ERP

SAP Business ByDesign: SAP’s Best-kept Secret

It has been almost 10 years since SAP Business ByDesign was first introduced. This enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution has always and only been offered as software as a service (SaaS). It was born in the cloud and launched in September 2007 with great fanfare. This came at a time when SaaS ERP solutions were still quite rare and just beginning to gain acceptance. Since then it has been deployed in more than 3,600 companies in 109 countries. And yet while customers seem very happy with their choice of solutions, in many ways SAP Business ByDesign is the Rodney Dangerfield of ERP – it just doesn’t seem to get any respect. While some of its most direct competitors would be thrilled with the level of success it has achieved, somehow pundits and some industry observers just won’t give SAP a break on the ByDesign front. Rumors of its death have surfaced periodically, and yet it lives on, but quietly. Perhaps that “quiet” is to blame for the apparent lack of respect. Perhaps it is time for SAP to raise the volume and build trust in the market, beyond its customer ranks.

The Evolution of SAP Business ByDesign

Before SAP Business ByDesign was first introduced, SAP already had two ERP products and deep market penetration. SAP ERP (which has gone through its own evolution and several different names) targeted the large (and very large) enterprise, while SAP Business One was aimed at small to mid-size businesses (SMBs). There was (is) also SAP Business All-in-One, but in reality that was never a separate product, but rather SAP ERP packaged with “best practices” aimed at simplifying the (large enterprise) solution for mid-size businesses in specific industries.

In order to offer a SaaS solution, SAP could have taken a few different paths, including moving either of these products to the cloud. SAP ERP was the more robust solution, but to come down market, it would have had to shed some of that complexity or be overkill for an SMB or even for a subsidiary or division of a large enterprise.

Ultimately, starting over allowed SAP to architect the solution specifically for the cloud, drawing on acquired and organically developed leading edge infrastructure. And even more importantly, SAP was able to draw on the thousands of person-years of experience accumulated by its staff in addressing the needs of the large enterprise. After all, the needs of mid-size companies are not all that different from the needs of their larger counterparts. But they don’t have the deep pockets of a large enterprise and can’t afford the time it takes to wade through the complexities that had evolved with the large enterprise solution. The initial goal of SAP Business ByDesign was to simplify for the mid-market, while also delivering a 100% cloud-based solution, a clear differentiator at the time.

Both of those goals were achieved early on in its life, but that proved not to be enough. The earliest version of SAP Business ByDesign was a single-tenant solution. While the first charter customers were perfectly happy with this choice, SAP was not. Single tenancy proved to be an obstacle to the profitability needed to sustain a level of aggressive development of both the software and the market. This resulted in the need to re-architect the product, causing SAP to go quiet as it developed this new architecture.

The re-architected SAP Business ByDesign became the platform of choice for development of all cloud offerings at SAP – for a time. But then came the acquisition of SuccessFactors and the accompanying infusion of “cloud DNA”. All of a sudden the ByDesign platform wasn’t important. The powers that be at the time (SapphireNow May 2012) said, “Customers don’t care about platforms. They only care about beautiful applications.”

Then came Sapphire Madrid (November 2012) and there was a new platform in town: The HANA platform. It was decreed that SAP Business ByDesign must now run on HANA, SAP’s “game changing” in-memory database and the basis for this cloud platform. From a database perspective, SAP Business ByDesign gained little from this since it already had in-memory powers built in. The real benefit would come later in conforming to SAP standards and therefore benefiting from technology being developed by other groups (under other budgets). And thus another quiet time ensued as the development team was (again) working under the covers.

What’s Next? A 3-Pronged Strategy

Now that the heavy lifting has been done in terms of re-architecting for the HANA platform, it’s time to kick things into high gear. So, what’s next? SAP has a three-pronged strategy for SAP Business ByDesign:

  • Deliver best in class innovation
  • Drive meaningful demand
  • Develop successful partnerships

Sounds simple, but then the most successful strategies usually are. Interestingly enough, while it was the shifts in platform that kept the lid on SAP Business ByDesign in the past, Mint Jutras believes it will be the platform that could potentially blow the lid off, or at least provide a stronger voice in the future. And the first part of the strategy (best in class innovation) is likely to play a very meaningful role in enabling the other two.

Delivering best in class innovation

Innovation encompasses both technical strength and functionality. The underlying platform brings the technical muscle. But yes, functionality is also still important, and SAP is setting about enhancing the functionality built in to SAP ByDesign, specifically for the core verticals where it has enjoyed the most success. While it has been sold into 29 different industries, its strongest presence is in professional service organizations, wholesale distribution, high tech and consumer products, industrial machinery and components (IM&C), the public sector and higher education. We expect to see the team place more focus on manufacturing and production in the coming months as well.

But SAP will choose where to invest within these industries carefully in order to fill gaps in the market. Higher education provides a good example. SAP has chosen not to invest in student management or student loans, simply because those needs are already well addressed by other solutions. The focus here instead will be on integration.

But integration swings two ways. Solutions for student management or loans are most likely to come from existing or potential partners. But SAP will also be integrating SAP Business ByDesign with apps and tools from its own portfolio. Some of the apps fall into the category of what SAP calls its own “best of breed line of business (LOB)” applications. These include SuccessFactors Employee Central for employee management and Concur for expense management and the Ariba supplier network. It will also take advantage of the business intelligence tools from the Business Objects side of the house and layer analytics on top of SAP Business ByDesign.

The user experience (UX) provides a good example of how the SAP Business ByDesign team is now able to leverage innovation developed by other SAP teams – one of the advantages of the prior work done “under the covers.” The team was able to use the underlying UX libraries created by the teams developing the SAP Fiori apps for SAP ERP. SAP Business ByDesign doesn’t have to develop any style guides. They simply use those developed by the Fiori team. This was how the SAP Business ByDesign team was able to completely renovate its user interface from Silverlight to HTML5 quickly.

The conversion to the HANA platform is SAP Business ByDesign’s ticket to other services as well, services that lead to more features and functions. Like invoice as a service – the ability to take a picture of a document and turn it into an invoice with no optical character recognition (OCR) software required. To the business user, this conversion appears to be magic. The HANA platform is the pixie dust sprinkled on (or rather under) SAP Business ByDesign that makes the magic happen.

And the other advantage of the HANA pixie dust is the dramatic simplification of the data model. How is that possible? Doesn’t the operational and transactional system of record of your business require the same level of complexity, perhaps even more complexity, as even the smallest companies deal in global markets and a digital economy? The simple answer is, “No.”

Think about how and why the data in systems has become more complex. A single transaction needs to capture essentially the same pieces of data it always did. Getting this kind of transactional data into ERP has always been fairly easy. Getting insights, answers and decisions out? Not so easy. Just sorting through all the raw transactional data each and every time you had a question simply took too long, even with simple questions like, “How much inventory do I have?” You couldn’t very well add up all the stock going in and out since the beginning of time. It would simply take too long.

So you had to anticipate what you would need up front and address those needs by adding aggregates (totals). But a single aggregate wasn’t enough. Over time you learned you needed to know the total receipts and issues in a given month. And having monthly totals led you to ask for quarterly and annual totals. You anticipated that and added those aggregates in. It works for a while, but then you find you need those totals by country or region or business unit. But you didn’t anticipate that, so you can’t answer that question without long processing times (to find and add up the transactions), or an invasive and disruptive change to the system. And what happens when you reorganize territories or business units?

The speed of HANA now allows you to eliminate many of those aggregates. For very complex join operations it still makes sense for SAP Business ByDesign to pre-calculate rather than re-calculate each time (and it does). But why bother to keep track of simple transactional data month-to-date, quarter-to-date, year-to-date, by country, region or business unit, when in the blink of an eye you could add it all up? And if all of a sudden you need to slice and dice the data a different way? No problem. And think of the amount of code no longer needed just to maintain those totals. That is development time that can now be spent providing real and impactful innovation. A simplified data model leads to added agility in the solution, which translates into added agility in your business.

The Value of Agility

We live in disruptive times. The 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study found 88% of companies believe they face some level of risk in their businesses and/or industries being disrupted by new innovative products, new ways of selling or pricing existing products or services, entirely new business models, or some combination of all of the above. And then of course there are still the more traditional disruptive factors like expansion and growth, organizational restructuring and regulatory changes, just to name a few. All this disruption can have a cascading impact on business application requirements, making agility – the ability to easily innovate, evolve and change – even more important than current functionality.

Our 2017 Enterprise Solution Study confirmed many solution providers have increased the pace and volume of upgrades (Figure 1).

Figure 1: How has the pace of innovation delivered changed?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

But Mint Jutras knows of no other solution provider other than SAP that has gone down the path of removing aggregates to simplify the data model and the associated code – certainly not to this extent.

Driving Meaningful Demand

So will this innovation immediately drive meaningful demand? Not necessarily and not if SAP remains quiet. It must raise the volume with new and different ways of marketing the solution, new ways that are reflective of how searches for new software are conducted today. Like other functions in any organization today, marketing must go through a digital transformation.

The SAP Business ByDesign team is responding by building out a Digital Demand Generation Engine (DDE). They understand people don’t respond to the same efforts that used to work. They know the majority of B2B potential buyers conduct research outside of the normal 9-to-5 workday. Search engine optimization (SEO) is critical. Does SAP Business ByDesign even show up in online searches? And what happens when it does? The speed with which SAP responds and acts on any inquiries will have a direct impact on whether it is even invited to the party. The goal is to respond immediately 24/7.

This of course, will have a significant impact on its success in the third prong of its strategy. By developing a “virtual agency” that delivers all components of a campaign (emails, landing pages, supporting materials for telemarketing and social media), SAP can provide real (and much needed) marketing support to its partners.

Developing Successful Partnerships

Much of SAP Business ByDesign’s early success was achieved through direct sales efforts. But that has changed. In 2016 partners wrote 70% of SAP Business ByDesign contracts. Indeed it would appear the platform has continued to bolster this transition, as evidenced by the 2,641 partner-built add-ons available today.

This is necessary in order to get to the next level, and if successful could lead to explosive growth. A partner strategy is at the very root of SAP’s prior success in the SMB market with SAP Business One. That means building a successful indirect channel. It may indeed tap into the existing SAP Business One channel, which has grown that installed based to over 55,000 customers, supporting over a million users. Or it could recruit from its competitors. Either way, SAP plans to double the SAP Business ByDesign partner capacity in the next year.

ConClusions

It’s about time for SAP Business ByDesign to leave its Rodney Dangerfield image behind. SAP’s three-pronged strategy for SAP Business ByDesign…

  • Deliver best in class innovation
  • Drive meaningful demand
  • Develop successful partnerships

… seems to cover all the bases. It will continue to invest in the core functions of ERP. In fact SAP has vowed to add an additional 100 developers to the team. It will begin to leverage its investment in the underlying architecture to improve the user experience and integrate to other “best of breed” functionality within its own portfolio, in its partner community and perhaps even beyond.

And it plans to raise the volume of its marketing beyond the whisper that it has been, with the hope of attracting new partners and even more new customers.

In combining these three, Mint Jutras would contend that the platform – the very thing that caused SAP to go quiet in the past – should now be the reason to shout. A word of advice to SAP: Shout loud and clear.

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Epicor’s Mission: Ease of Everything

Simplicity seems to be the holy grail of enterprise software these days. It’s no wonder with the rising levels of complexity in the global, digital economy. Streamlining and automation of business processes modeled by enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems should reduce that complexity and yet the ever-present demand for more – more features, more options, more access, more mobility, more technology – conspire against the desire for simplicity. A lot of software vendors today go to market with the message of “simple” but few (if any) can rival Epicor in its quest to provide ease of use, ease of upgrading, ease of access, ease of deployment, and ease of learning… while also becoming a company that is increasingly easy to do business with.

Yes, Epicor’s mission is “ease of everything” and it has made very significant progress on its journey, and has plans to do much more.

Easy to Use

According to Joe Cowan, president and CEO of Epicor, “What we’ve got to do is look at everything the customer does and understand how to make it simpler to do.” When it comes to making the software itself easy to use, Mint Jutras has long recognized that “ease of use” means different things to different people. So every year we ask the survey participants of our annual Enterprise Solution Studies to select what they feel are the top three most important aspects of ease of use. The aggregated answers tell us only a part of the story. For the past several years we’ve started comparing answers across three different “generations.” While all generations agree on some aspects, in others, we find some significant differences (Figure 1), making the job of delivering “easy to use” all that much more challenging.

Efficiency (minimizing the time to complete tasks) is clearly a priority for all. But the different generations have different views on how to achieve that goal:

  • Baby Boomers value intuitive navigation, while it would appear that Millenials simply take it for granted. They grew up playing electronic games and using mobile apps for which a user manual would be a foreign concept.
  • Baby Boomers like to operate from a central point of command, while Millenials are more adept at jumping around.
  • Millenials like “pretty,” as evidenced by placing more value on a visually appealing user interface. And they want it their way – more highly customizable. Baby Boomers apparently are more willing to sacrifice form for function.
  • And Gen X, with the largest representation in our sample, appear to be (appropriately enough) somewhere in between.

Figure 1: Top 3 Most Important Aspects of Ease of Use

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

So where do Epicor customers fit in terms of perceptions of ease of use? The priorities of all respondents (its prospects) and its customers are both important to Epicor decision-making. We were fortunate to have almost 80 Epicor customers participate in our survey this year. Clearly Epicor customers lean more toward the practical aspect of user experience (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Top 3 Most Important Aspects of Ease of Use to Epicor Customers

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Epicor customers place a higher value on the efficiency factors: minimizing time to complete tasks, easily and naturally. While intuitive navigation is right up near the top of the list, the emphasis on simply getting the job done places a very high priority on fit and function, which requires continuous innovation.

Features and functions are very important in order to make a solution easy to use without invasive customizations that create barriers to further innovation. But don’t forget the second most important aspect of ease of use (to Epicor customers) was intuitive navigation. For this, you need a modern user interface.

The different Epicor products are at different stages of development, but one thing you can be sure of is that Epicor is developing new user experiences (UX). The next release (10.2) of Epicor ERP for example will include a new role-based and personalized “Home Page.” It will have a whole new look that is clean and bright, but more importantly, will make decision makers better informed and more productive. It will feature active tiles that will present key metrics that change as you watch – live. You can configure your own “data discovery” through a variety of different presentation styles including ordinary charts, and also maps of just about anything ranging from your own warehouse to maps of the world.

Say you are looking for inventory on hand. You can look at it in normal bar or line chart form in aggregate, or you can see it on a map of your warehouse. And this is not just static data. You can look at it as of a point in time, looking back or looking forward. By dragging your mouse across the date, you see it in a format that appears like time-lapse photography. Need more detail? Click on a bin for details.

To really appreciate this new UX, you indeed need to experience it. Ask for a demo and press your Epicor representative for estimated delivery for the product you either run now or are considering. We think you will be impressed. We think it will make your life easier. But you need to be the judge.

For more on Epicor’s efforts to makes its solutions easy to upgrade, easy to deploy, easy to access, easy to learn, while making the company easy to do business with, click here for the full report.

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IFS Labs Puts Creativity First in the Quest for Digital Transformation

Handling Disruption Successfully With the Help of Agile Technologies

Sometimes software companies must lead the charge in terms of innovation, inspiring customers and prospects to apply leading edge technologies in new and creative ways to create a competitive advantage. Without this push, many companies, particularly those in traditional industries like manufacturing, energy and service, can become complacent. If the software that runs the business isn’t broken, there’s no need to fix it. These are markets served by IFS, primarily select asset- intensive and product-centric industries. They are also the markets IFS Labs is looking to disrupt.

IFS Labs is a small development group within IFS. While the regional leadership concentrates on solving the problems customers face today, IFS Labs is focused on solving the problems of tomorrow – or perhaps the problems and opportunities customers just don’t (yet) know they have.

Putting creativity first, IFS Labs seeks to learn from early adopters. Using a relatively small core team, yet drawing from other development resources across the company, depending on the product expertise required, it tends to have 6 to 12 projects underway at any point in time. These endeavors are essentially “proof of concept” projects, often (but not always) conducted with real, live customers. IFS Labs keeps the projects small because, with the requisite license to fail, it must decide to pursue the concept and apply it universally, or fail fast in order to move on to the next potentially disruptive project.

With this approach, IFS Labs hopes to provide guidance and inspiration to influence customers to disrupt, rather than be disrupted, applying agile technologies to produce that competitive advantage.

Do Customers Need a Little Push?

Last fall Mint Jutras published a report, IFS Helps Customers Accelerate Out of the Curve of Digital Transformation. In it we acknowledged that asset intensive industries, such as those served by IFS, are also likely to be capital intensive, where cost of entry is steep and product lifespans tend to be measured in decades. Once you are an established player in this world, you are tempted to hit cruise control. Change comes slowly. But the digital economy has thrown you a curve, and riding the brakes never gives you a competitive edge. Which is why IFS has set out to help its customers accelerate out of the curve.

We also found asset intensive industries weren’t alone in needing a push in the digital direction. Eighty-two percent (82%) of manufacturers participating in the 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study agree that digital technologies of today (those that serve to connect operations, people and processes through the power of the Internet) have the potential to fundamentally change the way we all do business. Furthermore, 86% understand that embracing digital technologies is necessary for survival. And yet, we found the vast majority still coasting or riding the brakes when it comes to digital transformation.

Last year we discovered IFS had already taken some steps to help customers accelerate digital transformation, releasing two new products. IFS Enterprise Operational Intelligence (EOI) essentially creates a cockpit for navigating the business, and IFS IoT Business Connector is instrumental in collecting, discovering and operationalizing data. Together they bridge the gap between data collection and analysis and between analysis and action. Through plug and play connectivity with the Microsoft Azure IoT Suite, customers can identify actionable observations that can trigger user-defined, automated or semi-automated actions.

These steps are all worthwhile and help companies address the challenges of today, pushing them to add digital technologies to their current solutions, without the major disruption of a rip and replace. And yes, a push is still needed. Last year we found that while 67% of manufacturers felt they were well prepared for the digital economy, in peeling back the onion, we concluded that many were perhaps over-confident in their progress, often held back by old ways of thinking and a lack of understanding and appreciation of what is possible today. Indeed, IFS conducted its own research along these lines and found world-wide the greatest challenge faced in digital transformation was resistance to change and in North America in particular it was the absence of the right organizational and governance model.

So in our 2017 study we dug a little deeper to assess how well manufacturers understand these technologies, and the potential they hold for their businesses. We selected 14 different kinds of technology and asked respondents to assess their level of familiarity with each in terms of how they relate (or not) to their business. These technologies, shown in Table 1, are presented in no particular order.

Adoption rates today are quite low, but note that the two with the highest level of familiarity, and the most likely to be deployed, align with the products IFS introduced last year: IFS EOI for predictive analytics (21%) and IFS IoT Business Connector for IoT (18%). Those that understand these technologies far outnumber those who are not familiar or only somewhat familiar. This is not surprising in that predictive analytics has been around for quite some time, and after all, who doesn’t want to predict the future? The underpinnings of the Internet of Things (IoT) is also well-entrenched in manufacturing and related asset-intensive industries simply because these companies have been collecting data with sensors for decades. However, much of the value of this data has not been realized because it has remained disconnected from enterprise solutions used for decision-making. The Internet and products like IFS IoT Business Connector are needed to bridge that gap and realize the full potential.

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

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

So it would appear that IFS chose well last year in its first steps in helping customers accelerate out of the curve. Now what?

Now IFS Labs is beginning to attack these other technologies that are obviously far less well-understood. For technologies like Blockchain (distributed ledgers), digital twins, beacons and augmented reality, those who lack familiarity outnumber those who understand and perceive relevance to their businesses. The role IFS Labs plays is to research, experiment and prove the value – or not. To that end, we highlight some active projects.

Blockchain for Aviation “Through Life Asset Management”

Given almost half (47%) of the 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study participants are not familiar at all with Blockchain, a bit of explanation seems appropriate. Blockchain, the technology behind the Bitcoin, is most often associated with the transfer of money. While many of us take non-cash transactions for granted these days, the transfer of funds through checks, credit cards and electronic fund transfers (EFT) is actually quite a complicated process, typically left in the domain of banks and other financial institutions. These financial institutions serve as intermediaries between the transacting parties. Even though they might not understand what goes on behind the scenes, most intuitively understand the role these institutions play and more importantly trust that funds will be transferred and recorded securely and accurately. And yet there is always the risk of fraud.

Blockchain is meant to eliminate the need for these intermediaries, while also eliminating the risk of fraudulent activity. Blockchain is a distributed ledger that provides a way for information (data) to be recorded and shared by a community. Each member of the community maintains his or her own copy of the information and all members must validate any updates collectively. Each update is a “block” added permanently to the “chain” creating a complete and auditable system of record. Encryption and protocols replace third party intermediaries as keepers of the trust. The distributed ledger is a shared ledger where transactions are verified and stored on a network without a governing central authority.

But the transfer of monetary funds is not the only application possible with Blockchain technology. It might apply to any chain of activity or transfer of ownership. IFS has chosen the aviation industry for its proof of concept, primarily for two reasons. First of all, in its privately conducted survey, IFS found the aviation industry to have the highest level of digital maturity among those industries it targets. Secondly, because aviation can really use the help in terms of what IFS calls “through life asset management (TLAM).”

Think about it. A typical aircraft consists of two to three million parts. The provenance of those items (i.e. where they came from, who owns what and when ownership transfers) is critical. These parts must be tracked, not only through the manufacturing of the aircraft, but throughout its life. We’re talking potentially decades of supply chain, production and service transactions, which are today captured in all different systems. Records may be written and verbal, often incomplete, generating large volumes of paper storage. There are limited standards and limited traceability in a highly regulated industry, driving the costs of compliance literally and figuratively sky high.

What if instead the aviation industry could write transactions back to a connected permission-based ledger in addition to applications like ERP? IFS envisions developing a purpose-built aviation Blockchain, to provide a single picture of truth. There are many potential benefits like improved data quality, accurate maintenance history, lighter administrative loads and lower costs, all from a single traceable record with trust built in.

But as with any distributed (shared) ledger, this requires cooperation across the community, in this case including those manufacturing, servicing and maintaining the aircraft, software providers and regulators. A technology consortium to administer the Blockchain is required and there will be gradual adoption. There are still issues to be resolved, issues like transaction latency and compatibility with existing information technology (IT) systems. But none of these issues will ever be resolved without companies like IFS taking some bold first moves and being willing to fail at first attempts.

Working with forward-thinking early adopters will help shape the future. While adoption rates are still very low across all of the technologies listed in Table 1, we found those with World Class ERP implementations were two to five times as likely to have deployed or were in the process of deploying them. Those with World Class implementations were a full five times as likely to have taken first steps with Blockchain in particular. IFS Labs will start small in the aviation industry, developing proofs of concept, and then eventually look for other applications.

Wearable Devices and Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is another of those technologies where a large percentage of our survey participants lacked familiarity or saw little value. Augmented reality generally requires some sort of wearable device. While Google Glass was initially a flop in the consumer market, there are some very practical uses for this kind of technology in the industrial world.

In fact our 2016 Enterprise Solution Study found a high level of interest in wearable devices (Figure 1).

Figure 1: What level of interest do you have in using wearable devices?

Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

What makes wearable devices interesting to manufacturers? Seventy percent (70%) of manufacturers that expressed interest see the potential for hands free operations. In asset-intensive industries like those IFS serves, the potential is very real, particularly in terms of servicing and maintaining these assets. Think about the potential for overlaying a schematic over a piece of equipment in trouble-shooting, or providing a check list for diagnostics or routine maintenance.

We also found 36% of our survey respondents saw wearable devices as the “device of the future” and 39% view them as just another device that needed to be considered in the context of “bring your own device (BYOD).” Could a material handler’s personal Apple Watch replace those ruggedized RFID/bar code scanners so prevalent in warehouses and in the field today? In these cases, it will be important to connect back to ERP, either to retrieve data or to record transactions.

And yet despite last year’s apparent interest, this year we found very few making the connection between these wearable devices and augmented reality. We feel this is largely due to the current limitations of the wearable devices themselves. It is largely the head mounted device (similar in concept to the original Google Glass) that will bring the most value to asset intensive industries. And these devices are still quite new, feel a bit clumsy, and many don’t produce a completely hands-free experience. Plus software developers like IFS Labs are still experimenting with designing the user experience.

But there will come a time, in the not so distant future, when these devices will be no clumsier than a pair of standard safety glasses. When that time comes, in environments where eye protection is required, why not build additional functionality in? We believe it is important to be experimenting now with these use cases and design because there is still much to be learned.

Leveraging IoT in New and Creative Ways

While IoT is clearly a reality today, we have just begun to scratch the surface in terms of leveraging its full potential. And that is why IFS Labs is working directly with some early adopters of IFS IoT Business Connector, not only in collecting and analyzing the data collected by sensors, SCADA systems, PLCs and OLE (object linking and embedding) for Process Control (OPC), but perhaps even in creating new revenue sources?

But Can IoT Build a Better Mouse Trap?

Many business innovators set out to build a better mouse trap – figuratively speaking that is. But IFS customer Anticimex took on that challenge quite literally. Anticimex became an early adopter of the IFS IoT Business Connector once the product was added to the roadmap.  It is an example of an IFS customer that is benefitting from product innovation that came out of an IFS Labs proof of concept (POC) project several years ago.

Anticimex provides pest control services. Controlling pests like mice, rats and other small rodents means eliminating those pests. Eliminating them without damaging the structure in which they reside, means first catching them. Traditionally this has not been a high-tech business. It involves setting traps, checking the traps and getting rid of the trapped pests. That means sending service technicians on site for inspection and removal.

But what if you were to put sensors in those traps that allowed you to monitor them remotely? What if those sensors could not only tell you when you’ve caught a pest, but whether the trap is full? What if those sensors could also monitor the battery charge in the traps and tell you when that battery is near end of life?

If you were able to collect all this data and monitor it remotely, think about the technicians’ time you could save. If you could store and analyze this data, you could detect and even predict and avoid an infestation. Could you use this data to potentially sell your services to the neighboring businesses closest to your customer?

Figure 2: Anticimex IoT Solution Overview

Source: IFS Labs

This is how Anticimex, with the help of IFS Labs, is leveraging IoT, along with IFS applications, in a new and innovative way.

Wrap Up

Although IFS Labs is a relatively small group within IFS, it has a big job to do. Its job is to disrupt. Putting creativity first, the team is able to draw from resources corporate-wide in order to experiment and learn from forward-thinking early adopters. It is very important for a group like this to have a license to fail. By keeping proof of concept projects small, the team can be daring, failing fast in order to learn and move on to the next innovative concept.

But IFS Labs must do more than just disrupt. It must educate customers and prospects, provide guidance and inspiration, and influence them to leverage the disruptive digital technologies of today and of tomorrow.

We wish them lots of luck and hope to see these efforts continue.

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Oracle Delivers New Release of Next-Generation Cloud Applications

 

Today Oracle announced major innovations across its Oracle Cloud Applications, further extending what is already a suite of cloud applications that is both broad and deep. Release 13 includes hundreds of new features, several new products that are extensions to the current solution, and improvements to the user experience.

If Oracle customers are like the survey respondents to our 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study, Oracle is hitting on all cylinders in terms of what users want.

What Users Want

In our latest study we asked survey respondents to prioritize five different approaches to innovation on a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 was the highest priority. This was a stack ranking, so they were not allowed to give any two the same ranking.

Table 1: How do you want your application vendor to prioritize?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Table 1 is sorted by the first column, which includes all respondents. While not every respondent selected “enhance existing functions” as their top priority, it clearly came out on top. Improving the user experience and extending the solution were number 2 and 3 respectively. Release 13 hits on all 3.

Note: We did have 54 Oracle customers represented in our total pool of about 600 participants, but given the size of the Oracle customer base, we don’t consider that sample size sufficient to be truly representative.

Given this is an announcement of Oracle’s Cloud portfolio, we also have to consider whether priorities are any different when looking at SaaS deployments, hence the additional 3 columns in Table 1. The short answer is no. While there are some slight variations in the relative priority, enhancing existing functions remained at the top regardless of deployment. Those running hybrid deployments (where parts are on-premise and parts are in the cloud) are a bit different, but it is a little harder to draw conclusions from this because of the high degree of variability across hybrid deployments.

We presume that many of these hybrid deployments resulted from a cloud strategy that leaves existing systems in place but surrounds them with cloud/SaaS solutions. This was in fact the top cloud strategy for two years running in our 2016 and 2015 studies, although not by a wide margin (Figure 1).

Figure 1: What best describes your cloud strategy?

Source: Mint Jutras 20176 and 2015 Enterprise Solution Studies

While we didn’t ask this question in 2017, we will continue to watch plans and preferences moving into the future as we observe a lot of movement away from legacy on-premise solutions (finally!)

Some Highlights

So what are some highlights of Release 13? Here are some provided by Oracle:

Oracle SCM Cloud

Oracle SCM Cloud Release 13 extends the SCM suite with the introduction of more than 200 major features and six new products that cover Sales and Operation Planning, Demand Management, Supply Planning, Collaboration, Quality Management and Maintenance. The new innovations are introduced “to help organizations transform their operating models to meet rapidly changing business demands by evolving from traditional supply chain systems to connected, comprehensive, agile, and customer-oriented supply chain management capabilities.”

Oracle CX Cloud Suite

Oracle CX Cloud Suite Release 13 introduces new innovations to Oracle Sales Cloud, which include enhanced mobile and data visualization capabilities, as well as a range of new capabilities that increase sales rep productivity. In addition, Oracle has extended Oracle CX Cloud Suite with the introduction of Oracle Engagement Cloud. The new solution combines sales and service capabilities to enable organizations to increase customer satisfaction, loyalty, and up-sell opportunities.

Oracle ERP Cloud

Oracle ERP Cloud Release 13 builds upon the solution with extended depth and breadth across FinancialsProcurement, and Project Portfolio Management (PPM) and adds deeper domain functionality including Dynamic Discounting and Multi-Funding. In addition, industry coverage for higher education, financial services, and manufacturing, as well as expanded country localizations for India and Brazil are included.

Oracle HCM Cloud

Eighty percent (80%) of enhancements to Oracle HCM Cloud Release 13 were customer driven, extending Oracle’s commitment to customer success. Release 13 enhances Oracle’s complete, end-to-end solution for all HCM processes and introduces expanded user experience personalization and branding, making it easy for everyone to connect on any device. It also includes improved capabilities to support the needs of customers with unionized workforces, such as retail and healthcare, with flexible work models.

Summary

All told, it looks like Oracle’s interest in being the biggest and best cloud solution provider for enterprise applications has not waned. First the acquisition of NetSuite and now what seems to be a very major release as a result of its own development efforts. Combined these efforts indicate Oracle is moving ahead full throttle.

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Looking into the Future of Enterprise Application Deployments

We saw yesterday that SaaS has become the preference of choice, with two thirds of respondents willing to consider it for their next implementation, and over half declaring it as their first choice. Does that mean all software installed will magically become SaaS overnight? No, there are simply too many traditional on-premise deployments out there today. We asked our survey respondents to estimate the percentage of all their business applications (not just ERP) that were SaaS today, and then we asked them to estimate that percentage over the course of time. Here’s what they told us:

Figure 1: What percentage of all business software is SaaS?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

This percentage has been rising slowly but steadily over the past several years and it appears it will continue to do so. But it would seem even 10 years out, there will still be some traditional deployments. After all, there are still some out there that think ERP replacement is like brain surgery – you don’t do it unless the patient is dying. And you’ll have to pry cold, dead hands off some legacy solutions.

But then of course, 10 years in this business is a lifetime. Before I retire, I might just be able to convince those diehards to start thinking about ERP like joint replacement instead of brain surgery – replace it when it becomes too painful, or when it prevents you from doing what you want and need to do!

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Is There a Clear Winner for 1st Choice in Deployment?

So now the answer to yesterday’s question. Is there a strong “first choice” for ERP deployment today? We displayed back to each survey participant all the deployment options he or she had selected and asked, “What is your first choice?”

Figure 1: What is your first choice for deployment?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

As you can see, SaaS wins by a wide margin, with over half of all participants selecting it. But if you look only at those that would consider SaaS, the percentage rises to 70%. Does this mean magically all ERP will be SaaS any time soon? Hardly. Tune in tomorrow to see how quickly the landscape will change – or not.

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Keeping Tabs on Deployment Preferences

I don’t think anyone has been tracking preferences for SaaS or on-premise deployments of ERP any longer than I have. Back in 2006 I started asking the question, “If you were selecting a solution today, which deployment options would you consider?” I can’t share those early results with you since that is data I collected while working for another analyst firm. Let’s just say those that would even consider SaaS ERP didn’t even break double digits. Back then I called ERP the last bastion of resistance to SaaS.

But I can share with you the progression since 2011 when I founded Mint Jutras. See for yourself how much perceptions and preferences have changed just since then. The question has stayed the same (I allow survey participants to select any or all of the options), although in 2015 I added a “Hybrid” option. The figure below shows every other year, simply to fit on the page.

Figure 1: Deployment Options Considered

Source: Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies.

And this year I added a follow-on question to determine a “first choice.” I am going to keep you waiting until tomorrow for those results. Can you guess?

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Infor Ushers In the Age of Networked Intelligence

Leveraging The Rise of Networks and Data To “Bend the Curve of Progress”

Even amidst all the hype around disruptive and game-changing technology, few innovations have had the ability to truly change the game or dramatically alter the course of history. The steam engine enabled advancements in transportation and trade, completely changing the game in terms of how people and goods moved across what used to be viewed as vast distances. What else has had the same dramatic effect?

In more recent times, the Internet and the mobile phone, which evolved into the smart phone, were perhaps the two most significant game-changers. Infor, a leading provider of business applications, specialized by industry and built for the cloud, believes the rise of networks, coupled with the intelligence that can be derived from the massive amounts of data available today, will be the next such game-changer that will truly “bend the curve of progress.”

And Infor believes it is well-positioned to leverage these two factors and accelerate that movement.

The Evolution of a Strategy

Since the current management team, led by CEO Charles Phillips, took over about six years ago, Infor’s strategy has been evolving. Its mission: to “build beautiful business applications with last mile functionality and insights for select industries, delivered as a cloud service.” As a privately held company with a recent infusion of capital by Koch Industries, Infor has been able to spend billions of dollars developing and acquiring that last mile of functionality for a growing number of vertical and sub-vertical industries. The goal is to totally eliminate the need for invasive customization.

Having grown through acquisition, Infor has a very broad portfolio of products, including multiple Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions, some more modern and strategic than others. Its strategic solutions have been re-architected to run in the cloud and as a result, its cloud revenues have been growing faster than the industry average. As companies move to a public cloud environment, it becomes even more critical to eliminate customizations that create barriers to innovation.

The Network Economy

Infor also recognizes the continued shift to more distributed environments and global trade relationships. This shift started decades ago when low-cost country sources made “outsourcing” very appealing. As companies have tended to become less vertically integrated, reducing costs and focusing instead on their core competencies, this necessitates new ways of doing business with each other. The move away from vertical integration and towards the Internet and cloud-based computing has spurred the rise of the network economy.

In response, two years ago Infor acquired GT Nexus and its cloud-based, global commerce platform. More and more of the communication, collaboration and business processes of any company are likely to extend beyond the four walls of the enterprise. Focused on the supply chain, GT Nexus largely applies to those industries that must manage the movement of materials, but also has an impact outside of traditional manufacturing and wholesale distribution. The procurement of supplies in industries like healthcare and hospitality has not changed in decades and are ripe for innovation.

Whether you deal with a physical product or services, the value chain has lengthened and become more complicated. Yet expectations of response time and delivery performance have risen dramatically. Hence the need for an added level of intelligence in dealing with this new digital, network economy.

Business Intelligence (BI) and Analytics

Which leads to the next step in the evolution of Infor’s strategy. Earlier this year it acquired Birst, Inc., a pioneer of cloud-native, business intelligence (BI), analytics, and data visualization. The tools are available immediately, while Infor works to replace any existing data cubes and content (previously Cognos-based) with the newly acquired technology and also build out additional applications, content and migration tools. Existing Infor BI customers will be able to migrate, trading in (like for like) old licenses for new Birst tools.

Of course, this will be easiest for those already operating in the cloud. About 8,500 out of 90,000 Infor customers are in the cloud today, leaving many still on premise and often operating on outdated products and technology. This represents both a risk and an opportunity to Infor. But the addition of Birst to the Infor product portfolio should only serve to add more incentive to move to the most current CloudSuite for any customer’s particular vertical.

AI: Taking Intelligence to the Next Level

To sweeten the pot even more, Infor has now introduced the Coleman AI Platform. On the surface, Coleman might look a lot like some other “virtual assistants” offered by other vendors recently. However, it doesn’t take long to realize that under the surface, Coleman is quite different. This is partly because it actually resides under the surface. It is not a “bolted on” application, but is a platform that will be embedded in Infor’s CloudSuites. In fact, while the world is just now learning about it, Infor has been working on Coleman for a few years and has embedded it in a few spots already.

Some examples are predictive inventory management for healthcare, price optimization management for hospitality, and forecasting, assortment planning, and promotion management for retail. Where it is embedded, adding new features to existing solutions, these capabilities are delivered to existing customers with no additional license or subscription fees.

Coleman changes the way the user interfaces with the software. Think of it as a Siri or Alexa for enterprise applications. Infor suggests some of the questions you might ask it:

  • Coleman, what is the accounts receivable balance for ACME Corp?
  • Coleman, what’s the next best offer for this customer?
  • Coleman, who is the sales rep on the ABC Labs account?
  • Coleman, what price should I charge for a hotel room?
  • Coleman, what are sales by month for the NW region this year?
  • Coleman, how much PTO [paid time off] do I have left?
  • Coleman, create a requisition for item 4321
  • Coleman, approve the promotion for Nurse Jones

For now, these are fairly simple questions, but Infor anticipates the kinds of questions asked will become much more predictive in nature as the application of the technology matures.

Its natural language processing is the same technology that powers Amazon’s Alexa. But it doesn’t stop there. Infor has been quietly acquiring machine learning technology and scouring the open source community for tools and technology for several years. There is much more to come, including image recognition to chat, hear, talk, and recognize images to help people access growing volumes of structured and unstructured data more efficiently.

While many today have begun to fear that AI will take jobs away, much like the automation that occurred in the latter part of the 20th century, Infor prefers to focus on delivering a tool that will instead maximize the human potential. It has the potential of automating and eliminating the tedious, time-consuming tasks that keep a knowledge worker from working efficiently and effectively, without wasting time searching for data, policies or processes.

The predictive capabilities have traditionally been what have drawn attention to artificial intelligence and machine learning. The most common application of predictive technologies is in the case of asset performance and maintenance. Given Infor’s strength in Enterprise Asset Management (EAM), this is indeed a prime target.

Where Coleman and IoT Meet

Of course assets like equipment and machines have been equipped with sensors for decades now, which have brought access to an unprecedented volume of data. But for decades that data has gone largely underutilized and has had little connection to any kind of system used for decision-making. So companies still lose precious production time for (potentially unnecessary) preventive maintenance. Or they run the risk of disrupting schedules by running until a failure occurs. Embedding Coleman for condition monitoring can potentially predict equipment failures in order to schedule maintenance (with the necessary repair parts) just in time, minimizing downtime for maintenance and maximizing production.

Demand Planning and Forecasting

When it comes to forecasting demand, there is an old saying: The one (and only) thing you can count on with absolute certainty is that it will be wrong. The corollary of course is that the more data you have, the more accurate the forecast. But you can also reach a point of having more data than a human can assimilate and analyze. Coleman knows no such limit. And so, forecasting demand should be an excellent application of Coleman’s capabilities.

But what about brand new products with no history? For decades we’ve simply made assumptions. Intuitively we use prior experience with similar products, but that’s a lot of guesswork and it’s never easy. Infor is predicting that Coleman will shatter previous demand planning and forecasting performance in these (and all) situations. How can it do that? By analyzing a vast array of attributes about the new product and correlating them against the attributes of products with a history. The deep industry-specific functionality of the Infor CloudSuites, combined with the extensive data available from the GT Nexus Commerce Network will help make more of this kind of data available for analysis – a winning combination. Time will tell, but given the credentials of Infor’s Data Science Labs (65 PhD’s in a laboratory setting), and the business data available from Infor’s CloudSuites and GT Nexus, our money is on Coleman.

But… Is Infor Getting Too Far Ahead of its Customers?

Coleman was announced at Infor’s annual user event, Inforum 2017. Most customers, while intrigued and interested, still view the kind of AI delivered with Coleman as “bleeding edge.” Infor has recently been seeing much more success in working some very innovative projects with some vary large customers, especially when it brings Hook & Loop Digital (a creative lab within Infor) and its Data Science Lab to bear. However, the vast majority of its installed base is comprised of small to midsize enterprises (SMEs). How will Coleman impact the rank and file?

Sometimes software companies must lead the charge in terms of innovation, inspiring customers and prospects to apply leading edge technologies in new and creative ways to create a competitive advantage. Without this push, many (most?) companies can become complacent. If the software that runs the business isn’t broken, there’s no need to fix it. So they stay on legacy solutions instead of moving to an appropriate Infor CloudSuite.

Eighty-four percent (84%) of survey respondents participating in the 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study agree that digital technologies of today (those that serve to connect operations, people and processes through the power of the Internet) have the potential to fundamentally change the way we all do business. Furthermore, 88% understand that embracing digital technologies is necessary for survival. And yet, we found the vast majority still coasting or riding the brakes when it comes to digital transformation. Infor customers are no exception.

Last year we also found that while 58% of participants felt they were well prepared for the digital economy, in peeling back the onion, we concluded that many were perhaps over-confident in their progress, often held back by old ways of thinking and a lack of understanding and appreciation of what is possible today.

So in our 2017 study we dug a little deeper to assess how well companies understand these technologies, and the potential they hold for their businesses. We selected 14 different kinds of technology and asked respondents to assess their level of familiarity with each in terms of how they relate (or not) to their business. The technologies that Coleman might utilize are shown in Table 1 (in no particular order).

With the exception of predictive analytics and IoT, those that are unfamiliar, only somewhat familiar and/or don’t perceive the value outnumber those that have embraced these technologies. And yet these technologies have actually insinuated themselves into the lives of many consumers. And most of us don’t even realize it.

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

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Anyone using Siri, Alexa or Cortana has used a virtual assistant and natural language processing. Google, Spotify and Pandora all employ “deep learning” (aka machine learning) to create a better play list for you. Did you ever notice that your GPS seems to get smarter over time, suggesting the routes you actually prefer? And the more you use any of these “apps”, the smarter they get.

These technologies are no longer science fiction. They are woven into the fabric of our lives. Apple, Amazon and Microsoft didn’t require you to buy something extra. They just made it part of what you got with your new device. And didn’t those features make you want the latest and greatest device?

That is exactly what Infor is setting out to do: weave these technologies into the fabric of the software we use to run our businesses. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as easy to “trade up” to a new ERP solution as it is to get a new mobile device. But Infor has a program to make it as easy as possible. It’s called UpgradeX.

UpgradeX provides customers with different options, but the most value will be derived from moving to the latest release of one of its strategic solutions, running in the cloud. This may mean upgrading to the latest release of a solution already implemented or moving to a new solution quickly, cost-effectively, and with minimal business disruption.

The process typically begins with working with an Infor Value Engineering team to build a “board-ready” business case for upgrading that includes a proposed solution architecture and roadmap, projected business process improvements, and anticipated return on investment (ROI). Infor can also offer consulting services, delivered by 3,500 professionals in 50 countries.

While Infor has promised never to force any existing customer to upgrade, migrate or abandon a product that is installed, the only way for customers to take full advantage of Infor’s vast investments in technology is to be running one of its industry-specific CloudSuites. You don’t have to run in the cloud, although Mint Jutras would argue that is exactly how you will get the most value: Eliminate the cost of obsolescence of hardware and software; let Infor manage the upgrades, and allow your company to take full advantage of the innovation Infor can deliver.

Key Takeaways

We do indeed live in a world where digital technologies have the potential of fundamentally changing the way we do business. Cloud computing and technologies such as AI, natural language processing, machine learning and predictive capabilities are infiltrating our personal lives. It is now time to bring them into the enterprise.

At the same time, the network economy and vast amounts of data are a reality for any company today. The more intelligence companies can derive from that data, the better equipped they will be to leverage the vast potential of opportunities.

Infor is uniquely positioned to help its customers “bend the curve of progress.” Its purpose-built CloudSuites provide deep functionality for industry verticals and sub-verticals. Running in the cloud on Amazon’s AWS relieves customers of the burden of maintenance and obsolescence. GT Nexus provides a platform to connect to a vast commerce network. The recent addition of BI and analytical tools promises to bring a new level of insights and intelligence. And the Coleman AI platform is the logical next (and final?) step in completing the journey of digital transformation.

Yet too few of its 90,000 customers have stepped up to the plate. To those Infor customers still running on old versions or older, non-strategic products: Complacency is your enemy. The same applies to non-Infor customers limping along on legacy products built on old and outdated technology. For years ripping and replacing ERP solutions was simply not worth the time, effort and money. It simply resulted in something different and not a whole lot better. Those days are long gone.

While digital technologies such as AI, machine learning, natural language processing and even predictive analytics are still nascent, by embedding them in the fabric of the software that runs the business, they truly have the potential of becoming mainstreamed into the Infor community. Don’t sit by complacently while your competitors gain an advantage over you. Start to bend that curve of progress. Infor can help.

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SAP Business One: The Next 20 Years

Becoming an ERP Platform

SAP Business One turned 20 last year. If it were a human, that would mean it was poised to enter the prime of its life. If it were a dog, it would be getting very long in the tooth, unable perhaps to learn new tricks. In software years, 20 is often thought of as mature, but equally as often viewed as ancient. Indeed some 20 year old enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions are truly approaching “end of life.” Often referred to as “legacy” solutions, these are the ones that are still based on outdated technology, have changed very little over the last decade or more, and are still based on their original, outdated technology and architectures. Fortunately for the more than 55,000 customers running their businesses with SAP Business One, this ERP solution for small to mid-size businesses (SMBs) has come a very long way since it was first introduced.

But SAP believes it still has a long life ahead and is aggressively planning for the next 20 years. But, just as today’s solution bears very little resemblance to the original single-user system (running on a Mac), the SAP Business One of the future will look, feel and be something different than it is today. SAP Business One is becoming more than just ERP. It is becoming a business process platform. That means it will be open, extensible, and poised to meet very specific needs across many different verticals… and fully capable of being delivered through the cloud as a service.

Why a Platform?

Periodically pundits in the software industry try hard to kill off ERP, largely based on old perceptions. Let’s face it: Nobody recalls the early days of ERP as “the good old days.” Early ERP solutions were rigid and inflexible, hard to install and implement and even harder to use. Functionality was limited (and limiting) and implementations were not for the faint of heart. Horror stories of failed implementations costing millions of dollars were fairly common. For many, those perceptions live on.

Some solution providers jump on this bandwagon and try to reposition their solutions as something else without really changing what they actually do. Is SAP’s move a similar tactic? We think not. We believe it is an indication that the leadership of the SAP SMB team has a firm grasp of the needs of these smaller enterprises and is committed to satisfying those needs.

Over the years, SMBs in general have been turned off by ERP, thinking of it as a huge, disruptive and expensive undertaking. SAP in particular has suffered from these perceptions as a result of its penetration into large, multi-national enterprises. Overlooking the fact that SAP sells a completely different solution to SMBs, many mistakenly believe all ERP implementations to be overwhelmingly complex and overkill for their smaller operations. They fall into the trap of thinking they can get by without it. Or they think they need “something else.” In reality, based on the way Mint Jutras defines ERP, they not only need it, they need ERP and more. We believe this is the rationale behind SAP’s platform approach.

Some of the problems with the early versions of ERP resulted from software vendors trying to be all things to all businesses. With few exceptions, most early solution providers cast a wide net. Unwilling to turn any potential business away without a try, they came to market with very broad solutions. By trying to please everyone, they never had a complete solution for anyone. The 80-20 rule prevailed. Nobody expected a solution to satisfy all their needs (an 80% fit was often the goal), resulting in invasive (and sometimes expensive) customizations that built barriers to further innovation.

SAP seems to agree with our conclusion: All businesses need some flavor of ERP. But a “one size fits all” solution is not the most effective approach, because of the fact they also need “more”. But the “more” needed by a brewery is very different from the “more” needed by the company providing field services to the oil and gas industry, or the fitness club selling gym memberships. Even in food and beverage, the “more” needed by growers is very different than the “more” needed in the poultry industry.

And while brewers, growers, field service providers, fitness clubs and poultry providers all have similar needs in finance, accounting, booking and revenue and inventory management, they are not willing to spend a lot on these back office functions, preferring instead to invest in solutions that help them directly grow their businesses. These companies want to invest in a gym club solution, or a beer brewing solution, or a field service solution, not a generic ERP.

But wouldn’t it be nice if you could satisfy all your needs, including those basic functions, with the specialized solutions that help you directly drive your business? You can if those specialized solutions are built on top of a strong foundation – an ERP platform. That is the plan for SAP Business One.

SAP will continue to invest (and invest heavily) in the ongoing development of the generic core ERP, including new features and functions, as well as the user experience. It will modernize the user interface, including access from mobile devices, and embed analytical capabilities. But perhaps equally, if not more importantly, it will invest in the underlying architecture and technologies that enable partners to more easily enhance and extend the solution for the specific needs of different vertical, and in some cases even more specialized micro vertical industries.

Click here to read the full report on SAP’s plans and Mint Jutras’ analysis please click on the link below (no registration required).

 

 

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Unit4: Delivering Not Only What People Need, But Also What They Want

The ‘People Platform’ is The Secret Sauce

Is there a difference between what people in people-centric businesses need and what they want? You betcha! They need applications like finance, human resource information systems (HRIS), procurement and all the different pieces needed to maintain the system of record of their businesses. In other words, virtually everyone needs basic Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). But ERP isn’t new and exciting. What they really want are the cool features, functions and applications that help them clearly differentiate themselves and make them stand out from the pack. They need those routine back office processes to run smoothly, but they also need the agility to respond to change and embrace new ideas and new technologies.

A recent Mint Jutras report asked the question: Is “Agile ERP” an Oxymoron? For decades using “agile” to describe ERP was indeed the conjunction of incongruous and even contradictory terms – the very definition of an oxymoron. Unit4, a software solution provider that specializes in people-centric businesses, has always prided itself in its agility. For many years the goal of Business World (its flagship ERP solution) was to effectively and efficiently meet the needs of businesses living in change (BLINC). Yet over those years Unit4’s product portfolio has also been extended to include additional solutions that can address more specific vertical needs and provide a level of differentiation. These additions came, not only through both its own development efforts, but also through acquisition.

Most notably Unit4 has acquired a Student Information System (SIS) for higher education, a Professional Services Automation (PSA) solution for professional services organizations and Corporate Performance Management (CPM) for all types of people businesses. While these might fall into the category of “the cool stuff,” Unit4 isn’t stopping there. At the same time, it has been developing a range of microservices that will help all these and its Business World ERP take advantage of new and disruptive technologies in order to unleash their full potential. At the core of these innovative services is the Unit4 People Platform.

Business Applications of the Future

Business applications of the future are more flexible, configurable and (perhaps most importantly) more extensible. In Is “Agile ERP” an Oxymoron? we talked about the importance of components-based architectures and the ability to extend the foundational solution that runs your business. We also talked about the importance of the underlying development platform. The speed of innovation and the ease of consuming it are largely dependent on the platform on which your ERP solution is built. A development platform can provide “application services” for things like file handling, security, searches and access from mobile devices. The value of the development platform is derived largely from developing a service once and re-using it throughout a product or suite of modules.

But with a diverse portfolio of products, Unit4 also deals with different development platforms. For example, Unit4 Business World is based on an architecture previously branded as Vita. But its newly acquired PSA solution is based on Microsoft Dynamics 365. How can Unit4 develop a service once and leverage it throughout its growing portfolio of products? The answer lies in its People Platform. While its different products may be based on different development platforms, the People Platform is a different kind of platform.

The Unit4 People Platform

Technically not a development platform, think of the Unit4 People Platform more as a collection of innovative services, beyond the typical file handling and security.

Figure 1: Unit4’s Platform for Innovation

Source: Unit4

These innovative services are meant to open doors to the growing number of digital technologies just coming of age. These are the type of services the People Platform is putting within the reach of Unit4 customers. Most notable are alerts and a virtual assistant (Wanda) that takes advantage of both natural language processing (think Siri or Alexa for enterprise applications) and machine learning (the more you use it, the smarter it gets). And also the business intelligence delivered with it CPM solution, including predictive analytics.

Unit4 is being proactive in making use of these new and potentially disruptive technologies. The 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study found a large percentage of our survey population in services types of businesses lacked familiarity with these technologies, and/or saw little value to their businesses (Table 1).

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

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

We point this out, not to imply there is little value – quite the contrary. We recognize enormous value and applaud Unit4 for playing a role in educating its customers and getting out ahead of the demand. Let’s take a look at an example.

Who (or What) is Wanda?

Unit4’s Wanda is the perfect example of the kind of value delivered using the People Platform. It is currently available for Unit4 Business World customers, but Unit4 is working hard on bringing it to its PSA and SIS constituents as well.

Wanda is a new way of interacting with Unit4’s enterprise applications. She makes use of natural language processing (yes, you can talk to her) and machine learning to help people automate, prioritize and complete repetitive tasks in a fraction of the time it has always taken. As a virtual assistant, Wanda is embedded in the user interface and accessed through Skype, Slack or Facebook messenger. This allows users to communicate and interact with the solution through a “chat,” much like they would with a colleague. And Wanda is smart enough to understand when multiple topics might be mixed in a single conversation, so no need to artificially compartmentalize. All of this is possible without formally logging into the application.

And in fact if you are already comfortable communicating with Alexa in your home setting, you have a head start in using Wanda. That is because Alexa has already met Wanda and in the not too distant future you can use her to ask Wanda questions. Click here to see and hear a live demonstration.

This is made possible through the use of Microsoft’s Language Understanding Intelligent Service (LUIS). This is the underlying technology that gives Wanda the ability to understand what a person wants through the spoken word, not codes or clicks.

Why Are These Innovative Services important?

While delivering what people want, instead of or in addition to what they need, sounds very appealing, there is more than just a wish list involved here. Agility and the ability to extend current solutions to do more, including providing differentiation, is becoming a “must have” today. Why? We live in disruptive times. The 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study found 88% of companies believe they face some level of risk in their businesses and/or industries being disrupted by new innovative products, new ways of selling or pricing existing products or services, entirely new business models, or some combination of all of the above. And then of course there are still the more traditional disruptive factors like expansion and growth, organizational restructuring and regulatory changes, just to name a few.

All this disruption can have a cascading impact on business application requirements, making agility – the ability to easily innovate, evolve and change – even more important than current functionality.

While only 10% of our 2016 survey participants felt that risk was high and/or imminent, most do understand the risk is real. While about one in three (34%) feel the risk is low, we have to ask: How do you think the taxi industry might have answered this question on the eve of the launch of Uber? Do you think the hotel industry anticipated Airbnb? Did Block Buster foresee the devastating impact Netflix would have on its business? What kind of disruption is lurking out there for you?

The Internet and the digital economy made all of these disruptions possible and none were decades in the making. Compared to slow, evolutionary changes of the past, they literally happened almost overnight. The Internet has leveled the playing field, allowing any company, even small ones, to establish a global presence. This creates new competition, along with new opportunity. While new windows of opportunity open every day, they can also close as fast as they open.

Change is inevitable, bringing about new requirements. As your business changes, along with the world around you, the speed with which new features and functions can be developed, delivered and consumed will clearly impact your agility.

Key Takeaways and Recommendations

Agile ERP is no longer the oxymoron it once was, and yet many of the solutions installed today remain rigid and require extensive modifications to meet the changing needs of enterprises today. And the pace of change does not appear to slowing down. Even traditional types of business change resulting from growth, expansion, organizational restructuring, and/or regulatory changes are accelerating along with the pace of business itself. Add to that the threat of disruption made possible by the digital economy. A stagnant solution may just put you ahead in the race to the bottom.

Unit4’s People Platform and the company’s drive to deliver innovative services that can complement and extend your solution to put you back in the race to the top of your game. Unit4 is in business for people. Whether you operate in a professional services organization, higher education or in one of a growing number of people-centric businesses, Unit4’s People Platform, together with one (or more) of its purpose-built applications, could very well be your secret sauce in getting you what you want while satisfying what you need.

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