Financial management

Workday: Getting Smarter and Smarter

Enter the Age of Intelligence

In a recent Mint Jutras report, “How Smart Are Your Enterprise Applications?” we outlined some of the different ways solution providers are adding a new level of intelligence to their offerings… or not. While “intelligence” has become the holy grail of enterprise applications of late, not all vendors are delivering on the promise of smarter applications. For some, it’s just the latest buzzword added to their marketing collateral and some are simply playing catch up to current next generation applications. Others are taking their first baby steps, but a select few are truly entering the “age of intelligence.”

Where is Workday along this progression? Since its inception in 2005, it has never been a company that over-inflated its capabilities with bravado and marketing spin. Born in the cloud and built on a next-generation platform that continues to evolve, Workday also never had to play catch-up. And the first steps it took in moving into the age of intelligence were not baby steps, but instead bold ones, including some strategic acquisitions.

Workday’s acquisition of Identified in 2014 was an important step in incorporating predictive analytics and machine learning into its portfolio. In 2015 it acquired Gridcraft and last year it acquired Platfora. With both of these acquisitions, Workday sought to build insights [read intelligence] directly into its applications. More recently its benchmarking capabilities take insight and intelligence to another whole level by putting Data as a Service (DaaS) in the context of your business performance, in comparison to your peers. And Workday has opened the doors to more innovation from a broader community by making its Workday Cloud Platform available beyond its own development team.

It is clear Workday is getting smarter and smarter with each new release.

Smart, Smarter, Smartest

So, what does it take to make an enterprise application smart? In our previous report we distinguished different levels of intelligence:

  • Smart: We concluded any enterprise application is smart in that it’s not dumb. It can follow instructions – instructions like, IF <this condition> THEN <do this> ELSE <do that>. Business applications have been built on IF THEN ELSE statements since the earliest computer programs were developed. Workday applications are no exception and indeed, they can now go beyond simply following specific instructions. They are starting to learn to take some simple rule-based actions on their own. For example, the recruiting module is smart enough to decline any outstanding applicants once a position is filled, and yet keep them on file to review when other vacancies open up.
  • Smarter: To make an application smarter, you need to make it easier to use and better at communicating. Progressive releases of Workday have made the user experience very compelling while also adding more and more insights. Workday has also borrowed concepts from consumer technology, putting more power in the hands of users using mobile devices, not only alerting managers to exceptions, issues and required approvals, but allowing them to take immediate action. Workday Talk provides a “chat” capability modeled after social media. Participants can follow conversations attached to business objects like sales orders, customers or products. Groups and teams can be assembled to foster collaboration. When people are better informed, they can make more intelligent decisions, faster.
  • Smartest: But the smartest applications today combine the pattern recognition capabilities of machine learning to produce artificial intelligence (AI) and predict the future. The highest level of intelligence will be achieved in combining a variety of technologies together: AI, deep machine learning, Natural Language Processing (NLP), image recognition and predictive analytics are all at the forefront of this movement. And Workday has all these technologies in its kit bag. It has already taken some initial steps in leveraging them. For example, it has embedded machine learning capabilities into its Talent Insights to identify retention risk. Look for more use cases to be delivered using data from both inside and outside of Workday.

It is quite clear that Workday’s Human Capital Management (HCM), Financial Management, Student Management and Planning solutions are smarter than your average enterprise applications. Let’s dig a little deeper into some ways they will get even smarter.

Building Insights In: Prism Analytics

Good reporting is a necessary backbone of applications like HCM and financial management. Reports provide a historical perspective, help you assess your current position and answer questions you have about your performance. But analytics provide a deeper level of understanding and help you ask the right questions. Analytics are iterative by nature. You start with a question, issue or problem: Sales are down. Reports might tell you what regions or products are problematic, but you won’t really know why until you drill down, and you are never quite sure what path you need to take until you find out more. And you won’t even be prompted to investigate until you already have a problem.

Predictive analytics help you anticipate conditions, prompting you to investigate a situation before the problem rears its head. You would like to be able to conduct this kind of investigative work right in the familiar environment of the solution running your business. But it is even more powerful when you can look beyond the structured data that resides within your enterprise applications. Workday has woven the technology acquired from Platfora, into the fabric of its solution, rather than bolting on components. And yet Workday Prism Analytics will not be limited to Workday data, but will also bring in non-Workday data, which can then be presented through Workday reports, scorecards, and dashboards for analysis.

Typically this type of mix of data requires data preparation to be done by a data administrator with the technical skills needed to load the external data, cleanse and prepare it and then create reports, queries and/or dashboards. This activity doesn’t go away with Workday Prism Analytics, but it is simplified enough for a technical business user to perform – and perform quickly enough to be of value. And the data can be blended with, transformed and enriched by your transactional system of record (Workday data). In doing so Workday has struck a nice balance between having a super powerful tool on the back end but also super easy to use on the front end, avoiding the usual trade-offs.

Workday is in the early stages of delivering this, and also has plans down the road for data discovery. Data discovery typically goes after big data in search of patterns that may not be intuitively obvious. Using the right visualization tools, it helps you understand which data is most relevant to your problem, even if you don’t know exactly what to ask for.

Benchmarking Performance with Data as a Service (DaaS)

It takes a different kind of intelligence gathering to understand your business performance in relation to others in similar roles or industries. As a multi-tenant SaaS solution provider, Workday is in a unique position to provide you with access to this kind of comparative data. But of course, you must be willing to give, in order to receive. Workday needs permission to use this data, but paraphrasing the words of Workday leadership: We don’t take customers’ data. They give it to us.

Workday sits on a large volume of data collected from hundreds of customers subscribing to its software. This is data that can be invaluable to the entire Workday community for benchmarking against peers. Customers must opt in to contribute secured aggregated data. In turn, they receive benchmarks. Today this Data as a Service (DaaS) is available for customers to explore Workday usage and HCM results, including workforce composition, diversity, turnover, etc. Financial management data is coming soon. Within the first three weeks of this service being available, Workday reported 100 customers had opted in and contributed data. Obviously, as this number grows, so will the value of the data.

Expect more from Workday along these lines in the future, including data from other sources (private and public) not included in Workday.

Machine Learning and AI

Of course the availability of a growing volume and diversity of data opens the door for machine learning and therefore artificial intelligence. Workday’s acquisition of Identified in 2014 was an important step in incorporating predictive analytics and machine learning into its repertoire of capabilities. Identified’s patented SYMAN (Systematic Mass Normalization) technology mines Facebook for social data and then uses artificial intelligence to transform that data into professional intelligence. The “learning” comes from continued use, validating predictions with outcomes from Workday employee data on performance and retention.

Workday released Workday Talent Insights in 2015, identifying retention risk and delivering a talent scorecard. Through this introduction Workday learned that customers prefer an embedded experience, not a standalone application and that the overall user experience is paramount, along with access to data for training algorithms.

The Power of a Platform

Since it was founded in 2005, Workday has always insisted it was (and is) an applications company, rather than a technology company. It has always offered cloud-based business solutions. While it built these applications on a solid and modern platform, it always resisted the urging of pundits and industry observers to become a “platform” company. Until now.

The Next Chapter for Workday

Now it will be both a “platform” player as well as a business solution provider. The Workday Cloud Platform was soft launched a few months ago with selected service partners. Built on the principles of openness, Workday will provide the tools needed to manage the complete application life cycle, with data modeling and a single Application Programming Interface (API) point of integration.

So how does this make Workday applications smarter? Of course there are no guarantees, but by opening up the platform, along with all the presentation services, conversation services, and analytics Workday uses to make its solutions smarter, the level of intelligence is more likely to deepen. The Platform will include both Workday Talk (NLP) and BOT for anomaly detection.

So, what are developers building on the platform? Here are a few examples:

  • Talent Mobility, allowing employees to visualize career opportunities and connect with employees across globe.
  • ID Services to manage security badges
  • Supplier requisitioning that allows suppliers to directly populate data in Workday
  • Safety services management

Summary

The Innovation Keynote at the 2017 Workday Rising Event was entitled “The Age of Intelligence.” The Keynote was presented by Mike McNamara, the CEO of one of Workday’s largest customers, Flex (a contract manufacturer formerly known as Flextronics). In his opening remarks, Mr. McNamara summed up this new age by saying, “Today it’s not about controlling land and resources, but rather about applying intelligence.”

In many ways, intelligence is a new currency in the global, digital economy. And yet, when most solution providers today talk about intelligent applications, they often simply mean new ways of interacting with the solution and analytics that help you derive more and better insights from the data. But this is the minimum you should expect today. Workday has aggressively taken steps towards real intelligence, through acquisition and its own development efforts. Workday Prism Analytics, Benchmarking and DaaS, machine learning, natural language processing and the Workday Cloud Platform all combine to provide powerful insights and intelligence, not through separate bolt-on tools, but embedded in a single solution.

If your current solutions are not headed down the path towards intelligent applications, if you are starting to look for new, smarter ones, Workday is a good place to start.

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Intacct Advantage 2015: Education, Collaboration, Inspiration and lots of Predictions

The tag line for Advantage 2015, Intacct’s annual user conference, was “Education, Collaboration, Inspiration.” But the real message I heard was this: The world is changing rapidly and Intacct is doing everything in its power to help customers survive and thrive by helping them keep up with change. In order to keep up today, you can’t sit back and wait for change to occur; you need to anticipate it. You need to make predictions, which was an additional theme running as an undercurrent on the main stage. Indeed Intacct’s CEO Rob Reid delivered some predictions of his own, promising customers, “We are your partner… thinking ahead, innovating ahead, scaling ahead.”

For those of you not familiar with Intacct, it is a cloud financial management solution provider. Bringing cloud computing to finance and accounting, Intacct’s applications are the preferred financial applications for AICPA business solutions and are used by more than 10,500 organizations from startups to public companies. The solution has evolved over time to provide all of the functions necessary to provide an operational and transactional system of record for the types of businesses the company sells to, bringing it more into the realm of an industry-specific ERP.

The Intacct system includes accounting, cash management, purchasing, contract management, financial consolidation, revenue recognition (a particular strength), project accounting, fund accounting, inventory management and financial reporting.

Here are Mr. Reid’s predictions:

Prediction #1: 20 is the new 80

While today finance executives spend 80% of their time completing tasks and 20% of their time planning for the future, Mr. Reid predicts that Intacct customers will flip these percentages, spending 20% of their time completing tasks and 80% planning strategically. I buy into the concept, but perhaps not at that level. Sure you can automate a lot of the tasks performed manually today, but I worry a little about leaders spending four times as much time planning as executing on the strategy.

Prediction #2: The business model is liberated

I view this as less of a prediction than an observation. New business models are disrupting whole industries. You’re already familiar with many of the consumer-oriented examples including Uber (transportation), Airbnb (hospitality), Netflix (entertainment), iTunes (music). But this business model disruption is affecting many other industries. More and more are moving away from simply delivering a product for a price and instead moving into subscription model pricing and delivery. Intacct is well positioned to support customers moving in this direction, including enhancements to its contract billing functionality. So this prediction is meant to exhort customers to adapt models to let their customers consume offerings the way they (the Intacct customers’ customers) want.

Prediction #3: Project finances get a freeze frame and zoom lens.

In this prediction, “project” is used as a noun, not a verb (as in “to project”). This is a prediction with about 100% probability of coming about, because it was simply a means of introducing Intacct Project Management. While Intacct has long been strong in project accounting, this new offering is an exception-based module meant to be used to evaluate progress and performance and predict profitability and utilization… i.e. manage the project rather than just do the accounting. In doing so, customers can assess project health and the impact on financials. Dashboards are meant to “freeze the frame” and give a snapshot of status in real time, also allowing managers to “zoom” in by drilling down to the detailed transactions.

Prediction #4: Finance is strategic planning

Mr. Reid is predicting that the finance department will become “the ultimate strategist.” This has actually been the goal of CFOs for a long time now and there was a time when many were marching determinedly in that direction. Then came Sarbanes Oxley and many took a U-turn and focused primarily on governance and control. By automating finance processes and reporting, many are now in a position to resume that march towards innovation and strategic purpose. But good strategy can’t be just guesswork and bright ideas. It needs to be based on real data and many CFOs still wait for the metrics needed to formulate a strategic plan. When finance departments spend hours, days or weeks gathering this data and formulating the metrics, they are often out-of-date, or even downright wrong, by the time they reach the desk of the CFO.

In days gone by C-level executives, including the CFO, rarely ever put their hands directly on accounting and ERP systems. It was far easier to get data in than to get data and insights back out, and they were just too hard to navigate. That is changing however. Today executives at the majority of companies have direct access to data within these systems, but some take more advantage of this access than others. Those running SaaS solutions (like Intacct’s) seem better positioned to take full advantage (Figure 1).

Figure 1: What level of access does your top executive management have to ERP?

Figure 1 IntacctSource: Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study

Intacct has been hard at working delivering several different vehicles of communication to make this enterprise data easier to consume, including dashboards and a particular delivery method called “ Intacct Digital Board Books.” With both, decision-makers have instant access to data organized for action. However, Digital Board Books are very industry-specific and the first one off the shelf is designed for software businesses that, like Intacct, deliver software as a service (SaaS).

So for those finance departments running Intacct in a SaaS software business, this prediction is spot on. For nonprofits that depend on fundraising, the prediction is likely to become a reality this fall, when Digital Board Books for Fundraising is scheduled for release. Intacct customers in other segments might have to wait a bit longer, but all the (technical) heavy lifting has been done in producing the first Digital Board Books. Now it is just a question of Intacct selecting and defining the right metrics and developing the content for the “books.” Intacct intends to produce these for each of the major segments in which it is strong, and will also continue to innovate those for SaaS software companies and nonprofits.

Prediction #5: You’ll do more with less. Others will fall behind

This sounded more like a promise than a prediction, a promise of new technologies, faster speed and more automation. This was actually a great segue to Intacct CTO, Aaron Harris, who approached the stage on a hover board. Once on stage he proceeded to demo the new Intacct Collaborate, a new “social” capability based on Salesforce.com’s Chatter product. Through Collaborate, Intacct customers can initiate conversations online, in real time, but more importantly, those conversations can be stored along with the business objects that are the subjects of the conversation: customers, orders, products, etc.

Mint Jutras research consistently finds “social” capabilities at the very bottom of the list of priorities for selecting finance and accounting and ERP solutions. However, when we separately ask how important some of those actual capabilities are (without calling them “social”), the ability to capture and retain conversations is consistently rated as valuable. Forty percent (40%) rate it as useful and 21% say it is a “must have.” And when we look at the responses by millennials, the percentage that rate it as “must have” almost doubles. No surprise there. These younger workers that never knew life without the Internet, are quite accustomed to electronic conversations. It is often their first communication method of choice.

Some of the baby boomers out there might need a little push in this direction, but once there, the value of keeping an audit trail of communication will become very obvious. And the good news is, even though it is based on Salesforce Chatter, you don’t have to be a Salesforce customer in order to use Collaborate. Even better news: it’s free (included in your standard subscription fee).

In addition to Collaborate, Intacct has been investing in its data centers, including the installation of new servers that are 35% faster, with 2X more application server memory. And beyond investing in more computing power, it has also been using newer technology (including in-memory computing) to speed the processing and analysis of data. It has achieved some pretty impressive results:

  • Intacct can now process 1 million customer invoices in 4 seconds
  • It can produce an analysis report on 20 million orders in 45 seconds
  • And it can produce a vendor ledger with 30 million transactions in 33 seconds

All of this investment puts Intacct customers in a very competitive position. We’ll be watching to see if they can make these predictions come true.

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Workday: Is it ERP or Not? Does it Matter?

You may have noticed I haven’t written much about Workday over the past few years. It’s not because I’m not interested. I am. But I haven’t had as much direct contact and interaction with the company as I would like in order to write from a basis of knowledge and experience. Having recently been invited to an analyst briefing call, I hope that is changing.

Some might assume this lack of direct contact is because I write a lot about ERP and Workday seems to go out of its way to characterize itself as not an ERP company. However, as an analyst, I always describe my coverage area as “enterprise applications with ERP at the core.” But the footprint of ERP has grown to the point where it is getting more and more difficult to determine where ERP ends and other applications begin. Those that know me well “hear” me talking about functions and topics (like performance management, talent and human capital management, etc,) that used to sit squarely outside of ERP, but today might sit either inside or outside that boundary. They also “hear” me talk about financial management, which can be an integral part of ERP, or a stand-alone solution. Both of these are certainly in Workday’s wheelhouse.

While Workday might be careful to say “We’re not ERP,” I hear other influencers refer to the company and its products as “ERP” all the time. In response I have been known to challenge those influencers, asking, “Is it really ERP?” I don’t do that to be contentious, or to denigrate Workday’s solution, but to better position it. Who should buy it and why?

I have always been careful to define ERP quite clearly, and in fact my definition outlasted me at Aberdeen. I left Aberdeen and founded Mint Jutras almost four years ago (January 2011), but my definition of ERP lives on there.

My definition of ERP is quite simple:

ERP is an integrated suite of modules that provides the operational and transactional system of record of the business.

Of course many (if not most) ERP solutions today do much more. But the minimum requirement is to provide an auditable record of operations, including any transaction that impacts the balance sheet (assets and liabilities) or the profit and loss statement. So does this mean an integrated suite of accounting modules qualifies as an ERP solution? It’s close, which is why I am able to collect so much data on financial management solutions in the context of my annual ERP solution studies, and in 2015 I am devising a way to capture data specific to each while distinguishing between the two. But the question is not as simple as it might seem and I have found the real answer lies in whether or not the solution handles orders: both purchase orders and sales orders. While purchasing is not strictly the domain of finance, it is not unusual for a financial management solution to include at least the basic requirements for purchasing transactions. It is less likely for these financial solutions to include the sales order.

An interesting aside: I attended the very first analyst call back in 2006 when Dave Duffield and Aneel Bhusri introduced Workday. I remember clearly that Workday was introduced as a ‘new ERP company”, although the first functions that would be developed would be for managing Human Resources (HR). The HR part came as no surprise given the founders’ background (Peoplesoft). But the reason I remember it so well is because Dave Duffield actually said something along the lines of, “You are probably wondering whether the world needs another new ERP system.” Of course Workday went on to fully develop its Human Capital Management solution, including HR, benefits, talent management, recruiting, payroll, time tracking and workforce planning and analytics. Financial Management came later.

So, what about the full operational and transactional system of record? Yes, Workday’s Financial Management solution handles the purchasing side, covering the full procure-to-pay process. And earlier this week, I got excited when I heard it also handles the full cycle from contract to cash. Aha! Is that the final piece of the puzzle that would qualify it as an ERP? While I might prefer a simple black and white, yes or no answer, I think there are at least a few shades of gray here, depending largely on the type of operations in question.

So I went in search of the sales order. I found a “contract” but not a sales order. But then remember that Workday specifically targets talent intensive organizations, including several for which it has developed new features in its latest Workday 23 release (the topic of the recent call):

  • Software and Internet Services
  • Financial Services
  • Business Services
  • Higher Education and Non-profits

Also noted on its website are healthcare, state and local governments, and retail and hospitality. These types of businesses don’t necessarily book an order in the classic sense of the term (e.g. when you think about an order for widgets). Colleges and universities don’t sell degrees. Hospitals don’t sell surgical procedures. Hotels don’t sell and deliver rooms. Business services are contracted for. Even software companies that might talk about booking an order are really more likely to sign a license agreement or offer a subscription (both are contracts). So in this case, the contract represents the commitment to buy and is the trigger for invoicing. In these cases, I would guess that Workday’s Financial Management suite can provide the full operational system of record for the business. In other words, by my definition, they are providing ERP to these types of businesses.

But if they were to stray outside these target markets, they can’t provide the full operational system of record, especially for a manufacturer. While Workday does target manufacturers, if you look closely you realize it is selling Human Capital Management to manufacturers, especially those looking to balance human resources to optimize revenue opportunities.

Flextronics, a global leader in design, manufacturing, distribution and aftermarket services, and one of the largest contract manufacturers in the world, is a Workday customer with over 200,000 employees in 30 countries. According to Mike McNamara, CEO, “We have to rebalance our workforce on a continuous basis for our customers. For example, we may be spending a lot more time in Malaysia and a lot less time in China. We may want to move more of our workforce into Mexico as opposed to Eastern Europe, depending on the markets we’re accessing. And Workday actually gives us the data to continuously analyze what our cost structures are—the average labor rates in each area. It has actually changed some of our investment policies for different countries as a result of studying the data and the trends in the data.”

Flextronics is running Workday’s HCM. I suspect Workday doesn’t sell a lot of Financial Management to manufacturers except maybe to replace corporate level financials. Manufacturing sites already have accounting functions embedded within ERP because it is hard for them to live without it. This is the perfect setup for a two-tier standard for ERP: manufacturing ERP at the divisions, rolling into a corporate ERP, which may just be financials, analytics and maybe even HCM (like Workday).

So this begs the question: Why does Workday go out of its way to characterize itself as not being ERP? Mark Nitter is the vice president at Workday responsible for setting the strategic direction of its products. He wrote about this in his blog post Why ERP Is Out, and Unified Finance and HR Is In, in which he assumes all ERP solutions were “designed for enterprises engaged in the manufacture and distribution of goods” and that “people were primarily seen as labor—a commodity whose cost is to be minimized.” He also assumes there is an arm’s length relationship between finance and HR. Mr. Nitter writes:

At Workday, we certainly don’t consider what we offer as “ERP.” From the beginning, our mission was to deliver an enterprise cloud for HR and finance, and this solution has been a key driver for many of our talent-driven enterprise customers, including AAA NCNU, Allied Global Holdings, Life Time Fitness, Sallie Mae, and TripAdvisor. For these companies and others, a business management system that unifies HCM and financials provides efficiencies and insights far beyond the capabilities of the ERP model.

An example: Imagine that a P&L analysis points to a revenue shortfall for your fiscal quarter. State-of-the-art financial drill-down analysis may help you identify which organization, product, or customer is responsible. But what if the reason for the shortfall cannot be determined through analysis of financial data? What if the reason for lower-than-expected revenue is that you have three open positions in the sales organization, and have had for six months?

The arms-length relationship between finance and HR that exists in ERP systems cannot deliver this insight. Separately, the finance department could identify where the shortfall occurred, and the HR department—if it knew where to look—could identify the hiring problem, but only a unified solution is capable of connecting the dots.

I would agree that most ERP solutions today couldn’t identify this hiring problem. But that is not because of any inherent limitations of ERP. It is because the ERP solution doesn’t have the same depth of functionality in HR that Workday has built into its solution. Yes, ERP evolved from MRP, which was originally designed to meet the planning needs of manufacturers. But ERP has evolved way beyond the realm of manufacturing and some ERP solutions on the market today – in fact those solutions that compete most directly with Workday – were never designed to support (physical) product-based businesses.

So, is Workday ERP? I would mostly agree with Workday and say, “Not really.” But does it matter what you call it? I would say, “Yes it does.” That is if Workday wants to be considered as a viable option in all the places where it could truly add value.

This is particularly true in companies that already have ERP and are not looking to replace it. Because HR has been largely underserved by ERP for many years, many ERP implementations lack a lot of specialized HCM functionality. Workday’s HCM can add very significant value, even without being sold as a “unified finance and HR solution.” If Workday portrayed itself as an ERP solution, that prospect would likely say, “No thank you. We already have one of those.”

Mint Jutras data indicates a dichotomy of preferences in satisfying HCM requirements. While there are some that have a strong preference for HCM functionality embedded within ERP, an (almost) equal number strongly prefer a separate (possibly stand-alone) applications. The remainder has no defined preference and will decide based on a combination of functionality and price (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Preferences for HCM Functionality

Figure 1 WorkdaySource: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study

However, where the Workday solution might provide a complete system of record, this argument might work against Workday. Where those companies perceive the need for ERP, even though Workday might have all they need, if Workday says it doesn’t sell ERP, it might not be considered. This may also be true where companies might define a two-tier ERP strategy, with one ERP providing corporate financials and a second standard defined for units, divisions or business units. If the prospect has defined this as a “two-tier standard” for ERP, it will be looking for ERP at the corporate level, even though orders are managed at the divisional level and “unified finance and HR” is what it really needs. The difference in the label might make all the difference in which solutions they will consider.

Bottom line: I admire Workday for identifying the value of a unified finance and HR solution particularly for the “talent-driven enterprise” and for not portraying itself as something that it is not. Some of the influencers who refer to them as “ERP, just not for manufacturing” could learn a lesson or two from this. But at the same time, I would caution Workday against assuming that an ERP can’t and won’t unify finance, HR and a lot more.

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Is the World Ready for SAP EPM 10.0?

Unified – Comprehensive – Transformational

On May 16, 2011 at SAPPHIRE® NOW in Orlando, Florida, SAP  announced the latest version of its enterprise performance management (EPM) solutions. The 10.0 release represents the culmination of a journey that originated four and a half years ago as SAP began to assemble a broad portfolio of products, beginning with the acquisition of Pilot Software and Outlooksoft. Later, in 2008 the merger with Business Objects expanded this portfolio and in June of that year SAP announced a longer term road map. Release 10.0 is the last major milestone of that journey in delivering a suite of products that SAP describes as unified, comprehensive and transformational.  The goal of 10.0 is to “move EPM best practices beyond the finance department to managers throughout the company, helping people make risk-aware decisions that positively impact enterprise-wide performance.” The tools are now in place, but are companies ready and willing to be transformed?

A Bit of History

Effective management of enterprise performance, by its very nature, is dependent on consolidating data and providing visibility. An EPM application can never be effective as a completely stand-alone function. The better it can consolidate data and present it in the proper context, the more effective business execution and decision-making. Therefore the journey of SAP’s EPM solution covers a lot of ground.

The first stop on the journey was Release 7.0, which was delivered in August 2008. This first release honored prior commitments to enhance functionality and incorporated the underlying technical architecture of NetWeaver. Specifically 7.0 focused on ERP and NetWeaver and NetWeaver Business Warehouse (BW) integration into legacy SAP applications (Business Planning and Consolidation and Strategy Management).  It also delivered Business Intelligence (BI) integration into legacy Business Objects applications (Financial Consolidation and Profitability and Cost Management). 

Release 7.5 followed later and was the first to bring the various components of the portfolio together as a suite of products, adding integration of SAP applications and BI. Then Business Objects applications were optimized for ERP (often the source of the transactional detail upon which decisions are based), NetWeaver and BW. EPM 7.5 also introduced cross-application scenarios between EPM and Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC). But the various components were still separate applications, although with “best-of-breed” integration.

Keeping this all straight is tricky and somewhat confusing, but also reveals the extended scope of the task at hand. EPM 10.0 brings to fruition a true suite, making the heritage of each component a non-issue. The suite brings a harmonized user interface across all components, along with next-generation productivity tools. In addition to the development efforts specific to EPM, it also leverages development efforts from other parts of SAP:

  • In December, SAP launched the SAP® In-Memory Appliance software (SAP HANA™). HANA is now the technological root of everything SAP develops. The message of HANA was always about “big data”. Indeed it allows people to analyze huge amounts of data in real time even at the lowest level of non-aggregated detail. But customer examples highlighted at SapphireNow prove it is also about speed: Examples like reducing the time to retrieve data from 77 minutes to 13 seconds or from 8 hours to instantaneous.
  • In February, SAP launched the culmination of three years’ development in BI and enterprise information management (EIM) software. These were critical components of the of SAP® BusinessObjects™ analytic applications which started rolling out in the fall of 2010 and continue to be built out for specific functions and industries.  Strong BI tools are important but applications ready-built with these tools are more easily consumed by the audience for EPM – namely executives in charge of strategy and execution.
  • In March, SAP launched GRC 10.0 -solutions to help organizations move GRC practices out of the hands of a few so everyone in the organization can participate in mitigating risk and increasing corporate compliance. In concept and practice these functions should be attached at the hip to performance management.

So given this firm foundation built over the past four and a half years, how does SAP substantiate its claim of unified, comprehensive and transformational?

Unified

Unification in EPM 10.0 goes beyond the harmonization of the user interface across the various components of EPM. Yes, a shared user experience does indeed reduce learning curves and a familiar look and feel reduces the intimidation factor of something “new.” But equally important is the unification of EPM with other tools, including NetWeaver and ERP as well as desktop productivity tools. Indeed Microsoft Excel has become a universal management tool, often in place of or in spite of applications that are implemented.

Exporting data from any application to a spreadsheet has become basic functionality that is expected of modern enterprise applications, as is using spreadsheets to import data. But EPM 10.0 goes beyond this simple extract and Excel essentially becomes the user interface.

Several early customers of EPM 10.0 expressed this as one of the major benefits and also key to user adoption.

Case in Point: Under Armour, Inc.

David Roberts, senior manager from Under Armour points out most business professionals have had some exposure to ERP, which provides much of the content for performance management. “But there are a host of ERP players, and there are often very distinct differences and a steep learning curve in moving from one to another. But if the user interface is Excel, even kids right out of college know it and use it. In fact that is how we have built our Business Analytics Team (BAT). It consists of a bunch of kids out of college. We take them from all departments and teach them to collect and analyze data. BPC [SAP BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation] is the tool used most because they have the skills to use it. We expand their knowledge, taking advantage of add-ins. [EPM can become an add-in to Excel.] User adoption is driven by the fact that it looks so easy. In fact that can become an Achilles heel. As they see it do so much, they want it to do everything.”

Who is Under Armour?

Under Armour is a sports clothing and accessories company, providing high-tech sports gear to professional and collegiate athletes in addition to offering its product lines in retail locations. In 2006 the company expanded its offerings to include footwear in 2006; it continues to expand those  offerings, announcing its first line-up of basketball shoes in Fall of 2010.

Under Armour is a publicly traded company (NYSEUA)with revenues in 2009 of $856 million and 2200 employees.

www.underarmour.com

Data can also be easily dragged from EPM to Microsoft Word or PowerPoint documents (Word and PowerPoint plug-ins are available as well), thereby saving time and effort in the effective communication of results.

While many in the finance department may be content to reside in and communicate via spreadsheets all day, it is also possible to construct personally tailored views that bring in other content, not only from SAP enterprise applications, but from the Internet as well. One could easily construct a dashboard from which 90-100% of the day’s activities, including e-mail and social media outlets, could be conducted.

 

Comprehensive

Indeed, while Excel has become an almost universal “language” for the finance team, it is not just finance that EPM 10.0 is meant to “speak” to. SAP’s BusinessObjects EPM solutions are generally recognized as delivering one of the most complete and mature sets of solutions for the office of the CFO, including strategy management, planning, budgeting and forecasting, financial consolidation, and profitability and cost management. In addition, SAP added a Disclosure Management application to help companies go the last mile in finance in producing accurate and timely financial statements.

But SAP intends for EPM 10.0 to reach beyond the finance office, targeting key decision makers in other functional areas of the business, including supply chain management, procurement, sales, manufacturing and demand planning. The new EPM release powers newly launched SAP BusinessObjects analytic applications designed for role-specific users in a variety of industries and lines of business. These offerings are quite diverse, ranging from risk reporting in banking to trade promotions for consumer products to upstream operations performance analysis for oil and gas or intellectual property (IP) rights analysis for the media.

Across the SAP BusinessObjects portfolio, the 10.0 release encompasses new offerings such as SAP® BusinessObjects™ Sales and Operations Planning. It also further enhances previous releases of the SAP® BusinessObjects™ Spend Performance Management and SAP® BusinessObjects™ Supply Chain Performance Management.

While these specific applications naturally extend to other functional areas such as procurement and supply chain management, at least in some of the early adopters, the planning and overall corporate performance activities of EPM 10.0 haven’t made it too far past the finance department. These early adopters all point to the Excel interface as a means of user engagement. But not all walks of life live and breathe Excel. In some cases perhaps the finance department, which generally owns and runs the solution, isn’t willing to open the doors. Or perhaps the overwhelming volume of data, coupled with the growing complexity of dependencies and data relationships is enough to scare many away. While dashboards and user interfaces have become increasingly tailor-able, often executives simply don’t know where to start.

And the volume is not about to decline any time soon. In fact it only stands to grow and may even grow exponentially. While HANA is certainly capable of responding, interestingly enough, the majority of the testimonials to date have been by CIOs. So making this happen still requires an underlying understanding of how the data and the applications are organized. Without being led by the hand, most executives will simply not venture down the path. Simplification and contextual cues are keys to bringing the proverbial horse to water.

Transformational

Which leads us to the final adjective SAP uses to describe EPM 10.0. Through unification of a comprehensive portfolio, SAP has put the power of transformation within reach of enterprises today. Functional components support risk-adjusted planning. In-memory computing has the potential to open new doors to companies in leveraging massive volumes of data for planning and decision-making, potentially making them more agile and responsive. New user experiences transform the way people interact with applications and data and expand views beyond the structured data within applications like ERP.

But top level executives have traditionally been hands off in terms of going to directly to the source for data. However, trends in mobility may be just the catalyst needed to prompt better engagement. EPM 10.0 includes applications for the iPad (by Apple) and the Playbook (by RIM). With the advent of newer devices that are easy to carry, even easier to use and allow for more graphical visualization, executives are increasingly going mobile and using those devices for more than email and phone. In a way, these unwired devices are tethering them more closely to the business. But the limited real estate on these devices, even on tablets, and the perspective of being “on the move” will force a cleaner approach to communication and perhaps reinforce the KISS principle – keeping communication short and simple.

In today’s global economy, where markets and technology are changing at supersonic speed, where we are bombarded with noise and drowning in data, transformation may be necessary for survival. Keeping it simple will become even more difficult in achieving the goal that David Roberts has set for Under Armour with its EPM 10.0 deployment. David asks, “How do I answer the question I don’t know to ask?”

Indeed EPM 10.0 has the power to transform the business into an efficient, risk-aware, performance-driven culture, but only if the enterprise is aware of the possibilities and open to transformation. Many have a long way to go.

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