RPA

The Secret Benefits of ERP You Can’t Afford to Ignore

                                                                                    April 2020

And the Key to Unlocking Them

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 Today these perceptions are just as outdated as the solutions to which they apply.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 older technology.

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 started?

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 sizes.

Table 1: Perceived Value of Advanced Technologies

Source: Mint Jutras 2019 Enterprise Solution Study

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 nails.

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 you.

Artificial Intelligence

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 them.

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 legacy solutions.

Automation

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 detected.

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.

Advanced Analytics

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 correct.

Tips For Your Evaluation

Looking for a new ERP solution 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 search.

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.

Not sure where to look for this kind of ROI? I would strongly encourage you to examine these real-world SAP Success Stories.

Conclusion and Recommendations

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:

  • Don’t 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.
  • Need it 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 cost.
  • Set goals 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.

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Purposeful Innovation Helps Deltek Turn Challenges into Opportunity

Deltek is unique within the world of enterprise applications. Focused squarely on meeting the needs of project-driven businesses, on the one hand, it is like hundreds of other solution providers offering some flavor of project management software. On the other hand, it is unique in offering an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) designed specicially for projects-based businesses. Yes, other ERP vendors target similar industries and also offer complementary project management solutions, but no other vendor combines these two software categories quite like Deltek. In the realm of (just) project management, Deltek must face the challenge of differentiating itself in a highly fragmented market. But in creating a software category where only a single vendor qualifies, a different kind of challenge looms. Competitors bring validation.

While Deltek is laser-focused on project-based businesses, this “sector” also brings a tremendous level of diversity. Government contractors are starkly different than advertising, PR and marketing agencies. Architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) differs from legal, healthcare or management and IT consulting services. Energy, oil and gas is different than aerospace and defense. Operating a for-profit business is different than running a nonprofit. Some sectors are heavily regulated; others operate under few constraints. Some manage projects that last days or weeks and others span multiple years. And yet Deltek addresses the needs of all these different types of project-driven businesses – and does it very well.

A general-purpose kind of solution can’t do this effectively, and therefore over the years, through internal development and acquisition, Deltek has collected quite an array of products, leaving it with the added challenge of providing continued innovation across a broad portfolio. And yet it has proven over time its ability to leverage this portfolio to go beyond the traditional 80/20 rule of ERP to deliver last-mile functionality.

And of course, Deltek is confronted with some universal challenges all software companies face today. Technology is rapidly changing the way we do business. At the same time, the workforce is undergoing a generational shift and the access anytime, from anywhere, collaborative promise of the cloud is becoming a “must have.”

Can Deltek’s plans to leverage technology for “purposeful innovation” address these challenges and also unlock the potential for more opportunity for both Deltek itself and its customers? Let’s see.

The Challenge of Being “One of a Kind”

In today’s global, digital economy, competition is fierce and every company strives to differentiate itself. So at first glance, being the only software company competing for market share in a particular software category may appear to be a good thing. Yet while it does put that company in a position of strength, it never means winning business is a slam dunk. Every company has competition, and Deltek is no exception. On the plus side, Deltek recognizes this and never attempts to beat its chest and portray itself as truly “one of a kind.” But, the type of competition it faces will vary depending on what the prospect does and what it sets out to buy.

If a Deltek prospect, say a government contractor, is looking for ERP (think accounting, procurement, inventory, manufacturing, etc.), Deltek will face certain qualified ERP providers. The prospect may not even necessarily think, “I need to find an ERP solution to support my project-based business.” Instead it thinks, “I need a software solution to run my business.” And therefore, Deltek’s differentiation as ERP for project-driven businesses doesn’t necessarily narrow the field of competition at the outset. The door is open for any or all ERP competitors. It then falls on the Deltek sales team to educate the prospect on the differentiating features for a project-based government contractor. When that effort is successful, then the tables are turned and that “one of a kind” status will serve to eliminate the other contenders.

But if the prospect, say a professional services organization, is simply looking for a better way to schedule projects, Deltek has moved away from the “one of a kind” challenge. Here it faces a whole different set of potential competitors in the category of project scheduling software. And this field is  highly fragmented, with offerings that range from simple desktop solutions to robust, multi-faceted solutions for budgeting, project accounting, scheduling, risk management and analytics.

Here oftentimes the issue is the age-old debate between a suite-based solution or a “Best of Breed,” and this debate has been hotly contested for just as long. An integrated suite that provides a complete end-to-end solution (including project management) on which to run your business has been the holy grail of the ERP world for decades. For project-based businesses, this is the premise behind Deltek’s ERP. But if the prospect is just looking for something to help them manage the projects themselves, putting a full ERP solution in front of them will appear as overkill.

To better determine where we stand today in this debate, we asked survey participants in our 2019 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study to choose between a “Suite in a Box” – a complete end-to-end solution that is pre-integrated and ready right “out of the box,” or a more “Best of Breed” approach with a strong core, coupled with the ability to purchase or develop additional functionality and easily (we use the term loosely) connect it back to the core. We recognize the choice is not always so cut and dried, and therefore added some options that are more of a mix but leaning in one direction or the other. Figure 1 paints an interesting picture, made even more interesting in the context of project management.

Figure 1: Which approach is most appealing to you?

Source: Mint Jutras 2019 Enterprise Solution Study

Over time the pendulum has swung back and forth between preferences for the two choices, predicated primarily on two factors. When the debate first emerged, the proponents of an integrated suite pointed to the ease of integration. If you used the functionality built into your ERP, there was no added cost or effort in integrating multiple applications. But the “Best of Breed” camp reasoned against this approach, using the “depth or breadth” argument. They implied integrated suites were a mile wide, but an inch deep, pointing out that the functionality built in was lighter and less feature-rich and definitely not “best of breed.” This is the exact assumption Deltek disproves with its project-based ERP.

And yet, Figure 1 shows the Best of Breed approach is favored over the full suite 2:1. There are actually some very good explanations for this preference amongst project-driven businesses.

Take, for example, a small professional services firm with 10 to 20 consultants. This type of small business may think it is too small for ERP. While Mint Jutras would disagree, we do recognize many might be adequately served by solutions like QuickBooks or desktop or cloud-based simple accounting systems. Yet projects are the lifeblood of their businesses and therefore they need robust tools to schedule and manage those projects.

At the opposite end of the spectrum you might also have large enterprises that have invested heavily in a corporate ERP system chosen for its depth and breadth of administrative and financial capabilities. Many of these corporate ERP solutions lack the operational capabilities required to help the business function efficiently. And therefore, divisions or entire corporations turn to Best of Breed solutions to better manage projects. Deltek not only has that base covered, but also makes it easy to integrate back to any ERP.

Deltek’s broad portfolio of products helps it turn the challenge of being “one of a kind” into a strength. Rather than attempting to serve the varied needs of a very diverse market with a single general purpose, horizontal solution, it offers several different suites targeting the needs of different verticals, as well as a more “best of breed” project and portfolio management solution. But the breadth of its product portfolio comes with its own set of challenges.

The Challenge of Last Mile Functionality in a Diverse Market

The ERP market has long been dominated by the 80/20 rule. 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 complexity, as well as invasive (and sometimes expensive) customizations that built barriers to further innovation.

Deltek has been unique in never succumbing to this 80/20 rule, choosing instead to acquire and develop purpose-built solutions that address the needs of specific industries, including what many view as the elusive “last mile functionality.” Its latest acquisition of ComputerEase is yet another example of this pursuit. ComputerEase is the recognized standard in construction accounting, project management, and field management software for contractors. 

Earlier in the year, Deltek acquired Avitru to bolster its Specification Solutions with a library of master specifications (MasterSpec®), specification writing software and professional and spec-writing services. These are just two examples of how Deltek delivers true last mile functionality to the AEC industry.

While these requirements are very unique to AEC, even functional areas that might seem quite generic to other businesses have some unique characteristics across different project-based businesses. Procurement for government contracts differs (a lot) from procurement in residential or industrial AEC sectors, and these differences carry over into accounts payable , otherwise typically a pretty generic function.

But as different as these businesses are from each other, they always share some common requirements.  General ledger is general ledger, even though projects may carry into the chart of accounts. Cash collection is cash collection. Currency conversion, tax rates and multi-company consolidations are applied universally.

Both of the acquisitions above are examples of how Deltek extends the functionality of its core solutions, rather than embedding features through invasive code changes. Yet the types of (potentially shared) services are typically built into the core solution, rather than included as extensions.

Embedding core functionality is reflective of how ERP has traditionally been built, and Deltek ERP solutions are no exception here. Early ERP solutions were monolithic structures. They were likely comprised of modules (e.g. general ledger, accounts payable, inventory management, purchasing, order management, etc.) and certainly some were optional, but none of these could stand alone. All modules shared a common database and all were developed using the same tools and technology. The good news: they all moved forward in lock step, data redundancy was eliminated along with any need for separate integration efforts. But this approach makes it hard for different solutions to share commonly required features and functions and means Deltek must develop the same or similar functionality within several different software suites.

Disruption: A Contributing Factor

This wasn’t too much of problem when requirements for this type of core functionality were quite stable. That is no longer the case. We live in disruptive times. The pace of change and the pace of technology innovation has accelerated beyond anyone’s expectations and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

We asked our 2018 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study participants to assess the level of risk their industries faced in terms of the potential for disruption.

Figure 2: What risk do you face in your industry being disrupted?

Source: 2018 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study

While all but 10% acknowledged some level of risk, the majority (84%) feel the risk is low to medium rather than high or imminent. Yet we feel compelled to ask the question: How do you think the taxi industry would have answered this question on the eve of the launch of Uber? Nobody saw that disruption coming and therefore few (if any) were adequately prepared.

This type of disruption is unlike the disruption of the past that was largely due to new innovative products. Not only can it bring change almost overnight, but it can fundamentally change the way we do business. That kind of change has a cascading impact on the core requirements of ERP.

Technology Helps

Fortunately, today technology exists that can help companies like Deltek to address new or changed common requirements once and apply that solution across different solutions. This kind of technology is foundational.

While early ERP solutions were rigid, monolithic structures, today’s modern solutions are more component-based, also referred to as microservices architectures. Every technologist in our audience knows a microservice architecture is defined 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. Purists hate this analogy, and yes, it is an over-simplification. But it is an effective analogy that resonates with most business users that don’t have the interest or inclination to dive deep into technical jargon.

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, timber and nails.

With this type of architecture, enhancements, customizations and extensions can be built and consumed much more quickly, and companies like Deltek can develop functionality once and deploy it across multiple products. Not all of Deltek’s solutions today are there yet, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be refactored to take advantage of this kind of technology, and in fact its Vantagepoint product already does.

This noninvasive approach was instrumental in bringing a new, modern user interface, Deltek iAccess, to all its applications. While each Deltek customer will likely be running only one of Deltek’s ERP solutions, Deltek has been delivering more and more functionality via cloud-based add-ons, including Deltek CRM, Deltek Resource Planning and Deltek Talent Management. With iAccess providing that front end across all products, users experience a consistent look and feel throughout, making the integration appear seamless. Mint Jutras expects that this kind of approach will eventually be used to bring change and new innovation to the different cores as well.

In the meantime, iAccess is also a step in the right direction to address another challenge – that of the generational shift in today’s workforce.

The Challenge of A Generational Shift

This generational shift is a given today. Baby Boomers are retiring at an accelerating rate, passing the torch primarily (but not exclusively) to Generation X. But it is not the Gen Xers as much as the Millennials that are creating demand for access to data from anywhere, from any device, with a new and improved user experience. This generation never knew a world without the Internet, smart phones and on-demand access to technology. They never used software that came with (or needed) a user manual. And they are more transient. Employees don’t come to a company and stay forever or even for a long time. As more Baby Boomers retire, the tribal knowledge they have accumulated over decades goes out the door with them, contributing to a skills shortage.

Many of the younger generation have developed a dependency on technology. Without decades of experience, they have come to rely on it to guide them through business processes. At the same time, we’re all asked to do more, and we’d love to accomplish this without working longer hours and making sacrifices. Never before has the home/work life balance been more top of mind.

New intuitive user interfaces, like iAccess, are certainly a giant leap in the right direction. But this is just a start. Deltek is also taking two other, equally important steps through adding automation and intelligence.

Robotic Process Automation for the Mundane

Have you ever secretly wished for a personal assistant who could relieve you of the burden of repetitive, mundane and time-consuming tasks that really don’t require the kind of smarts or skills you hope you bring to your job? If you are a Baby Boomer who launched your career in a business setting back in the 1970’s, you probably had access to the services of a secretary or an administrative assistant. After all, you couldn’t survive without one to help navigate the administrative nightmare of a generation that was completely dependent on paper and manual processes. Today technology has made us far more self-sufficient, but we’re also expected to get more done – a lot more. While nobody misses those golden olden days, everyone from every generation sure could use some help today.

Often called “bots,” Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can in fact relieve employees of repetitive, mundane and time-consuming tasks. RPA is part user interface, making use of natural language processing (think Siri or Alexa for the enterprise) and part artificial intelligence (AI) to help people automate and complete repetitive tasks in a fraction of the time it has always taken, without introducing the occasional (but inevitable) human error. Adding bots to your workforce can boost productivity, thereby helping humans get more of the “real” work done. It sure would be nice if Deltek customers could say, “Hey Deltek! Help me out.”

And so…Deltek is partnering with Alirrium, an authorized reseller of UiPath, a leading Robotic Process Automation software provider, to offer Deltek customers RPA for automating processes within and across Deltek solutions, as well as between Deltek and third party applications.

In addition to natural language processing (NLP) for voice communication, it will also use optical character recognition (OCR) and in the future, combine it with machine learning (ML) in order to turn OCR into ICR or intelligent character recognition. For example, if you take a picture of your receipt, that added intelligence can distinguish a receipt for a meal from a parking receipt. In many of the industries served by Deltek even time and expense reporting is compliance driven. Deltek’s goal therefore is to make it easy by combining mobile, OCR, machine learning and GEO location tracking to not only improve efficiency and assure compliance, but also add a level of intelligence.

Building the Company Brain

While automation is a necessary step in making companies and people more efficient and productive today, it is really just the first step in a longer journey. As noted above, Deltek’s innovation strategy also includes adding intelligence to both processes and decision-making. Deltek views this journey as an evolution of the company brain.

Project-based companies today are awash with data from operations, customers, projects, the workforce… The question is: What to do with all this data. The possibilities are endless to augment human decision-making, making it more predictive with AI and ML. Whether they realize it or not, everyone makes decisions constantly that involve prediction:

  • What is the probably of winning a deal?
  • Is this prospect a good fit?
  • What is the probability of project success?
  • What will be the schedule outcome?
  • Will a vendor deliver on time?
  • What makes an employee a “good employee”?
  • Who should we hire next?
  • How can we improve days sales outstanding (DSO) and cashflow?

In order to make the best decisions, with the most predictable outcome, we consciously or perhaps unconsciously look for patterns in data to determine what makes projects, teams and resources successful.  But the human brain is limited in how much it can examine, absorb and analyze. AI and ML know no such limitations and can operate at speeds that can only be described as super-human. This is power Deltek is looking to leverage.

An early example of this is its recently launched Acumen Touchstone , the first product in the next generation of Deltek’s Project and Portfolio Management (PPM) tools and a key step towards its Project Intelligence Cloud (PIC). According to Deltek:

“The Project Intelligence Cloud is a technology refresh designed to solidify Deltek as the industry leader in the PPM space. This web-based technology will ultimately have many functions designed for project-based business, including cost, schedule and risk management, analytics and workflow.”

The immediate benefit of Deltek Acumen Touchstone is in its time-saving capabilities, automating the project schedule process. Schedule submissions are analyzed using schedule diagnostic AI for quality and deliverability. If it does not meet the required standard, the submitter is automatically emailed a report showing the metric score and deficiencies to be corrected.

This is the kind of purposeful innovation that not only helps Deltek overcome its own challenges, but also assists customers in seizing opportunity.

Wrap Up

In the world of project-driven business, Deltek is both unique and one of many. As a pure play project management solution provider, it must differentiate itself in a fragmented market. It does so through its depth and breadth.

But if you are looking for an ERP solution provider that focuses exclusively on project-based business, there is only one: Deltek. Yes, other ERP vendors target similar industries and also offer complementary project management solutions, but no other vendor combines these two software categories quite like Deltek.

However, the market in which Deltek competes is far from uniform. Government contracting, AEC, A&D, professional services, management consulting, legal, healthcare, creative agencies, energy, oil and gas are all very different from one another. A one size fits all solution simply doesn’t work. Deltek’s broad portfolio of products helps it turn this challenge into a strength. Rather than attempting to serve the varied needs of a very diverse market with a single general purpose, horizontal solution, it offers several different suites targeting the needs of different verticals.

This too presents its own set of challenges, but advanced technologies like microservices architecture, cloud-based computing and all the various forms of AI are the key to turning those challenges into real opportunity. But leveraging technology for technology sake is not the answer. Purposeful innovation that effectively leverages technology to produce real, tangible value is Deltek’s answer. But this is a long and evolutionary process – one that we will be watching closely, not necessarily from afar, but from the outside. If you are a project-based business, you might want to consider watching from inside the fold.

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