Event Management

Ross Systems Hits Major Trends in New Release Ross ERP 7.0

I had a chance to get a glimpse of Ross System’s latest release of its ERP solution for formula-based process manufacturers. (Ross is a business unit of CDC Software.) The stated goal of the release is to offer “improved interoperability, increased collaborative capabilities, enhanced usability, new mobility features and more advanced traceability.” An added by-product of the new features delivered also added more visibility to enterprise data, as well as new and better exception management capabilities.

Let’s face it; few top executives (those making the real strategic business decisions) have direct access to ERP today. The perception (and often the reality) is that they don’t have time to be fishing for answers in an application that has traditionally not been intuitive and easy to use. These execs, as well as their generals and lieutenants don’t have the time to go trolling for new data to determine what, if anything in their sphere of influence has changed. That’s the traditional pull mode of inquiry, which is inefficient and prone to omission. It’s very easy to miss something.

Event Management

Several of the major features included in Ross 7.0 help to address this problem and replace “pull” with “push.”  At the heart of any kind of push approach is event management. Event management has been around for more than a decade, but its use is hardly pervasive. My research shows only about 15% of survey respondents have fully implemented it, although another 24% claim to have a partial implementation.

When the term event management is used with line of business executives it often draws a blank stare. Translating event management to mean triggers and alerts at least produces a response of, “Ah yes! I want to be alerted in real time when something happens.” Maybe it is when a big order comes in, when a customer cancels an order or exceeds a credit limit, or when a production run starts to stray out of tolerance. But in fact, event management is even more valuable when something doesn’t happen: a key purchase order is not delivered as expected or a customer order doesn’t ship on time.

Ross 7.0’s Event Management Framework’s (EMF) alert engine includes prepackaged SQL alert templates that can be modified and/or personalized. EMF delivers real-time, actionable alert messages to users’ dashboards, emails and mobile devices, as a result of both exception conditions and non-events, such as no response to a quote or an overdue delivery against a purchase order.

Mobility

Buried in the previous paragraph was another trend among enterprise applications today – alerts delivered to a mobile device. Ross Mobile 2.0 is now available on iPhone and Android devices. (Blackberry access has been available for a couple of years.) This is certainly one way to connect top executives directly to the data, rather than having them rely on others to track it down. The target audience is not just executives traveling or touching base during off hours, but also those that work in and (all) around the plant or in the field, not tethered to a desk.  So accessible data includes customer, sales, invoice, and accounts receivable data as well as product, inventory, lots and projected inventory.

My research shows the top priority for enterprise data on a mobile device is indeed the need for alerts and notifications. However today, once that alert is delivered, if it is delivered at all, most executives turn their smart phones into dumb phones. They call assistants or surrogates that have the direct access to further investigate or take action. While today Ross Mobile 2.0 is simply pushing the data, thereby encouraging this conversion from smart to dumb phone. But by the end of the year Ross expects to deliver that ability to take direct action from the mobile device.

Enterprise Viewer

Ross also delivers another important aspect of visibility with its Enterprise Viewer. In the past you often needed to be an expert ERP user in order to navigate the solution for data for decision making. This new user interface takes a similar approach to popular social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, employing the concept of “following.”

However, I hesitate to call this “social” because the connotation to traditional manufacturing types is that “social” is something you should do on your personal time. Mention the “social enterprise” or “social ERP” or “social manufacturing” and the very people that Ross sells to will shut down and turn off. But I think they will be very interested in “subscribing” to what Ross calls “content widgets.” That might not mean much to a VP of Manufacturing or a COO, but once they realize they will be following business objects (not people) like “Orders Due to Ship Today” or “Inventory Availability” they will likely say, “Sign me up!” As will the Sales team who might follow a customer, or the Purchasing team which will follow a supplier.

Each of these decision makers can have their own personal view which makes it unnecessary to go trolling for that tidbit of information they might not even know is there. It still takes a technically oriented user (e.g. a super user) to set these up, but once set up, even the highest levels in the organization can have clear and easy access. The trick will be getting them to take advantage of it.

Other Features

Ross 7.0 has a few other features that should catch the eye of these line of business decision-makers:

  • Document Connect: the ability to drag and drop documents like photos, PDF files, Word and other Office documents and videos directly into Ross ERP screens. All are automatically stored and indexed, eliminating the need to add more data structures to capture this unstructured data in order to make it easily retrievable.
  • Ross Reporting Services, built around Microsoft’s SQL Server Reporting Service, can embed graphical objects within report templates and generate interactive reports is a variety of formats.
  • Other features and functions near and dear to the hearts of formula-based process manufacturers. These include
    • Test group administration and retesting criteria in Quality Control
    • Bracket pricing, sales pricing and discount simulation
    • Time period administration in Traceability
    • Etc.

What about the cloud?

One “hot trend” not specifically addressed in Ross 7.0 might be the whole movement to the “cloud.” While Ross does have a cloud offering, it is single instance, so it is more like a hosting option than SaaS. But this seems appropriate given the market the company and the solution targets. This segment (formula-based process manufacturers) is not exactly known for being first-movers in trends or information technology. Many are subject to FDA controls, which require recertification after any major change in software, leading them to want to control that process. And many guard their recipes and formulas very, very carefully. The thought of these secrets being kept outside of their own firewalls is enough to keep them up at night. Therefore the remote managed services Ross offers seems far more suitable to the inclinations and disposition of their customers and prospects.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

SAP Business Analytics Keep SMEs Safe While Living on the “Edge”

 Living life on the edge can be thrilling, exciting and exhilerating. It can also be dangerous. Living life on the edge means you are moving at a pace where one mis-step can mean the difference between winning the race and falling over a cliff. Surviving today’s pace of business requires speed and agility of decision-making. Fast and efficient decision making not only requires lots of data, but also the ability to process and analyze that data at lightning speed, before it simply becomes history. Small to medium size enterprises (SMEs) face the same challenges of intense competition, globalization and acceleration of change, but often lack the tools needed to respond quickly and efficiently not only to data, but to events as they happen.

On June 14, 2011, SAP announced the latest offerings from its business analytics portfolio, tailored to fit the decision-making needs of SMEs. These include SAP® Crystal Server 2011 software and the 4.0 release of SAP® BusinessObjects™ Edge Business Intelligence (BI). Of course, when SAP used the word “edge” in its product name, it meant something a little different than the precipice that was implied in the opening paragraph. SAP’s use of “edge” implies these solutions lie at the perimeter of and complement enterprise applications like its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) products. And yet, most SMEs today do indeed live on the edge and are in danger of not being able to understand all facets of their businesses and make confident, data-driven decisions as events unfold, in real time.

Most SMEs today are looking for increased visibility to their businesses, beyond the traditional reporting, which tends to focus the eyes of the business in the rear view mirror. Today’s accelerated pace of business creates an added requirement to move away from using data only to understand what has already happened. Additionally all companies must also monitor events in real time in order to avoid danger, mitigate risk and respond to new opportunities. Yes, this is a requirement for all companies, but to date, SMEs have been far less well equipped while also being in far greater danger. Unlike the large enterprise with size and influence to provide a buffer, SMEs are more vulnerable to a mis-step.

The highlights of SAP BusinessObjects Edge BI 4.0 include:

  • Unified and integrated user experience
  • New and more powerful mobile BI
  • The ability to glean insight from both business and social data
  • New tools to handle complex data in real-time
  • More choice through additional deployment and integration options

SAP brings several different components of its business analytics portfolio to bear and several of these capabilities overlap. For example, the same new powerful BI functionality available through the SAP Crystal Dashboard designer not only provides added power, but also is instrumental in transforming the user experience and makes that data easier to consume. A dashboard can be constructed for each decision-maker, at any level in the organization, including the very top. And this dashboard can not only include structured data captured in enterprise applications, but can coexist with other frequently used applications such as email, calendaring, Internet searches. And it can integrate structured business data with unstructured data available from sources such as blogs, emails and other social media. New text analysis functionality brings a new level of analysis to the decision-making process. The combination of all these capabilities means the software can sit and watch and analyze while decision makers are busy running the business.

While BI certainly adds significant value to the enterprise, there have always been a couple of glaring deficiencies of BI tools in the past. First of all, you usually had to be a programmer (or at least IT savvy) to create the intelligence that was sought. A new inquiry, report, data cube or analysis required technical expertise. Sometimes even running those reports and inquiries wasn’t something your typical executive was likely to do. Secondly, you had to know what to ask and how to ask the question.

Not only has “self-service” been a key goal of SAP BusinessObjects Edge BI 4.0 for SMEs, but the search and exploration functionality within the Edge package brings a new level of intuitive search capabilities to exploring enterprise data. Think about how all of us have become proficient in Internet searches. We start with a phrase and as we learn more, we continue to refine our search. Similarly, Explorer uses a familiar keyword search and then allows the business user to drill down and through the enterprise data.  Adding text analysis applied to unstructured data adds a new dimension.

SAP has also introduced the concept of event insight to SME. Event insight combines BI with event management. Neither of these technologies is particularly new. BI tools have been around for decades, although they have certainly matured. Event management has also been available for more than a decade, but few business people understand the possibilities and few companies have deployed this technology, at least not to its fullest extent.

In fact, many readers might not even be familiar with the term. Often reference to “event management” draws a blank stare from the non-technical business user. Substituting the phrase “triggers and alerts” might cause the light bulb to go off, but dimly. Those unfamiliar with event management may not see the full potential of being able to automatically troll through data looking for an event or a condition that either occurred or failed to occur as planned. Hence the slow adoption rates over the past decade.

Event insight adds a new dimension to event management, observing events, detecting patterns, correlating relationships and attempting to define cause and effect. As a result, it has a predictive nature whereby it infers a particular expected result. This type of monitoring and automated analysis has been particularly effective for example in preventing credit card fraud, business activity monitoring and security monitoring. SMEs can benefit from event insight just as large enterprises can but two factors are most likely to impact adoption: cost and awareness.

SAP can more easily address the cost factor. It may be harder to address the awareness factor. Even rather simplistic event management has not made great strides over the past decade, partly because technology budget holders have not really grasped the potential. But now as social media starts to invade our business world, it will be all that much more important for business executives to monitor both structured and unstructured data, detect events as they happen, and mitigate risks to their businesses and their brands. The event insight capabilities, together with the future potential of in-memory capabilities that SAP has developed to process massive amounts of data, may just be the tipping point that will prompt companies to bring this technology into the mainstream and help SMEs safely but boldly operate on the edge.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,