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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.