Agresso + CODA, VITA + Link (+ CODA 2go): What's the Sum? - Part 2

Part 1 of this blog series described Unit 4 Agresso’s (or Agresso in further text) dual product strategy following its acquisition of CODA in 2008. The post then went on to analyzing (and reinforcing if you will, given a number of previous blog entries on the same topic) the post-implementation agility capabilities of Agresso Business World (ABW) [evaluate this product].

The blog post attempted to explain how the product’s underlying VITA architecture differs from contemporary service-oriented architecture (SOA)-based architectures. Part 2 of this blog series analyzes the CODA Financials product and its underlying Link  architecture. Contrary to Agresso VITA, CODA Link (a.k.a. CODA 2link) architecture is indeed SOA-based and supports superior connectivity.

Enter CODA Link Architecture

For its part, CODA’s value proposition is in being a best-in-class financial management  solution with possibly unmatched connectivity (i.e., it plays nicely with others, if not almost everyone in the yard). By the very nature of its narrow functional scope, CODA’s financial management software provides a stand-alone solution that simply must fit into customers’ existing IT infrastructure to work with other business systems without negatively impacting them.

CODA focuses on solutions targeted at chief financial officers (CFOs) and controllers. The “best-in-class” financial management designation comes from the single Web browser-based general ledger design that accommodates the “multi-everything” mantra (i.e., multi-currency, multi-country, multi-dimension, multi-subledger, etc.). This way CODA is able to meet both local and global requirements, and the system is compliant with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), and International Financial Reporting System (IFRS).

CODA’s customers have been raving about the vendor meeting their needs for consistent and accurate data, and an up-to-date “single version of the truth.” In addition, they often talk about improved financial processes (e.g., purchase-to-pay, invoice-to-collection, record-to-report, etc.), more streamlined and effective financial period closing practices, complete audit trails, and flexible enterprise reporting and analysis capabilities.

CODA-Financials is targeted at midsize and large companies across all public and commercial sectors, while CODA Dream targets small and medium enterprises (SMEs) , primarily in the UK. Both products have a long heritage, and CODA certainly has a remarkable reputation in the UK's CFO/controller community.

CODA-Financials has a similar number of customers as Agresso, and has customers in all geographies (about 2,800 customers in over 100 countries). CODA has local sales and service & support hubs in the US, Europe, and Singapore.

The current Release 11 of CODA Financials (code-named Neon) has seen significant research and development (R&D) investment (the vendor estimates around 300 person years) to meet its customers’ changing needs. These are along the lines of helping organizations to achieve superior finance processes and improve business visibility (e.g., performance by company, location, product, line of business, etc.), regulatory compliance, and corporate governance.

In recent years, CODA has expanded its offerings beyond accounting transactions into other areas relevant to CFOs, such as financial analysis, financial consolidation, cash management (through the acquisition of OCRA), and financial governance solutions/business process control. This has enabled CODA to cross-sell these solutions to existing customers and even to organizations that do not necessarily use CODA’s financial management applications. However, the effort has not realized significant increases in revenue. For more on these events, see TEC’s 2005 series entitled “Best-of-breed Approach to Finance and Accounting.”

Superior Connectivity

The underlying Link architecture provides the backbone for CODA’s sophisticated and interoperable enterprise financials solution.  Link’s capabilities give financial executives' applications’ change management capabilities in terms of fast implementation, “low-impact” integration, and pain-free upgrading.

CODA’s standalone specialist financial management software has been designed to work with other surrounding IT systems, thanks to its notable system compatibility and easy integration. For one, the vendor’s stand-alone components fit into existing infrastructures due to their support for the following platforms (per each architectural layer):

Moreover, integration with other key business systems can take place via either CODA 2link, a user-friendly integration tool (with more structure to it), or simply Web Services that capitalize on SOA principles. CODA 2Link offers a choice of appropriate toolsets for integration, starting with table-based batch loading integration. Integration can also be done via online remote procedure calls (RPCs), via extensible markup language (XML) in a distributed manner, or via a combination of XML interfaces and Web Services.

That is to say that this architecture blueprint provides both simple integration (via Microsoft Excel uploads) and advanced integration options. The latter options include Structured Query Language (SQL) batch uploads, Visual basic .NET and/or C language application programming interfaces (APIs) for legacy systems. Last but not least, and as said before, integration can also be programmatic via XML and Web Services.

User access is via a pure Web client or embedded within Microsoft Office (CODA also has its own implementation of AJAX called APE). Moreover, personal digital assistant (PDA) devices and mobile delivery of personalized reports are also supported.

The Web-based deployment and infrastructure for effective data management provides secure and personalized access to an up-to-date “single version of the truth.” The system ensures that everyone is “on the same page” by keeping functional updates “in sync” for all users, and by gathering, unifying, and analyzing data from systems across the entire organization, in a timely manner.

The system offers wide-ranging automation capabilities for data entry and processing, reconciliation, reporting, and financial processes. Personalization capabilities are also at the core of the architecture, with users driving configuration and tailoring of forms, inquiries, reports, and so on. There is a single graphical user interface (GUI) and look-and-feel for all CODA products, and users can redesign CODA’s processes and screens that come "out of the box."

But the “Future Proofing” feature is the ability to decouple users’ personalized interfaces from the underlying CODA version on the server side, which provides for minimal impact on interfaces when moving to the latest CODA release. In other words, all user-driven customization and integration is preserved and protected through the upgrade process.

So, How is CODA’s SOA Better Than Other SOAs?

In addition to the aforementioned support for multiple platforms and personalization capabilities, I was wondering whether the CODA 2link SOA-based architecture is any different and better than other SOA counterparts, and how. In other words, SOA is known for plugging pieces together, and most SOA platforms are fairly evenly matched in that regard.

If there is something that differentiates the Coda 2link's performance from, say, SAP NetWeaver, IBM WebSphere, or Oracle Fusion Middleware (OFM) connection capabilities, then users need to know that, and why it is better. CODA believes that its unique selling proposition (USP) with CODA Link is the extent of its coverage. Namely, all of the granular functions within CODA are available as Web Services, which means that anything that users can do within CODA’s finance system can be easily integrated to and accessed via another application -- a front-end business system, or another back-end system, for example.

This feature also means that users can achieve a greater level of integration than with other systems, and avoid the normal pitfalls of enterprise application integration (EAI) and middleware products such as having to duplicate customer records or other data, for example. We should also note that OFM, WebSphere and NetWeaver are really middleware offerings that require extensive certification processes for best results. What CODA is providing is standards-based (the WS-I or Web Services Interoperability organization) service entry points into its business applications.

The vendor is not supplying a middleware solution per se, but rather a finance engine that can sit at the heart of an enterprise-wide, integrated, best-of-breed applications suite that meets the unique requirements of the customer in a way that no broad homogenous application suite could. The organic use of Web Services provides

  • the ability to upgrade CODA but not have to change users’ screens;

  • the ability to use the same development methods irrespective of the underlying hardware and software platform;

  • integration with other systems independent of location (i.e., intranet or outside the firewall, at subsidiaries, affiliates, business partners, etc.);

  • a single point of maintenance (repository) for financial business rules and security.

Furthermore, the entire Link infrastructure has full version support, so that CODA can guarantee that any integrations made using any of the technologies it offers within its architecture will continue to work through future upgrades of CODA. This versioning support, which enables consumers to maximize their investment in R&D around solutions they build even over multiple upgrades from CODA, is possibly a unique proposition that should resonate with some prospective customers.

Back to Agresso + CODA

The merger with Agresso has certainly given CODA a safer harbor from less friendly acquirers, while Agresso now has a two-prong product strategy along the “change” theme. On a somewhat negative note, despite Agresso's ongoing success, its revenue is still centered on Europe, with only 9 percent of 2008 revenue coming from outside the region.

However, North America is the fastest growing part of Agresso—in just four years, revenues for Agresso North America have moved from 1 percent or less, to 5 percent of the company. This is not unsubstantial for a now half-billion-dollar company.

Prospective customers should consider Agresso or CODA products based on business requirements (post-implementation agility in a homogeneous environment vs. interoperability in a heterogeneous environment), industry segment, and geography. Dear readers, how do you find Agresso’s positioning of its products? What are your comments and opinions about post-implementation agility vs. interoperability and Agresso’s dual product strategy?
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