manufacturing

IFS Labs Puts Creativity First in the Quest for Digital Transformation

Handling Disruption Successfully With the Help of Agile Technologies

Sometimes software companies must lead the charge in terms of innovation, inspiring customers and prospects to apply leading edge technologies in new and creative ways to create a competitive advantage. Without this push, many companies, particularly those in traditional industries like manufacturing, energy and service, can become complacent. If the software that runs the business isn’t broken, there’s no need to fix it. These are markets served by IFS, primarily select asset- intensive and product-centric industries. They are also the markets IFS Labs is looking to disrupt.

IFS Labs is a small development group within IFS. While the regional leadership concentrates on solving the problems customers face today, IFS Labs is focused on solving the problems of tomorrow – or perhaps the problems and opportunities customers just don’t (yet) know they have.

Putting creativity first, IFS Labs seeks to learn from early adopters. Using a relatively small core team, yet drawing from other development resources across the company, depending on the product expertise required, it tends to have 6 to 12 projects underway at any point in time. These endeavors are essentially “proof of concept” projects, often (but not always) conducted with real, live customers. IFS Labs keeps the projects small because, with the requisite license to fail, it must decide to pursue the concept and apply it universally, or fail fast in order to move on to the next potentially disruptive project.

With this approach, IFS Labs hopes to provide guidance and inspiration to influence customers to disrupt, rather than be disrupted, applying agile technologies to produce that competitive advantage.

Do Customers Need a Little Push?

Last fall Mint Jutras published a report, IFS Helps Customers Accelerate Out of the Curve of Digital Transformation. In it we acknowledged that asset intensive industries, such as those served by IFS, are also likely to be capital intensive, where cost of entry is steep and product lifespans tend to be measured in decades. Once you are an established player in this world, you are tempted to hit cruise control. Change comes slowly. But the digital economy has thrown you a curve, and riding the brakes never gives you a competitive edge. Which is why IFS has set out to help its customers accelerate out of the curve.

We also found asset intensive industries weren’t alone in needing a push in the digital direction. Eighty-two percent (82%) of manufacturers participating in the 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study agree that digital technologies of today (those that serve to connect operations, people and processes through the power of the Internet) have the potential to fundamentally change the way we all do business. Furthermore, 86% understand that embracing digital technologies is necessary for survival. And yet, we found the vast majority still coasting or riding the brakes when it comes to digital transformation.

Last year we discovered IFS had already taken some steps to help customers accelerate digital transformation, releasing two new products. IFS Enterprise Operational Intelligence (EOI) essentially creates a cockpit for navigating the business, and IFS IoT Business Connector is instrumental in collecting, discovering and operationalizing data. Together they bridge the gap between data collection and analysis and between analysis and action. Through plug and play connectivity with the Microsoft Azure IoT Suite, customers can identify actionable observations that can trigger user-defined, automated or semi-automated actions.

These steps are all worthwhile and help companies address the challenges of today, pushing them to add digital technologies to their current solutions, without the major disruption of a rip and replace. And yes, a push is still needed. Last year we found that while 67% of manufacturers felt they were well prepared for the digital economy, in peeling back the onion, we concluded that many were perhaps over-confident in their progress, often held back by old ways of thinking and a lack of understanding and appreciation of what is possible today. Indeed, IFS conducted its own research along these lines and found world-wide the greatest challenge faced in digital transformation was resistance to change and in North America in particular it was the absence of the right organizational and governance model.

So in our 2017 study we dug a little deeper to assess how well manufacturers understand these technologies, and the potential they hold for their businesses. We selected 14 different kinds of technology and asked respondents to assess their level of familiarity with each in terms of how they relate (or not) to their business. These technologies, shown in Table 1, are presented in no particular order.

Adoption rates today are quite low, but note that the two with the highest level of familiarity, and the most likely to be deployed, align with the products IFS introduced last year: IFS EOI for predictive analytics (21%) and IFS IoT Business Connector for IoT (18%). Those that understand these technologies far outnumber those who are not familiar or only somewhat familiar. This is not surprising in that predictive analytics has been around for quite some time, and after all, who doesn’t want to predict the future? The underpinnings of the Internet of Things (IoT) is also well-entrenched in manufacturing and related asset-intensive industries simply because these companies have been collecting data with sensors for decades. However, much of the value of this data has not been realized because it has remained disconnected from enterprise solutions used for decision-making. The Internet and products like IFS IoT Business Connector are needed to bridge that gap and realize the full potential.

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

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

So it would appear that IFS chose well last year in its first steps in helping customers accelerate out of the curve. Now what?

Now IFS Labs is beginning to attack these other technologies that are obviously far less well-understood. For technologies like Blockchain (distributed ledgers), digital twins, beacons and augmented reality, those who lack familiarity outnumber those who understand and perceive relevance to their businesses. The role IFS Labs plays is to research, experiment and prove the value – or not. To that end, we highlight some active projects.

Blockchain for Aviation “Through Life Asset Management”

Given almost half (47%) of the 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study participants are not familiar at all with Blockchain, a bit of explanation seems appropriate. Blockchain, the technology behind the Bitcoin, is most often associated with the transfer of money. While many of us take non-cash transactions for granted these days, the transfer of funds through checks, credit cards and electronic fund transfers (EFT) is actually quite a complicated process, typically left in the domain of banks and other financial institutions. These financial institutions serve as intermediaries between the transacting parties. Even though they might not understand what goes on behind the scenes, most intuitively understand the role these institutions play and more importantly trust that funds will be transferred and recorded securely and accurately. And yet there is always the risk of fraud.

Blockchain is meant to eliminate the need for these intermediaries, while also eliminating the risk of fraudulent activity. Blockchain is a distributed ledger that provides a way for information (data) to be recorded and shared by a community. Each member of the community maintains his or her own copy of the information and all members must validate any updates collectively. Each update is a “block” added permanently to the “chain” creating a complete and auditable system of record. Encryption and protocols replace third party intermediaries as keepers of the trust. The distributed ledger is a shared ledger where transactions are verified and stored on a network without a governing central authority.

But the transfer of monetary funds is not the only application possible with Blockchain technology. It might apply to any chain of activity or transfer of ownership. IFS has chosen the aviation industry for its proof of concept, primarily for two reasons. First of all, in its privately conducted survey, IFS found the aviation industry to have the highest level of digital maturity among those industries it targets. Secondly, because aviation can really use the help in terms of what IFS calls “through life asset management (TLAM).”

Think about it. A typical aircraft consists of two to three million parts. The provenance of those items (i.e. where they came from, who owns what and when ownership transfers) is critical. These parts must be tracked, not only through the manufacturing of the aircraft, but throughout its life. We’re talking potentially decades of supply chain, production and service transactions, which are today captured in all different systems. Records may be written and verbal, often incomplete, generating large volumes of paper storage. There are limited standards and limited traceability in a highly regulated industry, driving the costs of compliance literally and figuratively sky high.

What if instead the aviation industry could write transactions back to a connected permission-based ledger in addition to applications like ERP? IFS envisions developing a purpose-built aviation Blockchain, to provide a single picture of truth. There are many potential benefits like improved data quality, accurate maintenance history, lighter administrative loads and lower costs, all from a single traceable record with trust built in.

But as with any distributed (shared) ledger, this requires cooperation across the community, in this case including those manufacturing, servicing and maintaining the aircraft, software providers and regulators. A technology consortium to administer the Blockchain is required and there will be gradual adoption. There are still issues to be resolved, issues like transaction latency and compatibility with existing information technology (IT) systems. But none of these issues will ever be resolved without companies like IFS taking some bold first moves and being willing to fail at first attempts.

Working with forward-thinking early adopters will help shape the future. While adoption rates are still very low across all of the technologies listed in Table 1, we found those with World Class ERP implementations were two to five times as likely to have deployed or were in the process of deploying them. Those with World Class implementations were a full five times as likely to have taken first steps with Blockchain in particular. IFS Labs will start small in the aviation industry, developing proofs of concept, and then eventually look for other applications.

Wearable Devices and Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is another of those technologies where a large percentage of our survey participants lacked familiarity or saw little value. Augmented reality generally requires some sort of wearable device. While Google Glass was initially a flop in the consumer market, there are some very practical uses for this kind of technology in the industrial world.

In fact our 2016 Enterprise Solution Study found a high level of interest in wearable devices (Figure 1).

Figure 1: What level of interest do you have in using wearable devices?

Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

What makes wearable devices interesting to manufacturers? Seventy percent (70%) of manufacturers that expressed interest see the potential for hands free operations. In asset-intensive industries like those IFS serves, the potential is very real, particularly in terms of servicing and maintaining these assets. Think about the potential for overlaying a schematic over a piece of equipment in trouble-shooting, or providing a check list for diagnostics or routine maintenance.

We also found 36% of our survey respondents saw wearable devices as the “device of the future” and 39% view them as just another device that needed to be considered in the context of “bring your own device (BYOD).” Could a material handler’s personal Apple Watch replace those ruggedized RFID/bar code scanners so prevalent in warehouses and in the field today? In these cases, it will be important to connect back to ERP, either to retrieve data or to record transactions.

And yet despite last year’s apparent interest, this year we found very few making the connection between these wearable devices and augmented reality. We feel this is largely due to the current limitations of the wearable devices themselves. It is largely the head mounted device (similar in concept to the original Google Glass) that will bring the most value to asset intensive industries. And these devices are still quite new, feel a bit clumsy, and many don’t produce a completely hands-free experience. Plus software developers like IFS Labs are still experimenting with designing the user experience.

But there will come a time, in the not so distant future, when these devices will be no clumsier than a pair of standard safety glasses. When that time comes, in environments where eye protection is required, why not build additional functionality in? We believe it is important to be experimenting now with these use cases and design because there is still much to be learned.

Leveraging IoT in New and Creative Ways

While IoT is clearly a reality today, we have just begun to scratch the surface in terms of leveraging its full potential. And that is why IFS Labs is working directly with some early adopters of IFS IoT Business Connector, not only in collecting and analyzing the data collected by sensors, SCADA systems, PLCs and OLE (object linking and embedding) for Process Control (OPC), but perhaps even in creating new revenue sources?

But Can IoT Build a Better Mouse Trap?

Many business innovators set out to build a better mouse trap – figuratively speaking that is. But IFS customer Anticimex took on that challenge quite literally. Anticimex became an early adopter of the IFS IoT Business Connector once the product was added to the roadmap.  It is an example of an IFS customer that is benefitting from product innovation that came out of an IFS Labs proof of concept (POC) project several years ago.

Anticimex provides pest control services. Controlling pests like mice, rats and other small rodents means eliminating those pests. Eliminating them without damaging the structure in which they reside, means first catching them. Traditionally this has not been a high-tech business. It involves setting traps, checking the traps and getting rid of the trapped pests. That means sending service technicians on site for inspection and removal.

But what if you were to put sensors in those traps that allowed you to monitor them remotely? What if those sensors could not only tell you when you’ve caught a pest, but whether the trap is full? What if those sensors could also monitor the battery charge in the traps and tell you when that battery is near end of life?

If you were able to collect all this data and monitor it remotely, think about the technicians’ time you could save. If you could store and analyze this data, you could detect and even predict and avoid an infestation. Could you use this data to potentially sell your services to the neighboring businesses closest to your customer?

Figure 2: Anticimex IoT Solution Overview

Source: IFS Labs

This is how Anticimex, with the help of IFS Labs, is leveraging IoT, along with IFS applications, in a new and innovative way.

Wrap Up

Although IFS Labs is a relatively small group within IFS, it has a big job to do. Its job is to disrupt. Putting creativity first, the team is able to draw from resources corporate-wide in order to experiment and learn from forward-thinking early adopters. It is very important for a group like this to have a license to fail. By keeping proof of concept projects small, the team can be daring, failing fast in order to learn and move on to the next innovative concept.

But IFS Labs must do more than just disrupt. It must educate customers and prospects, provide guidance and inspiration, and influence them to leverage the disruptive digital technologies of today and of tomorrow.

We wish them lots of luck and hope to see these efforts continue.

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Exact’s New UX for Macola 10.5: More Than Just a Pretty Face

Adding Functionality and Value Too

At its annual user conference Macola Evolve 2017 in New Orleans (April 20, 2017), Exact unveiled Macola 10.5. Much of the new release of its enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is focused on enhancing the usability of the software with new tablet-led user interfaces, “aligning with how and where manufacturing and wholesale distribution customers use the software on a day-to-day basis.” While new user interfaces are often just about screen navigation and visual appeal, the new usability features of Macola 10.5 add more than just a pretty new face. They make existing functionality more visible and accessible, while also adding new functionality. Will Macola users fall into the typical trap of resisting change or will they welcome it with open arms? It’s all about perceived value.

Overcoming Resistance to Change

It is not uncommon today for ERP solution providers to be transforming the user experience. In fact, it is almost a necessity. After all, the millennial generation grew up with technology in the palms of their hands. The concept of a user manual is as foreign to them as vinyl records and turntables. But with the introduction of so many consumer applications on mobile devices, even Baby Boomers have succumbed to the siren call of mobile technology and have become much more demanding of user interfaces. It’s called “the consumerization of IT” and it is a very real phenomenon. We demand truly intuitive screens and touch technology.

But this isn’t the first time user interfaces have undergone a transformation. Those of us in the older generation remember the “green screens” of yesteryear. And we also remember how difficult it was to get the users to abandon those green screens in favor of a graphical user interface (GUI). When GUIs were first introduced in a major release, if you asked a typical user, “What was the hardest part of the upgrade to the new release?” the answer was almost universally, “The new user interface.” It was a real struggle to get the users to abandon the devil they knew. But if you asked the follow on question, “What was the best value delivered with the upgrade?” the answer was almost universally, “The new user interface.” Even though transitions were tough, they proved worth the effort.

So what have we learned from this prior transition? The key to overcoming resistance is to add value. Even if you hate the existing user interface, once you get used to it, it is indeed the devil you know. But if the new user interface is just different, adds nothing new, doesn’t solve a problem, then you can’t blame the user for resisting.

Personal experience at the Macola Evolve event provides us with an analogy. The event was held at the Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street in New Orleans, right on the border of the French Quarter. A popular location for events of this size, I had been to several located in this 41-story hotel, but they were all held 15+ years ago. Since then, the Sheraton had installed new “smart” elevators. These smart elevators had a new “user interface.” Instead of just pressing the up or down arrow, you entered the floor you wanted to go to as you were calling the elevator. This eliminated the need for any buttons inside the elevator itself. I loved them.

Interestingly one of the main stage presenters at the event, a Chief Information Officer (CIO) at a manufacturer of consumer products, bemoaned this new elevator user interface. He hated it. He wanted the old buttons back inside the car.

Why did this CIO resist them, while I embraced them? Well, for one thing, it provided him with a tongue-in-cheek example of how IT projects would go so much more smoothly if it weren’t for the users. Just kidding, but put something new in front of them, and they are likely to baulk. I would partially agree, but only if what you put in front of them doesn’t immediately solve a problem or add real value. I loved the new elevators because they solved a problem I had recently experienced.

The previous week I was at an event with sessions on three different floors of a hotel. Not only did the hotel not have enough elevators, they didn’t provide any access to stairs (so no work-around). This caused a severe bottleneck. But as one elevator was filled and more people wanted to get on, they couldn’t just press the up or down button because that would cause the doors of the filled car to reopen. They had to wait until it was away to call the next one. And there was no way to organize the group by destination so every elevator stopped at every floor.

With the smart elevator, each passenger could enter his or her destination in advance. This not only allowed the elevator(s) to optimize the routes, often making them express to a particular floor, but never recalled a full elevator car. And a new one was coming before the full one was away.

The CIO’s perception: they took away my buttons. My perception: they made the elevators smart and my ride faster. There are two lessons here. The first to the CIO: Never introduce a new upgrade without being able to convey the value. The second to the solution provider: It’s not enough to just put a pretty face on the software. Make it do more.

Is Macola 10.5 Adding Value?

Macola 10.5 does have a pretty new face. The look and feel is a radical departure from prior releases. The goals from a visual perspective were to strive for clarity, avoiding clutter. And yet users tend to want and need lots of data for insights and decision-making. Power users in particular are likely to ask for more and more data at their fingertips. But the more you add to the screen, the longer it takes a user to react and respond.

Exact has reconciled these two apparently contradictory needs with something called “progressive disclosure.” Simply put, make that added data available, but hide it until you press the little arrow that signals you want more. Progressive disclosure adds more functionality to any particular screen without necessarily adding clutter.

This is particularly important as users move from desktops and laptops to tablets and even smart phones. It’s called “responsive design.” Exact starts with a tablet-first design. A tablet is more constrained in size. Size and fonts, use of color and contrast become more important for visual clarity, along with the ability to collapse or expand sections to take better advantage of the real estate on the screen. A tablet has touch access, but no mouse. Think about how you often use a mouse today to hover over a field to get more information. No mouse, no hover. That hover is a sort of search and help mechanism.

Therefore the way you search needs to change. Think about texting or typing on your smart phone. Once you start typing the word, it gives you suggestions for finishing it. Do you ever miss that when you are typing a document or accessing ERP from your desktop or laptop? Of course you do. You will start to miss it even more when you get used to Macola 10.5 giving you similar suggestions. Start typing a customer name in order entry and Macola 10.5 will show you a list of who you might be looking for, just like your email does when you start typing an email address with which you have communicated previously.

Macola 10.5 is not only striving for clarity, but combining the best features of your different worlds – smart phone, tablet, laptop, email, ERP, etc. – whether you are at your desk or on the move. The goal is to preserve the power of the solution while reducing the complexity of how you interact with the solution and the data.

What Users Want

These added bits of functionality bring value just like the smart elevator brings speed and efficiency. But if usability is the ultimate goal, do these efforts align with what users want? The 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study asked survey participants to select the top three most important elements of ease of use (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Most Important Elements of Ease of Use (top 3 selected)

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

We find speed and efficiency at the very top of the list. Macola 10.5’s progressive disclosure, device independence, type-ahead search that requires less data to be entered, infinite scrolling and sort-able table columns all speak to speed and efficiency.

Of course with intuitive navigation, second on the list, the proof is in putting your hands on it. If you are an Exact customer or prospect, ask for a demo. But don’t be content to watch one of the Macola experts demonstrate the new user interface. Of course it seems intuitive when you are watching someone who’s done it about a million times. You will only know if it is intuitive if you try to use it with little or no instruction. We think the software will speak for itself, but you need to be the judge.

Third on our list is “Easy access from anywhere, any time.” Loosely translated, this means cloud. Cloud brings tremendous value, but cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) brings more. What’s the difference?

  • Cloud refers to access to computing, software and 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.
  • 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 generally paid for on a subscription basis and does not reside on your computers at all.

All SaaS is cloud computing, but not all cloud computing is SaaS. Traditional on-premise or hosted solutions might (or might not) be accessed via the cloud, although this is more likely to be a private cloud.

We could write volumes on the benefits of cloud and/or SaaS. For many, cost savings are the prime advantage. Beyond cost considerations, the other types of possible benefits include:

  • More innovation through more frequent updates
  • Better support of distributed environments and remote workforces
  • Risk mitigation

Macola has been available to run in the cloud for a long time. Everything demonstrated at Macola Evolve 2017 was running in Microsoft Azure.

And finally, rounding out the top four most important elements of ease of use is “Does what I need it to do easily and naturally.” This was a primary goal of Macola 10.5. “In any given day, our customers may be on the shop or warehouse floor managing operations, out of the office visiting customers or suppliers, or sourcing new materials. The latest update to our ERP and business software is focused on empowering users to more efficiently and seamlessly access the information they need to do their jobs, wherever they are at the time,” said Derek Ochs, director of development, Exact, Macola division. “With Macola 10.5, we are matching our software to the way our customers do their jobs. In the end, if Macola is truly doing its own job, the user hardly knows the software is there.”

Beyond Macola 10.5

Of course Exact will continue to develop its road map for Macola. But in addition it is also experimenting with a new “hackathon” approach. Periodically it takes teams of developers across all divisions of Exact and allows them to work on any new idea they might come up with, encouraging them to be creative and courageous. This can result in some pretty cool stuff that may or may not ever get into the product.

One that we think is very likely to make it in is a new login screen that uses facial recognition. Think about collecting transactions on a shop floor. Seldom does every worker have his or her own device for data entry to collect hours worked and quantity completed. At the lunch break or the end of a shift, are they queued up to record a half or full day of work? If so, wouldn’t it be great if they could just walk up to a screen and the system would automatically recognized them, log them in and maybe even bring up the production order in process? How much time and aggravation would that save?

Or how about a Macola Chat Bot (based on Microsoft’s bot engine) to do basic things in Macola just by chatting with it using Skype? Perhaps this might be an alternative user interface for occasional users so they don’t have to understand the system in order to get data and answers from it. Or how about a preferences engine that might suggest other items that are likely to be purchased as you add a line item in order entry?

These are just a few examples of sprint-like projects that are being conceived and developed through these hackathons. None of these are out of the realm of possibility with technology available today. Perhaps the biggest stumbling block to moving forward with these potential innovations is a lack of familiarity, and therefore appreciation for what technology can do today.

In our 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study we selected 14 different kinds of technology and asked respondents to assess their level of familiarity with each in terms of how they relate (or not) to their business. All respondents were asked about all 14, even though we realize some are more relevant to some industries than to others. Those shaded in the lighter green are primarily applicable to those making and/or moving a physical product, while those in the darker green are likely to be applied more universally (Table 1).

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

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

Adoption rates are still quite low and in many instances, those that have little or no familiarity outnumber those that understand it well. So in many cases Exact can’t rely on its customers to ask for these features. But even if customers aren’t pushing in this direction, perhaps Exact can pull them along, potentially transforming businesses as it does.

 Summary

Macola 10.5 brings some added new features and functions along with its pretty new face. These include:

  • A newly re-architected tablet-led user interface that uses size and fonts, color and contrast or added visual clarity, along with the ability to collapse or expand sections to take better advantage of the real estate on the screen
  • Progressive disclosure, keeping added detail (clutter) hidden until needed
  • Responsive design of software, which behaves differently depending on the device in use
  • Special search capabilities that ask the question as you type, “Did you mean…?”
  • Intuitive screens (but don’t take our word for it, see for yourself)
  • Available in the cloud

These are exciting times for the developers at Exact. If you are a customer, share in their excitement. If you are considering replacing your current ERP solution, Macola is definitely worth a look. Dive in to Macola 10.5 to see what you are missing.

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IFS Helps Customers Accelerate Out of The Curve of Digital Transformation

Making Asset Intensive Industries Lighter on their Feet

Asset intensive industries are quite likely to be capital intensive industries. Cost of entry is steep, but once you are an established player, you are tempted to hit cruise control. Living in a world where product lifespans tend to be measured in decades, growth and change come slowly. Or at least that’s the way it used to be. The digital economy has thrown you a curve. And when you are speeding down the business highway, a serious curve causes you to hit the brakes in order to safely negotiate the turn. But if you are riding a performance engine, there is nothing more exhilarating than accelerating out of that curve.

Digital technologies of today, those that serve to connect operations, people and processes through the power of the Internet, fuel that performance engine. Eighty-two percent (82%) of manufacturers participating in the 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study agree and 86% understand that embracing digital technologies is necessary for survival. And yet, we find the vast majority still coasting or riding the brakes when it comes to digital transformation.

IFS, a global enterprise applications company specializing in solutions for asset intensive industries, is setting out to help its customers accelerate out of the curve. Asset intensive businesses are very likely to be sitting on vast amounts of data gathered from products, assets and equipment. Yet few are able to leverage it fully. IFS IoT Business Connector, recently introduced at the IFS World Conference 2016, helps bridge the gap between data collection and analysis and between analysis and action. Through plug and play connectivity with the Microsoft Azure IoT Suite, customers can identify actionable observations that can trigger user-defined, automated or semi-automated actions for predictive maintenance, service management, asset management and manufacturing.

Need a Little Push?

As noted above, the majority of manufacturers today have an appreciation for the significance of digital technologies. In our 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study we asked survey participants how much they agreed with various statements about these new, advanced technologies (Table 1).

Table 1: How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following?

ifs-table1Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

Only 3% to 6% disagreed at all with any of the statements above and a relatively small percentage was neutral. The majority of manufacturers understand that digital technologies can be truly transformative. This data is consistent with data collected by IFS from its customers on perceptions about the Internet of Things (IoT) in particular. According to IFS, 86% of its installed base realize the importance of IoT, but 40% have no IoT strategy in place.

Mint Jutras actually finds these findings refreshingly candid. When we asked survey respondents how well prepared they were for the digital economy, we found a high level of confidence, with over half (58%) of all respondents indicating they were very well-prepared or at least close. And manufacturers claimed to be even more well prepared (Figure 1).

Figure 1: How well prepared are you for the digital economy?

ifs-fig-1Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

Yet subsequent questions about digital systems of record, as well as how activities were monitored, managed and performed, proved otherwise. The vast majority were found to still rely, at least partially, on spreadsheets, paper and manual processes. This not only indicates that many, manufacturers in particular, overestimate their level of preparedness and underestimate the impact digital technologies can and should have on the enterprise applications that are used to run the business, as well as the business itself.

Those in asset intensive industries are perhaps even slower to respond. Because their businesses tend to be more capital-intensive, they can’t turn on a dime like those businesses that require less capital for growth and change, thereby making them lighter on their feet.

So what is IFS doing to make them lighter on their feet and more nimble?

Cloud Helps

First of all, we see IFS offering cloud options. Many of these businesses require capital to be invested in assets necessary to run their businesses. By running IFS enterprise resource planning (ERP), field service management (FSM) and enterprise asset management (EAM) solutions in the cloud, they lighten the load of capital required to manage back office and front office processes. Indeed IFS reports that 34% of new business closed is now cloud-based and running on the Microsoft Azure platform.

While preferences and perceptions vary quite significantly across the different regions in which IFS operates, at least within the United States Mint Jutras research finds software as a service (SaaS) is the most preferred option for new deployments. However, we expect the worldwide market will be in transition for the next ten years or more. This is partially because the United States tends to lead the world, and partially because there are simply so many on-premise deployments today. The inertia that keeps manufacturers from actively researching and investigating new technologies is the same inertia that keeps these solutions in place long after their glory years. IFS addresses this by providing multiple deployment options and also by adding other solutions that allow customers to make strides in digital transformation while leaving existing solutions in place.

Cloud-based IFS IoT Business Connector will play an important role, but perhaps equally important is IFS Enterprise Operational Intelligence (EOI), to which it is connected.

IFS IoT Business Connector

According to IFS, “IFS IoT Business Connector turns IoT insights into actions in IFS Applications” (including ERP, FSM and EOI). The goal is to observe the environment and turn perceived challenges into opportunities – a lofty goal. But what is it and how does it do that?

Before we answer that question, it is important to understand the different steps the IFS IoT Business Connector facilitates in order to transform challenges faced into opportunities for growth and improvement.

Data, Devices and Communication

The first step is in collecting the data itself. This might be done through sensors on assets or equipment on the plant floor or in products in the field. This is not especially new in the world of manufacturing and/or field service maintenance. Often data comes through:

  • supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems used for remote monitoring and control
  • programmable logic controllers (PLCs) for the control of manufacturing processes, or any activity that requires high reliability and process fault diagnosis
  • OLE (object linking and embedding) for Process Control (OPC), which is a series of standards and specifications for industrial communication of real-time plant data between control devices.

The connections might be made through local network protocols or Internet communication. It has never been hard to collect millions or even billions of sensor readings. The IFS IoT Business Connector isn’t about the data collection. It is more about connecting that data to make better use of it, in real-time where appropriate.

Discovery

In order to take full advantage of the data collected, it is necessary to go through a discovery phase. The IFS IoT Discovery Manager (a component of IFS IoT Business Connector) provides additional management and monitoring capabilities when using Microsoft Azure IoT Suite as the discovery platform.  It automates the creation and connection of all IoT Suite components (hubs, streams, buses etc.) in accordance with the IFS IoT Business Connector reference architecture.

However, it is important to note that Microsoft Azure IoT Suite is not a mandated requirement. A customer may use a different solution for discovery, in which case IFS provides an API (application programming interface) to receive observations to be used in subsequent steps of the process.

Operationalizing the Data

IFS IoT Discovery Manager can receive and store thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of “observations.” But how do you interpret what the data is telling you? In order to operationalize the data, you need to be able to take action.

You will want to analyze data streams in real time in order to mine the data to help you discover potential problems and/or opportunities. You will want to apply some sort of decision-making algorithms that work 24/7, even when humans are asleep, sick or busy with other value-add tasks. And finally you will want to visualize the data, presenting it in a way that highlights issues, both good and bad, quickly.

Often the action taken must be recorded or reflected in the enterprise software that is running your business. The IFS IoT Gateway (another component of IFS IoT Business Connector) enables communications between the cloud-based discovery and analytics of IoT data and the on-premise or cloud-based IFS applications.

The failure of a door to open on public transportation can trigger a service call. A pest trap that is full and requires emptying can alert a service engineer in a pest control company. Variations in vibration, temperature or voltage of a piece of equipment can send a warning signal that results in a call to a maintenance company during off hours, preventing a halt to production. These are just three examples of how early adopters of IFS IoT Business Connector are looking to operationalize the data collected, either with the help of human review and augmentation or through (prescriptive) automated actions, or both.

Business Optimization

But the real results will come only when you effectively use the data, discovery and operations to optimize your business. That means monetizing it to develop new sources of revenue. That may require a different way of thinking. Even companies that have exclusively made money from making and moving product in the past, will likely find new revenue streams through services and/or data. IFS likes to call it the “servitization” of business. Whether you replace or supplement your product sales, new revenue opportunities can come from maintenance or consulting services, software (as a service) or even outcomes like hours of successful operation or output.

IFS IoT Controller (the third component of IFS IoT Business Connector) helps you determine what actions to take based on the analysis of observations about your business. It helps you map your operational technology to your business applications like ERP.

Cascading Effect on Business Applications

However, the connection back to ERP (and perhaps other applications like Field Service) might not be so intuitive. New sources of revenue might require new methods of invoicing and revenue recognition. It is one thing to ship and invoice for a physical product, but quite another to create invoices (and recognize revenue) for services and/or subscriptions.

Guessing how new business models will impact invoicing, revenue and cash is just that – a guess. As the digital economy also becomes the subscription economy, companies today need to be able to handle new and different revenue streams, often in conjunction with more traditional ones. And with the upcoming changes to revenue recognition as a result of the merging of accounting standards (ASC and IFRS), this places new functional requirements on ERP.

Changes to existing accounting software are not insignificant. In fact, they can be quite extensive. IFS is still working on these changes, but with an eye towards the 2018 deadline for implementing new rules.

Apart from these (very specific) accounting requirements, the real key to business optimization lies just beyond the scope of the IFS IoT Business Connector. As we mentioned earlier, equally, if not more importantly, is enterprise operational intelligence. Notice the lack of capitalization. In this case we use the phrase as a goal. Hopefully we don’t confuse our audience in saying IFS Enterprise Operational Intelligence or EOI is the means to this end (goal). The level of importance of EOI is further amplified in that it is one of those solutions that helps customers take those transformative first steps without requiring the full-scale replacement of ERP.

IFS Enterprise Operational Intelligence (EOI)

IFS describes EOI as the the key that unlocks intelligent business operations for its customers, “integrating real-time analytics into business processes to empower organizations to make better, faster decisions based on [their] strategic objectives.” Of course analytics are becoming much more mainstream today, but there are two differentiators here – strategy and action.

The first is that last qualifier, linking analytics to strategy. This starts with the first of three core steps: Map, monitor and manage.

  • Map: capturing and visualizing the business model, which of course is subject to change much more frequently than in days gone by, due to the potentially disruptive nature of digital technologies.
  • Monitor: connecting and visualling performance. After mapping the business, you then connect various data sources, including IFS applications, the IoT, other databases and applications and even Excel spreadsheets. These are presented in “cockpits.” These are more than just pretty charts on a dashboard. IFS distinguishes these from your typical (passive) dashboard by allowing you to take action right from the cockpit.
  • Manage: analyzing and improving business operations. IFS has embraced continuous improvement methodologies including PDCA (plan–do–check–act or plan–do–check–adjust) and OODA (the decision cycle of observe-orient-decide-act).

Customers using EOI prefer embedding this type of solution into their IFS enterprise applications rather than purchasing separate business intelligence (BI) and/or business process management (BPM) solutions that either run stand-alone or must be custom-integrated into the solutions that run their businesses. But even more importantly, it allows them to take some incremental steps in digitally transforming their businesses, without the major disruption of a full-scale upgrade or replacement.

Wrap Up

It seems quite appropriate that IFS’s recent marketing efforts have led the company to sponsor a Formula One racing team. Earlier this year IFS announced it had become a Principal Partner of the Sauber F1 Team for the 2016 FIA Formula One Championship. Why is it appropriate? According to Mark Boulton, chief marketing officer of IFS, “This new partnership between IFS and the Sauber F1 Team is based on strong foundations, as both companies are commited to innovation, focused on design, and treasure the power of effective teamwork. It’s these qualities that … are lived by our employees and partners every day as we continue to empower our growing global customer base with IFS’s leading software and solutions.”

Mint Jutras agrees that IFS has built a strong foundation, but more importantly, one which helps customers face those upcoming curves in the road caused by the looming inevitability of digital disruption. Just as you don’t want to be changing the tires (or the engine) while you are speeding down the road, IFS customers won’t want or need to switch out the engine that powers their businesses, nor will they be blindly steering into those turns.

IFS Enterprise Operational Intelligence (EOI) can put them in the cockpit and IFS IoT Business Connector can keep them connected to the data they need to make the decisions required to accelerate out of the curve.

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SYSPRO Delivers on the Practical Side of Digital Technologies

Bringing Technology, People and Processes Together In a Winning Combination

Advanced technologies and automation have been transforming manufacturing and distribution for decades now. Through these advances we have streamlined production and eliminated waste and variability. We make products better and faster. But the digital technologies of today, those that serve to connect operations, people and processes through the power of the Internet, have the potential of fundamentally changing the way we do business. Eighty-two percent (82%) of manufacturers participating in the 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study agree and 86% understand that embracing digital technologies is necessary for survival.

And yet few manufacturers seem to fully grasp the potential digital technologies have to truly change the game. In some ways, this is perfectly understandable. While we are constantly bombarded with examples of how digital technologies can transform our world, most of the examples fall into the category of consumer technology (social, home, shopping, fitness…). The reference to this technology in the context of the enterprise is very often at a level of abstraction that leaves down-to-earth manufacturers either scratching their collective heads or thinking it is way beyond their reach. While we might buy the latest consumer gadget just because we can, manufacturers and distributors make investment decisions with their feet planted firmly on the ground.

This is why SYSPRO is announcing six new capabilities that help manufacturers and distributors take practical advantage of advanced digital technologies. If you are one of these pragmatic individuals, you might be so busy dealing with day-to-day challenges that you let inertia keep you mired in spreadsheets and paper. If so, you’re not alone. But don’t let that stop you. SYSPRO’s new advanced capabilities might be just what you need to justify that leap into digital transformation.

Do Manufacturers and Distributors Care?

As noted above, the majority of manufacturers and distributors today have an appreciation for the significance of digital technologies. In our 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study we asked survey participants how much they agreed with various statements about these new, advanced technologies (Table 1).

Table 1: How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following?

syspro-table-3Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

Only 3% to 6% disagreed at all with any of the statements above and a relatively small percentage was neutral. The majority of those in manufacturing and distribution companies today understand that digital technologies can not only facilitate the connection between companies, people and processes, but can also automate the connection between different enterprise systems. Whether this is a continuation of your current plans for information technology (IT) and/or automation, or a brand new direction, you need to implement them in order to forge that connection. While 86% agree these technologies are necessary for basic survival, we find evidence they have not been embraced with the level of priority and urgency that will give companies a competitive advantage.

Table 2: To what extent are these activities performed/managed digitally?

syspro-table-2Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

Table 2 is a sad reminder of the continued prevalence of spreadsheets and paper. Of course some use of spreadsheets is simply the result of familiarity and comfort level. But that doesn’t make it any less troublesome or the data any more real-time.

Come to find out, SYSPRO USA also gathered its own intelligence on this topic through one of its SNAP surveys, sent to its own customers. From this latest poll, SYSPRO concluded, “Companies are confused or have never heard about the newest, high-impact technologies.” This conclusion was based on the question: “Have you read or heard about [insert technology]?” The technologies included were predictive analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT) and bots. In each case, less than half (about 45%) said “Yes.” The remainder said, “No, I don’t know” or, in the case of bots, “Not sure.”

While this actually could help explain this lack of urgency, Mint Jutras interprets the answers a little differently. Individuals may be confused, but more likely these responses indicate they simply are not paying attention and therefore don’t make the connection between problems and challenges faced and digital technologies. For those that follow technology trends closely, the hype over digital technologies is impossible to miss. But your typical manufacturing or distribution professionals are far less likely to follow technology just for the sake of technology. They are far too busy fighting those pesky fires on a day to day basis.

Talking about predictive analytics won’t get their attention. Talking about ways to better forecast demand or predict revenue and profits might. Connecting the dots is not only practical, but also a winning combination.

Discussing the Internet of Things is an intellectual discussion. Suggesting ways to make better use of data captured today on the shop floor (i.e. through the IoT), whether it is for the purpose of increasing throughput or quality or customer service, is not only practical, but also a winning combination.

Bots in general still seem quite futuristic and “pie in the sky” to many, in spite of the fact that all kinds of production and material handling automation is already quite prevalent in many manufacturing and distribution companies. But investment in that kind of automation has traditionally been expressly for the purpose of making and/or moving more product, better and faster, not making the business itself, or the people that run it any more productive or efficient. But think about where supervisors and managers can be the most effective – not sitting at their desks, but out on the floor. The problem in the past arose from the fact that as soon as they leave the comfort of their offices and venture out on the floor, they have been instantly disconnected from enterprise data. Demonstrating how communicating with devices in a hands-free manner can facilitate control and decision-making is not only practical, but also a winning combination.

That’s really what SYSPRO’s new capabilities are all about: practical ways of bringing technology, people and processes together in a winning combination.

SYSPRO’s New Digital Capabilities

So what are these new capabilities? They combine the power of digital technologies with analytics, cloud deployment, big data and some other cool, high-impact technologies like that used for facial recognition. But think beyond faces; think about blemishes on raw ingredients, components or fabricated products. Here’s the rundown:

SYSPRO Azure Cloud Platform

SYSPRO has teamed up with Microsoft to deliver infrastructure as a service (IaaS) now and platform as a service (PaaS) in 2017. SYSPRO’s ERP will be delivered in the Azure cloud in 2016, but will also move beyond this to deliver the SYSPRO Azure Operation Center. This is more than just a data center. It will be staffed with SYSPRO employees that will provide managed services to assist companies looking to move from on-premise to cloud deployments. Early on SYSPRO customers may want to lift and shift from existing on-premise deployment and then move more fully into a SaaS environment in order to take full advantage of software as a service (SaaS). But these SYSPRO employees will also be available for new installations and will be armed with templates and tools for rapid deployment.

Additional services offered will include backups of course, but also system monitoring, incident management, disaster recovery and high availability (think automatic rollover and scaling).

Mint Jutras research finds SaaS deployment is the most preferred option for new deployments, but the market will be in transition for the next ten years or more because there are simply so many on-premise deployments today. The inertia that keeps manufacturers and distributors from actively researching and investigating new technologies is the same inertia that keeps these solutions in place long after their glory years. SYSPRO can help make that transition smoother and more appealing.

SYSPRO Harmony

SYSPRO describes this as a “cloud-based multi-user experience platform that unites social media capabilities, internal/external collaboration, machine learning, cognitive services and data analytics into a single offering for accomplishing targeted or highly complex tasks.” That’s a mouthful. What does it really mean?

To the manufacturing or distribution professional who might think “social” is something employees should do on their own free time, think of it more as an application that lets you keep your finger on the pulse of all the “stuff” going on concerning your production, orders, operations and finances.

Many business leaders in manufacturing and distribution companies downplay the importance of “social” capabilities, equating them to social media. But when we break down the really useful capabilities, and don’t necessarily label them as “social” we get a very different response. Suddenly these concepts become useful or even “must have!”

Table 3: Would these capabilities be useful? Shhh… don’t call them “social”

syspro-table-1Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

If you aren’t already a fan of “social” the concept of “following” might not seem familiar to you. But chances are, you are already following someone or something either in your professional or personal life. Perhaps you follow the stock price of specific companies, or you watch a stock exchange like NASDAQ or the Nikkei. Or maybe you follow the stats of your favorite sports teams. Maybe you do that through newspapers, online or using an app on your mobile device. Perhaps newsfeeds are delivered to you through email. Regardless of the delivery method, the objective is to stay informed.

What if you could easily apply that same concept to your customers, orders or prospects? Perhaps you need to keep tabs on that big deal you hope to close by the end of the quarter. Wouldn’t it also be helpful to “follow” the trail of activity that has already occurred during the sales cycle? What if you could see the conversations or chatter between sales rep and manager? What documents have been delivered to the prospect? And what if this potential deal is with an existing customer? Wouldn’t you like to be able to scroll through the support activity over the past few months, including the calls, issues, resolutions? Has the customer experienced any quality or delivery issues? Have they been consistently paying their bills on time or is their outstanding balance over 90 days?

And what if all that activity was collected for you and presented in a single stream? The result of monitoring these types of activity streams is fewer surprises and more proactive versus reactive management. And to present this coherently you need a “consumer grade” user interface. This is what SYSPRO Harmony is all about.

SYSPRO Predictive Search

Enterprise search capabilities should be quite self-explanatory, but don’t mistake just any kind of current search capability for a true enterprise search. Of course you can look up a part by its description or a customer number by the customer’s name. ERP solutions have had this kind of search capability since the 1990’s. But can you search across your entire enterprise database for any reference to a particular customer, including contacts, conversations, sales orders, invoices, dunning notices, cash receipts? It’s not entirely clear when “Google” became a verb, but can you “Google” your customer and include the data in your ERP?

SYSPRO’s Predictive Search can be used to search like this within the confines of your ERP. It is predictive just like your consumer device or your productivity tools (think email and messaging) are predictive. You start typing and it anticipates what you are looking for. And best of all, it puts that search into a specific context of a customer or an order or any relevant business object.

SYSPRO BOTS

Sometimes you might think when you are looking for an answer to your question, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just ask for something in plain English?” Many smart phones today allow you to do just that, using voice activated commands. You say, “Hey Siri” and an automated bot responds. With SYSPRO Bots, you initiate a similar conversation with, “Hey chatbot.” And guess who and what is at your service? It is actually a self-service agent lurking in the background, one that never needs a coffe break or a day off.

SYSPRO Webviews (User Interface)

SYSPRO has completely rethought dashboards, making them configurable to the extent that a single individual can construct his or her own “single view” of the world. Tailorable by power users (without the assistance of a developer), the traditional “read only” view of the world becomes interactive. For example, an order can be released from a dashboard via a single click – no need to open it up, browse through and then take action.

The Age of Digital Disruption

Eighty-one percent (81%) of manufacturers and distributors agree that embracing digital technologies will give them a competitive advantage. And yet 77% to 91% still rely at least partially on spreadsheets or (even worse) manual efforts to plan and manage activities. This is a far cry from “embracing” digital. So what are they waiting for? What are you waiting for?

The Internet levels the playing field in our global economy, allowing companies of any size to establish a presence and compete on a global basis. That’s the good news. The bad news is that those same windows of opportunity you might encounter, are also open to your competitors. And those competitors come in many different shapes and sizes. So as you take your place on the world stage, be careful what you wish for. The enterprise applications that got you where you are today simply may not be able to take you where you need to go. In order to participate and become a real player, you need to embrace the cloud and take advantage of digital technologies in many different shapes and forms.

The age of digital disruption is upon us. As a result, you better be pretty flexible in terms of where you want – and need – to go. Giving examples like Uber, which disrupted the taxi industry, Airbnb, which disrupted hospitality and Netflix and iTunes, which disrupted entertainment, we asked our 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study participants, “How much risk do you face in your industry being disrupted?” Figure 1 shows the majority (79%) peg the risk as low to medium. But how do you think the taxi industry would have responded shortly before Uber came on the scene? These kinds of game-changing disruptions can occur right out of the blue. Are you ready? Would you survive?

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

syspro-fig-1Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

What will be the compelling events that drive this disruption? Will it come from the introduction of new products or from new ways of selling/pricing existing products, or entirely new business models? Or might it come from some combination of sources, making it even more unpredictable?

Are You Listening?

Manufacturers and distributors face difficult challenges, not only in the possibility of disruption, but just in dealing with the increasing complexities of an already complex world. You don’t have time to constantly surf the web and other information sources looking for that one new digital technology that just might change the game (and your life). So in keeping abreast of new, potentially high-impact technologies, select your source carefully. SYSPRO has the practical experience, the vision, the expertise and the platform to deliver. If you are looking to better embrace digital technologies for practical use, to connect enterprise systems directly to people and processes, to gain a competitive advantage… SYSPRO speaks your language.

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Plex Systems Hits the Acquisition Trail

Earlier this month Plex Systems announced its first (ever) acquisition. On August 9, 2016, Plex revealed it had acquired DemandCaster, essentially stretching the end points of its end-to-end cloud-based solution for manufacturers. Adding DemandCaster’s Supply Chain Planning (SCP) solutions to its enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution system (MES) means Plex now has the most complete suite of products of any independent cloud-native solution provider targeting manufacturing.

As I noted in a recent post, there are several reasons for one company to acquire another, one of which being to:

Fill a product gap: It can be far easier to acquire functionality than to develop it yourself. This can make the company more competitive, provide cross-sell and up-sell opportunity, or both. But don’t assume there is any M&A pixie dust that will magically integrate products overnight.

This is clearly Plex’s intent here, adding SCP to an already robust ERP and MES offering. But in this case, no M&A pixie dust is required. Plex and DemandCaster have been partnering together for about a year and already 10 out of DemandCaster’s 50 customers are also Plex customers. The integration is complete and bidirectional.

Partnering turned out to be a great way for the two companies to get to know each other and Plex was already positioning (and white labeling) DemandCaster as its answer to supply chain planning, sales and operation planning (S&OP), practical forecasting and demand planning, distribution requirements planning (DRP) and multi-site master production scheduling (MPS).

The solution, which is based on Microsoft technology, is highly graphical and was built from scratch as a multi-tenant SaaS solution. And the functionality is 100% complementary. The company is based in Chicago, but has a team of developers in Bulgaria, which could prove to be an additional plus in being a great entry point for Plex in attacking the eastern European market.

While acquisitions have a tendency to cause disruption, fear, uncertainty and doubt, if there ever was one immune to that disruption, this is the one. The entire staff of DemandCaster, including founder and CEO Ara Surenian, will come on board as Plex employees. Customers should only see a continuation (or perhaps strengthening) of their relationship. There is no sales staff to integrate. Previously DemandCaster was sold online with a “try before you buy” approach, with a little product evangelism thrown in. Plex intends to leave that channel open. Who knows, other (ERP and MES) sales efforts might even benefit.

Plex should also benefit from being able to natively satisfy the needs of larger, multi-national, multi-site manufacturing enterprises. The largest DemandCaster customer already handles over 300,000 individual SKUs. This could help Plex move up market and DemandCaster will also provide an additional entry point into Plex prospects.

Plex will also continue to make DemandCaster available as a “stand-alone” solution. We use the term loosely because DemandCaster alone is pretty useless unless it is tied back to an ERP. DemandCaster handles the integration by placing a very simple piece of software on the customer’s system. No APIs or web services required. Of the 40 nonPlex customers, DemandCaster already successfully interoperates with 18 different ERP solutions. So who knows, this might even be a “land and expand” opportunity for Plex to lead with SCP and eventually replace an incumbent ERP.

As acquisitions go, this one seems to be nice and neat and clean – adjectives rarely used in the same sentence as M&A. Kudos to Plex Systems for starting small but knocking one out of the park!

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QAD Channel Islands: Multiple Stops on the Journey to the Effective Enterprise

QAD defines the Effective Enterprise as one “where business processes are operating at peak efficiency and perfectly aligned with strategic goals.” Yet given the ever-accelerating pace of change in our world today, QAD also recognizes that the Effective Enterprise is more of a journey than a destination. The journey is one of continuous improvement and carefully balanced objectives.

The same could be said for the software that runs the business. Which is why its “Channel Islands” initiative is divided into milestones that have QAD (figuratively) hopping from one island to the next. A year ago it released Anacapa and this year Santa Cruz is ready for early adopters. Next year, it will navigate to Santa Rosa and in 2018, San Miguel. With two releases a year planned, chances are San Miguel will simply be another stop along the never-ending journey, but by then QAD will likely be on to other additional adventures suitable to whatever the future might bring.

Channel Islands: An Appropriate Metaphor

In the meantime, QAD appears to have chosen the name of its latest initiative well. QAD’s Channel Islands initiative has a dual purpose. The metaphor is perfect because the first goal of the initiative is to re-invent the entire user experience of QAD ERP, making it more natural (intuitive), visually appealing and easy to use. The Channel Islands of California are a chain of eight islands located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern California along the Santa Barbara Channel near QAD headquarters. The main attraction of the real Channel Islands is their natural beauty, providing relief from the cluttered, hard-to-navigate urban setting.

But the second goal of the initiative makes it even more appropriate. The islands are divided into two groups—the Northern Channel Islands and the Southern Channel Islands. The four Northern Islands used to be a single landmass, but as water levels rose (thousands of years ago), Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel emerged and evolved as separate islands. While QAD ERP was originally developed as a single, tightly integrated solution that needed to move forward in lock step, the goal now is to support more modular upgrades, allowing different modules and disciplines (think finance versus purchasing or production) to move forward independently at their own pace. Mint Jutras often refers to this approach as “loosely coupled” versus tightly integrated, but it should not be confused with a collection of point solutions with arm’s length interfaces. Just like the Northern Islands, under the surface all these different functional areas are still connected.

In fact that was why QAD named the first phase Anacapa. Of the four Northern Channel Islands, Anacapa appears to be the smallest, but in fact has an enormous land mass hidden under the surface of the water. This is representative of the work done to re-architect the underlying infrastructure, reworking the application programming interface (API) structure and protocols, and future proofing the user interface (UI), including the framework for connecting devices. This supports the theory that sometimes the best UI is no UI at all and paves the way for succeeding phases (Islands).

To better understand how QAD is delivering on this modular upgrade approach as well as a new and improved user experience, read the full report (no registration required):

QAD Channel Islands: Multiple Stops on the Journey to the Effective Enterprise

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Women in Manufacturing & Technology At PowerPlex 2016

I recently had the opportunity to participate in Plex Systems’ second annual Women in Manufacturing and Technology Forum. Held at PowerPlex 2016, Plex’s annual user conference, this year’s forum brought together over 85 women, providing an opportunity for networking and discussion. Plex also put together a moderated panel (on which I was honored to sit) to kick off the discussion. But in spite of the name of the forum, the topic of discussion wasn’t manufacturing or technology, but rather the challenges women face in working in what is still very much a man’s world.

So if the discussion didn’t touch on manufacturing or the Plex Manufacturing Cloud, or any kind of software for that matter, why did Plex do this? I believe it is ultimately because Plex cares deeply about its customers and their success. The depth of interest is evident in the level of customer engagement that strikes me as exceptional every time I meet Plex customers or attend one of its events. And while the software is the focal point of the engagement, customer success is always a combination of people, process and technology.

On the people side, amidst an overall skills shortage in manufacturing, women have so much to offer. Yet while our ranks are growing slowly, we remain a small minority. It is very challenging for a woman to get ahead and make it to the top and we need to support each other along the way. The best way to accelerate gender diversity in the worlds of manufacturing and technology is to create a supportive environment and highlight success. In the famous words of former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, “There should be a special place in hell for women that don’t help other women.”

Plex happens to have some great role models, with three women among its C-level executives: Heidi Melin, Chief Marketing Officer, Lilian Reaume, Chief Human Resource Officer and Elisa Lee, Chief Legal Counsel. These three women actively sponsored the forum. I applaud them for that. I would also like to share with everyone a couple of the main themes we discussed, as there are some good lessons both men and women can carry away from them.

Don’t Limit Yourself

While some women are indeed shattering the “glass ceiling” today, many (not all) of the limitations that hold others back are self-imposed. While no two women are exactly alike (just as no two men are), when asked to rate themselves on skills and accomplishments, women tend to under-estimate their own effectiveness, while men tend to over-estimate theirs. A woman will say she is good at A, okay at B and has never done C. A man with the same skill set will say he excels at A and B and could very easily learn C. It’s all about the presentation and the self-confidence with which it is presented. I am not advocating for shameless self-promotion, but whether this reticence stems from a lack of confidence or an overactive sense of modesty, it is equally detrimental in seeking advancement as it is in interviewing for a new job.

Believe in Yourself, But Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help

If you are a woman and have trouble believing in yourself, you’re not alone. Many of the most successful women in the world today grew up believing they could do anything they set out to do. Very often they had the support of family or an early mentor who encouraged them to pursue their dreams.

I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Condoleeza Rice speak recently and walked away with a quote that I think is priceless. She was talking about growing up with the support of her parents. Dr. Rice and I are about the same age. But while I had the advantage in the 1950’s of growing up white in the northeast, she was a little black girl in Birmingham, Alabama where segregation was the norm. And yet she said, “Somehow my father believed that the little black girl that couldn’t order a hamburger at the lunch counter at Woolworth’s, could grow up to be the president of the United States.” That belief system carried Dr. Rice very far.

But just as many women (probably more) didn’t have that level of encouragement growing up and still don’t have it today. But it’s never too late. Seek out that encouragement. It doesn’t have to come from another woman, but it should be someone who is successful in his or her own right, either in business or just in life.

Be Yourself

One of the most common mistakes women make in entering a man’s world is trying to think, behave, act or communicate like a man. A piece of advice from someone who has worked in a man’s world for over 40 years … Don’t. Yes, develop your ability to think, analyze and be decisive. Yes, work on your communication skills, both listening and speaking. Yes, be conscious of how you come across (confidently or defensively). The list of skills you should develop will vary based on your role. Regardless of your role, trust me, it will be long. But as you work on that list, work just as hard to be yourself. Don’t try to be a man. It’s OK – even good – to be a woman in a man’s world as long as you remain you. If you haven’t figured out who that is yet, don’t worry, you will. I may not see it before I retire, but if we all do that, perhaps the man’s world will indeed give way to a world of diversity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Epicor Announces It Will Grow Business, Not Software

Epicor has a new tag line: “[We] grow business, not software.” The declaration is not quite as radical as it would first appear. In fact it appears to me to be much more evolutionary than revolutionary.

Epicor’s mantra for years was “Protect, Extend, Converge.” As in:

  • Protect its customers
  • Extend its solutions
  • Converge its product lines

However, in 2014 it appeared Epicor was diverging a bit from the convergence strategy, primarily as a result of the merger of (the original) Epicor and Activant. Both had grown through acquisition, but while Epicor’s ERP solutions were multi-purpose ERP (focused primarily on discrete manufacturing) and therefore ripe for rationalization, each of Activant’s products was purpose-built for distribution, and over time each had become even more focused and fine-tuned to specific segments of wholesale distribution. And then there was the SolarSoft acquisition (2012), which brought along an ERP which focused on more process-oriented industries, and also a “best of breed” manufacturing execution system (MES). And finally there was Epicor’s retail business, which was actually spun off last year.

So while the “Protect” and “Extend” sentiments of the message are still very much alive, convergence gave way to a new message. Last year, Epicor’s (new) CEO, Joe Cowan declared the company would be “totally focused on the customer.” This year’s tag line seems to me to be a simple extension of that customer focus. Software is not the end goal. The goal is to help Epicor customers grow their businesses. It just so happens Epicor will develop software and provide services to make that happen. And a lot of the software will be delivered as a service, as evidenced by the appearance of a fluffy white cloud in the middle of the tag line.

Epicor tag line

Of course in having a tag line like this, Epicor needs to be careful not to make the message itself too fluffy. And in promising to help customers grow, Epicor will have to execute a delicate balancing act, balancing what the customers say they want and what Epicor knows they need. This is particularly true of those customers still running older legacy solutions. Epicor has promised not to sunset those products. And yet if you really understand the demands and opportunities of the new global, digital economy, you know you can’t be competitive without modern, advanced technologies.

Customers running legacy solutions won’t benefit as much from the latest and greatest development, but that’s not to say they won’t benefit at all. Epicor has been a bit quiet on the technology front for the past few years, but that is not the result of lack of attention. In fact it has been doing a lot, sometimes at the expense of new features and functions. Its advanced technology architecture (ICE), visionary at the time of its initial release circa 2009, has undergone a technology refresh of its own, and it also paves the way forward for both strategic products like Epicor 10, Prophet 21 and others, as well as legacy solutions like Vista and Vantage,  etc.

Now that that refresh is complete (for now… after all, technology continues to advance at an ever-accelerating pace), you’ll see more aggressive development of features and functions. Epicor is picking up the cadence of releases, shooting for twice a year (spring and fall) for its strategic products, which of course will garner more of its resources. But even legacy solutions will benefit from the development of external components, which can be used across different product lines. Prime examples include web portals, dashboards, self-service functions, mobile apps and other new features. And developing these components as web-based services (delivered through the cloud) will have the dual purpose of extending solutions and gently pushing those running primarily (or exclusively) on-premise towards the cloud.

I agree with Epicor’s new CTO, Himanshu Palsule, who called the transition to the cloud “inevitable.” But it won’t happen overnight (Figure 1). Part of the reason for this slower, yet steady growth is the fact that there are so many on-premise solutions in production today. And many remain reluctant to simply rip and replace solutions that are essentially getting the job done.

Figure 1: What percentage of your business software is deployed as SaaS?

Fig 1 EpicorSource: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

In his main stage keynote, Himanshu also (very astutely) observed that for a topic that is so widely discussed, “cloud” is still misunderstood and means different things to different people. My research supports his observation. While many use the terms cloud and SaaS interchangeably (I find myself guilty of this at times), they are not the same. While all SaaS is cloud, not all cloud is SaaS. While only a small percentage (12%) in 2015 didn’t know how they preferred cloud to be delivered, that percentage didn’t shrink in 2016 (Figure 2). There is still some education to be done. If you count yourself among those that “don’t know,” don’t be afraid to ask. You’re not alone.

Figure 2: How would you prefer cloud to be delivered?

Fig 2 EpicorSource: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

I’ve written extensively about the anticipated appeal of SaaS, along with the benefits actually realized. But I wouldn’t disagree with Himanshu’s conclusions about what cloud should stand for:

  • Choice
  • Convenience
  • Cost Control
  • Customization
  • Collaboration

However, I would qualify two of his bullet points. A few years back, my survey participants placed a high value on choice of deployment options. They seemed to like the idea of portability and the ability to move from on-premise to SaaS and from SaaS back to on-premise. Today many are looking for a path that helps them move from on-premise to SaaS, but once they move to SaaS, they almost never go back unless forced to (e.g. they get acquired by a company running a licensed, on-premise solution). So having multiple deployment options available is no longer such a high priority. Prospects simply pre-qualify those solution providers based on the deployment option they prefer.

I agree that choice is important. But it is more important to Epicor as the solution provider than to its customers and prospects. There are still some environments where a real multi-tenant SaaS solution might not be the best choice – at least not right now. These might be heavily regulated industries that require solutions to be certified, and re-certified when they change. Or a heavily customized solution may be required. And customization is the other bullet from Himanshu’s list that needs to be well-qualified.

Not all customizations are created equal. First of all, some simply aren’t needed. They might be left over from an implementation of a solution with far fewer capabilities than available today. Or they might have resulted from a “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality. If customization does not differentiate you in your market, I would seriously question whether it is justified.

Furthermore, customizations can be implemented in a variety of ways. Invasive code changes and SaaS don’t make for a good combination. But if customizations can be added as external components and linked back to ERP through Web APIs, or if they can be implemented through configuring the software without mucking around in the code, they may be perfectly compatible.

So Epicor’s announcement this week of its “cloud-first focus to support digital transformation of wholesale distributors is spot on”. The Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study found wholesale distributors lagging behind other industries in preference for and adoption of SaaS solutions. We also found 47% to 73% still relying heavily on paper for their operational and transactional system of record (customer and purchase orders, expense management, payments, etc.). They lag behind other industries in spite of the fact that ecommerce and their proximity to consumers puts them at a higher risk of disruption from the digital economy. Perhaps this “cloud-first” focus will be the gentle push wholesale distributors might need to start down the path of digital transformation.

Indeed, Epicor says it will be “…doubling-down on helping distributors adapt to these shifting dynamics of the marketplace—with an added focus to ushering customers’ journey to leverage the power of cloud-based solutions to drive increased productivity and achieve a differentiated customer experience to grow their business.”

Indeed wholesale distributors aren’t the only Epicor customers that will benefit from this “doubling-down.” I heard similar plans from the Epicor 10 side of the house, including planned features and functionality, along with efforts to improve simplification and usability. Yes, it’s about the overall user experience, but those driving the products seem to understand it’s not just about the “pretty software” you hear so much about today. As business models change, as technology advances and as new innovative products come to market, Epicor’s product must be easy to use, easy to install, easy to manage, and easy to change when the need arises.

Epicor “gets” it. We’ll be watching to see if it delivers.

 

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A Changing of the Guard at IQMS

A new president and CEO took the stage at IQMS Pinnacle this week as customers and long time employees bid a fond farewell to founders and leaders Randy and Nancy Flamm. IQMS has been one of the best kept secrets in the world of ERP for manufacturing, but new investors hope to break out of the stealth marketing mode of the past and really put the company on the path to increased market awareness and a new level of growth. New CEO Gary Nemmers, previously with HighJump, stepped into this new role about six months ago and has been assembling a team that will shift the strategic focus, but also leverage successes of the past.

Under Randy’s leadership the customer base has grown quite steadily to about 500 customers (not too shabby!) and those customers have been instrumental in developing manufacturing functionality that is both broad and deep. Indeed product development has been almost exclusively driven by Software Enhancement Requests (SERs) submitted by customers. While that approach was smart in the early stages of the company’s growth, building “real world” functionality that expressly meets the needs of its users, at some point it also has some drawbacks.

The breadth of functionality that IQMS can deliver is impressive, particularly for a relatively small ERP player. Scratch the surface of other solutions from vendors comparable in size and you get more surface. Scratch the surface of EnterpriseIQ (IQMS’ ERP) and you find remarkable depth. And you also have a very engaged user community. But having been driven by existing customers, the development process has not been entirely well organized. One customer noted, “It’s like a house that started out small and then additions were added on piecemeal. In the end you might have everything you need, but not necessarily where you need it. You might find the oven in the living room.”

Development of some of IQMS’ mobile apps provides us a good example. The development team has produced some pretty cool features like its Android Bulletin Board, described as “Twitter for your shop floor” or “Messenger-like instant communication to workers on the shop floor.” This includes the ability to attach the equivalent of sticky notes to business objects (e.g. orders, work centers, etc.). As the status of these business objects changes, an update is automatically sent. But while most of this development work is now transitioning to HTML5, making it compatible with a range of devices including Android, iOS and Windows devices, many of the existing apps run only on Android – not very useful if your company has standardized on iOS or Windows.

This example is symptomatic of a larger limitation inherent in being completely customer-driven. Customers will never push a vendor to do a major revamp of the underlying technology – particularly small to midsize manufacturers They already have too much to worry about without asking their software provider to fix something that isn’t broken. And yet today that underlying technology is critical in building and/or maintaining a competitive advantage in our digital economy.

Questions inserted (new this year) in our 2016 Enterprise Solution Study lead me to believe many companies over-estimate their “digital preparedness.” A two thirds majority (67%) of manufacturers feel they are close to or very well prepared for the digital economy, yet Table 1 tells us a very different story.

Table 1: To what extent is your operational and transactional system of record digital?

IQMS Table 1Source: 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study

*B2C Commerce is Not Applicable to 18% of our respondents

Generally over half still rely heavily on paper for their transactional system of record – more proof no solution provider can rely on existing customers to push for a major technological shift (e.g. to full web-enablement, support of HTML5, social, mobile and cloud capabilities).

For this kind of progress, as well as growth and expansion into new markets, you need a strategic plan and a well-defined product road map. That is exactly what new VP of Product Management, Rob Wiersma, is setting out to do. This shift in overall product and corporate strategy will take some time to put in place, but this is not Rob’s first rodeo. He is only in his second month on the job, so right now customers and prospects will need to wait and watch for this. But I would expect to see some major progress within months, not years.

Another area that bears watching is IQMS’ cloud strategy. The catch phrase at IQMS Pinnacle was “Cloud is the new choice.” The choices from IQMS today include a traditional on-premise license, a hosted model or cloud managed services. Notice there was no mention of Software as a Service (SaaS). And just to be clear, we know that while all SaaS is cloud, not all cloud is SaaS.

While the two terms are often used interchangeably (I admit to falling into that trap as well), they are not the same thing. So let’s distinguish between the two:

  • Cloud refers to access to computing, software and 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.
  • 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 generally paid for on a subscription basis and does not reside on your computers at all.

Again – all SaaS is cloud, not all cloud is SaaS. While the IQMS customers I spoke with are not expressing a strong desire for SaaS (in fact some are still trying to understand the difference between client/server and SaaS and cloud), many are also faced with the challenge of aging servers that ultimately will need to be replaced… or not. Moving to a hosted model may eliminate the need for upgrading this hardware, but it also might not, depending on who and how it is hosted. Moving to SaaS eliminates this problem by eliminating the need to invest in hardware and its ongoing maintenance, among all the other potential benefits of SaaS. And I am now seeing a shift in preference away from hosting and to a real SaaS solution (Figure 1).

Figure 1: How do you prefer your “cloud”?

IQMS fig 1Source: 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study

So far IQMS “cloud” options provide reasonable choices to customers not demanding SaaS, but this could limit growth in the future. IQMS added about 100 new customers in 2015 and is expecting to increase that number to 140 in 2016. So it will be interesting to watch as IQMS continues to further define its overall strategy, including cloud and SaaS.

Mr. Nemmers has also made some other changes in his (so far) short tenure with the company. On the advice of his head of customer support (a 20 year veteran of IQMS) he deployed new call center software (Five9 Call Center), which went live about a month ago and is now operating 24X7 and providing faster response time and quicker resolution of customer issues. The software features skill-based browsing to connect the customer to the right support technician, and a nifty feature that facilitates an automatic call back (without losing your place in line) when high call volume precipitates a longer than usual wait time.

In order to emerge from its stealth marketing mode, IQMS also has a new CMO, Steve Biesczcat, on board now for almost a year. I think we will see some significant changes in the near future, since Mr. Nemmers has doubled the SEO and brand recognition budget from a year ago.

There have been some changes on the sales side as well with a new VP of Sales Operations (long time industry veteran Gary Gross) and the formation of a new Customer Success Team (think account management), leaded by Ken Kratz, providing a better front line link from the customer to IQMS. Also expect growth in EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) through value added resellers (VARs) using the same model that has been successful in covering the Asia Pacific area.

In summary, I think 2016 will prove to be a year of transition for IQMS. I think fewer and fewer industry observers and potential prospects will be saying, “IQMS? Who’s that?” I look forward to seeing an aggressive and progressive road map and certainly more splash on the marketing side. I expect to see growth in North America and internationally. And through this transition I would expect customers to remain engaged and productive.

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Post-Modern ERP Meets #CommerceCloud: Infor to Acquire GT Nexus

Earlier today Infor announced it would acquire GT Nexus and its cloud-based, global commerce platform for $675 million. Pending regulatory approval, expect the deal to close within 45 days.

While at first glance this might seem to be a “me too” move following in the footsteps of SAP’s acquisition of Ariba, this is actually different in that it is all about direct (versus indirect) procurement, which is inherently more complicated because it must tie back to the sale of goods and the production process.

This is something Infor CEO Charles Phillips says he and Infor President Duncan Angove have been looking to do since coming on board in late 2010, pointing to the continued shift to contract manufacturing that moves much of the production process outside the four walls of the traditional factory. “Continued” is indeed the right adjective to use here.

This shift started decades ago when low-cost country sources made “outsourcing” very appealing. As companies have tended to become less vertically integrated, reducing costs and focusing instead on their core competencies, this necessitates new ways of doing business with each other. Through the purchase of subassemblies or finished products, the contracting of manufacturing or distribution services or the outsourcing of customer service or information technology, the value chain has lengthened and become more complicated. Yet expectations of response time and delivery performance have risen dramatically.

This is actually a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I went back and dug up something I wrote previously back in the day, before the digital age, when we talked about “E-business.” Here is what I wrote:

These new business models involve multiple companies working cooperatively and collaboratively together, in a seemingly seamless manner, as if they were a single virtually vertical enterprise. A company that can successfully interoperate in this way can claim to have reached the goal of full E-business integration.

As a result of this push toward full E-business integration, businesses face challenges that force them to push the envelope of business information systems. ERP grew from its predecessors of MRP and MRP II, constantly expanding its solution footprint to address more and more needs of the enterprise. Yet ERP was not conceived to look beyond the “four walls” of the enterprise, regardless of how expansive those walls would become, simply because the concepts of MRP and ERP were born in a time when companies were run as independent enterprises with arm’s length relationships with customers and suppliers.”

Mr. Phillips and Mr. Angove both acknowledged this situation today in announcing the proposed acquisition. They talked about “post-modern ERP” that (with the addition of GT Nexus) would push beyond those “four walls” and “provide customers with unprecedented visibility into their supply chains to manage production and monitor goods in transit and at rest.”

But none of this is really new news. That excerpt above is from my book, ERP Optimization, which was released in December 2002. Has it really taken more than a decade to deliver on this promise? Yes and no. First of all, when I look back on where we were when I wrote ERP Optimization, I realize just how far we have come. Back then “trading exchanges” weren’t much more than online dating sites for buyers and sellers, and very few offered value-added services like trade financing, logistics, electronic payment and settlement. Connecting these functions back to your ERP was difficult at best. Internet procurement was in its infancy. Most companies were still struggling with all the non-standard versions of “standardized” EDI. And the smart phone and other mobile devices (apart from the cell phone) had yet to be invented, so most of us couldn’t even dream of being as “connected” as we are today.

So yes, we have come a very long way. But through that progression, our expectations have also risen. We no longer simply “outsource.” We participate in a networked economy and we look to the cloud to keep us all connected. We also deal in a much more global economy, including emerging economies in countries that were hardly industrialized a short decade ago. The speed of business, as well as the speed of change has accelerated beyond anyone’s expectations.

So it is no wonder that the executives of Infor have wanted to fill this need since coming on board. They actually thought about building their own network. But I think they were smart in acquiring one. After all, the value of the network is largely measured by its size, scope and strength. And let’s face it, you don’t build one that is 25,000 businesses strong (like GT Nexus) overnight. And once networks like these are established and mature, it becomes harder and harder to build a brand new one. Once companies like adidas Group, Caterpillar, Columbia Sportswear, DHL, Home Depot, Levi Strauss & Co., Maersk, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble and UPS have joined, that network becomes that much more attractive with each new major brand added – hence the attraction to Infor.

GT Nexus is also a good choice because it is unique in that it includes supply chain financing partners that add even more value. Buyers and financial institutions offer pre and post export financing and payment protection. Infor admits that many of its own customers in manufacturing and retail aren’t even aware of financing options available, even though they might be struggling to finance procurement of materials and services in advance of collection of revenue. And who doesn’t want to get paid faster? Infor therefore sees a lot of opportunity to expand these offering even further. And the fact that Infor, GT Nexus and many top banks are all in Manhattan doesn’t hurt either.

The integration of GT Nexus and the Infor CloudSuites (there are several for different industries, including retail and fashion, which represents about 60% of current GT Nexus business) should be quite straightforward because both use standardized object models (Infor uses OAGIS). This is in fact one of GT Nexus’ strengths in being able to easily connect to back office solutions. Unlike traditional EDI where each connection is unique, this data model mapping allows suppliers to join the network once and talk to all buyers, avoiding custom maps and portals and invasive code development. So this leaves open the question of how the combined company will continue to work with other solution providers, including existing partners like Kinaxis.

Infor will continue to run the GT Nexus operation as a dedicated business unit. The entire management team is joining the larger corporation, a further testament to the cooperative and friendly nature of the acquisition.

All told this appears to be a win-win-win for Infor, GT Nexus and its customers. If not a match made in heaven, at least it is in the cloud.

 

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