Rootstock Software’s latest
release takes full advantage of Salesforce’s Lightning user experience and its
“clicks not code” approach to deliver agility, speed and intelligence to its
Cloud ERP customers. Much more than a pretty new user interface, Lightning also
includes Lightning Flows, an App Builder, Community Builder and Artificial
Intelligence (AI) tools, all designed to put more power directly in the hands
of the business users on the front line during these volatile times.
Of course, the risk of disruption
is not entirely new. Last year our Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study found
90% of companies already believed they face some level of risk in their
businesses being disrupted by new innovative products, new ways of selling or
pricing existing products or services, entirely new business models, or some
combination of all of the above. On top of these are all the traditional forms
of disruption like expansion, reorganizations and regulatory compliance. And now…
a global pandemic. Not only has COVID-19 wreaked havoc on manufacturing,
distribution and supply chains, it has also abruptly forced many companies into
new ways of conducting business.
This abrupt change has a
cascading impact on the enterprise applications used in running the business,
especially on Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). And let’s face it… it has not
always been easy for ERP solutions to turn on a dime. Without the latest in
advanced technology, business users needed to wait in line for busy Information
Technology (IT) departments or hire expensive consultants. Meanwhile, the pace
of change continues to accelerate and the coronavirus has put it into
overdrive. If you must wait for IT to work off its backlog, by the time it gets
to your request, things will likely have changed again. And so, being able to
quickly respond has gone from being a luxury (available only to those with deep
pockets) to necessary for the very survival of your business.
And therefore, Rootstock’s
timing of this release couldn’t have come at a time when it was needed more. Click
here to read the full report to explore what this “clicks not code”
approach can deliver (registration required).
Is the ERP that is running your business able to help you effectively
achieve your goals in the current market? Does it take advantage of the kind of
advanced technology that we have all come to rely on in our personal lives? Is
it agile and flexible? Does it adapt easily to our rapidly changing world? Does
it provide the level of connectivity needed to successfully operate in today’s
global, digital economy? Or are you running a solution that may have once been
state of the art, the best of the best available at the time, but is now stuck
– stuck on an older release because of customizations that built barriers to
innovation? Or stuck because you simply can’t justify the cost and effort of
upgrading for the limited business benefit, because you’ll still be constrained
by older technology?
If you are indeed stuck, your best path forward is most
likely replacing it. But for decades ERP replacement was likened to brain
surgery. It was reserved for dire cases only. “Rip and replace” was to be
avoided at all costs. Today these perceptions are just as outdated as the
solutions to which they apply. Yes, early ERP solutions were rigid and
inflexible, limited in functionality, hard to install and implement and even
harder to use. Innovation was painfully slow due to rigid architectures and
You can’t really blame those early solutions or the software
companies that created them. The kind of technology needed for flexibility,
ease of use and agility simply didn’t exist, making those conclusions
justified. Why go through all the blood, sweat and tears, not to mention the
cost, of implementing a newer solution just to wind up right back where you
But the world, and your business continued to change, and so
have newer, next generation ERP solutions. Solutions now are far more flexible
and technology-enabled, provide many more features and functions, are easier to
install, easier to implement and easier to use. They bring far more benefits
than ever before, but for those with lingering (mis)perceptions about ERP today,
they remain hidden. And in today’s fast-moving, global, digital economy, you simply
can’t afford to ignore them. The key to unlocking these secret benefits is in
understanding the potential and then mapping out a plan to realize them.
Advanced Technology Holds the Key
What makes today’s next generation ERP so different? A
variety of different type of advanced technologies can be embedded in
enterprise applications today. It is through these kinds of embedded
technologies that new ERP systems provide additional value. Of course, some
vendors do a better job than others in leveraging them, and hence provide more
value than others. This is why I’ve included a section later that provides some
insight on how to best evaluate ERP solutions in order to ensure success. In
the meantime, Table 1 presents some results from my 2019 Enterprise Solution
Study, on the perceived value of several of these technologies. Note this study
collected feedback from 464 survey respondents from companies of all shapes and
Table 1: Perceived Value of Advanced Technologies
Source: Mint Jutras 2019 Enterprise
While a growing percentage of respondents perceive these
technologies as providing strong value, on average (across all) 30% are unsure
of the value. Essentially, they are saying, “Show me.” More than one in five
(22%) see little or no value and another 10% simply don’t know. And therefore,
it falls to industry experts and the vendors themselves to educate their
audiences in order to prove the value and unlock these secrets. Let’s start
that process by exploring a few of these.
Platforms and Architecture
Development platforms and microservices architectures,
on which applications are built, provide the perfect example of those secret
benefits. For the reader with a technical background, a microservice
architecture is defined (by Wikipedia) as an architectural style that
structures an application as a collection of loosely coupled
services. For those nontechnical readers, think of it as constructing a
solution from a set of Lego building blocks.
Think about how you build a structure
from Legos. Each Lego block is made of the same kind of material and is
attached (connected) to the other Lego blocks the same way. In many ways they
are interchangeable. But by choosing different colors and sizes, and connecting
them with a different design, you can make a structure that is very unique. And
once constructed, if you want to change it, decoupling some of the blocks and
replacing them doesn’t destroy the parts that are not affected. There is far
less disruption introduced than if you had constructed it with a hammer and
These platforms and technologies
provide a level of agility, configurability and extensibility to today’s
applications to help us respond to change.
Cloud and SaaS
We see more interest in cloud enablement and Software as a
Service (SaaS). Indeed, whether you run a solution on your own premises or in a
private or public cloud, the ability to access anytime, from anywhere is a
significant advantage and cloud-enablement opens the door for the kind of
connectivity you need as a full and active participant in the digital economy.
Yet still, last year only half of our survey participants perceive it as bringing
strong value. We suspect that if we were to ask this question today, given the
current need for distancing and remote work, this might change.
But there are other benefits to moving to the cloud in
general and SaaS in particular. We see subscriptions to software rapidly
replacing the traditional license. When you license a copy of the software you
take on the responsibility for maintenance and upgrades. This is especially
important in light of the fact that when asked to select the top three challenges
in achieving maximum value from ERP, “cost
and disruption of upgrades prevent us from innovating” was at the very top
of the list, selected by 40% of our respondents. With a SaaS solution, the
solution provider assumes that responsibility and does the heavy lifting for
Technologies like machine learning, natural language
processing and other forms of artificial intelligence have become quite
prevalent in consumer technology (think Siri and Alexa, or GPS that learns your
favorite route). Now is the time to bring them into the enterprise, much like
they were insinuated into our personal lives – by adding value and embedding
Apple customers didn’t demand the ability to converse with
their mobile devices. Apple just delivered it, not as an option and certainly
not without adding to the cost. But they didn’t charge extra for it. Other
device manufacturers followed suit. Pretty soon virtual assistants became
commonplace features. And people got hooked. It was only after this secret was
unlocked that people willingly went out and bought stand-alone devices like the
Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home.
Make no mistake – the same thing is happening with
applications for the enterprise. Modern platforms add a level of
configurability and extensibility that adds agility needed to keep pace with
the unprecedented pace of change in technology and business. Cloud and SaaS add
speed and contribute to affordability. Pretty soon all sorts of artificial
intelligence technologies will be generally available for the enterprise, but
you won’t be able to take advantage of them if you are still stuck on old
Robotic Process Automation (RPA), as the name implies, is
all about automating routine tasks in order to free up time available to
perform tasks which require more strategic thought and therefore contribute
more value to your business. For decades ERP has claimed to streamline and
automate these processes, but the term “automate” was used quite loosely, to
say the least. Today’s technologies truly enable these tasks to be performed
with little or no manual effort. Automating the filing of travel expenses,
reconciling data for a month or year-end close, three-way matching and applying
cash to outstanding invoices are all examples of routine tasks that can be
largely automated, requiring manual intervention only when exceptions are
And of course, the more intelligence you can add to these
automated processes, the fewer the number of exceptions that require manual
intervention. Embedding artificial intelligence and machine learning enables
RPA to better detect anomalies and prevent errors. With these added
capabilities, the more they are used and the more data that is collected, the
more they continue to learn, adding more intelligence over time. Today’s
“intelligent ERP” solutions are nothing like legacy applications of yesteryear.
The addition of advanced analytics, often in the form of
predictive or cognitive analytics, is another way to make ERP smarter. Early
ERP solutions were notorious for being far easier to get data into than
information out of. You had to know exactly where to look and how to get there
if you had any hope at all of getting answers to business questions. And you
had to ask all the questions because the solutions didn’t offer up much to
notify you of issues.
That has all changed with new next generation solutions.
Today decision makers are often greeted with role-based, personalized dashboards
with data presented in charts, graphs and other visually appealing and
meaningful ways. These dashboards become their portal, a gateway so to speak,
to all the data previously hidden in applications. They get alerts and
notifications on those dashboards and on their mobile devices. Not only have
user interfaces become more intuitive, making systems easier to use, some have
even learned to “listen” and “speak.”
All next generation solutions today do a better job of
presenting data to you. But data driven decision-making requires more than just
reporting. Predefined reports help you answer relatively static questions like:
How much did I sell by customer type or region? Analytics present the bigger
picture and can help you figure out what questions to ask like: Where and how
will I have the most success in regaining and /or growing revenue? In your
quest to answer that you might ask: Are all sales down, or only by region or
customer type or sales rep or product? This might take several iterations and
the exact path you will take in your questioning won’t be apparent until you
start to drill down.
Smarter analytics (like predictive and cognitive analytics)
can spot patterns that produce fewer sales. Smarter analytics can do predictive
scoring and modeling to identify those patterns early and exploit them for
guided decision- making. The smartest solutions will then continue to learn,
getting better at spotting issues earlier, hopefully in time for you to course
Tips For Your Evaluation
Looking for a
new ERPsolution is not something you do every day. If it has been awhile
since you have been through this exercise, take note: A lot has changed.
Whereas fit and functionality
once drove most decisions, basic and even not so basic features and functions
are table stakes today. While an 80% fit used to be acceptable, today’s
flexible and technology-enabled solutions should get you much closer to 100%
than ever before, without the need for invasive customization. Of course, you still need to perform due
diligence and confirm robust functionality, including industry-specific
features and functions, but if you haven’t looked around for awhile, expect to
be pleasantly surprised.
Yet while features and
functions are indeed important, there is danger in making a decision solely
based on what you need today, because it might not be what or all that you need
in the future. Last year my Enterprise Solution Study found 90% of companies
believe they face some level of risk in their businesses and/or industries
being disrupted by new innovative products, new ways of selling or pricing
existing products or services, entirely new business models, or some combination
of all of the above. And don’t forget all the traditional forms of disruption
like expansion, reorganizations and regulatory issues. All this disruption can
have a cascading impact on business application requirements, making agility –
the ability to easily innovate, evolve and change – even more important than
current functionality. For that you need the right approach to innovation and
the right architecture and platform to support it.
Also equally important today is the whole user experience,
including easy navigation, visual appearance and personalization. And don’t
forget integration capabilities and the quality of built in reporting and
analytics. Any evaluation today requires you to raise the bar in terms of your
So…Where do you Start?
The answer to that question may be closer to home than you
think. Just because you are not running a next generation ERP, enabled with the
latest and greatest technology, doesn’t necessarily mean your current ERP
solution provider hasn’t stepped out ahead of you.
SAP might be the perfect example of this. A longtime leader
in the market, SAP is perhaps one of the very few, if not the only “household
name” in ERP. However, many of its customers have yet to move to its latest,
most technically advanced product, SAP S/4HANA. While SAP also has products
that target the small to midsize market (SAP Business One and SAP Business
ByDesign), it is also the incumbent in many very large multi-national enterprises
that have invested heavily in predecessors to S/4HANA. And if these solutions
date back far enough, chances are they have been heavily customized. Without
the advantage of platforms and architectures available today, any kind of
modification or invasive customizations created barriers to moving forward. And
therefore, the move to S/4HANA is certainly no simple migration.
However, if you are currently running your business on an
outdated solution, whether it is an older version of SAP’s ERP or a legacy solution
from any vendor, simply migrating to a newer, more technology-enabled system
means you will drag along decisions that were made when ERP was far less
feature rich, technology enabled and flexible. You shouldn’t be looking to
recreate what you are doing today, but instead automating, improving efficiency
and productivity, providing added visibility and giving yourself the ability to
make more data-driven, strategic decisions. You should also look for a return
on your investment (ROI) in terms are real cost savings and/or the generation
of increased revenue. For this, you need to treat it like a re-implementation,
with all the careful planning and commitment that implies.
If you are currently running an ERP solution that you cannot
legitimately call modern, intelligent or next generation, you might still be
viewing its replacement like brain surgery. I prefer to treat it more like
joint replacement. You suffer with that bum knee or hip until you can’t stand
the pain any longer, or you simply can’t function properly. Many ERP
implementations today suffer from pain, and prevent you from being flexible and
able to do what they need to do.
Whether you view ERP as brain surgery or joint replacement,
there is no such thing as non-invasive surgery. It can and should have a
serious impact on your business, but hopefully in a positive way.
Here are a few recommendations for a successful ERP journey:
wait until the patient is critical. Making a selection and running an
implementation project when the business is under duress does not create an
atmosphere of careful consideration, planning and execution. You will be
tempted to take shortcuts that you may later regret.
but can’t afford it? Consider the potential cost savings. Most ERP
solutions pay for themselves in less than two years. If capital funds are not
available to support the project, consider SaaS deployment with less up-front
and measure. Before embarking on your ERP project, decide which metrics
will measure success. Establish a base line, set goals and measure progress
against those goals. When you reach them, set another goal. Continue to measure
and continue to reap more benefits.
An ERP implementation is not easy. Just like surgery, there
will be some “recovery” time. But that doesn’t mean your business stops during
that recovery period. It just means you need to take extra care to insure a
full recovery, with the result being a healthy business that is able to
function better than ever.
In any normal, healthy business relationship, two parties seek a win-win. But in the software partner world, you really need to hit a triple – a win-win-win. In order to truly succeed you need the partner, the software vendor and the end customer all to win. You can’t afford to compromise the success of one for the success of another; you need a perfect trifecta. At the recent SAP Partner Summit immediately preceding SapphireNow 2018 it struck me the odds had never been better for a trifecta, not only in SAP’s home turf of the large enterprise, but also in the world of small to medium size businesses (SMBs).
While it is often hard to sort through all the different products and messages at events like these, particularly for a company the size and breadth of SAP, one message came through loud and clear: SAP needs partners, particularly in the SMB space. The partners are the trusted advisors and the face of SAP. The partners are faster, more nimble and more appropriately sized for dealing with smaller companies that might be intimidated by the likes of SAP, the 800 pound gorilla of ERP.
Many seem to forget (or ignore) the fact that SAP has a huge presence in the SMB market for ERP. Even competitors dismiss SAP as a threat in this space. Agreed, these competitors aren’t seeing SAP in deals, but they should be seeing its channel partners. SAP has one of the most mature partner programs in the industry. It works exclusively through channels in the SMB space and therefore has a vested interest in attracting new partners, and helping and empowering new and existing partners to actively pursue new business more effectively and at a lower cost of sale. More partners means more feet on the street , a broader reach into new geographic territories and even new industry sectors. Quite often partners bring specific and very deep industry expertise.
With over 60,000 customers using SAP Business One and about 4,000 using SAP Business ByDesign, how is it legitimately possible to dismiss SAP as a competitive threat in the SMB market? If those competitors are not seeing these products in competitive situations, that tells me there are a lot deals they just aren’t getting into.
But the 100% channel focus down market is not new. Why are the odds stacked in favor of SAP and its SMB-focused partners now? Let’s back up a little and examine motives here.
What Vendors and Partners Want
During the summer of 2013 Mint Jutras conducted a research project designed to provide insights to enterprise applications vendors engaged in developing and maintaining partner strategies. The study collected input from two different communities: the end users that consume enterprise applications and the solution providers that author and/or sell the solutions. “Solution providers” included both vendors that “manufacture” and “publish” the solutions, as well as their partners. While the data collected is now five years old, many of the insights gleaned are still very relevant today.
The study found the single most important objective of the vendors (in engaging with partners) was expanding their addressable market. SAP seems no different today. Growth would appear to be a high priority. But markets can be expanded in different ways, including geographical expansion into new territories, adding new industries or macro-vertical markets, or expanding within existing industries or verticals by diving deeper into micro-verticals.
Hold that thought for a moment!
So what do these partners look for in a partnership? Figure 1 gives us a general sense of priorities. While priorities vary significantly, the top priority is clearly the quality and functionality of the product itself. Sixty-six percent (66%) of partners interviewed rated this at the very top of the list.
Figure 1: Priorities in choosing a vendor to partner with
Source: Mint Jutras Partner Strategies Study Note: While partners were asked to sequence these from 1 to 8 where 1 was most important, the scaling was reversed in the analysis. The higher the number presented, the higher the priority
So what do these two perspectives tell us? The ERP product itself is key to the success of both the vendor and the partners. And I would also argue it is very important to the end customer too. The latest (re-)organization around the SMB product offerings at SAP, along with the introduction of a platform approach to development, lead me to believe SAP also agrees with that conclusion.
SAP Business One is becoming more than just ERP. It is becoming a business process platform. That means it will be open, extensible, and poised to meet very specific needs across many different verticals… and fully capable of being delivered through the cloud as a service.
SAP continues to invest (and invest heavily) in the ongoing development of the generic core ERP, including new features and functions, as well as the user experience. It will also invest in the underlying architecture and technologies that enable partners to more easily enhance and extend the solution for the specific needs of different vertical, and in some cases even more specialized micro vertical industries.
Remember I told you to hold that thought about micro-verticals?
Many of SAP’s partners have been developing extensions to SAP Business One for years. It is part of the value they add. Yet up until now they have also been very likely to customize the software for individual customers. Yet some have approached it differently – I would say they are being smarter in packaging up specialized functionality for specific verticals. For example:
Produmex offers solutions for industry verticals including life sciences, consumer products, food & beverage, wholesale & distribution, including third party logistic providers (3PLS).
Liberali offers SAP Business One with complementary solutions for agriculture management.
VistaVu Solutions specializes in industrial field service companies, including those in the oil and gas industry.
beas Manufacturing offers a bit more generalized solution, but specifically for manufacturing.
These are just a few of the hundreds of partners that have been creating add-on solutions that complement SAP Business One for years. The plan now is to open up the platform, making it more extensible (i.e. easier to add new functionality) while preserving the integrity of the core. SAP will encourage loose coupling of these extensions through modern APIs (application programming interfaces) and discourage invasive customization.
Now SAP is taking this one step further. It has combined the development teams for SAP Business One and SAP Business ByDesign to further encourage development of shared components. Where new features and functions require deep and complex integration with existing code (on either product), they might (still) be embedded in the existing product. A new field service mobile app for SAP Business One is a perfect example.
But where the new component has a limited number of touch points with the existing product, it can be loosely coupled. In these cases it will be developed once and simply connected to one (or both) using product specific APIs.
While obviously a win for SAP, why is this a win for the partners? The partner gets more product to sell to a larger audience (both installed bases combined). This of course is further encouragement for SAP Business One partners (the larger of the two partner communities) to take Business ByDesign into their own stable of products to sell. For partners that might be starting to hit a ceiling with Business One (for size and multi-company requirements), it allows them to continue up market a bit as well.
What About Customers?
Quite simply, the customers get more innovation, faster. So how important is this? In our study we also asked the customers to prioritize the different types of value add they might look for from a partner. Figure 2 shows the results. (Note: Hopefully I haven’t confused you. Forgive me, but I got a little lazy here and did not reverse the scaling as I did in the previous figure. Here, the lower the number, the higher the priority.)
Figure 2: Customer Priorities for “Value-Add”
Source: Mint Jutras Partner Strategies Study
Note: Customers were asked to sequence these from 1 to 6 where 1 was most important. We DID NOT reverse scaling in this analysis. The lower the number presented, the higher the priority
The important take-away here is that functionality is key. Over the years customers have been conditioned to expect and request additional functionality in terms of customization, which has been invasive and often built barriers to applying further innovation. We hope that in the future these types of requests will be satisfied, not by invasive customization, but by extending the solution. SAP is providing the architectures, tools and technology to make this happen, but it will require a culture shift for both customers and partners to embrace this new approach.
To further drive that point home, there currently exists about 3,500 add-ons to SAP Business ByDesign and 60% of ByDesign customers use at least one. As a multi-tenant SaaS solution it was never possible to develop modifications with invasive code changes, so ByDesign Is already a step ahead of Business One in this regard. But it is not quite “there” yet, as evidenced by the fact that most are still one-offs. So that culture shift amongst customers and partners still needs to happen.
To that end, SAP is not only supplying the development platform on which to base this shift, but also a digital commerce platform. There is a whole new team at SAP dedicated to this kind of digital transformation. According to Bertram Schulte, SAP’s chief digital officer, “The ability to represent our ecosystem offerings side-by-side with related SAP IP [intellectual property] on sap.com is powered by the SAP App Center. We have over 1,500 applications from 1,100+ partners that provide the type of open marketplace where our customers can find the solutions they are looking for.” For SAP customers, searching for, finding and purchasing a new add-on solution is facilitated. I don’t believe this will have a major impact on the acquisition of a new ERP customer, but once you are a customer, the whole process from start to end is dead simple.
Click here to listen to Bertam talk about this digital transformation.
So, are you a betting man or woman? What do you think the odds are that SAP, along with its partners and customers in the SMB space, can hit a trifecta? Will SAP be successful in growing its business in a way that is lucrative for its partners and satisfies the needs of its customers? Where are we in terms of this culture shift to last mile functionality through extensions rather than customization? Who stands to gain the most? Does anyone stand to lose? Is everyone ready for some change?
It has been almost 10 years since SAP Business ByDesign was first introduced. This enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution has always and only been offered as software as a service (SaaS). It was born in the cloud and launched in September 2007 with great fanfare. This came at a time when SaaS ERP solutions were still quite rare and just beginning to gain acceptance. Since then it has been deployed in more than 3,600 companies in 109 countries. And yet while customers seem very happy with their choice of solutions, in many ways SAP Business ByDesign is the Rodney Dangerfield of ERP – it just doesn’t seem to get any respect. While some of its most direct competitors would be thrilled with the level of success it has achieved, somehow pundits and some industry observers just won’t give SAP a break on the ByDesign front. Rumors of its death have surfaced periodically, and yet it lives on, but quietly. Perhaps that “quiet” is to blame for the apparent lack of respect. Perhaps it is time for SAP to raise the volume and build trust in the market, beyond its customer ranks.
The Evolution of SAP Business ByDesign
Before SAP Business ByDesign was first introduced, SAP already had two ERP products and deep market penetration. SAP ERP (which has gone through its own evolution and several different names) targeted the large (and very large) enterprise, while SAP Business One was aimed at small to mid-size businesses (SMBs). There was (is) also SAP Business All-in-One, but in reality that was never a separate product, but rather SAP ERP packaged with “best practices” aimed at simplifying the (large enterprise) solution for mid-size businesses in specific industries.
In order to offer a SaaS solution, SAP could have taken a few different paths, including moving either of these products to the cloud. SAP ERP was the more robust solution, but to come down market, it would have had to shed some of that complexity or be overkill for an SMB or even for a subsidiary or division of a large enterprise.
Ultimately, starting over allowed SAP to architect the solution specifically for the cloud, drawing on acquired and organically developed leading edge infrastructure. And even more importantly, SAP was able to draw on the thousands of person-years of experience accumulated by its staff in addressing the needs of the large enterprise. After all, the needs of mid-size companies are not all that different from the needs of their larger counterparts. But they don’t have the deep pockets of a large enterprise and can’t afford the time it takes to wade through the complexities that had evolved with the large enterprise solution. The initial goal of SAP Business ByDesign was to simplify for the mid-market, while also delivering a 100% cloud-based solution, a clear differentiator at the time.
Both of those goals were achieved early on in its life, but that proved not to be enough. The earliest version of SAP Business ByDesign was a single-tenant solution. While the first charter customers were perfectly happy with this choice, SAP was not. Single tenancy proved to be an obstacle to the profitability needed to sustain a level of aggressive development of both the software and the market. This resulted in the need to re-architect the product, causing SAP to go quiet as it developed this new architecture.
The re-architected SAP Business ByDesign became the platform of choice for development of all cloud offerings at SAP – for a time. But then came the acquisition of SuccessFactors and the accompanying infusion of “cloud DNA”. All of a sudden the ByDesign platform wasn’t important. The powers that be at the time (SapphireNow May 2012) said, “Customers don’t care about platforms. They only care about beautiful applications.”
Then came Sapphire Madrid (November 2012) and there was a new platform in town: The HANA platform. It was decreed that SAP Business ByDesign must now run on HANA, SAP’s “game changing” in-memory database and the basis for this cloud platform. From a database perspective, SAP Business ByDesign gained little from this since it already had in-memory powers built in. The real benefit would come later in conforming to SAP standards and therefore benefiting from technology being developed by other groups (under other budgets). And thus another quiet time ensued as the development team was (again) working under the covers.
What’s Next? A 3-Pronged Strategy
Now that the heavy lifting has been done in terms of re-architecting for the HANA platform, it’s time to kick things into high gear. So, what’s next? SAP has a three-pronged strategy for SAP Business ByDesign:
Deliver best in class innovation
Drive meaningful demand
Develop successful partnerships
Sounds simple, but then the most successful strategies usually are. Interestingly enough, while it was the shifts in platform that kept the lid on SAP Business ByDesign in the past, Mint Jutras believes it will be the platform that could potentially blow the lid off, or at least provide a stronger voice in the future. And the first part of the strategy (best in class innovation) is likely to play a very meaningful role in enabling the other two.
Delivering best in class innovation
Innovation encompasses both technical strength and functionality. The underlying platform brings the technical muscle. But yes, functionality is also still important, and SAP is setting about enhancing the functionality built in to SAP ByDesign, specifically for the core verticals where it has enjoyed the most success. While it has been sold into 29 different industries, its strongest presence is in professional service organizations, wholesale distribution, high tech and consumer products, industrial machinery and components (IM&C), the public sector and higher education. We expect to see the team place more focus on manufacturing and production in the coming months as well.
But SAP will choose where to invest within these industries carefully in order to fill gaps in the market. Higher education provides a good example. SAP has chosen not to invest in student management or student loans, simply because those needs are already well addressed by other solutions. The focus here instead will be on integration.
But integration swings two ways. Solutions for student management or loans are most likely to come from existing or potential partners. But SAP will also be integrating SAP Business ByDesign with apps and tools from its own portfolio. Some of the apps fall into the category of what SAP calls its own “best of breed line of business (LOB)” applications. These include SuccessFactors Employee Central for employee management and Concur for expense management and the Ariba supplier network. It will also take advantage of the business intelligence tools from the Business Objects side of the house and layer analytics on top of SAP Business ByDesign.
The user experience (UX) provides a good example of how the SAP Business ByDesign team is now able to leverage innovation developed by other SAP teams – one of the advantages of the prior work done “under the covers.” The team was able to use the underlying UX libraries created by the teams developing the SAP Fiori apps for SAP ERP. SAP Business ByDesign doesn’t have to develop any style guides. They simply use those developed by the Fiori team. This was how the SAP Business ByDesign team was able to completely renovate its user interface from Silverlight to HTML5 quickly.
The conversion to the HANA platform is SAP Business ByDesign’s ticket to other services as well, services that lead to more features and functions. Like invoice as a service – the ability to take a picture of a document and turn it into an invoice with no optical character recognition (OCR) software required. To the business user, this conversion appears to be magic. The HANA platform is the pixie dust sprinkled on (or rather under) SAP Business ByDesign that makes the magic happen.
And the other advantage of the HANA pixie dust is the dramatic simplification of the data model. How is that possible? Doesn’t the operational and transactional system of record of your business require the same level of complexity, perhaps even more complexity, as even the smallest companies deal in global markets and a digital economy? The simple answer is, “No.”
Think about how and why the data in systems has become more complex. A single transaction needs to capture essentially the same pieces of data it always did. Getting this kind of transactional data into ERP has always been fairly easy. Getting insights, answers and decisions out? Not so easy. Just sorting through all the raw transactional data each and every time you had a question simply took too long, even with simple questions like, “How much inventory do I have?” You couldn’t very well add up all the stock going in and out since the beginning of time. It would simply take too long.
So you had to anticipate what you would need up front and address those needs by adding aggregates (totals). But a single aggregate wasn’t enough. Over time you learned you needed to know the total receipts and issues in a given month. And having monthly totals led you to ask for quarterly and annual totals. You anticipated that and added those aggregates in. It works for a while, but then you find you need those totals by country or region or business unit. But you didn’t anticipate that, so you can’t answer that question without long processing times (to find and add up the transactions), or an invasive and disruptive change to the system. And what happens when you reorganize territories or business units?
The speed of HANA now allows you to eliminate many of those aggregates. For very complex join operations it still makes sense for SAP Business ByDesign to pre-calculate rather than re-calculate each time (and it does). But why bother to keep track of simple transactional data month-to-date, quarter-to-date, year-to-date, by country, region or business unit, when in the blink of an eye you could add it all up? And if all of a sudden you need to slice and dice the data a different way? No problem. And think of the amount of code no longer needed just to maintain those totals. That is development time that can now be spent providing real and impactful innovation. A simplified data model leads to added agility in the solution, which translates into added agility in your business.
The Value of Agility
We live in disruptive times. The 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study found 88% of companies believe they face some level of risk in their businesses and/or industries being disrupted by new innovative products, new ways of selling or pricing existing products or services, entirely new business models, or some combination of all of the above. And then of course there are still the more traditional disruptive factors like expansion and growth, organizational restructuring and regulatory changes, just to name a few. All this disruption can have a cascading impact on business application requirements, making agility – the ability to easily innovate, evolve and change – even more important than current functionality.
Our 2017 Enterprise Solution Study confirmed many solution providers have increased the pace and volume of upgrades (Figure 1).
Figure 1: How has the pace of innovation delivered changed?
Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study
But Mint Jutras knows of no other solution provider other than SAP that has gone down the path of removing aggregates to simplify the data model and the associated code – certainly not to this extent.
Driving Meaningful Demand
So will this innovation immediately drive meaningful demand? Not necessarily and not if SAP remains quiet. It must raise the volume with new and different ways of marketing the solution, new ways that are reflective of how searches for new software are conducted today. Like other functions in any organization today, marketing must go through a digital transformation.
The SAP Business ByDesign team is responding by building out a Digital Demand Generation Engine (DDE). They understand people don’t respond to the same efforts that used to work. They know the majority of B2B potential buyers conduct research outside of the normal 9-to-5 workday. Search engine optimization (SEO) is critical. Does SAP Business ByDesign even show up in online searches? And what happens when it does? The speed with which SAP responds and acts on any inquiries will have a direct impact on whether it is even invited to the party. The goal is to respond immediately 24/7.
This of course, will have a significant impact on its success in the third prong of its strategy. By developing a “virtual agency” that delivers all components of a campaign (emails, landing pages, supporting materials for telemarketing and social media), SAP can provide real (and much needed) marketing support to its partners.
Developing Successful Partnerships
Much of SAP Business ByDesign’s early success was achieved through direct sales efforts. But that has changed. In 2016 partners wrote 70% of SAP Business ByDesign contracts. Indeed it would appear the platform has continued to bolster this transition, as evidenced by the 2,641 partner-built add-ons available today.
This is necessary in order to get to the next level, and if successful could lead to explosive growth. A partner strategy is at the very root of SAP’s prior success in the SMB market with SAP Business One. That means building a successful indirect channel. It may indeed tap into the existing SAP Business One channel, which has grown that installed based to over 55,000 customers, supporting over a million users. Or it could recruit from its competitors. Either way, SAP plans to double the SAP Business ByDesign partner capacity in the next year.
It’s about time for SAP Business ByDesign to leave its Rodney Dangerfield image behind. SAP’s three-pronged strategy for SAP Business ByDesign…
Deliver best in class innovation
Drive meaningful demand
Develop successful partnerships
… seems to cover all the bases. It will continue to invest in the core functions of ERP. In fact SAP has vowed to add an additional 100 developers to the team. It will begin to leverage its investment in the underlying architecture to improve the user experience and integrate to other “best of breed” functionality within its own portfolio, in its partner community and perhaps even beyond.
And it plans to raise the volume of its marketing beyond the whisper that it has been, with the hope of attracting new partners and even more new customers.
In combining these three, Mint Jutras would contend that the platform – the very thing that caused SAP to go quiet in the past – should now be the reason to shout. A word of advice to SAP: Shout loud and clear.
SAP Business One turned 20 last year. If it were a human, that would mean it was poised to enter the prime of its life. If it were a dog, it would be getting very long in the tooth, unable perhaps to learn new tricks. In software years, 20 is often thought of as mature, but equally as often viewed as ancient. Indeed some 20 year old enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions are truly approaching “end of life.” Often referred to as “legacy” solutions, these are the ones that are still based on outdated technology, have changed very little over the last decade or more, and are still based on their original, outdated technology and architectures. Fortunately for the more than 55,000 customers running their businesses with SAP Business One, this ERP solution for small to mid-size businesses (SMBs) has come a very long way since it was first introduced.
But SAP believes it still has a long life ahead and is aggressively planning for the next 20 years. But, just as today’s solution bears very little resemblance to the original single-user system (running on a Mac), the SAP Business One of the future will look, feel and be something different than it is today. SAP Business One is becoming more than just ERP. It is becoming a business process platform. That means it will be open, extensible, and poised to meet very specific needs across many different verticals… and fully capable of being delivered through the cloud as a service.
Why a Platform?
Periodically pundits in the software industry try hard to kill off ERP, largely based on old perceptions. Let’s face it: Nobody recalls the early days of ERP as “the good old days.” Early ERP solutions were rigid and inflexible, hard to install and implement and even harder to use. Functionality was limited (and limiting) and implementations were not for the faint of heart. Horror stories of failed implementations costing millions of dollars were fairly common. For many, those perceptions live on.
Some solution providers jump on this bandwagon and try to reposition their solutions as something else without really changing what they actually do. Is SAP’s move a similar tactic? We think not. We believe it is an indication that the leadership of the SAP SMB team has a firm grasp of the needs of these smaller enterprises and is committed to satisfying those needs.
Over the years, SMBs in general have been turned off by ERP, thinking of it as a huge, disruptive and expensive undertaking. SAP in particular has suffered from these perceptions as a result of its penetration into large, multi-national enterprises. Overlooking the fact that SAP sells a completely different solution to SMBs, many mistakenly believe all ERP implementations to be overwhelmingly complex and overkill for their smaller operations. They fall into the trap of thinking they can get by without it. Or they think they need “something else.” In reality, based on the way Mint Jutras defines ERP, they not only need it, they need ERP and more. We believe this is the rationale behind SAP’s platform approach.
Some of the problems with the early versions of ERP resulted from software vendors trying to be all things to all businesses. With few exceptions, most early solution providers cast a wide net. Unwilling to turn any potential business away without a try, they came to market with very broad solutions. By trying to please everyone, they never had a complete solution for anyone. The 80-20 rule prevailed. Nobody expected a solution to satisfy all their needs (an 80% fit was often the goal), resulting in invasive (and sometimes expensive) customizations that built barriers to further innovation.
SAP seems to agree with our conclusion: All businesses need some flavor of ERP. But a “one size fits all” solution is not the most effective approach, because of the fact they also need “more”. But the “more” needed by a brewery is very different from the “more” needed by the company providing field services to the oil and gas industry, or the fitness club selling gym memberships. Even in food and beverage, the “more” needed by growers is very different than the “more” needed in the poultry industry.
And while brewers, growers, field service providers, fitness clubs and poultry providers all have similar needs in finance, accounting, booking and revenue and inventory management, they are not willing to spend a lot on these back office functions, preferring instead to invest in solutions that help them directly grow their businesses. These companies want to invest in a gym club solution, or a beer brewing solution, or a field service solution, not a generic ERP.
But wouldn’t it be nice if you could satisfy all your needs, including those basic functions, with the specialized solutions that help you directly drive your business? You can if those specialized solutions are built on top of a strong foundation – an ERP platform. That is the plan for SAP Business One.
SAP will continue to invest (and invest heavily) in the ongoing development of the generic core ERP, including new features and functions, as well as the user experience. It will modernize the user interface, including access from mobile devices, and embed analytical capabilities. But perhaps equally, if not more importantly, it will invest in the underlying architecture and technologies that enable partners to more easily enhance and extend the solution for the specific needs of different vertical, and in some cases even more specialized micro vertical industries.
Click here to read the full report on SAP’s plans and Mint Jutras’ analysis please click on the link below (no registration required).
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)
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.
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
Source: 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.