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The New Sage: Who and What Is It? Where Is It Going?

Early in his opening keynote for Sage Summit 2016, CEO Stephen Kelly announced, “Our real purpose is to champion the ambitions of entrepreneurs.” This sentiment goes well beyond the development and delivery of software products. Mr. Kelly himself is a business ambassador to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, representing the interests of small and midsize businesses to governments, in global markets, at colleges and universities, and on the political front as well. He has pledged to bring Sage’s products to the cloud and more innovation to the products. And he has declared that Sage is “The only company providing your digital heartbeat from Start-up to Scale-up to Enterprise.” [These are the new monikers for the markets in which Sage plays, replacing references such as “small” and “mid-size.”]

But, having grown through acquisition, Sage faces some challenges, not the least of which is the sheer number of products it owns, many of which are based on older technology and run exclusively on premise. I’ve never done a specific count, but based on a quote from Mr. Kelly presented in a Diginomica article by Stuart Lauchlan back in May after a mid-year earnings call,

“Our historic, federated and fragmented and de-centralized business model meant that we couldn’t fully leverage the scale and the global reach for the benefit of our customers or ourselves. In fact, it was actually hindering our ability to grow.

Our acquisition-led growth strategy compounded the internal fragmentation and complexity. And this fragmentation I’ve shared with some of you before in terms of 270 different products, 73 different code bases, over 150 different sales compensation plans, 139 sites, 105 databases from management accounting, 21 different CRM systems. I could go on and on.”

Wow! That’s a heck of a lot to consider. But Mr. Kelly seems up to the challenge. Make no mistake: This is a new Sage. Over the past year there has been a changing of the guard, with many departures, and many more new faces. But more to the point, Sage has re-architected its positioning. This started a year ago when Mr. Kelly declared Sage would no longer sell ERP, noting the acronym should really stand for expense, regret and pain. This year that sentiment persisted.

Throughout the keynotes, we heard reference to “accounting, payroll and payments,” but never “ERP.” Couple this with the heavy dose of “entrepreneurship” and you walk away thinking Sage is the place to be for small businesses in need of an accounting solution. With enormous installed bases from acquired products like Peachtree, AccPac and Simply Accounting, you might say, of course they are.

But what about all those “enterprise” customers running Sage 100, Sage 300 and Sage X3 where the founder of the business has long since exited? I found myself wanting to be their champion amidst all the accolades for the entrepreneurs in the audience. These enterprises need more than accounting, payroll and payments. They need to manage the complete system of record of the business, including orders and/or contracts. Fortunately the Sage products formerly known as ERP do just that.

And I felt for the partners who sell these products into the ERP market. When a new prospect wants to buy a new ERP solution, with this new positioning and the declaration that ERP is dead, will they even give Sage a look? Precise percentages might vary, but experts today estimate 60% to 70% of the evaluation process happens before a single vendor is ever contacted. Will those in the market for a new ERP system ever find Sage? The answer is maybe – but not necessarily because of Sage’s efforts, but rather because others still hang on to that label.

As I wrote last year, I have never been a big fan of the “ERP is dead” mentality. To my way of thinking, although the acronym itself has lost a lot of its meaning over the years, ERP is a convenient label. While early ERP solutions were fraught with problems, and indeed some of those problems persist today, calling it something else doesn’t fix it.

Based on my conversation this year with Mr. Kelly I understand his intent. This statement was his way of sparking some controversy, something Sage had previously been unwilling to do. However, based on how vigorously some of his Sage colleagues have defended this stance, I worry a little that the spark has become a flame that continues to burn at Sage. This is not only troublesome for existing ERP customers and partners, but also for those start-ups that will eventually scale up and become full-fledged enterprises. If Sage wants to continue to provide the “digital heartbeat” for these growing companies, it needs to provide a logical path forward that doesn’t require any steps back.

Sage provides different products for different stages of company growth. Early on, startups might run Sage One or the newer Sage Live (built on the Salesforce platform, which allows it to take advantage of many of the cloud, mobile and social capabilities inherent in the platform). But as the company starts to scale, perhaps it makes a move to Sage 50c, the Sage product most recently enhanced with integration to Microsoft Office 365. Or it might go to Sage 100, Sage 300 or skip right on up to Sage X3.

But Sage itself admits that it needs to catch up in terms of new features and technology. To its credit, Sage is not satisfied with just catching up, but wants to leapfrog its competition. But will all products along the path have some of the nifty new features inherited from the Salesforce platform or added to Sage Live? An example of this leapfrog effect was seen in a demonstration that linked Sage Live to TomTom WebFleet to record mileage as an expense in Sage Live without any human intervention whatsoever. In the future it will be possible to record billable hours this way using a Siri-like conversation to “start the clock.”

Another leapfrog moment on stage was the introduction of Pegg, an accounting chatbot that can take input from Slack and Facebook Messenger (for now, others to come) to report expenses using natural language English. Pegg combines a natural language interface with machine learning and intelligence to potentially do much more. Sage even describes it as a “personal trainer” for your business, but I suspect it needs to mature a lot before that really happens.

But what happens to this innovation when the customer outgrows Sage Live? Does it too get carried forward? Does the integration to Office 365 carry forward? Can you bring Pegg along or your TomTom? When you look at all the different paths forward, you start to realize the devil is indeed in the details. And all the permutations can be daunting.

This potential complexity is the reason why I think the most important Sage Summit announcement of all was the Sage Integration Cloud. During the keynote, we watched Nick Goode, EVP of Product Management integrate Sage One with Expensify in just a few minutes and a few clicks. As Nick said on stage, “No code, no fuss, no maintenance, no techy skills required.”

It was so incredibly simple, you knew there had to be something more to it than met the eye. And there is. This is built on Cloud Elements, an API Integration Platform for application providers. And the author of the “add-on” product (in this case Expensify) has to do some work in order to allow customers to connect it this easily. The level of preparatory effort will depend a lot on the technology and architecture of the solution(s). But Cloud Elements has created a Sage Hub, which means in connecting it to one Sage product, it connects to all (relevant) Sage products.

This is incredibly important for those on older Sage products, particularly as Mr. Kelly reinforced a commitment he made to customers at last year’s Sage Summit:

  • No forced migration.
  • No end of life for any Sage products.
  • If you love your current Sage solution, whether it is desktop or cloud, Sage will support your continued use of it.
  • When you are ready to move to cloud, full mobility and real-time accounting, then Sage is ready to take you there.

Sage is essentially promising never to “sunset” a product. Sage is not the only company making this promise. Infor, which also grew through acquisition and faces similar challenges, makes a similar promise, although Infor is also clear on saying it provides no real innovation to these non-strategic products. That’s the difference. I sense that Sage is (or should be) going down this “no innovation beyond compliance” path, but has not been as forthcoming with that statement. But both Infor and Sage continue to support a very broad and diverse portfolio.

On the surface this might seem quite noble of both Sage and Infor, or perhaps simply the right thing to do. But is it? Do they actually do a disservice to these customers by making it too easy to simply stay where they are and continue to be severely limited by this old technology? We understand the fear of disruption of ripping out an existing solution and replacing it, but in reality this fear and these older solutions are holding these customers hostage.

In order to make it less easy to stay put, Sage will most definitely use the carrot and not the stick. And the Sage Integration Cloud could be a very appetizing carrot. By offering some add-on components that might help these customers emerge out of the dark ages, Sage could “show them the light” (so to speak) and get them hooked on the opportunities newer technology provides. But in order for these customers to make a giant leap to a newer cloud product, with mobile and social capabilities built in, they will need to drag these new components along with them. That is the role the Sage Integration Cloud can play.

And it will also serve to make the Sage solution much more than “accounting, payroll and payments.” Sounds a lot more like ERP (and more) to me. This whole positioning exercise sort of reminds me of when Prince changed his name to a symbol. Everyone simply started calling him “the artist formerly known as Prince.” Ultimately (and fortunately) Prince went back to just being Prince, only better than ever. I am still hoping Sage might come full circle too.

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Top 10 Quotes from NetSuite’s SuiteWorld 2016

It has been an extraordinarily busy spring conference season. I personally attended 10 events over the past eight weeks and missed a few more because of scheduling conflicts. Of all those I attended, I think NetSuite’s gets the prize for the best sound bites produced in an event. Here are my top 10 favorite quotes from SuiteWorld 2016.

“I love the smell of GL systems in the morning.”

Not. Of course this was said tongue in cheek by Zach Nelson, CEO, and was actually a veiled reference to the context of the next quote. Zach (somewhat proudly) noted that Gartner’s ranking of NetSuite’s Financial Management System (FMS) had progressed from #8 in 2014 to #6 in 2015.

“We didn’t set out to build a Financial Management System (FMS). Our goal was to build a system to run the business.”

Actually NetSuite originally started with three goals: to build an end-to-end system, deliver it only over the cloud, and include ecommerce natively. Of course, in order to deliver an end-to-end solution, it needed a back office accounting solution, but that was just one piece of the puzzle, not the end game. Through the years they were tempted to put servers on premise, especially in the early days before Software as a Service (SaaS) had come into its own. But they resisted. And they made sure even the early solution had a web store.

“We spent $1 billion so you didn’t have to.”

Continuing on the theme of including eCommerce, Zach touted the speed of Suite Commerce, giving some statistics on how it outperforms other leading sites. In a follow-on to Zach’s opening keynote, CTO Evan Goldberg (also one of the original NetSuite founders) noted they had delivered a 33% faster sales order save and 40% faster Suitecommerce advanced page load time. Obviously there is a cost associated with delivering speed and performance, but not a cost that comes directly out of NetSuite customers’ pockets.

“Security bugs? We find ‘em; we fix ‘em. The next morning, all are running with the appropriate patches.”

The reference to security bugs was in the context of a security bug, purportedly reported to and fixed by rival SAP three years ago. Yet some customers had yet to apply the patch and were therefore still vulnerable. My tweet with this quote sparked a bit of a push back from someone coming to SAP’s defense:

This was an SAP API fix that broke ISV integrations if applied, hence SAP made optional. Cloud companies have similar probs

To which I responded: would venture to say in a #SaaS environment, problems don’t linger 3+ years

His response: API fix is a little different, SAP gave customers option because fix could break ISV integrations – it was a useful defect

“Useful defect?” Is there really such a thing? And have we really become so inured to fixes of any kind “breaking” integrations? I hope not.

But the real point here is the value of a multi-tenant SaaS environment. First of all, the customer is relieved of the burden of applying patches. The SaaS vendor pushes them out in (hopefully) a timely manner. And with only a single line of code to maintain, more innovation should come along faster.

The other implied benefit is the value of a platform that allows partners and customers to customize and extend the code without fear of it breaking when fixes and enhancements are delivered.

“Customization is not a dirty word at NetSuite.”

The caveat to this is obviously… as long as you can upgrade. NetSuite customers are all running the same code, yet all are a little different. One of the unique features of NetSuite’s platform (unique for a SaaS-only solution anyway) is the ability to make even complex changes to the data model with no negative impact. This feature is becoming more and more popular among NetSuite’s customers. Within the last year, the ability to add custom fields went from the 5th most used feature to number 1. This actually comes as no surprise to me. My 2016 Enterprise Solution Study asked survey participants what type of customization they required. Fifty-seven percent (57%) selected user-defined fields. Only custom and ad hoc reporting were more widely selected (63% and 62% respectively).

In fact much of the “customization” that is typically required by NetSuite customers does not require you to muck around in code at all. Much can be done through tailoring and configuring, or personalizing screens. But let’s say you want to develop a whole new function that is either very industry-specific or helps you differentiate your individual business. NetSuite does provide development tools for this, including SuiteScript. Per NetSuite: SuiteScript is a JavaScript-based scripting solution for sophisticated coding and debugging within NetSuite that enables developers to build new applications, processes and business rules.”

In addition, a beta version of SuiteCloud Development Framework has recently been released after a multi-year effort. This framework includes all the tools for coding that you know and love, now with team development collaboration, richer code completion, version control, change and dependence management (i.e. discover what code might break if you make this change).

“SuiteScript allows you to do anything your wife wants you to do.”

This quote came from Evan Goldberg, one of the original NetSuite founders. When not performing his duties as NetSuite’s chief technologist, his alter-ego manages his wife’s ecommerce site, which she happens to run on NetSuite SuiteCommerce. The new release of the NetSuite Development Tools has had a profound impact on all developers, including Evan and his alter-ego as both took the stage. While it was quite hard to decipher everything going on (the font was way too small for my eyes, and I haven’t written code in almost 4 decades), it was clear the new code created for Mrs. Goldberg’s web storefront was a lot shorter and faster..

“Our goal is to stay out of your way [to innovate] in your business.”

While first spoken by Evan, this phrase proved to be thematic, popping up in other keynotes and sessions as well. Revamped developer tools were just the beginning. What the NetSuite development team has accomplished with the tools is equally important, if not more so. Among the new features and enhancements were many in the finance area, a new SuiteBilling module, complete with support for new revenue recognition rules for ACS 606 and IFRS 15, and “intelligent” order management. NetSuite places the dual goals of streamlining the development process and customers’ business processes on equal footing.

Disruption caused by today’s digital economy makes digital transformation compelling and the need for agility crucial. Traditionally ERP solutions were more likely to hold you back than to enable transformation. Can NetSuite be an enabler? They can certainly try. And trying is even more important than ever as business complexity increases.

“In the cloud economy everything gets more complex.”

Actually I would say it is the digital economy that makes things more complex. Perhaps in this quote, “the cloud economy” was meant to be synonymous with “the digital economy.” Indeed, it is hard to have a digital economy without the cloud. But I think there is a subtle difference. Cloud is an enabler in helping us participate in the digital economy, both as consumers as well as enterprises. On the one hand, the cloud has made our personal lives simpler. We can order dinner, entertainment, or a taxi ride online. We can shop online and have goods delivered right to our doors. But we can also still shop in a store. Or we can order online and pick up the goods in a store. This is the very definition of “omnichannel.” As we simplify our personal consumer experience, we complicate matters for the enterprise.

“Hybrid business models are the new black.”

Can one system handle all these different ways of conducting business? Certainly traditional ERP solutions made this difficult. They either catered to a retail/cash sale environment or an order-to-pay environment. But today blended environments are becoming more and more common. Many try to accomplish this with different systems. But when these systems don’t talk to each other the customer experience suffers.

But this isn’t the only example of a hybrid business model. We are rapidly entering a subscription-based economy. The software industry led the charge here. Enterprises and consumers alike used to license software and bring it on premise. While this didn’t really mean they “owned” it, as they might own a pair of shoes, in some ways they did own a copy of it. Today, these same software companies are much more likely to sell a subscription to the software.

Now even companies that sell and ship physical products are likely to sell a subscription either along with the product, or instead of it. Consider the water filter company that ships you a device that filters your water for free and then invoices you monthly based on how much water you filter. After a certain period of time, the filter needs to be changed and they charge you when they ship you a new one. Chances are you don’t own the DVR in your home. Your cable provider does. You simply pay for the cable service as a subscription.

More and more companies must invoice based a hybrid business model, invoicing for some combination of product, services or “as a service.”

“If you can sell it, we can bill it (and recognize it.)”

NetSuite’s SuiteBilling module not only supports all these different invoicing methods, but it can also combine them all on a single invoice. While this sounds simple, trust me, there are many solutions out there today that will struggle with supporting all these different billing methods at all, even without trying to combine them on a single order and then a single invoice. I applaud NetSuite for rejecting the option of trying to optimize for the intersection. Instead NetSuite chose to but have to optimize for each and make it easy to combine them.

And because many of these new ways of billing have a signed or at least implied contract, there won’t be too many companies that are not going to be impacted by the convergence of ACS 606 and IFRS 15 (Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2014-9, Revenue from Contracts with Customers (Topic 606 and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) 15, Revenue from Contracts with Customers.)

These converged standards for revenue recognition go into effect the beginning of 2018 for public entities, and in 2019 for privately held organizations, bringing very significant changes to financial statements and reporting for any company doing business under customer contracts. While revenue recognition, including expense and revenue amortization and allocation, has never been simple, with these changes, it is about to get harder – at least for a while.

Why? First of all, while you can prepare for the change, you can’t jump the gun. You can’t recognize revenue based on the new rules until those new rules go into effect in 2018. At that point public entities must report under the new guidance and private companies can, but they have an additional year before they are required to do so. So any public entity better be ready to flip the switch, so to speak. But flipping the switch doesn’t only mean recognizing revenue in a new way. For any contract with outstanding, unfulfilled obligations, you also have to go back and restate the revenue for prior periods under the new rules. And for some period of time, you will need to do dual reporting: old and new. In addition, when contracts change, this can potentially have an impact on revenue previously recognized, including reallocation and amortization of revenue and expenses.

NetSuite has been working on this for quite awhile, starting with the support for multiple sets of books, which is how it will accommodate the dual reporting. It is not too early to be planning for this change and using multiple sets of books, you can be looking at how the revenue will be recognized in the future. I have seen some of these before and after revenue reports and the changes are not particularly intuitive. Best to understand what is coming or your revenue predictions for 2018 are going to way out of whack.

Bonus Quotes

While those were my top 10 favorites coming out of SuiteWorld 2016, there were a couple more that you might find interesting:

“Luck should not be a business strategy”

No further explanation required. Real “luck” is a combination of careful planning and hard work.

“The Cloud is the last computing architecture, the last business architecture.”

Sorry Zach, I just can’t agree with this one. I am sure some will immediately think of the famous quote: “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” While some give credit to Charles H. Duell, the Commissioner of US patent office in 1899, others point to a more contemporary source, a book published in 1981 titled “The Book of Facts and Fallacies” by Chris Morgan and David Langford. Either way, whoever said it, was wrong. Maybe Zach is right, but personally whatever the last computing or business architecture will be, I’m pretty sure nobody has even thought of it yet.

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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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Welcome to the New World of Exact Macola

Did you ever walk purposefully into another room and forget what you came for? It happens to me all the time. My pantry is less than 20 steps from my kitchen, and yet, 9 times out of 10, I open the door, step in and wonder what I came for. I wind up stepping out, looking back into the kitchen to see what I was doing. Usually that will trigger my memory. It’s gotten worse with age, but I’m not that old. It happens to all of us. When something we need is not visible and clearly within reach, it’s easy to get distracted and lose track of what you’re looking for.

It’s bad enough when you’re puttering around the house or making dinner. It’s even worse when it happens when you’re sitting at your desk at work. You get a call or an alert on your smart phone, or something doesn’t look quite right on that report you’re scrolling through, or you’re preparing to present performance results to your boss and you need to dig a little deeper. You have a question in mind but even though you know the answer is buried someplace in your enterprise data, it’s not immediately visible and clearly within reach. If you have to hunt and peck, traversing a series of menus, to find what you’re looking for, it’s easy to be distracted along the way. Sometimes you wind up going down a rat hole and 2 hours later, you realize you still haven’t answered your own question. No wonder the days just seem to get longer and longer.

This is clearly the problem Exact Macola is trying to solve in its newest version of Workspaces. A Workspace in Exact Macola 10 gathers together all the data you might need to perform a process, make a decision or monitor performance… in other words, to do your job. Some will come right out of the box. But because your role in your organization and your job is unique, new Workspaces must be easily constructed and standard Workspaces must be easily tailored.

Exact Macola describes Workspaces as “one of the most unique and powerful pieces of Exact Macola 10 – allowing personalized role-based views of your business information and creating a natural and intuitive experience.” I came into the Exact Macola Evolve conference last year with a pretty favorable impression of this technology and that impression became even more favorable as I watched the “Dueling Developers” session this year, which pitted a senior consultant (Thijs Verberne) against product manager David Dozer, in creating Workspaces on the fly as the audience watched.

That exercise proved development was fast and easy. But how does this keep users from wandering into the pantry and forgetting what they came in for? A new feature of Workspaces 2.0 is the ability to add Workspaces menus to transaction screens and/or perform transactions directly from Workspaces. Do you have a job where you spend the majority of your time in transaction screens (e.g. you’re a buyer researching and creating purchase orders)? You can stay there all day doing your primary job, but when you need to do some further investigation, (right from a transaction) you can bring up a Workspace from a pull down menu and it appears as a popup. This feature alone drew a huge round of applause from the audience.

Or maybe you are a manager that prefers to monitor status of a series of key performance indicators (think dashboard). But occasionally you need to perform a transaction like approving those purchase orders or requesting a change. You can stay in your dashboard-like Workspace, and attach a drop down menu (or 2 or 10) that allows you to divert and run a transaction without ever leaving your preferred space.

Marry these two features together and you don’t have to worry about anticipating all your needs up front. Get the basics set up and let your work naturally direct the evolution of your Workspaces. At first you might not think you would ever have a need to go directly to a transaction. But sure enough…. No problem, it can be added in minutes (really!)

While Workspaces 2.0 was (in my mind anyway) the highlight, it is not the only innovation that has been delivered by Exact Macola over the past year. Here are some other areas the team has been working on:

  • Phase 1 support for IFRS
  • Workflow conditional statements (rules, if-then statements, more control and flexibility)
  • Financial consolidation across divisions
  • Business Intelligence delivered through a partnership with Qlik, but sold by Exact under the Exact Insights brand
  • Forecast Pro integration
  • Avalara integration
  • New web services and some underlying architectural changes

All this innovation (and more to come) seemed to infuse a new energy and vibrancy into the Exact Macola community and created more urgency for those still running older solutions like Exact Progression or the Enterprise Suite (ES) to upgrade/migrate to the newer Exact Macola 10.

Not only has the Exact Macola team been delivering innovation at a much accelerated pace, it has also been responding to several trends in the market today. Beyond those features listed above, Exact Macola has been working on full web enablement and the overall user experience. In addition to Workspaces, the company has renewed its focus on ease of use, bringing in experts to help deliver a more natural user experience (UX). This includes both the access anytime, anywhere convenience of the cloud, as well as more mobility. After delivering mobile functionality on iOS last year, it added Android this year. And it has been delivering more analytics, as well as a more end-to-end integrated solution.

Indeed these are exciting times for Exact Macola and its customers. But for those still running those older solutions (Progression and ES), the excitement might soon fade, unless of course they decide to make the leap forward. I would strongly encourage them to do so.

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Unit4’s Self-Driving ERP Gets a Digital Assistant

Don’t you envy those top-level executives with personal assistants who seem to sense and deliver on the bosses’ every demand, even before the bosses have figured out what they need? You see them on TV and in movies all the time. Unfortunately for the vast majority of us in the business world today, the trend is in the exact opposite direction. Even prior to the emergence of the digital economy, electronic communication changed everything. Back in the day, many of us (old enough to remember) first relied on secretaries and then administrative assistants, telephones and paper. Today we rely on emails, texts, instant messages, along with specialized apps for things like purchase requisitions, travel and expenses and personnel administration and management. This makes us administratively self-sufficient – all in the name of productivity and efficiency. Sure it’s faster. Sure, we’re better connected. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Or fun.

It also doesn’t necessarily relieve us of the burden of mundane tasks. Yes, we have elevated employees to become more “knowledge workers,” and we eliminated a lot of menial jobs, but we haven’t entirely eliminated all the grunt work. We’ve just distributed it more democratically across the organization. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could eliminate more of it?

That’s exactly what Unit4 has in mind in developing what it calls its “self-driving ERP.” I introduced the concept to my readers back in June 2015 with a blog post: What is Unit4’s “Self-Driving” ERP? Unit4’s latest announcements, coinciding with its customer conference in Amsterdam last week, showed the company is making headway in fulfilling its “promise of self-driving business solutions which free people from repetitive tasks and allow them to focus on high value activities.” In fact that is a direct quote from its press release on Unit4 Business World On! – the biggest release ever of its business suite for services industries.

Unit4 Business World On! is built on Unit4’s People Platform Premium Edition, which is the technology foundation for Unit4 applications, enabling self-driving capabilities based on predictive, event-centric and pattern recognition technologies. It is available as a true multi-tenant SaaS solution, but can also be delivered and deployed on-premise without sacrificing the mobile-access capabilities. Unit4 has put a lot of work into the user experience, but you need more than a visually appealing user interface to be “self-driving.” And I am a firm believer that the best user interface is often no user interface at all. (Refer back to my previous blog post to get a better handle of what makes it “self-driving.”)

But what really caught my eye this time around was the press release on its Digital Assistant. I was kind of hoping for someone (or even something) to shadow me (even if it is virtually), anticipating my every need. But if you look closely you see this is a “Digital Assistant for business software” not an assistant to industry analysts or presidents of small companies. Business software needs an assistant more than I do?!?

Actually yes. As I noted last June, enterprise applications like ERP are meant to capture transactional data (which happens to be the basis of a lot of our decision-making) and streamline and automate business processes. Yet while ERP was originally meant to make our business lives easier, it hasn’t always delivered on that promise. It’s gotten a lot better over time, but we still need to be expert navigators. We often have to fill some gaps. Sometimes we play the role of the (human) glue that holds everything together. If Unit4’s Digital Assistant can help the business software do all that for us, then sign me up!

The Digital Assistant is scheduled for general availability in 2017. In the meantime the glimpses I have had of Unit4’s “self-driving” capabilities are impressive.

Now, if only it could make a great cup of coffee!

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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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SAP S/4HANA: Simple, Fast, Different

What Does it Mean to the Business?

On February 3, 2015, SAP announced what it called its biggest product launch in the history of the company: SAP Business Suite 4 SAP HANA, or (thankfully) SAP S/4HANA for short, was touted as “the next-generation business suite to help customers run simple.” Indeed, “S” stands for simple; “4” is for 4th generation and in Information Technology (IT) circles, HANA speaks for itself. To interpret for those outside the world of IT, HANA is an advanced in-memory platform that is able to crunch through enormous volumes of data incredibly fast.

In combination these three factors hold enormous potential to change the way businesses are run. While the potential impact might seem intuitive to technologists, it is far less obvious to the typical business executive. And yet, in a world where the terms innovative, disruptive and transformative are all too often over-used and mis-used, SAP S/4HANA is disruptive innovation that can be used to simplify and transform your business. If you are interested in learning how, read on…

What is it?

SAP S/4HANA is a new product, which, like its predecessor (the SAP Business Suite) will include enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other complementary functions including:

  • Customer relationship management (CRM)
  • Supplier relationship management (SRM)
  • Supply chain management (SCM)
  • Product lifecycle management (PLM)
  • cloud functions such as SAP SuccessFactors (HCM) and its Ariba Network

Like the SAP Business Suite, it is designed for the large enterprise, and eventually will satisfy the requirements of the same 26 industries SAP has spent decades building out. This is a big and bold move for SAP. Given these similarities, some immediate questions come to mind. First of all, why develop a new product? After all, the SAP Business Suite could already run on SAP HANA. Secondly, is it really possible to replace over 400 million lines of code quickly enough or will a complete solution be decades in the making? To answer these questions we need to look at both the differences and the similarities.

At first glance, the differences that appear most obvious to the typical business user lay in the user experience and deployment models offered. Beyond the obvious is the new code line with a new and simplified data model, but more on that (and what it means to the user) later.

Choice of Deployment Models

The existing product was essentially an on-premise solution, although SAP has recently offered a cloud-based managed services option. The SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud (HEC) is a service that allows organizations to move existing (or new) implementations of the SAP Business Suite off their own servers and into SAP’s massive data centers where SAP would manage it as a single tenant solution in a private cloud. But this doesn’t carry the same benefits of lower cost and faster innovation possible with a multi-tenant software as a service (SaaS) solution.

With SAP S/4HANA comes a choice of deployment options. The On Premise Edition is available today while the Public Cloud Edition (multi-tenant SaaS) will be available soon (the first quarter of 2015), followed by the Managed Cloud Edition in Q2.

New and Improved User Experience

The user interface of the SAP Business Suite has long been a weak point, and also one of the hardest to “fix.” SAP is not alone in this dilemma. Many enterprise application solution providers struggle with this as expectations change over time, especially with the influence of consumer mobile devices. Users become dissatisfied with existing user interfaces but often getting them to change is like pulling teeth, for fear of the need to retrain users and because people (those actually using the software) get used to it and resist change.

SAP has actually been working on fixing this problem for more than two years. In the spring of 2013 it introduced SAP Fiori, a collection of 25 apps (initially) that surrounded the Business Suite, providing a new user experience for the most commonly used business functions of ERP. While useful in pleasing existing users and perhaps even attracting new users within the enterprise, SAP Fiori had limited impact for two related reasons. First, the initial set of apps just changed the user interface (UI) and did not add any significant new functionality. And yet, they weren’t free. Customers balked at paying a fee for innovation they expected SAP to deliver as part of maintenance.

The second round of Fiori apps however began to add in new capabilities, but in spite of that, SAP responded to customer complaints and made them free (with maintenance). And today there are over 500 of them available.

The intended new user experience delivered with SAP S/4HANA is based entirely on SAP Fiori and SAP expects that over time more and more transactions will come from mobile devices, a very viable option with Fiori. New customers will engage with SAP S/4HANA through these apps right from the beginning. Those SAP Business Suite customers that migrate to SAP S/4HANA will have the option of continuing to use the traditional user interface, but of course Fiori apps won’t shore up this weakness unless they are really used. Hopefully, with the mindset of running a new product, customers will expect to engage differently and therefore take better advantage of the new experience and the new functions delivered through Fiori.

Beyond the Obvious

While either or both of these differences might be compelling, even together they don’t justify the time and effort involved in replacing 400 million lines of code to produce a new product. The real game changer here is the underlying technology that allowed SAP to reduce the data footprint by a factor of 10, increase throughput by a factor of 7 and make analytics and reporting orders of magnitude faster (SAP claims 1800 times faster). SAP’s goal was to achieve a zero response time.

However, many business executives running SAP solutions, as well as those of other vendors, might not perceive themselves as having a problem with response time and the size of their data footprint is hardly something that keeps them up at night. If you consider yourself in this category, what’s in it for you? The short answer is

  • Speed in getting at data and answering questions
  • The power of iterative questions, including immediate answers to new ones you didn’t even know you had until you started looking
  • The ability to base all decisions (strategic and operational) on as much detail, in as fine a level of granularity as you can imagine

Perhaps you don’t think you have a problem because you have adapted to the limitations of existing systems. Or you don’t know response time is slow because you never put your hands directly on the system. You might be accustomed to making decisions from data that is frozen in time (a snapshot) because it is not updated and available in real time. You may have waited so long for new queries and reporting that perhaps you stopped asking for them. You probably forecast sales at a summary level by region, assuming you can’t possibly analyze and predict sales at an individual customer level, by product and region, by sales rep. What if SAP S/4HANA could change all this?

Speed is obviously a key factor, but why should you care about reducing the data footprint? The answer lies in understanding why that footprint got so bloated in the first place. As your solution footprint has grown through the years, there is a very good chance you have introduced redundant data. If you started with ERP, then added CRM, both need customer data and product data. This redundant data needs to be synchronized. SAP estimates that 40% of the data load is the exchange of data between solutions.

In addition all enterprise solutions have traditionally accumulated all sorts of totals. Some are for periodic reporting (monthly, quarterly, annually, etc.), while other aggregates are used to gain insight into different parts of the organizational structure. This aggregation enables reporting without having to sort and calculate totals across a potentially large volume of transactions. While the process is simple and effective (because you can gain access to these totals through a simple query), there were some drawbacks.

Not only is there more embedded code to maintain these totals, there is more contention within the data files. Let’s say a large enterprise has people all over the world entering sales orders. If totals are updated in real time, even though it might appear that all transactions are accessing and updating records in the files simultaneously, in reality, these updates happen one at a time. Before a transaction can update a record, it has to check to make sure no other transaction is trying to do the same. If the record is being accessed or updated by another transaction, it must wait for the record to be freed up. Of course it might take only seconds, but those seconds add up and response time slows.

This is also why sometimes these totals are not updated in real-time, and instead are calculated with batch runs. That means you are looking at a snapshot in time and not the “real” number.

And finally, keeping these totals up to date, whether in real-time or through batch runs, means you have to anticipate how and what you want to include in the totals. What happens when you want to change the organizational structure and report in a new way? Those pre-calculated totals are now meaningless. If you can instantly slice and dice and calculate on the fly using any criteria, you don’t have to do any of this aggregation and you get complete flexibility.

Removing these totals means no updates and no more contention. Dozens or even hundreds or thousands of transactions can be entered and stored, at the same time (literally, not just seemingly). This is what the technologists mean when they refer to “massively parallel processing (MPP).”

So SAP got rid of these totals and also the database indices. Database indices allow you to do key lookups. You can easily look up a customer or a product by customer number or part number because those numbers are keys, allowing the software to go (more) directly to a record without having to search through the entire file. But these indices are no longer required if you can search through even massive files and still get sub-second response.

In the end, SAP S/4HANA reduced the number of data tables from 110 to less than 10. And it also segregated out historical data from current data. By its very definition, historical data can’t be changed any more. That makes it easier to handle. So SAP segregated it and made it read-only, making it even easier to deal with the current data.

This flexibility and speed is the real value HANA brings to the business, along with improved, faster decision-making. However, to take full advantage of HANA, SAP S/4HANA must only run on HANA. Of course, this means customers will not have a choice of databases. Some industry observers are criticizing SAP for removing this as a choice. However, preserving that choice of database means SAP S/4HANA would be restricted to the least common denominator of functionality.

If SAP does not take full advantage of the benefits HANA brings, why create a new product? The SAP Business Suite already provides this freedom of choice, including the Business Suite on HANA. And SAP has promised to continue to develop and support the SAP Business Suite through 2025.

Some customers will be reluctant to spend the money on a new platform. Some will cite the skill levels of their current staffs. If customers want to remain on traditional databases, they should just stay on the SAP Business Suite, at least for now. If IT staffs have not upgraded their skill levels by 2025, they will have more problems to contend with than just limitations in response times. So maybe it is time for some “disruption.”

Disruptive Innovation

While technology industry observers love to talk about “disruptive technology,” many business executives think of disruption as a bad thing. Yet while certain types of disruption can indeed be bad, other types can also be good. Disruption that prevents you from delivering a product or service is obviously bad. Disruption that forces you to do things in a different, but better way can be very good.

Wikipedia defines disruptive innovation as “an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology. The term is used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect…”

SAP S/4HANA is indeed disruptive innovation, but in the good sense. It is a bold move for SAP. Obviously its customers cannot transform themselves overnight, but they don’t need to. SAP S/4HANA was designed to allow existing SAP Business Suite customers to migrate without the bad kind of disruption. And of course SAP can’t transform millions of lines of code overnight either.

While the SAP Business Suite was just that – a suite of products, eventually all this functionality will be embedded and delivered as a single product. SAP started with ERP, but will eventually add in functionality from CRM, SRM, SCM and PLM. It will start with those industries most likely to see the cloud as the next stop in their extended ERP journey, and then continue to broaden its industry reach. Of course for any company taking this big next step, as always, the devil is in the details. How will companies (both new customers and existing SAP customers) make the transition while SAP itself is still in transition? Will they be able to embrace the good kind of disruption while keeping the bad kind at bay?

Conclusion

The short answer is yes, but that too will be a journey. It will not happen overnight. The key to success is in allowing all the current and new solutions to coexist. While SAP S/4HANA only has 10 or so tables, those applications like CRM, SRM and SCM are expecting to find their share of the full-blown 110 tables. That’s okay.

SAP has also defined a virtual data model that can do a translation of sorts, mapping the old tables to the new data model. This is a key factor in facilitating the migration from SAP Business Suite to SAP S/4HANA without disruption. It not only allows these (currently additional) applications to interoperate with SAP S/4HANA, but also allows customers to continue running current reports that might rely on those old totals. So current and new customers both can ease into taking full advantage of the new capabilities. This is good since it will take companies awhile to realize they can now solve problems that are currently viewed as unsolvable.

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SYSPRO U.S. Provides Critical Visibility with Voyage & Container Tracking

Mobile, Cloud or On-Premises Supply Chain Management

In a world where international shipments are so commonplace, it is amazing how many global manufacturers and distributors lack visibility of goods that are in transit, often for weeks at a time. Even though the ownership of purchased goods transfers as soon as a container is closed, for most, particularly for small to medium-size businesses (SMBs), materials simply disappear into a black hole, before they (hopefully) are received from half a continent or half a world away. To solve this problem, and also add visibility to shipped products, SYSPRO U.S. has added a new Voyage & Container Tracking solution to its portfolio and made sure it is fully integrated with its enterprise resource planning (SYSPRO ERP) software and complemented with useful analytics. This is perfectly consistent with its “Einstein” market positioning favoring “simply smarter” solutions for what the mid-market customer actually needs, versus simply succumbing to industry hype.

A Real Solution for a Real Problem

Once upon a time, in the not-so-distant past, globalization was the domain of large, multi-billion dollar enterprises. Yet today, almost every company, regardless of size, trades internationally. Low cost country sources have sent even small manufacturers and distributors in search of lower cost materials and small companies themselves have become more distributed. The 2014 Mint Jutras ERP solution study found 66% of all manufacturers operate from more than one location and even small manufacturers (those with annual revenues less than $25 million) have an average of 1.6 operating sites (Figure 1). These types of changes in the business environment have brought an unprecedented level of complexity to supply chains and those supply chains extend across the globe.

Long lead times add uncertainty, which is difficult for any company to deal with, but particularly so for small to medium-size companies that have fewer resources and less clout with their customers — customers which often are very large and demanding. Yet shipment tracking, accurate determination of true landed costs and visibility into where goods are and where they are coming from, have typically been features only available in specialized software packages that are well beyond the reach of an SMB.

Figure 1: Even small companies operate globally

SYSPRO fig 1Source: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study

Note: Size is based on annual revenue

SYSPRO U.S. turned to its customer base to help define and design the features and functions required to close this gap in visibility and then it spent the last two years refining it with the assistance of one company in particular: Wormser Corporation, a privately held cosmetics manufacturer and distributor based in Englewood, New Jersey. Wormser’s biggest challenge was in tracking shipments from its manufacturing location in Shanghai to its 40 warehouses in the United States.

Three Major Components

The embedded features of SYSPRO U.S.’s new Voyage & Container Tracking solution are delivered through three major components.

  1. Release Matrix: This component identifies and manages items that are available for shipment through a multi-part release operation. Items included in both purchase orders and sales orders can be combined in a single release. Users are provided visibility into what is available and can adjust quantities and view expected departure and delivery dates.
  2. Container Management: This component is used to determine which products or parts will travel in which containers. It provides the flexibility to consolidate releases from multiple orders into a single container or split a single order across multiple containers. While today the solution does not explicitly manage the capacity of each container, it does provide visibility into container usage. SYSPRO U.S. plans to enhance this capability in the future to include optimization of containers. Through the assignment of goods to these containers, the SYSPRO customer gets added visibility and predictability of departure and arrival dates as well as source and destination ports.
  3. Disposition Management: When a container reaches its destination, this component takes over. Each container may be processed separately or all containers on a voyage can be handled as a single shipment. Upon arrival at a port, the goods in the containers may be placed on quarantine hold or transferred to another segment of the journey (e.g. from ocean vessel to truck) for delivery to the next or final destination. This component performs the inventory and fiscal transactions necessary and provides more visibility. Charts and graphs are useful in analyzing elapsed time between ports, management of the number of containers shipped and landed costs.

These charts are just some of the analytical tools provided. SYSPRO U.S.’s survey of a sample of its own customer base convinced the solution provider that the vast majority of its customers found messaging within the enterprise software industry about “big data” and analytics either difficult to understand or only somewhat understandable.

Yet the lack of understanding does not mean there is no value in these types of analytical tools. It simply means small to mid-size manufacturers and distributors need help in understanding how to leverage these tools. And it also means they will only be receptive to learning more if the tools solve a very real and practical problem. They are not interested in elegant technical solutions in search of problems. They have plenty of problems of their own to solve.

Potential Benefits

The potential benefits of SYSPRO U.S.’s new solution should be very appealing to these pragmatic manufacturers and distributors. The potential benefits include:

  • The ability to track shipments both at an order line level, as well as a summary level. This tracking data will also be available for analysis for both strategic and operational decisions.
  • Better visibility to inventory, even with long lead-time items. This visibility will be helpful in improving full, on time delivery.
  • The ability to analyze performance by product origin through the recording of departure and arrival cities and individual ports.
  • Better vendor performance management through more detailed measurement of promised and actual shipments.
  • Full determination of not just material costs, but full landed cost, whether free on board (FOB) or not.
  • Improved communication and collaboration between departments, locations, and vendors, along with fewer mistakes.
  • A single source of the truth. Because of the seamless integration with SYSPRO ERP, all shipping and financial data is combined in a single source of data.

Proof Positive: Wormser Corporation

With six locations around the world, Wormser Corporation’s biggest challenge was in tracking shipments from its manufacturing location in Shanghai to its 40 US-based warehouses. All these different locations were using different systems and ultimately Wormser turned to SYSPRO for a full and integrated solution for its global operations. SYSPRO ERP was a great fit for daily operations, but Wormser approached SYSPRO U.S. for a custom tracking module for overseas inventory tracking. This was the genesis of the voyage and container tracking system now being released as a standard offering.

In October 2012, Wormser’s six international locations (New Jersey, California, Texas, England, Germany and China) went live with SYSPRO ERP and the newly- developed intercompany modules. All supply chain transactions between entities were automated. In addition Wormser tracks partial and full container shipments from vendors.

By collecting all this data, from all these locations, as well as from vendors, Wormser is able to produce analytical reports and graphs that aid in comprehensively managing a complete supply chain. Analysis can be done at an order line level, all the way up to and including location and the full company. Vendor performance is also tracked and Wormser now has data for strategic, as well as operational decisions.

Summary and Key Take-Aways

This new Voyage & Container Tracking solution provides an enormous opportunity for many of SYSPRO U.S.’s customers. Any that deal with long lead times, complex supply chains and/or international, containerized shipments can potentially derive a lot of value from this newest solution. And as a SYSPRO U.S. offering, it is both affordable and pre-integrated to the SYSPRO ERP solution being used to manage back and front offices across the installed base of SYSPRO U.S. customers around the world. By infusing analytics into the solution, it becomes a potentially powerful tool for decision-making – both from an operational and a strategic decision-making perspective. With this new option, SYSPRO U.S. companies faced with real supply chain challenges, particularly those with multiple locations, can gain new efficiencies with real solutions.

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Catching Up with Deltek’s Race to Capture the World of Projects

In November I got a chance to catch up with Deltek, a company that pretty much coined the term “project-based ERP.” It is a company that develops and delivers enterprise software and information solutions for project-based businesses. My last real interaction had been back in 2010 when the company acquired Maconomy. Since then a lot has happened. It has:

  • Expanded globally, led primarily by Maconomy’s strength in Europe
  • Acquired Acumen and its set of tools to facilitate project planning, along with performance risk analysis
  • Moved three of its products to the cloud: Vision and Maconomy (although both are still available on-premise), and most recently Costpoint
  • Almost doubled in size and has gone private
  • Acquired Sohnar and its Traffic LIVE cloud-based resource planning solution for creative marketing communications agencies
  • Acquired Axium, bringing A&E solutions to smaller, non-government organizations
  • Gone mobile with Maconomy Touch
  • Gone social with Kona project collaboration tools
  • Introduced a new user experience including Maconomy Navigator
  • Launched a new, cloud-based next generation CRM to power the front office of project-based businesses

All these activities bode well for Deltek to continue its growth, bolstered by what Mint Jutras sees as tremendous opportunity for project-oriented software. The Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study captured the “top five” areas survey respondents were most likely to invest in next. Project Management ranked #1 overall with 22% of almost 800 respondents selecting project management.

But it is project-based businesses that present the most opportunity for Deltek. These project-based businesses span a wide range of industries, from project-based manufacturing like aerospace and defense (A&D), to architectural and engineering (A&E) firms, to professional services organizations (PSO) to marketing communications agencies. While these businesses all share a common thread of projects, they are actually very different types of businesses. And Deltek has different products to address each.

As Deltek continues to grow, expanding both geographically and also stretching the boundaries of its solutions, the trick will be to effectively scale its business. Each of its products addresses a different type of project-based business, so product road maps need to be tailored to individual industry needs. At the same time Deltek would be well advised to leverage certain tools such as Kona and CRM across multiple product lines to better leverage its development efforts across different product lines and different segments of its customer base.

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Infor customers: Are you listening?

Once again Inforum, Infor’s annual customer event was chock full of new announcements. At last count I saw 13 press releases issued since the start of the event on Monday September 15th:

Sep 17, 2014 Etam Group Expands Scope of its Marketing Activities with the Help of the Latest Version of Infor’s Marketing Management Solutions

Sep 17, 2014 Brasil Norte Bebidas Adopts Infor Solution to Optimize Logistic Processes

Sep 17, 2014 Kansas City Citizens Receive Enhanced Service from Local Government

Sep 17, 2014 Infor Aligns With MercuryGate To Strengthen Transportation Management

Sep 17, 2014 Infor Helps Ferrari to Accelerate Supply Chain Planning

Sep 17, 2014 Infor Announces Internship and Educational Alliance Programs

Sep 16, 2014 Infor Delivers Robust CloudSuite for Business Management

Sep 16, 2014 Infor Announces New Era of Automated Financials

Sep 16, 2014 Infor CloudSuite Available for Healthcare Delivery Organizations

Sep 16, 2014 Infor Announces New Technology Platform, Infor Xi

Sep 16, 2014Infor Dynamic Science Labs Pioneers New Class of Applications

Sep 16, 2014Infor and Aras Deliver Transformative Cloud PLM Solution

Sep 16, 2014Infor Reports Q1 License Revenue at Double-Digit Growth

Sep 15, 2014Varian Medical Systems and Infor to Add New Data Integration Capability within Varian Software Suite for Planning, Managing, and Delivering Cancer Care

 

As you can see from the list above, this collection of news bites is quite diverse. You might even say it’s all over the map. And still it doesn’t cover everything I found noteworthy from the event. Having grown through acquisition, in the past Infor has struggled to have any focus beyond growth for the sake of growth. But I would argue that in spite of the large volume of news, in spite of the diversity, today Infor does have a focus. And that focus is something I have been writing a lot about lately: the convergence of trends, with goal of making ERP easier to consume.

My recent 2014 Trends in ERP Converge report began as follows:

In 2013 you couldn’t pick up an article without being bombarded with what industry observers were calling the “big trends” in enterprise software. We heard cloud and software as a service (SaaS) deployments would take over, although definitions were just that… cloudy. We heard about the prevalence of mobile devices and the resultant “consumerization of IT.” “Social” took on new meaning as Facebook, Twitter and other social media phenomena not only changed the way many of us communicated with the world but also impacted our business applications. And then, as if we weren’t already bombarded with enough data, we heard all about “big data,” analytics and in-memory computing. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) was not immune to these influential factors and the solution providers strove to brand themselves in the context of these trends. Will these trends continue to dominate, or will we see new waves of innovation? Mint Jutras anticipates 2014 will bring the convergence of these trends, brought together by a common goal of making not only innovation, but also the enterprise applications themselves inherently easier to consume.

 And that was the focus I heard at Inforum. It was all about making software that people want to consume, while making it easier to consume. Infor started down this path with Infor 10x, a platform that delivered a reinvented HTML5 user experience (the SoHo user interface), Infor Ming.le (its social collaboration platform), and embedded analytics. The Infor ION framework (light weight middleware) was integral to this effort. This week Infor announced the next evolution of Infor 10x: Infor Xi, which it calls “an enterprise technology platform for next-generation applications…[which] will deliver a major step in achieving the company’s vision for cloud applications that address specific industry needs with responsive design infused with machine-learning and big data analytics.” That’s a mouthful, but I think it supports my concept of this convergence of trends towards a common goal.

Infor has been talking about “beautiful” software for the past two years, introducing this concept at Inforum 2012. I haven’t always been a big fan of “beautiful” software simply because I think beauty is largely in the eye of the beholder and typically beauty isn’t the primary concern of users. It’s got to be more than a beauty contest.

I have been observing the growing importance of “ease of use” in terms of ERP selection criteria for the past few years. I have asked survey participants to prioritize ERP selection criteria in my annual ERP survey for many years. While “fit and functionality” reigned for years, “ease of use” has bubbled to the top for the past two years (Table 1).

Table 1: Priorities of Selection Criteria in Evaluating ERP

Table 1 InforSource: Mint Jutras 2014 and 2013 ERP Solution Studies

Survey participants were asked to rank the importance of thirteen different selection criteria for ERP on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 was “not a consideration” and 5 was “must have/most important.” There was nothing to stop the respondents from ranking each and every criterion as a “must have,” but they didn’t.

So what does “Ease of use” mean? Glad you asked. I asked that of my survey respondents as well. For this question, I gave them a list of options and asked them to pick their “top 3.” I guess a “visually appealing user interface” is the closest I come to “beautiful software.” As you can see in Figure 1, it is not at the very top of the list. Factors that affect efficiency and productivity outrank beauty. But in spite of the words Infor execs use (beautiful software), I actually think this is what they are striving for.

Figure 1: What does Ease of Use mean? Pick your top 3

Figure 1 InforSource: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study

Sadly enough, all too often in the past, ERP solutions that were meant to streamline and automate processes ended up forcing users to work in ways that simply weren’t natural. That point comes up a lot when talking to Infor execs. In fact they have launched a new initiative (Infor refers to it internally as SoHo Glide) to further improve the user experience. Graphical user interfaces (GUIs) have evolved from legacy command line interfaces. Now Infor wants to take the next step from “graphical” to “natural,” which addresses both the need for intuitive navigation and supporting a natural way of working. I could talk for pages about this, but the best way to understand what they are doing is to ask for a demo.

While many cite “Don’t make me change my business processes” as a “top 3” priority in terms of “ease of use,” I would warn Infor’s (and other vendors’) customers not to use this as a blanket requirement, unless of course all your business processes reflect best practices and/or provide a source of differentiation for you in your market.

Infor has flat out stated that it wants to rid the Infor world of customizations. That’s at the root of its micro-vertical strategy. The goal is to have very industry specific solutions that can address all the requirements of a particular sector without the need for customizations or other point solutions. But that doesn’t mean the software can or should support every idiosyncrasy of your company. “We’ve always done it that way” is not a valid justification, especially if the reason you did something differently was because of a (previous) gap in software functionality or resistance from an individual (who probably doesn’t even work for your company any more). There are a lot better solutions out there today, some of which are offered by Infor.

“Friends don’t let friends build data centers”

One of the reasons Infor is so adamant about removing customizations is because of the move to the cloud. I have lots of data that shows the growing willingness to consider, even the preference for cloud-based solutions. Infor has known for a while that this was happening, but execs on the main stage of Inforum 2014 admitted the push to cloud happened a bit faster than they had anticipated. Hence the “all out” effort to be “all in” on the cloud. And in fact the quote in this heading was from Infor CEO Charles Phillips.

Infor is offering two different paths to the cloud. Its UpgradeX program is probably most attractive to companies that are stuck on older releases, often because of the cost and effort of the upgrade process. Through UpgradeX, Infor gets the customer to the latest release of the software and then lifts and shifts it to the cloud, taking responsibility for its care and feeding, including upgrades. This is more of a hosting option, but relieves the customer of the burden of maintenance of both hardware and software.

I should point out that this option is not available to all customers because not all product lines are cloud (web-) enabled. Those Infor teams are working hard to encourage customers to remove customizations and move forward in anticipation of that day. But I have a better idea. Where Infor has an alternative solution that is modern and technology-enabled, get rid of that older solution and move to something that can more easily, safely and efficiently move you into the future.

You won’t hear Infor say this because it doesn’t want to appear to be abandoning customers or products. And of course, moving forward could mean opening the door to a competitive situation. Quite frankly, when I worked for software companies, some of which are now owned by Infor, I would have said and done the same.

But looking objectively from the outside in, I don’t think this serves the customer well. Suggesting “rip and replace” used to be heresy but today it might just be the fastest, cheapest path to get you to a far more competitive position.

If you do consider trading in an older Infor solution, the other cloud path might be best for you. Re-implement on one of Infor’s industry-specific CloudSuites. These CloudSuites integrate multiple functions traditionally requiring disparate systems into a single suite. Some will be industry-based (e.g. healthcare, manufacturing verticals, wholesale distribution, etc.) and others will be “solution” suites (e.g. financials, human capital management, etc.). These CloudSuites are all destined to be multi-tenant software as a service (SaaS) solutions, although all the necessary components are not multi-tenant today.

The CloudSuites will be available on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud infrastructure. As Infor’s COO Pam Murphy likes to say, “Infor is in the enterprise application software business. We let someone else worry about pipes and feeds.” Of course a significant advantage to customers and Infor both is the elasticity and scale of AWS. Infor will also use leading open source solutions including Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and JBoss Enterprise Middleware, and EnterpriseDB’s Postgres Plus database. And all will be supported by Infor ION®, Infor’s purpose-built, lightweight middleware. Infor ION provides integration and other services.

These suites will feature a consumer-grade user experience from Hook & Loop, Infor’s internal design agency based in its Manhattan headquarters. And they will have embedded analytics. This is an important point. As other vendors are packaging business intelligence (BI) tools and analytic applications and selling them separately, Infor is operating on the belief that analytics are core to next-generation applications and should be a basic part of the solution, with no additional charge.

These analytics will also run on mobile devices. In many ways Infor adopts a “mobile-first” design philosophy that is becoming quite prevalent in new development today. But it also recognizes that a lot of work (both transactional and decision-making) is still done on a desktop, so it is committed to bringing the consumer-grade user experience to all.

In fact this enhanced user experience, based on “beautiful software,” is all about engaging more of its customers’ employees. In the past only a small percentage of employees ever put their hands on ERP – those doing heads-down data entry and a few selected “super users.” Executives in particular couldn’t be bothered to “figure it all out” and were dependent on those super users for answers, causing delays that could be fatal to decision-making.

But today that is changing. The better the experience, the more connected the people running the businesses are to ERP and to each other. And Infor has the stated objective of ending “the tyranny of the super user.” Mint Jutras is already seeing a shift in the market to higher levels of engagement with ERP and cloud deployments seem to play a big role. While overall a little over half (55%) of employees use ERP today, that percentage jumps to 63% when a SaaS solution is deployed (Figure 2).

Figure 2: What percentage of your employees uses ERP?

Figure 2 InforSource: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study

Of course cloud-enablement is not the only factor here, but, apart from the access anytime, from anywhere advantage of the cloud, today’s cloud-based solutions are not saddled with a lot of older technology that stands in the way of a consumer-grade experience.

But Will Infor Customers Move?

The new management that took over Infor a few years back has brought significant change to the culture, the technology and the direction of the company. I think all these seemingly distinct announcements are all pulling Infor in the right direction and we’re really starting to see positive results. But the real question remains: Will its customers follow it into the future?

I went to my first Inforum in 2006 and was stunned to learn that Infor had 70,000 customers. Yet through the years of further acquisitions and more Inforums where the stats offered up about numbers of new customers were impressive, the total remained at 70,000. That told me that some customers (although still running run Infor products) might not be (maintenance) paying customers anymore and/or there was attrition equal to new customer wins. That is troubling for any software company.

This year that changed. In 2013 Infor added 3018 new customers and the total jumped to 73,000. But Infor still has a very large number of customers that simply are not in a position to take advantage of all this new technology, including consumer-grade user experiences, mobile design, cloud connectivity, embedded analytics, etc. etc. Other vendors see that as a huge opportunity.

Having dealt directly with some of these specific customer installed bases in the past, I would say a very large part of the reason these customers stay where they are is inertia. It is the “if it ain’t broken….” syndrome or the philosophy that ERP replacement is like brain surgery. Don’t do it unless the patient is dying. Anyone that follows me knows exactly what I think about that philosophy. Waiting until your business is in distress is not the optimal time to set out on a new ERP implementation.

Infor is offering a lot of options to its customers, but not every customer has the exact same options. These new “natural” customer experiences, new technology, new products and new CloudSuites are quite compelling. But if a customer can’t figure out how to get there, it’s all meaningless. Infor has been working on so much that it can be appear quite overwhelming. And it is very hard to convey this in a general session in front of such a diverse crowd. And it is equally hard to have 73,000 conversations.

The promise of beautiful software is not enough. Infor’s story is much more than that, but are its customers listening?

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