Judith Rothrock

UNIT4’s Next Generation ERP for Businesses Living in Change

Don’t BLiNC, Change is Coming at Warp Speed

In a recent report, ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier? we had some fun comparing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to the successful entertainment franchise, Star Trek and the voyages of the USS Enterprise. The starship Enterprise had at its disposal some amazing technology that allowed it to change course and even reverse direction immediately, while traveling at warp speed. Although Star Trek was, and still is science fiction, next generation, technology-enabled ERP solutions are very real. Yet few can turn on a dime and respond to business change at “faster-than-light” speed. UNIT4’s unique VITA architecture is the key to making Agresso Business World the exception. Not only is business change supported, minimizing the resultant cost and disruption, but changes can be made by those who best understand the business impact: the business users themselves.

What Makes an ERP Next Generation?

Not every ERP solution on the market today qualifies as a “next generation” ERP. While the depth and breadth of functionality has increased over the past three decades, that is not what makes a solution “next generation.” It is the underlying technology and the benefits it delivers. In UNIT4 terms, it is the VITA architecture.

Mint Jutras defines the next generation of ERP in terms of new technology that enables:

  • new ways of engaging with ERP
  • more innovation
  • custom configuration without programming
  • better integration

UNIT4 adds another dimension to this definition with its unique ability to aid companies in adapting when changes in their business occur as a result of new financial or regulatory requirements, organizational restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, or new or changed business processes.

Unless you are a technologist (and most business executives are not), you might not know or care about that underlying technology. But it is dangerous to ignore it, largely because of what it can and should deliver. You don’t know how the USS Enterprise achieved warp speed, but you know that it could. You don’t know how the transporter beam worked, but you know what happened when Captain Kirk said, “Beam me up, Scottie.” You don’t need to know how the underlying platform allows UNIT4 to support business change quickly and easily, but for those dealing with an accelerating pace of change (and who isn’t today?), it is important to understand that it does.

While it is less important to know how technology works than it is to know what it can do for you, understanding a few of the supporting concepts certainly helps distinguish between those that really support change and those that simply profess to.

UNIT4’s VITA architecture is a layered architecture that tightly integrates three components: data management, process modeling and delivery of information (analytics and reporting). This concept of component architecture is not unique. Most modern service-oriented architectures today will support a presentation layer (user interface), an object-oriented data model representing standard business objects (think of a customer or an order as a business object) and business logic. This business logic might be a combination of hard-coded programs and externally defined business rules.

To understand how UNIT4 is unique, consider what needs to happen when a business process changes. In first generation ERP, this always meant mucking around in the source code. In next generation ERP, a process change might or might not mean modifying source code. It might just mean changing some business rules. But it also might mean a change to the data model. And it is very likely it will mean a change to the presentation layer to modify what the user sees. That’s potentially a change to each of the individual layers or components. With UNIT4 you make a single change and it is permeated throughout all the necessary components of the solution.

Even in other next generation ERP solutions, the information technology (IT) staff generally needs to implement the changes. But with UNIT4, these changes are implemented through a graphical user interface (GUI) and can generally be done by a business user. Of course, if the business user can implement them, we’re not talking source code modifications. We’re talking about customizing the configuration without programming, one of the hallmarks of a next generation ERP. Some changes will require some knowledge of the system, but others are simply accomplished by an intuitive drag and drop. Which brings us to the first of the four requirements for next generation ERP…

New Ways of Engaging with ERP

Users of ERP used to be a pretty select bunch. First generation ERP required extensive education and training. And it was always easier to get data into ERP than to get answers out. Most executive decision-makers never laid their hands on ERP and had little knowledge or appreciation of how the data and the processes were organized. So they also had little appreciation for the impact change had on ERP implementations – change like that annual reorg or that new compliance requirement. More often than not, they simply blamed IT for being unresponsive or difficult.

One approach might be to educate those executives as to why change should take so long to be reflected in an application like ERP. After all, ERP essentially runs your business. But that’s not the approach UNIT4 has taken. It has instead eliminated the delay with a “do it yourself” approach. Here’s an example:

Let’s say a reorganization is planned at the end of the quarter which requires many changes in the personnel reporting structure. Groups or individuals might be reassigned to new departments. Perhaps entirely new departments must be created. Think about how that change might be implemented in your own organization, with your current software.

Perhaps all the changes get made on paper first. After all, some of them might be sensitive or confidential. And you can’t really “touch” the employee records until the date of the reorg anyway. The big day rolls around and this paper probably gets turned over to an administrator. And then it is a mad scramble to implement the changes. Murphy’s Law says in the rush something won’t be reflected properly and it will probably take a couple of pay/reporting periods to get corrections made.

Wouldn’t it be nice to instead get all the changes lined up, checked and double-checked, without having to turn them over to administrators that have no involvement in the decisions? Wouldn’t it be nice to have them magically take effect on the prescribed day?

Picture this: The decision-makers bring up a visual representation of the current org chart in a planning meeting. They create a new “leg” in the tree structure. They drag and drop groups from one department to another. They might do it by role first and then move some individuals separately as they tweak the new structure. As they discuss the changes either immediately or over a period of time, they continue to refine the organizational structure. On the big day the changes become effective automatically.

That’s what can happen with UNIT4’s new user interface (UI). These decision-makers don’t have to “figure out” ERP. They just need to “figure out” the structure of the organization.

UNIT4 also intends to add social collaboration capabilities in October 2013, opening up yet another avenue for engaging with ERP. These new collaboration capabilities will allow any user of UNIT4 to connect and be connected to other employees with similar skills, roles and reporting, interests and experience. This is most valuable as organizational reporting structures change as a result of reorgs or mergers and acquisitions when old and familiar ties in the organization may be disrupted.

This new UI is the culmination of a focused effort over a period of four years, starting with an extensive research project. Throughout the project, UNIT4 interviewed users and observed how they interacted with ERP. The research focused on how people work, the processes they complete and the flow of work. It included people in different age groups, people with different jobs, playing different roles. It included people from around the world, primarily in service-based organizations, which is UNIT4’s target market. And service-based businesses have seen more than their fair share of change and the pace of that change continues to accelerate.

The resulting user interface was then incorporated into a new release concept that UNIT4 calls Experience Packs. In fact Experience Packs are not entirely new, but the way UNIT4 is delivering them and the innovation contained therein is both new and very “next generation.”

More Innovation, Easier to Consume

UNIT4’s Experience Packs eliminate the “all or nothing” approach to innovation that is common for enterprise applications. One problem that has plagued software vendors for decades is the fact that they could often deliver innovation a lot faster than their customers could consume it.

Generally speaking, even though most new features are delivered as optional, customers still need to take on a new release in its entirety, and then decide which of the new features to turn on. This upgrade process can be both costly and disruptive and therefore according to the 2013 Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study, almost one in five companies (18%) are likely to skip releases and another 10% never upgrade, leaving new innovation unused.

Experience Packs are delivered in such a way as to allow UNIT4 customers to pick and choose what new innovation they will implement and when. The first wave of Experience Packs includes People Planner and Project Planner, both targeting professional services organizations. Also available is Organizational Modeler, highlighted above. UNIT4 plans to release new Experience Packs every four months. The next wave will feature expenses, time, tasks, absence and travel requests and will be launched in the fall of 2013.

This approach allows UNIT4 to deliver more innovation, faster, while also making it easier for its users to consume it. These Experience Packs can be further enhanced with a series of UNIT4 mobile apps. Many say that the modern cell phone was inspired by Star Trek’s tricorders that allowed crew members to communicate even after they had been beamed to another planet. While employees have yet to venture to other planets, they do need to stay connected even when they are half a world away. Even as we become less and less tethered to a wired connection, we become more and more tethered to the business. UNIT4 mobile apps, natively built for IOS and Android devices, are designed to enrich UNIT4 Agresso Business World ERP and “increase the comfort and efficiency for users,” ensuring they are able to take full advantage of future developments in mobile technology.

Summary

Do you need to change course and even reverse direction immediately, while your business is traveling at warp speed? If you are a business living in change yet still struggling with a first generation ERP solution, change itself may appear to be coming at you at warp speed. Being able to accommodate that change through easy and rapid (non-coding) adjustments rather than exhaustive code modifications may seem as likely as traveling to the far reaches of the galaxy.

  • Changes implemented by business users?
  • Executives that actually put their hands on ERP, working collaboratively with other decision-makers?
  • Business users taking action from mobile devices?
  • The ability to selectively implement new innovation without a long upgrade process?

If this all sounds like the stuff of science fiction, then take a look at UNIT4. You may be surprised to find, the future is now.

 

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SYSPRO’s Next Generation ERP: 7-on-7

 

SYSPRO 7 Addresses 7 Manufacturing Market Demands

In a recent report, Mint Jutras described the next generation of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) in terms of better technology to deliver a new customer experience, custom configuration without programming, more innovation and better integration. You might think that ERP vendors must reinvent themselves or their products in order to offer up a next generation ERP. Companies reinvent themselves by acquiring other companies and technology, and/or scrapping the development of legacy applications in favor of writing new ones from scratch, new ones that take years to mature.  But if you think these are the only ways to deliver next generation ERP, then you don’t know much about SYSPRO. SYSPRO has been around since 1978, but unlike most of the rest of the ERP world, still offers a single ERP which it has evolved to meet all the requirements of next generation ERP, but has done so using an approach that is unique to SYSPRO.

In the aforementioned report ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier? we had some fun comparing ERP to the successful entertainment franchise, Star Trek. Like Star Trek, SYSPRO ERP is a long-running classic. Star Trek, The Next Generation debuted 21 years after the original series first aired. SYSPRO’s next generation ERP took a little longer, 24 years after the company was founded.  It was introduced in 2001 in response to what SYSPRO calls the “Extended Enterprise.” And the parallels don’t stop there.

The original Star Trek crew had a five-year mission to explore new worlds, travelling on the USS Enterprise. Early ERP often was viewed as a five-year investment. The new and evolved starship Enterprise in The Next Generation had an open-ended “continuing mission” to explore “space: the final frontier… to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.” ERP investments today are also seen as a “continuing mission” and SYSPRO views itself on a mission to make its installed base customers for life, helping mid-market manufacturers and distributors to explore new worlds and seek out life after traditional ERP in what has certainly become a strange new world.

SYSPRO 7 is the most recent of many steps along SYSPRO’s continuous journey, more a constant reinvention than the sudden birth of a new generation. While many limit beta testing to a very small sample of customers, a community of 600 early adopters has now tested this release.

Let’s take a look at the SYSPRO “7-on-7” approach to meeting new market demands. The seven categories of advances cited by this community align quite closely to the next generation requirements in ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier:

  1. New personalized customization and role-based optimization
  2. New advanced functionality (like rapid sales order entry)
  3. New device agnostic mobile capabilities
  4. New industry templates for vertical markets (food, medical devices, electronics, machinery/equipment)
  5. New data integration and toolsets that address the “big 3” issues of big data; volume, velocity and variety
  6. New extended scalability to increase transaction throughput and transaction values including (optional) expanded field sizes
  7. New and more powerful server side reporting solutions that speed processing and simplify the embedding of external data

Defining the SYSPRO Customer Experience

When most software vendors talk about the customer experience, you find them talking about the experience of using the software. Today that discussion starts with the user interface (IU) and then goes on to include web-based and mobile access. This “experience” is influenced heavily by the supposed “consumerization of IT.” Certainly with the introduction of so many consumer applications, largely offered on smart phones and tablets, we have all become more demanding of user interfaces. Nobody has to read a manual to figure out a consumer app and we all make the assumption that we shouldn’t have to read a manual to figure out ERP either.

So many solution providers of next generation ERP have redesigned how their customers engage with ERP, making it a “social” (or “Facebook-like”) experience, typically taking a “Gen-Y” perspective and often guessing at what their customers and prospects really want. But here’s the challenge: ERP is not a consumer app. ERP runs your business. And quite frankly, there aren’t too many mid-market manufacturers and distributors that are run by Millennials of Generation Y. So sometimes these approaches don’t resonate with those making the business decisions.

SYSPRO takes a completely different approach to “the customer experience.” Instead of focusing exclusively on how its customers engage with SYSPRO ERP, it looks first and foremost at how those customers engage with SYSPRO, the company.  Many companies talk about customer satisfaction and listening to the voice of the customer, but for SYSPRO, this is deeply embedded in its corporate culture. As a result, the customers have a profound influence over what SYSPRO then delivers by way of the user experience with the product. No guesswork is involved; no wondering how new engagement models designed for Gen-Y folks will be received by the Baby Boomer and Generation X executives at the helm.

This distinction is not lost on its customers. Vann Spices of Baltimore, MD has been a SYSPRO customer since 2009. Being in the food industry, the company had a long list of system requirements including lot sourcing and product traceability. Because it differentiates itself with custom mixes, it needs to be agile and have a firm grip on available ingredients, ordering, scheduling and billing. It has a variety of direct and indirect sales channels in premium markets like New York, Washington DC and San Francisco, plus website sales.

Mick Whitlock, Vann Spices’ president sums it up well: “It’s not just the lot traceability, reporting, UI and food safety certification controls that matter – as good as they are at SYSPRO.  What’s equally and potentially even more valuable to us, is that I always know the SYSPRO team has my back.  The company executives and its service partners consistently show that they have my best interests at heart and will do whatever is necessary to keep my business running efficiently, no matter what happens.

“You ask a small company what that is worth – and they will tell you:  everything.  It’s worth everything.  Because without a technology partner like that, software is just software.“

That said, the software is still important and if the software isn’t easy to use, employees will spend more time and effort working around the system than with it, and executives will avoid it completely. They will rely on subordinates for data for decision making because they don’t have time to figure ERP out. Yet as executives carry more and more mobile devices, expecting to stay connected wherever they are, they become more impatient waiting for data.

New options for the user interface provided in SYSPRO 7 reflect this growing impatience. Custom-configured dashboards, including a choice of graphical representations of key performance indicators (KPIs) are presented in one or more tiles on the screen, much like those provided by other software vendors. But SYSPRO has gone one step further and made those tiles active (they refresh dynamically as data changes) and touch controlled (touch a bar or a wedge on a pie chart to drill down for more detail). They can be presented on any device, using any mobile platform and can be extensively personalized or customized.

These not-so-subtle differences are supported by the Microsoft standards on which the software is based and the use of HTML5 and XML, which might not mean much to your average business executive. But more importantly, these differences come from its intimate relationship with its customers, knowing how they think and what they want.

Customization versus Configuration

“Customizing” ERP can mean many different things and today configuration is often confused with customization. As noted in ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier, customization used to mean mucking around in source code, resulting in hard-coded logic that was difficult to change. Source code modifications also made it difficult to keep up with updates and upgrades offered by your ERP vendor. If you couldn’t take advantage of innovation delivered, you were essentially letting some of your maintenance dollars go to waste. And as ERP (and your competitors) moved forward, you were stuck.

But SYSPRO has long stayed ahead of the pack when it comes to configuration rather than customization. SYSPRO introduced the concept of UI-centric power tailoring several years before this type of configuration capability became mainstream.  It knew its customers didn’t have big budgets for customization and didn’t want to leave them stranded on older versions as new innovation was delivered.

In spite of being a relatively small company, Vann Spices serves very large customers and hence has the same ERP requirements of a large manufacturer. Yet it doesn’t have the deep pockets of a large company. Mick Whitlock believes this is one reason why SYSPRO ERP can satisfy those needs. “The user interface is incredibly easy to use and tailor to our specific needs. It feels just like we built it specifically for our own company and our own purposes.”

More Innovation, Easier Integration

More innovation implies more features and functions. But an extended functional footprint isn’t what makes any ERP “next generation”. The underlying technology infrastructure does. While business executives often know little and care less about the underlying technology, they do care about the value it brings. And it is that technology that also aids in accelerating the development of new features and functions.

When SYSPRO first introduced its next generation ERP, it also introduced the concept of business objects, modern component architecture and a separate presentation layer. It is not important for the typical business user to understand this from a purely technical perspective. The crew of the Enterprise didn’t necessarily understand how chief engineer Scott’s transporter beam worked. But each and every crewmember knew what it did and what “Beam me up, Scottie” meant. Every businessperson using ERP needs to understand what technology can bring to the ERP party or the potential will remain vastly unrealized.

Presentation Layer

By separating the presentation layer from the source code, modifications can be made without impacting the rest of the system (think different languages, company-specific terminology, adding removing fields from a screen, etc.).

Business Objects

If you are not sure what a business object might be: In the context of ERP, a customer is a business object. But as a business object, a customer isn’t just a record in a master file. It also includes the maintenance functions, validation and controls.

Component Architecture

SYSPRO has coupled business objects with modern component architecture in order to be able to develop reusable building blocks on which additional SYSPRO modules or even custom applications can be built. If you need to add a customer relationship management (CRM) solution to SYSPRO ERP, you don’t need to create an entirely new (and different) customer master or programs to maintain it. You simply re-use the existing object. And you bolt the new CRM solution onto your existing ERP in such a way that it all looks, feels and behaves like a single integrated solution. Indeed SYSPRO offers CRM and it looks and behaves as an integral part of the broader solution.

But if you don’t need CRM (yet), ERP will not suffer from its not being there. You still have your customer master file and all the functions necessary to maintain it. Or perhaps you already have a different CRM. It is not unusual for small companies to invest in CRM even before a full-blown ERP solution. If you need to integrate with another third party application, as long as that other application can map to standard business objects, it too can be easily bolted on, data is synchronized and redundancy is reduced or eliminated. The same is true for any new custom-developed applications.

SYSPRO Release 7 includes new functionality, beyond the added features and flexibility of the new user interface. Release 7 builds on this flexibility by also including industry templates. Those in medical device industries might want to see the lot and/or serial number on every screen.  But unless you are in the food industry, you don’t want to see specific gravity or fat content. SYSPRO partners can pre-design the layout for an electronics manufacturer or a food processor. Or customers can fashion their own “customized” screens.

Achieving Warp Speed

To conquer the final frontier of ERP you need speed. The USS Enterprise had at its disposal amazing technology that allowed the starship to travel at warp speed, using a hypothetical faster-than-light propulsion system. While SYSPRO ERP can’t travel faster than the speed of light, the installation and upgrade processes have been re-engineered to move customers to this newest release faster, often in “one click”.

Once there, Release 7 has been enhanced for faster transaction throughput, supporting large transaction volumes and massive amounts of data from sensors, mobile devices and other external sources. Today these massive volumes must be structured but SYSPRO intends to include unstructured data (think Hadoop) in the future.

Summary

Star Trek was and is science fiction. To many, modern technology-enabled solutions might still seem the stuff of science fiction when in fact they are in production environments, producing results that are nothing short of amazing. What generation of ERP are you running today? Have you explored the world of very real possibilities recently? If not, are you missing out and losing ground in terms of competitive advantage?

Next generation ERP from SYSPRO is very real. If you are faced with the accelerating pace of business, growing volumes of data and higher customer expectations, but your current ERP solution has you stuck in the 20th century, maybe it is time to explore the final frontier. Consider joining the federation of SYSPRO customers for a new and improved ERP experience.

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UNIT4 Aims High in Education

Can Specialized Features for Advanced Research and Grant Management “Pull Along” ERP?

In a recent industry analyst roadshow engineered by the amazing efforts of Judith Rothrock of JRocket Marketing, UNIT4 announced the first of two phases of a new and improved, industry-specific solution for “education living in change.” This integrated solution specifically targets universities and institutions of higher learning. Why? Because these institutions have some very specific needs and UNIT4 has very specific answers to those needs, while also providing a more traditional “core” solution. Can these special solution components for advanced research and grant management, and “constituent” engagement management “pull along” accounting, human resource and other core Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) functions?

Why not? After all, the alternative is to first address these more basic functions with solutions and then go out and buy (or build) applications to manage functions not typically addressed by ERP… and never the twain shall meet. And yet these functions consume resources managed by ERP. While these different solutions might actually “talk” to each other, more often they are completely disparate, frequently homegrown and not integrated, resulting in duplicate or redundant data and efforts. And let’s face it, once basic accounting and human resource needs are met, some colleges and universities just never get around to addressing these other functions with formal solutions that extend beyond the desktop and the ubiquitous spreadsheet.

Most any ERP solution can meet the accounting needs of higher education. Universities make purchases, pay suppliers, send invoices, collect cash and reconcile financial statements just like any commercial or non-profit organization. In many ways, this feature functionality has truly become a commodity. And there has also been a proliferation of human resource management applications (embedded in ERP and stand-alone).

Yet while accounting and human resource applications can lead to internal performance improvements, they seldom provide institutions of higher education with a competitive edge. However, in our post-recession, increasingly competitive, knowledge-based global economy, how colleges and universities go after grants and how well they manage the activities associated with those grants, namely their advanced research, can indeed differentiate them in the field of higher learning, making them more attractive to potential students and supporters. Using general-purpose project management solutions doesn’t necessarily cut it.

These advanced features for advanced research and grant management will be launched in the second quarter of 2013, to be followed by additional functionality for constituent engagement management. Constituents include existing and prospective students and faculty, as well as the surrounding community of companies and professional organizations. With a different twist to more traditional customer relationship management (CRM), this additional module will provide a single aggregated source for managing these relationships.

Advanced Research and Grant Management

This new module provides functionality designed specifically to support pre-award and post-award grant management, and also manage research projects. It takes an integrated approach to managing the entire grant/research life cycle from proposal submission to publication. The result is increased transparency to the research approval cycle in order to better identify accuracy, project trends and the success of research activity. It also provides accurate costing models and fully integrates with financial reporting, extending the control delivered by ERP to the bursar’s office to the research process.

While research teams are seldom exposed to enterprise applications such as ERP, recent efforts by the UNIT4 team to provide a new and improved user experience to all its solutions should make interacting with the solution an intuitive and enjoyable experience. At the same time administrators will be well equipped to make better-informed decisions.

Constituent Engagement Management

This proposed addition is being designed to answer anticipated questions posed by prospective and existing students, including those at the post-graduate level. The overall goal is to help the university to attract, engage and retain these students. While most enterprise applications destined for the post-secondary education market are tailored for administrators, UNIT4’s approach is tailored to both the interests of the students, as well as industry relationships: businesses, professional organizations and the community at large. It does this by embedding the same social media capabilities that are becoming woven into the fabric of the student society. As social media insinuates itself into businesses and professional organizations, this will be an important aspect that helps “social” mean “business.” By replicating the same improved UNIT4 user experience across all its applications, it will incorporate solutions into a more social model, supporting better collaboration and increased visibility and transparency.

Is the World Ready for this Strategy?

“Basics first” has long been the default standard for satisfying the needs of any organization, whether it operates in the world of business or the slightly different world of education. Because many of these needs (like payments and invoicing and general accounting) are quite generic, a lot of the ERP-based solutions start to look quite similar. In fact many have begun to view ERP as a commodity.

There is a hidden danger in making this assumption if you simply assume any ERP will meet your basic needs and you don’t ask the hard “show me” kind of questions during the evaluation. More than one organization has been caught by this, assuming the solution meets all the basic needs, when in fact it has some functional gaps or is simply so hard to use that users spend more time working around the system than with it.

But indeed, there are many good solid solutions out there that do indeed satisfy the basics. Much like a utility that provides electricity, natural gas, water or telephone service to your home, as long as you stick to a truly proven provider, you can safely assume your basic needs will be met. You wouldn’t trust these basic services to some “fly by night” company, but you would – and do – trust one with a good track record, and it probably doesn’t really matter to you which one you use, providing service continues uninterrupted. Using one over another doesn’t add more market value to your home or even make your life any easier.

But adding a home security system, or stunning landscaping does add value. In fact, in purchasing a new home, those differentiating characteristics are more likely the reason you bought the house to begin with. Of course you need electricity to power that security system. And you need water to keep that landscaping stunningly beautiful. But those basics just “came along with” the purchase. In other words, the differentiating factors pulled along the business to the electric company and those other utility providers.

So are organizations ready to treat ERP as a utility and realign the selection team to focus instead on the real “value add” that produces a strategic or competitive advantage? Early results from the first 300 respondents to the Mint Jutras 2013 ERP Solution Study would indicate that many are. More than half (56%) indicated they would indeed consider this “utility” approach to ERP, 27% are undecided and only 17% gave a firm “no.” If these results hold true then the concept of a niche kind of solution to an industry-specific problem does indeed have the potential of pulling along the underlying basics of ERP.

To some, the concept of a utility is immediately associated with “cloud” deployment. That, along with a subscription basis purchase is the most logical delivery option.

Those willing to consider ERP as a utility do not seem to object to that concept with 51% indicating either private or public cloud options might be considered, as long as security is proven. Some (28%) will only consider a private cloud, yet 43% were simply looking for a virtualized environment that would reduce or remove hardware requirements on-premise.

UNIT4 offers the solution both on-premise and as Software as a Service (SaaS). In fact one university in particular, a long time Agresso ERP customer, chose to convert its on-premise solution to the cloud. Sodertorn University, a forward-thinking Swedish college with 13,000 students and 850 employees started using Agresso ERP right from its inception in 1996. Five years later it was in rapid expansion mode, although it still had only one third of its current student population. Amidst this growth however, the administrative team sought to redeploy resources that had been purely supporting internal technology to programs that would directly benefit the student. As a result Sodertorn University became the first Agresso on-premise customer to move to a cloud environment.

It also began to treat its ERP solution as a utility, re-allocating and re-assigning headcount and redefining IT roles to focus on creating competitive advantage to the college. As a result of this, they also tracked the equivalent of more than $500,000 in cost savings and were better equipped to manage change.

Anna Sande, Systems Administrator for the college said, “We’ve had the twin change management realities of rapid student growth, interfacing with changing economic factors that are challenging to plan for. We’ve adjusted from one campus to three and then, in 2012, back to one large one again. We required zero external IT resource help to do it – the change capabilities of the UNIT4 architecture have supported our various decisions seamlessly.”

Education Living in Change

Ms. Sande’s quote brings us back to our opening paragraph referencing “education living in change.” This is a recognizable component of UNIT4’s mantra of embracing change and a variation on its recurring theme of providing solutions for businesses living in change (BLINC). Just like their commercial counterparts, colleges and universities face the reality of constrained resources, economic unpredictability, increased competition (for both students and grants), along with increased compliance requirements and government controls. At the same time, with rapid technology advances, current hardware and software and skills can become obsolete at an alarming rate.

The type of change experienced by Sodertorn University in terms of the expansion and contraction of campuses is certainly not unique. Cranfield University near London has also experienced extensive changes in funding, fees and technical requirements. “It is impossible to understate the massive changes we’ve been through in the past five or six years alone,” said Ian Sibbald, Director of Finance at the university. “Yet, even beyond the scope of mandatory financial, regulatory or economic change components supported by Agresso, the solution helps us to support our own internal process reviews.”

Cranfield University has been able to evaluate the consequences of and undertake a major campus consolidation, closing one of three and moving all academic activities back to the Cranfield campus. “All of this was easily done using Agresso, leaving just the physical building work and moves to be completed.”

Advanced research and grant management is not exempt from this type of change. Mr. Sibbald adds, “Each time a research grant is allocated differently than in the past, that’s a significant reporting change, which we can now support.” Currently Cranfield University is approaching £600,000 in savings with UNIT4 ERP software.

Summary

Higher education is not really a new target for UNIT4. It already supports over 400 institutions globally. Over the past 20 years it has amassed knowledge and experience and accumulated many customer testimonials. Sodertorn and Cranfield Universities are just two examples of educational institutions facing the challenge of change.

UNIT4 has responded by changing the game itself, adding new and specialized functionality not typically associated with an ERP solution. By addressing those areas it shifts the focus to that which can provide a unique competitive edge for their customers. And yet, no successful organization can afford to take its eye off the ball in supporting basic functions like accounting and human resource management. ERP is the basic utility that keeps the back office organized and efficient. So colleges and universities seeking to differentiate themselves will best be served by pulling those basics along. Selecting a single integrated solution and one that enables today’s accelerated rate of change makes it all that much easier to keep pace.

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What Analysts Want: Content with a Clear Message, JRocket Marketing Style

A couple of weeks ago I attended my 7th JRocket Marketing Grape Escape®. This year the theme was “Bewitched Grape Escape -2012” complete with a fortune teller, a living statue  of a witch, a reenactment of a Salem witch trial and a mock trial of our own with analysts as prosecutors pitted against enterprise application vendors SYSPRO, UNIT4 Agresso and CODA as defendants, with Judge Judy presiding.

As an analyst I have been to my share of analyst/influencer events, but I have to say this one is quite unique and one most of us wouldn’t miss. After all the wine, the food, the entertainment, the attention to detail… all top notch. Judith Rothrock (aka Judge Judy for the evening) is the mastermind behind this annual event and her event planning is legendary. In fact she does such a good job planning it that when she had a devastating accident and emergency surgery to reconstruct her hand a week before the event in 2011, it still went off without a hitch, even though she couldn’t attend.

OK, so I do like the wine and the food and the entertainment, but that’s not the only reason I make sure I get this on my calendar every June, as well as the roadshows that she plans every December. You see: she runs these events and roadshows on behalf of several of her clients – usually two or three enterprise application solution providers. Judith provides services including complete positioning, market planning and training, but among the analyst community she is best known for her JRocket Marketing Nitro™ 12-month analyst program.

As analysts we deal with “analyst relations” all the time. We also sit through a lot of presentations, summits and briefings, both over the phone and in person. What analysts actually do varies from firm to firm, as does the business model we operate under. But there is one consistent theme for any analyst. Our time is our most precious commodity. And the sub-theme is: Please don’t waste it. What we see and hear at summits, events and briefings runs the gamut from “well planned, with lots of content” to “why are we here?”

We wonder why we’re here when there doesn’t seem to be any real content, when there always seems to be an inconsistent “message du jour”, when the message is unclear or when the conversation strays off course. Of course, on the other hand, some analysts are pretty good at steering the spokesperson off his or her charted course… but not with Judith in the room. Judith runs a tight ship when it comes to staying on message and if her clients start to wander, she engineers a course correction immediately.  The messaging is clear and targeted; announcements are well-planned, clear and concise and spokespeople always stay “on message.”

That’s what analysts want – even better with the flair of a JRocket Marketing event.

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UNIT4 Agresso Sparks a Debate Over Multi-tenant SaaS

 

Looking Beyond The Label to The Real Value Add

On June 28, 2012, UNIT4, a global enterprise software provider, sparked a debate by announcing that its Agresso Business World ERP has been accredited by Technology Evaluation Centers (TEC) as “reinventing cloud multi-tenancy.” UNIT4 has broken free from the traditional multi-tenant model of housing all clients’ data in a shared database, partitioned for privacy and security. While all clients share a single instance of the software, each has its own database. The debate? Is this non-traditional approach really multi-tenant? In the world of enterprise applications labels have become important because unless you can check the right boxes, you don’t get invited to the party. But a word of caution: Look beyond the label to the real value delivered.

Understanding the Labels

There is still much confusion over cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS) delivery models and much of this confusion is regarding the issue and definition of multi-tenancy. Some industry observers make it a prerequisite for “true SaaS.” Others put further restrictions on it and create their own brand of SaaS.

Cloud versus SaaS

Many use the terms “cloud” and “SaaS” interchangeably, but there are some important differences. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is often quoted as an authority on such definitions. NIST defines cloud computing as:

“…a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources—for example, networks, servers, storage, applications and services—that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”

It goes on to describe five essential characteristics, three service models, and four deployment models. SaaS is one of the service models (the deployment models are private, community, public and hybrid.) NIST’s Cloud Computing Synopsis and Recommendations goes on (for 81 pages) to describe many different facets of cloud, but it is clear that cloud and SaaS are not synonymous or interchangeable.

For our purposes here, let’s simplify the distinction between cloud and SaaS in the context of enterprise applications:

  • Cloud refers to access to computing, software, storage of data over a network (generally the Internet.) You may have purchased a license for the software and installed it on your own computers or those owned and managed by another company, but your access is through the Internet and therefore through the “cloud,” whether private or public or any flavor in between.
  • SaaS is exactly what is implied by the acronym. Software is delivered only as a service. It is not delivered on a CD or other media to be loaded on your own (or another’s) computer. It is accessed over the Internet and is generally paid for on a subscription basis. It does not reside on your computers at all.

All SaaS is cloud computing, but not all cloud computing is SaaS.

Multi-tenancy

Some industry observers would have you believe that enterprise applications must be multi-tenant in order to qualify as SaaS or even cloud computing. Some refer to NIST to support that belief. Indeed one of NIST’s five essential characteristics of cloud computing is resource pooling.

The provider’s computing resources are pooled to serve multiple consumers using a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand.”

Those insisting on multi-tenancy make the assumption that the application and the database must be among those pooled resources. But NIST doesn’t even list the application in its examples of pooled resources. NIST does list as examples: storage, processing, memory, and network bandwidth. Storage of course could be interpreted as the database, but it also could be interpreted to be the storage devices housing the database(s). So NIST doesn’t insist on the application (or the database) being shared among multiple tenants in order to be considered either cloud computing or SaaS.  But in order to be multi-tenant, there does need to be some resource pooling.

While definitions might vary, Mint Jutras has always distinguished between multi-tenant and single-tenant (also referred to as multi-instance) as follows:

  • Multi-tenant SaaS: Multiple companies use the same instance of hosted software; configuration settings, company and role-based access personalize business processes and protect data security.
  • Single-tenant (or Multi-instance) SaaS: Each company is given its own instance of the (hosted) software, but may share common services, such as an integration platform, and security.

The Debate

Indeed the debate over multi-tenancy seems to be fueled entirely by industry observers and the solution providers. In fact some vendors keep the debate going by accusing other vendors of offering “false cloud” solutions. Their definition of a “false cloud” seems to be any cloud offering that is delivered differently than their own. As with other technology-based debates, end users (those actually subscribing to SaaS solutions), especially line of business executives, often don’t understand the difference between multi- and single-tenancy and don’t seem to care. But they do care about the value delivered by the different options.

Up until now UNIT4 has not actively engaged in this debate, preferring instead to focus entirely on what it feels is the model that delivers the most value to its customers. However, with this announcement, it finds itself squarely in the middle of it whether it wants to be or not.

The Value of Multi-tenancy

So what is the added value delivered through multi-tenancy? The value to the solution provider is clear. It is far easier and more cost-effective to manage one version of the software, rather than a separate instance for each customer. Presumably the added efficiency allows the solution provider to focus more resources on improving the technology and developing more features and functions, which directly benefits its customers. That translates to more frequent and more robust updates, hopefully as “opt-in” enhancements. After all, the customer may not be ready to consume the new features on the same timetable as they are delivered.

Of course simply because the solution provider offers a multi-tenant solution doesn’t guarantee updates will be either more frequent or more robust. Those offering both SaaS and on-premise solutions (and this includes UNIT4) also need to be cognizant of the clients that manage their own upgrade process.

Is there a perceived downside to multi-tenancy? Yes, there can be. The Mint Jutras 2011 Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Solution Study explored both the appeal of SaaS ERP as well as concerns over this deployment option.

While the upgrade process is viewed by many on the plus side of the SaaS equation (48% see reduced cost and effort of upgrades and 39% value more leading edge technology through more frequent updates), some actually view it negatively. Twenty-six percent (26%) of respondents expressed the concern that they were losing control. Indeed in a multi-tenant environment, the customer typically has little control over the timing of the upgrades. However is there really a negative impact? If the solution provider bears the burden of the effort associated with upgrading and innovation is delivered in such a way that the customer may optionally choose to take advantage of an enhancement – or not – then there is no down-side and a lot of up-side.

In many cases “We want to control our own upgrade process” actually translates to “We don’t have time” or “We don’t want the disruption of an upgrade.” And yet by not keeping current on the latest release of the software you are essentially letting your maintenance dollars go to waste.

Of course in a SaaS environment, those would be your subscription dollars. Even though upgrades at first might feel like a forced march, that forced march is actually good for you. All bug fixes and regulatory requirements are in place. When you are ready to turn on the new functionality, it will be there. So the combination of frequent updates and this “opt in” capability is an important characteristic by which you should evaluate potential solutions.

The perception of the need for customization may also cause companies to shy away from a multi-tenant environment. In fact 25% of our survey respondents indicated the requirement for heavy customization would prevent them from considering SaaS altogether. Yet there are many different ways of “customizing” a solution today and not all of them involve source code changes or present barriers to a multi-tenant SaaS solution.

This is where Agresso Business World’s Vita architecture comes in. UNIT4 specifically targets what it calls Businesses Living IN Change (BLINC) by designing its solution to enable those organizations to embrace change simply, quickly and cost-effectively. This means adapting the solution without the kind of source code changes that can be troublesome in a multi-tenant environment. The Vita architecture dynamically couples data, business processes and the delivery methodology to move forward in lockstep even if the very structure of the organization changes resulting from merger and acquisition, restructuring, new or changed business processes, compliance requirements or financial management driven change.

But what about the database?

Notice the Mint Jutras definition of multi-tenant does not reference the database at all, even though traditionally most solution providers offering multi-tenant solutions co-mingle multiple clients’ data in a single, partitioned database. But the real value of this is not in the co-mingling of the data but in having a single definition of the structure of the data. In this way, the single instance of the software can always find the data it is looking for in the same way.

Think about it like floors in a hotel. The layout is and configuration of rooms is the same from floor to floor. The bathrooms are always located in the same spot and laid out the same way so that the plumbing can run in a straight line through the various floors. The same is true for the heating and air conditioning. This makes for easier maintenance as well. But each room is separate and secured from all the other rooms, not just with a partition, but also with a locked door.

Each Agresso Business World SaaS client has its own database, separate and secure, but all share the same definition and structure. This creates the benefit of portability and security without compromising the multi-tenant advantage of a single instance of the software. The issue of portability becomes important in the event a client decides to move from a SaaS deployment to on-premise.

But security is an issue all by itself. The Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study confirmed that security is still the top concern in considering a SaaS deployment option. Mint Jutras would agree that every company implementing any enterprise application, and especially those including the financial system of record for the business, should be concerned about security. But everyone should be concerned over security, regardless of deployment option.

Many assume an on-premise solution is inherently more secure than a cloud-based SaaS solution. But is it? Unless your data center is completely contained with no possibility of access from outside the four walls of your building you could be vulnerable to unauthorized access. That means no VPN access. It means no external consultant or guest ever connects his or her laptop to your network. It means no laptop ever leaves the building to be potentially connected to any other network, then brought back and connected to yours. There aren’t too many installations, if any, like this in the world today.

So would you rather secure your own data, or have a company whose livelihood and very existence depends on security, one that has passed a SAS 70II audit, secure it?

Furthermore, recent news suggesting that more than 236,000 LinkedIn passwords may have been compromised reminds us that even the most highly visible and tightly secured cloud based data can be vulnerable. A report from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC) notes 535 breaches during 2011, involving 30.4 million sensitive records. Records leaked may have contained information such as Social Security numbers, financial account numbers, driver’s license numbers and medical information.

So if these kinds of security breaches are possible, which is a safer environment? One in which a thief needs only hack into a single partitioned database to have access to the data of potentially thousands companies? Or one in which a thief would have to hack into thousands of individual databases?

Conclusions and Key Takeaways

The debate over true SaaS and multi-tenancy is likely to continue as long as solution providers offer different flavors and various industry observers form different opinions. If you simplify the definitions of cloud and SaaS, as well as those of multi-tenancy and single-tenancy you find many of the arguments about what is “true” SaaS disappear.

However there are some real benefits to a multi-tenant environment, benefits UNIT4’s approach with Agresso Business World takes advantage of. The rewards of multi-tenancy are in the ability to manage shared resources in an efficient and cost effective manner, particularly when these efficiencies result in more frequent and robust enhancements. These advantages are not compromised by allowing each SaaS client its own database, providing the definition and structure remains consistent. And in doing so, portability and security is enhanced.

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SYSPRO: Changing the Way Products are Bought and Sold

 

By Manufacturers, Distributors, Retailers & SYSPRO Too

On June 28, 2012, SYSPRO, a developer of award-winning enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, made two announcements, seemingly unrelated, but both driven by an undercurrent of change. The change is in the way products are bought and sold. More and more today manufacturers and distributors have at least one sales channel where they eliminate the middleman, by-passing the retailer and selling directly to the consumer.  This places new demands on the business at the point of sale, demands typically not addressed by ERP. SYSPRO’s response is a fully integrated Point of Sale (POS) solution that will provide manufacturers and distributors a single solution to manage business information, store operations, customer-focused POS, inventory optimization and merchandizing along with ERP.

At the same time, SYSPRO itself is engaging in a new way of selling. In a world where you hear more and more, “There’s an app for that” SYSPRO is opening its own SYSPRO App Store: an open marketplace where eventually thousands of solutions will be available to extend and complement the value of its ERP solution. Partners benefit from a broader reach with minimal investment in infrastructure and customers benefit from the easily accessible added value.

Two Worlds Converge

When it comes to managing the sale of goods, retail and manufacturing are typically worlds apart. In retail, at the point of sale you deal with cash, check or debit/credit card; the customer walks away with goods in hand and inventory is depleted. In manufacturing you process your customer’s purchase order, create a sales order and subsequently ship and invoice, relieving inventory and creating accounts receivable. Later you receive cash and apply the cash receipt against accounts receivable either on an open item or a cash balance basis.

Receiving cash in a traditional point of sale (POS) system in a retail environment is easy. Managing an open account is more difficult. For a manufacturer or distributor using an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, managing accounts and accounts receivable is standard practice. Processing a cash sale is more difficult.

In a retail environment, the cash in the drawer is reconciled against the sales recorded at the end of the day. In a manufacturing or distribution environment shipments, invoices and cash receipts are reconciled at the end of the month. Yet in all cases, everything must be posted to the general ledger in order to create a balance sheet and profit and loss statement.

So what happens when a manufacturer or distributor sells directly to a consumer? It happens more and more today in showrooms and factory outlets, as well as online. In eliminating the traditional retailer, does the manufacturer need to invest in both a retail POS solution, as well as a back office ERP solution and interface or integrate the two in the hope they will one day all work seamlessly? Not if you are a SYSPRO customer.

SYSPRO is not the first ERP solution provider serving manufacturers to offer a retail POS solution. Yet typically these are two separate products. Most often when POS is part of an ERP solution provider’s product portfolio, that solution provider is targeting retail with its POS solution and manufacturing with its ERP solution.  SYSPRO isn’t going after the traditional retail sector. It is still focused primarily on manufacturers and distributors, but offering additional features and functions to support these companies as they reach out directly to consumers.

SYSPRO Point of Sale for Manufacturers & Distributors

As a result, the SYSPRO Point of Sale solution offers features specifically designed for manufacturers that might not be available in a POS solution designed first and foremost for retailers. These features include support of a “make to order” environment, complete with complex product and pricing configurations and supply chain transfer, a feature that supports tracking of shipping and in-transit inventory. It also includes support of lot tracking and serialized products and inventory locations down to the bin level. And yet these manufacturing-specific features are blended with features necessary to fully support a retail environment. Features like:

  • category and catalogue browsing
  • customer and loyalty programs
  • store management
  • exchanges and returns
  • touch screen interface and mobile access from a tablet
  • scanner and cash drawer functions that allow the use of any personal computer with a “locked” cash drawer
  • credit card limits for individuals in addition to an overall account limit
  • end-of-day cash reconciliation (“cash up”)

To make the solution more scalable, SYSPRO has uncoupled the ERP and POS user counts. A manufacturer might have 10 named users for ERP and 1,000 POS users. Or a SYSPRO Point of Sale user might also be linked to an existing SYSPRO ERP user. While accessible through a web-based interface, the system has been designed to be “always on.” This means the store can continue to operate even if the connection back to the central server is lost, a necessity because you can’t afford to have a customer walk out the door for lack of service. When the connection recovers, data is synchronized transparently and seamlessly.

The goal is to provide manufacturers with retail operations a single solution to manage business information, store operations, customer-focused POS, inventory optimization and merchandizing along with ERP. It has several customers currently running both SYSPRO Point of Sale and ERP including:

  • Coricraft Furniture, a fully integrated furniture retailer in South Africa. Its manufacturing facility produces a diverse range of high quality, full grain leather and fabric couches in a variety of styles and colors. Coricraft has 80 SYSPRO ERP users ad 370 Point of Sale users
  • Lesel Research, a beauty product manufacturer and retailer with 48 SYSPRO ERP users and 40 Point of Sale users

SYSPRO is Preparing for Change Too

But manufacturers aren’t the only companies experiencing a change in the way product is bought and sold. Consumers today are quite accustomed to hearing, “There’s an app for that.” In response they go online to purchase and download those apps, and they start using them immediately. Many of those consumers also work for manufacturers and distributors. So why not bring the same convenience and buying experience to the corporate world?

The SYSPRO App Store is SYSPRO’s response to its customers’ growing appetite for expanded functionality and the consumerization of Information Technology (IT). It is an online marketplace for the global SYSPRO community where partners can offer new products and customers can search for solutions. In fact it is a public site, so anyone will be able to browse and search, but a secure login will be required to either purchase or publish.

So the SYSPRO App Store is a way for partners to add value to the SYSPRO solution. Any registered partner can publish to the site, making applications or content available using one of three licensing models:

  • free and unlimited usage
  • perpetual license with one-time payment
  • protected license with an initial payment, followed by a recurring annual fee

Publishers can make a free trial version available in addition to a full commercial version. This feature and the App Store in general will be a very cost-effective way for the partners to market their products globally, potentially reaching a far broader audience than their own immediate sphere of influence. And they can use SYPRO’s licensing technology to protect their intellectual property (IP) while also generating recurring revenue.

SYSPRO Takes Control

SYSPRO will evaluate and must approve all products, but as the volume is likely to grow over time (SYSPRO ultimately expects to host thousands of apps), this may wind up being rather cursory.  But there are two additional factors that will make the site somewhat self-selecting. First of all, the publisher of the app will be required to provide support and issues are logged right in the “store.” So SYSPRO would be able to monitor all. An unusual number of open tickets will help identify apps that might not be up to snuff or partners that are unable to provide adequate support. The risk of course is in giving SYSPRO a black eye before the problem is identified and corrected.

So perhaps even more appropriate is the consumer-like five star rating available for each app, along with customer reviews and comments. Poorly performing applications will not be able to hide, and will likely not produce many sales. In a reference-based business like software applications, the insight these ratings and reviews will provide can be priceless.

Managing the Process

SYSPRO will manage the eCommerce aspect, collecting payment from the customers and distributing payment to the partner on a quarterly basis, after taking its cut of course. This leaves the partners free to concentrate on the products themselves, leaving distribution, payment and sales tracking to SYSPRO.

The buying process is simple and straightforward but it is also a controlled environment, which will prevent purchases from individuals at SYSPRO customer organizations that are not authorized to buy.  And an administrator at a customer site can monitor what products have been downloaded. The App Store handles version changes and will inform consumers of the product when an update is available, one less thing for the publisher to worry about.

A full ERP solution still requires the due diligence of a comprehensive evaluation, careful planning and commitment from top management, right on down through the rank and file. But once an ERP solution is in place, companies continue to change and grow and many seek continuous improvement. Having the ability to easily expand ERP’s footprint to satisfy changing or expanding needs is a huge plus.

Key Takeaways

We live in a world of change. The way we buy and consume products is changing as fast as the technology that has infiltrated our lives. We demand instant and direct access to products and we expect the companies selling us these products to evolve and adapt to our demands.

SYSPRO Point of Sales, together with its ERP solution blends the manufacturing and distribution of goods with retail, providing a direct selling process in a single integrated solution. The SYSPRO App Store provides a direct purchasing process for SYSPRO customers, while maintaining control over that process. And it has the potential to aggressively expand the footprint of the solution.

It would appear SYSPRO has both ends of the spectrum covered.

 

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Are You Ready to Change the Game In Driving Corporate Performance?

UNIT4 Says “There’s an App for That”

 Speed is the name of the game today. Whether we’re talking about technology innovation, market or economic change or simply the pace of business, acceleration is happening. Mid-sized organizations in particular are pressured by a continuing array of changing circumstances – macro market, competitors,workforce, regulatory actions and financial constraints – all in rapid-fire succession. A wide array of organizational stakeholders need to have the ongoing ability to input/consolidate/analyze changing information , view live performance results tied to current processes, assess risks, and seize opportunities. They need answers and they need them fast.

And yet, the wide array of corporate performance management (CPM), enterprise performance management (EPM) and business intelligence (BI) tools available today are neither fast nor easy to deploy for continuous ‘right-sized’ decisionmaking, nor easily accessible for the wider organizational hierarchy of workers. Nor are they available in a more desirable “pay as you go” format popularized by app stores.  UNIT4, a company known for bringing change-embracing software solutions to market, says look no further for a fresh approach to analytics because now there’s “an app for that”:  UNIT4 Business Analytics Apps.

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ANALTYICS TODAY:  Bulky, tool-like, slow

Organizations should not be forced to settle for large-footprint, expensive, multi-month deployments of licensed analytic software that add new cost with each new requirement.  And yet this has been the only option for many looking for answers from the enterprise resource planning (ERP) operational backbone to which they are tethered.   As deployments have expanded, responding to changing needs and making decisions are like steering a battleship, when in fact today you need the speed and flexibility of a high-powered speedboat. And yet, the hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars invested in these solutions makes it harder and harder to abandon ship.

 Some of the largest, most dominant ERP solution providers have attacked the problem through acquisition of equally “large” analytical tool sets that add bulk to the solution and have the potential of further slowing down the decision-making process.

Hence, the global business and public sector community has installed literally millions of large-footprint, licensed software deployments.  That formula is being challenged by a convergence of new mobile and cloud technologies, and fed by the growing impatience of buyers who are questioning big spends tied to long contracts.  What are the choices today?

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)

As an integrated suite of modules that forms the transactional system of record of the business, ERP can provide a wealth of data. But thinking ERP is the answer, per se, is like expecting to get a drink of water from a fire hose without being blasted with far more liquid than you can possibly consume. What you really need is a glass of water. You certainly don’t want to constrain or eliminate the power of the fire hose, but you do want a more manageable way of dispensing and consuming the water on a day-to-day basis.

As ERP solutions have matured over the past several decades they have grown broader and deeper, expanding beyond traditional boundaries, adding more force and power. This is all good because after all, these transactions are the pulse of your business and ERP, in sustaining that flow, has traditionally been viewed as the heartbeat. But if you view ERP as the heartbeat of the decision-making process you will skip a lot of beats, and you certainly don’t want to undergo open-heart surgery every time you need to make an adjustment (change) to your business.

Furthermore, how many people do you know have the patience and fortitude to search for answers by diving right into the details of their broad ERP solution? Whether you are an executive or first-rung manager, most workers don’t have the Information Technology (IT) expertise to drill much beyond what is shown in executive dashboards.  Smaller, bite-sized, but important data collection/consolidation/review and decision-support actions get lost in the larger ERP environment.  The lack of ability to perform these continual, repetitive analytic actions – potentially totaling thousands of daily small performance actions in even a mid-sized organization – can add up to a fairly toothsome financial outcome.

Business Intelligence (BI)

You might ask, isn’t “intelligence” what Business Intelligence is for? The concept behind BI is that, yes, you can distill data, slicing and dicing it in order to extract the “intelligence” from it. The problem is BI is generally delivered as a tool set, which transforms the burden of deciding “what do I need to measure, in what places, how often and with what associated actions” … into a fairly complex task force requirement.  Once the group aligns on these matters (often taking weeks or even months), it must still shop for the tool, validate whether it is compatible with the existing ERP backbone, install, test, train and roll it out.

True, there is no limit to the type of analytics that can be developed using these tools. But the journey is long and it involves considerable departmental, IT and economic commitments.  What’s more, when the first outlier question needs to be answered (i.e. one not previously anticipated), recoding of BI applications can put the team right back at square one of the process.

Corporate Performance Management (CPM)

If a tool set doesn’t meet the needs of the organization, how about Corporate (or Enterprise) Performance Management (CPM/EPM) suites?  To date these have been quite loosely defined and often include financial planning, budgeting and forecasting, cash management, consolidation, legal/financial reporting, and sales performance, but may also include corporate governance, strategy and risk management. These are all critical functions but in taking a suite approach, we are right back to the problem we have with ERP. You lose focus. You don’t need a full suite to answer a particular question or drive one specific decision.

As you can see, it is no surprise that what we have today is a lot of confused decision-makers with no clear idea of where to even start to shop for solutions.

Where in the World?

And to further complicate matters, consider that today’s workforces are consistently on the move, not sitting at a desk behind a computer. They may be visiting remote locations of their own operations, making customer or partner calls or have a mobile-defined job. This makes web-based access very important, if not a “must have.” And with growing organizational reliance on smart phones, iPads and other tablets, workers now expect to find answers on whatever devices they carry with them.

This makes the concept of organizations having the ability to download a templated pre-defined analytics app, extend it as needed to a limitless array of workers (executive and non-executive; mobile or office-centric); and allow them to access and perform change easily – a very appealing proposition.

Introducing UNIT4 Business Analytics Apps

This is exactly the concept UNIT4 is introducing in its new Business Analytics Apps: turnkey, analytic-infused, purpose-built applications to solve a specific problem or meet a particular need. Think of these as bite-sized, “tapas-style” individual applications, available online to organizations through an apps store, easy to download, easy to complete, small and digestible.  Each is a rapid, targeted repeatable response to a specific (often recurring) organizational need, representing a small pay-as-you-go investment with little to no risk, and yet produces a quick Return on Investment (ROI).

UNIT4 Business Analytics Apps are turnkey solutions, 90% complete with two rapid-fire choices for the last 10% of organizational tailoring/deployment:

  • A do-it-yourself option via embedded ‘build & go’ capabilities that’s particularly fitted for those organizations that aim for complete independence to address performance challenges and/or opportunities
  • A turnkey professional service bundle of 5, 10 or 20 days (depending on requirements) via a UNIT4 (certified) professional services team to get it to 100%

Each app will have embedded pre-built analytics tailored specifically for the solution. These analytic-infused solutions do not fall into the traditional categories of ERP, CPM, EPM or prototypical BI tools; they are a reinvention of the performance solutions market.

UNIT4 is working hand-in-hand with strategic customers in various verticals to develop the turnkey solutions. These customers represent industries including local government, education, retail and professional services. The first wave of Business Analytics Apps, true purpose-built, ready-to-consume apps that will also be smartly integrated with UNIT4’s core solutions Agresso Business World (ABW) and CODA Financials. These solutions offer customers a rapid targeted response to business change, emerging risks or new opportunities. The underlying architecture is change-enabling, whereby a change made in one application automatically flows to the other applications.

The first application will be introduced to the market in March 2012. The UNIT4 Business Analytics Apps Store is projected to be open for business in June 2012 with the first wave of applications. From that moment on, subsequent waves of solutions are to be released at quarterly or half-year intervals.

How Do Bite-Sized Analytics Change the Performance Game?

Do these Business Analytic Apps replace ERP or financial transactional applications? No, there will always be a need for ERP and ERP-like transactional systems. However, this approach could very well dramatically change how data collected and stored in these transactional systems is consumed.

It has always been easier to get data into ERP than to get actionable intelligence out. Hence much of the value is left on the table with information that is largely untapped beyond dashboard-like state-of-the-business views. With broad, deep and multi-purpose applications, most organizations simply don’t know where or how to start – without significant resource commitments on multiple levels. By creating these bite-size apps that address recurring specific needs, organizations can simply download the apps, finish them off in a manageable number of days, deploy via their mobile workforces and quickly gain value.

ERP and the accompanying performance solutions acquired by ERP vendors in billion-dollar deals are big-ticket items. And with deployments that take months or years, it’s not a stretch to say this is a scary spend for most organizations. Alternatively, UNIT4’s scalpel-like approach to enabling multiple roles in the organization to solve performance issues offers organizations a no/low-risk value proposition with a fast return, at a very affordable pay-for-use price point.

This approach eliminates much of the analysis-paralysis that can accompany a major undertaking like ERP. And it will also eliminate the confusion and the decision-making over what kind of a solution is required. You won’t need to choose between ERP, BI and/or CPM. These categories will be meaningless in this context. You will just download the app that answers your question or satisfies a particular need.

How Unique is UNIT4’s New Analytic-Infused App Platform?

UNIT4’s newest  Business Analytics Apps suite is not unlike the vintage 1980’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercial where two people accidentally combine their individual chocolate and peanut butter confections into a breakthrough candy sensation. The “genius” is this bundle of individually proven components:

  • Pre-built, 90% complete templates
  • Available via an app store
  • A turnkey professional service bundle of 5, 10 or 20 days, depending on requirements, to finish it off
  • (Or) a “do it yourself” approach to finish the last 10% based on the embedded ‘build & go’ environment
  • Pay-for-use model
  • Change-embracing platform
  • Backed by 30 years of enterprise problem-solving experience

One truly unique feature not currently available in the market, the embedded social-collaboration capability that allows users to continually amend, change, aggregate and input fresh data and results into the template. This “new” flavor of change for UNIT4, allows the company to advance its reputation as the enterprise solution market’s most change-friendly vendor.

Recommendations and Key Takeaways

For those organizations currently deploying the traditional array of ERP, EPM, CPM or BI tools, it will become increasingly difficult to justify spending money on what (for many companies) is software shelf ware. These turnkey, analytic-infused, purpose-built applications designed to solve a specific problem or meet a particular need can eliminate large up-front spends on EPM/CPM licensing, and significantly reduce (if not eliminate) the effort to define measurements/processes, key performance indicators (KPI’s), and data feed sources. Implementation and training will reflect the ease individuals experience today in downloading and running consumer apps. UNIT4 Business Analytics Apps begin to bridge the gap between consumer and enterprise apps that the industry is talking about but nobody is (yet) delivering.

Businesses and organizations seeking performance enhancements should see benefits from a more targeted response to their specific needs, and there will be a direct correlation between what you pay and the value you receive.

Existing UNIT4 customers should take advantage of the opportunity to help UNIT4 define these new bite-size apps. The more involved you are, the more your specific needs will be met. UNIT4 claims that “imagination is your only limit.” Those business leaders that can imagine a new world of apps will reap the highest reward. Start imagining.

 

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Marketing Inspired by Einstein?

Einstein inspired marketing and messaging? Who would have thought that Albert Einstein, recognized for his genius in physics, would inspire so many marketing messages? In December 2010 SYSPRO USA introduced its “Einstein” strategy, a clever association with the genius of the world’s most reknowned theoretical physicist. This Einstein strategy was the brain child of Judith Rothrock, president of JRocket Marketing. Judith has been helping companies boost awareness, bringing visibility and recognition to software solution providers for more than 20 years, including companies like Lawson Software, Hyperion, Ceridian, UNIT4, Deltek, SYSPRO and Meridian Systems, to name just a few.

So if imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, Judith should feel flattered right about now.  Last December Judith helped Syspro introduce the theory of ERP relativity, S=MC2  where M stands for material, and C2 is cost and cash management. S, of course, stands for SYSPRO. Since then I have seen Einstein referenced in marketing by two other companies.

The first time I noticed it was at the Sage Summit in July 2011. I was walking the show floor and saw a picture of Einstein on a pillar sign. I did sort of a double-take. Of course I knew Syspro wasn’t anywhere to be seen at a competitor’s user conference. But sure enough, there he was near the booth of one of Sage’s largest partners, Blytheco. If you Google Blytheco and Einstein together, it will lead you to their blog posts on “Leadership through the Eyes of Einstein.” You will see some very interesting quotes from the great man including a couple of my personal favorites:

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

“Creativity is seeing what others see and thinking what no one has ever thought”

The second time I heard it was just yesterday. While I didn’t manage to get up in time to watch the opening keynote of SAP’s SAPPHIRENOW Madrid (it started at 3AM my time) I did manage to watch the replay. There he (Einstein) was again, right in Jim Snabe’s opening remarks, this time with yet another rendition of his famous equation. Mr. Snabe’s definition managed to include all four pillars of SAP’s innovation strategy:

e = mc(imc)2 where e = Enterprise, m = Mobile, c = Cloud, and imc = In Memory Computing

Of course I can’t say for sure that either Blytheco or SAP saw (and perhaps were inspired by?)  Judith’s and Syspro’s original Einstein strategy, but I can say I saw it there first.

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When Women are in Charge

…things get done faster.

I was reminded of this twice yesterday. I have been struggling to keep up the last few days since hurricane Irene knocked power out of my home, and therefore my office. I was “powerless”, from Sunday morning until 2:30 AM this (Wednesday) morning. Being the well-prepared New Englanders that we are, of course we have a generator. Here in New Hampshire it is really a “must.” Without power, we have no (well) water and during the winter (when most power outages occur) we have no heat. But you simply can’t run the generator all day, and even a generator doesn’t give you Internet access. So I have been charging (and re-charging) batteries and visiting a friend who never lost power. I would log on through her network and somehow manage to keep her cats from playing with my “mouse” and walking across my keyboard.

It was while I was herding the cats that these reminders came of how women typically “manage” differently.

First of all, I got a request from Judith Rothrock of JRocketMarketing to review slides and promotional material for a webcast that she and I will be teaming up on for one of our joint clients, Syspro US. This webcast isn’t until October, but here was Judith finalizing the slides and setting up a rehearsal. When I got the message I opened it up and responded within a few minutes. After all, it only took that long to review it and my approach to time management is to (whenever possible) “touch” a document only once. Judith (who, by the way, runs a very successful marketing services firm) was appreciative of the fast turnaround, saying she often found the difference between men and women was in responsiveness.

Secondly, because of the power outage, it was just yesterday that I saw the announcements that Sandra Kurtzig was back on the manufacturing scene with her new company Kenandy (www.kenandy.com). Her “coming out” announcement hit on August 29th, coinciding with the Dreamforce conference. That makes sense since Kenandy’s vision for manufacturing management in the cloud is built on Salesforce.com’s enterprise cloud computing platform, Force.com.

Being an ASK alumni, I have fond memories and a very high regard for Sandy as a software pioneer and also as a role model for women executives and entrepreneurs. She founded ASK Computer Systems in 1972 and was the first woman to take a technology company public. Therefore I sent Sandy a congratulatory note, letting her know that in 2006 I had left the software world and had joined the ranks of industry analysts and would be very interested in setting up a briefing. Within a couple hours, Sandy replied and introduced me to her CMO, Rod Butters.

So you see, it’s all about a simple approach to getting things done, and getting them done quickly. If it is so simple, why is it so rare? As Judith would say, “…no need to cogitate for days on end.” In a world where executives are inundated with communication, where everyone is beyond “busy” today, three entrepreneurial  women (yes, I proudly include myself) set an example for just getting things done.

P.S. In the spirit of full disclosure, Rod Butters was equally responsive (is it Sandy’s influence, I wonder?) and I look forward to bringing you more news of Kenandy’s vision in the near future.

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Meridian Systems Taps Trimble Navigation for a Complete Solution

ILM = Plan(BIM) + Build(BIM) + Operate(BIM)

I recently had an an update from Meridian Systems, thanks to Judith Rothrock’s  (JRocket Marketing) annual Grape Escape ® event. It was also an opportunity to meet Geene Alhady, Meridian’s new President, an 11 year veteran of the company who replaced John Bodrozic as he decided to return to his consulting roots. The update included three key announcements:

However, what I found most compelling was something not on the “announcement list” at all. What intrigued me was the move towards a much more complete solution philosophy, tapping into existing solutions  from its parent company, Trimble Navigation, as well as its announced move to acquire Building Information Modeling (BIM) solution provider Tekla Systems. Given all the complexities and interdependencies, the last thing companies building, managing and maintaining infrastructure and large capital projects need is to collect, manage and integrate a fragmented solution. 

Who is Meridian Systems?

Originally founded in 1993, Meridian Systems started out offering project and portfolio management software primarily for architectural, engineering and construction (AEC) firms. As the company evolved beyond the planning and design and the build phases of construction, it reached into the post-construction phase during which owners manage and maintain those facilities. In doing so, Meridian went beyond project and portfolio management to manage the entire lifecycle of large infrastructure building projects. It coined the term PBO2, which stands for Plan-Build-Operate for Project-Based Organizations and added full Infrastructure Life-Cycle Management (ILM) to its portfolio of products. At this stage of its evolution, Meridian defined ILM as a math equation:

Meridian “ILM” MATH EQUATION =  
Capital Project-Based Organizations + Plan-Build-Operate

In order to complete this equation Meridian offers two product lines:

  • Proliance: A web-based ILM solution that supports project owners in managing a wide range of activities (see side-bar) used by real estate developers, commercial building owners, government agencies and others managing a portfolio of infrastructure projects
  • Prolog: Project and portfolio management software used to provide control and transparency to project-based organizations within AEC, commercial and public sectors. Prolog, the original Meridian Systems product, manages the Build phase of PBO with budget & cost management, contract & change management, purchasing/bid management and document & field worker management

Together these two products help project-based companies manage the business at an enterprise level. In 2006 Meridian became a Trimble company. Trimble Navigation is perhaps best known for global positioning solutions (GPS). Like Meridian, it serves the engineering and construction and related industries. Recognizing the equity of the brand it acquired, Trimble allowed Meridian Systems to maintain its name and for the past five years it operated quite independently.  While that was beneficial in building both brands, it also left some synergy on the table.

While Meridian works at the business and enterprise level, Trimble operates at the level where the work actually gets done, collecting data directly from the workforce on the projects. Trimble uses GPS, lasers, optical, and inertial technologies, as well as wireless communications and application specific software to provide solutions that link positioning to productivity. Some joint customers are seeing the potential synergy and steering them towards more collaboration between the two. Now Meridian is expanding its product reach in order to directly leverage the data collected at the workforce level across the enterprise.

The next step in the combined company’s evolution expands this joint solution even further. In May 2011 Trimble extended an offer to acquire all shares in Tekla Corporation. Headquartered in Finland, with a U.S. office in Atlanta, Georgia, and more than 5,000 customers in the construction industry around the globe, Tekla is a leading provider of Building Information Modeling (BIM) software. Tekla offers model driven solutions for customers in the infrastructure and energy industries (in particular energy distribution, public administration and civil engineering and utilities), creating the potential for even more synergy with the combination of Trimble Navigation and Meridian Systems. Two Meridian customers (Ryan, Stanford Hospitals) are already integrating BIM to ILM.

A New Component: BIM

BIM creates a digital design model. The purpose of this model is to enable constructability and production control. By centralizing and digitizing the model, project management and delivery can become more predictable and collaborative. Tekla’s BIM solution, Tekla Structures supports creation and management of accurately detailed, highly constructible 3D structural models regardless of material or structural complexity. Tekla models can be used throughout the building process from conceptual design to fabrication, erection and construction management. And, as you will see as you read on, perhaps even beyond the initial Build phase.

What is Driving this Push?

The world economy, an evolving global market and the recent spate of natural and man-made disasters all combine to create an increasingly challenging business environment for the capital projects-based organizations Meridian Systems, et al serve.

During the recession, which began in 2008, industries supporting infrastructure-related development took a big hit. New construction slowed or came to a complete halt in many regions of the world including parts of North America. Even necessary maintenance projects were pared down, delayed or postponed. Now as we are seeing signs of a recovery, albeit a slow recovery, the very nature and mix of infrastructure projects are changing. We’re seeing less new construction (the Plan and Build phases) and more renovation and maintenance (the Operate phase) in mature economies. This in turn causes a major shift in the Operate stage to not only maintain and manage, but also to manage renovation, remodeling and even rebranding.

 This also changes the complexion of the projects, shifting from single large projects to multiple, yet often inter-dependent projects. While the ability to manage schedules and cost and maintain control over new infrastructure and construction projects has always been critical, when renovating or remodeling, there is the added factor of business disruption. While renovating a hotel floor by floor, the rooms on the floor under construction cannot be booked. When remodeling a residential apartment building, new tenants cannot take up residence and rental or condominium fees collected. During rebranding, remodeling or renovation of a commercial building, business cannot continue uninterrupted.

“Fast-Track” Projects

 This creates the increased need for “fast-track” projects. And it would appear lately that Mother Nature is also conspiring to supplement the need for these “fast track” projects. While natural disasters are not new or unique to the post-recession, the vast devastation created by events such as Hurricane Katrina, the earthquakes in Haiti, Chili and Japan, the recent tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri and western Massachusetts, is unprecedented, thus creating the need for new or massive repair to infrastructure.

 In a “fast-track” project, design and development often must be combined in order to minimize down time. While management of these projects is better enabled through ILM and project and portfolio management software, adding BIM to the mix is the secret sauce and perhaps the most essential element when combining design and development. BIM creates a three-dimensional (3D) model, which encompasses building geometry, spatial relationships, geographic information, and quantities and properties of various components. All these different elements are created as BIM objects. Relationships between objects are defined as parameters, so that if an object changes, those related to it also change. As a result, a virtual environment is created in order to better understand and manage the physical environment.

In combining ILM with BIM, Meridian Systems also introduces the concept of 4D and 5D modeling. While intuitively difficult to picture, essentially the fourth dimension is cost and the fifth dimension is schedule. By integrating all components of the operational business processes and data (LIM) with the digital design model (BIM) you are able to assess the impact of a design change on both the cost and the schedule.

Another Whole World

While renovation, remodel and repair of infrastructure might dominate in mature markets like North America, there is another whole world out there. In emerging markets, new infrastructure must be built. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East, where some of the largest capital infrastructure projects in the world are underway. These are global projects, unable to rely only on local resources and therefore they pull in people, materials, contractors and subcontractors from around the world. And some of these projects are more massive than any we have seen, at least in modern history. Projects like:

  • The Saadiyat Island Cultural District in Abu Dhabi: Covering a land mass of 2.43 million square meters, the master plan is to build an entire district including a national museum, a performing arts center and Abu Dhabi versions of the Louvre and the Guggenheim. Massive in scale and scope, “Saadiyat Cultural District will be a center for global culture, drawing local, regional and international visitors with unique exhibitions, permanent collections, productions and performances. Its iconic institutions will be housed in buildings constituting a statement of the finest architecture at the beginning of the 21st century.”
  • The Knowledge Economic City in Saudi Arabia, with an estimated construction value of $8 billion, is expected to take between 10 to 12 years to complete
  • The new National Railway Network in the United Arab Emirates will provide freight and passenger service, stretching across the Emirates, covering a network of approximately 745 miles. The new railway network will connect the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia. The first of three stages of the project is projected to be complete in 2014.

As a result of this type of opportunity, Meridian Systems is seeing a significant increase in business outside North America. The ratio between U.S.  and international sales has shifted dramatically.  Until recently, revenue outside of the U.S. was 10% or less, and now it is closer to 30%. Hence the expansion into the Middle East with a new regional office in Dubai. In doing so, it once again leverages the resources of its parent company, already present in the region and is better positioned to support some of its marquis customers and its own growth.

Case in Point:  AECOM, A Meridian Systems Customer

Headquartered in Los Angeles, California, AECOM is one of the largest providers of professional technical and management support services in the world.  According to Jim Walsh, CTO, “You’ll see us in industries like transportation, facilities, environmental, energy, water and the government sector.  We have more than 45,000 employees in approximately 125 countries.  We reported $7.3 billion in annual revenue for the 12 months ending March 31, 2011, and we are ranked #353 on the most recent Fortune 500 list. We are defined by our reputation for leadership – especially in high-growth markets, our long-term portfolio of blue-chip clients and our diversification across multiple industries, geographies and funding sources. We consistently produce strong financials and, for the most part, have a low-risk business model. I say ‘for the most part’ because we do operate all over the world and geopolitical events such as the recent turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa can lead to temporary or long-term business interruption. “

Indeed, AECOM is engaged in the three Middle East projects noted above as well as

  • The New Doha Port in Qatar, a $7 billion construction effort that is currently the world’s largest “greenfield” port-development project
  • The Capital District Development Project in Abu Dhabi, a mixed-use city that will form the center of the United Arab Emirates’ federal government, be home to 370,000 residents and feature an underground, high-speed metro, plus  highways,  water, sewage, cooling, communications and all-inclusive infrastructure.

A complete solution is exactly what AECOM was looking for, working with Meridian since 2002, initially with Prolog for construction management and project management, and then in 2005 selected Proliance as its next generation technology solution. “Meridian is capable of managing tens of thousands of pages of documents…and in managing programs with budgets that reach tens of billions of dollars,” said Mr. Walsh.

“So what makes Meridian so special?  Its solutions are purpose-built. Meridian does what big ERP companies don’t do well.   These big firms have all kinds of toolsets and workaround capabilities– but, for us, that would involve a lot of complex programming that Meridian has already figured out – and does out of the box, with superior end results.   Meridian of course plugs into a wide variety of ERP backbones like Oracle, SAP and Microsoft.   So, why don’t we just use these ERP backbones?  Because, I don’t want to go through all that work, and then have to view 15 screens to get an answer.  With Meridian I can get what we need…quickly, cost effectively and with the right blend of system and technology integration.

“AECOM is a large organization driven heavily by our clients’ requirements.  The goal of the program management we provide is to deliver the expertise that will save our clients time, money and complexity…wherever possible.  Meridian gives us the features and functions that are powerful enough to get the job done with great flexibility and a great user interface.”

Key Takeaways

As you can see, the world of infrastructure and capital projects faces a dichotomy of needs. On the one hand, “fast-track” projects need to be just that – fast. Yet the more likely the project is to be fast-tracked, the less likely it is that it stands alone. So while there may be fewer moving parts, there is also more need to integrate and interoperate with other pieces of a larger puzzle and less room for error. On the other hand, we see more massive and complex infrastructure that must be built, and sometimes (most likely) it needs to be managed half a world away.

A wide variety of functionality is required to manage throughout the PBO2 environment, from planning and design, to build and development, to manage, maintain, renovate, remodel, rebrand and repair. My opening segue bears repeating: Given all the complexities and interdependencies, the last thing companies building, managing and maintaining infrastructure and large capital projects need is to collect, manage and integrate a fragmented solution.  By leveraging the data collected where the work is done, providing a virtual environment that can model the real world and tools that provide a system of record and guided decision-making throughout the Plan – Build – Operate lifecycle, Meridian Systems, with a little help from Trimble, is evolving into a complete solution.

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