ERP

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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NetSuite to Leverage Oracle’s Global Resources and Reach

Massive Global Expansion Initiatives Planned

Back in December 2016 Mint Jutras posed the question: Does Oracle’s Acquisition Mean More, More, More for NetSuite? And if it represents more, is it more of the same or something new? The answer back then was, “Yes.” While this is one of a long list of acquisitions by Oracle (i.e. more of the same), there were indeed some new twists. The first new twist was the declaration that NetSuite would continue to enjoy an unprecedented level of independence as a separate global business unit (GBU). Secondly, the NetSuite products will “live forever.” Oracle would not only continue to invest in these products, but invest heavily. And finally, NetSuite would gain entrance to global markets instantly.

“Globalization” was indeed one of three major announcements at the 7th annual SuiteWorld in Las Vegas. Suiteworld 2017 was NetSuite’s biggest event ever, providing the perfect stage from which to announce its global strategy, along with two other initiatives: Suite People and SuiteSuccess. More on those other two announcements in separate reports. Here we focus on the massive global expansion initiatives planned for the Oracle NetSuite Global Business Unit.

Where Does NetSuite Fit?

Because NetSuite’s products are now part of Oracle’s (extensive) product portfolio, it is important to first understand where they fit, not only within the Oracle portfolio, but also the market as a whole. The NetSuite GBU will be positioned for businesses with 1,000 employees or less, although the product will be designed and available for anyone from small business to enterprise. Oracle’s eBusiness Suite will be positioned for those with more than 1,000 employees. While these are not the only two ERP products in the Oracle portfolio, they are clearly the two most strategic. Other ERP solutions (acquired from Peoplesoft and JD Edwards) live on but do little to help Oracle achieve its publicly stated goal to be the first company to reach $10 billion in cloud revenue.

While Oracle has drawn a line in the sand in terms of number of employees, that line is indeed drawn in the sand and not in concrete. It will be allowed to shift based on specific customer/prospect requirements or preferences.

It is in that context that we observe NetSuite OneWorld is already in use in more than 100 countries around the world. That might sound like NetSuite already had quite a global reach. However, much of this global reach was attained through selling to multi-national companies headquartered in the United States. Yes, it had some (physical) presence outside the United States, but not enough to fuel the kind of explosive growth Oracle feels is possible.

It also might sound like targeting small to mid-size enterprises (SMEs) is a big change for NetSuite GBU. Indeed, some of its competitors used these multi-national deals as proof that NetSuite was abandoning the small to midmarket. The reality was (and is) a bit different. While a good chunk of NetSuite’s revenue came from a few large enterprises, the bulk of its customers have always been firmly planted in the midmarket.

Even the midmarket is driving software companies to go global these days. It used to be only large companies that were multi-location, multi-national enterprises. But the Internet has leveled the playing field, allowing even small companies to be able to build a global brand. Operating across a distributed environment has become a way of life for a large percentage of businesses today, even smaller ones.

Figure 1: Environments Are More Distributed and Remote

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

In fact 81% of all survey participants in the 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study had more than one operating location served by ERP (Figure 1). This percentage has been growing steadily over the past few years and even those with annual revenues below $25 million average 3.53 operating locations. In addition, almost half (47%) are already multi-national, dealing with the complexities of multiple legal entities.

The digital economy has created unprecedented opportunities. To capitalize on this opportunity, small to mid-size companies will need to take some chances and be willing to fail, but fail (or succeed) rapidly in order to move on to the next opportunity. They will need to leverage technology in order to simplify, manage, control and reduce risk, but they will also need to move quickly. They will not have the deep pockets or the time needed to build out infrastructure. They can’t afford to take years to implement solutions to run the business.

Cloud ERP to the rescue. No capital expenditure required; no need to build out a data center, or even put hardware or a huge information technology (IT) staff in country. And the market seems to be increasingly receptive to cloud and SaaS.

Mint Jutras has been following perceptions and preferences for SaaS versus on-premise software for years now. Between 2011 and 2013, the demand for traditional on-premise deployments went over a cliff. Since then, prior concerns over reliability and security have been addressed and the preference for SaaS (versus hosting) has continued to climb.

Figure 2 shows the progression of preference over the past several years. The question posed to survey respondents was this: If you were to select a solution today, which deployment options would you consider? Respondents are allowed to select all that apply. Today, SaaS is the top choice.

Figure 2: Which Deployment Options Would You Consider?

Source: Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies

* Option added in 2015

And this year we added a follow-on question, displaying back the options that would be considered and asking respondents to select a single first choice. Seventy percent (70%) of those that would consider it also selected SaaS as their first choice.

But with this opportunity also comes challenges in satisfying the specific needs of new geographies, and also in maintaining governance and control. In the past all these different operating locations may have been left to their own devices to select and implement a local operational solution. Those days are long gone. Today, most all companies define and adhere to corporate standards for enterprise solutions (Figure 3).

Figure 3: What kind of standards do you have?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

While Oracle hopes to be the standard at corporate headquarters, NetSuite is trying very hard to establish its OneWorld product as that corporate standard in the operating divisions. But this places an added burden on the local solution to play nicely in a multi-national corporate setting. Mint Jutras has long been a fan of cloud solutions as an enabler of growth, particularly when it comes to expansion beyond national boundaries. And yet cloud alone isn’t enough. Not only might you have multi-language requirements, but also the solution must be localized to meet the tax and regulatory requirements of the new location. And finally, you need special functionality to handle multi- company financial and operational needs once you establish multiple legal entities.

NetSuite is currently localized for eight different countries and has long been planning to expand to more. Those plans have now been accelerated. With the new infusion of capital, it has an additional 22 on the drawing board.

NetSuite has also been working on that added functionality. New features announced at SuiteWorld 2017 include new advanced intercompany journal entries, complete with a new auto-balance button and automated currency conversion. In keeping with the theme of SuiteWorld – Next Starts Now – NetSuite also laid out what’s next for global functionality:

  • Global customers, employees and projects (think global master data management)
  • Global business process configuration (think interoperability between operating sites)
  • Automated inter-company accounting (not a simple task and while the devil is in the details, Oracle has a lot of experience to bring to bear)
  • Suite Tax (think of all the different tax methodologies around the world)
  • Cash management
  • Enhanced Suite GL and Suite Segments
  • Year end closing journal

These plans represent a lot of work ahead, but NetSuite is planning on adding a lot of new employees to pitch in and help. In fact in fiscal year 2018 (which is starting soon), NetSuite plans to hire more people than were working at NetSuite in 2012. However, don’t expect the pace of innovation to ramp up instantaneously. NetSuite first has to find the talent, train the new hires on its technology and its solution, and only then will they be productive. Once that happens, we expect the pace of development to increase sharply.

But that pace will be needed in order to deliver on the additional plans NetSuite has laid out. Note these come directly from Oracle + NetSuite’s press releases:

Data Centers

NetSuite plans to more than double its data center footprint from five data centers globally to 11. NetSuite currently operates five data centers, three in North America, one in Amsterdam, Netherlands and one in Dublin, Ireland. NetSuite expects to add a fourth North American data center in Chicago. As part of the global expansion plans, NetSuite will leverage existing Oracle data centers in Europe and Asia. In Europe, NetSuite is scheduled to open a data center in Frankfurt, Germany. In Asia Pacific, NetSuite plans to initially launch facilities in Australia and Singapore, followed by Japan and China.

Field offices

NetSuite expects to double its global presence, expanding from offices in 10 countries to 23 spread across the globe. NetSuite is establishing a new presence in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, France, Germany, Sweden, Dubai, China, India, Malaysia and New Zealand. In addition, NetSuite is expanding headcount in existing field offices by over 50%.

Development centers

The NetSuite global business unit is leveraging existing Oracle development centers across India, China and Japan. The development centers will be able to accelerate the development of international, regional and local features and functionality within NetSuite OneWorld.

Summary and Conclusions

We go back to the initial question posed: Does the Oracle acquisition of NetSuite represent more, more, more for NetSuite? The answer is clearly yes. These announcements represent a massive expansion plan to accelerate its international growth. The expansion initiatives will enable Oracle NetSuite Global Business Unit to launch more data centers, more field offices and more development centers globally, which will help to bring the suite to more organizations around the world.

This expansion will no longer be led by the US-based NetSuite customers, but instead by a carefully planned strategy. And as a result, we will believe NetSuite customers will benefit from Oracle’s vast global scale and resources. While NetSuite has poured as many resources as it could afford into developing the products, Oracle has deeper pockets and can also bring its own resources to bear in terms of products, people and global reach. So NetSuite will enjoy “more of the same” …but “more” is a relative term. In this case, we believe “more” means “lots more.”

As one customer puts it: “Oracle’s increased investment in all areas of the NetSuite product and operations offers more opportunities to customers, particularly growing international businesses like PageGroup,” said Mark Hearn, Finance Director of recruitment company PageGroup. “As we continue our global roll-out of NetSuite OneWorld, I am reassured by the even greater capabilities and resources behind the product. A commitment to strong and sustained investment in OneWorld functionality will enable international companies like us to continue to grow with NetSuite in the future.”

While many in the industry have pointed to Oracle’s prior acquisitions as proof positive that NetSuite will fade into the sunset, Mint Jutras believes this will be very different. Thus far, it has had little impact on NetSuite employees, except to add strength to future plans. As Oracle CEO Mark Hurd said to SuiteWorld 2017 attendees, “We didn’t spend $9.3 billion to kill it.” Instead Oracle is looking for NetSuite to pay for itself quickly with this massive global expansion.

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Oracle’s Cloud Journey… Accelerated

It is quite clear Oracle has set out to be the undisputed leader in cloud computing. Chairman and CTO Larry Ellison publicly stated his goal of Oracle becoming the first company to reach $10 billion in cloud revenue. The acquisition of NetSuite late last year certainly gave Oracle a big boost in meeting that goal.

In fact, in welcoming attendees to SuiteWorld 2017, CEO Mark Hurd declared Oracle to be in a class alone – the only IT company capable of co-existing on-premise or in the cloud. I have to admit this statement confused me a bit, since there are lots of software solution providers that have taken their on-premise solutions to the cloud, priding themselves in offering choice in deployment models. But I with other, more pressing questions to ask, I never got clarity on this statement while I was at SuiteWorld.

However, the week after SuiteWorld, I had the opportunity to visit Oracle’s Redwood City campus and attend an Oracle Media Day. The theme of the day was cloud and I think I “get” it now.

In the context of NetSuite and SuiteWorld, we’re talking about software as a service (SaaS), and more specifically, enterprise application software. That’s the world I live in and where my mind immediately goes when I think of cloud and “as a service.” I suspect I am not alone here. But that is obviously not all Oracle does. Oracle also provides infrastructure (database and middleware) and a development platform. And more recently it has ventured into the world of data as a service, recognizing data is an important key to unlocking better business outcomes.

Other vendors might offer one or two of these categories…

  • Many of its ERP competitors might offer enterprise applications on-premise or as SaaS solutions.
  • Salesforce offers enterprise applications, along with a development platform (PaaS). But Salesforce is exclusively SaaS and PaaS and doesn’t offer anything on-premise.
  • Amazon is focused exclusively on infrastructure (IaaS).

Oracle is the only company to offer all three (infrastructure, platform and enterprise application software) both on-premise and as a service.

Why is this significant? To quote Mr. Hurd, “We will lead a decade long transition to cloud. The hybrid world will last a long time.” I would agree that this hybrid world will last a long time. While preferences for software deployments have shifted dramatically, there is still a lot of software installed on premise today and my research indicates it will take longer than a decade to replace it. This shift of software to the cloud can’t happen without supporting infrastructure and platforms.

Preferences Have Shifted to SaaS

While years ago ERP could have been called the last bastion of resistance to SaaS, this resistance has been dissipating quite rapidly over the past several years. We have been asking the following question for years now: If you were to consider a new solution today, which deployment options would you consider? Participants are allowed to select as many as they wish. A summary of aggregated answers is shown in Figure 1. We start in 2011 and skip every other year just to fit it on the chart. SaaS is currently the option most likely to be considered and the willingness to consider traditional on-premise solutions dropped off dramatically between 2011 and 2013.

Figure 1: Deployment Options that would be Considered Today

Source: Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies

*Option added in 2015

This year we added a follow-on question, displaying back the deployment models the participant selected and asking which was the first choice. Over half (51%) of all respondents selected SaaS. Furthermore, out of the 325 that would consider SaaS, 225 (~70%) selected it as their top choice.

But even with this level of interest, the actual shift to the cloud can’t happen overnight. We asked our 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study participants to estimate the percentage of all business application software they have running in the cloud today and we also asked them to project that into the future. Even 10 years out (and beyond) we still see over 30% of business software will not have transitioned to SaaS (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Percentage of Business Software Deployed as SaaS

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Yet with 40% of business software deployed as SaaS today, the shift has definitely begun. So this begs the question: How will they get there? What path will companies take? Our 2015 and 2016 studies asked this question (Figure 3). The results validate Mr. Hurd’s conclusion that the hybrid world will last a long time.

Figure 3: What Best Describes Your Cloud Strategy?

Source: Mint Jutras 2015 and 2016 Enterprise Solution Studies

No single strategy dominated, but less than one in four operate predominantly in the cloud today. Few (8% in 2015 and 11% in 2016) are taking specific action to move directly to the cloud, and many more prefer instead to supplement existing solutions with cloud applications and perhaps replace on-premise solutions over time.

We didn’t see all that much change in cloud strategies from 2015 to 2016, so we moved on to other questions in 2017. But we will likely revisit this question in 2018 or 2019. We anticipate that even those not anxious to make any move today might be influenced by the cloud momentum, as well as the growing number and variety of options available.

Oracle Building Cloud Momentum

In the meantime, Oracle is building its own cloud momentum. In its latest quarter, cloud bookings of annual recurring revenue (ARR) were up 73%. Current run rate of cloud revenue puts it at $5 billion (annualized), which means Mr. Ellison is at least halfway to his goal. This includes 1,125 new SaaS customers and 908 SaaS expansions. With the NetSuite acquisition, the number of SaaS customers grew from 13,103 to over 25,000.

Yet interestingly enough, while you might think the differentiation of Oracle as the only IT company capable of supporting on-premise and cloud throughout the full stack might be most appealing to its existing customers, Oracle says most cloud customers are net new. This bodes well for Oracle being able to grab more cloud market share. But it will be even more interesting to watch and see if this cloud momentum starts to permeate through its own installed base. This would serve to further accelerate cloud revenue growth.

And Oracle’s current capacity, with 21 data centers, supported by a flat, wide network with fast storage and huge bandwidth, seems like it should be quite appealing to its own customers, comparatively speaking. In fact Oracle presented one comparison between Oracle and Amazon Web Services (AWS) done by one of its customers, showing Oracle was three to seven times faster, at half the cost. And the workload portability to an Oracle data center should be simpler and easier because Oracle can offer a choice of deployment with the same software, the same APIs, and the same commercial terms.

Oracle has outlined six different “journeys” to the cloud, five of which start with existing (legacy) on-premise solutions. This might involve optimizing on-premise before shifting to either a public cloud or a cloud at the customer’s site. It might involve lifting and shifting workloads to a public cloud, creating a new solution with PaaS or modernizing functions by moving to a new SaaS solution. The final journey is one of a new company (or division or business unit), born in the cloud.

Trek Bicycles is an example of one customer that created a new cloud solution to address a specific pain point: processing claims (repairs). Service is a huge part of Trek’s business, and dealers were spending 6-7 minutes in submitting claims, and the average retailer submits about 2,000 claims per year. Retailers renting bikes in the mountains of Europe were rising early and getting in long before the shop opened simply to enter claims. They needed a better way. So Trek created a cloud-based mobile app. Now, whether partners are in their shops or at a trade show or event, they login to TREK claim entry, send a photo, registration of the bike, and easily enter a claim in under two minutes.

Trek is one example of this hybrid world. In the back office, it is running JD Edwards on premises.

One More Stop on the Cloud Journey: The Data Cloud

There is one more piece of the cloud puzzle, or rather one more step along the cloud journey. This one involves data – not the kind of data stored in and managed by Oracle enterprise applications, but the kind of data that lets you truly understand your industry and your customers. Oracle posed a good question during the Media Day: Would you rather spend money working on ERP or getting to know your customers better?

This is a no-brainer for most companies. They would much rather invest (time, effort and money) directly in growing the business, rather than in back-office solutions that offer more indirect benefits. By putting your ERP in the cloud you are relieved of much of the burden of managing the ERP installation. By tapping into the Oracle Data Cloud you take advantage of the investments Oracle has made, investments in companies like Moat, Blue Kai and Datalogix to make big data available to fuel marketing campaigns and strategic business decisions.

Summing Up

Oracle has made very significant progress in attacking its goal of cloud domination through both organic development and acquisitions. It is the only company on the planet today that can claim to have a “full stack” including IaaS, PaaS and SaaS, while also maintaining the same categories on-premise. And it adds DaaS as frosting on the cake.

However, in order to meet its goal of being the first to reach $10 billion in cloud revenue, it will have to continue its momentum of adding new customers, but will likely need a good portion of that revenue to come from transitioning its own on-premise installed base to the cloud. Before that happens, those customers will need to see the value of the move and be confident that Oracle is the best choice to get them there.

Many companies today, including many Oracle customers, have invested a lot of blood, sweat and tears (not to mention dollars) in their current on-premise implementations. They may be loath to make any changes, particularly if they are heavily customized.

Many still view enterprise applications, like ERP, as they would brain surgery: You don’t do it unless the patient is dying. Mint Jutras has long been trying to change that way of thinking, preferring to treat it more like joint replacement. When do you replace a knee or a hip? When it becomes too painful or when it prevents you from doing what you need (or want) to do. But joint replacement is still major surgery and there is some downtime and a recovery period involved. Nobody volunteers for it without the promise of significant improvements. Oracle’s challenge will be twofold. First it must convince customers that the journey is worth the effort. And secondly, it must prove that transitioning to the Oracle cloud is less invasive surgery, with a quicker recovery period. Of course if a company just wants to lift and shift its current implementation to the cloud, its current solution provider will be its first and best choice. But this is more akin to a hosted environment. While there will be some value in doing this, it will leave many of the benefits of a true SaaS solution on the table. Of course not all of Oracle’s ERP solutions are available as SaaS today and NetSuite is the only multi-tenant SaaS ERP solution in its portfolio. But the breadth and diversity of Oracle offerings provides many different paths that might be taken. The task at hand will be to pick the right path, the one that brings the most value to the customer.

If Oracle can accomplish this, it is certainly well positioned to accelerate its own cloud journey and be the first to reach its goal.

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Meet Unit4’s Wanda

Your New Co-Pilot In “Self-Driving” ERP

Have you ever secretly wished for a personal assistant who could sense and respond to your every demand, even before you have figured out what you need? If you are a Baby Boomer who launched your career in a business setting back in the 1970’s, you probably had access to the services of a secretary or an administrative assistant. After all, you couldn’t survive without one to help navigate the administrative nightmare of a generation that was completely dependent on paper and manual processes. Today technology has made us far more self-sufficient, but we’re also expected to get more done – a lot more. While nobody misses those clumsy olden days, a lot of us from all generations sure could use some help today.

If you are a Unit4 customer, help is on the way. Her name is Wanda. On May 2, 2017 Unit4 released its new enterprise digital assistant, Wanda, a completely new out-of-the-box ERP user experience. According to Unit4, Wanda is a core component of its Spring 2017 launch, and an important milestone on Unit4’s journey to deliver self-driving enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. As a solution provider to people-oriented businesses and non-profit organizations, Unit4 has made ERP “self-driving” by leveraging technology to optimize user interaction, allowing employees to focus on activities where people make the difference.

Who (or What) is Wanda?

Wanda is a new way of interacting with Unit4’s ERP. She makes use of natural language processing (think Siri or Alexa for ERP) and machine learning to help people automate, prioritize and complete repetitive tasks in a fraction of the time it has always taken. She makes an effective co-pilot for your self-driving ERP. As a digital 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 without formally logging into ERP.

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. Five new assistants are currently available to assist customers’ employees with some of the most common (and repetitive) tasks:

  • HR Assistant helps employees with human resource (HR) related tasks like requesting paid time off and enquiring about vacation balances and pay slips.
  • Purchasing Assistant assists in finding products and suppliers, generating requisitions and managing approvals.
  • Time Assistant automatically generates timesheets based on multiple data streams. It can use GPS and beacons to determine work location and track time.
  • Travel Assistant generates travel requests and manages approvals based on travel patterns and preferences and can auto-populate expense claims using receipt recognition technology.
  • Approval Assistant notifies and reminds managers to approve tasks and flags important tasks where deadlines are looming.

An added benefit: The more you use Wanda, the smarter she gets. That’s the “self-learning” part. The travel assistant provides the perfect example. If you frequently travel to a particular location – corporate headquarters perhaps – Wanda will recognize this as a frequent destination and assist throughout the entire process, from requesting approval for travel to submitting expenses for reimbursement. She will know if you typically park your car at the airport, fly on Delta, rent a car or book a taxi or Uber. So she can auto-populate those cost elements of the travel request based on past trips. And when you scan your receipts at the end of the trip, she can distinguish between the airport parking garage and the kiosk where you buy a sandwich close by the office.

Unit4 Getting Ahead of the Curve

While not the only solution provider on the market to be working on chat bots and virtual assistants, Mint Jutras would say it is ahead of the curve in terms of the depth and breadth of the offering. Adoption, and even familiarity with this type of technology is still nascent.

Our 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study sought to determine the level of familiarity with several different digital technologies, including virtual personal assistants for employees. We found almost half (47%) of our respondents either not familiar or only somewhat familiar with this type of technology and only 12% with it deployed or in the process of deploying. However, we find those with World Class implementations are far more familiar and more than three times as likely to be deploying (Figure 1). While having a World Class implementation of ERP doesn’t automatically make you a World Class company, we do see these top performers exceeding their peers when we look at efficiency (cost reduction) and current performance in metrics like complete and on-time delivery to customers.

Figure 1: What level of familiarity do you have with virtual personal assistants for employees?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

By using technology such this from Microsoft as building blocks, Unit4 can now take people productivity to completely new levels. Self-driving ERP automates manual tasks, freeing up people to do what automation can’t. Let Wanda do the repeatable, repetitive tasks while you handle the exceptions. Let Wanda sense potential problems or bottleneck while you concentrate on discovering potential opportunities. Let Wanda make intelligent and sensible recommendations while you make informed, data-driven decisions. Make room for Wanda, your new co-pilot, right beside you in the driver’s seat.

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