mobility

Shedding More Light on SAP’s Cloud Strategy

Last week I visited SAP’s US headquarters in Newtown Square, PA for an analyst event. During that event Sven Denecken delivered an update on SAP’s cloud strategy. Sven is SVP of Cloud Strategy and Head of Co-Innovation. While he reports to Lars Dalgaard, former SuccessFactors CEO and now SAP Executive Board Member in charge of all that is “cloud” at SAP today, Sven comes from SAP proper (i.e. not from SuccessFactors) and knows the ERP game quite well. As you might recall from my previous post from May, I walked away from SapphireNow with questions and concerns about SAP’s cloud strategy and feared that perhaps SAP had sacrificed its ERP DNA for cloud DNA. After speaking with Sven, I feel better, even though the story hasn’t really changed all that much.

To summarize Sven’s presentation, cloud is not only hype, but a reality at SAP. The goal is to bring the next generation of cloud applications to market. Next gen means a consumer-like user experience, with “mobile first” development, rapid innovation cycles and customer co-innovation to support greater business flexibility and agility. Social collaboration is not viewed as a separate pillar but as an embedded, integral part of the product design. And for added measure, toss in real-time data and content, B2B exchanges and analytics.

In keeping with the Lars party line, Sven also talked about “loosely coupled” solutions. Yet somehow when Sven, an ERP veteran, talked about “loosely coupled” it came across less like breaking ERP apart and more like a portfolio of applications, including ERP, which could be consumed at an individual company’s own pace. This is familiar territory since growing ERP footprints have made it increasingly difficult to determine where ERP ends and other applications begin. These solutions would be connected through open, cloud-based integration. Integration would be tight (perhaps seamless?) for SAP applications but also available to connect to 3rd party cloud solutions as well as existing on-premise solutions.

Perhaps because in the days before Lars, SAP Business By Design had been declared the go-forward platform for cloud development, and the SuccessFactors solutions were obviously not developed on it, the question of platform was raised at SapphireNow. But Lars downplayed it, saying customers don’t care about the platform; they care only about the user experience. And he was setting out to make beautiful products more beautiful. But beauty has to be more than just skin deep and let’s face it: Products developed on different platforms are harder to integrate than those sharing a common platform. And while in a pure cloud environment the customer is shielded from worrying about such things as platforms, it makes the supported environment inherently more complicated.

So while SAP will not be in the business of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and it already clearly plays in the Software as a Service (SaaS) game, it intends to offer a Platform as a Service (PaaS). While now it has multiple platforms, ultimately SAP will have one standard PaaS offering and it will be based on NetWeaver. Admittedly this will take time and acquisitions will continue to make this a challenge over time.  The platform needs to be open since customers have already invested in applications and these need to keep running. This has the potential of adding a huge degree of complexity for SAP, but it wants to “own” these connections in order to offer its customers one hand to shake for applications and platform, with end-to-end security, high availability and disaster recovery.

SAP intends to offer standard integration connecting cloud applications to the Business Suite (on premise), and also offer cloud-based (SaaS) fully integrated suites (ERP) for mid-market customers (with Business ByDesign and Business One).

A couple other points made that might be worth noting… Remember Sven referred to “mobile first“ development, meaning any new development must be able to run on a mobile device right from the get-go. This represents a big change for the development teams. If you initially limit the size of the screen, it forces the design team to simplify and think first about essentials. They can then add the complexities later, if at all.

The other point is hinted at with Sven’s somewhat unusual title. Not only is he SVP of Cloud Strategy, he is also the head of “co-innovation.” Co-innovation refers to the close relationship SAP has developed with its customers, along with the adoption of agile development methodologies. SAP’s promise of rapid innovation cycles and customer co-innovation translates to four releases per year, delivered through true multi-tenancy. That means customers all run on a single, shared instance of the software, and the solution provider decides when it will be upgraded. While some customers balk at this concept, preferring instead to control their own upgrades, in fact if innovation is delivered as optional features, there is little down-side to the forced march forward of a multi-tenant environment and a lot of upside. While the customer may not be entirely ready to adopt new features, the vendor bears most of the burden of the upgrade and innovation is there waiting when the customer is ready.

There are certainly many other facets to SAP’s cloud strategy, but this update was at least enough to lend more clarity to a cloudy solution.

 

 

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Ross Systems Hits Major Trends in New Release Ross ERP 7.0

I had a chance to get a glimpse of Ross System’s latest release of its ERP solution for formula-based process manufacturers. (Ross is a business unit of CDC Software.) The stated goal of the release is to offer “improved interoperability, increased collaborative capabilities, enhanced usability, new mobility features and more advanced traceability.” An added by-product of the new features delivered also added more visibility to enterprise data, as well as new and better exception management capabilities.

Let’s face it; few top executives (those making the real strategic business decisions) have direct access to ERP today. The perception (and often the reality) is that they don’t have time to be fishing for answers in an application that has traditionally not been intuitive and easy to use. These execs, as well as their generals and lieutenants don’t have the time to go trolling for new data to determine what, if anything in their sphere of influence has changed. That’s the traditional pull mode of inquiry, which is inefficient and prone to omission. It’s very easy to miss something.

Event Management

Several of the major features included in Ross 7.0 help to address this problem and replace “pull” with “push.”  At the heart of any kind of push approach is event management. Event management has been around for more than a decade, but its use is hardly pervasive. My research shows only about 15% of survey respondents have fully implemented it, although another 24% claim to have a partial implementation.

When the term event management is used with line of business executives it often draws a blank stare. Translating event management to mean triggers and alerts at least produces a response of, “Ah yes! I want to be alerted in real time when something happens.” Maybe it is when a big order comes in, when a customer cancels an order or exceeds a credit limit, or when a production run starts to stray out of tolerance. But in fact, event management is even more valuable when something doesn’t happen: a key purchase order is not delivered as expected or a customer order doesn’t ship on time.

Ross 7.0’s Event Management Framework’s (EMF) alert engine includes prepackaged SQL alert templates that can be modified and/or personalized. EMF delivers real-time, actionable alert messages to users’ dashboards, emails and mobile devices, as a result of both exception conditions and non-events, such as no response to a quote or an overdue delivery against a purchase order.

Mobility

Buried in the previous paragraph was another trend among enterprise applications today – alerts delivered to a mobile device. Ross Mobile 2.0 is now available on iPhone and Android devices. (Blackberry access has been available for a couple of years.) This is certainly one way to connect top executives directly to the data, rather than having them rely on others to track it down. The target audience is not just executives traveling or touching base during off hours, but also those that work in and (all) around the plant or in the field, not tethered to a desk.  So accessible data includes customer, sales, invoice, and accounts receivable data as well as product, inventory, lots and projected inventory.

My research shows the top priority for enterprise data on a mobile device is indeed the need for alerts and notifications. However today, once that alert is delivered, if it is delivered at all, most executives turn their smart phones into dumb phones. They call assistants or surrogates that have the direct access to further investigate or take action. While today Ross Mobile 2.0 is simply pushing the data, thereby encouraging this conversion from smart to dumb phone. But by the end of the year Ross expects to deliver that ability to take direct action from the mobile device.

Enterprise Viewer

Ross also delivers another important aspect of visibility with its Enterprise Viewer. In the past you often needed to be an expert ERP user in order to navigate the solution for data for decision making. This new user interface takes a similar approach to popular social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, employing the concept of “following.”

However, I hesitate to call this “social” because the connotation to traditional manufacturing types is that “social” is something you should do on your personal time. Mention the “social enterprise” or “social ERP” or “social manufacturing” and the very people that Ross sells to will shut down and turn off. But I think they will be very interested in “subscribing” to what Ross calls “content widgets.” That might not mean much to a VP of Manufacturing or a COO, but once they realize they will be following business objects (not people) like “Orders Due to Ship Today” or “Inventory Availability” they will likely say, “Sign me up!” As will the Sales team who might follow a customer, or the Purchasing team which will follow a supplier.

Each of these decision makers can have their own personal view which makes it unnecessary to go trolling for that tidbit of information they might not even know is there. It still takes a technically oriented user (e.g. a super user) to set these up, but once set up, even the highest levels in the organization can have clear and easy access. The trick will be getting them to take advantage of it.

Other Features

Ross 7.0 has a few other features that should catch the eye of these line of business decision-makers:

  • Document Connect: the ability to drag and drop documents like photos, PDF files, Word and other Office documents and videos directly into Ross ERP screens. All are automatically stored and indexed, eliminating the need to add more data structures to capture this unstructured data in order to make it easily retrievable.
  • Ross Reporting Services, built around Microsoft’s SQL Server Reporting Service, can embed graphical objects within report templates and generate interactive reports is a variety of formats.
  • Other features and functions near and dear to the hearts of formula-based process manufacturers. These include
    • Test group administration and retesting criteria in Quality Control
    • Bracket pricing, sales pricing and discount simulation
    • Time period administration in Traceability
    • Etc.

What about the cloud?

One “hot trend” not specifically addressed in Ross 7.0 might be the whole movement to the “cloud.” While Ross does have a cloud offering, it is single instance, so it is more like a hosting option than SaaS. But this seems appropriate given the market the company and the solution targets. This segment (formula-based process manufacturers) is not exactly known for being first-movers in trends or information technology. Many are subject to FDA controls, which require recertification after any major change in software, leading them to want to control that process. And many guard their recipes and formulas very, very carefully. The thought of these secrets being kept outside of their own firewalls is enough to keep them up at night. Therefore the remote managed services Ross offers seems far more suitable to the inclinations and disposition of their customers and prospects.

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Infor’s Innovation Team Helps the Company Go Faster

After a 4-year hiatus, Inforum2012 made a big splash in Denver this week. I attended the last live Inforum back in 2008. There was also a “virtual event” in 2009. But, in my opinion, a virtual event just doesn’t have nearly the same impact as a live one. The Lawson customers in attendance haven’t had to wait so long. The last Lawson CUE was held just about a year ago in Boston. But this week, with no less than 21 different press releases talking about everything from the reinvention of the company under its new leadership to numerous technology and product announcements, Infor did a lot of catching up.

So given all these different announcements, what was the most important message I heard? I think it all boils down to the theme of the conference – Go Faster. And at the center of that theme is a fairly new group within Infor, the innovation team led by James Willey. What is this team all about? I think one of James’ team members summed it up pretty well.  “We have cool ideas and we’re going to build cool stuff. Then we throw it out to the different teams for them to pick it up.”

The reference to “different teams” has resulted from a long history of growth by acquisition. So there are different product teams, but with a renewed industry focus last year, it also means different industry teams. And there is not a simple one-to-one relationship between the two. It’s more like many-to-many relationships. A single industry is likely to be broken down into micro-verticals. The example Charles Phillips used on stage was in food and beverage. Dairies, meat processors, brewers and bakers (all target markets for Infor) share the common category of food and beverage, but are also each unique. On the other side of the equation, Infor has at least a couple of products that target food and beverage, including both Lawson M3 and Adage. So mapping solutions and teams is a bit more complicated than it appears on the surface.

This “cool stuff” includes

  • Intelligent Open Network (ION): lightweight middleware, providing common reporting and analysis, workflow, and business monitoring in one, consistent event-driven architecture (EDA)
  • Infor10 ION Workspace: a “consumer grade” user interface
  • Infor10 Motion: both mobile apps as well as a platform to develop them on
  • Local.ly (newly announced): a platform to deliver localized statutory reporting, accounting and tax content by country in a loosely coupled architecture

Through this “cool stuff” the innovation team powers a lot of the possible innovation in the industry-specific suites introduced with Infor10 about mid-year 2011.  And ION is at the core of a lot of the innovation. ION is based on much the same premise as Infor’s prior Open SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) was in the 2006 to 2009 timeframe in that it is meant to provide an environment that enables new functionality to be developed once and shared by multiple products in the Infor portfolio. However, unlike Infor’s Open SOA, which became very heavy and took years to develop, the new team has kept it lightweight and simple. It comes on 3 CD’s and can install in less than ten minutes.

But in keeping it lightweight, this forces some of the work back on the individual application development teams. And because Infor is in the applications business, not the middleware business, this means James’ innovation team doesn’t necessarily bring the innovation to directly to the market. The innovation team makes it available to the product and industry teams, who take it the final mile.

In order to take advantage of all that ION has to offer, the application has be what Infor calls ION enabled. I prefer to think of it as being IONized.

The individual application needs to provide a translation, sort of a mapping, to the Business Vault. Think of the Business Vault in ION as sort of a Rosetta Stone for applications. Infor still uses OAGIS (Open Application Group’s Integration Specification) as the standard template, along with its definitions of Business Object Documents (BODs). These BODs are really a combination of standard business objects (sales orders, purchase order, invoices, etc.) and processes (acknowledge a sales order, receive a purchase order, pay an invoice, etc.)

Infor’s strategic, go-forward products, which of course are based on newer technology, were the first to be IONized. But there are also a lot of customers on older legacy products. So the innovation team also built tools in ION to help IONize the older apps (e.g. MANMAN, older versions of BAAN, etc.). These tools essentially pre-process these business objects and then import them to ION, much the same way objects from non-Infor (3rd party) applications would be handled.

So there is work that must be done in order to take advantage of the innovation team’s efforts, but once that is done, the application teams get a lot of stuff for free. And that’s the real beauty of it – once the data in the application is exposed to ION, there’s lots that can be done with it, including complex event processing (CEP), making even older solutions exception driven. As data moves across, you can apply rules to it. If the cost changes by more than x%, notify certain roles or individuals. If the price change is too high, put an order on hold until it is approved. If the master data changes 5 times, you have 5 XML documents recording the changes and this can be tracked and reported.

If you recall, earlier I referred to the team as “fairly new.” In fact James (with his team) has been around and doing his “innovation” thing for a few years, ever since the decision was made to abandon the heavyweight Open SOA approach and stick to the Infor knitting, which was and is enterprise applications. But when Charles Phillips arrived at Infor James had a team of 8. Today it numbers around 110, a recognition of the power of a rapid application development mentality, coupled with a “develop once, re-use multiple times” approach and a willingness to invest in it.

The innovation team has a finger in all the hot topics today: cloud, mobility, social, the consumerization of IT, big data and embedded analytics. I say kudos to James and his team and encourage all the product and industry teams to bring the innovation that last mile, so Infor customers can finally keep pace with the fast-moving world of technology enablement.

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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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Infor10 in Motion: Making a Run at the Market

On January 23, 2012 Infor released Infor10 Motion, a cloud-based mobile platform built with a loosely coupled architecture on its Infor10 ION framework.The platform approach is based on the premise that people are on the move today and that their work needs to also stay in motion. With this release Infor strives to differentiate itself from other more complex mobile platforms, to not only provide easy development and deployment of mobile apps but also a level of consistency that has previously been hard to deliver with its broad and diverse portfolio of enterprise applications. Infor10 Motion provides an opportunity for Infor to adopt a consistent user experience, aimed at accelerating productivity, across all back office applications.

What is Infor10 Motion?

Infor10 Motion is a platform which consists of three components:

  • Infor10 Motion Builder: the means to build new mobile applications
  • Infor10 Motion Manager: a cloud-based way to manage the devices and the applications running on them
  • Infor10 Motion Server: where “server” is used in the context of software (also cloud-based), not hardware, to process requests from mobile devices

However, this platform would be useless without the applications it is meant to manage and serve. Infor will be releasing a variety of applications, starting with newly released:

  • Infor10 Road Warrior – think of it as mobile customer relationship management (CRM)
  • Infor ION ActivityDeck, useful in reminding users of important tasks, providing alerts and facilitating approvals of pending requests.

Others on the horizon include:

  • Shop Floor: bringing mobility to where manufacturing is done
  • The Mobile Manager: (not to be confused with Motion Manager) supports management decisions on the move
  • Hotel Administration
  • Dashboards

A Common User Experience

All these applications will have a common user experience. While Infor has a very broad portfolio of products, none have a well-defined mobile user interface and therefore this is an opportunity to define a standard and use it to unite disparate enterprise applications in its portfolio. A real life road warrior won’t know (or care) where (which Infor product) data is coming from. In developing a new standard, the user experience will not be constrained by traditional user interfaces and will take advantage of native features of the most commonly used devices. The first release supports the iPad and the iPhone, but support for Android and for Research in Motion (RIM) Blackberry are planned for the summer of 2012. Infor is also expecting to support HTML5.

Infor10 Motion apps are enhanced by being “app aware,” including consumer apps that could potentially add value to the enterprise. For example, think of incorporating Skype and Apple’s Face Time within a customer’s contact information, making these collaboration tools instantly available to field personnel.

Infor also expects the Motion products to standardize reporting and analytics across potentially multiple applications. It will use Infor ION, its lightweight middleware, to construct the Infor Business Vault, a data warehouse that should prove to be instrumental in integrating multiple data sources. Its recent joint announcement with Salesforce.com is one such projected integration point.

Expanding the Reach of Applications

This approach has the potential of bringing a different kind of enterprise applications user into the fold. While many decision-makers are today not directly connected to applications such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), relying instead on surrogates or subordinates to access and provide needed data, consumer-grade applications from mobile devices could complete that circuit and put decision-makers in direct contact with enterprise data.

But to better connect, these consumers of data may require a new and wide-ranging set of applications, perhaps more purpose-built than a broad multi-functional application like ERP. Infor intends to take advantage of the ease of development associated with these types of focused applications and need not be constrained by the limitations of existing applications. And the fact that these apps may be accessing data from a variety of different back end applications will be transparent to the traveling business person.

Infor, as other major enterprise applications vendors, is not counting only on apps coming from their own development teams, but from a broader community of partners and customers. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to this will be in getting that community to feel like an “Infor community.” Today partners and customers alike are much more aligned to individual products in the Infor portfolio than to the Infor community at large. But a single “stack” for reporting and analysis, coupled with a common mobile user experience and cloud-based tools can all contribute to moving towards an Infor-centric community.

Enterprise-Class Mobility

 But also a challenge may be getting its customers to clamor for these applications. Yes “mobility” has proliferated to the point where most people – business people as well as pure consumers – carry one, if not multiple devices. And yet many still do not see the enormous business potential. Mint Jutras research shows that the number one priority for mobility-related functionality is performing approvals and authorizations, followed closely by receiving alerts and notifications. Taking photos and attaching them to records rated higher than mobile order and account management. Other research specifically related to ERP shows that less than half (47%) of companies rate the ability to access ERP data from a mobile device as “important” or “must have,” 26% said it was “somewhat important”, 22% called it a “nice to have” and 6% said it wasn’t a consideration at all. A lot of companies still miss the connection between this proactive management and the underlying enterprise data that runs their business.

Perhaps with the advent of these “smart” applications, the general business population will begin to see the light. What Infor hopes to convey is a worthy message:

  • Don’t wait to act
  • Work in context
  • Get back on the road

Let work move as fast as you do.

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Does SAP’s Cloud strategy reflect a convergence of trends?

For quite a while now, we’ve been hearing three major themes from SAP: in-memory, mobility and on demand. In-memory (HANA) seemed to dominate the discussion at Sapphire in Orlando and then again at TechEd in Las Vegas. Mobility took on a little more prominence in the discussions at the co-located (Sapphire and TechEd) events in Madrid. But it was the on demand theme’s turn to be front and center at the SAP Influencer Summit in Boston this week. Usually this is a one day event, with some follow-on special interest group meetings the following day. But this year, SAP felt its cloud strategy merited an entire day two for all.

Early on day two we heard Peter Lorenz, Corporate Officer and Executive Vice President of OnDemand Solutions say something that I think set the stage quite well: “We don’t have pieces of a strategy. We really have a cloud strategy.” This implies a re-think and a holistic approach. Cloud of course is not new at SAP. The company entered the cloud world several years ago with the introduction of Business ByDesign. But that product had some false starts and the installed base hovered at 40 “charter” clients for a long time before SAP was ready to really go to market. At the end of Q3 SAP claims 650 customers and is still confident in predicting it will reach 1000 by the end of the year (yes, only two weeks away). There is a lot of back story here, but the real turning point was when ByDesign became multi-tenant last year, allowing SAP to profitably scale the OnDemand business. Also a factor… the release of the ByDesign Software Developer’s Kit (SDK) to allow partners and customers to extend the solution.

So what is SAP’s strategy and how does this reflect a convergence of trends?

SAP’s Cloud Strategy

An important aspect of SAP’s cloud strategy is that it is at least partially a result of listening to its customers. SAP execs heard customers asking them to “protect cloud dynamics” while leveraging existing processes and investments. “Protect cloud dynamics” sounds bit like marketing spin to me, but I think it means that customers want all the benefits of cloud deployments and yet many are not in a position to abandon some, any or all of their existing solutions. SAP has heard that speed of deployment is what people like best about the cloud. My research indicates speed of deployment is certainly one very important factor but the top three perceived benefits are all about costs:

  1. Lower total cost of ownership (52% of respondents)
  2. Reduced cost and effort of upgrades (48%)
  3. Lower startup costs (46%)

Yet faster often equates to lower costs – because time is money.

Technology-wise SAP’s cloud strategy is based upon the platform it created in developing Business ByDesign. This too is not new news. Business ByDesign is part of SAP’s SME product portfolio and is an integrated business management suite intended to address the end-to-end business processes of a diversity of small to midsize enterprises. As such it fits my definition of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP): an integrated suite of modules that forms the transactional system of record for a business. ByDesign is delivered exclusively as Software as a Service (SaaS). It’s a good platform choice since the product was developed from scratch for the cloud. I think you will soon see SAP repositioning it in the context of company size. Even now, ByDesign targets both SMEs as well as subsidiaries of large enterprises.

Since SAP announced the ByDesign platform as the strategic platform of choice for OnDemand solutions last year, it has also been using this platform to develop additional “Line of Business (LoB)” solutions. I have always found the reference to LoB a bit confusing, because any enterprise application should be designed for the business. But in this context I have really found it to mean extensions to ERP that are designed for a single functional area of the business – I suppose you could say, a single “line” of business role. But (less intuitively) LoB here also refers to a cloud deployment model. Examples of these are:

  • Sales OnDemand
  • Service OnDemand
  • Travel OnDemand
  • Career OnDemand
  • Sourcing OnDemand
  • Carbon Impact
  • Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP) OnDemand

Streamwork and Crossgate round out the OnDemand portfolio, providing collaboration services. But SAP is not relying exclusively on its own development efforts to bring end-to-end OnDemand solutions to market. Today there are more than 40 ByDesign partners and 70  ByDesign applications that have been developed using the SDK. SAP expects to continue to round out the framework and the base product but fully expects its ecosystem to supplement that functionality, particularly to address vertical industry requirements and to provide localizations for subsidiaries in countries that are not yet on SAP’s three year roadmap.

SAP’s strategy is to have OnDemand solutions sold by a dedicated cloud “go-to-market” organization which will be direct for large enterprises and indirect (through a channel) for SMEs. SAP sees a huge opportunity for this dedicated sales force in selling to all its 176,000 customers, which also includes the Sybase installed base of customers.

Now of course the finer points of the strategy are subject to change because of SAP’s recent announcement of its intent to acquire SuccessFactors (SFSF). SFSF calls itself a “Business Execution Software” company, but I put it in the category of Human Capital Management (HCM) software. While employees are certainly critical to the success of a business, for a lot of types of companies (e.g. manufacturers), there is a lot more to manage than people.

But the category of software is far less important here than the fact that SFSF’s business is entirely SaaS and Lars Dalgaard, founder and CEO, is also part of the package. Technology is only one part of providing cloud-based solutions, which are designed, built, sold, delivered and serviced differently than traditional on-premise solutions. And those traditional solutions are what made SAP the giant company it is today, making it a relative newbie in the on demand world. Co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe was quick to point to SFSF’s cloud DNA as a driving factor behind the acquisition.

Spotting the trends

So how is this strategy reflective of both historical and emerging trends in the software world? Three different trends come immediately to mind: trends in cloud computing, multi-tier ERP and mobility.

Cloud trends:

The topic of cloud deployment of enterprise applications has been heating up for the past several years. While ERP has lagged behind in terms of interest and adoption, cloud-based applications surrounding ERP have trended upwards. Now the barriers to acceptance of SaaS ERP appear to be crumbling. The 2011 ERP Mint Jutras Solution Study found almost half (45%) of over 950 qualified respondents would consider SaaS/On Demand as a deployment option if they were making an ERP selection today. The companies with the top performing implementations were even more likely to consider SaaS (62% of what we defined as “World Class”). Even more interesting, the percentage that would consider a traditional on-premise deployment was down to 56%. In years past, this would have been between 85% and 90%. And only 38% of World Class would consider traditional on-premise.

Expanding the target for ByDesign beyond SMEs to include subsidiaries of large companies is also in line with trends. While many think of the market for SaaS ERP as primarily small companies, the Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study found the interest in SaaS deployment did not decline with increased company size. In fact it escalated from 42% in small companies (those with annual revenues under $25 million) to 59% in large enterprises (those whose annual revenues exceeded $1 billion).

And looking beyond ERP to those LoB solutions, it is very likely that even those with existing on-premise solutions are keen to extend those processes with cloud extensions to leverage cost savings and speed of deployment. While we found lower cost to be the primary appeal of SaaS, more frequent updates and ease of supporting remote employees and remote operating locations were also significant factors.

However, while SAP sees all 176,000 of its customer base a prime target for these LoB solutions, I am not sure I would agree. More than 78% of SAP customers are SMEs. Sure very small companies could benefit from the functionality, but they can also live without it and there are very cheap (sometimes free) alternatives that will be “good enough” for the low end of the market. Take for example Expensify as an alternative to Travel OnDemand – a solution to make the capture, submission and reimbursement of travel expenses simple for all your road warriors. Of course SAP’s solution is more robust, but will a small company pay for Travel OnDemand when Expensify is free?

Multi-tier ERP:

The ease that “cloud” delivers in connecting remote employees and managing remote sites brings us to the second trend: that of a growing need for a multi-tier ERP strategy. Once upon a time a company generally had to be of a certain size (think fairly big) before it had to deal with multiple operating locations. That is no longer the case. In fact in our same ERP study, 67% of all our survey respondents had more than one operating location (served by ERP) even though our survey sample included companies of all sizes from very small to very large. Even small companies (revenues under $25 million) averaged 2.5 operating locations. Of course this average escalated steadily to 10.7 in companies with revenues over $1 billion.

Another shift: “back in the day” even if there were multiple operating locations, different sites might have little to do with one another. But in today’s globalized environment that is rare. We have shared services, feeder plants, decentralized distribution for centralized manufacturing and centralized distribution for decentralized production; all creating a growing need for collaboration. With little interoperability, historically individual business units or divisions might have been left to their own devices to select and implement enterprise applications, including ERP. But as the need for interoperability grows, leaving everyone to do their own thing can create a nightmare.

Today 98% of top performers (and even 84% of all others) define standards for ERP implementations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a single ERP used at corporate headquarters and also at all operating locations. It might mean a single corporate ERP and one or more “standard” ERP solutions, depending on the level of autonomy or interdependence between sites. In fact we found that World Class implementations were more than 2 ½  times as likely to use a two tier standard (one ERP at corporate and a single different ERP at the divisional level) and 1 ½ times as likely to use a multi-tier standard (two or more “standards” are defined for business units).

What does this have to do with a cloud strategy? What better way to implement, enforce and control the “standards” at multiple, remote operating locations than through a SaaS deployment model? This is especially true if remote sites are in emerging markets where IT talent and ERP experience are rare commodities?

Mobility:

Which brings us to the final trend: an increasingly mobilized world. This is one area where emerging markets do not necessarily lag behind mature markets. Everyone carries some sort of mobile device today, sometimes multiple devices. By untethering ourselves from the wired world, we have actually tethered ourselves more to the business and expect to be connected “on demand” sometimes 24X7.

This is why mobility is at the forefront for the ByDesign platform, which currently supports BlackBerry, Windows Mobile 7, iPhone and Android. Mobile scenarios include sales, approvals, expense reports, and analytics. Feature Pack (FP) 3.5, due out in January will focus on the iPad, which seems to be emerging as the tablet of choice for executive management and sales. FP3.5 will deliver sales catalogs, account management, lead and opportunity management on the iPad.

Wrap-up:

Cloud strategies are a hot topic of discussion today.  However, sometimes the more vendors and industry “experts” discuss the topic, introducing their own definitions and requirements, the more confused the general audience becomes. So far SAP has resisted being dragged into the fray of accusations about “cloud washing” and “false clouds.” In evaluating SAP’s strategy, the reader would also be advised to evaluate the offerings based on their own individual needs rather than on any one person’s definition of “true SaaS.” After all, not all companies have the same needs or desires.

And in fact I believe eventually “cloud” as a topic will cool down significantly. One day in the not too distant future, deployment option will become just another check box. It won’t matter so much how it is deployed, only that it solves your business problems.

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SAP Mobility @ Madrid: Is it for SMEs too?

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with  SAP’s Senior VP of Mobile Strategies, Nick Brown to get a preview of the “mobility” announcements planned for SAPPHIRENOW + SAPTechEd, co-located in Madrid this week. As anyone that follows SAP knows, mobility is one of its three hottest topics, the other two being cloud and in-memory computing. Since May 2010 when SAP announced its intended acquisition of Sybase, the mobility buzz has been about an integrated platform and application story.

Mobility for the Masses

SAP’s goal is to bring mobility to the masses. But this means something different to enterprises than it does to consumers. Or does it? I came away from the briefing understanding that at least one of the key objectives for SAP’s mobility strategy was to enable any size company to mobilize. Since I have a lot of interaction with the SME (small to midsize enterprise) teams at SAP, I immediately thought about the impact of these announcements on these smaller companies.

Since the Sybase acquisition, we’ve heard a lot about the Sybase Unwired Platform (SUP). The easiest “hit” for SAP here is with large companies with large IT staffs that worry about managing a large variety of devices. Talking about MEAP (mobile enterprise application platform), MCAP (mobile commerce application platform) and MDM (master data management) resonates here. But to most executive decision-makers that’s just alphabet soup. And those acronyms are even more foreign to decision-makers in your typical SME. They think a lot like consumers. They just want to consume; they don’t have big IT staffs to worry about a “platform.”

What SMEs want

SMEs want ready-to-use applications that address a specific business need. They just assume (rightly or wrongly) that the apps come with the necessarily underlying infrastructure to take advantage of the latest and greatest technology (think 3G and 4G), deliver security and work on any device they might want or need to use. That means they don’t expect to pay extra for it and perhaps they don’t expect to have to “buy” it at all. In fact they don’t necessarily even connect the dots from mobilization back to “IT” and core enterprise applications like ERP, which create the system of record for their business.

My “mobility” research shows that the number one priority for mobilization of tasks or functions is performing approvals and authorizations, followed closely by receiving alerts and notifications. And yet my “ERP” research shows that less than half (47%) of companies rate the ability to access ERP data from a mobile device as “important” or “must have,” 26% said it was “somewhat important”, 22% called it a “nice to have” and 6% said it wasn’t a consideration at all. Taking photos and attaching them to records rated higher than mobile order and account management. And the smaller the company, the less priority they seem to place on accessing ERP through a mobile device. A lot of companies still don’t get the connection between this proactive management and the underlying enterprise data that runs their business.

What must SAP do to address that?

First of all it needs to deliver applications that budget holders see real value in. And those applications are finally starting to flow out of the funnel. SAP is showcasing 50 of them at SAPPHIRENOW in Madrid this week. I went out to the App store earlier this week and counted 45 that are currently available. Twenty of them are free, 11 are from partners. While today there are more SAP-developed apps than partner-developed apps, SAP expects that to change dramatically and ultimately expects 80-90% to come from its ecosystem of partners. There are 200 of them undergoing certification by SAP right now. But partners will only do that as long as they are successful in selling them.

Because of the sheer volume of SMEs (compared to large enterprises), it would seem SMEs would be key to that success. And for SMEs to consume them, they must be affordable. And that means the cost of the platform cannot inflate the price of the apps.

Dennis Howlett (@dahowlett) has been very vocal on this subject. In fact he just published his insights on the mobility announcements in Madrid, including this excerpt:

“I have said before and I repeat here: SAP should give the platform away in most cases. It doesn’t make sense to developers if they have to pay for a platform at high cost. Apple managed to build a highly successful business by making the barriers to developers trivial. SAP is still trying to wean itself on the idea that everything has to come with a Veuve Cliquot price tag.”

So we will have to watch this closely to see how many apps continue to be produced and consumed and ultimately what stance SAP takes on the price of the platform. This will have significant impact on SMEs.

What Else?

How else can SAP educate customers and prospects? Another way is by use case examples. SAP showcased one in particular in Madrid and in its press release. This one was developed specifically for Berlin’s Charité, a big university hospital in Europe. In a way this is not the best way to reach and educate SMEs on the potential for mobilization because this was custom developed and is very specialized to serve physicians and hospitals, not something that helps an SME run its business better. On the other hand, it provides a showcase of an environment that is personally familiar to everyone.

The story is about mobilizing Electronic Medical Records (EMR) so that doctors can access patient information reliably from anywhere. It’s about letting the doctors record notes right in the application during or immediately after examining a patient, so they don’t have to be transcribed later. Everyone can understand it (and its value) because most of us have been patients at one time or another. Not only do we all understand the value of having more and better records and immediate access and the frustration caused by not having that direct access, but we are also quite sensitive to privacy and security when we’re talking about our own personal health records.

Other applications announced in Madrid include:

  • SAP CRM Sales 2.0
  • SAP Field Service 2.0
  • SAP Retail Execution 2.0
  • SAP Citizen Connect
  • SAP Transport Notification & Status
  • SAP Transport Tendering
  • SAP GRC Access Approver
  • SAP GRC Policy Survey
  • SAP Manager Insight (announced in October)
  • SAP Interview Assistant (announced in October)

Also worth noting are the “2.0” designation of the first three apps. The first releases were in June; now we have the second in November, just five months later. This tells us the 12-18 month release cycles are becoming a thing of the past. SAP promises releases to be quarterly in future – something else worth watching out for.

Mobility should be of enormous interest to SMEs. Let’s see if SAP can help them connect the dots to show them how mobile access to enterprise data can help them run better businesses.

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Marketing Inspired by Einstein?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Engagement vs Transactional Systems: Not a “from-to” especially for SME. SAP as an Example

I recently read Ray Wang’s Blog in the Harvard Business Review entitled “Moving from Transaction to Engagement” and something about it didn’t sit well with me. I wasn’t getting the “from – to” part. Recording transactions isn’t optional. Whatever tool you use to create your system of record (whether it is ERP or accounting applications or something else) is a necessary foundational tool. If you think tools that help you build relationships can replace transactional systems, then maybe you believed “eyeballs were everything” back in the dot-com boon and we all know how that story ended.

Since it troubled me I went back and read all the comments to Ray’s blog post and also a couple of pieces he referenced: Geoffrey Moore’s paper “Systems of Engagement and The Future of Enterprise IT: A Sea Change in Enterprise IT” and Dion Hinchcliffe’s “Moving Beyond Systems of Record to Systems of Engagement.” OK, I feel a little better now. But only a little.

I feel better because both Geoffrey Moore and Ray (in response to a comment) acknowledge that these transactional systems of record are necessary. And even Dion Hinchcliffe admits, “It’s safe to say that most firms would go out of business without the data within and automated capabilities of their systems of record.” But to say, they are all in maintenance mode, “ERP has hit its limit” and that “Transactional systems remain in a hard coded, rigid structured approach” ignore the change in how software is developed today and the real possibility of bringing better means of flexibility, engagement and communication to ERP. Yes, ERP must bring discipline and therefore must define data structures, but that doesn’t mean the application or implementation needs to be rigid.

I define ERP as an integrated suite of modules that form the transactional system of record for a business. So when we talk about transactions and systems of record, I assume we are largely talking about ERP. The trouble is, it has become harder and harder to tell where ERP ends and other applications begin. But that’s a good thing. It means software makers are providing added functionality and that ERP is seamlessly interacting with other applications. So why can’t we bring these characteristics of engagement systems (and maybe even experiential systems) to ERP? I’m not going to go down the route of “personal fulfillment” systems because we can’t lose sight of the fact that the purpose of the engagement is to generate transactions (because transactions mean revenue). I know I am over-simplifying but, I don’t think most executives want to discuss speed in the context of a time-space continuum and businesses can’t survive in a “feel good” environment where everyone gets a trophy for “engaging” regardless of whether revenue is flowing in.

SAP has gotten picked on a lot lately as a legacy application and as rigid, so let’s take SAP and its approach as an example of how transaction systems can be enhanced, not replaced by engagement systems. And let’s talk about it in a way that is not just for the large enterprise, because 78% (90,000) of SAP customers are small to midsize enterprises (SMEs). Customers are front and center of engagement, and to effectively engage you need to understand your customer. In order to understand your customer, you need data from a lot of different sources. Some of that data is structured and you are probably already sitting on a mountain of it from a variety of sources:

  • Your ERP system – what they bought, how much they paid, how well you performed in delivering product and collecting cash (all those pesky transactions).
  • Your support, contact or call center – including issues and resolution
  • Your Sales Force Automation solution – contacts, pipeline and quotes
  • Marketing Automation – how many times have you touched them?
  • Others might include document management, customer project management, engineering design and/or compliance specs, specific test results, etc.

SAP is approaching this by enhancing solutions from the outside in, rather than the inside out. What do I mean by that? I mean they are developing innovations SAP BusinessObjects Edge, business analytic applications and new dashboards and user interfaces that can be layered on any of their solutions, including those for SMEs like SAP Business All-in-One, SAP Business One and SAP Business ByDesign. That’s smart in two ways. First, they need only develop it once rather for each of their different ERP solutions. Secondly, by adding innovation in layers, they create the perfect environment for bringing data sources together from different applications. And in keeping these innovations on the “edge”, SAP can make them more “social” by tying in other sources of data, including “conversations” through chat and email, thereby supplying the “richer social orientation” of an engagement system. And once these new interfaces are placed on top of ERP, the user perceives them as a new and better ERP.

This also is the perfect opportunity to apply external business rules and event management, “smarter intelligence” that might otherwise be well beyond the reach of SMEs. Of course, looking beyond the conversations that might be shared between employees and customers, there is far more data out there about your customer than ever comes near your ERP and surrounding applications. There are Twitter streams and LinkedIn discussions and FaceBook pages. There are news feeds and stock watches. The list goes on and on. The trick is to put that data into the context of the data in ERP in order to put it into the context of your business.

And how you deliver it will be critical. Just constructing these focused dashboards is a good start. And perhaps good BI tools would be enough in the hands of a talented and well-staffed IT department, but SMEs won’t have that luxury. Part of “engagement” needs to be getting your employees, including business executives, to engage with the data that you have and that means engaging with applications -which is why it is more important for SAP to deliver business analytics as a configurable and ready to use application rather than just BI tools. But making these analytics accessible is also very important.

Business executives from large multi-billion dollar companies, down to the smallest startups want to be connected through mobile devices. And executives from smaller companies are just as likely to blur the lines between business hours and personal time, perhaps even more so because of the number of different hats they might wear in managing a small business. In our untethered world of mobile connectivity, we all become more tethered to work even in the “off hours.” And the older generation is now learning from younger generations and becoming more comfortable with specialized mobile consumer “apps.” In response, SAP is developing mobile apps and recognizes they must model consumer apps. That means they must be smaller in scope and more directly applicable to a particular function. No training required for the user interface and limited training required for the business process it is intended to perform.

SAP still has some decisions to make in making this type of mobility affordable to SMEs in a world increasingly moving away from corporate standards, producing a more “bring your own device” environment. But SAP has already delivered the SAP BusinessObjects Mobile app for iPad, in addition to the SAP BusinessObjects Explorer for iPad/iPhone , which is already one of the top downloaded apps for business with over 200,000 downloads from the Apple Apps store.

Of course no discussion of SAP would be complete today without mention of “in memory” but this is actually quite relevant in the context of both adding engagement characteristics to transactional systems and customer analytics. If you thought you were drowning in data before, once you open the door to capturing and channeling all these sources of public information, you will now be faced with a virtual tsunami of data. And make no mistake; this is not just a large enterprise problem. Once you open that door, you open the floodgates. So SMEs will need to deal with “big data” just as larger companies will. SAP is intending to bundle SAP HANA (its answer to big data) with SAP Business One for small companies, and SAP HANA will power SAP’s On Demand solutions, including By Design, but there might be a donut hole forming around Business All-in-One (BAiO). SAP HANA will be an option for both the Business Suite and BAiO and pricing has not yet been made public.

SAP is of course just one example, and I could have used other vendors as examples along the way. But SAP also has a very broad and deep footprint and has more irons in the innovation fire with more resources to bring to bear than your typical ERP solution provider. And SAP certainly touches a lot of SMEs (over 90,000).  But it also has a lot of history and a reputation of being rigid, in terms of both product and company. It hasn’t made the big splash about “Social” that Salesforce has recently. It’s been hard to miss Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff’s exhorting the virtues of the social enterprise.  But in the meantime SAP has been bringing more “engagement” to its transactional systems.

So the key takeaway here is that transactional systems can indeed take on some of the characteristics of an engagement system. While yes, they need to be structured, structured doesn’t necessarily mean rigid. I don’t think ERP has hit the wall – I think it still has a ways to go and many, including SAP still have the legs to take them there.

Disagree? Prove me wrong.

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Does ERP mean Excel Runs Production? What Happens When Enterprise Software Is Too Hard to Use?

 “Ease of use” and the “user experience” are getting a lot of play these days. But what does that really mean? I currently have my inaugural Mint Jutras ERP survey live and have collected more than 200 responses thus far (just the beginning!)  So far, results show that ease of use most likely refers to time to complete tasks (50% picked this as a “top 3” in importance) and intuitive navigation (42%). Of course some other factors were also important including easy access to ERP from anywhere, any time (think access through the Internet and mobility) and the ability to stay in a workspace that combines ERP with other tools (e.g. email, Internet, dashboards, etc.)

In addition, earlier this year I helped IFS North America with a study conducted to explore how usability challenges may cause individuals to work outside the system of record, causing the manufacturer to lose value as employees use other systems. We looked at the degree to which corporate citizens will take action as the result of enterprise software usability challenges (including the use of various types of PC-based software and online free or low-cost applications). We were also looking for generational differences by comparing respondents in four different age groups:

  • 18 to 35 years old
  • 36 to 45 years old
  • 46 to 55 years old
  • Over 55 years

In general, we found there was a generational difference.  Once established in their careers, respondents were more likely to speak up about usability challenges in enterprise software. Instead, younger professionals (between ages 18 and 35) were more likely to change jobs as the result of poorly-designed enterprise software. So if you want to keep those future superstars, beware!

The quip “ERP stands for Excel Runs Production” is often true. When faced with usability challenges in the enterprise system of record, Microsoft Excel is the most frequent alternative. In addition, when faced with usability challenges, respondents indicated they may also use a number of free or low-cost online tools including Google Docs and Dropbox.

Speaking Up

Counter to popular perceptions of younger generations in the workforce, the 18-35 year-old group was least likely to definitely speak up or complain about the poor user experiences they were having with enterprise software. Those over 35 were most likely to definitely say something but extremely unlikely to simply suffer in silence. This pattern may be due in part to the fact that younger managers may feel, perhaps with justification, that they lack influence within the organization so speaking up would have no effect and possibly jeopardize their careers.

Meanwhile, those most likely to say something about their negative software experiences were respondents over 45 years, who would have more influence and also a good deal of experience with both business and consumer-level technologies and have begun to expect the same ease of use in business as they see in consumer technology.

Opting Out

More than 30% of respondents in each age group indicate that they would be likely to use enterprise software that was hard to use or poorly designed less frequently than software that was more thoughtfully designed or easier to use. A sizable majority of respondents also indicated that they were prone to using spreadsheets, including Microsoft Excel, instead of their enterprise system of record . In fact, respondents aged 18 to 35 were most likely to use spreadsheets (75%). Anyone graduating from college or business schools within the last 10 years (at least) has gained extensive experience with Microsoft Excel, seeking the comfort level of familiarity.

Commentary

Some comments and suggestions offered to Enterprise Application solution providers by respondents:

“The interface needs to be seamless and intuitive. We don’t have learning curve time anymore.”

“Make it able to be seen more easily from smart phones.”

“Take lessons from the most popular software interfaces – Microsoft Office, Google, iTunes, etc.  There is nothing more frustrating than using an interface that looks like it’s from an AS400 in the 80’s but was purchased last year.”

“Just show me the information I need and don’t waste my time with ‘pretty’ graphics.”

In general the message was clear. It is all about faster, simpler, cost effective.

Download the study, “IFS: Does ERP mean Excel Runs Production,” at http://download.ifsworld.com/Excel_Runs_Production.  (registration required)

 

 

 

 

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