Some of my readers know that I worked in my career before Forrester in product management and business development at MSA, SSA, and Mapics, all now part of Infor. When people ask if I “follow Infor,” I’m inclined to reply that Infor follows me. I attended an “Infor on the road” event last week to listen to the briefing from CEO Charles Phillips and President Duncan Angove. I learned that Infor’s strategy for disrupting the SAP Oracle duopoly depends on choices that Infor has made about:
1) Architecture: Infor’s clients have a wide choice of application portfolio elements and choices about when to upgrade each element thanks to its loose coupling strategy and its maturing of the ION platform that I described here:
This is attractive to firms that can no longer force all their functions and divisions to upgrade simultaneously to a lowest common denominator set of functionality.
Message-based interoperability also enables Infor’s apps to Tweet to interested users about changes in status of accounts, documents, people, or objects as previously described by my colleague China Martens here:
Do you ever wonder which IT investments really drive competitiveness or comparative advantage for your firm and which are there simply to support mundane processes that are identical to those of all your competitors? Do you ever wonder if it might make sense to standardize on "best practices" for non-differentiating processes and supporting application implementation?
Received wisdom is that accounting processes are not differentiating and so it makes the most sense to support them with packaged apps or maybe with software-as-a-service solutions. Larger firms often implement shared services for financial management across all their business units or even outsource altogether apparently dull processes such as invoice settlement or collections.
But does that really stand up to scrutiny?
One retailer, with which Forrester worked, confessed to having 17 definitions of margin depending on which types of supplier rebates and volume discounts were included. We asked how they calculate markdown and they grinned.
The more I thought about it, the more this fact disturbed me. In some types of specialty retail, inspired opportunity buying is the key to competing with the bulk buying muscle and supply chain scale economies of global discount retail chains.
Many retailers import merchandise and have to calculate "landed cost" based on customs and freight invoices that arrive long after the goods in question have been sold. What price weighted average actual cost accounting, or margin calculation, in such a scenario?
Where is the scope for creative dealmaking in standardized accounting applications that deliver lowest common denominator functionality across verticals as diverse as local government, with its focus on fund or commitment accounting, engineer to order manufacturing with a focus on multi-period project costs and retail with a focus on margin measurement and management?
Retail is experiencing substantial change because consumers are now empowered by the web with information about price, availability, and merchandise features.
The retail industry is still served by solutions that are too fragmented to adequately balance the asymmetry introduced by radical price transparency. There are solutions for transactions, web site, stores, and so on but little to empower the cross-channel retailer to really meet the consumer’s needs.
I’ve recently been looking at IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative and its portfolio that integrates:
1) Store applications. IBM has well-established high-volume store apps appropriate to high-volume, low-touch retailing but correctly identifies these as inappropriate for fast-growing specialty retail with low-volume “high touch.” This is why it acquired the “asset” of Open Genius.
2) Web metrics. IBM acquired Coremetrics in order to bring the discipline of measuring traffic, conversion, and average order to cross-channel retailing. It’s only by monitoring such metrics that retail can understand which marketing strategies are really successful and which market segments are most receptive.
3) Direct-to-consumer initiatives. IBM acquired Unica as a platform for integrating automated direct-to-consumer marketing with its cross-channel offering.
Most Forrester readers certainly understand the importance of empowering their employees to contend with highly informed and increasingly demanding customers. But I’m often asked just how to overcome the process and data integrity challenges of apps or services that empower employees and/or drive continuity of experience for consumers across channels. With the rise of mobile as well as web and call center interactions and with a proliferation of new tools for managing distributed processes and data, most application development and delivery professionals as well as their business process and applications colleagues have to absorb all the arguments before they make decisions that could be critical to their firms’ futures – to say nothing of their own careers.
One pioneer whom I interviewed was immensely proud of his lightning rollout of a guerilla app to support his firm’s front office in advising clients on complex product choices. I asked him about future plans and sheepishly he admitted they would be starting again from scratch because the guerilla app was unable to leverage enterprise services exposing critical data about product offerings. He remarked ruefully that sometimes you do have to follow the IT standards “yellow brick road” rather than just head for the hills, but wouldn’t it be great to have the best of both worlds, with both agile deployment and full advantage taken of enterprise assets and data?
If you need a deeper understanding of the issues and options, then I’d like to invite you to join us at Forrester's Application Development & Delivery Forum, where my colleague Clay Richardson and I will discuss in practical terms how to deliver integrated experiences across multiple touchpoints.
Are you a wondering how to get the most out of your SAP investment? Are you trying to figure out SAP’s long-term strategy? Do you want to make better use of SAP’s BI platforms and services ecosystem? If so you have a lot in common with other Forrester clients.
Forrester has answered hundreds of inquiries about SAP in the last year or so. And the volume of inquiries is increasing as our clients roll out SAP solutions to the furthest reaches of their global domains and use white space partners to cover an ever broader footprint.
At the same time, you ask us questions about deployment best practices, SAP’s pricing and licensing, its middleware approach, the strategic significance of its acquisitions, and the implications of changes in the top management team.
We decided to pull together all our experts to discuss their SAP research in a series of jam sessions (teleconferences) to help you make the best informed decisions with the minimum investment of time. Each teleconference looks at a specific dilemma for which we’ve fielded client inquiries.
If you are an Application Development & Program Management professional, or a CIOs, or a Business Process & Applications professional looking for guidance then there is a session in this week long series of one hour Webex sessions just for you. Or if your dilemmas cover all the topics you can attend all the sessions or download them later and follow at your leisure.
We’ll start by looking at SAP’s Product Strategy. We will explain just how SAP's product portfolios and technology strategy for enterprises and SMB clients is evolving. You will hear Forrester analysts debate the merits of SAP's product offerings, technology architecture innovations, and its likely success in providing software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote, man is born free and is everywhere in chains. So too Enterprise app deployments are conceived as self contained yet everywhere are integrated with legacy and complementary apps.
My colleague Ken Vollmer and I are looking at packaged apps integration best practices and how these might change as some apps move to the cloud. We are asking:
What kind of middleware do you use?
How do you help process owners to assemble (composite) processes that have transactional integrity?
What do you do about the conflicting data models of apps from different stables – for example yours and those of a third party or perhaps in –house?
How far can so called “canonical” data models and meta data help to overcome such problems?
If you have experience and an opinion about what constitute the top three best practices in such packaged apps integration, or if you can warn about the three most egregious pitfalls to avoid we would love to talk with you.
Forrester had heard rumors of restructuring at SAP before the announcement on February 7th that SAP’s CEO Leo Apotheker has resigned with immediate effect.
The return to joint CEOs with Jim Haggemann-Snabe running product and Bill McDermott running sales is likely to help in focusing on improvements in the field to restore SAP's sales fortunes in a tough market.
With retail confidence and global cargo volumes at their lowest for 5 years, retailers face increased pressure to identify quick ways to minimize costs, reduce unplanned mark downs and avoid incidence of “out-of-stock”, while trying to stretch margins, improve the merchandizing mix and increase customer satisfaction.
One retail executive told Forrester “I have any number of proposals to engage in multi year, multi million IT projects. But we don’t have the luxury to indulge in those. My boss needs results now. I need to prove that we are making progress against our financial and strategic objectives in the next quarter or two.“
To help our readers, Forrester is currently exploring simple retail IT investments that can yield immediate results. Got ideas or input? Take our confidential survey on Retail IT Investment Priorities to help develop a framework that will help identify quick wins and self funding IT initiatives that are capable of generating returns for shareholders in six month or less.
GS1 offers the opportunity to standardize the attributes that retailers and their suppliers exchange, reducing the need for retailers to maintain on-boarding portals and for manufacturers to publish their item master data to multiple retailers in multiple formats. Yet anecdotal evidence suggests disappointed adoption particularly in Europe where Forrester hears “things are different” and “retailers can’t use GS1 standards without significant modifications”. I would welcome comments from readers. Are the GS1 standards really only appropriate to the allegedly homogeneous market of North America or are they a universally attractive way to simplify new product introduction? If GS1 falls short of European and international requirements or the requirements of smaller firms then what specifically is lacking?