Infor Partner Network Continues to Mature

In the End, It’s All About the Customer

Back in February 2015, Mint Jutras observed that The Infor Partner Network (IPN) was coming of age. After four years it had laid a solid foundation with fair contractual terms, rules of engagement and segmentation, marketing programs, training and certification. Entering its 5th year (2015), Infor continued to strengthen those areas, but shifted its focus to help its partners with cloud business enablement, micro-vertical specialization, value engineering and solution portfolio expansion. Those efforts are paying off, as evidenced by more (and larger) deals in the pipeline, more “declared” verticals and value-add extensions to Infor’s CloudSuites. And yes, accelerated movement to the cloud.

All of these efforts are continuing in 2016, but the IPN team is not sitting back and resting on its laurels. Instead it is charging ahead vigorously with new partner enablement programs aimed at attracting more customers through delivering more value. That includes “waking up” existing customers that may be suffering from inertia. And throughout we see increased sensitivity to helping customers and prospects evaluate, select and purchase/subscribe to solutions on their own terms.

Freeing Customers from the Bondage of Legacy Systems

Prior to 2011 (which is when the current management team took the reins) Infor had grown exclusively through acquisition. This resulted in a very broad portfolio of products that includes some very old, legacy solutions. Many of these solutions have retained some very loyal customers, in spite of turmoil and transition throughout the years.

MANMAN is a classic example, originally created and sold by ASK Computer Systems (there are two versions, one vintage 1974 and the other vintage 1984), which was later acquired by Computer Associates and subsequently divested to SSA Global, which was acquired by Infor in 2006. Written in FORTRAN for the HP 3000 and DEC VAX computers, believe it or not, there are still maintenance-paying customers running their businesses on the product. Throughout the years they remained loyal to the product, irrespective of which company owned it.

MANMAN of course is an extreme example, but Infor also owns many other products based on old technology that’s not going anywhere. Throughout these years of acquisition, Infor always promised never to “sunset” a product. Although Infor provides no real innovation to them, it does continue to support these legacy products. On the surface this might seem quite noble, or perhaps simply the right thing to do. But is it? Does Infor (and its predecessors) actually do a disservice to these customers by making it easy to simply stay where they are and continue to be severely limited by this old technology? We understand the fear of disruption of ripping out an existing solution and replacing it, but in reality this fear and these older solutions are holding these customers hostage.

The Software Equivalent of the Stockhom Syndrome?

So are the customers that are refusing to replace these old solutions simply not aware of the capabilities and potential benefits newer solutions can bring? Maybe they simply don’t know how far software has come over the last couple of decades. Or are they suffering from the software equivalent of the Stockholm syndrome? Mint Jutras suspects there is a little of both at play here. Either way, the Infor partner can play a very significant role… or not. The IPN team is trying very hard to make sure it’s the former, not the latter.

The Stockholm syndrome, also called “capture-bonding,” is a phenomenon where those held captive start to identify and sympathize with and defend their captors. Older solutions prevent their users from achieving the interoperability, collaboration, visibility and transparency needed to maintain a competitive edge today, not to mention the inefficiencies that result. Older solutions (and their customers) suffer from lack of features and functions and clumsy user interfaces that are anything but intuitive and “beautiful.” And yet the users of these solutions often complain about them on the one hand, demanding more features and functions, and vigorously defend them on the other.

This phenomenon is not confined exclusively to the Infor customer base. We find evidence of this in some of the questions we place in our Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies. We capture satisfaction, levels of automation and digitization, buying intentions, as well as preferences and perceptions about Software as a Service (SaaS) and cloud. SaaS and cloud provide a perfect example of how older software can take you hostage.

For years now we have been asking a hypothetical question: If you were selecting a solution today, which deployment options would you consider?

We define the different deployment options as follows:

  • Software as a Service (SaaS): Software is delivered only as a service. It is not delivered on a CD or other media to be loaded on your own (or another party’s) computer.
  • Hosted and managed by your ERP vendor: Software is licensed by you but you pay your ERP vendor to manage and maintain (host) hardware and software.
  • Hosted by an independent 3rd party: Software is licensed by you but you pay another party to manage and maintain (host) hardware and software.
  • Traditional licensed on-premise: You license the software and are responsible for managing and maintaining it on your own premises.
  • Hybrid: Parts are licensed and maintained on premise and parts (e.g. add-on modules) are cloud (SaaS or hosted).

The most popular deployment option is now SaaS and less than 30% of participants will even consider a traditional on-premise solution (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Which deployment options would you consider today?

IPN Figure 1Source: Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies

* This option was added in 2015

Given the preference here, you might expect cloud solutions to dominate over the next few years, right? Wrong.

We went on to capture the percentage of all business software (not just ERP) that is now or will be SaaS over the next 10 years and beyond (Figure 2). While that percentage increases steadily over that time period, there is no hockey stick growth here.

Figure 2: What percentage of all your business software is/will be SaaS?

IPN Figure 2Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

The reason? There are just so many solutions already installed on-premise. Yet while less than a third would even consider an on-premise solution today, we don’t find an overwhelming percentage with immediate plans to replace those that currently exist (Figure 3). Even though many are underperforming.

Figure 3: Do you intend to purchase a new solution within 2 years?

IPN Figure 3Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

We offer these general observations in an attempt to understand what is going on in the Infor installed base, where there is an unusually high number of legacy solutions still in place, even after all these years. If these customers are anything like the rest of the ERP population represented by our survey sample, they could use a little push. Here’s where the Infor partners come in.

By now, most customers running these older solutions “get” the fact that the stream of innovation has slowed or, in some cases, completely stopped. So they turn to partners for consulting and customization. Those partners that continue to only sell and provide services around these older products are contributing to the problem. Of course it is good they can continue to support these long-time customers, but they should be educating customers on the advantages and benefits of moving to a newer, technology-enabled next generation solution. With over 90,000 customers, Infor relies heavily on the partners for customer intimacy. And of course, Infor wants to stack the deck in favor of that next generation solution being one its industry-specific CloudSuites.

Before that can happen, the partners also need to be convinced this is the key to continued growth and success in their own businesses. Those that simply ride this customization and consulting business into retirement will not be influencers or participants in the Infor community (or the digital economy) for the long term.

Up until recently many partners chose to stay in their own comfort zones. But that is starting to change and even die-hard Visual, Adage, Baan, PRMS (and other) partners that were inherited from acquisition are starting to come around. Infor is encouraging these partners to take on new products and even “declare a major” around one of its vertical CloudSuites, perhaps with one or more micro-verticals.

Encouragement is backed up with serious investment in helping these partners make the transition. As more partners take advantage of Infor’s investment, this is good news for their customers. It means they are committing to stay in for the long haul, and can provide continuity even as the customers modernize. And perhaps they can provide that added “push” to do so.

Infor CloudSuite Academy

Infor’s CloudSuite Academy is one such investment. It is a series of practical training courses designed to help alliance and channel partners jump-start their Infor CloudSuite businesses. The first session a partner attends concentrates on product. All of Infor’s CloudSuites are (as the name implies) suites of individual products. There is quite a variety of different industry-specific CloudSuites, as well as several “horizontal” CloudSuites that might be sold stand-alone or in conjunction with one of the industry CloudSuites.

At the core of each of the industry-specific CloudSuites is an ERP solution. Yet while there are 15 different industry CloudSuites, they are not powered by 15 different ERP solutions. For example, both CloudSuite Fashion and CloudSuite Food & Beverage are powered by M3. CloudSuite Industrial and CloudSuite Business are powered by Syteline. Lawson S3 powers CloudSuite Financial, CloudSuite Healthcare, CloudSuite Hospitality and CloudSuite Public Sector.

It’s actually a challenge to keep them all sorted out. The good news: Customers don’t have to keep them all straight. Customers just care about their industry and what is included as part of the Suite and perhaps the (optional) add-ons. In some industrial sectors for example, Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) would be part of the suite, while it would be an optional add-on for others.

This may get a little trickier for the partners, particularly those selling into more than one vertical. But in fact each partner is most likely to concentrate on a particular ERP solution and then move out from the product to perhaps include a multiple of the CloudSuites powered by that ERP. From a market perspective it really doesn’t matter what is under the covers, but it certainly does from a support and service perspective. Partners need to know their stuff in terms of both industry, as well as software solution. So the CloudSuite Academy product training extends beyond the core ERP to the other complementary solutions included in the suite.

Other CloudSuite Academy sessions follow with a comprehensive agenda for partner business owners, management and practice managers. They include sessions on the process of marketing, selling, supporting and renewing cloud business, as well as value engineering (benchmarking results). And the most recent sessions have also featured other partners sharing tips for a successful transition to the cloud.

While all the CloudSuites are available as multi-tenant SaaS solutions, they can also be purchased and deployed either as single-tenant SaaS or on-premise, allowing customers to choose their own path on their individual journeys to modernization. The end goal is to better enable the Infor partner to become an effective and knowledgeable guide in that journey.

The Prospect’s Journey

In order for an Infor partner to have a thriving business, it is not enough to just service existing customers. Partners must also be in search of new customers – new to the partner and new to Infor. That means they must also provide the same level of consultative service to prospects. Today this assistance is required even before a prospect becomes a prospect.

Percentages vary depending on the source of the data, but industry observers today agree that most prospects conduct between 60% and 70% of their evaluations before ever reaching out to a potential solution provider. This includes researching aspects of their goals and aspirations, as well as different technologies. And it all starts online. These researchers are first looking to educate themselves. Only after that education is well underway are they open to discovering a potential solution and solution provider. Marketing materials that are thinly disguised sales pitches provide little value in this research.

Which is why Infor is investing so heavily in providing educational materials authored not only by Infor employees (subject matter experts), but also by industry thought leaders. Topics include digital transformation, the factory of the future (think Internet of Things) and omni-channel, as well as more traditional topics such as improving profitability and productivity. Infor is investing in research and reporting on these topics so that you, the prospective or current customer, doesn’t have to.

The benefit to the customers is direct, providing impartial and objective materials for their research. The benefit to the partner is a bit subtler, but equally clear. A well-educated prospect is a better-qualified lead. The partner’s role will be in helping the prospect to understand how Infor solutions can help address those needs. This is where “value engineering” skills are paramount.

Infor is also providing tools and training to assist partners in this phase as well, by helping partners to help customers engineer more value from their solutions. This training introduces a methodology that supports a more strategic way of doing discovery – discovery of the potential for improvement in alignment with the goals of the customer. It includes “discovery templates” for 16 solutions and industries, which assist in benchmarking current performance and quantifying opportunities for improvement.

It also helps the customer when the partner truly understands its business. While it is quite common for solution providers (and their partners) to specialize in a general category like manufacturing or distribution, Infor, with its CloudSuites, goes a step further into industries like food & beverage, aerospace and defense, automotive, industrial machinery, etc.

But Infor then encourages partners to go even a step further. Instead of “just” specializing in an industry like food & beverage, Infor is looking for partners to specialize in micro-verticals like dairy, bakery, grains and cereals or prepared foods. It is through this more focused specialization that partners can showcase unique strengths and capabilities and Infor customers can better achieve the “last mile” of features and functions that so often eludes customers and forces them down a path of customization.

Summary and Key Take-aways

Infor’s Partner Network continues to mature. While it has already come a very long way, we don’t see the IPN team slowing down any time soon. With the strength of Infor’s portfolio of technology and applications, and the support of a dedicated IPN team, partners still have a long runway ahead of them to continue to build speed and momentum.

Yet too many Infor customers have built their own roadblocks along that runway, allowing themselves to be held hostage by their own aging solutions. It now falls to the partners to help those customers overcome the software equivalent of the Stockholm Syndrome. Even while they continue to support those customers running legacy solutions, partners must now make them understand they are indeed bound by these limitations. They must educate them on the potential benefits of newer, more modern and technology-enabled solutions and then lead them out of bondage.

Education and thought leadership is a key part of the process for not only these legacy customers, but also new prospective customers. Recognizing that the way enterprise software is bought and sold has dramatically changed over the past decade, Infor has brought resources to bear to help partners transition to this new world, giving them the skills to bring both customers and prospects alike along on that journey. Will you come along?

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Host Analytics: Where Planning and Performance Management Meet

Today we live in a new world where the Internet levels the playing field for small, mid-size and large enterprises, breaking down barriers to entering new emerging markets. And yet we also face new challenges with rapidly changing commodity prices, fluctuating exchange and interest rates and an accelerating pace of business across a global economy. Whether you are looking to grow and expand or just accelerate profits, you need a plan.

A recent Mint Jutras report posed the question: Is Planning & Performance Management a Marriage Made In Heaven? We concluded that having a comprehensive plan is the first step towards achieving any specific outcome. But to optimize growth and profits, that plan needs to be a living plan, capable of evolving as goals and business conditions change. The key to breathing life into your plan is to actively link it to enterprise performance management. While that might seem intuitively obvious, too often the plan simply goes on the shelf as you go about business as usual. To monitor, manage and predict performance against the plan, you need to marry the right solutions with the right data.

The tools available to help you succeed range from spreadsheets to suites of applications that also might range from simple, basic tools to comprehensive solutions built on modern, enabling technology. Host Analytics provides a comprehensive Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) platform that is simple and affordable enough for the small to mid-size enterprise, but comprehensive and robust enough to support a growing mid-size company as it transforms itself into a large enterprise. Delivering its solution exclusively as Software as a Service (SaaS), Host prides itself in offering an EPM solution you can’t outgrow.

The Right Mix

In our report, Is Planning & Performance Management a Marriage Made In Heaven? we found companies with World Class implementations use a more extensive set of tools to plan, monitor and manage performance (Figure 1). The tools shown in the figure below fall into four general categories: specific applications, reporting, analytics, and, of course, the ubiquitous spreadsheet. Host Analytics provides the first three as part of a comprehensive suite and also helps you control the inevitable use of spreadsheets.

Figure 1: Tools To Monitor, Plan and Predict Corporate Performance

Host Figure 1Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

Note that Mint defines “World Class” in terms of the performance of the implementation of enterprise software that runs the business. Survey responses are used to measure cost savings and other improvements since implementation, progress made in achieving goals and selected current performance metrics that can apply universally to any business. The top 15% in performance is categorized as “World Class” and the remaining 85% are referred to as “All Others.”

While its solution is quite comprehensive today, being a cloud-only solution allows Host Analytics to offer frequent enhancements and improvements through monthly maintenance releases and quarterly feature releases. Over the past year Host Analytics has delivered about 185 enhancements and announced some very strategic partnerships. Key investment areas include:

  • User Experience
  • Performance
  • Consolidation
  • Data integration
  • Planning
  • Modeling
  • Productivity
  • Analytics
  • Security

“We Speak Finance, not Klingon”

According to Dave Kellogg, Host Analytics’ CEO, “Our first language is finance.” Hence the applications delivered serve the office of finance. He goes on to clarify with, “We speak finance, not Klingon.” That tongue in cheek reference to the language of the alien culture encountered in the journey of the USS Enterprise (of Star Trek fame) is a subtle reference to competitors who speak only in the language of information technology (IT), which will mean little to the finance department.

As an interesting side note, the Klingons appeared in the original Star Trek series as enemies of the Starfleet Federation, but became allies in later generations of the entertainment franchise. We can only assume Mr. Kellogg is referring to Klingon in those later series because Host Analytics is actually quite IT-friendly, building on a modern technology foundation. Certainly IT is not viewed as the enemy, even if the staff does speak a different language.

However, Mr. Kellogg goes on to point out that while those in the office of finance might speak finance, they don’t care exclusively about finance. They care about the performance of all departments and disciplines across the enterprise. This is an important factor, and one covered in depth in our prior report. You need more than a financial plan. You also need an operational plan. This could potentially present a problem to a solution provider focused exclusively on the office of finance, which is why it weighs heavily in determining Host Analytics’ strategic approach to its product portfolio.

Focus, Partner and Unite

Mr. Kellogg described the company’s strategic approach at the recent Host Analytics World 2016. “We have three options to choose from. As a solution provider we could ignore the problem. But that would most likely mean the plan would be retired to a drawer and used only for executive compensation purposes. We could go a mile wide and an inch deep, attempting to build functional performance management applications for all functions. Or we could focus, partner and unite.”

Host Analytics chooses the third option, focusing on building financial apps and partnering with other companies that speak the languages of supply chain, manufacturing, services, marketing, sales, etc. Key to that decision: Host allows partners to build these apps within its Modeling Cloud. When they do, Host can bring the financial plan together with the full operational plan in a single cloud model. In doing so, Host is hoping to eliminate the need for “shadow finance” organizations that tend to spring up across the enterprise when departmental and functional needs aren’t met by a financial (only) plan.

Planning modules within the suite allow you to plan, budget, forecast and report all from one application. Modeling helps you create operational plans that align with financial plans. Multidimensional modeling helps you anticipate outcomes using financial and non-financial drivers. New dimensions can be added for granular “what if?” scenarios.

Analytics Tie It All Together: Think Quick and Qlik

Analytics are important tools in bringing the financial and operational plan together. In our prior report we noted that World Class implementations were 43% to 180% more likely to use various types of analytics.

Host Analytics has had a long-standing relationship with Qlik, who is also its customer. That relationship has now been strengthened and Qlik is embedded within the Host Analytics suite. No more exports from Host to Qlik required. Access and data is available in real time right from Host.

This partnership and integration brings data discovery and visualization tools to the Host Analytics suite. Pre-built dashboards can be easily tailored and configured by business users, adding a level of self-service and independence for the business user without over-reliance on IT. Presentation quality story boards can be created and integrated with Host’s Financial Package Publisher. The (combined) solution becomes browser agnostic (Windows and Mac), and fully supports mobile devices.

Direct integration with Host financial data comes right out of the box, but customers and partners will also be able to integrate other models and third party applications in order to mash up data from a variety of sources. Host has also expanded in-memory support and implemented incremental updates of data cubes and dashboards. Early results have yielded 50% to 90% improvements in performance across various planning and reporting scenarios.

Expanding the Circle: Workforce Planning & Analytics

While Host Analytics’ primary focus is on financials, it is not drawing a circle too tightly around finance. In fact it is expanding its boundaries to include an element of workforce management, including the delivery of workforce planning and analytics. Workforce planning is a logical extension of the financial plan since headcount determination and resulting costs are often included as part of the financial plan. The new analytics will provide improved visibility to headcount, compensation, benefits, open requisitions and other employee detail. But for more specific planning activities, such as incentive compensation planning, Host has chosen a partner that speaks that language. A partnership and integration with Xactly was also announced at Host Analytics World 2016.

How Does Host Analytics Stack Up?

We concluded our prior report with a checklist of sorts to be used in looking for a solution that effectively manages planning and performance management. So how does Host Analytics stack up?

  • Look for planning and performance management tools that complement each other. While Host positions itself as an EPM player, its planning and modeling capabilities are a good fit for many companies, particularly in the small to mid-size range. While the volumes very large enterprises must deal with might have over-taxed its solution in the past, the new in-memory capabilities might just address that.
  • Make sure you can connect your overall financial plan to your operational plan. Host Analytics focuses on the financial plan, but has recently expanded to include workforce planning. Partners are required for other operational plans, but the partnership and integration with Qlik should help bring it all together in the end, provided the necessary operational plans are available. Expect some setup work to be required if bringing together data from applications in third party applications, but those offered by certified Host partners should slide in more easily.
  • Select tools that encourage rather than prohibit collaboration. Host Analytics has embedded social collaboration with in-context discussion threads and activity streams and the ability to annotate a plan. Host has partnered with SocialCast, but also supports integration with other collaboration tools such as Slack and Yammer. In addition, new “reporting” capabilities also support export to Google Sheets and Google Drive and Host will continue to build out this integration for bi-directional updates.
  • Consider a cloud approach. Host Analytics’ solution is delivered entirely and exclusively as Software as a Service (SaaS).
  • Evaluate not only the traditional desktop/laptop user interface but also the overall user experience, including the ability to support the mobile executive, on the device(s) of choice. Ask for a demo to evaluate the overall User Experience. Host is browser agnostic and adapts well to various devices.
  • Look for solutions that play well with others. Host has designed its solution with this in mind. But don’t be afraid to ask for specifics on your own configuration of solutions.
  • Work with your information technology (IT) staff, but seek a level of independence in the planning and performance management process itself. Think of your most complex test case for planning/modeling. For example, do you need driver-based planning? Host Analytics supports it. But does Host support all the methods and/or algorithms you might need? Make sure you ask. With the embedding of Qlik, data discovery and visualization took a giant leap forward, but always ask for a test drive. It’s one thing to watch an expert make the software sing and dance. How does it look and feel and how flexible is it when you are in the driver’s seat?
  • Understand clearly what kind of reporting and analytics are available right out of the box. Same as above: look at the demo but the proof of tailor-ability is in doing. Again, ask for a test drive.
  • How much data can the solutions handle? How fast can they process it? Host now supports SQL Server 14, which provides new in-memory capabilities. In addition, Qlik dashboards preload all data needed into memory. This combined with the ability to incrementally update reporting cubes and dashboards provides good support for high speed, real-time access to data.


Host Analytics’ claim to be a leader in cloud-based enterprise performance management (EPM) is valid. Its platform of financial applications for modeling, planning, consolidation, reporting and analytics effectively marry the planning and performance management activities in companies from small to large. While Host “speaks finance” it has also created a platform on which partners that speak other functional languages (supply chain, sales, marketing, etc.) can add their own value. Together with those partners, along with its special partnership with Qlik, the happy couple expands to become a true blended family.

If your current financial plan sits in a drawer for the majority of the year…

If you can’t align your financial plans with your operational plans…

If you are struggling to make sense out of a collection of spreadsheets…

If you find yourself in fear of mistakes buried in those spreadsheets leading to bad decisions…

You owe it to yourself to look for a new solution that can help you plan, monitor and manage your performance. But of course, only if you want to maximize your opportunity to optimize growth and profits.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Oracle and NetSuite: Separate Fact from Speculation

Since last week when Oracle announced it had entered into a definitive agreement to acquire NetSuite, I have been amazed at the volume of incorrect information and speculation and opinions thrown around as fact. Just this morning I read an article referencing the projected $9.3 billion transaction as the largest acquisition by Oracle since the Peoplesoft acquisition for $10.4 billion in 2014. Well… the author was only off by about a decade. Oracle announced the proposed merger in 2004 but the deal was not consummated until 2005. The article also stated that Oracle would run NetSuite as an independent company. That too is inaccurate. What Mark Hurd was quoted in the press release as saying was, “Oracle and NetSuite cloud applications are complementary, and will coexist in the marketplace forever. We intend to invest heavily in both products—engineering and distribution.” That is a far cry from saying the company would stay independent.

These are just a couple of examples. Many others are disclosing “the real reasons” for the acquisition as fact, when in fact these are just opinions and personal conclusions. I stayed silent because I never simply regurgitate a press release, and beyond the price of the offer and a few quotes by Oracle co-CEOs, NetSuite founder, CTO and chairman, Evan Goldberg and NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson, everything else is just speculation. NetSuite can’t talk about it and Oracle won’t. But with all the commentary, I feel compelled to remind my readers not to misinterpret opinions as fact.

I consider myself somewhat of a reluctant expert in M&A. During my 40+ year career I have survived 15 of them, sometimes as the acquirer, sometimes as the one acquired. Sometimes I was intimately involved in the details; other times I simply observed from the sidelines. Acquisitions often generate excitement, but also fear, uncertainty and doubt. Sometimes they go smoothly, but more often they are disruptive – to the companies involved, the individuals (employees) and even sometimes the market. In the end, they can be very unpredictable.

There are a few very common motivations for one company acquiring another:

  • Grab market share: Some companies would prefer to acquire new customers in blocks of hundreds or thousands, rather than closing them one by one. This can apply to grabbing more share of your existing market or entering a new one.
  • Fill a product and/or talent gap: It can be far easier to acquire functionality than to develop it yourself. This can make the company more competitive, provide cross-sell and up-sell opportunity, or both. But don’t assume there is any M&A pixie dust that will magically integrate products overnight.
  • Upgrade technology: Similar to filling a product gap, but at the foundational level. It is much easier to build a new product from scratch with newer technology (or acquire one) than to retrofit new technology into old products.
  • Eliminate a competitive threat: If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em.

So… what do I think is the motivation behind this acquisition? I think it is mostly about cloud market share. Of course, this is my opinion, but Larry Ellison’s stated goal of being the first company to reach $10 billion in cloud revenue is a pretty good hint. A secondary factor may very well be the cloud DNA, so to speak, that would come with a company and solution born in the cloud.

And there is no doubt in my mind that is the direction most prospective buyers are pointed in as well. I have been asking the same hypothetical question in my enterprise solution studies for the past 10 years: If you were to select a solution today, which deployment options would you consider? While back in the 2006-2007 time period less than 10% would even consider SaaS ERP (back then I called ERP the last bastion of resistance to SaaS), those preferences have slowly shifted. Between 2011 and 2013 the percentage that would even consider a traditional on-premise deployment dropped off a cliff and today SaaS is the most widely preferred option (Figure 1). And while Oracle was late getting out of the SaaS gate, NetSuite was a pioneer.

Figure 1: Deployment Options That Would be Considered for ERP

SaaS Fig 1Source: Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies

But I also believe the other 3 reasons contribute to the attractiveness of NetSuite to Oracle.

Oracle probably already has all the different pieces that NetSuite brings to the table (and more), but NetSuite brings them all together in a seamlessly integrated, end-to-end solution. When I ask my survey respondents to stack rank 10 different selection criteria for ERP, fit and functionality still takes the top spot, but is followed closely by completeness of solution. This is particularly important for small to midsize businesses that don’t have deep pockets or the IT staff to roll their own solution or even integrate different parts. While Oracle does play in the SMB space, NetSuite plays better, as evidenced by some competitive wins against Oracle (usually in the upper midmarket). And it is built on a solid architecture of advanced technology.

So there is a lot on the plus side of the equation for Oracle. What’s in it for NetSuite? If you can believe Zach Nelson’s enthusiasm (his quote: “NetSuite will benefit from Oracle’s global scale and reach to accelerate the availability of our cloud solutions in more industries and more countries. We are excited to join Oracle and accelerate our pace of innovation.”), NetSuite will be able to expand its solution footprint and its global reach faster. Only time will tell on both aspects and a lot depends on how and how well the acquisition is executed and the companies are integrated.

While it is true that NetSuite never achieved a GAAP profit, that was heavily influenced by stock-based compensation and it did not really suffer from cash flow problems. As a result, it also didn’t suffer from a lack of innovation. And there is more overlap between products than some enthusiasts would lead you to believe.

And what about global scale? NetSuite could benefit from Oracle’s global reach. But integrating sales efforts might prove tricky. So the jury is still out on that front as well.

And then there is customer sentiment. Anecdotally, you can find NetSuite customers that made a conscious decision to avoid doing business with Oracle. When the acquisition actually happens, will that cause NetSuite customers to jump ship rather than become Oracle customers? My guess is no. ERP is just too big an investment (of time and money) to make such an emotional decision. Will there be some attrition over time? Probably. But again, a lot depends on how the acquisition is managed and the net impact on support, prices and contracts. NetSuite has never been the cheapest date, so there is not likely to be any immediate sticker shock.

All told, I think there are a lot more questions than answers right now. In the meantime keep your ear to the ground, but be wary of those who think they already have all the answers.


Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Anaplan’s Smart Business Platform

A Different Kind of Platform for Planning

Call something a “platform” today and most people intuitively think of a technology platform – a development tool. In the hands of a skilled information technology (IT) professional, it can do anything and everything. That’s the good news. The bad news is, business leaders must rely on limited IT staff to deliver all the functionality required to do their jobs. As a result, business leaders typically prefer pre-built business applications.

Now, the good news about these business applications is they are purpose-built to perform the functions needed right out of the box. The bad news: Those pre-built applications might not operate exactly as needed. So either the business leaders make some compromises or they get back in line and wait for the IT staff to work their magic.

What if you could have the best of both worlds – a platform that is flexible enough to adapt to your specific needs, but easy enough for a nontechnical business user to design, set up and configure? What if it was available with some “use cases” pre-built to use as a starting point in building your own? That’s exactly what Anaplan set out to deliver with its cloud planning platform. The team at Anaplan calls it “The Smart Business Platform™” and it can be used for any combination of financial and operational planning to create an integrated plan for your business.

A Business Platform for Planning

Anaplan focuses exclusively on planning. But in order to make the Anaplan plan a living plan – one that lives and breathes as business conditions and real-life plans change – it fuses planning with performance management.

The pre-built application approach tends to work quite well in supporting business transactions. After all, how many different ways can you move inventory, pay suppliers, invoice customers and collect cash? But when it comes to planning, you enter a whole new world… or rather a whole new set of different worlds.

Not only does each type of business have its own nuances when it comes to planning, all the different functions in the organization approach it completely differently. The finance department needs financial planning and budgeting. Sales operations need sales forecasting. Supply chain planners need sales and operation planning (S&OP) and demand planning. Manufacturing needs inventory planning and optimization and resource planning. Corporate strategists need some combination of revenue, workforce and facility planning. The CFO needs to predict cash flow. The CEO needs visibility across the board. The list goes on.

If you take a purely business application approach to address all of these disciplines, you run the risk of creating a solution that’s a mile wide and an inch deep. So a platform approach to planning makes sense in that it helps you perform all these different kinds of planning in whatever flexible way needed.

But how do you take a platform approach and not become over-reliant on IT? You do what Anaplan has done and turn it into a business platform. What’s the difference? A technology platform is a set of tools for the technologist, while a business platform is a set of tools for the business leader. That’s the first step, but Anaplan didn’t stop there. Anaplan made it The Smart Business Platform™.

It’s smart because it naturally integrates all of the different plans, making it a complete and connected plan, across (potentially) every functional area of the business. It’s smart because it fuses planning and performance management together. You essentially manage performance from the plan. All the reporting and analyses tie back to the plan, which makes it a living, breathing plan. It’s smart because the planning engine uses Anaplan’s patented HyperblockTM calculation engine to perform modeling, including the ability to do simulations prior to making changes. And it’s smart because its in-memory technology gives you the speed needed plan at the right level of granularity, with all the detail you need for accuracy without sacrificing productivity.

Click here to download the full report.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Top 10 Quotes from NetSuite’s SuiteWorld 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Customization is not a dirty word at NetSuite.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“In the cloud economy everything gets more complex.”

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

“Hybrid business models are the new black.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Quotes

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

“Luck should not be a business strategy”

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

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

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

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ACS 606 and IFRS 15 Revenue Recognition Rules Are Coming

Are You Prepared? Intacct Has You Covered.

In May 2014, FASB issued Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2014-9, Revenue from Contracts with Customers (Topic 606). At the same time the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) also issued International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) 15, Revenue from Contracts with Customers. In doing so, these two governing bodies largely achieved convergence, with some very minor discrepancies. These converged standards for revenue recognition go into effect the beginning of 2018 for public entities, and in 2019 for privately held organizations, bringing very significant changes to financial statements and reporting for any company doing business under customer contracts. And of course with these changes come new audit challenges.

“The core principle is that an entity should recognize revenue to depict the transfer of goods or services to customers in an amount that reflects the consideration to which the entity expects to be entitled in exchange for those goods or services.”

Source: FASB ASC 606-10-5-3 and 606-10-10-2 through 10-4

As a result of these changes, revenue is no longer recognized on cash receipt, but instead on the delivery of performance obligations. In summary, there are 5 steps:

  1. Identify the contract with the customer
  2. Identify the performance obligations in the contract
  3. Determine the transaction price for the contract
  4. Allocate the transaction price to the performance obligations
  5. Recognize revenue when or as the entity satisfies the performance obligation

Sounds simple enough, right? Not really. Unless your business is dead simple and you operate on a completely cash basis, the process of billing, accounting for and forecasting revenue, in conjunction with expense and revenue amortization and allocation has never been simple. But with these changes, it is about to get harder – at least for a while.

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

If you are managing billing, accounting and/or revenue forecasting with spreadsheets today… good luck. If you are an Intacct customer, luck is on your side. Earlier this week Intacct announced a new Contract and Revenue Management module. Intacct claims it is the first solution to fully automate the new complexities created by ASC 606 and IFRS 15. They are certainly not the only company working on it. In fact QAD (which targets a completely different market: the world of manufacturing) highlighted its efforts in its own event in Chicago recently. But I have to say, Intacct seems to be right out front leading the charge in helping companies deal with what is sure to be a complex and potentially disruptive transition.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Welcome to the New World of Exact Macola

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Epicor Announces It Will Grow Business, Not Software

Epicor has a new tag line: “[We] grow business, not software.” The declaration is not quite as radical as it would first appear. In fact it appears to me to be much more evolutionary than revolutionary.

Epicor’s mantra for years was “Protect, Extend, Converge.” As in:

  • Protect its customers
  • Extend its solutions
  • Converge its product lines

However, in 2014 it appeared Epicor was diverging a bit from the convergence strategy, primarily as a result of the merger of (the original) Epicor and Activant. Both had grown through acquisition, but while Epicor’s ERP solutions were multi-purpose ERP (focused primarily on discrete manufacturing) and therefore ripe for rationalization, each of Activant’s products was purpose-built for distribution, and over time each had become even more focused and fine-tuned to specific segments of wholesale distribution. And then there was the SolarSoft acquisition (2012), which brought along an ERP which focused on more process-oriented industries, and also a “best of breed” manufacturing execution system (MES). And finally there was Epicor’s retail business, which was actually spun off last year.

So while the “Protect” and “Extend” sentiments of the message are still very much alive, convergence gave way to a new message. Last year, Epicor’s (new) CEO, Joe Cowan declared the company would be “totally focused on the customer.” This year’s tag line seems to me to be a simple extension of that customer focus. Software is not the end goal. The goal is to help Epicor customers grow their businesses. It just so happens Epicor will develop software and provide services to make that happen. And a lot of the software will be delivered as a service, as evidenced by the appearance of a fluffy white cloud in the middle of the tag line.

Epicor tag line

Of course in having a tag line like this, Epicor needs to be careful not to make the message itself too fluffy. And in promising to help customers grow, Epicor will have to execute a delicate balancing act, balancing what the customers say they want and what Epicor knows they need. This is particularly true of those customers still running older legacy solutions. Epicor has promised not to sunset those products. And yet if you really understand the demands and opportunities of the new global, digital economy, you know you can’t be competitive without modern, advanced technologies.

Customers running legacy solutions won’t benefit as much from the latest and greatest development, but that’s not to say they won’t benefit at all. Epicor has been a bit quiet on the technology front for the past few years, but that is not the result of lack of attention. In fact it has been doing a lot, sometimes at the expense of new features and functions. Its advanced technology architecture (ICE), visionary at the time of its initial release circa 2009, has undergone a technology refresh of its own, and it also paves the way forward for both strategic products like Epicor 10, Prophet 21 and others, as well as legacy solutions like Vista and Vantage,  etc.

Now that that refresh is complete (for now… after all, technology continues to advance at an ever-accelerating pace), you’ll see more aggressive development of features and functions. Epicor is picking up the cadence of releases, shooting for twice a year (spring and fall) for its strategic products, which of course will garner more of its resources. But even legacy solutions will benefit from the development of external components, which can be used across different product lines. Prime examples include web portals, dashboards, self-service functions, mobile apps and other new features. And developing these components as web-based services (delivered through the cloud) will have the dual purpose of extending solutions and gently pushing those running primarily (or exclusively) on-premise towards the cloud.

I agree with Epicor’s new CTO, Himanshu Palsule, who called the transition to the cloud “inevitable.” But it won’t happen overnight (Figure 1). Part of the reason for this slower, yet steady growth is the fact that there are so many on-premise solutions in production today. And many remain reluctant to simply rip and replace solutions that are essentially getting the job done.

Figure 1: What percentage of your business software is deployed as SaaS?

Fig 1 EpicorSource: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

In his main stage keynote, Himanshu also (very astutely) observed that for a topic that is so widely discussed, “cloud” is still misunderstood and means different things to different people. My research supports his observation. While many use the terms cloud and SaaS interchangeably (I find myself guilty of this at times), they are not the same. While all SaaS is cloud, not all cloud is SaaS. While only a small percentage (12%) in 2015 didn’t know how they preferred cloud to be delivered, that percentage didn’t shrink in 2016 (Figure 2). There is still some education to be done. If you count yourself among those that “don’t know,” don’t be afraid to ask. You’re not alone.

Figure 2: How would you prefer cloud to be delivered?

Fig 2 EpicorSource: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

I’ve written extensively about the anticipated appeal of SaaS, along with the benefits actually realized. But I wouldn’t disagree with Himanshu’s conclusions about what cloud should stand for:

  • Choice
  • Convenience
  • Cost Control
  • Customization
  • Collaboration

However, I would qualify two of his bullet points. A few years back, my survey participants placed a high value on choice of deployment options. They seemed to like the idea of portability and the ability to move from on-premise to SaaS and from SaaS back to on-premise. Today many are looking for a path that helps them move from on-premise to SaaS, but once they move to SaaS, they almost never go back unless forced to (e.g. they get acquired by a company running a licensed, on-premise solution). So having multiple deployment options available is no longer such a high priority. Prospects simply pre-qualify those solution providers based on the deployment option they prefer.

I agree that choice is important. But it is more important to Epicor as the solution provider than to its customers and prospects. There are still some environments where a real multi-tenant SaaS solution might not be the best choice – at least not right now. These might be heavily regulated industries that require solutions to be certified, and re-certified when they change. Or a heavily customized solution may be required. And customization is the other bullet from Himanshu’s list that needs to be well-qualified.

Not all customizations are created equal. First of all, some simply aren’t needed. They might be left over from an implementation of a solution with far fewer capabilities than available today. Or they might have resulted from a “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality. If customization does not differentiate you in your market, I would seriously question whether it is justified.

Furthermore, customizations can be implemented in a variety of ways. Invasive code changes and SaaS don’t make for a good combination. But if customizations can be added as external components and linked back to ERP through Web APIs, or if they can be implemented through configuring the software without mucking around in the code, they may be perfectly compatible.

So Epicor’s announcement this week of its “cloud-first focus to support digital transformation of wholesale distributors is spot on”. The Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study found wholesale distributors lagging behind other industries in preference for and adoption of SaaS solutions. We also found 47% to 73% still relying heavily on paper for their operational and transactional system of record (customer and purchase orders, expense management, payments, etc.). They lag behind other industries in spite of the fact that ecommerce and their proximity to consumers puts them at a higher risk of disruption from the digital economy. Perhaps this “cloud-first” focus will be the gentle push wholesale distributors might need to start down the path of digital transformation.

Indeed, Epicor says it will be “…doubling-down on helping distributors adapt to these shifting dynamics of the marketplace—with an added focus to ushering customers’ journey to leverage the power of cloud-based solutions to drive increased productivity and achieve a differentiated customer experience to grow their business.”

Indeed wholesale distributors aren’t the only Epicor customers that will benefit from this “doubling-down.” I heard similar plans from the Epicor 10 side of the house, including planned features and functionality, along with efforts to improve simplification and usability. Yes, it’s about the overall user experience, but those driving the products seem to understand it’s not just about the “pretty software” you hear so much about today. As business models change, as technology advances and as new innovative products come to market, Epicor’s product must be easy to use, easy to install, easy to manage, and easy to change when the need arises.

Epicor “gets” it. We’ll be watching to see if it delivers.


Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Unit4’s Self-Driving ERP Gets a Digital Assistant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged , , , , , ,

NetSuite In Transition

 From “Graduations” to Full-Scale Replacements

After years of supporting “graduations” from the likes of QuickBooks and desktop solutions, more and more larger, more well-established companies are turning to cloud native NetSuite for whole-scale replacement of entrenched Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions. This transition comes at an opportune time as the demand for scaleable solutions escalates and the acceptance of software as a service (SaaS) grows. NetSuite OneWorld’s cloud-based ERP, including support for global financial consolidation and embedded omnichannel commerce, along with its scaleable platform that supports customization and extensibility, makes it a viable contender as a replacement strategy for legacy solutions.

Cloud and SaaS, Not Just For the Little Guys

Many confuse the terms cloud and SaaS. In fact Mint Jutras has been guilty of using them interchangeably. But in fact they are not the same and this means not all “cloud” solutions should be viewed as equals.

  • Cloud refers to access to computing, software, storage of data over a network (generally the Internet.) You may have purchased a license for the software and installed it on your own computers or those owned and managed by another company, but your access is through the Internet and therefore through the “cloud,” whether private or public.
  • SaaS is exactly what is implied by the acronym. Software is delivered only as a service. It is not delivered on a CD or other media to be loaded on your own (or another’s) computer. It generally is paid for on a subscription basis and does not reside on your computers at all.

All SaaS is cloud computing, but not all cloud computing is SaaS. Traditional on-premise or hosted solutions might (or might not) be accessed via the cloud, although this is more likely to be a private cloud. NetSuite is a real multi-tenant SaaS solution, which puts it in a different class of applications than those that just deliver web-based access.

For many years, many also made the assumption that SaaS was just for small companies. And yet for the past several years, Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies have found a growing preference for SaaS across all sizes of companies. Below we present those results in two different ways.

Figure 1 shows the progression of preference over the past several years, in intervals of two years. The question posed to survey respondents was this: If you were to select a solution today, which deployment options would you consider? Respondents are allowed to select all that apply.

Figure 1: Which Deployment Options Would You Consider?

NS Fig 1Source: Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies

* Option added in 2015

We found 2013 to be a turning point, where we saw a very sharp drop-off in willingness to even consider a traditional on-premise solution, and in 2015 we saw almost a 20% increase in willingness to consider SaaS. Very early feedback from our 2016 Enterprise Solution Study indicates both trends are continuing.

But this doesn’t answer the question as to whether SaaS is just for small companies. To answer this question we need to examine the responses by size of company. Figure 2 defines size of company by annual revenue and we find nearly as much interest in SaaS in large enterprises as we do in small companies.

Figure 2: Percentage that Would Consider SaaS (by company size)

NS Figure 2Source: Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study

Note: annual revenues determine company size:

  • Small: Annual revenues under $25 million
  • Lower Mid: $25 to $250 million
  • Upper Mid: $250 million to $1 Billion
  • Large: Over $1 billion

Mint Jutras believes this is largely fueled by the way companies grow and expand today. Gone are the days when companies grew to be large, monolithic giants. While companies may be large and centrally owned and operated, they typically expand into multiple operating locations, oftentimes distributed across the globe. Indeed 80% of companies surveyed in our 2015 study operate in more than one location (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Number of Operating Locations (by company size)

NS Figure 3Source: Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study

Even where these operating locations are semi-autonomous subsidiaries, when it comes to software that runs the business, it is no longer common to leave those decisions to the individual business units. The vast majority (87%) has defined corporate standards for these applications. As the company grows, along with the number of operating locations, the potential for complexity grows faster. What better way of managing and enforcing these standards than through a centrally maintained SaaS solution like NetSuite OneWorld?

Case In Point: Dent Wizard International

Dent Wizard International has been the leader in the development of Paintless Dent Removal (PDR) technology since its establishment in 1983, and today is North America’s leading provider of SMART Repairs (Small to Medium Area Repair Techniques). In 2010, Dent Wizard was acquired by a private equity firm, and therefore needed to transition off its legacy IT environment, including an on-premise ERP and custom accounts receivables and payroll applications running on an IBM AS/400. With over 1,800 employees, 1,500 of which are service technicians in the field, Dent Wizard needed a solution with access to business data any time, from anywhere capabilities, so cloud was a “must.” But beyond that, Dent Wizard sought added scalability and the ability to automate labor-intensive processes. Dent Wizard was specifically looking for:

  • a broad range of functionality to run complex and mission-critical business processes across multiple subsidiaries on the same platform;
  • speed of implementation and time to value;
  • a platform that removes the burden of having to manage upgrades and servers and dealing with version lock issues;
  • real-time visibility into and control of its business across all business entities and subsidiaries through a single version of the truth;
  • the agility, scalability and flexibility to support business growth.

When it first selected NetSuite in 2012, the majority of its invoices were entered manually, which necessitated a massive amount of data entry. Since then, the company’s revenue has grown by more than 60% and it now processes more than 1.8 million invoices per year, and has increased electronic invoice processing by 30%.

Many of those invoices are filed directly by field service technicians using its Wizard Pro mobile invoicing application running on mobile devices. This eliminates the need for the lion’s share of that manual data entry. The mobile application was developed using the NetSuite platform and integrates directly with OneWorld. It gives technicians the ability to manage tools and equipment on site through NetSuite inventory management.

Value and scalability were key elements of the decision to go with NetSuite OneWorld. “NetSuite gives us a platform for growth and scalability, and from an IT infrastructure standpoint—we don’t have to manage servers,” said Tammy Conner, Dent Wizard Chief Information and Accounting Officer. “NetSuite has enabled us to run a very lean IT department, and that makes our organization much more efficient. Our people are happy with NetSuite and routinely evaluate how we can optimize the solution for our business.”

Now Is the Time

Now is certainly an opportune time for NetSuite itself to be graduating into this new realm. Only 36% of Mint Jutras survey respondents gave us a definitive “no” when asked if they would purchase an ERP system within the next two years. Of course some (20%) of the remaining 64% are still undecided and some of these purchases will be “graduation” from a solution like QuickBooks that might not qualify as a full-fledged ERP. But a follow-on question lends a bit more clarity around those switching out old solutions versus supporting new sites or perhaps even a first time purchase. While 38% will be replacements, another 43% will combine replacement with accommodation for a new site not previously supported by ERP (Figure 4). Needless to say, this is a huge opportunity for ERP solution providers.

Figure 4: First Time Purchase or a Replacement?

NS Figure 4Source: 2015 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study

We know the time is right for NetSuite, but is the time right for you? If you are in the “undecided” camp, it may be helpful to understand what spurs these replacements. We asked survey respondents to select the top three reasons that would prompt a replacement of a current solution. Figure 5 shows the five reasons with the most votes.

Figure 5: What Prompts Replacement? (select top 3)

NS Figure 5Source: Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies

Interestingly enough these align quite well with what we find to be the appeal of SaaS (see sidebar). Quite often legacy solutions fail to meet the functional needs of their owners. Early solutions lack the depth and breadth of functionality available in newer solutions based on advanced technology, leading to customizations that further exacerbate the problem by building in barriers to upgrades and innovation.

Not only does a multi-tenant SaaS solution lend itself to more frequent updates (the vendor has only a single line of code to maintain), but also NetSuite’s platform makes extending the solution relatively easy. Dent Wizard’s Wizard Pro mobile invoicing application is the perfect example. This mobile process is quite unique to Dent Wizard and therefore not likely to be satisfied right out of the box. But in treating this as an extension to OneWorld the barriers traditionally built in with invasive code changes are removed. Even as NetSuite delivers innovation, this type of extension simply moves forward as well. Nothing breaks.

A SaaS solution also is a key enabler of growth. No capital expenditure required; no need to build out a data center, or even put hardware or a huge information technology (IT) staff in country. The access any time, from anywhere nature of a cloud solution is conducive to supporting distributed users and bringing up remote sites rapidly and easily while conforming to and enforcing those corporate standards mentioned earlier.

Those saddled with outdated technology can rest assured they will never wind up in such a situation in the future. A good SaaS solution also addresses the cost of obsolescence.

And finally, sometimes you need to spend money to save money. An old, outdated solution can be costing you in terms of time, effort and real money to maintain it. The good news is that with a SaaS solution such as NetSuite’s you don’t need a capital investment.

Based on survey responses gathered in past Mint Jutras surveys, NetSuite customers place a lot of emphasis on costs. Back in 2013, in rating the appeal of SaaS, 50% of NetSuite customers selected lower total cost of ownership (TCO). Two years later when we asked what actual benefits had been realized, NetSuite seemed to have over-delivered on this promise with 61% indicating they had realized lower TCO.


Indeed, the time is right for NetSuite to be coming up market, targeting not only those seeking their first ever real ERP solution, but also those who are hindered by older solutions that lack the functionality and the technology to keep pace with growth and change. NetSuite’s solution has been developed over its long history as a cloud-native solution to address the needs of larger, global and distributed environments with financials and consolidation. Customers have proven the solution can handle massive transaction volumes while helping organizations like Dent Wizard run lean and efficiently.

Do your current solutions allow you to grow efficiently? If not, perhaps the time is right for you. If so, NetSuite is definitely worth a look.







Tagged , , , , , ,