UNIT4

Unit4: Delivering Not Only What People Need, But Also What They Want

The ‘People Platform’ is The Secret Sauce

Is there a difference between what people in people-centric businesses need and what they want? You betcha! They need applications like finance, human resource information systems (HRIS), procurement and all the different pieces needed to maintain the system of record of their businesses. In other words, virtually everyone needs basic Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). But ERP isn’t new and exciting. What they really want are the cool features, functions and applications that help them clearly differentiate themselves and make them stand out from the pack. They need those routine back office processes to run smoothly, but they also need the agility to respond to change and embrace new ideas and new technologies.

A recent Mint Jutras report asked the question: Is “Agile ERP” an Oxymoron? For decades using “agile” to describe ERP was indeed the conjunction of incongruous and even contradictory terms – the very definition of an oxymoron. Unit4, a software solution provider that specializes in people-centric businesses, has always prided itself in its agility. For many years the goal of Business World (its flagship ERP solution) was to effectively and efficiently meet the needs of businesses living in change (BLINC). Yet over those years Unit4’s product portfolio has also been extended to include additional solutions that can address more specific vertical needs and provide a level of differentiation. These additions came, not only through both its own development efforts, but also through acquisition.

Most notably Unit4 has acquired a Student Information System (SIS) for higher education, a Professional Services Automation (PSA) solution for professional services organizations and Corporate Performance Management (CPM) for all types of people businesses. While these might fall into the category of “the cool stuff,” Unit4 isn’t stopping there. At the same time, it has been developing a range of microservices that will help all these and its Business World ERP take advantage of new and disruptive technologies in order to unleash their full potential. At the core of these innovative services is the Unit4 People Platform.

Business Applications of the Future

Business applications of the future are more flexible, configurable and (perhaps most importantly) more extensible. In Is “Agile ERP” an Oxymoron? we talked about the importance of components-based architectures and the ability to extend the foundational solution that runs your business. We also talked about the importance of the underlying development platform. The speed of innovation and the ease of consuming it are largely dependent on the platform on which your ERP solution is built. A development platform can provide “application services” for things like file handling, security, searches and access from mobile devices. The value of the development platform is derived largely from developing a service once and re-using it throughout a product or suite of modules.

But with a diverse portfolio of products, Unit4 also deals with different development platforms. For example, Unit4 Business World is based on an architecture previously branded as Vita. But its newly acquired PSA solution is based on Microsoft Dynamics 365. How can Unit4 develop a service once and leverage it throughout its growing portfolio of products? The answer lies in its People Platform. While its different products may be based on different development platforms, the People Platform is a different kind of platform.

The Unit4 People Platform

Technically not a development platform, think of the Unit4 People Platform more as a collection of innovative services, beyond the typical file handling and security.

Figure 1: Unit4’s Platform for Innovation

Source: Unit4

These innovative services are meant to open doors to the growing number of digital technologies just coming of age. These are the type of services the People Platform is putting within the reach of Unit4 customers. Most notable are alerts and a virtual assistant (Wanda) that takes advantage of both natural language processing (think Siri or Alexa for enterprise applications) and machine learning (the more you use it, the smarter it gets). And also the business intelligence delivered with it CPM solution, including predictive analytics.

Unit4 is being proactive in making use of these new and potentially disruptive technologies. The 2017 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study found a large percentage of our survey population in services types of businesses lacked familiarity with these technologies, and/or saw little value to their businesses (Table 1).

Table 1: How familiar are you with these technologies as they relate (or not) to your business?

Source: Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study

We point this out, not to imply there is little value – quite the contrary. We recognize enormous value and applaud Unit4 for playing a role in educating its customers and getting out ahead of the demand. Let’s take a look at an example.

Who (or What) is Wanda?

Unit4’s Wanda is the perfect example of the kind of value delivered using the People Platform. It is currently available for Unit4 Business World customers, but Unit4 is working hard on bringing it to its PSA and SIS constituents as well.

Wanda is a new way of interacting with Unit4’s enterprise applications. She makes use of natural language processing (yes, you can talk to her) and machine learning to help people automate, prioritize and complete repetitive tasks in a fraction of the time it has always taken. As a virtual assistant, Wanda is embedded in the user interface and accessed through Skype, Slack or Facebook messenger. This allows users to communicate and interact with the solution through a “chat,” much like they would with a colleague. And Wanda is smart enough to understand when multiple topics might be mixed in a single conversation, so no need to artificially compartmentalize. All of this is possible without formally logging into the application.

And in fact if you are already comfortable communicating with Alexa in your home setting, you have a head start in using Wanda. That is because Alexa has already met Wanda and in the not too distant future you can use her to ask Wanda questions. Click here to see and hear a live demonstration.

This is made possible through the use of Microsoft’s Language Understanding Intelligent Service (LUIS). This is the underlying technology that gives Wanda the ability to understand what a person wants through the spoken word, not codes or clicks.

Why Are These Innovative Services important?

While delivering what people want, instead of or in addition to what they need, sounds very appealing, there is more than just a wish list involved here. Agility and the ability to extend current solutions to do more, including providing differentiation, is becoming a “must have” today. Why? We live in disruptive times. The 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study found 88% of companies believe they face some level of risk in their businesses and/or industries being disrupted by new innovative products, new ways of selling or pricing existing products or services, entirely new business models, or some combination of all of the above. And then of course there are still the more traditional disruptive factors like expansion and growth, organizational restructuring and regulatory changes, just to name a few.

All this disruption can have a cascading impact on business application requirements, making agility – the ability to easily innovate, evolve and change – even more important than current functionality.

While only 10% of our 2016 survey participants felt that risk was high and/or imminent, most do understand the risk is real. While about one in three (34%) feel the risk is low, we have to ask: How do you think the taxi industry might have answered this question on the eve of the launch of Uber? Do you think the hotel industry anticipated Airbnb? Did Block Buster foresee the devastating impact Netflix would have on its business? What kind of disruption is lurking out there for you?

The Internet and the digital economy made all of these disruptions possible and none were decades in the making. Compared to slow, evolutionary changes of the past, they literally happened almost overnight. The Internet has leveled the playing field, allowing any company, even small ones, to establish a global presence. This creates new competition, along with new opportunity. While new windows of opportunity open every day, they can also close as fast as they open.

Change is inevitable, bringing about new requirements. As your business changes, along with the world around you, the speed with which new features and functions can be developed, delivered and consumed will clearly impact your agility.

Key Takeaways and Recommendations

Agile ERP is no longer the oxymoron it once was, and yet many of the solutions installed today remain rigid and require extensive modifications to meet the changing needs of enterprises today. And the pace of change does not appear to slowing down. Even traditional types of business change resulting from growth, expansion, organizational restructuring, and/or regulatory changes are accelerating along with the pace of business itself. Add to that the threat of disruption made possible by the digital economy. A stagnant solution may just put you ahead in the race to the bottom.

Unit4’s People Platform and the company’s drive to deliver innovative services that can complement and extend your solution to put you back in the race to the top of your game. Unit4 is in business for people. Whether you operate in a professional services organization, higher education or in one of a growing number of people-centric businesses, Unit4’s People Platform, together with one (or more) of its purpose-built applications, could very well be your secret sauce in getting you what you want while satisfying what you need.

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Unit4 Lines Up Vertically: Higher Education Setting An Example

Unit4’s specialty has long been people-centric organizations. In fact its tag line today is, “In business for people.” These people-centric organizations not only include service-oriented commercial businesses, but also non-profits, higher education, governments and other public services. While some might call this people centricity a “vertical” focus, in fact Unit4’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution (although Unit4 prefers the term SRP for Services Resource Planning) has quite broad appeal. You might even call it more of a horizontal play across the services industries. But that is now changing.

In the past Unit4 built its strategy and its messaging around its VITA architecture’s ability to easily accommodate change. It was indeed a very broad (horizontal?) message targeting businesses living in change (BLINC). BLINC became Unit4’s mantra and in some ways, it is even more relevant today than when the acronym was first crafted. Every type of business and organization not only faces change today, but at an accelerating pace. And while change has always been hard to manage, today it can be dangerously so, especially when that change is disruptive.

After watching Uber disrupt the taxi industry, Netflix and iTunes disrupt entertainment and Airbnb disrupt hospitality, today we live in a world where nobody can predict which segment will be disrupted next. Our 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study asked participants to rate the risk of their industry being disrupted (Figure 1).

Figure 1: How much risk do you face in your industry being disrupted?

Unit4 fig 1Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study

Few feel they are exempt from any risk. This disruption might come from new product introductions (26%), new ways of selling/pricing existing products (29%), entirely new business models (12%) or some combination of the above (33%).

But in spite of the continued relevance of managing change, there comes a time when old messaging has to make way for new. The next new message from Unit4 was its concept of “self-driving ERP”. Self-driving ERP is all about making ERP a productivity driver rather than a productivity killer. It’s about automating low value tasks, so that high value individuals can combine the right skills and knowledge with the right information to produce better outcomes.

This is a great goal and Unit4 is well on its way to delivering on its promises, particularly with its recently announced Digital Assistant and Business World On!. But self-driving ERP is still a rather broad, horizontal message that can be applied to a plethora of industries and circumstances. So in taking a more verticalized strategy, is Unit4 abandoning prior strategies around BLINC and self-driving ERP? Absolutely not. Think of it more as a refinement of strategy.

Service-oriented businesses and people-centric organizations have a lot in common, but there are also some very clear and distinct differences within this general category. As with any type of organization, each is a bit different, but some are more different than the rest. Over the years, in focusing attention on a service orientation (as opposed to product-centric businesses), Unit4 has been building on those similarities. Now it is time to accentuate the unique elements that distinguish higher education from non-profits, professional service organizations from public service providers (including governments), healthcare from real estate, just to name a few. Each of these people-centric organizations has its own unique requirements.

In combination with this, Unit4’s new tag line is “in business for people.” Given its focus on people-centric organizations, at first glance this doesn’t appear to be anything new. But Unit4 is adding a new dimension to the “people” part. Ordinarily ERP is for the people running the business or the organization. Take higher education as an example. Yes Unit4 is in education to help the people running the college or university (the administration). But it is also in education for the students. And it is in education for the alumni. And for the donors and benefactors. And the professors. And for all that, you need more than your typical ERP with a service orientation.

If you are in education for (all of the) people, you need a student management system. This is definitely not your typical core ERP module. It is an application that helps students enroll in the right courses for their degree programs. It’s an application that supports student recruitment and entrance applications. It helps manage tuition payments, student loans and more.

Then again, if you are in education for professors, you also need to help manage research efforts, from the feasibility study and due diligence to proposal development and financial planning to project planning, management and completion. Plus you need to manage assets and facilities on campus and probably the occasional special project. And of course you still need ERP for financials, procurement, HR and payroll.

Unit4 provides all of this, but not all in a single giant monolithic ERP solution. Let’s face it: Most other service-oriented organizations don’t need student management. You don’t want to overburden other types of customers with features and functions they will never use. So Unit4 packages up student management separately. Yes, it is integrated to ERP where appropriate. After all, tuition bills create accounts receivables and payments impact cash management, the income statement and balance sheet.

But Unit4’s student management application can also run stand-alone. This is actually more important than you might think. Providing a full verticalized solution for any industry today is a delicate balancing act for both solution providers and those consuming those solutions. Theoretically you would like a single integrated solution to meet all the needs of your organization. But the urgency of satisfying different needs varies across different functions within the organization, and so does the readiness of different departments. Maybe whatever you are using to manage your back office is “good enough”, at least for now. But you are in desperate need to better manage student services. You don’t want to have to wait until finance is ready before you provide online enrollment to courses.

This is exactly the type of requirement that has blazed the trail towards loosely coupled versus tightly integrated ERP solutions. A tightly integrated solution shares a common set of data, is developed under a common development environment and all moves forward in lock step. That is both good news and bad news for organizations. The good news is obvious: integration is inherent, no redundancy or duplication of data that needs to be synchronized, etc. But the fact that all the different parts of the organization must move forward together often slows the process and builds barriers to consuming new features.

Tightly integrated can be bad news for the solution provider as well. Development efforts across a a wide footprint needs to be tightly orchestrated and packaged together. A feature that is completed in March might not be delivered until December. And in order to satisfy a specific need (like student management), an entire integrated solution must be ripped out and replaced. When an organization is not quite ready for that, the vendor loses the deal either to no decision or because a competitor’s solution can stand alone.

The solution to this dilemma is loosely coupling the different functions so they might move forward separately, without losing the integration. By offering specialty functions like student management as (also) stand-alone solutions, the vendor is able to satisfy the urgent need without disrupting the entire organization. But the best of both worlds is to offer the add-on functionality that can stand alone, but also be fully integrated with a complete back-end ERP – now or later.

This is Unit4’s strategy. Higher Education is leading the way in execution, largely because of the acquisition a year ago of Three Rivers Systems and its Comprehensive Academic Management System (CAMS). Unit4’s current installed base of customers in higher education is a mix of those originally sold by Unit4 (prior to the acquisition) and those brought to the party by Three Rivers. In fact the latter represents the lion’s share of customers in this segment in North America. While all of the original Unit4 customers run its ERP and about 75% also run a version of student management authored by Unit4, all (100%) of the prior Three Rivers customers run student management, but run a mix of ERP solutions, including Unit4’s. In the future, the combined company will lead with student management in this segment, but expect to pull an ERP system along in about 50% of deals. In order for this to work, student management and ERP must be separate, but (optionally and seamlessly) integrated.

Looking to the future, I expect to see Unit4 replicating this strategy in other people-centric segments, starting with Professional Services organizations (watch for functionality to support contingent workforces), followed by not-for-profits (building on strengths in grants and research management) and then governments and public services. But I also see Unit4 diving deeper into what you might call sub or micro-verticals. Community colleges are a big market for Unit4 today, but the recruitment process for a private university like Harvard Law School (also a Unit4 customer) is just one aspect that is entirely different.

In order for Unit4 to successfully execute on this vertical strategy it will need to aggressively leverage all the work it has done previously. The same architectural principles that helped businesses living in change navigate through changing business conditions should help those same customers weather the potential storm of looming disruption. And if Unit4’s self-driving ERP can relieve them of some of the burden of the mundane, they stand a far better chance of deciding on the right (next) destination and how best to get there… either incrementally or all at once.

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What is Unit4’s “Self-Driving” ERP?

Empowering People in Service Organizations

Today we live in a world where automobiles can drive themselves across the United States. These same cars can parallel park far more skillfully than their human drivers. Airplanes spend most of their time in flight on autopilot. Small, self-directing vacuum cleaners systematically clean our floors while we are at work or play. Fitness devices tell us when it is time to move and warn us when we are over-exerting ourselves. Some of those fitness devices are smart phones equipped with apps – the same smart phones that keep us constantly connected. We get spoiled by all this automation in our personal lives and then we go to work and wonder why the software and technology that is used to run the business doesn’t empower our work lives like consumer technology empowers our personal lives.

Enterprise applications like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) are meant to capture transactional data and streamline and automate business processes. Yet while ERP was originally meant to make our business lives easier, many old ERP systems just can’t seem to get out of their own way. Unit4 is setting out to change that, at least for its customers. While it has always prided itself in its modern and flexible architecture and its solutions’ ability to accommodate change, it is now taking a page from consumer technology. A revitalized Unit4 is intent on delivering “self-driving” ERP, where user interaction is minimized and limited to activities where people make the difference.

People Are at the Core of all Unit4 Does

Unit4 has always targeted people-centric businesses, where services are the primary product delivered. These targets include professional service organizations, governments, higher education, not-for-profits and real estate. In each case, the key ingredients are people; processes are fluid and dynamic. By its very nature, outcomes are unpredictable. The last thing you want is your people doing manual tasks that add no value to the service delivered.

And yet that is exactly what happens when ERP can’t get out of its own way. What do we mean by that? Legacy ERP solutions that are rigid and cannot adapt as business changes, or that don’t allow business processes to evolve, or that force people to work in very unnatural or counter-intuitive ways, are more of a hindrance than a help to your business. They get in the way.

This has never been more true than it is today as we enter the digital age. Everywhere we look we see the pace of business accelerating and business models being disrupted. This is all fueled by digital communication. And yet many ERP solutions installed today lack the ability to participate in this revolution. They still force companies to transact business the way it has been transacted for the past 50 years. And they don’t contribute much insight in how to break that cycle, or insight into how to more profitably grow the business.

Unit4’s products have always been designed for change, but now they have a new goal: to help companies transform themselves in the digital age. This new goal is actually a natural progression, but is also fueled by the transformation of the company itself. Jose Duarte, Unit4’s current Chief Executive Officer (CEO) took the reins about two years ago. He made a clean sweep of his executive committee. A few very key players remain one level down from the top, which makes the transition smoother, but in the end, the Unit4 of today is very different than it was two years ago.

Today Unit4 is clearly energized, innovative, confident and aggressive. And it is on a mission: To empower people in service organizations.

The 6 Pillars of “Self-Driving” ERP

So what is this thing called “self-driving” ERP? Can software really make business decisions to drive the business? Of course not. Even an airplane on autopilot still needs a pilot. That car driving itself across the United States still has a driver. The homeowner has to decide which room to set up the little roaming vacuum cleaner in. Those fitness devices don’t do your workout for you. But all these technological wonders have a common theme: they make people more efficient and productive. People with these devices can do more, accomplish more. That’s what self-driving ERP is all about: better productivity, improved efficiency and better, more insightful decisions.

Unit4 likes to refer to the following as the six pillars of self-driving ERP:

  • Automation of manual tasks. Don’t make the human driving ERP do repeatable, repetitive tasks if they can be automated.
  • Drastically reduce the amount of input required; eliminate it entirely if possible. Ask for input only on an exception basis.
  • Use the moment of action to ask for the input. Ask a person when that exception actually occurs, not hours or days later.
  • Sense potential problems or bottlenecks.
  • Sense potential opportunities.
  • Make intelligent and sensible recommendations.

 How Does Unit4 Do This?

If you ask Unit4 how it will deliver on the promise of these pillars, Unit4 will talk about the four layers of its People Platform, announced back in April. After you hear the folks at Unit4 describe these layers, you may still not understand, particularly if you are a businessperson and not a technologist. Don’t feel bad. It’s not you. Some of these are tough concepts. But that’s okay. It is much more important to understand what it can do for you than to understand how it does it. You didn’t know how the transporter worked on Star Trek’s USS Enterprise. But you knew exactly what would happen when Captain Kirk said, “Beam me up Scottie.” If you understand the potential conceptually, a myriad of potential use cases might immediately spring to mind.

So here are the layers, as concisely as we can present them:

Personal Experience

The very top layer is the personal experience. This is all about a new, improved and modern user experience, which Unit4 has been working on for the past two years, improving existing functions; efforts will continue as new and different ways of engaging with ERP and new functions are introduced. This includes access through mobile devices of all sorts. But Mint Jutras believes the best user interface is often no user interface, and Unit4 is also heading down this path in automating those manual, repetitive tasks. But ultimately it is all about making software easy to use.

Of course ease of use means different things to different people.

Figure 1: “Top 3” Factors Influencing Ease of Use

Unit4 Fig 1Source: Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study

Note on defining generations:

  • Baby Boomers: born between 1943 and 1964
  • Generation Xers: 1965 to 1981
  • Millenial: born in 1982 or after

This is most apparent when we compare what is most important across different generations participating in our 2015 Enterprise Solution Study (Figure 1). While perceptions vary, minimizing time to complete tasks is right at the very top of the list across all generations. So Unit4 is right on track in automating manual tasks and reducing the amount of input required. In fact complete automation of many of these repetitive tasks is really the ultimate goal.

Business Capabilities

The second layer is business capabilities. Mint Jutras research confirms this as an appropriate focal point. Our latest study confirms that the most important selection criterion for choosing an ERP solution today is “fit and functionality,” followed closely by “the completeness of a solution.”

Expanding the footprint of its ERP remains a priority for Unit4, but it will pay particular attention to individual vertical markets. Some of these business capabilities will be developed by Unit4, some will be acquired, and some may in fact come from partners. The recent acquisition of Three Rivers Systems is a perfect example of how Unit4 can take some giant steps in business capabilities, in this case, significantly expanding Unit4’s solution for higher education.

Who is Three Rivers Systems and what does it do?

Three Rivers Systems’ solution is called CAMS Enterprise. CAMS is short for Comprehensive Academic Management System. As the name implies, it is a comprehensive higher education solution that automates the entire student lifecycle into a single system. It can be run on-premise or hosted in the cloud.

A few facts about Three Rivers:

  • Founded in 1985
  • 55 employees
  • Serving over 200 clients in North America, South Africa, Europe, Middle East, Asia
  • Serving all institution types from under 1000 students to over 40,000

 Smart Context

The third layer is called Smart Context. This is perhaps the toughest to explain and yet its name provides some clues. “Smart” implies intelligence. So the Smart Context layer adds some intelligence, but in the context of a specific task, question or problem. Think about the following:

  • You’re preparing your expense report. Smart Context can suggest the majority of the line items (mileage, airfare, meals, etc.) You simply confirm the amounts.
  • You leave your customer’s site where you have been working on a project. Smart Context asks you if you just spent three hours working on project XYZ. A simple click on yes or no completes your timesheet.
  • You are asked to deliver a detailed project plan (for resources and costing) before the close of day. You enter several characteristics and Smart Context reveals the closest fit to previous projects. You select one as a model and create the plan in a fraction of the time it would take if you built it from scratch. And you even have a complete workforce assignment.

Smart Context is all about removing the clutter, making complex things simpler, and requiring your input only for exceptions. By making suggestions where possible, enriching data with additional context, the information you do see is more relevant and complete. This is the real engine behind the concept of “self-driving” ERP.

Unit4 delivers this type of intelligence by bringing the latest technology together through a variety of components:

  • An alerts engine to keep you up to date with smart business feeds
  • A rules engine establishes and configures the rules to be invoked during data entry, allowing for dynamically altering the UI based on conditions, or proactively assisting the user in entering consistent data. Adding machine learning even makes it self-configuring.
  • Definition of communities (defining who cares about what) and the capture of conversations within the communities (no more lost threads after you hang up the phone). This creates a social context.
  • Mobile context, through technology that can detect location with a time stamp. This allows for location-based filtering and time tracking and can push information automatically (e.g. customer configurations pushed to a field service technician arriving on-site).
  • Predictive analytics, capable of pattern detection. This can involve complex analysis, bringing together technologies such as machine learning and event stream analysis for sensing problems, bottlenecks or opportunities. Or it can be as simple as pre-populating an expense report or suggesting a project plan.
  • Cloud and crowd context through capture of peer analysis and customer sentiment.
  • A workflow engine.

The net result is filtered, contextualized data that can be presented in a simple, relevant and complete experience.

Elastic Foundation

At the base, the fourth layer is the Elastic Foundation. The concept of elasticity is commonly associated with cloud and software as a service (SaaS). Unit4 does offer a variety of cloud options, including what it calls “cloud your way,” which lets the customer choose the deployment option without compromises. Used in this context, the elasticity comes from the ability to grow and consume resources as needed, without additional purchases of hardware, middleware and the associated maintenance.

But Unit4 takes elasticity one step further and uses it in the context of the application itself, which can easily be changed and/or extended without disrupting the installed solution.

The elastic foundation has evolved from the architecture on which Unit4 Business World (formerly Agresso) was built. This is where you define your organizational structure, information requirements, and the relationship between the two. Traditionally these types of structures, relationships and processes tended to be hard-coded in solutions or embedded in codes like the general ledger account, using a “once and done” approach that made future changes difficult and costly. But reality says they need to be fluid, and that is the elasticity that the People Platform delivers.

With Unit4’s Elastic Foundation, no source code changes are required and even if it means changing the business rules, the data model and how the data is presented, this does not constitute multiple changes. You make a single change and it is permeated throughout all the necessary components of the solution. All are on the same page. No delays. Nothing can be out of sync.

Nothing Tells the Story Like an Example

While all this discussion may provide good background, nothing illustrates what Unit4 is doing better than an example. Let’s explore the project plan example mentioned earlier in a bit more depth.

Projects are common in many services organizations. For some, projects are simply internal. But in many companies, particularly in professional services organizations, these projects are core to their business. Unit4 has been listening to these types of customers as they expressed a desire for better ways of winning profitable business. When your business is project-based, that means coming up with more accurate estimates faster. This is one of the scenarios Unit4 has been working on that will showcase all the layers described above.

To better understand this endeavor, put yourself in the shoes of a project manager at a project-based business that has identified a new opportunity. You need to come up with an estimate of cost, resources and schedule in order to propose a price that is both competitive and profitable. And you need to do so quickly and efficiently or either your window of opportunity will close, or your current projects will suffer, or both. If you are smart you don’t start completely from scratch. Instead you find a similar project, hopefully one that was successful, and start from there, modifying it to reflect the current needs of your prospect.

Sounds simple, but in reality, how do you go about finding the right project to use as a starting point, especially if it was a project in which you had no personal involvement or experience? Unit4 is developing a scenario where you will be able to enter a few key characteristics of the project including the customer (if you have done business with the prospect before), type of project, time frame required, cost range, etc. Using these parameters, Unit4 will present you with potential reference projects, each assigned a rating of how closely they match your criteria. They do the legwork; you pick the closest, most profitable and start from there.

But have you ever managed a project that looked great on paper, but in reality it was the project from hell? You can’t tell everything from the numbers. So Unit4 uses sentiment analysis to assist. The solution will be able to look at conversations and pull up up the five most positive things and five most negative things said. What is the most common word used? Perhaps you find it to be “team.” It can look for certain words used in comments and conversations, including words like “complaints” or “excessive overtime.” Perhaps the team is complaining about too much overtime.

Projects under consideration may also not yet be completed; in which case, Unit4 will simulate a completion to predict schedule and cost accuracy, along with projected margins. While all of this might seem relatively simple, when done manually, there are numerous assumptions and opinions that get inadvertently filtered that can result in overlooking the best model, choosing the wrong project or making bad predictions.

By automating the process, Unit4 delivers on all of the pillars of a “self-driving” ERP, from automating manual tasks to reducing input and asking only for input at the moment of action. It can sense problems, as well as potential opportunities and give intelligent recommendations.

This is just one of many possible scenarios. Mint Jutras anticipates more and more of these types of scenarios will be identified through working with actual customers. Once some are delivered (later this year), this could have a snowball effect, with one idea generating many more. Then it will be up to Unit4 (and possibly some select partners or customers themselves) to deliver against the promise of “self-driving” ERP.

Summary and Key Take-aways

Unit4 has truly transformed itself into a new company, one that is energized, fresh, innovative, confident and aggressive. And yet it has done so by building on the strengths it has exhibited in the past. It has always targeted people-centric businesses, particularly those that are “living in change.” It has a strong, modern architecture and understands the trends rocking the world today. We are truly entering the digital age. Social, mobile, cloud and analytics all play a key role. Unit4 is leveraging all of these and delivering a solution with a simple goal: to empower people in service organizations.

But probably most importantly, Unit4 is now focused on execution. That focus is centered on:

  • Delivering vertical solutions for service industries
  • Building applications for people
  • Designing its underlying architecture for agility
  • Delivering cloud solutions “your way,” with no compromise

The recent acquisition of Three Rivers Systems is evidence it is indeed moving into major execution mode. Don’t be surprised to see others and expect some very significant partnerships to be announced soon as it aggressively builds its partner ecosystem.

During the past two years, as this transformation was underway, Unit4 was quite “quiet.” Expect the company to significantly turn up the volume, particularly in North America, where there is tremendous opportunity that has yet to be tapped.

Expect the pace of product innovation to accelerate as it starts to aggressively leverage its prior investment in architecture and technology.

If you are a services organization with an ERP solution that seems to just get in the way, Mint Jutras would agree with Unit4 when it says, “To adapt to the speed of change, ignore the old restrictions.” Perhaps you need to get into the driver’s seat of a new “self-driving” ERP.

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UNIT4: In Business for People: Introducing The People Platform

When Unit4 talks about people it does so in a variety of different ways. First of all, its products are designed specifically for people-centric businesses. These include those in sectors like professional services, education, government and public services, not for profits, and real estate. This industry focus however has also led the company to put people first in the design and development of the software. Unlike some other enterprise applications that require people to adapt and conform to the way the software works, Unit4 strives very hard to allow users to personalize the software to the business and the way they work – naturally. And because we live in a world where change is the only constant, the ways businesses run and the ways people work also constantly change.

Supporting businesses living in change has been a consistent mantra for its Agresso Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) product for years, but Unit4 is now bringing the platform that facilitates change to other Unit4 products, in order to deliver agility and flexibility, along with an improved user experience. And so… along with the launch of its new People Platform, Unit4 recently announced new releases of two of its flagship products, while also re-branding and renaming them:

  • Unit4 Business World Milestone 5 (formerly known as Agresso)
  • Unit4 Financials, Version 13 (previously known as Coda)

The People Platform

The term “platform” can mean different things to different people, or even different things to the same person when used in different contexts. In this case, it might best be described as a technology stack, or perhaps middleware that does a lot of the heavy lifting in delivering more business capabilities, and an improved, personalized user experience. Unit4 also likes to say it delivers “smart context.” All of this is built on Unit4’s Elastic Foundation.

Elastic Foundation

The Elastic Foundation has evolved from the architecture on which Unit4 Business World (formerly Agresso) was built. So for this product, and for any new products that will be built on it in the future, it really does provide a true “foundation.” It includes the information/data model that feeds all the reporting and analytics. But it also defines and drives much more. The Elastic Foundation is where you define your organizational structure, information requirements, and the relationship between the two.

Traditionally these types of structures, relationships and processes tended to be hard-coded in solutions or embedded in codes like the general ledger account, using a “once and done” approach that made future changes difficult and costly. But reality says they need to be fluid, and that is the elasticity that the People Platform delivers. With Unit4’s Elastic Foundation, no source code changes are required and even if it means changing the business rules, the data model and how the data is presented, this does not constitute three (or more) changes. You make a single change and it is permeated throughout all the necessary components of the solution. All are on the same page. No delays. Nothing can be out of sync.

Today Unit4 Business World, built natively on the People Platform, takes full advantage of the Elastic Foundation. For Unit4 Financials, it will be more of an evolution.It will immediately be able to take advantage of the user interface framework that will open doors for mobile and social capabilities capabilities. It also immediately leverages some elements of the Elastic Foundation including one key component: “Flexifields.”

Think of Flexifields as user-defined fields on steroids. Let’s say you want to track your primary competitors. Most modern systems today will allow you to add user-defined fields, although often you are restricted to a certain number of them. But where do you add this competitor field? Do you put it in the product master file? What if you compete across many products? Perhaps you want to attach it to a region. If you add it to both in traditional, rigid systems, the solution won’t “connect” the two; there is no real relationship implied.

With Unit4 Flexifields, you can associated it with products, regions, customer types, etc. It’s possible to not only create this new data field, but also the relationships. It is even possible to create an entire master file around this competitor field, with data such as:

  • Any known contact data
  • key verticals or regions they operate in
  • their unique selling points
  • key sources of information about them
  • a table with their products

Without this foundation upon which to build, adding something like this would have traditionally required programming and invasive source code changes to existing programs. With the Elastic Foundation, a tech-savvy business user, that fully understands the relationships between competitors, products, regions and/or customers, would be able to add this as a new attribute and start using it immediately. And even better, change it as the competitive landscape evolves.

It is clear that the Elastic Foundation has the potential of delivering a lot of value to Unit4 customers. However, is it what people want? All indications point to this, but few business users will ever look under the covers of their solutions. How will the value manifest itself in such a way that the people using the software can immediately see this value? We can tell a lot about what people expect by the priorities they assign in selecting solutions to run their businesses.

What do People Want? Selecting a Solution

Mint Jutras has been collecting data on these priorities for years now. In days gone by, “fit and functionality” always topped the list. But over the past few years another selection criterion crept up in importance and appeared to be running neck and neck with “fit and functionality.” That criterion was “Ease of Use.”

Given the pervasiveness of consumer technology today, this comes as no surprise. And in many ways, it makes sense. All the features and functions in the world won’t do you any good if you can’t figure out how to use them. But the ranking of “ease of use” and “fit and functionality” were so close, we started to wonder what the priority would be if users were forced choose between them – hypothetically of course.

So in 2015 we changed the format of the question, again listing the different criteria, but this time forcing the participants to stack rank them from 1 (least important) to 10 (most important).

Table 1: Selection Criteria Priorities (ranked from 1 to 10)

Table 1 Unit4Source: Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study

It is quite clear from Table 1 that “fit and functionality” is still king. The top three criteria are all related to features and functions. User experience (a broader criterion than ease of use) is still in the top half and the importance of reporting and analytics rose significantly from prior years. While ERP and financial solutions have long been famous (or perhaps infamous?) for being easier to get data into than to get information and answers out of, people today obviously want more. They want information and answers. Solutions need to be smarter.

The additional three layers of Unit4’s People Platform align quite nicely with what people seem to want most:

  • Personal experience
  • Business capabilities
  • Smart Context

While Unit4 separates these layers, it is the convergence of all three wherein lies the real value.

Personal Experience

While the overall user experience was trumped by fit and function, that doesn’t mean it is not important. Of course “ease of use” means different things to different people. And with all the talk of the impact of the millennial generation recently, Mint Jutras suspected this had become somewhat of a generational issue. Figure 1 proves that to be the case.

Figure 1: “Top 3” Factors Influencing Ease of Use

Fig 1 Unit4Source: Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study

When asked to select the top three factors in defining “ease of use” we found responses quite different in different age categories. While minimizing time to complete tasks still takes the lead for all three generations, it does so with a much wider margin in the Baby Boomer generation. Two out of three Baby Boomers selected this, compared to only one out of two Millennials. “A visually appealing user interface” was virtually tied for first in the youngest of the three generations but far down the list for Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.

The easiest way to satisfy different people, across different generations, is to deliver a user experience that is personalized to the individual’s preferences. A Millennial will seek and immediately adapt to screens that look very much like, and deliver the same kind of “social” experience as they are accustomed to. They will want to dive in and make tweaks on their own. While Baby Boomers might feel more comfortable with a more traditionally organized dashboard set up for them by a super user or the Information Technology (IT) staff.

The UX (UX is short for user experience) framework of the People Platform can satisfy both ends of the spectrum and do so on any kind of device. But perhaps even more important than the look and feel iare some of the more advanced features that can be derived from the organizational structure that was established through the Elastic Foundation. The Personal Experience layer is not only intuitive and easily navigable, it also draws from other layers in the People Platform to make it “smart.” Data, which is always up to date, is pre-populated and context is provided. By making the user interface smarter, Unit4 directly addresses the top concern for ease of use: minimizing time to complete tasks.

Business Capabilities

The same capabilities that facilitate change can be used to speed the development of new features and functions in both Unit4 Business World and Unit4 Financials. Unit4 Business World is already a step ahead in this since it was natively built on the platform, but more and more of these capabilities will be available to Unit4 Financial over time, particularly as Unit4 plans to deliver an SDK (software development kit) that will be available to both customers and partners.

However, the types of new business capabilities being delivered in Unit4 Business World Milestone 5 are representative of what can be delivered (Figure 2). Note the inclusion of “smarter collaboration.” Collaboration is an important flavor of social capabilities.

Figure 2: Unit4 Business World Milestone 5 (formerly Agresso)

Fig 2 Unit4Source: Unit4

While “social capabilities” were dead last in terms of selection criteria priorities, Mint Jutras believes this is because of a lack of appreciation for what these capabilities can bring. We also believe “social” to be a misleading label for some very important capabilities. For the traditional businessperson accustomed to traditional means of communication, “social” has an unfortunate connotation. Traditionalists distinguish between a business event and a social event, between a business conversation and a social chat, between a business colleague and a friend or social acquaintance. Which is why the “social” tag is unfortunate, even though it is really just shorthand for new and improved means of getting and staying informed. “Social” is also about engagement, collaboration and connectivity. The ability to “follow” and “converse” online brings a whole new dimension to “real-time.”

Table 2: Would these capabilities be useful?

table 2 Unit4Source: Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study

If you ignore the term “social” and look at the value delivered, a good businessperson can’t help but be interested. This is quite evident in Table 2, which shows survey participants more than twice as likely to categorize these social capabilities as “must have!” or “Useful” than “Nice to Have.” And 10% or less wouldn’t use them if they were available.

The combination of the Elastic Framework and the UX Framework of the People Platform will be key in allowing Unit4 to deliver more of these types of features and functions. And the introduction of an SDK will only accelerate the delivery.

Smart Context

While a personalized user experience and more business capabilities are both intuitively seen as valuable, the concept of “smart context” might require further explanation. To get a handle on this, recognize that smart is often a synonym for intelligent. Can the Unit4 People Platform deliver, not only reporting and information, but real intelligence? To do that, you need to put data into context and provide a tool for analysis. These requirements are clearly desired by more and more people, as evidenced by “quality of built-in reporting and analytics” making the “top 3” selection criteria.

So what’s the difference between reporting and analytics, and what makes it “smart?” Reporting is quite straightforward. It presents you with data to answer your questions about your business. In order to be truly effective, it has to be flexible and agile, because over time your questions change. And it needs to be able to handle a growing volume of data.

But reporting is only part of the solution. Reports are useful in answering questions you already have. Analytics can help you go one step further in helping you ask the right questions. Analytics implies analysis and any real analysis of data is iterative. You need to start poking at data, changing your view, looking at it in different ways, in order to recognize patterns and causal relationships. You need to transition from reporting of data to real analysis and intelligence.

Unit4 delivers this type of intelligence by blending social, mobile and visualization tools with in-memory analytics that add rapid data analysis and predictive capabilities. The components of the “smart context” layer of the People Platform are:

  • An alerts engine to provide smart business feeds
  • A rules engine establishes and configures the rules to be invoked during data entry, allowing for dynamically altering the UI based on conditions, or proactively assisting the user in entering consistent data
  • Definition of communities (defining who cares about what) and the capture of conversations within the communities (no more lost threads after you hang up the phone). This creates a social context
  • Mobile context, through devices that can detect location with a time stamp. This allows for location-based filtering and time tracking.
  • Predictive analytics, capable of pattern detection. This can be as simple as pre-populating an expense report, suggesting a project plan or for much more complex analysis.
  • Cloud and crowd context through capture of peer analysis and customer sentiment
  • A workflow engine

The net result is filtered, contextualized data that can be presented in a simple, relevant and complete experience.

Conclusion

Unit4 has been developing software that can easily, quickly and cost-effectively respond to changing business conditions for years now, not only at the applicvation level (feature/function) but also in the underlying architecture. It is now leveraging that investment, combining it with more innovations and releasing what is truly an innovative platform. Much of that innovation is under the covers, but never does the company lose sight of who it is developing software for.

Unit4 develops software for people in people-centric organizations. By focusing on the people that use the software instead of the software itself, Unit4 can avoid the all-too-common trap of technology in search of a problem to solve. There are plenty of business problems out there to solve and Unit4 seems willing, able and anxious to solve them.

For the customers running Unit4 Business World (formerly Agresso), this will feel much like any other release, adding new functionality and enriching the technology. Yet packaging this as a platform and broadening its use to the Unit4 Financials is smart in leveraging its strengths across a broader portfolio of products, which can only serve to present new challenges and more innovation.

Those customers running Unit4 Financials will see more fundamental change (in addition to the new features provided in version 13), but given the added flexibility, automation and agilty that this advanced technology brings, these should be welcome changes.

The launch of the People Platform is a big step for both Unit4 and its customers, but its not setting a new course. It is simply accelerating the journey down the current path to the next generation of Unit4. One would expect no less from Unit4. Afterall it is in the business of people.

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UNIT4 Changes the Conversation About In-Memory Analytics

 Agresso Analyzer Native to Vita Architecture and Agresso ERP

On December 10, 2013, UNIT4 announced the release of Agresso Analyzer, an in-memory analytics tool that adds rapid data analysis capabilities to its Agresso enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution. Unlike other solutions on the market from its largest competitors that were developed independently in technology labs and later integrated with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions, Agresso Analyzer was built from the inside out. Native to its Vita architecture, best known for its ability to facilitate business-driven change, it is a clear and powerful response to the need to digest and analyze increasing volumes of enterprise data.

With UNIT4, It’s All About Change

You can’t have a conversation with or about UNIT4 ERP without talking about change. After all, its target market for the product is comprised of Businesses Living IN Change (BLINC), particularly those in government and service-oriented segments. The acronym BLINC has become synonymous with UNIT4. But typically in these conversations we’re talking about changes to the business resulting from new or changed regulatory requirements, organizational restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, business process or financial management driven changes. UNIT4’s claim to fame is the underlying Vita architecture that supports post-implementation agility and the ability to easily and quickly reflect these changes in the software with minimal cost and disruption.

This conversation is a little different though. We’re talking about technology and innovation of the software itself. We’re talking about bringing in-memory analytics to the table, which means a technology upgrade. UNIT4 has taken a different approach than it’s two largest competitors, SAP and Oracle, both of which have developed in-memory technology outside of the applications. These technical solutions must then be retrofitted into their enterprise applications, or the applications have to be modified to take advantage of these technologies. UNIT4 did it the other way around, building them from the inside out. While sold as an “add-on,” Agresso Analyzer is native to the Vita architecture. No changes are required to the installed software or the implementation and the tool can be installed and turned on in a matter of hours. And all the data in ERP is fair game for slicing and dicing, analyzing and using for better, faster decisions.

The net result is that businesses, even those living in change, can see the impact of business changes faster. These changes might result from government and/or industry legislation, reorganizations, mergers or acquisitions, financial management or business process changes.

Bringing the Benefits To the Business User

While in-memory is a hot topic today in technical circles, often the value is not obvious to a businessperson. Embedding this capability into the Vita architecture, and therefore into Agresso ERP also helps the typical business user understand the benefits. What businessperson doesn’t want to have better, quicker, more flexible access to data within ERP?

Partly because the largest vendors, those with the loudest voices, have developed in-memory capabilities independently in their technology labs and partly because technologists delivered the message, much of the talk has been in very technical terms. Phrases like massively parallel processing (MPP), column oriented databases, real-time caching, online transaction processing (OLTP), online analytical processing (OLAP) are tossed about assuming the audience understands the significance. The typical businessperson doesn’t.

The vision became one of powerful technology in search of a problem to solve. That’s not at all how business executives and non-technical decision-makers think. Instead they think in terms of business problems. “I have this problem. How are you going to help me solve it?”  Even UNIT4, which usually keeps the conversation at the business level, is talking about associative filtering. Don’t even bother to Google the term. I can follow the discussion (just barely) because I happen to have a degree in mathematics, but the algorithmic explanations will be incomprehensible to most business people.

Suffice to say, in-memory analytics provides you with the ability to process and analyze enormous volumes of data very fast. When we’re talking about the data in ERP systems, the speed is such that the results appear to be instantaneous, allowing you to make decisions from data at a far more granular level.

Analyzer starts with a snapshot of the data. That snapshot can be as simple as a straightforward report that a user already has, like a revenue report. But while a report allows you to analyze the data based on a single dimension (e.g. territory) or maybe two dimensions (product line by territory), in-memory analysis removes these single or dual dimension limitations. As long as the data required for complex, multi-dimensional analysis is included in the defined data set, it can be compressed, presented and analyzed virtually instantaneously. Because the data itself might be complex and requires a level of knowledge about the underlying data structures, it generally takes a super-user to set up the data set to be analyzed. But then putting it in the hands of the business user, it becomes extraordinarily powerful.

Summary

By embedding the in-memory capabilities into the Vita architecture and the Agresso ERP, UNIT4 has taken a lot of the mystery out of the powerful technology. By offering it as an extension to ERP, the value also becomes a natural extension. No extraordinary vision required. It allows business decision makers to take the same data they have struggled with in the past, understand it better and get to decisions faster and with greater confidence.

Of course ERP data is not the only data needed for decisions. It remains to be seen how quickly UNIT4 will be able to add in other sources of data. It is already planning to incorporate these capabilities into its recently announced new financial performance products: UNIT4 Cash Flow Planning and UNIT4 Consolidation. These types of applications have the potential to pull in data from many different disparate sources, including from banks and other treasury-related sources.

And then of course there is a wealth of unstructured data available through the Internet. As UNIT4 customers begin to graze from the very consumable and digestible data in ERP, eventually their appetites will grow to encompass a larger menu of potential “feeds.”  This will put pressure on UNIT4 to add more capabilities for more diverse data sources, but this will still give UNIT4 customers a competitive edge over those who might have invested in an elegant technical solution but are still in search of a problem to solve.

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Two New Performance Apps from UNIT4 Encourage Finance to Embrace Change

Simplicity and Automation Put Analysis In and Take the Fear Out

Best Independent ERP Blog

Best Independent ERP Blog

It has been said time and again, “Nothing is constant but change.” And yet many Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) and Treasurers live in fear of change, and as a result, they resist it. Whether resulting from new regulations and reporting requirements, a merger or acquisition, organizational restructuring, or new or revised business processes, change can wreak havoc on the finance department’s ability to manage the cash flow, prepare financial statements, close the books and provide transparency to the business.

While all businesses face change, the typical UNIT4 customer faces frequent and/or massive changes. For years now UNIT4’s unique VITA architecture has been the key to helping its customers respond quickly when forced to navigate the sea of change. With two new financial performance management applications, UNIT4 goes one step further: to enable its customers to not only accept change but to seek it out, not for the sake of change itself, but for the growth and performance of the business.

Cash Flow and Consolidation

So, what’s new? In December 2013 UNIT4 introduced two new financial performance applications to the North American market: UNIT4 Cash Flow Planning and UNIT4 Consolidation. These new products will be available in the United States and Canada starting January 1, 2014, but were previously test-marketed on a limited basis in Europe. The pre-launch in selected European markets was successful and yielded 22 net new deals in the past year.

The products themselves stem from acquisition of OCRA, which enjoys 75% market share in financial performance management software on its home turf in Sweden. The acquisition of UK-based Coda and its suite of financial applications have also influenced these new offerings. Both acquisitions occurred in 2008. Since then OCRA has increasingly gone toe-to-toe in competition against the “big three” in financial reporting and financial performance management: Hyperion (now owned by Oracle), Cognos (now owned by IBM) and Business Objects (now owned by SAP).

According to Alar Lange, Managing Director UNIT4 OCRA, his team competes against at least one of these “top three” in 80% of new deals and one of these three products is already installed in about 40% of the companies that invite UNIT4 OCRA into the evaluation for a possible replacement.

One customer, a privately held Scandinavian media group of 175 companies operating in 20 countries, was one such company. Mr. Lange said, “This firm invested first in Cognos in the year 2001; they replaced it with Hyperion in 2005 and after four years were still not up running. They signed with OCRA in late 2009, and went live in the beginning of 2011. Since they went live our overall close rate in competitive deals rose from 60% to 73%.”

Part of the reason for this improvement: Since the acquisition, OCRA has been updated with a new user interface, as well as social and mobile capabilities. OCRA was originally created as a stand-alone application (and can still operate as such), with the ability to unite disparate data sources. But today the integration with UNIT4’s Agresso ERP and Coda Financials is optimized to give these new applications an added advantage, one that is particularly significant for those operating in volatile markets where change is simply a way of life. This is UNIT4’s target market, particularly for its Agresso Business World ERP. Through this seamless integration, the new financial performance applications inherit the ability to deal with change quickly and efficiently. The UNIT4 existing customer base is therefore the initial target.

Why is embracing change so important?

These new solutions fall under the category of performance management. As a result, both are designed to provide visibility to the business, add a level of control and support clear communication. The ability to analyze and compare against plan, as well as answer the ever-present questions of “what if?” are integral to improving performance. But unless this added visibility simply tells you what a good job you are doing, then you need to take corrective action. And taking action means making some changes yourself, in addition to those imposed on you. Any resistance to change will limit your ability to respond, improve performance and perhaps even grow the business.

Yet companies resist change because change is hard. People resist, which makes it harder to make improvements to processes and to the organizational structure itself. And if the enterprise software solutions you are using to run your business are rigid and hard or expensive to change, the tendency is to minimize the impact, which also minimizes any improvement sought.

Those that can react quickly and effectively can better keep pace with necessary changes. Those that actively seek out new ways to change in order to improve and grow, even before change is necessary, can gain a significant competitive advantage. Change seekers do take some risk, but the risk/reward ratio can produce game-changing results.

Change seekers need to start with performance management solutions that help identify risk and opportunity before executing those changes and reflecting them in their enterprise solutions. That is the job of UNIT4 Cash Flow and UNIT4 Consolidation. Here are some of the features built into each.

UNIT4 Cash Flow Planning

UNIT4 Cash Flow Planning uses a simple cash report builder to produce a single-screen environment for analysis and reporting. Finance managers (not technical IT staff) use standard templates and wizards to create charts and graphs to expose liquidity forecasts, net cash position and currency exposure, automating the input of bank balances and other cash planning data.  These decision makers can drag and drop data and drill down by currency and bank account, directly to invoices and other transactions.

Once these visuals have been created, Finance and Treasury can compare and analyze forecasts, spot trends and differences by month, week or day, all managed by a rule-based alert system that logs actions and comments, bringing more participants into the conversation.

UNIT4 Consolidation

UNIT4 Consolidation brings together all the elements of your financial position, from multiple business entities across a group, in order to provide top to bottom visibility to financial performance. Unlike a traditional business intelligence (BI) tool that is only effective in the hands of an IT specialist, UNIT4 Consolidation is a tool for the Finance manager to consolidate income statements and balance sheets and produce key performance indicators (KPIs), not only for finance data, but for operational performance as well. It supports both GAAP and IFRS reporting requirements right out of the box, without extensive setup. There are user-friendly functions for input and reconciliation, a full audit trail and easy drill-down directly to the transaction level.

Logic for consolidation is pre-defined for automatic aggregation and eliminations. The consolidation flow is user-friendly, multi-dimensional and the reporting is transparent from both a legal and management perspective. It comes with pre-defined data values (e.g. monthly, accumulated, quarterly, rolling) and pre-defined flow-steps (e.g. consolidated value, group value, acquisition value), as well as cash flow statements.

But probably most important in the context of a UNIT4 customer, all these dimensions and views are easy to change. You are not locked into a single, set reporting structure and insight can be gained in a cross-dimensional manner. Look at the position of the entire business unit, or analyze sales or other areas across different units. You decide how to analyze to expose risk and opportunity.

And you also have the freedom to decide how you will respond and take action. Would you benefit from an organizational restructure? Should business processes be changed to exert more control? These are changes that need to be reflected in your ERP solution. The last thing you want is to be discouraged from making a change that could improve performance and support growth simply because it is hard to change your ERP once it has been implemented.

Play the “What If?” Game

But how do you determine the best course of action? Perhaps the most important aspect in terms of improving your financial position will be in your ability to answer the most important “What if…?” questions. How will currency fluctuations impact profitability? How will a redistribution of cash across banks, across international boundaries impact interest and investments? How will moving operations impact tax and other liabilities?

Much of this analysis is supported today through multi-dimensional online analytical processing (OLAP), allowing “what-if” functionality that can test many different financial scenarios. These “what-if” capabilities are crucial to effective cash flow planning and are also particularly useful in consolidation and reporting, and therefore UNIT4 has added this to both of these financial performance products.

UNIT4’s Vita Architecture Facilitates Change

This is where UNIT4’s Vita architecture comes in. This VITA architecture tightly integrates three layers: data management, process modeling and delivery of information (analytics and reporting). This type of component architecture is not unique. Most modern service-oriented architectures today will support a presentation layer (user interface), an object-oriented data model representing standard business objects (think of a customer or an order as a business object) and business logic. This business logic might be a combination of hard-coded programs and externally defined business rules.

To understand how UNIT4 is unique, consider what needs to happen when a business process changes. In the past IT might have been engaged to make changes to the underlying programs. This also might have taken months to implement and in the meantime the focus (and even the problem) may have changed. With UNIT4’s Vita architecture, no source code changes are required and even if it means changing the business rules, the data model and the user interface, this does not constitute three changes. With UNIT4 you make a single change and it is permeated throughout all the necessary components of the solution. All are on the same page. No delays. Nothing can be out of sync. Of course this doesn’t guarantee your organization will execute well on these changes, but if they don’t, it won’t be because of the ERP solution.

This is why the financial performance solutions alone can only take you so far. But through optimized integration back to an ERP solution that handles change easily, you not only see what you need to do, you are in a position to initiate change for the sole purpose of improvement. You can actually take action without unnecessary cost and disruption.

Summary

Change has not only become a way of life for many businesses, the pace of change is accelerating, requiring better, faster decisions. Companies require better visibility with intuitive graphical interfaces, multi-dimensional analysis and drill down capabilities, particularly when making decisions that impact financial performance. Gone are the days when decision makers could afford to wait for access to new data, or to see data in a new or different way. They need to interact dynamically with data and other individuals. And they need to interact with that data in clear, simple and intuitive ways. The data they need today will not suffice for tomorrow’s decisions.

But seeing the data and being able to analyze it only gets you half way to the goal. It keeps you afloat on the sea of change. But initiating your own changes allows you to set sail for a safe harbor in a new, exciting and perhaps distant land. Do you have confidence you have a complete picture of your business? Can you take action to improve performance, avoid risk and support growth? Can you easily reflect changes in your ERP post-implementation? Does your ERP solution put wind in your sails or send you crashing against the rocks?

For existing and potential new customers of UNIT4, having the ability to respond to change that is forced upon you is a key differentiator. Think what you could do if you could initiate action that could really change the game. Look for synergy with UNIT4 Cash Flow and UNIT4 Consolidation. They could be a force multiplier.

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ERP, The Next Generation: The Final Frontier? Part 1

Turning Your Business Into a Starship Enterprise

As the latest movie of the Star Trek franchise comes to a theater near you, let’s go out on a limb here and draw some parallels between Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and this entertainment phenomenon that began in 1966 by chronicling the interstellar adventures of the fictitious starship Enterprise. Like the USS Enterprise, whose five-year mission it was to explore new worlds and “to boldly go where no man has gone before,” early versions of ERP charted new territory for enterprise applications. It evolved from MRP (material requirements planning) to MRP II (manufacturing resource planning) and then boldly set out to conquer the “final frontier” of ERP, managing not a small piece of the enterprise, but the enterprise itself. And like the Star Trek franchise, after playing on both large and small screens for more than two decades, a “next generation” was born: faster, more technologically enabled and more in tune with the evolving needs of the galaxy.

This is the first post of a series on Next Generation ERP that will be unfolding over the next few weeks addressing the questions: Are you evolving with it as this next generation of ERP continues to evolve? Or are you stuck in the darkness of the 20th century?

The first several parts will be excerpts from a Mint Jutras paper of this same name, to be followed by individual posts about specific vendors. The inclusion or exclusion of a vendor in this series will be largely based on the relationship I have with the vendors and therefore how deeply and thoroughly I have been briefed on their solution(s). At this point I have no intention to insure that every major vendor is represented and the order in which they are presented has no particular significance. In fact I have already posted two of these:

But before you click on these links, read on for an introduction of our Star Trek themed series.

Star Trek: The Series, The Movie, The Software

Like the voyages of Star Trek that tested the nerves of the captain and crew of the USS Enterprise, ERP has often been an adventure, testing the nerves of CIOs and line of business executives at the helm of the enterprise. As the USS Enterprise explored the far reaches of the galaxy, it encountered alien cultures and new and different life forms. Traditional means of communication and familiar methods of interaction became ineffective. As businesses began routinely expanding beyond international boundaries, distances increased by orders of magnitude and they too experienced new cultures, new languages, new regulatory and reporting requirements and new ways of doing business.

The USS Enterprise had at its disposal amazing technology that allowed the starship to change course and even reverse direction immediately. It could travel at warp speed, using a hypothetical faster-than-light propulsion system. Star Trek was, and still is science fiction. In contrast, next generation, technology-enabled ERP solutions are very real. They help us cope with the accelerating pace of business, growing volumes of data and higher customer expectations. Yet, few can turn on a dime and unlike Star Trek’s USS Enterprise, ERP can’t operate at warp speed. Or can it? We are now entering a new phase of ERP’s evolution. New in-memory databases and technology are now dramatically speeding up run times and eliminating the need for batch processes.

But few are taking advantage of this new technology. The entire gamut of different generations of MRP and ERP are still in operation across the planet today, producing a wide range of value from very low to very high.  To many, modern technology-enabled solutions might still seem the stuff of science fiction when in fact they are in production environments, producing results that are nothing short of amazing. What generation of ERP are you running today? Have you explored the world of very real possibilities recently? If not, are you missing out and losing ground in terms of competitive advantage?

ERP solution providers: If you are interested in obtaining more information on this series and briefing us on how your solution is “next generation,” please contact Lisa Lincoln (lisa@mintjutras.com).

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What Analysts Want: Content with a Clear Message, JRocket Marketing Style

A couple of weeks ago I attended my 7th JRocket Marketing Grape Escape®. This year the theme was “Bewitched Grape Escape -2012” complete with a fortune teller, a living statue  of a witch, a reenactment of a Salem witch trial and a mock trial of our own with analysts as prosecutors pitted against enterprise application vendors SYSPRO, UNIT4 Agresso and CODA as defendants, with Judge Judy presiding.

As an analyst I have been to my share of analyst/influencer events, but I have to say this one is quite unique and one most of us wouldn’t miss. After all the wine, the food, the entertainment, the attention to detail… all top notch. Judith Rothrock (aka Judge Judy for the evening) is the mastermind behind this annual event and her event planning is legendary. In fact she does such a good job planning it that when she had a devastating accident and emergency surgery to reconstruct her hand a week before the event in 2011, it still went off without a hitch, even though she couldn’t attend.

OK, so I do like the wine and the food and the entertainment, but that’s not the only reason I make sure I get this on my calendar every June, as well as the roadshows that she plans every December. You see: she runs these events and roadshows on behalf of several of her clients – usually two or three enterprise application solution providers. Judith provides services including complete positioning, market planning and training, but among the analyst community she is best known for her JRocket Marketing Nitro™ 12-month analyst program.

As analysts we deal with “analyst relations” all the time. We also sit through a lot of presentations, summits and briefings, both over the phone and in person. What analysts actually do varies from firm to firm, as does the business model we operate under. But there is one consistent theme for any analyst. Our time is our most precious commodity. And the sub-theme is: Please don’t waste it. What we see and hear at summits, events and briefings runs the gamut from “well planned, with lots of content” to “why are we here?”

We wonder why we’re here when there doesn’t seem to be any real content, when there always seems to be an inconsistent “message du jour”, when the message is unclear or when the conversation strays off course. Of course, on the other hand, some analysts are pretty good at steering the spokesperson off his or her charted course… but not with Judith in the room. Judith runs a tight ship when it comes to staying on message and if her clients start to wander, she engineers a course correction immediately.  The messaging is clear and targeted; announcements are well-planned, clear and concise and spokespeople always stay “on message.”

That’s what analysts want – even better with the flair of a JRocket Marketing event.

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