IoT

Plex Smart Manufacturing Platform

                                                                                    May 2020

Headache Relief in Times of Crisis

Manufacturers today face extraordinary challenges as the world is plunged into an unprecedented crisis. Even as we see efforts to recover, everyone was and is affected, though not necessarily in the same way. Some industries were completely shut down while others (think software and professional services) could close offices and still remain at least somewhat productive. Manufacturing lies at both ends of the spectrum. Obviously you can’t make industrial or consumer products from home – at least not at scale. But within the realm of manufacturing, we see a widely diverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, depending on what is being manufactured. Cloud computing and advanced technology that supports connectivity, collaboration, automation and agility have eased the burden for some, while others struggle (still) amidst shelter-in-place orders that caught many flat-footed.

Those companies operating on the Plex Smart Manufacturing Platform are among the more fortunate, whether they are manufacturing products deemed “essential” or not. Of course no piece of software can fully address the crisis of needing to completely shut down production. But even those businesses still have cash to collect and customers to support. As administrative and support personnel were locked out of their offices, Plex’s native Software as a Service (SaaS) deployments allowed employees to start working from home immediately. And as many manufacturers have had to pivot their businesses, efforts from Plex over the past several years to provide automation, collaboration capabilities and an added level of agility are all paying off.

For anyone who still questioned the value of cloud, SaaS and digital transformation at the beginning of 2020, the words of Plex Systems CEO, Bill Berutti, should ring true. “This crisis is shining a whole new light on the power of technology and the power of smart manufacturing, to make us more agile in times of crisis, to allow us to adapt.” Let’s take a look at a few of the ways Plex’s solution provides some relief from the headaches that come along with this crisis.

SaaS Proves its Value

Let’s start with the obvious. The capability to access anytime, from anywhere is inherent in software solutions that are accessed via the cloud and delivered as a service. Mint Jutras has been extolling the benefits of cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS) for many years now, but in spite of all the hype associated with cloud and SaaS, we still see evidence that many don’t fully understand the difference between the two or the benefits SaaS can bring. Whether you run a solution on your own premises or in a private or public cloud, the ability to access anytime, from anywhere is a significant advantage and web-enablement opens the door for the kind of connectivity you need as workers work from home. The ability to connect is critical, but how you connect is equally important. This issue surfaces when suddenly office workers became remote, work-from-home workers.

One of Plex’s customers, Accuride, provides the perfect example. Accuride primarily makes steel and aluminum wheels for the heavy trucking industry. As a global company that made a recent acquisition in Europe, Accuride runs the Plex Smart Manufacturing Platform in some of its divisions, but not all. While workers in the locations using Plex were able to start working from home almost immediately, it took several days of frantic work to support remote workers where solutions were still on premise. The recently acquired division in Germany is still running an SAP solution on premise. It needed to upgrade from 100 VPN connections to support 250 newly remote users very quickly – not an easy task. This only served to validate Accuride’s strategy to move to the cloud and SaaS.

Trojan Battery is another example. A longstanding Plex customer, it completed its shift to SaaS at the end of 2018. It not only runs Plex, but also Dropbox, RingCentral, Workday and Salesforce. But the company was subsequently acquired by C&D Technologies, which still uses on-premise solutions. While Trojan Battery employees were able to take their laptops and mobile devices or just sit down at their home computers and have full and immediate access to the same data and systems they had in their offices, those from C&D Technologies that were still using on-premise applications had a much different experience. They needed access through a VPN, which proved to be a significant pain point, especially for those employees who had never before been issued a laptop (having no need for one). As IT Director Matt Irey points out, “We can’t open our corporate network up to unsecured machines, so they’ve got to be using company equipment.”

This also raised the issue of network performance. Mr. Irey goes on to say, “There’s limited bandwidth — guaranteed Plex, Workday, Dropbox, have a heck of a lot more bandwidth than I do going into my location.”

Plex was an early pioneer of SaaS. It has offered its solution exclusively as a multi-tenant SaaS solution since 2001, long before cloud and SaaS were even part of the vocabulary of the typical manufacturer. Back then most manufacturers weren’t even knowingly and willingly considering SaaS. And so, for many years, the company was successful in spite of, rather than because of its pioneering efforts in SaaS. The key to this success lies in offering a more complete solution for manufacturing, stretching beyond the typical boundaries of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).

The 4 Pillars of Smart Manufacturing

This has led it to its current offering, the Plex Smart Manufacturing Platform, a rather unique combination of ERP, Manufacturing Execution (MES), Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM), supply chain management, industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and analytics.

What makes the platform a “Smart” platform is data, often described as the “new oil” or the most valuable resource of today. Plex recognizes that the four pillars of a Smart Manufacturing Platform are:

  • to connect and integrate to data sources (including machine data)
  • to automate (processes and data collection)
  • to track (and trace)
  • and analyze that data

In addition, the system, along with the data, must also be available, reliable, scalable, secure and agile. Over the years Plex has excelled in areas like availability and reliability. Its service level agreement (SLA) promises 99.99% availability and it has delivered 99.996% availability over the last four years, with an average of just 22 minutes of unplanned downtime each year. With those statistics on the books, along with an impressive track record of security, last year it decided to focus more heavily on agility.

The Increased Need for Agility

The need for agility has been on the rise for the past several years. We live in disruptive times.

Figure 1: How much risk do you face in your industry being disrupted?

Source: Mint Jutras 2018 Enterprise Solution Study

Back in 2018, the Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study found 89% of manufacturers believed they faced 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 were (and still are) the more traditional disruptive factors like expansion and growth, organizational restructuring and regulatory changes, just to name a few. And now… a global pandemic.

While different industries and individual companies face an incredibly diverse range of challenges, there is one constant today, and that is an element of uncertainty. No one really knows what the “new normal” will be. Some Plex customers have already had to pivot their businesses very quickly.

As noted earlier, this global crisis has impacted different industries in very different ways. While some making products that are not deemed “essential” have been forced to close, others are struggling to keep up with higher demand. Select food, beverage and personal care products are experiencing a boost in demand. Manufacturers of medical supplies and equipment (think ventilators and face masks) are facing increased demand that can far exceed capacity. Others making industrial or non-essential consumer products are forced to re-tool and ramp up production for new and different products. We see hair care manufacturers making hand sanitizer and automotive suppliers making ventilators or personal protective equipment (PPE).

Each option brings its own set of challenges, often requiring new supply sources and processes that include shop floor redesign or limiting capacity to create social distancing. Some are responding quickly, but many are not, as evidenced by shortages of staples like toilet paper, disinfectants, flour and other necessities. We’ve seen evidence of brittle supply chains and manufacturers that remain rigid and inflexible. While enterprise software solutions can’t (all by themselves) overcome all these hurdles, they certainly can contribute to the pain or ease the burden as innovative companies undergo a paradigm shift.

One Less thing to Worry About in Shifting Gears

Creative Foam, another Plex customer, is one manufacturer that has quickly pivoted its business. The company turned 50 years old this year and specializes in foams, nonwovens and adhesives in industries that include transportation and healthcare. Creative Foam engineers seek to create products that are quieter, stronger and lighter.

But in the wake of the crisis, the company was able to quickly shift gears. Tareq Falah, Vice President of Information Technology and Information Systems tells us, “Nobody had a crystal ball. No one could have predicted anything that is going on now during this COVID crisis – not when, not who, not how. Before, we had always asked ourselves, ‘What can we do to win business?’ But in response to this crisis, we went through a paradigm shift. Now we ask, ‘What else can we do to help?’”

Essentially Tareq was talking about helping the front-line workers in the field of medicine. They began with PPE, face shields to be more precise. This meant sourcing new materials, coming up with an initial design and then refining that design. And throughout this pivot, office workers went home to work. While there were many issues to resolve like getting people laptops and rerouting phones, according to Tareq, “We didn’t have to worry about Plex. Support of our business has been phenomenal.”

Another success story in responding to this global crisis is Olde Thompson. Founded in 1944, the company started out manufacturing houseware products, including salt and pepper mills. Today 80% of its business is in the powders that might go into the original products, including salt, pepper and a wide array of spices. While other businesses have slowed or stopped production, Olde Thompson has doubled its monthly output in response to increased demand.

Plex’s inventory management capabilities and its supply chain planning tool were key to Olde Thompson’s ability to respond to this spike in demand while its competitors simply could not react as quickly. When India shut down all spice manufacturing, Olde Thompson was able to locate and engage with other suppliers. This opened the door to acquiring three new customers. Being able to quickly bring on new customers using Plex’s new Smart EDI, a more scalable and flexible approach to onboarding new customers, meant this new business was not just a short-term blip, but the beginning of long-term relationships with three new customers.

But the real key to winning this new business was in Olde Thompson’s ability to ramp up production quickly. And the key to that was integration – pulling data out of machinery and automating machine setups using data within Plex. Process improvement is a key focus looking forward and Olde Thompson will be relying on Plex to provide visibility to their yields and support continuous improvement and long-term growth.

Speaking of Supply Chain Planning…

Plex also recently made another announcement that will assist customers in reducing the risk associated with market volatility, a subject that can strike fear in the hearts of many manufacturers today. On May 14,2020 it announced the release of the Plex Market Forecast Manager, now part of the Plex Supply Chain Planning Suite. Creating and maintaining a viable forecast has always been hard, but the uncertainty introduced with the COVID-19 makes it even more difficult.

According to Plex:

“Plex Market Forecast Manager enables manufacturers to integrate internal and external data points alongside demand plans to drive more accurate inventory decisions, gain market share, and evaluate and scale the supply chain. The initial release will provide automated access to IHS Markit’s Light Vehicle Forecast, helping automotive manufacturers form more accurate and timely forecasts. IHS Markit is a world leader in critical information, analytics, and solutions for the major industries and markets that drive economies worldwide.”

While the initial release of this new module specifically targets the automotive industry, perhaps Olde Thompson will not immediately benefit, but we suspect it will be able to at some point down the road. One of the industries IHS Markit follows is agribusiness, which of course supplies the food, beverage… and spice market.

Focus on Automation

Beyond the ability to connect, another of the four pillars on which the Plex Smart Manufacturing Platform is built is automation. Certainly, automation also plays a key role in alleviating some of the pain associated with the COVID-19 crisis. For decades now manufacturing has been investing in automation on the shop floor. Automation can speed production, eliminate variability, improve quality and reduce costs. An unfortunate side effect has been that it has also cost some jobs. But in all fairness, it has also created jobs, although these new jobs require different skills.

Now in the midst of a global pandemic, when the health and safety of workers is top of the list in terms of priorities, there is a silver lining in the reduction in workers required to keep production running. If you simply need a handful of employees to monitor automated production, those employees are more likely to be able to maintain acceptable social distancing and product continues to be produced. And now as this automation (think robots, PLCs, mechanical devices) are increasingly connected to the Internet, taking advantage of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), perhaps production can be monitored remotely. Even remedial work might be done through augmented reality, with limited staff on site.

Plex’s engineering team, led by CTO Jerry Foster, is constantly investigating and experimenting with leading edge technology including augmented reality (think hands free and/or remote monitoring and even remote repair). Those investigative efforts also led to the acquisition of DATTUS in 2018 to accelerate IIoT adoption through connectivity, data management and data analysis.

But there is more to automation than machines and robots on the shop floor. There are many processes that must occur in the back and front offices of manufacturers that can be streamlined and automated, freeing office workers from repetitive tasks. And therefore, on May 14,2020, Plex announced Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can now be added on to the Plex Smart Manufacturing Platform through a new partnership with business technology solution provider Thirdware

An early adopter Plex customer Stant Corporation, a tier-1 automotive supplier of thermal and vapor management parts, worked with Plex and Thirdware to implement RPA to manage its invoice delivery. This was a labor-intensive and error-prone process, spread across multiple technology solutions. With the help of a bot on the Plex Smart Manufacturing Platform, Stant has been able to reduce its invoice backlog from three weeks to four days, with 100% data entry accuracy. Now, 80% of invoices are able to move to processing without intervention, enabling the Stant team to focus on more valuable problem-solving activities. And of course, a bot never has to move to a remote working location during a global pandemic.  After this first (successful) application of the technology, Stant went on to work with Plex and Thirdwave to create more. It now uses multiple bots for accounts payable, accounts receivable, customer service, and supply chain processes.

Summary and Recommendations

Manufacturers across the globe face many different challenges as the world tries to emerge from a global pandemic. Depending on where you live, the worst may be over. Or not. And even as we see signs of recovery, there is a high likelihood that things will never go back to exactly the way they were before. These factors combined reinforce the one common theme that confronts us all: uncertainty.

One thing is certain. As the communication and interaction around the world continues down the path of becoming more digital and more virtual, cloud computing and advanced technology that supports connectivity, collaboration, automation and agility step out of the realm of “nice to have” and become table stakes. Those manufacturers operating on the Plex Smart Manufacturing Platform are fortunate in that the solution that runs their businesses allowed them to immediately support workers remotely.  Plex also continues to innovate to bring more automation, to connect and integrate, to track and analyze.

If you are a Plex customer today, our advice is to hold the fort and continue to consume as much innovation as Plex can throw your way. If you are not a Plex customer and you are still struggling to connect newly remote workers, if you don’t have the agility to support whatever the new normal way of operating becomes, you might be thinking implementing a new ERP, MES, or MOM solution is the last thing you want to tackle right now. You could be dead wrong. If business is slow, take advantage of the down time. It’s okay to be dead wrong. It’s not okay to let your business die.

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Epicor: Firing on All Cylinders

More Cloud, More Connected, More Intelligent, More Innovation

Epicor’s mission is to be the cloud vendor of choice in the markets it serves. Those markets are manufacturing, the automotive aftermarket, wholesale distribution, service, lumber, and retail. Its latest user conference, Epicor Insights 2019, served to provide a progress report on that mission, including some exciting new product announcements. Over the past 18 months, the company has invested heavily in its major go-forward product lines. It has published 54 software releases (15 major, 39 minor), and brought a brand new Epicor Retail Cloud to market, completed as planned and on-time. As of three weeks before the event all its strategic product lines had been modernized and Software as a Service (SaaS) enabled. And its SaaS business is growing at an impressive clip, with year over year cloud revenue increasing over 90%. A brand new artificial intelligence (AI) based Epicor Virtual Agent (EVA) was unveiled at the event, along with new industry capabilities, built on cloud technologies, to power digital transformation and enhance the customer experience.

All of this news represents good progress, but Epicor is still fighting the battle of establishing a name for itself as what Mint Jutras last year called “the new Epicor.” As we noted then, “The Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) market is very mature. Some solution providers have been around a long time, dating back to even before the acronym ERP was coined. Epicor Software Corporation is one of those vendors. With that level of maturity comes both pros and cons. On the plus side, as a mature provider, it brings to the market more than 45 years of experience and a set of robust and feature-rich products. On the down side, prospective buyers of enterprise software who might have encountered Epicor in the past may think they know the company and its solutions. But their knowledge and perceptions may be severely outdated.”  A year later, we (still) suspect many customers and prospects alike don’t really know the new Epicor.

The new Epicor is firing on all cylinders. Unlike the rigid, monolithic solutions of the past, its go-forward products are supported by modernized, component-based architectures that support connectivity, accelerate innovation and support the intelligence needed to compete in today’s global, digital economy. While Epicor still offers a choice of deployment models, it operates under a “cloud first” policy that encourages (but doesn’t force) customers and prospects to harness the power of the Internet. But not everyone seems to have gotten the memo. Perhaps if we review some of the recent steps Epicor has taken, we might be able to enlighten those who have not.

Click here to read the full report

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Autodesk Jumpstarts Connectivity With IoT Discovery Toolkit

Powered by Electric Imp

Through the Internet of Things (IoT), huge volumes of data can be collected from physical devices, including equipment, vehicles, buildings and other items embedded with sensors, software and electronics used to expose and exchange data. While the concept behind IoT is quite appealing and many manufacturers already collect massive volumes of data (from sensors in these devices), that data has gone largely underutilized. Why? Because when it comes to connecting physical devices, making them smart and secure, the devil is in the details. Seldom is it as simple as it might sound, especially without a single universal standard for connectivity. And yet the payoff can be huge in terms of the possibility of new revenue streams, optimized performance and potential product improvements.

These potential benefits have prompted Autodesk to create the IoT Discovery Toolkit. The new toolkit, powered by Electric Imp, an industry leading IoT platform provider, and combined with Fusion Connect, “is intended for use by industrial manufacturing OEMs who are interested in implementing secure connected products for their business.” This new offering lets users build out a prototype of a secure end-to-end IoT solution in minutes. Yes, you heard that right – in minutes!

Why Bother?

While the Internet of Things (IoT) has caused a huge stir in other industries, it has been met with less excitement in manufacturing. Many feel it is nothing new. Manufacturers have been collecting massive volumes of data (e.g. through sensors on the shop floor) for decades, but as noted above, this data has been grossly underutilized. And yet while 74% of manufacturers participating in our Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study indicated IoT was “well understood,” only 22% have deployed or are in the process of deploying these technologies. And one out of three that claim to understand it well also feel it is not applicable to their businesses. That may well be true for a small few, but we believe many more might just be missing something.

Of course the target audience for Autodesk’s IoT Discovery Toolkit isn’t every manufacturer, but instead those that manufacture machines or equipment with the potential of being smart and connected. These types of manufacturers benefit directly from the toolkit, while their customers benefit indirectly.

These original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) can directly benefit in three ways:

  • Offering new services based on new data, or even “old” data that is now more readily available in real time or near real time
  • Optimizing performance of equipment in the field, possibly including reducing the cost to service and maintain
  • Bringing IoT data back into the product life cycle in order to improve the product

One of the customers of Autodesk’s new partner Electric Imp provides us with an amazing example of all three. Pitney Bowes is perhaps best known for its postage meters. If you’ve worked in any modern day office you are likely to be familiar with their equipment, used for office mailing and package shipping. In the past these were quite simplistic. They were loaded with postage rates and funds that were automatically depleted as you weighed your letters or packages and printed postage. But you had to monitor usage and make sure you didn’t run out of currency loaded. If something went wrong with the system, you waited for a replacement because it wasn’t worth the cost of sending a repair technician onsite.

But over time, these mailing systems have gotten a lot smarter. They are no longer just postage meters; they are now sending devices, connected to the Pitney Bowes Commerce Cloud. While they still process daily mail and print postage quickly and accurately, they can now also compare options from major carriers like the United States Postal Service (USPS) and UPS, monitor ink levels and automatically replenish the currency consumed in printing postage. Even better, they can be monitored and problems can be diagnosed remotely.

While this all sounds simple enough, remember, in printing postage, Pitney Bowes’ customers are essentially printing currency. So there are very specific security concerns. And because these meters can be installed in any kind of office environment, the “connection” must be simple and require no technical skills. Pitney Bowes is now shipping IoT-enabled meters and is also retrofitting this capability into existing machines. IoT had to be self-installable, which was one of the major reasons they decided to go with Electric Imp.

As a result, Pitney Bowes added new services while also providing a higher quality of service to customers. According to Rick Ryan, a fellow at Pitney Bowes, “Customers love to see data. We had previously delivered service by replacement because it was was too costly to send a technician out. We were getting a lot of good equipment back that didn’t need service.”

While Pitney Bowes might be best-known for these postage meters, it also has a more sophisticated offering, including room-size equipment that stuffs envelopes and does all the physical preparation to send multi-part mailings to the postal service.

Mr. Ryan tells us, “This is sophisticated machinery with lots of motors and sensors. We used to collect a lot of data on site, when a service technician visited periodically (once a month maybe). Customers might have put the whole system on their network, but it was typically ‘air gapped,’ especially when they were handling sensitive materials that might not be their own [think annual reports, financial statements, etc.]. We have now partnered with GE for analytics and put it on a Cisco network. We perform predictive failure analysis and maintenance on the equipment. While we give away the IoT service because it reduces our maintenance cost, we also offer a premium service that will recommend new services and/or products [think cross sell and up sell opportunity]. And with access to more data, we also have the added benefit of being able to spot trends across our installed base of customers and continue to improve our design.”

Overcoming The Biggest Challenge

While security is often cited as a concern in connecting devices, perhaps the most troublesome challenge of all is the lack of universal standards in connections, including protocols and even couplings. Think what it would be like if your country didn’t have a standard electrical connection. Today when we travel to a different country we need to carry the appropriate electrical adapter in order to plug in our appliances and charge our mobile devices. What if you had to do that even when moving around your own country? Pretty inconvenient, right?

As Bryan Kester, director of IoT for Autodesk says, “IoT is a very complex challenge because it combines a wide range of hardware, networking and cloud technologies. By teaming up with Electric Imp, our goal is to simplify the technology so that businesses can move straight to evaluating IoT business opportunities.” This is one of the advantages that led Autodesk to team up with Electric Imp and make use of its patented setup solution, BlinkUp™. According to Electric Imp…

BlinkUp works with iOS and Android smartphones and tablets to connect your products to the Internet in just a few seconds. Taking WiFi configuration information from the mobile device, BlinkUp transmits that data by rapidly flashing light pulses on the device’s screen. The data are read by an optical sensor tied to the product’s integrated impModule™ hardware in a truly one-step process without the need to scan barcodes, note down device IDs, or leave the mobile app to delve in settings screens.

BlinkUp uniquely combines the snoop-proof security of a wired connection with the convenience of wireless communication. Unlike other setup mechanisms, such as near-field communications (NFC) or Bluetooth, BlinkUp does not require the device being configured to incorporate special hardware or to be paired with the product.

Yes, the IoT Discovery Toolkit is actually a (small) piece of hardware. You will have to request a kit from Autodesk. It comes pre-enabled to work with any device, network and cloud technology. This is how you get started with the IoT Discovery Toolkit:

  • Create an Electric Imp Account (included in the toolkit)
  • Connect and activate the device – just put the small box on the device, no diodes to connect
  • Create a Fusion Connect account (included in the toolkit)
  • Open the dashboard to see the temperature and humidity of the connected device

This of course is just the beginning of a new adventure in IoT enablement. All the experts agree, you will want to start with a small prototype. Don’t try to move too fast or do too much all at once. Be selective in what data will have the greatest impact. Trying to analyze massive volumes at first will likely lead to confusion and the potential for abandonment. Building an IoT enabled product from scratch can take longer than you expect. Have the patience to pursue that first prototype, which will be easier to do knowing that using the IoT Discovery Kit, you will not be throwing that effort away. All you do and all you learn will be transferable to your “real life” adventure.

And a clear message from those who have gone before you: IoT has the potential of creating a systemic shift affecting all aspects of your company’s structure and culture. You won’t be just making widgets any more. Of course you will still manufacture your product, but you will potentially have much more including

  • Product as a service, possibly replacing and/or adding new revenue streams
  • Better insight into how your products are actually used
  • Lower costs of maintenance
  • Better data to help you improve your design

If you think IoT is not applicable to your business, perhaps it is time to reevaluate that conclusion. If you are hesitating to get started, Autodesk’s IoT Discovery Toolkit might just be the push you need to jumpstart the process.

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Meet SAP Leonardo

A Digital System of Innovation

The current version of SAP Leonardo made its debut at SapphireNow 2017. On the main stage, SAP CEO Bill McDermott called it a “digital system of innovation” – a catchy description which doesn’t really tell you what it is. In all fairness to Mr. McDermott, this is technically a relaunch, so perhaps he assumed a level of knowledge that proved not to be universal. Previously Leonardo was SAP’s brand for IoT, but the re-launch positions it much more broadly.

So what is SAP Leonardo? It is essentially a toolbox of digital technologies, including machine learning, block chain, big data, data intelligence, IoT, analytics, and more. SAP will not only market and sell these tools individually and collectively but it will also package them with design thinking and services to deliver innovation to solve specific business problems. Yes, it is a brand, but it is not a suite. A suite implies integrated components working towards a single (perhaps broad) purpose. Yes the different components can and do work together, but they also can stand alone. Even calling it a “system” is a bit misleading. Think of it more as a set or a collection.

Once you understand that these are digital tools that will essentially deliver innovation, referring to SAP Leonardo as a digital system of innovation actually makes a lot of sense.

Appropriately Named?

SAP Leonardo is apparently named after the Italian Renaissance man, Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, more commonly known as Leonardo da Vinci or simply Leonardo. Leonardo was an Italian polymath. A polymath (Greek: πολυμαθής, polymathēs, “having learned much”) is a person whose expertise spans a wide variety of different subject areas, enabling him or her to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems. According to art historian Helen Gardner, the scope and depth of Leonardo’s interests were without precedent in history, and “his mind and personality seem to us superhuman, while the man himself mysterious and remote.”[1]

The digital technologies included under the SAP Leonardo brand also span a wide range of subject areas, and can indeed solve specific problems. And when technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence are combined with data, big and small, the result could be viewed as remarkable – almost superhuman. To all but the true technologist, they do appear to be mysterious.

Our research shows these types of technologies are indeed not widely used or understood. In fact our 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study asked survey participants to rate their level of understanding of some of the technologies included/referenced in SAP Leonardo (Table 1).

Table 1: What level of familiarity do you have with these digital technologies?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Predictive analytics, which is an important element, particularly when used in conjunction with these other technologies, is the most widely valued and used. Otherwise, fewer than 20% of our survey participants have deployed or are in the midst of deploying the remainder. While another 15% to 32% understand the technologies well and perceive value, this leaves more than half either lacking familiarity or feeling they have no applicability to their business. So SAP must help take some of the mystery out.

That’s what makes the services side of SAP Leonardo so important – this and the fact that digital transformation isn’t necessarily the goal, even though it is often presented as such. The goal is to enable growth, interoperability, communication and collaboration. The goal is to innovate. To this end, SAP intends to marry design thinking with these technologies. Design thinking is an iterative approach that identifies real issues and problems to solve. It avoids the trap of inventing and implementing elegant technology in search of a problem.

SAP Industry Accelerators

In addition, building on experience implementing solutions for other customers, SAP has packaged SAP Leonardo with “Industry Accelerators.” Industries might include retail, consumer goods, manufacturing, sports and entertainment, or any other industry that requires innovation services. These are fixed price bundles of expertise, data and software integrated to solve a specific and common business problem. Plus they include services to get started and deliver business value quickly, helping to jumpstart a digital transformation journey.

There is a design thinking component included, which is intended to validate that the package will address the customer’s business problem. They also include a fixed amount of services to implement a working prototype. SAP envisions the Industry Accelerators to be priced to be accessible to a wide range of companies, not just very large enterprises with large and highly skilled IT staffs.

These fixed price Industry Accelerators can be implemented with SAP technology, but SAP technology is not required. SAP Leonardo can ingest data from any source and combine it with data from applications like ERP, both SAP and non-SAP. So customers do not have to make a significant investment in new applications, database or other infrastructure in order to address a business challenge.

Of course, if a customer’s business challenge is unique or not a good fit for the Industry Accelerators then customers can leverage the components of SAP Leonardo for a custom implementation.

While SAP Leonardo targets a wide range of companies, many smaller companies operate with minimal IT staffs. Any kind of separate price tag for a tool set may make these technologies remote (like Leonardo himself) – out of reach for small companies. So it would behoove SAP to look for ways to connect, or even embed these technologies in the enterprise solutions that target smaller companies. These include SAP Business ByDesign and SAP Business One (in addition to SAP S/4HANA) and some of the surrounding “line of business” applications that extend these solutions.

To this end, SAP has been working hard on refactoring the underlying code of its products to take better advantage of new digital tools and technologies. Mint Jutras recently outlined this platform approach in a report, SAP Business One: The Next 20 Years.

From Systems of Record to Systems of Intelligence

The ultimate goal is to transform all these systems of record into systems of intelligence. Whether addressing the needs of large enterprise, small companies, or anything in between, it has always been a lot easier to get data into a system of record than it is to get information and insights out. SAP Leonardo, the digital system of innovation, tackles this problem directly with the goal of transforming business transactions into intelligent insights, in a never-ending continuum, thus enabling digital transformation and innovation.

[1] Gardner, Helen (1970). Art through the Ages. pp. 450–456.

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Are Digital Technologies for Everyone?

Understanding Just How Well They are Understood and Valued

Industry pundits have been hyping “digital transformation” and “digital technologies” for several years now. This hype tends to make ample reference to the consumer technologies that are indeed making an impact on our personal lives: connected homes, self-driving cars, wearable fitness devices and every kind of “app” you can think of on your smart phone or tablet. That’s easy. The hard part is connecting this transformation to the workplace and the enterprise in a way that seems to bring real value. The pundits make the assumption that these technologies are well-understood and perceived as valuable. But are they?

I don’t make any such assumptions and the results from questions on digital preparedness in my annual enterprise solution study last year confirmed many decision makers are fooling themselves with a false sense of security. While 88% agreed that embracing digital technologies was necessary for survival, the majority still rely at least in part on spreadsheets for something as common as the system of record of business transactions. That contradiction led me to investigate just how well understood various technologies are, and whether value is perceived as real.

How Well Do You Understand?

We are still actively collecting data from this year’s study, but at this point in time we’ve captured over 500 responses – enough to make some early observations. Participants represented a wide range of industries and companies of all sizes, from small to very large.

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. All respondents were asked about all 14, even though we realize some are more relevant to some industries than to others. Those shaded in the lighter green are primarily applicable to those making and/or moving a physical product, while those in the darker green are likely to be applied more universally.

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

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

There is a lot of data and insight buried in this table and there are countless different ways we can cut it and present it. One way of analyzing the data is to divide participants into two groups: those that have no familiarity or are only somewhat familiar with a technology, and those that understand it well. We presume those that have deployed or are deploying it fall into the latter category. Figure 1 depicts this dichotomy graphically.

Figure 1: Either you “get it” or you don’t

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

We seem to be all over the map here, with those that utilize increasingly large volumes of data to provide intelligence most well understood. And yet we don’t see a big uptake in terms of deployment (Figure 2). Only 10% to 20% have even begun deploying the technologies that are most well understood and many just don’t see the applicability to their business.

Figure 2: Deployment Lags Understanding

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Is this due to a lack of education or is it because they really don’t apply? I think it is a little of both. While I still want to do a deeper dive by industry, two preliminary data cuts told me a whole lot. First of all, those that fall into my category of “World Class” have a far greater knowledge and appreciation for these technologies. Just look at the difference in adoption rate (Figure 3) between World Class and All Others.

Figure 3: World Class Deploy More

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Note that I define World Class (the top 15%) through the results achieved since implementing the software that runs the business and progress against company goals. This is not a “world class company” as much as world class use of technology, although better use of technology very often correlates with better company performance in terms of growth and profits. So we’re not surprised to see a higher level of understanding and more adoption in companies that have achieved World Class status.

However, we also recognize that while deployment is about the company, understanding and perception of value is more about the individual. And this is where the second data cut was quite revealing. I looked at levels of understanding based on the age of the survey participants, the vast majority of which fell into the categories of Baby Boomers (23%), Gen Xers (53%) and Millennials (23%).

Figure 4: Millennials Understand Better

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

It is quite clear that the level of understanding of these technologies is inversely proportional to age. This doesn’t mean Millennials are smarter. They were simply born in an age where we rely on technology to make life easier, while Baby Boomers grew up doing things the hard way. In terms of seeing the value, Baby Boomers are definitely harder to convince.

As a Baby Boomer, I am skeptical of technology making us stupid and lazy. I see many examples of this in consumer technology. Smart refrigerators are the perfect example. A simple, online search came up with this:

The Samsung Family Hub fridge has a giant touchscreen built into one of its doors, complete with an app you can use to order groceries online. A line of cameras on the inside will send a picture to your phone when you’re out shopping. An app on the fridge for Samsung’s SmartThings smart home service will let you control your lights, your thermostat, and other connected products right from your refrigerator door.”

My reaction: Really? You need this to manage the inventory of your refrigerator? Are you constantly running out of milk? You can’t flip a light switch or remember to turn down the heat when you leave or go to bed? You want your refrigerator to do that? You really think you’ll save a measurable amount of energy by not having to open the door?

The reaction of my 28-year-old nephew? While he didn’t spring for the Samsung $5,000 model, he did buy a smart refrigerator.

The risk I face is overlooking something that will make a significant impact. The risk my nephew faces is spending too much for too little real value… while perhaps becoming stupid and lazy. But there is hope for both of us. I did invest in a video doorbell this past year, resulting in improved security. Not to mention the fact I actually know when someone is at the door even though my hearing isn’t what it used to be. And my nephew never runs out of milk now and still saved enough money to renovate his kitchen, increasing the resale value of his home.

The lesson for businesses to learn: educate yourself on the real value, but scrutinize the return on investment. Over the next few weeks and months, look for me to dive deeper into these different technologies for help in both areas.

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The Force was Strong at Autodesk University (#AU2015)

Attending Autodesk University (AU2015) is a pleasant change for me. First of all, it diverges a bit from my usual focus on ERP. But as I have been saying for years now, the footprint of ERP has been expanding to the point where it is hard to tell where ERP ends and other software categories begin. Indeed, many ERP players have ventured into design software (largely PLM solutions), data management, and more recently the Internet of Things (IoT), all of which lie squarely in Autodesk’s wheelhouse. And of course, while I don’t limit my writing or research to a particular industry, manufacturing (a key industry for Autodesk) is “home” for me.

I came to “know” Autodesk better a couple of years ago when I worked on a project with them as they partnered with NetSuite, integrating ERP and PLM. That partnership is still strong today, expanding into the area of configure, price, quote (CPQ), as well as IoT. AU2015 is a good opportunity to refresh my knowledge of and my relationship with Autodesk itself.

But that’s not the only reason why AU2015 is a pleasant change for me. Even more appealing: Being surrounded by a vibrant crowd of innovators that see technology as a potential game changer. It seems I spend a lot of my time these days convincing business leaders of that potential. Even those who might be innovators in their own fields seem to undervalue and underappreciate what technology can do for them in terms of the (back office and front office) software that runs the business. Even as their current software might keep them locked out from this competitive advantage, because they spent a lot of blood, sweat and tears (not to mention money) getting it up and running, they are simply reluctant to rip it out and replace it, often convincing themselves “they can’t” or “it’s not worth it.” It’s my job to convince them otherwise, showing them the potential for game-changing results. Innovation can’t reside exclusively in a silo all by itself. It needs to connect back to the people and the software running the business.

Many in the Autodesk community have already made the connection between technology and innovation. So it is very refreshing to see and hear so many business leaders chomping at the bit to take advantage of these new technologies in order to accelerate innovation and really change their own game. Company after company came on stage during the Innovation Forum within AU2015 with bright new ideas and applications for technology.

Companies like…

LMN Architects that actually took it upon itself to develop software to use in validating designs. Turning to its in-house LMN Tech Studio for its Cleveland Civic Center project, it developed a 3D digital model of the façade, using parametric modeling techniques to help them convert a hand sketch of the window pattern into a set of fabrication-ready glass and precast-concrete panels. The team used a 3D printer to print out the basic panel form, then used this as the basis for a plaster mold to generate its own complete scale model. Tech Studio set a new standard for team wide collaboration and completely redefined the role of technology in design. As a result, they were able to complete the Cleveland Civic Center project in just 3.5 months (a typical project is 13 months).

JE Dunn Construction also developed a tool in house (called LENS), not for design, but for estimating. LENS allows you to develop a full estimate based on a simple sketch.

GE FirstBuild (yes even old dogs can develop new tricks!) is a partnership between GE and Local Motors formed to “create a new model for the appliance industry, engaging a community of industrial designers, scientists, engineers, makers and early adopters to address some of the toughest engineering challenges and innovations. FirstBuild will then manufacture those designs in its Microfactory for rapid product introduction and iteration.” Its first ever Appliance Hackathon developed 5 new prototype appliances. And as GE’s product evangelist Taylor Dawson (@J_TaylorDawson) said on stage, “A prototype is worth a thousand meetings.” Amen!

These are just a small sampling of companies, ranging from very small, early stage startups to large enterprises taking an innovative approach to using the software, services and platforms Autodesk provides. And it’s not just companies that are innovating. Matt Flail and Tim Ganter, industrial design students at Philadelphia University’s masters program came on stage to describe how they are taking a giant step beyond custom orthotics (the kind that fit inside shoes.) Instead they are making the whole shoe, using 3D scanning and 3D printing to create completely customized footwear that is made to conform exactly to the wearer’s needs. Their thesis project is called FOOTPRINT: 3D Printed Custom Algorithmic Footwear and their goal is to produce cutting edge shoes by incorporating 3D scanning, algorithmic model development, rapid manufacturing, and advanced textile technologies.

And Autodesk itself is no slouch when it comes to fostering innovation. There were several themes interwoven throughout the event to prove that. The overriding theme was “the future of making things.” To this end, Autodesk is on a mission to fuse three components that have previously been treated separately: Design, Make and Use. There are a lot of technical components here. We heard about generative design, and building intelligence and machine learning into smarter products. We heard about 3D printing, not just for printing trinkets, but some really valuable industrial and medical uses, from body parts to tooling. Attendees even assembled 3D printed hands with e-NABLE, a non-profit that provides customized 3D printed prosthetics for children.

So what is this fusion of design-make-use really all about? I think a quote from the stage really sums it up: “Stop trying to make people want what you make. Instead make what people want.” And recognize that people sometimes don’t know exactly what they want from a product until they use it. Therefore what people want continues to evolve as products are used. A smart product, connected through the cloud, can indeed continue to evolve even as it is being used.Storm-CHRON

This philosophy fit nicely into a fun kind of theme at Autodesk University – Star Wars. Complete with Storm Troopers!

Always drawn to fun analogies, I’ve picked up on the anticipated Star Wars craze in some of my recent writing (contact Lisa Lincoln at lisa@mintjutras.com if you are interested in learning more). A couple years ago I had fun with a Star Trek theme as I wrote about “Next Generation ERP” moving into the final frontier. But that concept of next generation software can be applied to a lot of different software categories.

Star Trek was all about sleek and futuristic technology, including starships that could travel at warp speed, transporter beams, (wireless) communication devices, weapons that could be placed on “stun,” and other electronic gadgetry that might not seem so futuristic today. But all these pieces of technology had something in common. They weren’t just cool to have; they served a real need -solved the right problem, perhaps?

The Star Wars franchise was (is?) better known for “the Force.” The Force was an energy that could be harnessed to perform supernatural feats and to amplify other common physical traits of speed and reflexes. Of course the original movie relied on some futuristic technology at the time, particularly in the use of robotic droids and space travel, but it was more about enhancing human performance. While we haven’t yet achieved the same level of progress in space travel, robotics don’t seem so futuristic today and in fact we saw them featured prominently on the AU2015 show floor. More importantly, the Force at AU2015 was really about enhancing the performance of people, products and organizations.

This supports a concept Autodesk CEO Carl Bass (@carlbass) emphasizes – one of “reframing.” He encouraged his audience to ask themselves: Are you solving the right problem? The example he used: Did you know there is a higher energy impact in making a car than driving it over its lifespan? So is reducing fuel consumption really the right problem to solve? I guess it is for the consumer paying at the pump, but maybe not so when you consider the greater good. But just asking the question is a giant step in the right direction.

But solving the right problems is going to be a group effort, which is why Autodesk is relentlessly building out the ecosystem, with more than just software and design tools.

 

Its cloud-based Forge ILogo_Colornitiative, announced during the event, is a three-pronged effort to transform how products are designed, made and used. The three major components include a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering, a robust developer program, and a $100 million investment fund. The components:

  • Platform-as-a-Service – The Forge Platform is a set of cloud services that span early stage design, engineering, visualization, collaboration, production and operations. Open application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs) enable small and large software developers alike to build intuitive solutions to real problems.
  • Developer Program – The Forge Developer Program will provide ongoing training, resources and support to the developer community. Autodesk will host an inaugural Forge Developer Conference next June.
  • Investment Fund – The Forge Fund will provide up to $100 million in funding, as well as business and technical support to start-ups that are working to deliver innovative solutions and services on or connected to the Forge Platform. This investment will be made over the next several years.

But of course for the Force to be strong, there must be at least the implication of some magic – remember those seemingly supernatural powers? For a company like Autodesk, I think the keys to unleashing this “magic” lies in harnessing data from the Internet of Things (IoT). As Mr. Bass points out, we are rapidly approaching a time when everything will have an IP address and everything is addressable. This opens the doors to a whole new level of understanding of how products perform and how they are used.

IoT is not a foreign concept to manufacturing. Manufacturers have been collecting enormous volumes of data from sensors on the shop floor for many years now. But much of that data has lain dormant because these manufacturers didn’t have the tools and technology to really harness it. Of course the most intuitive use cases for harnessing that data has been in maintenance. Don’t schedule downtime for unnecessary preventive maintenance. Don’t wait for products to fail. Predict failure and perform maintenance optimally based on data collected by the product itself.

In the future of making things, we need to apply this same concept to any kind of consumer, medical or industrial product, move it beyond maintenance and harvest that data to help us improve the products themselves, along with efficiencies that measure human performance. That means we need tools to make it easy to connect all these addressable sources of data. I think this must have been at least part of the consideration in Autodesk’s acquisition of SeeControl last summer, which resulted in the announcement of Autodesk SeeControl at AU2015.

From Autodesk:

The Internet of Things refers to the growing ecosystem of physical things embedded with electronics, software, and sensors that are connected to the Internet and to each other. When these things are products sold to end customers, manufacturers can gather and stream data about how they are being used to offer valuable insights, allowing them to respond to the needs of their markets and individual customers. Connected products also create new insights for the people who design and make them, helping companies better understand their use and improve them over time.

Autodesk SeeControl allows manufacturers to monitor how their product performs in the real world and use live data to optimize future versions. They can keep products running at peak levels, identify potential for failure before it happens and schedule maintenance downtime when it is least disruptive. Ultimately, manufacturers can bring their customers a level of enhanced services based on information about real world product performance and consumption.

Autodesk SeeControl is absolutely native to cloud and device agnostic. Most any protocol you encounter has been accommodated, but if you find a new one, Autodesk can add it generally within a couple of days. But even better, it requires no specific technical or programming skills to connect new devices. Most any business analyst or product manager can get in and do something meaningful with hardly any keying. Just point and click.

The connected product journey has begun – the journey to customer discovery, better next design, advanced services and product as a service.

In conclusion, whether you are looking to

  • Re-imagine the future of making things
  • Fuse the design – make – use processes with connected products
  • Solve the right problems or
  • Simply bring innovation to your business and your customers

…Know that the Force is strong at Autodesk. May the Force be with you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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