A Single Software Solution That Enables Business Process Management
Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: January 2006
Exact e-Synergy as a BPM Enabler
Exact has focused its development on making sure that any user company can significantly benefit from data stored in different places within the organization. Accordingly, it has developed a platform that keeps all departmental data in one central information store, accessible, in near real-time, over the Web, to make sure everyone within the organization works with the same information.
Part three of the Exact Software Continues with Its Share of Judicious Acquisitions series.
For instance, every customer-related phone call can be logged into e-Synergy, whereas faxes and Web site requests can be automatically merged into the system. As a result, every customer touch point should be available through e-Synergy allowing sales staff to know the latest service or credit issues. Likewise, people in customer service and finance can see the latest sales interactions. When the user enterprise has a full history of the interactions, it can better serve the customer, and employees will spend less frustrating time shouting across the office to find out who spoke to whom, and what was said. By focusing on improving and optimizing processes instead of just the departments, any user company should be better aligned and prepared to take on the challenges ahead.
Right now, the traditional enterprise resource planning (ERP) mid-market for standard business software remains sluggish and fragmented. Pricing pressures continue to increase on products and services, but a back-office ERP, per se, does not give the same competitive advantage it use to. However, due to globalization and Internet usage within businesses, users are increasingly seeking collaborative and Web-based solutions to find supply chain cost efficiencies and to better organize content.
An example of agility includes how prospects respond to an e-mail and enter personal information. The system should automatically update the contact database, and users can check for duplicates and add or merge the information. A workflow request can then be sent to the appropriate people for follow-up. When a customer places an order, the pricing used in the back-office system should also appear on the Web site or user screen. Finally, the system should offer a centralized view of all customers and their activities, including workflow, financial transactions, support issues, etc. from anywhere, and at any time. Customers, suppliers, and partners should also manage their accounts through secure portals.
Exact's quintessential solution consists of two fully integrated (working from the same central information store) products: Exact Globe and Exact e-Synergy. Both are built on Microsoft technology and open standards and should connect to any application users may have with relative ease. To get to the next level of competitiveness, users should build their ERP investments while reducing the steps it takes to execute key business processes. They should also manage by exception through lean manufacturing concepts. Exact touts e-Synergy as a means of managing by exception and tying together processes, documents, and people. It is a Web-based collaboration platform with portal views, workflow, document, customer relationship, and human resources management (HRM). e-Synergy also integrates office productivity tools such as Microsoft Excel and Outlook.
Exact has integrated e-Synergy with most of its local ERP packages. It has only been available in North American for a couple of years, yet, the product is used by over 400 customers in North America. Exact cites this as evidence of user interest in business process management (BPM) capabilities that layer over back-office ERP solutions. The product is also supportive of the US Sarbanes Oxley Act (SOX) owing to its workflow and document management capabilities, and it meets the electronic signature requirements under the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) "Part 11" rules. The vendor expects standard business applications to drive efficiency by connecting to mobile devices, which is in demand by new generation of users that want better and faster access to more accurate and useful data.
For background information on Exact Software see Exact Software Continues with Its Share of Judicious Acquisitions.
This is Part Three of a multipart note. This series will explore Exact's strategic groups and global aspirations; its BPM strategy and products; and its acquisition of Vanguard. It will also present challenges and make user recommendations.
Exact e-Synergy as the Collaboration Solution
Exact e-Synergy is primarily the collaboration solution, and as the name indicates, it is designed to provide synergy within the user organization. It gives all employees Web-access to instantaneous information from one central information source allowing them to plan, track, and initiate collaboration, and search and retrieve content, documents, and transactional data. By making Exact e-Synergy the platform of communication and collaboration, no data should (in principle) ever be lost at the organization, because information is stored for quick retrieval. Because of its ability to align employees, information, and processes across the enterprise, users of Exact e-Synergy should be able to view the health of the entire value chain, help employees manage time more effectively and execute business processes more efficiently. Key strengths of Exact e-Synergy are
- It integrates all company information by recording data at one time and in context. It links that data to all the relevant people, products, customers, workflow, and financial transactions.
- It encourages collaboration by providing structure and context and by accommodating Web sites and portals creation (see Portals: Necessary But Not Self-sufficient ).
- It supports mobile connectivity and allows on-line add-ons for portal digital assistant (PDA) devices.
- It increases transparency by managing all business processes through electronic workflow. The workflow integrates with Outlook, which is used for external communication (since calendars and contacts can be synchronized, e-mails can be sent to contacts from within the e-Synergy contact database). The system also integrates with Microsoft Office and Exchange.
- It gives access (search and retrieval) to all information and processes, including existing back-office ERP data and non-structured content for the entire organization, since the browser-based system has a "Google box"-type feature that makes it fairly easy to look up records by using multiple parameters.
- It reduces implementation and training costs by using a common Web browser to input and access data.
- It also leverages investments in ERP systems by enabling access to this information for the entire workforce.
The Web user interface (UI) is familiar to users and provides an easy means of navigation. Consequently, Exact e-Synergy is completely built on Microsoft Active Server Pages (ASP) 3.0 and runs on top of Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS), both on Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 platforms. All data is stored in the Microsoft SQL Server 2000 database, whereas all supported client platforms are Windows versions that support Internet Explorer (IE) 5.01 or better (i.e., Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000 and Windows XP). The product also provides support for other devices, including PDAs (such as HP Ipaq) and smart phones.
e-Synergy has a broad rather than deep functional scope that is difficult to pigeonhole into a single enterprise software category. It also represents an enterprise relationship management (ERM) solution that integrates the functionality of traditional front-office applications in a single solution, providing employees, customers, and partners with virtually an immediate view of activity across an entire organization. Front-office activities (such as customer resource management [CRM], e-commerce, and portals); back-office activities (including financials, HRM projects, distribution, and production); and their workflow, event, document, knowledge management modules share one database, Microsoft SQL Server. As a result, users have no integration issues and all of their information is kept current and can be viewed using only Internet Explorer.
Exact touts that because e-Synergy automatically brings together the CRM solution with the financial database and other back-office databases, users should have a level of visibility into all of the processes that govern the business. Everyone from an administrative assistant to the chief executive officer (CEO) should have access to the information they need to make informed business decisions. This access is given through the features and functionality from the modules described below. Security and administration can take place both at the system level and in each module.
e-HRM has traditional HRM features, including job postings on the company Web site, budgeting, and hiring. However, it also has a module that handles on-line employee management, including task delegation, management of workflows, absence tracking, expenses, special compensation, etc. This allows a user company to maintain roles (jobs) and security levels related to employees and information. The module is actually a core component for managing security levels throughout the organization because it manages roles within an organization. Through the use of security levels and roles, e-HRM allows businesses to establish the rights and tasks an employee has and what information she or he can access. The hiring workflow provides a good model of e-Synergy's workflow and electronic BPM capabilities, since one has to follow the logical steps of associating a job requisition to a role within an organization. This job is then associated to a candidate who had applied for it via the Web (and, in the process, can save an HR manager the trouble of filling out employee record information).
e-Logistics, which is a combination product management tool and supplier management system, takes care of a company's product, catalog, and price management data. It enables users to share this information through an intranet system as well as the Internet.
e-CRM centralizes access to information about customers and prospects that is traditionally spread across the complete ERP system. This information includes contracts, invoices, financial transactions, and meeting reports. A business can thus integrate customers into its service, sales, product, and financial organization to provide a true 360-degree overview of its customer base. The information on the customer card is linked to all the relevant documents and information, such as contracts, invoices, financial transactions, sales sheets, meeting and visit or call reports, customer inquiries and complaints (including the status), and value added reseller (VAR) or distributor information. Inherent portal capabilities across the entire suite, including secure, role-based portal access with a single sign-on, can be supplemented with other security mechanisms like hardware keys or biometric ID, cater to customer self-service needs.
e-Workflow, in addition to offering traditional request functions, ensures electronic management of all of an organization's internal and external business processes. It is a tool that easily creates and manages the rules and procedures associated with specific business tasks, especially vital within the e-HRM and e-CRM modules. The workflow engine has a good set of tools for building workflows and forms in the framework of the application, and existing workflows can easily be repurposed for new ones. While the module is built-in across all e-Synergy modules and includes rules for routing transactions, alerts are also available by integrating with Exact Event Manager. This is an optional module and one that places Exact in the nascent area of business activity monitoring (BAM), a software category that triggers alerts and exception reports on both events and non-events, and both within and outside the four-walls of the enterprise (see Business Activity Monitoring— Watching The Store for You).
Actionable information is the key to success for (near) real time enterprises, which share up-to-date information with employees, customers, and partners in real time. This entails not only accessing data, but also pushing it to the right person and ensuring that person knows what to do about real time, "sizzling hot" information.
e-Documents stores and manages all information and existing artifacts centrally in one database, creating the basis for storing a company's data electronically. For example, while the e-HRM module tracks applicants, delegates tasks, counts absences and expenses, links to payroll, etc., the document management capability stores employees' resumes or skill sets, which eliminates shuffling through stacks of paper. Further, as Microsoft Word documents and other files from all over the business are "published" to the e-Synergy archive. e-Synergy categorizes and tags them as belonging with other documents for cross-referencing. This feature has obvious uses in terms of information retrieval, but can be even more useful in the context of engineering change control (ECC).
e-Project manages most of an organization's project related activities and views an organization's performance from a matrix point of view, including contract information, time inputs, budgets, and people and asset allocation schedules. Although the legacy Progression Series has had built-in job tracking and project accounting capabilities, such as setting up a project job, budgeting against it, and tracking transactions versus the budget, the Macola ES/e-Synergy combination offers a far better project oversight that includes scheduling, document management, and workflow tracking. e-Project is suitable for both internal and external projects, and for creating cost and revenue forecasts and project-based reports (e.g., availability of people and assets, contract information, requests and their status, time input and budgets, etc.).
e-Financials automates data collection at the transaction level using the Internet or an intranet. User organizations can analyze its key performance indicators (KPI) on-line from a consolidated level down to the transaction level with a few clicks of the mouse. The standard e-Financials UI is an organization chart, where the user can specify which KPIs should be shown and at what level of detail. Users can drill-down to individual transactions. While the module provides budgeting, an executive view, and reporting tools for consolidated company financials, the actual accounting transactions must be managed in an external application. The data must also be imported through native connectors or through an XML connector for Exact Software accounting applications (e-Synergy natively supports other Exact Software back-end accounting systems). Otherwise, the system supports connections to accounting and other back-office applications through a World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) compliant-XML interface, which also controls data exchange with client applications such as Microsoft Word and Outlook.
Although it admittedly is not as deep as some of the individual, best-of-breed CRM, HRM, professional services automation (PSA), or BPM products in the market, e-Synergy offers most of the nifty functionality a small or medium enterprise may need without the superfluous integration headaches. Its inherent workflow is the application's glue, and the suite furthermore often becomes bigger than the sum of its parts. It starts by being able to create and manage the customer's Web site to include the buy side and the sell side of e-business, document management, and logistics functionality.
This concludes Part Three of a multipart note. This series will explore Exact's strategic groups and global aspirations; its BPM strategy and products; and its acquisition of Vanguard. It will also present challenges and make user recommendations.