which provides for rapid development of integrations to third party and custom systems and applications

Infor Sky Vault is planned to launch in the second half of 2013 with pre-defined content for sales, finance, and production, with more to come in the future.

But what about competing directly with its two biggest competitors: SAP and Oracle? Both are touting the exponential increase in speed with database products and platforms like Oracle Exadata and SAP HANA. Many of Infor’s products already run on Oracle’s data base. There is no reason why this should not extend to Exadata and Infor is actively considering supporting SAP HANA. For now Amazon Redshift provides a very economical alternative and Infor is currently experimenting with massive data volumes well beyond those its customers are dealing with in production environments today.

Summary and Key Takeaways

Among Infor’s extensive product portfolio are next generation ERP suites, technology enabled by its lightweight, scalable middleware, ION. Here are just a few ways Infor lives up to the Mint Jutras definition of “next generation”:

  • It has launched new products and new initiatives to dramatically change the user experience in accessing and interacting with ERP
  • Infor is moving from “tightly integrated” to “loosely coupled” enterprise applications to better equip its customers to adapt to changing business conditions and technological advances
  • ION facilitates the development of (external) components of functionality that can be re-used across multiple ERP solutions. This expands the volume and accelerates the pace of innovation.
  • Infor has and will continue to shrink the footprint of the general-purpose core features of ERP, surrounding it with these external components
  • Yet its micro-vertical approach will coincidentally expand those footprints to include specialized functionality, paving the way for zero customization
  • And along the way, Infor is keeping its eye on new database technology that will help accelerate ERP to warp speed

Armed with purpose-built ERP, modernized with technology enabling middleware, Infor is energized and its products are IONized in preparation for the future. While the core features of ERP may be moving into the darkness, look for Infor to move more into the spotlight. For IONized Infor products, the future is now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SAP’s Next Generation ERP: HANA and Fiori Help Customers Explore Final Frontier

Continuing our “Star Trek” series, this is the first of several posts specific to vendors offering various renditions of “next generation ERP.”

In previous posts (you can find links to the right), Mint Jutras had some fun using a Star Trek analogy to describe the next generation of ERP in terms of new technology that enables:

  • new ways of engaging with ERP
  • custom configuration without programming
  • better integration
  • more innovation

We predicted the core functions of ERP would retreat “into darkness,” surrounded by newer, easy to consume, intuitive consumer grade apps that would deliver innovation and competitive advantage. We also hinted at even newer technology that would power your ERP to operate at warp speed.

SAP HANA is that newer technology that could potentially propel your ERP into overdrive. Additionally, back in May SAP  announced SAP Fiori, a new collection of 25 apps that would surround the SAP Business Suite, providing a new user experience for the most commonly used business functions of ERP. Can the combination of these two technologies and other innovation being delivered by SAP allow its prospects and customers to explore the final frontier and boldly go where no ERP user has gone before?

Can SAP Really Be Nimble and Quick?

SAP’s competitors love to sell against them by saying its ERP is big and complex and anything but user-friendly. They point to long, difficult, multi-million dollar implementation cycles. Of course they conveniently forget that many of these implementations are massive simply because the large enterprises themselves are more massive. Rolling out a solution to operating locations in multiple countries around the world is easier with modern, web-based solutions, but it is still not an easy task.

Competitors assume all deployments are heavily modified and use words like “monolithic” and “outdated” to imply SAP customers are locked in to a solution that is over-priced and under-delivers. It is true that many of these are very mature implementations that were installed and implemented when all solutions were developed as tightly integrated, monolithic solutions using tools that would seem archaic today. These older implementations are far more likely to have undergone invasive customization than would be required today. But unless the competitor is relatively new on the scene, it too is likely to have customers on legacy versions of older products, facing the same kind of challenges.

Competitors and pundits love to liken innovating SAP’s ERP to steering a battleship: Big and powerful, but difficult to steer and change direction. In contrast, competitors describe their own solutions as lighter weight, flexible, agile, and modern. They will proudly tell prospects that their solutions aren’t the big battleships, implying they can indeed innovate faster. That may or may not be true. All you can be sure it means is that their solutions don’t have the depth and breadth of functionality.

In all fairness, competitors’ customers and prospects might not need that same depth and breadth, particularly if the vendor targets small and/or mid-size companies, or perhaps specific verticals, micro-verticals or even a niche market. SAP Business Suite is a strong solution for mid-size to large to mega-sized enterprises in 21 different industries, some of which can be further broken down by micro-vertical.

But what many of its detractors miss in using this “battleship” attack strategy is the simple fact that SAP stopped innovating the battleship itself several years ago. Does that mean it’s ERP solution is dead or dying? No, far from it.  It means it has all the basics down pat. And the very basic of basic requirements haven’t changed in decades. Basic functions like accounts payable, accounts receivable, inventory control and purchasing haven’t changed and they aren’t rocket science.

Of course, all functions and processes evolve in some ways. Take accounts payable, for example. While we still receive materials, match receipts to invoices and pay suppliers, the options for payment have indeed changed. Electronic payments are fast making printing checks obsolete. And for that matter, we receive fewer and fewer paper invoices that have to be manually matched. Automated processes have allowed us to turn clerks into knowledge workers. So we do more spend analysis and supplier collaboration.

All these new ways of doing things require new features and functions in our supporting ERP. But notice that all these are new tasks to be added to the core basics. They can be developed and delivered as separate components without changing the direction of the battleship or the battleship itself.

And is being a battleship all that bad anyway? An aircraft carrier is a battleship in the context of modern warfare. No it can’t turn on a dime in order to attack. It steams to a strategic location and it can then pinpoint any target within a wide radius. Why? Because the aircraft carrier is simply the base of operations from which the fighter planes can attack in any direction.  The carrier provides support and fuel much like ERP provides data. The planes must “fit” the ship, as they must be tethered on landing, just as components must be integrated to ERP. But, like the planes on the ship, they are loosely coupled rather than tightly bound. And providing the planes use standard fittings, one plane might be swapped out for another with relative ease, just like the next generation ERP modules that use a standard definition of a business object.

This is exactly how SAP has continued to develop new features and functions over the past several years in spite of having stabilized core ERP. The concept was first introduced circa 2006 with the introduction of its enhancement packs. The approach was to bundle enhancements together periodically in feature packs, but allow customers to selectively implement individual innovations without having to upgrade the entire solution.

As SAP’s cloud strategy has developed more recently, so has its object-orientation of development. Take for example its latest release of Cloud for Sales (initially named Sales On Demand).  In order to be an effective piece of customer relationship management (CRM) it needs access to a customer master file. But if you have SAP ERP, you already have a customer master file.

Think of the customer (master data) as a business object. An older ERP solution will build that customer master file (the business object) right into the solution. Instead, SAP treats the customer master as a separate business object that lives outside of the application. By doing this, both applications can point to, access and reference the same business object.

But what about file maintenance? Instead of building the maintenance functions directly into each application, SAP treats that function as a separate function as well. Instead of building that directly into Cloud for Sales and SAP ERP separately and individually, SAP builds it once and puts it in a “business process library” which both (and other) applications can use. This approach allows additional components of functionality to plug into these applications much like the fighter planes plug into the carrier upon landing.

A New User Experience

So far our analogy of a battleship (a.k.a. aircraft carrier) has been sufficient, but a ship on a sea hardly represents a “final frontier.” How do we then turn that ship into a starship? We’re not really as far off as you might think because in some ways, the USS Enterprise operated much like a traditional battleship. You didn’t really see it landing on the surface of those alien planets. Like a carrier, it parked itself strategically (in orbit around the planet) and used another means of transportation for that final approach.

Shuttlecraft were the equivalents of a fighter plane or a helicopter, but they weren’t used very frequently. More often the crew of the Enterprise used Chief Engineer Scott’s transporter beam. In a sense it didn’t add new functionality. The function was to get people from point A to point B – not a new sort of thing. But it certainly added a new user experience. You might even call it the consumerization of space travel.

That is exactly the concept SAP has applied to its newest product, Fiori. SAP estimates that 80% of SAP users “experience” the solution through older technology today. Fiori sets out to change that without necessarily adding any new features or functions. SAP has taken the most commonly used screens and applied what it calls the 1-1-3 rule: one use case, one user, no more than three screens. The screens will typically include one as a “to do” list, a screen with more details and a sub-screen where the user takes action.

These new apps can be run from any kind of device, from on-premises or in the cloud. This potentially opens the door for more users and a different kind of user. These apps are easy to use, but also easy to customize. If you can pretty up a PowerPoint slide you can customize the look and feel of these apps. Executives that have previously been loath to touch ERP because they just didn’t have time to “figure it all out” will no longer have that excuse. Answers to questions will be a few clicks away on their smart phones and tablets.

The selection of which screens to revamp was not random. SAP has the ability to actually measure usage of different functions within the Business Suite, providing its customer grants permission to do this. Many of them have and after analyzing this data, SAP selected a set of 25 apps, which it feels covers the top 40% of usage. This set of 25 is likely to expand but SAP doesn’t expect it to blossom into thousands of screens. It will continue to focus on those functions most widely used in the course of conducting business.

SAP customers will have to pay for this, but a single, modest license fee is charged for the entire set of applications. SAP is not looking to make lots of money but also understands that putting a price tag on it conveys value.

Turning the Battleship Into a Star Ship

All this is great, but adding additional components of functionality and a new user experience doesn’t necessarily turn a battleship into a star ship. A star ship traverses beyond our own solar system; so it definitely needs to travel at warp speed. Otherwise it would take more than a lifetime in order to reach remote parts of the galaxy. Decision-makers need access not only to data from structured applications within their enterprise applications, but also to vast treasures of previously unexplored data from the Internet: news feeds, customer sentiment, social media, etc.

So to conquer the final frontier of ERP exploration, you need speed: Speed not for the sheer sake of speed, but with a functional purpose.

That’s where HANA comes in. Neither the Business Suite nor Fiori require HANA in order to run. Existing customers can benefit from this next generation functionality without transitioning to HANA. But if they don’t, they won’t be on the ERP equivalent of the starship Enterprise.

SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud: Speed, Power and the Benefits of Cloud Delivered Faster provides more detail about the speed HANA brings, along with the benefits of operating in the cloud. But the benefits of speed are equally applicable in a traditional on-premises environment as well. Suffice to say, with HANA, batch processes become obsolete. Processes like Material Requirements Planning (MRP) and sales forecasting that used to take hours to process can be reduced to minutes, or even seconds, without constraining the amount of data processed. This adds a whole new “real time” dimension to decision-making.

Key Takeaways

To operate effectively in the uncharted territory of global competition today, enterprises need vehicles that will carry them into the future.  Monolithic, outdated ERP built on old technology won’t get you there. You need the next generation of ERP to provide new ways of engaging with ERP. You need new ways of tailoring it to your own individual needs, without building barriers to moving forward. You need new innovation delivered as components that can be easily integrated to your core ERP.

SAP has been on this path to next generation ERP longer than most, delivering new innovation in an innovative way. SAP Fiori and SAP HANA are simply the next steps that will help companies venture into the final frontier. The real question: Do you have the necessary vision and are you ready to boldly go where no ERP has gone before?

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NetSuite Jumps on the Cloud HCM Bandwagon with TribeHR

Last month NetSuite announced its intention to acquire TribeHR, a cloud-based provider of an integrated suite of human capital management (HCM) solutions. HCM solutions are pretty “hot” these days and cloud-based HCM is even hotter. Some make the mistake of thinking interest (and growth) in the HCM market is a very recent phenomenon.  SAP’s acquisition of SuccessFactors and Oracle’s acquisition of Taleo (both cloud-based, by the way) only served to fuel that assumption. After all, if the “big guys” are jumping in, it must be the next “big thing.” Right? Yes and no.

Obviously HCM is “big” right now, but that didn’t happen overnight. I have been following HCM solutions since 2006, some years more closely than others. I actually think this HCM market started heating up back in the 2005 – 2006 timeframe. But it wasn’t the big guys that were making it happen. Instead, a lot of smaller HCM specialists saw the opportunity and jumped in. Most grabbed a niche – talent management, recruiting, performance management (reviews), incentive compensation or just plain HRIS. Very few took the full suite approach and that left the market with lots of players, but very fragmented.

In the early stages of this market growth, human resource management was still an afterthought in the world of ERP. For many years, the perceived requirements were rudimentary at best and Human Resource Management modules often were just repositories for employee data. They didn’t really manage anything. So what changed?

I believe there are three different forces converging here.

  1. The work force has changed
  2. All these smaller players demonstrated there was a real demand
  3. ERP vendors are more aggressive about expanding their footprints

The Changing Workforce

The workforce has actually been changing quite dramatically (at the very least) for the past two decades.  The combination of automation and outsourcing to countries where labor is cheap has resulted in the blue-collar and hourly workforce shrinking enormously. When the work force was made up largely of these types of roles, nobody really worried about “employee engagement” or managing an inventory of skills. Employees were hired for a particular job that might or might not require special skills. Companies advertised job openings, even for salaried workers. Potential employees filled out applications on paper and resumes came through the mail. Benefits came in standard packages where one size fit all, whether they really fit or not. There was no “self-service.” Reviews were paper-based and recognition might (or might not) come with a length of service award announced at the company Christmas party.

We live in a very different work world today where the hourly worker has largely been replaced with the knowledge worker. When companies today say, “Our employees are our greatest asset” they really mean it. The way we recruit and hire is different. No place is the “social” aspect more prevalent than in managing human capital.

The Demand for Solutions is Real

The proliferation of smaller HCM vendors has proven there is a real demand for solutions to help manage this changing workforce. Until these vendors came on the market with solutions for everything from applicant tracking to hiring and onboarding to managing performance, benefits and incentive compensation, human resource professionals managed with paper and spreadsheets. Of course some, particularly in smaller companies, still do. But that only serves to increase the market potential and the cloud helps make these solutions much more affordable for smaller companies.

Even these smaller HCM niche vendors have tended to focus their efforts on larger companies, always measured by numbers of employees. As ERP vendors that serve small and medium size businesses bring these options to their existing customers, that could change very dramatically and market growth could accelerate even more quickly.

The Expanding Footprint of ERP

I have been saying for the past few years that the footprint of ERP has expanded to the point where it is getting more and more difficult to tell where ERP ends and other applications begin. This obviously is by the design of the ERP vendors. An ERP vendor can grow in several ways. Obviously it can grow by acquiring new customers (e.g. one ERP swallowing up another). It can grow by selling one new customer at a time. And it can grow by increasing its share of its customer’s wallet. This means cross-selling and up-selling existing customers. And an ERP vendor can either develop its own solutions to sell to existing customers, or it can acquire them. Most growing ERP vendors today will combine these growth strategies.

In this case, NetSuite has chosen the shorter route to market by acquiring a suite of HCM solutions. With such an acquisition I always caution customers and potential customers of the vendors to look closely at integration. Just because a vendor acquires a complementary solution doesn’t mean that solution is integrated and if not, there may be no additional value delivered than was available prior to the acquisition. In the case of NetSuite’s acquisition of TribeHR this is not a concern.

Earlier this year TribeHR joined NetSuite’s SuiteCloud Developer Network (SDN) and has already created TribeHR SuiteApp, integrating the two solutions. The integrated solution is already available on NetSuite’s Marketplace. Joint customers have the added advantage of a pre-configured and integrated solution. Start the recruiting process in TribeHR and when you make the hire, it also sets up and automatically provisions the employee in NetSuite’s ERP. Yes, there is some redundancy but the transfer is “touch-less” and the data is synchronized in real-time. So far, about 30 out of the 450 TribeHR customers are also NetSuite customers.

The Opportunity

So where is the opportunity for growth in merging the two companies? It seems the biggest opportunity will be in up-selling the NetSuite installed base. Those NetSuite customers already running NetSuite Payroll have the highest probability of also wanting to buy HCM, but there are only about 100 of them, all US based. TribeHR is already deployed in more than 50 countries, but NetSuite’s Payroll supports US businesses only. But there should also be added opportunity for those small to mid-size businesses that have not yet invested in an HCM suite or even any HCM solutions. For the large enterprise, NetSuite will continue to partner with Oracle with Oracle HCM at the corporate level. But TribeHR might also be a viable alternative for two-tier deployments in smaller subsidiaries or divisions.

It is much more likely an existing NetSuite customer will extend its ERP solution with HCM than it will for a TribeHR customer to purchase an ERP, unless of course a new purchase of ERP was in the cards already.  According to Mark Gally, previously Chief Revenue Officer at TribeHR and now HCM, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at NetSuite and ric Gerstein, Sr. Business Development Manager, HCM at NetSuite, TribeHR will continue to be sold as a stand-alone solution. The real question will be whether the NetSuite brand will help or hurt in that sale.

NetSuite Poised to Compete

The bottom line: this acquisition positions NetSuite to compete in the expanded ERP market, where prospects are looking for their ERP vendor to satisfy are larger percentage of their enterprise needs. Because managing human capital is becoming more critical to the continued success and to market differentiation, this category has become more important and will likely continue to gain in importance. Those ERP vendors that can’t fill this need will be at a competitive disadvantage.  Acquiring a suite of HCM solutions is the fastest time to market and with all the recent acquisitions, the candidates for acquisition are shrinking quite quickly. Fortunately for NetSuite, it made its move with what appears to be an excellent choice, while the market is hot.

 

 

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