mobile

Can SYSPRO Put a Genius in a Manufacturing Executive’s Pocket?

Espresso Mobile Solution: a Single Portal to All Your Applications

As Mint Jutras has noted in prior reports, SYSPRO is clearly inspired by the genius of Einstein. Over the years Einstein has influenced many of its initiatives, including its “Simply SMARTER” strategy (an acronym that stands for Strategy, Methodology, Accountability, Resources, Technology, Education and Customer Rewards) and its SYSPRO Quantum Architecture. Back in December 2012 it announced its plans for a new mobile platform (a “wired” Einstein on Espresso) that would bring the customization capabilities of its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution for manufacturing and distribution natively to multiple mobile devices including Android, Apple I-OS and Blackberry. Now with the release of SYSPRO 7, more advances to this mobile platform are available. While in the past decisionmakers may have shied away from accessing ERP directly, assuming it was too complex and hard to use, SYSPRO Espresso now puts intelligence directly into the hands (and pockets) of executives with mobile devices.

Making the Business Case for “Mobile”

SYSPRO’s objective in this release is to provide “leading edge” solutions to a market segment not particularly well known for its aggressive and pioneering use of enterprise software. While manufacturers might be pioneers in their own industries, typically they are more interested in spending their capital budgets on new equipment for the plant or shop floor than on hardware and software to run their back and front offices.

In fact SYSPRO recently conducted one of its SNAP (SYSPRO Needs Answers Please) pulse surveys, this time on Information Technology (IT) priorities. The survey found a growing recognition of the impact IT has on a manufacturer’s ability to compete today: 87% said IT has a moderate to substantial impact on their competitiveness. While in the past manufacturers might have chosen to invest in facilities, people and equipment instead of enterprise software and the servers needed to support it, more and more of these same companies are realizing they need to invest in both in order to take full advantage of the new capacity.

According to SYSPRO’s survey, 9% of participants said they fairly regularly choose to undertake both such projects at the same time and 48% say this is a decision they have made at least once or twice. While the SYSPRO team was surprised by this, Mint Jutras is not. Once a manufacturer expands capacity, either through capital investment in existing facilities, or through expansion into new geographies or new markets, the game is changed. These same manufacturers now need new tools to manage that capacity for profitable growth.

While data collected in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) has always been important to executive level decision-making, in the past very few executives ever put their hands directly on ERP. Instead they relied on subordinates or super users to collect data and investigate, delaying decisions and sometimes even distorting the view from above. Why? Because the perception (and often the reality) was that ERP was complex and hard to use. Executives simply didn’t have the time or inclination to “figure it all out.” And yet today the pace of business has accelerated to the point where any delay in decision-making can be fatal.

The Mint Jutras 2013 ERP Solution Study first showed executive access to ERP on the rise and that trend continued this year (Figure 1). More and more executives are directly connected to ERP, with the percentage of manufacturing companies saying all have access and regularly use ERP increasing from 47% to 57% year over year.

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

SYSPRO figure 1Source: Mint Jutras 2013 and 2014 ERP Solution Studies

And yet we see little progress in putting dashboards from ERP on mobile devices or sending alerts or giving these executives the ability to take action directly from these devices. Whether they want it or not, whether they know it or not, they need immediate and direct access to ERP, and these mobile devices may just serve as the catalyst and the game-changer. But nobody wants to just lift and shift the same old monolithic ERP.

This might explain why even with the proliferation of these devices and the “always on” environment they create, the priority for access to ERP data and functions from a mobile device remains close to the bottom of the list of ERP selection criteria (Table 1).

Table 1: Selection Criteria in Evaluating ERP

SYSPRO figure 2Source: Mint Jutras 2013 and 2014 ERP Solution Studies

In the age of “there’s an app for that” few people equate ERP to that “app.” While only 21% of manufacturers ranked mobile access to ERP as a “must have,” 38% indicated that mobile access to business intelligence (BI) was a “must have.” And 32% wanted access to BI from their chosen device (BYOD). What seems to get lost in the shuffle: many don’t realize most data from which they are likely to derive that intelligence resides in ERP.

We need a catalyst that can bridge this perception gap.

SYSPRO 7 Espresso Mobile Solution

SYSPRO has taken many steps to insure that SYSPRO 7 Espresso is that catalyst. Its goal is to provide a “leading edge” solution without losing sight of what manufacturers and distributors really need.

A Strong Platform

First of all it needs a solid platform that supports the needs of a mobile deployment, including the following:

Device and platform independence: With “bring your own device” (BYOD) rapidly invading the business world, users expect to interact with enterprise data using the same user interface features that attracted them to the device to begin with. Even more importantly, users can easily change devices. Switching from a Blackberry to an iPhone? No problem. Use both an iPad and a Samsung Galaxy 5? No problem. Moving to a Surface tablet? Not a problem. SYSPRO Espresso can be used on all major mobile device operating systems and is compatible on all web browsers that support HTML5.

Users can personalize their user interface (UI): Customization is truly as easy as dragging and dropping different screen components.

Real-time or offline access: This is huge.What happens when you lose your Wi-Fi or mobile signal? SYSPRO Espresso lets you continue working offline. Any transaction made while working offline can be synchronized when you reconnect. Yes you have to press the button, but it really is that easy.

Secure communication: Often businesses ignore the possible vulnerabilities introduced through mobile devices. Either that or this potential scares them from allowing mobile access. Transmission between mobile devices and the SYSPRO server are encrypted using SSL secure communication standards. In addition, administrators of the SYSPRO system can configure menus and applications by company, role and user.

Enable alerts to be sent via push notifications: Receiving alerts on a mobile device is always the top priority for business users. According to our Mint Jutras ERP survey, 76% say they receive alerts based on enterprise data either often (35%) or occasionally (41%). Yet only 18% get alerts from ERP. We conclude that the vast majority of the alerts received are delivered via email or text messages as a result of some manual intervention. SYSPRO Espresso automates this and connects the user directly back to ERP, the source of the data.

Uses active tile technology: This too is huge. If you are monitoring certain metrics, a static image only shows you a moment in time. Using SYSPRO Espresso, an icon or tile is constantly refreshed and dynamically updated every few seconds. You are always looking at the real results.

Multi-lingual support: Supporting the same languages SYSPRO ERP supports.

Mobile applications packaged with Espresso and via the SYSPRO App Store: SYSPRO Espresso comes standard with a growing number of applications. But given the simplicity of developing new apps, and the simplicity of making them available on the SYSPRO App Store (for free or for a fee), SYSPRO fully expects partners to also contribute and this number will grow significantly.

A single app for all applications: Only one app needs to be downloaded from the App Store to a device. Mobile users only needs to log into the menu system once to gain access to any applications they have permission to use. As additional apps become available, they can be pushed to the user’s device, removing the need to download anything else. This brings the process of provisioning to a new level of efficiency.

Development platform that supports deployment to any device: A free plugin to Microsoft Visual Studio 2012 allows developers to build custom applications once, using one set of source code that can be deployed on all major mobile device platforms. This preserves the native operation of a device without a proliferation of code. This includes native device capabilities such as a camera and GPS tracking, both supported by SYSPRO Espresso. An ink component is also supported to allow capturing of signatures or drawing of simple diagrams.

Easy Movement Between Devices: Perhaps a sales rep begins entering an order in the field, but has not completed the task when it is time to pack up and head back to the office. Upon return, the sales rep can log onto a laptop or desktop computer and pick up exactly where he or she left off.

A Library of Pre-Built “Apps”

Part of the lack of urgency in providing access to ERP data and functions from mobile devices is likely due to the monolithic approach used in delivering legacy ERP in the past. ERP was this massive application, touching many different functions of the business. Figuring out how to navigate through the pieces and processes that impact any one particular user was hard. Contrast this to the typical mobile app. Because these mobile apps are purpose-built for a very specific function, they are intuitively easy to use.

SYSPRO has taken the same approach to delivering Espresso apps. There are a number of pre-built applications, which are free to any licensed Espresso user. Below is a list of apps that are immediately available with the initial release of SYSPRO 7, but this list will continue to grow over time and is also likely to be supplemented by others added to the SYSPRO App store by users and partners.

  • Aged Sales Orders
  • Bank Query
  • Customer Maintenance
  • Customer Query
  • GIT Reference Query
  • Inventory Maintenance
  • Inventory Query
  • Inventory Valuation (chart)
  • Job Query
  • Lost Sales Orders
  • Price Query
  • Purchase Order Query
  • Quotation Query
  • Ratio – Asset Turnover
  • Ratio – Leverage
  • Ratio – Liquidity
  • Requisition Query
  • Sales Analysis
  • Sales by Month
  • Sales Dashboard (charts)
  • Sales Order Commitment
  • Sales Order Entry
  • Sales Order Query
  • Sales Order Taken
  • Supplier Maintenance
  • Supplier Query

Summary and Conclusion

While more and more executives today are looking for answers and a return on their investment in ERP, many still struggle to connect through the same mobile devices that keep them “always connected” to the business. In spite of using these mobile devices to receive alerts, many still respond by turning the smart device, on which they receive the alert, into a dumb device. They call or text. They turn to others to further investigate, to track down answers. They won’t be able to take direct action until they are easily connected directly back to ERP.

Any kind of knowledge worker today needs new ways of engaging with ERP, ones that make the connection easy, ones that answer their specific questions and address their specific issues.

Just lifting and shifting a massive application like ERP to a mobile device, without these new ways of engaging is useless. Instead, workers need “an app for that.” Yes, that app is ERP, but it needs to be disguised as something else, something that is purpose-built to answer questions and resolve issues. The savvy executive today should be looking to put a genius in his or her pocket. For a SYSPRO customer, that means SYSPRO Espresso running on the mobile device of choice.

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Thoughts From NetSuite’s SuiteWorld: What’s wrong with calling it ERP and CRM?

There seemed to be lots of talk and a bit of controversy floating around NetSuite’s SuiteWorld conference this week about the future of ERP (enterprise resource planning), CRM (customer relationship management) and other TLAs (three letter acronyms). NetSuite itself is a provider of ERP, CRM and ecommerce. Yet CEO Zach Nelson opened this door by attacking other vendors that don’t have solutions with footprints quite as broad as NetSuite. Zach said Salesforce wasn’t CRM because it didn’t capture the customer order. WorkDay’s HCM and accounting applications aren’t ERP. Zach has been known to go on the attack before, so this wasn’t out of character, and to a certain extent I agree with him. Sales force automation (which is Salesforce.com’s claim to fame) is often referred to as CRM even though I would argue it is only a subset. And Workday’s solution doesn’t fit my definition of ERP. (To be fair, I also haven’t heard Workday call its solution ERP.)

However, some “influencers” in attendance also picked up on this theme. One went so far as to suggest ERP and CRM should go away as software categories. Another stated that “cloud ERP” is redefining what we mean by ERP.

I disagree on both counts.

Companies in search of solutions to run their businesses need a frame of reference, a starting point to define what it is they need. They can’t start with a search for vendors offering “something to run my business.” As loosely as ERP and CRM are often defined, they do accomplish that. And I also don’t believe ERP needs to be redefined, at least not the way I define it.

Too often industry analysts and other influencers over-complicate definitions, perhaps in an attempt to prove just how much the average businessperson needs them, or perhaps to prove how smart they are. I prefer to keep it simple. I define ERP as follows:

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

Of course, today most ERP solutions do more than this, and I have been saying for years now that it is getting more and more difficult to tell where ERP ends and other applications begin. But this definition is timeless. It also implies ERP cannot be static. The way companies operate is changing and therefore ERP must also evolve to reflect new ways of transacting business. NetSuite has been responding to this challenge over the past few years, through its approach to omnichannel commerce and with several announcements this week including:

  • A brand new, modernized, mobilized user experience (first available on Apple IOS, to be followed by Android)
  • The unveiling of a “next-generation services resource planning (SRP)”, a unified cloud solution to meet the combined needs of project- and product-based businesses. The solution can be configured as a stand-alone SRP solution or combined with NetSuite’s ERP. It targets software, IT services, consulting, advertising and marketing services companies.
  • A new SuiteGL, intended to “transform the general ledger from one size fits all into a custom business asset.” New capabilities are being developed to add

o   New custom segments to the chart of accounts (example: to support fund accounting and advanced managerial reports)

o   Custom lines (example: you might post additional journal entries based on the country in which the transaction originates)

o   Custom transaction types (example: vendor billing accrual, employee expense report accrual, payroll journal, depreciation journal, statistical account entries)

  • Mobilization of its newly acquired HCM solution: NetSuite TribeHR Mobile for iOS brings collaboration tools, enterprise search capability, time off management and employee recognition (kudos) to Apple iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch mobile devices.
  • A new B2B Customer Center built on NetSuite’s SuiteCommerce platform providing

o   A self-service customer portal

o   Customization, billing and payments, account and product management capabilities, including lists for seasonal purchasing

o   Responsive web design capabilities that can optimize sites for multiple devices

So NetSuite is in tune with the desire and need for business transformation, largely based on the new requirements of this digital age. But… back to the issue at hand.

What impact does the cloud have on this perceived need to redefine what we mean by ERP? Cloud does have an impact, but it is not so much changing what we mean by ERP as changing what we should expect from ERP, a subtle difference, but a very meaningful one. We still need to track inventory assets, record orders, deliver, invoice and collect payment. In a B2B environment, these end-to-end business processes (like order-to-cash and procure-to-pay) have traditionally spanned weeks or months. The cloud connects us and it might help us automate processes, compressing them to days, hours or even minutes. But we still need to keep that system of record. We still need ERP. We just need a better ERP.

I spent a lot of time evangelizing these new and better ERP solutions in 2013. I called them “next generation” ERP: providing better ways to engage with ERP, replacing invasive customization with configuration that is preserved from release to release, more innovation and better integration. Much of what NetSuite has done, and is still doing, is driven by the need for a modernized, technology-enabled ERP.

But what about CRM? Zach declared Salesforce wasn’t CRM because it didn’t manage the customer order. I will leave a formal definition of CRM to those that specialize in that category, but I would argue that the customer order doesn’t belong in CRM anyway. It belongs in ERP because it is a fundamental element of the system of record of the business. But does it really matter? Not when we’re talking about NetSuite’s solution, because ERP, CRM (and eCommerce) are all built as one system. And because it is all one system, everything works seamlessly together and there’s no redundancy of data. The end user doesn’t really know or care if it is a function of CRM or ERP, unless of course they only subscribe to one or the other and not both.

So yes, NetSuite certainly has a leg up on Salesforce in providing what CRM vendors traditionally promise: a 360o view of the customers. NetSuite can and Salesforce (or any CRM-only vendor) can’t. And that is because it is delivered all in one set of code: a fully integrated suite. If sales or support representatives need to see all outstanding quotes, shipped orders, open or paid invoices, they just go to NetSuite. They don’t need to worry about whether it is part of CRM or ERP.

Some analysts have started to call this “a platform.” While I would define “platform” differently, my definition really doesn’t matter. Whether you call it a platform, an integrated suite, or just extended ERP, I suppose it does strengthen the argument for making ERP and CRM go away. You don’t need ERP and CRM. You need this integrated platform. But now we’re just getting into semantics and we’re not really adding value to the conversation. For a prospect or customer buying ERP today, the real question is what are the boundaries of the solutions being considered and how much of the needed functionality does it provide?

The footprint of ERP has grown steadily over the past three decades. We’ve reached a point where the boundary of where ERP ends and other applications begin has become quite blurry. Those in search of solutions should strive to clearly understand these boundaries, which will vary from solution to solution. CRM is only one such complementary application now offered by ERP vendors. But not all CRM solutions offered by ERP vendors are developed and delivered like NetSuite’s solution. A NetSuite customer can subscribe to either of these as a stand-alone NetSuite application, but if you subscribe to both, they operate as a single tightly integrated solution. This is not the case with all solution providers. Just because you are buying both from a single vendor doesn’t guarantee the two (or more) applications have been designed and developed as a single integrated solution, particularly if the complementary solution has been acquired.

In the past an integrated module of ERP tended to provide lighter-weight functionality than that provided by separate, so-called “best-of-breed” applications. So there was a clear trade-off between specialized functionality, which came with the added cost and effort of integration. But the capabilities of those built-in ERP modules today often rival or even exceed the capabilities of stand-alone applications. And the connected cloud and other modern technologies have made integration easier. So the trade-off isn’t quite so clear.

We explored this a bit in our 2014 Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study, asking participants about preferences for a suite approach (like NetSuite’s ERP and CRM) or a more specialized solution (like NetSuite’s partnership with AutoDesk for PLM).

It is clear that while there is an overwhelming preference for an integrated solution, most will be cautious about sacrificing functional requirements for ease of integration or for the purposes of having either a single throat to choke or a single back to pat (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Preferences for a Full Suite

Netsuite fig 1Source: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study

This of course puts added pressure on software vendors like NetSuite to continue to innovate and expand their solutions. The easiest way to deliver a seamlessly integrated, expanded solution is to develop it internally, rather than to go shopping for additional features and functions (through acquisition or partnership). Those solution providers that exclusively deliver through a multi-tenant SaaS model will have an advantage in this regard because they maintain a single line of code. NetSuite, for example, delivers two releases a year.

Those that offer only licensed, on-premise solutions, or the same solution through the cloud and on-premise don’t have that luxury. Minimally they will have to maintain multiple releases to accommodate those customers that can’t or won’t upgrade. And very often they offer the software on different operating systems and different databases. Any combination of these increases their support and maintenance efforts exponentially and leaves fewer resources to apply to pure innovation. These vendors are more likely to deliver releases every 12 to 18 months.

Of course acquiring functionality (like NetSuite did with TribeHR for HCM) and even partnering (like NetSuite did with Autodesk for PLM) are options as well, providing the integration is seamless enough. NetSuite has proven that it is capable of delivering on all these different fronts.

While vendors and industry observers argue over what to call these solutions, most good business decision-makers tune out to these discussions. Most are more interested in solving business problems than in redefining what we call the solution. The labels we have today: ERP, CRM, PLM, HCM… are all fine as long as we continue to ask and expect more from them. I, for one, am more interested in helping those business leaders better understand the almost limitless possibilities for business transformation, than in coming up with the next new label – or even worse, the next new TLA.

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The Mobile Executive’s Connection to ERP

 

Making it the Path Well-Travelled

While data collected in ERP has always been important to executive level decision-making, in the past very few executives ever put their hands directly on ERP. Instead they relied on subordinates or super users to collect data and investigate, delaying decisions and sometimes even distorting the view from above. Why? Because the perception (and often the reality) was that ERP was complex and hard to use. Executives simply didn’t have the time or inclination to “figure it all out.” And yet today the pace of business has accelerated to the point where any delay in decision-making can be fatal.

This was bad enough when the typical executive’s day was spent in a plush office, sitting behind a desk. But those days are long gone. Whether on the road or spending time with the family, executives need to be “always on,” connected by mobile devices. Forget the laptop that requires a WiFi connection and VPN access. Today executives rely more and more on smart phones and tablets that simply require a signal to their mobile carrier. The resultant intrusion into their personal lives has made them less patient in waiting for analysis and answers.

But do executives really access enterprise apps via their mobile devices? What % of executive management has access to and actually uses ERP? How many receive ERP-related alerts on their mobile devices? Click here to read more in my guest blog post for Edgewater Fullscope: http://bit.ly/1etLsTx

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Next Generation ERP: Kenandy’s Approach

Changing the World of ERP, One Click at a Time

It has been a while since I last posted in our Next Generation ERP series. If you haven’t been following, you might want to catch up on the 4 part generic series of posts. This one features the approach of a relatively new entrant into the ERP market: Kenandy Inc. Some of you will immediately recognize Kenandy’s founder, none other than Sandy Kurtzig of ASK and MANMAN fame.

By way of introduction or reminder….

What do Star Trek and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) have in common? Apart from each being a bold adventure, both have experienced a rebirth as a next generation. In our four part series, we describe the next generation of ERP in terms of new technology that enables:

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

The next generation of Star Trek continued the original journey but was faster, more technologically enabled and more in tune with the evolving needs of the galaxy. When Sandy Kurtzig came out of retirement in 2010 and founded Kenandy, she may not have been thinking about Star Trek but she clearly wanted to explore new worlds in her entrepreneurial journey and boldly go where no ERP for manufacturing has gone before. Using new technology, Kenandy designed its new ERP from scratch with a singular purpose in mind: to deliver a robust solution quickly that would also keep pace with the rapidly changing world in which we live.

Does Kenandy Qualify as Next Generation ERP?

Not every ERP solution on the market today qualifies as a “next generation” ERP. The depth and breadth of functionality has increased over the past three decades, which makes it harder for a new entrant to compete in the market. The “basics” are table stakes, but they aren’t so basic anymore, particularly in the world of manufacturing where Kenandy hopes to compete.

While other industries might be able to survive with back office functionality that is limited to accounting or human resource management, manufacturing requires a much broader set of features and functions. Indeed, ERP for manufacturing has evolved from material requirements planning (MRP) to manufacturing resource planning (MRP II), to the full operational and transactional system of record of the business. Even the manufacturing of a simple product can be quite complex when you run lean, but strive to be responsive to your demanding customers.

Any ERP vendor today must compete on functionality, but that is not what makes a solution “next generation.” It is the underlying technology and the power it delivers.  But technology and functionality are closely related, because it is the power of the technology platform that allows solution providers to deliver more features and functions faster. Selecting the right platform on which to build ERP is therefore critical.

While the platform may not be immediately visible to the end user of the software, it is dangerous to ignore it and the power of technology. You probably never knew how the USS Enterprise achieved warp speed, but you knew that it could. You didn’t know how the transporter beam worked, but you knew what happened when Captain Kirk said, “Beam me up, Scottie.” While neither were the only ways to get from point A to point B, both added speed and efficiency.

While Kenandy chose to build an ERP solution from a clean sheet of paper, in order to compete, it needed to find a way to add both speed and efficiency to the development process. Kenandy chose to build on the Salesforce Platform to deliver both. And in doing so, its customers also benefit from speed and simplicity, which together yield efficiency.

ERP: Empower Real PeopleTM

Speed and efficiency are prerequisites for delivering on the first element of next generation ERP: providing new ways of engaging with enterprise software.

Traditionally, users have engaged with ERP through a hierarchical series of menus, which require at least a rudimentary knowledge of how data and processes are organized. Hopefully this organization reflects how the business processes and the enterprise itself are structured, but with a hierarchy of menus, there are no guarantees that navigation is intuitive or that business processes are streamlined and efficient.

When processes within ERP are clumsy and inefficient, employees spend more time trying to work around the system, rather than working with it. Cynics like to refer to ERP not as “enterprise resource planning”, but as “Excel runs production.” Sandy Kurtzig strives for a different goal where ERP stands for “empower real people.” For that to happen you need to reach both up and down the corporate ladder.

Traditionally, a small percentage of employees of any company ever put their hands directly on ERP, and this select group almost never included top-level executive decision-makers. But the speed of required decision-making and the consumerization of IT are making this unacceptable.

So how does Kenandy empower real people? It relies on the Salesforce Platform to deliver a user experience that is appealing to the younger work force that has grown up on the Internet. And in making the solution appealing to the millennials, it also makes it easier for the older crowd to use. It recognizes there are “mobile” and “social” users as well, both of which are addressed by the platform.

The Salesforce Platform also enables collaboration by connecting people to the business and to information. For years, salesforce.com made a big deal out of its “social” capabilities but the manufacturing community is just now appreciating social. While a hot topic among pundits and industry “influencers,” the perceived value was lost on many, particularly in manufacturing. Traditionalists distinguish between a business event and a social event, between a business conversation and a social chat, between a business colleague and a friend or social acquaintance. Many didn’t “get” that social is really just shorthand for new and improved ways of getting and staying informed in a collaborative way. And who doesn’t want that?

By building an ERP on the Salesforce Platform, these social and mobile aspects are built in.

Personalizing with Clicks not Code

While all manufacturers face similar challenges, they also have unique ways of dealing with those challenges, and in doing so, actively seek differentiation in their individual markets. What company today doesn’t believe it is unique in some way?

Being different used to mean customization and with traditional, older generation ERP, this meant programming changes, mucking around in source code and building barriers to upgrade and innovation. To qualify as a “next generation” ERP, most, if not all of this customization must be done without ever touching a line of source code. Configuration, tailoring and personalization should replace customization.

Kenandy likes to say it can personalize with “clicks, not code.” This means adding fields, changing workflows, rearranging the screens. This is an absolute necessity in a Kenandy environment because it is delivered only as multi-tenant software as a service (SaaS). In a multi-tenant environment, multiple companies use the same instance of (hosted) software. Of course, data is protected from access by other companies (tenants), but any “customization” is generally delivered through configuration settings, which vary per company.

Kenandy’s architecture allows you to modify business processes and the user experience, including screens, dashboards and even the device. This doesn’t require programmers. Simplicity and this “Do It Yourself” aspect were among the primary reasons Blue Clover Devices selected Kenandy. These features became obvious to Blue Clover during its trial run of the system.

“I immediately saw how easy it is to add and extend capabilities with Kenandy,” said Pete Staples, President and Co-founder. “I was convinced that this was something we could manage pretty much on our own, and that had a strong appeal to us.” While the other system Blue Clover was considering had many positive features, “We felt like we would have to hire them to do everything for us, and that just made us nervous.”

Beyond the Initial Implementation

While this level of personalization and configuration is important when Kenandy is first being implemented, it becomes even more so as life goes on. Today’s manufacturers are bombarded with change, whether as a result of growth, regulatory requirements or just the desire for continuous improvement. Change doesn’t halt once you implement ERP. In fact, the need for change may accelerate as new functionality and new technology opens doors for growth and improvement.

And yet managing change has traditionally been an obstacle to achieving the goals of an ERP solution. The 2014 ERP Solution Study found this to be the number one challenge with the vast majority (82%) rating it as moderately to extremely challenging.

The ability to handle this kind of change was the primary reason Big Heart Pet Brands (formerly Del Monte Foods) selected Kenandy to support its recent acquisition of Natural Balance Pet Foods. “One of the many reasons Del Monte selected Kenandy was that we wanted a flexible system that easily adapts to business changes, such as acquisitions, while also offering enterprise-class capabilities,” said David McLain, Senior Vice President, Chief Information Officer and Procurement Officer, Big Heart Pet Brands.

Kenandy attributes this post-implementation agility to the flexibility and extensibility of the platform and Stuart Kowarsky, Vice President of Operations at Natural Balance seems to be a big fan. “At Natural Balance and in our corporate systems, we’re replacing a patchwork of applications with one unified, extensible solution that will grow and scale with Big Heart’s needs.”

But Kenandy’s ability to accommodate change is not only attributable to the platform, but also to how it has architected the solution on top of that platform, with a unified data model that takes full advantage of the power of business objects.

“Wide-Body” ObjectsTM

Legacy ERP solution data models consisted of an extensive number of tables. Joining those tables together reflected relationships between data. For example, a sales order header table might need to be joined to line items. In turn, those line items needed to be joined with the products being delivered, and any number of associated tables for validation, like units of measure, product categories, inventory locations, planning and replenishment codes, etc. The sales order also had to be joined with customers, shipments, and invoices. It didn’t take long for the number of tables and joins to proliferate almost exponentially, making a change to any one element a labyrinth of changes.

Kenandy replaces that myriad of tables with what it calls a ”Wide-Body” ObjectTM architecture.  These objects will sound quite familiar: orders, invoices, customers, etc. But by packing lots of information into each object, it significantly reduces the number that needs to be managed. Kenandy has less than 100 Wide-Body Objects.

For example, invoice, credit memo and adjustments share similar data structures and therefore can be expressed as a single object, distinguished by embedded fields. Adding fields is a simple process and only has to be done in one place. Changing workflow steps is equally simple because the workflow connects directly to the objects. Also, these Wide-Body Objects are reusable and it is a simple process to make these changes by pointing and clicking. No database administrator (DBA) required.

More Innovation to Come

The ability to enable change this rapidly also has implications for the on-going development of the product, which impacts the third requirement for next generation ERP: more innovation.

In deciding to build a new product from scratch, Kenandy avoided a lot of the headaches other longer-tenured companies face. In developing a new product, you don’t have to worry about keeping any existing customers happy with product or implementation decisions they may have already made. You can start from a clean slate. It is sort of like building a new house. It is much easier to start with an empty lot and a design plan, than it is to remodel an existing structure.

And yet Kenandy set out to build a very big and complex structure. As noted earlier, the depth and breadth of functionality needed to compete today, particularly in manufacturing, is extensive.

The platform itself comes with an extensive toolbox that accelerates the development process. The power of the platform, combined with its SaaS-only delivery model, supports agile development, managed around “sprints,” a concept familiar to proponents of rapid application development. Innovation doesn’t have to be packaged up to be delivered every 12 to 18 months, but in shorter cycles that include scripting a scenario, designing a solution, building and testing. Think of these more as a series of short proof of concept projects, which are continually being delivered. As a SaaS model, no customer is left behind running an older release.

In an interesting twist on “agile” and “sprints,” Kenandy applies these same concepts to the implementation process. New customers gain access immediately to an instance of the software. They can add data, experiment and test it out in a series of pilots. At the end of the process, teams not only have a working environment, but also have learned how to make changes to business processes, again with clicks, not code. Nothing is cast in concrete as the first (or any) “go live” milestone is achieved, therefore it encourages and supports the popular manufacturing concept of continuous improvement.

These were some of the benefits Del Monte saw in its recent acquisition of Natural Balance. Indeed, Sandra Kurtzig was so confident in Kenandy’s ability to respond quickly, she made a commitment to Del Monte to go live with Kenandy at Natural Balance just 90 minutes after the acquisition was complete. No, that’s not a typo – that’s 90 minutes, not 90 days. In fact, the system was up and running in less time and represented a complete implementation including order-to-cash, planning and production, procure-to-pay and financials.

Summary

Like the starship Enterprise, whose five-year mission was to explore new worlds and “to boldly go where no man has gone before,” early versions of ERP charted new territory for enterprise applications. It evolved from MRP (material requirements planning) to MRP II (manufacturing resource planning) and then boldly set out to conquer the “final frontier” of ERP, managing not a small piece of the enterprise, but the enterprise itself.

The new journey Kenandy has embarked on, this next generation ERP, is a far cry from legacy ERP solutions of the past. Not wanting to be constrained by legacy code or preconceived notions, it started with a clean sheet of paper to design a whole new solution. But this new company knew better than to take a further step back in designing its own development platform. Instead it chose a platform that has already proven itself in terms of power, flexibility and reliability.

When Sandy Kurtzig stepped down from her first venture (The ASK Group) she left behind a loyal following within the manufacturing community, where trust is not easily given, but is hard earned. Can she attract the same kind of following in her new venture? In order to compete in this new era she will need:

  • A proven technology platform that allows users to engage with ERP in new and different ways, with intuitive and visually appealing user interfaces, which don’t rely on intimate knowledge of how the system or the data is structured. She’ll need a platform that opens doors to a whole new level of executive involvement… Check
  •  A system that is easily custom-configured, eliminating invasive customization that prevents companies from moving forward with updates and upgrades… Check
  •   To deliver innovation at an increased (and impressive) pace, supported through the use of web-based services, and object-oriented data models… Check
  •  Good integration capabilities that provide a seamless user experience across the enterprise… Check

Manufacturers stuck on older technology with limited functionality might well consider saying, “Beam me up, Sandy.”

This post was derived from a white paper entitled Next Generation ERP: Kenandy’s Approach. Click here to read the full report. The report is free, but registration is required.

 

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Einstein Inspires SYSPRO USA Brain Trust

Boosting US Manufacturing In 4-Part Partner Program

In December 2013 SYSPRO USA launched a program targeting US manufacturers. The four-part program has ambitious goals, designed to be facilitated by the company’s extensive partner channel.  While SYSPRO has been committed to supporting the global small and mid-sized manufacturing and distribution community for over 30 years as a provider of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), this program reaches far beyond the usual objectives of an enterprise software company. Labeled as a new Brain Boost program, it consists of four “trust” initiatives focused on:

  • Product trust
  • Deployment trust
  • Micro-vertical trust and
  • Economic or community trust

While the first three components are fairly straightforward and less unique-sounding competitively, the fourth “trust” initiative extends beyond the aspirations and scope of most ERP providers. Yet SYSPRO has always emphasized its customer, hence community, focus. Unlike many other enterprise software vendors focused exclusively on increasing market share and share of the customers’ wallet, SYSPRO has always genuinely cared about making its customers both happy and successful.

Now it is stepping beyond the customer, to the manufacturing community at large. This economic trust initiative is all about creating an environment that protects intellectual property, supports job creation and keeps US-based manufacturing companies strong and profitable. Can an ERP company really have this kind of impact? Certainly not all by itself. That’s why it needs a Brain Trust.

Inspired by Einstein

SYSPRO is clearly inspired by the genius of Einstein. Over the years Einstein has influenced many of its initiatives, starting with its “Simply SMARTER” strategy (an acronym: Strategy, Methodology, Accountability, Resources, Technology, Education, Customer Rewards). SYSPRO also built out its own theory of ERP relativity: S=MC2, where M stands for material, and C2 is cost and cash management. S, of course, stands for SYSPRO. Then came the SYSPRO Quantum Architecture, followed by a “wired” Einstein on Espresso, fueling the “always on, on-the-go” mobile (wireless) customer.

The latest inspiration is based on what made the brilliant physicist so special: his brain. Einstein’s brain has long been the subject of speculation and research. At one time, many believed his genius to be a result of his brain being larger than normal, stemming from the observation that he was born with an unusually large head.

However, you might say the child soon grew into his head, which ultimately, for all outward appearances seemed a normal shape and size.  Although clearly “special” in terms of its capabilities, actual measurements proved it to actually be a bit smaller than average. For the role Einstein would play in life, it was clearly built better, not bigger. This is one of the reasons SYSPRO loves to draw these analogies. While not the biggest vendor in the ERP market, SYSPRO fancies itself and its products as “better, not bigger” for the markets it serves.

Yet not being the biggest also means it must build trust in its product and its ability to deploy easily and reliably in the markets it hopes to serve.

Product Trust

SYSPRO is one of only a few remaining ERP vendors that offers a single product suite and therefore it enjoys the luxury of a singular, focused development effort. That focus happens to be on manufacturing and distribution. In addition, SYSPRO, as a privately held company can also afford the luxury of concentrating on satisfying the customer and reseller community, as opposed to the investment community (Wall Street).

This “Product Trust” is based on SYSPRO’s latest Release 7, which represents a time-phased delivery against requirements collected from over 750 small to mid-size manufacturing companies. The SYSPRO ERP product is almost exclusively sold through channel partners. This collection process combines the power of the SYSPRO channel with the relationship SYSPRO enjoys with its customers directly through periodic “SNAP Surveys.” SNAP, short for SYSPRO Needs Answers Please, is the mechanism SYSPRO used to bring features such as enhanced user interfaces, with active tiles and touch capabilities, custom configurability and mobile access to its latest release (Release 7).

The Product Trust is formed through collaboration between its trusted partners (users and resellers) and its own development staff. Not content to rest on its laurels, SYSPRO is constantly strengthening its capabilities both from a functional and technological perspective. Yet the combination of standards-based technology from Microsoft (standards like .NET framework, XML, HTML5) and multi-tier architectures keep it affordable and suitable for a small-scale environment.

But continuous change, even when linked to continuous improvement, can be a challenge for small to mid-size manufacturers. Even though technological advances allow software vendors to bring more innovation to the market, updates and upgrades can be costly and disruptive. While ERP can generate cost savings and other improvements, many manufacturers wind up squandering those savings on the care and feeding of the systems designed to save them money.

Which is exactly why SYSPRO is delivering the innovation of Release 7 in a new way. You might call it “drip feeding” innovation, allowing customers to accept enhancements in smaller, more digestible chunks. This is just one of the ways SYSPRO is helping manufacturers become stronger and more profitable. By making product features and technology easier to consume, manufacturers are able to divert budget from the typical maintenance-related IT spend, freeing up cash and working capital to innovate their businesses. Features, functions and technology that are easier to consume can be deployed faster and more efficiently.

Deployment Trust

While today many narrowly associate “deployment options” with Software as a Service (SaaS), in this case Deployment Trust is more about rapid implementation than it is about cloud versus on-premise deployments. Yes, SYSPRO can be deployed either in a traditional on-premise environment or in the cloud, although cloud implementations are more akin to hosted models than a multi-tenant SaaS solution.

The SYSPRO Deployment Trust has been formed to battle against the bad rap ERP has gotten in general based on potentially long and difficult implementations. Failed implementations are frequently blamed on the software itself and yet often the software attributed to a failed implementation is the same software powering one that is wildly successful. Success is often less about the software, and more about the disciplines and business processes the applications are intended to model.

SYSPRO has long had its own implementation methodology suitable to small to mid-size businesses (SMBs), but it is now investing in new industry-specific business process workflows, account structures, executive dashboards with pre-defined key performance indicators (KPIs), industry roles and reporting. It recognizes the typical SMB faces many of the same pressures as its larger counterparts, but can’t afford to start from scratch and re-invent wheels. So it builds best-practices into the data and process models.

SYSPRO has worked diligently to make sure these templates, structures and process flows are not static. Not only must they be adaptable and configurable to each individual business, but also reflective of the reality that business change is inevitable. Therefore the software must continue to be agile and flexible, able to evolve and change.

Micro-vertical Trust: The Food Industry

The investment in micro-verticals is a natural by-product of the Deployment Trust initiative, since much of the content provided is indeed industry-specific. The first micro-vertical selected for this Brain Trust is the food industry, which provides a unique opportunity for SYSPRO USA. It is an industry that is not only recession-proof, but also faces a very specific and pressing set of operational challenges. The food industry across the world faces rising commodity prices, but in the US, it also faces increased pressure from large retailers like Walmart, added complexities of trade promotions and deductions and intense scrutiny from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

But perhaps top of mind has been the growing concern over food safety. Over the past six years the US has seen some of the biggest food recalls in history, impacting both fresh produce like lettuce, spinach and peanuts, as well as meats (beef, ground turkey, chicken and other poultry) and all sorts of processed foods from cookie dough to frozen dinners and salad dressings.

A result of these growing concerns has been the passing of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011. The goal of the new law is to better safeguard the US food supply and therefore compliance is mandatory, even for small to mid-size companies in the food industry. The law will radically change how many do business. The FSMA gives new legislative power to the FDA, including the ability to mandate a recall and close plants where there is a “reasonable probability” of potential threat. But perhaps most game changing of all, managers can be held personally liable and face the threat of criminal prosecution. The FSMA will be to manufacturing executives what Sarbanes-Oxley was to the accountants. So achieving regulatory compliance and food safety has become an absolute necessity.

Like other manufacturing segments, the food industry must deal with growing supply chain complexities, the need to improve forecasting, reduce inventory and improve customer satisfaction. In addition, it needs to comply with food safety regulations, including complete forward and backward traceability, manage recipes and formulas, replacement ingredients, co-products and by-products. And yet, throughout, it must not lose sight of efficiency, accuracy and profitability, often with razor-thin margins.

Economic Trust

So can SYSPRO build economic trust by addressing the stringent requirements of the food industry and perhaps others? Can a software company help…

  • Protect intellectual property?
  • Modernize processes that lead to profitability?
  • Free up resources wasted now on IT support that adds little value?
  • Stimulate US manufacturing innovation?
  • Facilitate creation of the best kind of US jobs, those based on creating real opportunity for business growth?

This is indeed a tall order. And perhaps software alone can’t achieve these goals. But one thing is certain. Manufacturers cannot compete and contribute to strengthening the US economy today without adequate supporting technology.  ERP has been both a boon and sometimes a burden to bottom lines. Many manufacturers have seen cost savings gained through ERP implementation eaten away by the cost and disruption of upgrades, or even worse, have left money on the table by not taking full advantage of software innovation. Today’s US manufacturing/distribution community could benefit enormously from having a partner focused on reasonably priced ERP technology, innovation that is easy to consume and operational coaching. That is why SYSPRO is committed to turning its channel partners into these dedicated resources.

As a result, SYSPRO is revisiting its Einstein Strategy and turning its Simply SMARTER acronym into the basis for a new SMARTER channel program:

Strategy: While SYSPRO has always sold almost exclusively through the channel, there is a renewed focus on recruiting, not just “life style” partners, but those not only interested in growing a significant business, but also with the knowledge and business acumen to truly add value to manufacturing operations.

Methodology: new and revised implementation methodologies for rapid deployment. This approach also extends back through the selling process, with heightened collaboration and standardized sales methodology, including special bundles and pricing.

Accountability: with program deployment incentives and the measurement of customer lifetime value.

Resources: pre- and post-sale assistance with the addition of ecosystem experts, particularly in food and safety and even assistance in factory layout.

Technology: continuous feature, function and technology innovation that is easily consumed.

Education: in strategy, marketing, sales, implementation, support and application development.

Rewards: customized partner-tailored goals, KPI measurement and management.

Thus far, SYSPRO has been able to bring 37 new partners to close. By concentrating on coaching these partners to success, SYSPRO hopes the channel will be able to “pay it forward’ and in turn coach their customers to the same level of achievement, creating an environment of growth and profits.

Summary

Most ERP software companies would be happy just to sustain or grow their own revenues. While this is important to SYSPRO USA, its executives have a long history of participating in civic, government and economic development. Being focused exclusively on manufacturing and distribution segments, this community holds a special place in SYSPRO USA’s executives’ hearts and minds, as does the desire for a stronger US manufacturing economy. Focus on product innovation and ease of deployment are important elements, particularly in support of the food industry, which feeds the country and helps fuel its growth. By also contributing executive services and educational programs, along with program incentives, SYSPRO USA stands squarely behind and in support of economic growth and job creation. A worthy goal of a Brain Trust? Yes. Genius? Perhaps not. Simply smarter? Definitely.

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What’s New in the Annual Mint Jutras ERP Survey

I am excited to be preparing to launch my annual 2014 ERP survey. This will be my 8th and I’ve learned a lot through the years about how to ask the questions and how to best analyze the results. Since founding Mint Jutras in 2011 I have gradually shifted the timing of the survey, so that now (and in the future) it will be launched early in January, and I will use and reference the data throughout the year. As most of you know, I collect a massive amount of data. I try to be consistent with many of the questions from one survey to the next in order to make legitimate year over year comparisons, watching prior trends and spotting new ones. But each year I remove some questions that didn’t produce much insight (that’s how I learn) or that really don’t change much in one year. I do that to make room for something new.

It will be interesting to continue to watch trends, particularly around:

  • Buying cycles: Last year the percentage planning to purchase a new ERP within the next three years more than doubled from 24% to 47%, with another 15% undecided.
  • Deployment preferences: In the 18 months between the 2011 and 2013 surveys, the percentage of companies that would consider a traditional on-premise deployment dropped from 56% to 27%. Preference for both SaaS and hosted models increased.
  • ERP is reaching more users: On average 50% of employees actually use ERP today, including more executives. All executives have access to and regularly use ERP in 47% of companies, a far cry from just a few short years ago. We suspect the growing use of mobile devices has been and will continue to be a game-changer here.
  • Results measured since deploying ERP rose considerably with improvement percentages rising from the 5-7% range to double digits. These are improvements like cost reductions and improvements in on-time delivery, customer retention and inventory accuracy. “World Class” ERP implementations produced results in the 20-24% range. Was this an aberration last year or is new technology fostering better results?

What’s New This Year?

But what I am even more excited about is our new approach to capturing information about how the full spectrum of business applications, with ERP at the core, are implemented. Back when I started benchmarking ERP in 2006, I set out to quantify its usage. My first five annual surveys were done while I was at the Aberdeen Group where I came up with a formula for determining the percentage of ERP that was actually used. When I founded Mint Jutras I used what I had learned in those five years and modified that formula in order to get what I felt was a much more accurate result. But after eight years of this type of measurement, not only has this become old news, it is also harder to get an accurate read.

As I have been saying for several years now, the footprint of ERP has grown to the extent that it is becoming more and more difficult to determine where ERP ends and other applications begin. That is not only the case when covering, writing and talking about ERP, particularly as integration capabilities have improved, but for users as well. In prior blog posts this year I have discussed the relative advantages and disadvantages of “tightly integrated” versus “loosely coupled” applications. But this distinction is not intuitively obvious to the typical ERP user that takes our survey, particularly since typically less than 40% of respondents are in IT. Most are business users and may not have intimate knowledge of the purchase or the architecture of the product itself. They simply use ERP to run their businesses. And of course, that is primarily what we benchmark.

Modules versus Extensions: No longer the right question

In prior surveys I distinguished between ERP “modules” and “extensions” to ERP – those separate applications that might surround and complement it. I asked which modules were implemented (fully or partially) and then asked (separately) which additional applications were implemented. But as the footprint of ERP has grown, the overlap between these two lists also grew. While having both for any particular function might happen occasionally (e.g. a manufacturer might use supply chain planning functions of their ERP and also complement that with a separate “best of breed” solution), it would be the exception and not the norm. And yet, the number of instances where survey responses indicated they had both a module and an extension for the same function began to grow, casting a shadow of doubt on the validity of the responses. That told me it was getting too hard for the survey participants to answer the questions.

So this year I am changing it up with a different purpose in mind. This year, we will

  • Determine current state of implementations with a single list of functions, including traditional core functions of ERP (e.g. general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, inventory control, order management, purchasing, etc.) and more advanced or “edge” functions (e.g. warehouse management, cash flow planning, BI and analytics, employee expense reporting, supplier collaboration, etc.) that might be a module or a separate application. The survey respondent will indicate whether it is (perceived as) part of ERP or not and, if separate, the level of integration.
  • Ask “what if?” Maybe this current state came about because of limited functionality and technology at the time of purchase. If the respondent were making the same decisions today, how would they go about it?
  • Ask “What next?” Given the state of their current implementation, what are most likely next steps? Add new components? Trade it all in for newer technology? Replace certain embedded functions? Eliminate separate applications now that ERP does more?
  • Have them choose up to five areas they are most likely to invest in next.

While this will tell us a lot, we’ll also drill a little deeper into plans for two areas, which happen to be among the hottest categories on the market today:

  • Human Capital Management (is it a fluke the big ERP vendors are buying these applications?)
  • Business Intelligence and Analytics (Is it time to take these tools out of the hands of IT and put them in the hands of the business user?)

We have also added a couple “Mobility” questions, along with one that will determine just how “usable” ERP data is.

If you are an ERP user, look for a link to the survey in the beginning of the year. We welcome your response.

If you are an ERP solution provider and think

  • The data we collect will be useful to you in making product roadmap or go-to-market decisions
  • Mint Jutras might be able to develop some good educational content for you with our distinctive “call to action”
  • You might like to benchmark your customers against our World Class

Please shoot me a message or contact Lisa Lincoln (lisa@mintjutras.com)

Lisa and I both wish everyone health and prosperity in the coming year!

Best Independent ERP Blog

Best Independent ERP Blog

 

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Infor’s Next Generation ERP: Energized and “ION”ized

Yet another post in our series on ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier, this time featuring Infor’s Purpose-Built ERP and Lightweight Middleware

Best Article: ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier?

Best Article: ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier?

In the original series ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier, we described the next generation of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) in terms of new technology that enables:

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

We predicted the core functions of ERP would retreat “into darkness,” surrounded by newer, easy to consume, intuitive consumer grade apps that would deliver innovation and competitive advantage. For Infor Global, the future is now. Over the past two years new management has come in to re-energize the business and raise the bar for innovation. At the center of Infor’s next generation solutions are Infor 10x, a collection of purpose-built ERP suites, and ION, a modern, lightweight middleware.

Delivering New Ways of Engaging with ERP

In the past ERP was used by a fairly select subset of employees within a company. These users were responsible for maintaining the master data and entering the transactions that form the system of record of the business. Middle management might use the reporting capabilities, but seldom did executives ever put their hands on the system.

Yet times are changing. The latest 2013 Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study found (on average) 50% of employees actually use ERP, a significantly higher percentage than in years gone by. In addition, 47% of companies claim their executives have access to and regularly use ERP. As a result, expectations are rising. Clerical tasks are more automated, which means knowledge workers are replacing clerical workers. Executives are more comfortable with technology and more impatient for data for decision-making. All these changes combine to make old ways of engaging with ERP obsolete. Next generation ERP must provide new ways either through evolution or revolution. Infor’s path to engagement combines a little of both.

In March 2011 Infor announced Infor Workspace, calling it a new “consumer grade user interface designed to revolutionize the experience of doing business using enterprise applications.” Built on Microsoft SharePoint with significant investment, Infor Workspace delivered the next generation user experience by blending a common user interface across a mix of enterprise applications, web services and business intelligence. It is an evolutionary step because Workspace sits on top of existing applications.

This was an important step since Infor had grown primarily through acquisition. These acquisitions added new ERP solutions to its product portfolio, as well as other complementary solutions that filled functional gaps. As a result of these acquisitions Infor will never have a single tightly integrated suite with a single data model. But that doesn’t mean the end user can’t have a single user interface.

Infor Workspace also accommodates how people work today. Nobody spends his or her day in a single application anymore. Automation has eliminated that kind of “heads down” data entry job. Most people jump from applications to email to desktop productivity tools (like Microsoft Office), to the Internet and back to the same or different applications. Infor Workspace allows the user to establish a home base of operations from which to operate all day.

But the “user experience” is more than just a unified user interface. Ask an executive why he or she doesn’t engage directly with ERP and chances are the answer will be something like, “I don’t have time to figure ERP out.” Even if navigation through the menu structure or any particular screen were intuitive, traditionally you would still need to generally know where to look. That means having some idea of how the application and the data is structured. And no, most executives won’t take the time to learn that. To avoid that requires a completely different, revolutionary way of engaging.

That’s where Infor’s latest product, Ming.le comes in. Infor describes Ming.le as a “next-gen enterprise collaboration platform” and a social workflow tool embedded in core business applications, connecting structured and unstructured processes. Ming.le was designed primarily with the Gen-Y folks in mind, using a lot of the concepts and approaches popularized by social media. Those concepts and the description above might not mean much to Baby Boomer managers – until they see it in action that is. Figure 1 is a screen shot of a Ming.le home page. As a manager, at any level in the organization, you will have a few key metrics upon which your performance is measured. If you have a graphical representation of those metrics on your own personal home page, it’s a pretty sure thing that’s where your attention will be.

And while you’re on this home page, why not put your entire “to do” list on it? Ming.le alerts you to potential problems and reminds you of specific tasks. You prioritize your actions. And oh by the way, if you have direct access to ERP from here, you can actually take action yourself. You don’t have to wait for the proverbial, “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

Figure 1: Infor Ming.le Home Page

Infor figure 1 Source: Infor

When one of your metrics starts to stray outside of an acceptable range, you’ll want more information. You will want to reach out and touch the offending number in order to learn more. You will want to immediately contact others in the organization that can help get that number back on track. You will want to tap into conversations that (you hope) are already underway. And you will want to follow those conversations. “Keep me in the loop” takes on a whole new meaning when a major order is in trouble, or a customer threatens to take business elsewhere, or a supplier doesn’t deliver on time, etc., etc., etc.

Figure 2 is an example of a “feed” from all the business objects you have chosen to “follow,” including customers, suppliers, customer orders, production orders, purchase orders, products, employees, etc. Click on links in those activity streams and conversations and suddenly you will be in ERP without ever really knowing how you got there.

In fact with a personalized view and the mobile capabilities of Infor Motion, it won’t “feel” like you’re in ERP at all. The more untethered devices become, the more tethered you become to work. With a customized view and a strong connection back to the enterprise data in ERP, the constant connection is less disruptive to your personal life. Instead of waiting for data critical to decisions, you access the data, take action and move on.

Figure 2: Infor Ming.le “Feed”

Infor figure 2Source: Infor

Customization versus Configuration

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

Infor is taking a dual-pronged approach to customization. First of all, with projects and products like Workspace and Ming.le, it is making it much easier to tailor the solution without customization. When Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study survey participants were asked what kinds of customization were needed, custom reporting, personalized screens and tailored workflows dominated the responses. Combine Workspace and Ming.le with a good report-writing facility and you satisfy the vast majority of requirements without touching a single line of code.

But 24% of respondents indicated “custom logic” was required and sometimes this does require programming. But Infor has publicly stated that its goal is to reduce this type of customization to zero. How does it expect to accomplish this? First of all, it offers multiple ERP suites targeting different vertical markets. That means it is willing and able to build in industry-specific functionality. As some of its advertisements say today:

  • Building plumbing parts is different than serving hotel guests
  • Packaging peas is different than designing shoes
  • Making tires is different than processing milk

This is what Infor means by “purpose-built” ERP. And it doesn’t stop at the typical vertical. While others might view “food and beverage” as a target, Infor will dive deeper and distinguish solutions for dairies, breweries, meat packagers or bakers. A feature that might require customization to a general-purpose ERP can be built in to a solution that is purpose-built. But if you really need something that is not already built in to the selected ERP suite, Infor says, “Tell us and we’ll put it in the product.”

Infor has quite a backlog of such requests right now, but has been gearing up to deliver on its theme of “moving faster.” In the past year alone it has hired 1,700 new employees, including 600 engineers, and it has produced 5,293 new product features… which brings us to the next defining factors of next generation ERP: innovation and integration.

More Innovation, Easier Integration

When it comes to innovation and integration, Infor’s secret sauce is its innovative Intelligent Open Network (ION), a lightweight middleware, which it also refers to as “purpose-built.” Why purpose-built? Because Infor isn’t in the middleware business; therefore ION wasn’t designed to be sold as a stand-alone middleware product. ION was designed to easily integrate Infor and third-party software applications.

So how does ION help Infor deliver more innovation? The answer lies in understanding Infor’s commitment to moving from tightly integrated solutions to ones that are more loosely coupled. ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier introduced this concept and talked about the benefits, not so much from a technical perspective, but the benefits it brings to the business.  In short, the biggest reason “loosely coupled” might be of very significant value to a business is because things change. Markets change. Companies expand (or shrink). Customers make new demands. Compliance requirements change. Software is enhanced. Technology innovation happens. Yet responding to change is hard.

Think of enterprise applications as different cars in a train. Each of those cars is separate and distinct, but when coupled together they all ride smoothly together and you can easily pass from one car to the next. Need to replace one of those cars? No problem, just decouple it and replace it with another one. But that assumes all the cars use the same standard coupling. ION provides the mechanism by which they are coupled together. But that means they all need that “standard coupling.”

Infor has spent the past few years making sure all its strategic products are adequately equipped with that standard coupling. You might say it has been IONizing its products. That means when Infor develops a new component of functionality, that functionality can be added to not just one of its ERP products, but to many. So Infor can develop functionality once and re-use it across multiple products. This amplifies the volume and accelerates the pace of innovation.

Sometimes that functionality can simply be layered on top of existing products. That would be the equivalent of linking a new car to the train – sort of like adding a cocktail lounge linked to the dining car. However, if there is already a bar in the dining car and you want to significantly expand it to be a cocktail lounge, then you could suspend service in the dining car while you make renovations in place, or you could replace the entire dining car with a different (larger) one. Both options are quite disruptive. More likely you will add the cocktail lounge as a separate car and just stop serving liquor in the bar in the dining room once it is connected.

Traditionally ERP has been one of the cars in the train. If you need to make a significant change, you need to replace the whole car, which can be costly and disruptive to your business. Some of the functionality that is being developed by Infor is already deeply embedded in its current products in some form. Infor doesn’t necessarily need to remove that functionality. We didn’t need to remove the bar from the dining room. But as Infor starts to deliver new features as components (like the new car with the cocktail lounge), the number of features deeply embedded in ERP that are actually being used will shrink. Passengers on the train won’t go to the bar in the dining room for a cocktail; they will go to the new cocktail lounge car.

On the other hand, if the dining car in the train has no bar, if the owners of the train want to add this “feature”, they can certainly add a new car for the bar. But what if the real objective is to enhance the dining experience? That means they need to add this feature to the dining car.

Look for Infor to do some of each. By adding external components to ERP, it will essentially shrink the footprint of the ERP itself. But because it has multiple, purpose-built ERP solutions targeting specific markets, expect it to add enhancements directly to an ERP product that might be specific to an industry (enhancements that would not be used across different verticals or micro-verticals).

So the industry-specific functional footprint will expand even as the general-purpose footprint might shrink. We anticipated such a move in ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier, predicting ERP might appear to slip into the background: “the darkness” of uniformity, of non-differentiation. Yet we also noted: While all companies have common needs, specific industries create specialized needs and it also becomes increasingly important for companies to seek competitive differentiation. But it is not in the core functionality where this source of differentiation lies, but in the services and functions that surround the core – like the industry-specific enhancement requests Infor is encouraging.

In fact Infor is now working off that backlog of these requests, a backlog that has been growing while it was IONizing products. In fact for some products this backlog might extend back to the time before Infor acquired the product. By growing its engineering staff, it has positioned itself to truly “move faster.”

Not All Infor Products Are Created Equal

All of the products in Infor’s extensive portfolio will not necessarily move faster at the same pace. With Infor’s long history of acquisition came ERP solutions that could accurately be called “legacy” applications, or some might prefer the term “heritage applications” (legacy apps you are proud of). Either term you use, these are applications that are built on older, technology. This means not all of Infor’s products can legitimately be called “next generation.”

Outdated technology makes it much harder to IONize them and this imposes some limitations on how much of Infor’s strategic initiatives customers running these applications can leverage. Getting these customers running a next generation ERP solution would be ideal, but many of them are quite loyal to the (legacy) products and many are running highly customized versions. These customizations date back to a time long before solutions were as feature-rich as today and as highly configurable.

But that doesn’t mean Infor is abandoning them. In fact, Infor wants to help. And with over 600 customers having come back on maintenance after previously letting their maintenance lapse, it would appear a good portion are receptive. Of course migrating to one of Infor’s other solutions that are already next generation is one option. But another option on the table: upgrade to the latest release of your current product, get rid of any customization, move it to the cloud and let Infor run it for you.

This may not be as difficult as it sounds because a newer release is likely to eliminate the need for many of those customizations and added configurability of newer releases could very well take it the last mile. Make no mistake, though; this will not be an easy transition for most. But then Infor takes over and the burden of on-going maintenance becomes Infor’s problem, not the customer’s.

All this is new and still “futures” so it is not yet possible to compare costs between current maintenance and the subscription fees paid to Infor. But chances are, if the customer takes into account internal costs and the cost of lost opportunity resulting from being “stuck” in the past, there should be a break-even point, if not a gain in terms of return on investment.

 No ERP is an Island

In order for Infor’s ERP solutions to qualify as next generation, it is not enough to just integrate with each other. While Infor would love to have every customer be an “Infor only” shop, that is not the reality. And even if it were, its customers would still need to interoperate with their customers and suppliers. Professional services from Infor Consulting Services will be available to integrate additional third-party and custom applications via the ION Factory and Infor is actively seeking partners to help meet demand.

Moving Faster: Means Time to Decision As Well

In ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier, we had some fun with comparing ERP’s next generation to Star Trek and the USS Enterprise. ERP is becoming more agile, allowing it to navigate and change direction much more quickly. Yet unlike the starship Enterprise, it still can’t operate at warp speed. However, new advances in in-memory databases and technology are starting to dramatically speed up run times. We are now entering a new phase of ERP’s evolution.

But if Infor remains a business application company, and not a middleware and technology vendor, can it keep up? The answer is yes, but it will need to rely on some other commercially available technology in order to make that happen. That is exactly what it is doing with its “big data initiative” called Sky Vault.

Sky Vault leverages ION, extracting transactions from Infor ERP, formatting them in industry standard (XML) documents and sends normalized data to the cloud for further analytics. Once in the cloud Infor uses Amazon Web Services (AWS) to enable customers to accelerate time to decision from transactional data streams. Among the planned features Infor lists for Infor Sky Vault are:

  • Pre-built, domain-specific business analytics, reporting and dashboards powered by Infor ION BI (business intelligence) that incorporate industry and role-based best practices built on Infor ION Business Vault (a repository of standard business documents and transactional data)
  • Cloud-optimized data repository powered by Amazon Redshift (a fast and very reasonably priced petabyte-scale data warehouse service in the cloud) to more quickly, easily, and securely go-live and scale as data volumes grow
  • Industry-leading workflow and integration platform with Infor ION to support application interoperability and data transition between on-premise and cloud
  • Services from Infor Consulting Services to XML enable applications via the ‘ION Factory,’ which provides for rapid development of integrations to third party and custom systems and applications

Infor Sky Vault is planned to launch in the second half of 2013 with pre-defined content for sales, finance, and production, with more to come in the future.

But what about competing directly with its two biggest competitors: SAP and Oracle? Both are touting the exponential increase in speed with database products and platforms like Oracle Exadata and SAP HANA. Many of Infor’s products already run on Oracle’s data base. There is no reason why this should not extend to Exadata and Infor is actively considering supporting SAP HANA. For now Amazon Redshift provides a very economical alternative and Infor is currently experimenting with massive data volumes well beyond those its customers are dealing with in production environments today.

Summary and Key Takeaways

Among Infor’s extensive product portfolio are next generation ERP suites, technology enabled by its lightweight, scalable middleware, ION. Here are just a few ways Infor lives up to the Mint Jutras definition of “next generation”:

  • It has launched new products and new initiatives to dramatically change the user experience in accessing and interacting with ERP
  • Infor is moving from “tightly integrated” to “loosely coupled” enterprise applications to better equip its customers to adapt to changing business conditions and technological advances
  • ION facilitates the development of (external) components of functionality that can be re-used across multiple ERP solutions. This expands the volume and accelerates the pace of innovation.
  • Infor has and will continue to shrink the footprint of the general-purpose core features of ERP, surrounding it with these external components
  • Yet its micro-vertical approach will coincidentally expand those footprints to include specialized functionality, paving the way for zero customization
  • And along the way, Infor is keeping its eye on new database technology that will help accelerate ERP to warp speed

Armed with purpose-built ERP, modernized with technology enabling middleware, Infor is energized and its products are IONized in preparation for the future. While the core features of ERP may be moving into the darkness, look for Infor to move more into the spotlight. For IONized Infor products, the future is now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sage’s Approach to Next Generation ERP: From Starship to Space Station

In our recent blog post series (ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier?) we’ve had some fun comparing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to the USS Enterprise, the starship made famous by the extraordinarily successful Star Trek entertainment franchise. Like the USS Enterprise, whose five-year mission it was to explore new worlds and “to boldly go where no man has gone before,” early versions of ERP charted new territory for enterprise applications. It evolved from MRP (material requirements planning) to MRP II (manufacturing resource planning) and then boldly set out to conquer the “final frontier” of ERP, managing not a small piece of the enterprise, but the enterprise itself. As a participant in the ERP space (pun intended), Sage is certainly a player.  It doesn’t just have its own ERP starship; it has a whole fleet of them.  But is maintaining a fleet of starships the right approach to conquering the final frontier of ERP exploration? Maybe not. Can Sage find another way without abandoning the fleet? Read on to find out.

Sage ERP:  A Fleet of Starships

Even with a fleet of ERP solutions and a massive base of installed customers, Sage has not dominated the ERP horizon. In fact it may very well be that fleet of starships that has prevented Sage from achieving the dominance in ERP that you might expect from a company of its size and reach. Sage spent many years acquiring a vast portfolio of products, although not all of which would be categorized as ERP. And throughout those very active years of acquisition, Sage also preserved many of the brand names it had acquired. Names like Peachtree, Simply Accounting, ACT!, SalesLogix, MAS, Adonix and ACCPAC might have better name recognition than Sage. And yet, they are all Sage. Or at least they were until recently.

This past year, Sage not only engaged aggressively in re-branding its products to fit under the Sage umbrella, but also made some divestitures (including ACT! and SalesLogix) in order to achieve more focus. And ERP is a prime target in that focus. But competing in the ERP market today is not for the faint of heart. Technology and innovation is advancing at a rapid rate and it takes a lot to compete.

 Does having a fleet of ERP starships help or hurt?

While a fleet of starships gives you more reach, there is an inherent problem. Innovation is key to achieving and maintaining a competitive position. Let’s say someone develops a new propulsion system that allows a starship to move at twice the warp speed previously possible. If your starship can’t achieve that speed, you become a sitting duck, just waiting to be attacked by those that are newer and more advanced. But with a fleet, if you need to innovate, it means each starship needs to be maintained and improved separately. Even with multiple teams this takes a lot of time. And it might mean in order to upgrade, you need to take the ship out of commission.

Upgrading ERP is similar. Although you should never have to take ERP out of commission (at a customer site) any longer than perhaps a weekend, the upgrade process can be very disruptive. As a result many customers delay implementing an upgrade. So even if the vendor innovates on an annual basis, consumption of the innovation lags behind.

Making matters worse, if a solution provider maintains multiple and disparate sets of code, it needs to enhance each separately. Let’s say it wants to add the same functionality to each. With multiple development teams, you may be reinventing the wheel several times over. Instead you might form a specialized development team that brings this new functionality to each product. These developers get very good at that piece of functionality. But they lose a lot of efficiency in moving from one development environment to another. And of course, this team can’t work on all products at once, so a queue will form. Customers will start to lose their competitive edge and the solution provider becomes vulnerable to attrition.

But this is a weakness only because new functionality has traditionally been built into ERP. What if it wasn’t? Just like a starship, which is a self-contained environment that sustains the life of a community (its crew), ERP has traditionally been developed as a tightly integrated set of modules that sustains the life of the business. In ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier? we compared traditional “tightly integrated” to next generation “loosely coupled” solutions and concluded that adding components as a “service” made it much easier to add new features and functions to ERP with less disruption. It might even make it possible to develop functionality once and then re-use it across different ERP solutions. But that means it is no longer like a fully-contained, independent and self-sustaining starship. For this we need a new metaphor.

Transitioning From Starship to Space Station

In fact in ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier? we introduced a new way thinking. Instead of thinking of ERP as a starship traversing the galaxy, think of it instead in the context of a solar system. Imagine ERP in the center. In a solar system, planets orbit around the sun.  In our ERP-centric system, picture loosely coupled applications surrounding it. In a real solar system it is gravity that holds the planets in orbit, and the source of gravity is the sun at the core. In our software solar system with ERP at its center, the gravity is drawn from the platform on which the ERP is built.

When you have a single ERP, gravity is strengthened by building ERP and all the surrounding applications on a common platform. Loosely coupled applications draw sustenance from data collected and managed by ERP. Combine this with standardized business objects (e.g. customers, suppliers, orders, etc.) and you insure a strong connection but with a loose coupling that can be easily disconnected and reconnected.

What happens though when you have multiple ERP solutions developed on different technology and architectures? This is the situation Sage finds itself in, with its “fleet” of ERP solutions. You don’t have a single ERP in the center. You might think we’ve “broken” our analogy because there is typically a single sun in any solar system. But with a little tweaking, the concept still works.

Imagine instead a Sage solar system, and each of its ERP solutions as a planet. In a real solar system, you find one or more moons circling each planet.  The planet and the moons are all made out of essentially the same “stuff” so they circle naturally. After all, these orbiting bodies are really nothing more than chunks of rock.

The moons in orbit around an ERP might be those made of the same “stuff” as the ERP – the same (or compatible) architectures and technology. But our moon isn’t the only satellite circling the planet Earth. We have a plethora of man-made satellites, including a space station, which is not only in orbit, but also sustains life. The space station requires some additional life-support systems, but it is orbiting and functional.  But it isn’t perpetually self-sustaining. It needs supplies (like food and other consumables) delivered on a regular basis. So it needs a means of connecting and communicating back to the “home” planet. Much like our space station, loosely coupled applications must be supplied on a regular basis with data from ERP.

In order to add functionality across a whole portfolio of products, a company like Sage will need to first build a standard space station. But in order to launch it into orbit around several, or all of its planet ERPs, it will need to clone it. Each of these clones might require a slightly different connector back to the planet it will orbit. Taking this approach, that specialized development team can focus exclusively on building the standard space station, while the regular product development team takes responsibility for connecting it to their planet.

Done effectively, this can turn the fleet from a disadvantage into an advantage. Individual ERP solutions can be enhanced and refined to address different markets and where new functionality can be shared, a company like Sage can develop it once and re-use it across multiple product lines. Providing the underlying architectures of the different ERP products allow these new components to be connected relatively easily, products that might otherwise have been relegated to “maintenance mode” might actually thrive with new and added functionality.

In fact, Sage is taking exactly this approach as it develops new functionality and it is going one step further and placing those services in the cloud. While presented as a “hybrid cloud strategy” intended to help customers move incrementally to the cloud, with all the benefits of lower cost, faster implementation, easy access, perhaps the bigger benefit is in being able to develop once and re-use across multiple product lines. In doing so it also brings more life to products that might have otherwise never been significantly enhanced.

Whether this is a “cloud strategy” or an innovation strategy, the net effect will be to surround ERP with a series of “Connected Services.” Sage Payment Services was one of the first of these Connected Services, launched back in 2010. Sage Inventory Advisor was announced in June 2013 and most recently, at Sage Summit 2013 in July, Sage announced new mobile solutions: Sage Mobile Sales, Sage Mobile Service, and Sage Billing and Payment. All are cloud-based subscription services running on Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform, and designed to easily integrate with Sage ERP systems. Additionally, at the same event, Sage announced two new business intelligence tools.

The strategy is sound, but with such an expansive portfolio, the devil is in the details in keeping track of which Connected Services are actually connected to which Sage ERP products.

For example, Sage Enterprise Intelligence is for Sage ERP X3 and Sage Intelligence Reporting Bundle is for Sage 100 ERP, Sage 300 ERP, and Sage 500 ERP. Sage Inventory Advisor is currently available, while Sage Enterprise Intelligence and Sage Intelligence Reporting Bundle will be available in the fourth quarter of 2013. As for the mobile solutions: They are currently available for those businesses running the latest versions of Sage 100 ERP and Sage 300 ERP. Presumably these would also be applicable to Sage 500 and Sage ERP X3.

This level of detail can be confusing to the market, and this confusion is compounded as Sage continues its efforts to build its brand. Focusing on messaging and marketing the Sage name has the potential of blurring the details product by product. Fortunately this is far less confusing for the customers. Each customer will only be concerned about what is coming down the road for the product they license.

And there is an added advantage to the customer in this approach. Think of these extensions as space station-like satellites that will surround an ERP solution. Many will support functions that were previously not supported by ERP. This may open doors to employees that never went near ERP before. Some of these users will only use these satellite products and never touch the core ERP solution. In other words, they will live on the space station, not the planet. Changes to the ERP shouldn’t affect them at all.

At some point if the size and complexity of the business grows, a company may decide to move to a Sage ERP solution that is better aligned with its needs (e.g. as it grows from small to mid-size). In this move, nothing changes for those living on the space station. It will be circling a new planet, but they might not even notice any difference. This makes the upgrade that much easier and insulates many users from the potential disruption of a reimplementation.

Moving Forward

Sage has some catching up to do in terms of modernizing and innovating its ERP solutions. ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier? presented the next generation of ERP in terms of new technology that enables:

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

Sage is attacking each of these areas, most notably in new user interfaces and new ways of interacting with ERP. By being a bit late to enter the starting block, Sage does have the advantage of learning from others that might have gone before them in terms of what works and what customers want. A good example of this sort of leap-frog approach was demonstrated at the recent Sage Summit 2013. Himanshu Palsule, Sage Chief Technology Officer demoed voice-activated mobile technology to access customer data from ERP using natural language queries. Using a Siri-like interface, he was able to retrieve data such as credit limit, open receivables, and address information. Equipped with the address and web-based mapping functions he was able to get directions and initiate a call to the customer.

But Sage isn’t looking only at the competition to drive its future direction. It has also launched a Sage Listens RV Tour, a 50-day, nationwide tour where Sage executives met with more than 50 customers in order to gain a better understanding of how to develop features and services to better support its customers. While the mode of transportation is a little more mundane (and practical) than a starship, Sage executives literally hopped on the bus, a well-equipped recreational vehicle (RV), and visited 16 cities across the United States.

Sage’s approach to developing new functionality as cloud-based connected services is a smart move that will drive more innovation in a way that inherently provides better integration. We’ll be watching closely as it starts to make the important transition from maintaining a fleet of starships to developing standard space stations. If you are a Sage customer, or considering becoming one, look for a cloned space station launching around your planet soon.

 

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SAP’s Next Generation ERP: HANA and Fiori Help Customers Explore Final Frontier

Continuing our “Star Trek” series, this is the first of several posts specific to vendors offering various renditions of “next generation ERP.”

In previous posts (you can find links to the right), Mint Jutras had some fun using a Star Trek analogy to describe the next generation of ERP in terms of new technology that enables:

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

We predicted the core functions of ERP would retreat “into darkness,” surrounded by newer, easy to consume, intuitive consumer grade apps that would deliver innovation and competitive advantage. We also hinted at even newer technology that would power your ERP to operate at warp speed.

SAP HANA is that newer technology that could potentially propel your ERP into overdrive. Additionally, back in May SAP  announced SAP Fiori, a new collection of 25 apps that would surround the SAP Business Suite, providing a new user experience for the most commonly used business functions of ERP. Can the combination of these two technologies and other innovation being delivered by SAP allow its prospects and customers to explore the final frontier and boldly go where no ERP user has gone before?

Can SAP Really Be Nimble and Quick?

SAP’s competitors love to sell against them by saying its ERP is big and complex and anything but user-friendly. They point to long, difficult, multi-million dollar implementation cycles. Of course they conveniently forget that many of these implementations are massive simply because the large enterprises themselves are more massive. Rolling out a solution to operating locations in multiple countries around the world is easier with modern, web-based solutions, but it is still not an easy task.

Competitors assume all deployments are heavily modified and use words like “monolithic” and “outdated” to imply SAP customers are locked in to a solution that is over-priced and under-delivers. It is true that many of these are very mature implementations that were installed and implemented when all solutions were developed as tightly integrated, monolithic solutions using tools that would seem archaic today. These older implementations are far more likely to have undergone invasive customization than would be required today. But unless the competitor is relatively new on the scene, it too is likely to have customers on legacy versions of older products, facing the same kind of challenges.

Competitors and pundits love to liken innovating SAP’s ERP to steering a battleship: Big and powerful, but difficult to steer and change direction. In contrast, competitors describe their own solutions as lighter weight, flexible, agile, and modern. They will proudly tell prospects that their solutions aren’t the big battleships, implying they can indeed innovate faster. That may or may not be true. All you can be sure it means is that their solutions don’t have the depth and breadth of functionality.

In all fairness, competitors’ customers and prospects might not need that same depth and breadth, particularly if the vendor targets small and/or mid-size companies, or perhaps specific verticals, micro-verticals or even a niche market. SAP Business Suite is a strong solution for mid-size to large to mega-sized enterprises in 21 different industries, some of which can be further broken down by micro-vertical.

But what many of its detractors miss in using this “battleship” attack strategy is the simple fact that SAP stopped innovating the battleship itself several years ago. Does that mean it’s ERP solution is dead or dying? No, far from it.  It means it has all the basics down pat. And the very basic of basic requirements haven’t changed in decades. Basic functions like accounts payable, accounts receivable, inventory control and purchasing haven’t changed and they aren’t rocket science.

Of course, all functions and processes evolve in some ways. Take accounts payable, for example. While we still receive materials, match receipts to invoices and pay suppliers, the options for payment have indeed changed. Electronic payments are fast making printing checks obsolete. And for that matter, we receive fewer and fewer paper invoices that have to be manually matched. Automated processes have allowed us to turn clerks into knowledge workers. So we do more spend analysis and supplier collaboration.

All these new ways of doing things require new features and functions in our supporting ERP. But notice that all these are new tasks to be added to the core basics. They can be developed and delivered as separate components without changing the direction of the battleship or the battleship itself.

And is being a battleship all that bad anyway? An aircraft carrier is a battleship in the context of modern warfare. No it can’t turn on a dime in order to attack. It steams to a strategic location and it can then pinpoint any target within a wide radius. Why? Because the aircraft carrier is simply the base of operations from which the fighter planes can attack in any direction.  The carrier provides support and fuel much like ERP provides data. The planes must “fit” the ship, as they must be tethered on landing, just as components must be integrated to ERP. But, like the planes on the ship, they are loosely coupled rather than tightly bound. And providing the planes use standard fittings, one plane might be swapped out for another with relative ease, just like the next generation ERP modules that use a standard definition of a business object.

This is exactly how SAP has continued to develop new features and functions over the past several years in spite of having stabilized core ERP. The concept was first introduced circa 2006 with the introduction of its enhancement packs. The approach was to bundle enhancements together periodically in feature packs, but allow customers to selectively implement individual innovations without having to upgrade the entire solution.

As SAP’s cloud strategy has developed more recently, so has its object-orientation of development. Take for example its latest release of Cloud for Sales (initially named Sales On Demand).  In order to be an effective piece of customer relationship management (CRM) it needs access to a customer master file. But if you have SAP ERP, you already have a customer master file.

Think of the customer (master data) as a business object. An older ERP solution will build that customer master file (the business object) right into the solution. Instead, SAP treats the customer master as a separate business object that lives outside of the application. By doing this, both applications can point to, access and reference the same business object.

But what about file maintenance? Instead of building the maintenance functions directly into each application, SAP treats that function as a separate function as well. Instead of building that directly into Cloud for Sales and SAP ERP separately and individually, SAP builds it once and puts it in a “business process library” which both (and other) applications can use. This approach allows additional components of functionality to plug into these applications much like the fighter planes plug into the carrier upon landing.

A New User Experience

So far our analogy of a battleship (a.k.a. aircraft carrier) has been sufficient, but a ship on a sea hardly represents a “final frontier.” How do we then turn that ship into a starship? We’re not really as far off as you might think because in some ways, the USS Enterprise operated much like a traditional battleship. You didn’t really see it landing on the surface of those alien planets. Like a carrier, it parked itself strategically (in orbit around the planet) and used another means of transportation for that final approach.

Shuttlecraft were the equivalents of a fighter plane or a helicopter, but they weren’t used very frequently. More often the crew of the Enterprise used Chief Engineer Scott’s transporter beam. In a sense it didn’t add new functionality. The function was to get people from point A to point B – not a new sort of thing. But it certainly added a new user experience. You might even call it the consumerization of space travel.

That is exactly the concept SAP has applied to its newest product, Fiori. SAP estimates that 80% of SAP users “experience” the solution through older technology today. Fiori sets out to change that without necessarily adding any new features or functions. SAP has taken the most commonly used screens and applied what it calls the 1-1-3 rule: one use case, one user, no more than three screens. The screens will typically include one as a “to do” list, a screen with more details and a sub-screen where the user takes action.

These new apps can be run from any kind of device, from on-premises or in the cloud. This potentially opens the door for more users and a different kind of user. These apps are easy to use, but also easy to customize. If you can pretty up a PowerPoint slide you can customize the look and feel of these apps. Executives that have previously been loath to touch ERP because they just didn’t have time to “figure it all out” will no longer have that excuse. Answers to questions will be a few clicks away on their smart phones and tablets.

The selection of which screens to revamp was not random. SAP has the ability to actually measure usage of different functions within the Business Suite, providing its customer grants permission to do this. Many of them have and after analyzing this data, SAP selected a set of 25 apps, which it feels covers the top 40% of usage. This set of 25 is likely to expand but SAP doesn’t expect it to blossom into thousands of screens. It will continue to focus on those functions most widely used in the course of conducting business.

SAP customers will have to pay for this, but a single, modest license fee is charged for the entire set of applications. SAP is not looking to make lots of money but also understands that putting a price tag on it conveys value.

Turning the Battleship Into a Star Ship

All this is great, but adding additional components of functionality and a new user experience doesn’t necessarily turn a battleship into a star ship. A star ship traverses beyond our own solar system; so it definitely needs to travel at warp speed. Otherwise it would take more than a lifetime in order to reach remote parts of the galaxy. Decision-makers need access not only to data from structured applications within their enterprise applications, but also to vast treasures of previously unexplored data from the Internet: news feeds, customer sentiment, social media, etc.

So to conquer the final frontier of ERP exploration, you need speed: Speed not for the sheer sake of speed, but with a functional purpose.

That’s where HANA comes in. Neither the Business Suite nor Fiori require HANA in order to run. Existing customers can benefit from this next generation functionality without transitioning to HANA. But if they don’t, they won’t be on the ERP equivalent of the starship Enterprise.

SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud: Speed, Power and the Benefits of Cloud Delivered Faster provides more detail about the speed HANA brings, along with the benefits of operating in the cloud. But the benefits of speed are equally applicable in a traditional on-premises environment as well. Suffice to say, with HANA, batch processes become obsolete. Processes like Material Requirements Planning (MRP) and sales forecasting that used to take hours to process can be reduced to minutes, or even seconds, without constraining the amount of data processed. This adds a whole new “real time” dimension to decision-making.

Key Takeaways

To operate effectively in the uncharted territory of global competition today, enterprises need vehicles that will carry them into the future.  Monolithic, outdated ERP built on old technology won’t get you there. You need the next generation of ERP to provide new ways of engaging with ERP. You need new ways of tailoring it to your own individual needs, without building barriers to moving forward. You need new innovation delivered as components that can be easily integrated to your core ERP.

SAP has been on this path to next generation ERP longer than most, delivering new innovation in an innovative way. SAP Fiori and SAP HANA are simply the next steps that will help companies venture into the final frontier. The real question: Do you have the necessary vision and are you ready to boldly go where no ERP has gone before?

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What SAP’s Technology Announcements Mean to the Businessperson

On April 10,2012 SAP let loose with a barrage of announcements, all focused on development, data base and technology. It was enough to make a business person’s eyes glaze over as their attention turned away to more pressing business matters. So it is perfectly understandable that those business people should ignore SAP’s technology announcements. Sure it is…just the way it is understandable they should ignore the electrical wiring in their homes. After all, it’s behind the wall. They don’t really understand it. They can’t see it or feel it. They hardly even know it’s there. Until the lights or the appliances don’t work. Or until they want to install a hot tub or upgrade their lighting fixtures, and they can’t. Or until fixing problems with the wiring becomes exorbitantly expensive, leading them to believe it would be easier just to rip it all out and start over. Hmm…maybe it isn’t so wise to ignore database and technology after all.

You’re a Business Person. Why Should You Care?

Unless technology is your business, if you are managing a company, or even a division, a department or a group, you aren’t interested in technology for technology’s sake. Technology is only as valuable as the business value it brings. Business value can be measured in cost savings and performance improvements. Value can be derived from the ability to support data-driven decisions that lead to profitable growth, sustainable business and shareholder value. How do improvements in development tools and technology translate into delivering more business value? Let’s take a look at some of the underlying components of SAP’s announcements and answer the question, “Why should you care?”

Performance Counts in Data Management

One of the general announcements from SAP was the unveiling of a unified strategy for real-time data management. That statement itself won’t mean much to the average businessperson. But that’s not unusual. SAP’s management and many of its customer-facing staff often speak in terms that are only really meaningful to other software vendors and technology press and industry analysts. Or they speak in abstract terms leaving business people to figure out how that relates to their businesses and their problems. It is a problem they are attempting to remedy by listening more closely to their customers, but it’s still there.

“Real-time insight that combines our customer demand and marketing promotion with supply chain visibility on a rock-solid enterprise-class data platform is a must in our industry. With SAP HANA, we see tremendous opportunity to dramatically improve our enterprise data warehouse solutions… drastically reducing data latency and improving speed when we can return query results in 45 seconds versus waiting up to 20 minutes for empty results…“

Weijun Zhang, deputy director, Shanghai Volkswagen

The bottom line: SAP intends to become a leader in the database market by leveraging its own development efforts, as well as products and expertise it has acquired. Most of its customers probably don’t care whether it achieves this goal or not. Even those with a distinct preference for doing business with “market leaders” already chose SAP, at least in part because of its leadership in enterprise applications, not databases.

Over the past few years the company has invested a lot in its own in-memory database SAP HANA which is designed for both high speed and high volume. Even mind-numbing volumes of data will no longer present barriers and early benchmarks are producing processing speeds that are not just incrementally faster, but multiple orders of magnitude faster.

But SAP also acquired Sybase, and with Sybase came its own set of data base products. And the prior Business Objects acquisition also included enterprise information management (EIM) capabilities. Acquisitions often provide more cross sell and up sell opportunity for the acquiring company than bundled or embedded value for the customer. But a “unified strategy” means full integration of all these technologies and should eliminate layers of complexity. It should also mean customers will be able to run their existing systems more efficiently while also being able to take advantage of new capabilities and (hopefully) there won’t be a hefty price tag attached.

Ultimately SAP needs to deliver differentiated performance in order to achieve its database leadership goals. And its customers should benefit from added speed, the ability to handle unprecedented volumes of data, including a lot of types of data they might not even be considering today.

Whether You Know it or Not, You Probably Have a Data Problem

Most businesses today suffer from a data problem, yet might not necessarily recognize it as such.  But …

  • If you feel like you are buried under a mountain of data, or
  • If you know the data is there somewhere, but you aren’t sure where to look, or
  • Data is scattered all over the place, or
  • You have plenty of data, just not the right data, or
  • You can see the data but it’s just not in a format you can use, or
  • You lack the discipline to collect and store the data consistently, or
  • You have multiple versions of the same data, or
  • You don’t trust the data you have, or
  • All of the above

…then you have a data problem. You most likely have data in multiple applications, including reference and master data, as well as transactions. And you are starting to see the value in bringing other sources of data to play in decisions. A lot of this will be unstructured data from automated data collection, sensors, the Internet (e.g. Google alerts, news feeds, stock watches, etc.), from social media, captured conversations, etc. etc. etc. There has to be some “magic” that brings this altogether and makes it actually useful, “magic” that saves you time and effort in gathering and processing it for effective decision-making.

That’s the value of a unified strategy for real-time data management.

More and Better Apps

In presenting these new announcements, Steve Lucas, Global Executive Vice President and General Manager, SAP Database and Technology, posed the question, “What good is a new next-generation platform without new apps to take advantage of it?” SAP wants to be a database player, but it has been in the enterprise applications business long enough to realize the applications drive the demand for databases. And in turn, it is business needs that drive the demand for applications. Indeed, SAP’s announcements included an application development play, but a very specific one: mobile application development.

Enabling Mobile Application Development

 

Mobility was also a big factor in the Sybase acquisition, along with its SQL Anywhere product, used for mobile database management. For more than a year now, industry influencers have been hounding SAP to make it easier for communities of mobile application developers to develop apps with its mobility platform. SAP appears to have been listening. The announcements on April 10th included partnerships with Adobe (PhoneGap), Appcelerator and Sencha, as well as the intent to acquire Syclo, a provider of mobile enterprise apps.

For more information on these partnerships please see the full announcement: SAP Drives Openness and Choice for Millions of Mobile App Developers

Without going into detail that the typical business person won’t care about, each of the partnerships bring a little something different to the party, but the overall intent is to provide an open platform that supports third party development environments and tools. The goal is to have millions of developers developing millions of mobile apps. Why so many and why is this good news for business people? Isn’t part of the data problem a proliferation of enterprise applications? Yes and no.

Yes there has been a proliferation of enterprise applications and this proliferation can cause data redundancy that threatens data integrity. Just think how many different applications store data about your customers. Do they all use the same master files? Do you know if two divisions have the same customer? But just because you have multiple applications doesn’t mean the right people have direct access to data needed for decision-making. And therefore, no, even with all these enterprise applications, you still don’t have enough data and enough access.

Let’s face it, most senior management – those making decisions critical to company profitability and growth – don’t have direct access to applications like ERP, CRM or analytics. If you are one of these executives, chances are you rely on subordinates or a surrogate, thinking that is faster or better. You don’t have the cycles to learn/use/directly access solutions.  Part of the problem is that these applications are multi-purpose and multi-function. Perhaps with more intuitive user interfaces today they don’t require a lot of training in terms of navigation, but users do need to understand the structure and the processes involved.

Contrast these general purpose, large scale applications to your typical mobile applications. They are small, easy to download, easy to understand and easy to use. They are designed to perform a single function and solve a specific problem. So if each is focused and purpose-built, you need a lot of them to do everything you need to do.

And of course everyone has a mobile device these days. Interestingly enough, as we become more unwired, we also become more tethered to our work. We are always connected whether we are traveling for work, at our child’s soccer game or even on vacation. So now that we’re connected but remote, it becomes much more of an inconvenience to rely on someone else for access to data when we need to take action or make a decision and move on quickly.

If you also consider the fact that these mobile devices can be addictive then you have created the perfect storm where demand for access to data, the desire to solve a particular problem and the acceleration of application development converge.

The acquisition of Syclo further emphasizes the focus on delivering mobile apps. While Syclo does have its own mobile platform, make no mistake, for SAP this acquisition is all about the applications. Syclo not only brings industry-specific solutions, but also domain expertise in bringing enterprise asset management (EAM), field service, inventory management and approvals and workflow to mobile devices.

For more information on the acquisition please see the full announcement:

SAP to Acquire Syclo, Extends Leadership in Mobilizing the Enterprise

Summary

SAP has stated that its vision for database and technology is to be “the leader in business technology and data management innovation and help its customers to maximize business results with minimal IT landscape disruption.” This should be music to the ears of a businessperson. The key phrases are business results and minimal disruption. While there is so much talk about “disruptive technology” today, it is important to distinguish this from business disruption. A disruptive technology might prompt you to change the way you do things, presumably in a good way. But it should never disrupt your ability to conduct business.

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