Bite-sized Apps-A New Trend in Enterprise Software

The JRocket Marketing 2012 Grape Escape™ analyst event was the scene of a lot of engaging discussions about the same old trends—cloud computing, mobility, agility, etc.—but we also saw a new theme emerge at the 2012 event. Both UNIT4 and SYSPRO made interesting announcements indicating that they have embraced the concept of extending their broad enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems with a slew of smaller and much more focused solutions.

The fact that the price and the footprint of these apps are known beforehand give them broad appeal; they require neither large outlays of cash to acquire nor an inordinate amount to time to deploy for a company to be able to start reaping their tangible benefits.

SYSPRO’s App Store

SYSPRO will shortly be delivering a new SYSPRO App Store solution that extends the vendor’s ERP solution capabilities within its partner/user community. The SYSPRO App Store will allow SYSPRO customers and partners to publish different types of digital content, not just apps. Thus, people may wish to contribute additional training material, PDF documents, and even podcasts. The idea is to enhance operational efficiencies through even greater choices. The SYSPRO App Store solution will eventually encompass thousands of solutions, many of which are expected to be available by year’s end.

SYSPRO App Store provides a direct purchasing process for users (hassle-free Web-based download and payment), as well as controls within companies to ensure that purchases are correctly authorized. For publishers (such as the global SYSPRO reseller community) submitting solutions on the SYSPRO App Store, there is the option to publish products free of charge, to receive a once-off payment, or to use SYSPRO’s licensing model. This should create recurring annual license income opportunities throughout the SYSPRO eco-system.

SYSPRO’s advantage is an integrated system of customizable apps that small to medium businesses (SMBs) can configure “out of the box.” These apps can deliver high value at a relatively low price point, while built-in workflows should help small, cash-strapped manufacturers avoid costly mistakes in their orders. Every App that is published will be categorized according to function, pricing model, and publisher. For example, an app could be as small as a Visual Basic (VB) script to provide additional functionality in a selected SYSPRO pane, or it could be a full-blown third-party integrated product, in which case it will use SYSPRO business objects to access or update SYSPRO data, thus using the SYSPRO security and business rules while applying the integration.

SYSPRO has planned in advance for quality assurance (QA) and malware prevention. All apps that are submitted must provide full details of installation steps, technical specs and requirements, and a description of what the app does. Before being approved for publication all apps must be evaluated and verified. The approval process entails both a technical and marketing evaluation. If an app’s technical documentation indicates that installation will require access to SYSPRO code, then the app will be rejected. Similarly, marketing may reject an app if it is inappropriate for the SYSPRO brand.

In addition, for several years SYSPRO has been promoting its Solutions integration software. This is a middleware layer that allows developers to write add-ons and other applications to integrate with SYSPRO without accessing either the SYSPRO source code or database directly, and allows external software to make use of SYSPRO’s access control and business rules to perform operations and transactions in SYSPRO. To encourage publishers to use the Solutions framework, any app that uses Solutions will be given added weighting in terms of its rating in the SYSPRO App Store.

The SYSPRO App Store will also provide consumers with features to discover apps that are appropriate to them. Consumers can search by category, by publisher, and by rating. The SYSPRO App Store will also encourage consumers to rate apps, and provide reviews and comments. Any problems with an app that is downloaded can be logged as a ticket on the SYSPRO App Store. This will require the publisher to respond to the consumer via the SYSPRO App Store site. As tickets will be monitored, any app that logs a sufficiently high number of problems could be removed—another instance of QA.

How might this affect the role of ERP product managers? Probably not very much in SYSPRO’s case. SYSPRO had a clearly defined, published roadmap of where the company is taking the product. The vendor has also indicated in the publisher agreement for the App Store that it may in the future include functionality in the core product that is in an app on the App Store. Other controls state that SYSPRO may reject an app if it finds it to be unsuitable or if it provides functionality that is already in the SYSPRO development cycle.

QAD Store is another recent example of a vendor extending value to its community. QAD’s vision is to simplify delivery of all the components customers may require to attain the most value from QAD Enterprise Applications and its customer and partner ecosystem. This marketplace, fashioned after the now-ubiquitous consumer marketplaces modeled on Apple iTunes and Amazon, will provide the entire QAD community/ecosystem with a one-stop shop for downloading and sharing valued assets. For example, customers are able to purchase QAD and partner licenses, updates, documentation, support, and other things. They can also share operational metrics, browses, reports, and processes with one another, strengthening the value of their investment and relationships

SYSPRO and others may try to improve upon the QAD Store, but in any case, ERP app stores are here to stay.

UNIT4’s BI Assortment

Taking a very different approach, UNIT4 is delivering on the plans it unveiled last winter: a reinvention of the enterprise software analytics market by changing the way forward-thinking business intelligence (BI) solutions will be purchased, deployed, and consumed (see the related TEC article). The vendor announced the availability of 35 role-based, turnkey and rapidly installed BI apps that are offered through the UNIT4 Solution Store via a pay-for-use per user per month subscription model (see figure 1). The first series of these predefined solutions, called UNIT4 Business Analytic Apps, are a new line of mobile-accessible, pre-integrated, and interchangeable apps. They are designed to solve nine categories of repetitive challenges, risks, and/or opportunities experienced by specific roles across the entire organization, which will be detailed shortly.

Figure 1. UNIT4 Solution Store

These “bite-sized” apps are 90 percent complete on purchase, can be ordered via the online UNIT4 Solution Store, and can be up-and-running within two days, priced from just six US dollars per user per month. UNIT4 Business Analytic Apps are now UNIT4’s fourth major software line, which also includes the following three longer-standing offerings:

  1. Agresso ERP
  2. Coda Financials
  3., the cloud applications company formed with joint investment from (see the related TEC article)

UNIT4 Business Analytic Apps are currently available for UNIT4’s Agresso and Coda Financials customers, and extend the company’s change-centric value proposition. Customers of the new UNIT4 Business Analytic Apps will be able to use any Internet-connectable device to enter the UNIT4 Solution Store (see figure 1), and then:

  • search for solutions based on role or requirement;
  • order pay-for-use solutions;
  • add solutions to a wishlist;
  • rate solutions; and
  • join the social collaborative comment/news update stream.

Once initiated, the Store order automates contact by a consulting team that organizes any further configuration (i.e., a dedicated Microsoft SQL Server OLAP cube). Activation of the first UNIT4 Business Analytic App purportedly takes two to three days or less. Subsequent orders can be deployed even faster. UNIT4 makes it possible for customers to add and configure applications themselves, independent of any external consultancy needs, by offering a four-day “do-it-yourself” knowledge transfer program.

The solutions available from the Store require on-premise deployment; these are unique role-based solutions and the buyer is tapping into the company’s highly sensitive data stores, thus initially requiring both security and role checking. This “manual” step is performed in a fraction of the time taken by any other analytics solution on the market—three days or less. For successive orders by the same buyer, the time to deploy typically runs just a few hours to minutes, and going forward UNIT4 is investigating additional cloud capabilities that will automate the process and speed up the time even further.   

Concrete UNIT4 Analytic Apps Examples

UNIT4 has unveiled its first 35 Business Analytic Apps. They are named for the questions users are trying to solve and are highly defined and targeted to organizational roles ranging from C-level suite to functional managers, such as head of property development or VP of professional services.

Following are the first nine solution categories of easy name/easy solve UNIT4 Business Analytic Apps (see figure 2), along with a brief explanation of the solution and the targeted vertical market:

Figure 2. 9 Solution Categories

  1. Is my Budget on Track?—This cross-horizontal market solution is a fail-safe way to follow and adjust plans as circumstances change. 
  2. Is My Utilization on Track?—A means for professional services organizations to monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) tied to efficiencies/revenue (see figure 3). 
  3. Are We Focused on Core Activities?—This cross-horizontal market solution targets the management and monitoring of critical business execution priorities. 
  4. Is Everyone in My Business Performing?—This is the next-generation methodology for turning point-in-time business reviews into an ongoing activity, which should be useful for any industry or organization. 
  5. Is My Portfolio of Properties Optimal?—For property management companies, this useful tracker monitors and analyzes the wide variety of purchasing, regulatory, project, and revenue-generating dynamics. 
  6. Am I on Track with My Contribution/Profit?—A turnkey solution for managing the planning requirements/profitability factors impacting manufacturing and distribution companies; 
  7. What Happens to My EBIDTA if…?—Applicable for any business or industry, this interactive visualization shows how variances in performances will impact earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), profits, net income, etc. 
  8. What Happens to My Utilization if…?—A professional services industry evaluator for determining the financial and resource impact of changes to customer or workforce resource mix; 
  9. What Happens to My Break-even Point if…?—For the manufacturing/distribution sector, this is an interactive analysis tool for evaluating the impact of various scenarios involving key business drivers.

Figure 3. Is My Utilization on Track?

The UNIT4 Solution Store will launch in the UK on July 16th, 2012, in Germany on August 1, 2012, and Norway toward the end of September 2012. Launches in other countries within the UNIT4 group will follow later this year. The next round of Business Analytic Apps is already in development, and will target strategy management, human resources, project management, and sales management.

Do Bite-sized Apps Measure Up?

Compared with solutions from SYSPRO and QAD app stores, UNIT4 apps offer a much deeper level of complexity that is made simple in the solution store—it is a three-part role-based offering with data aggregation, analysis and decision making, and reporting. In other words, these solutions have been given much more forethought—they are not just simplistic extension apps tossed together in a couple hours and published on the store directory.

UNIT4’s analytical solutions follow the rapid-deployment thinking of SAP’s Rapid Deployment Solutions (RDS), which are fixed-price, fixed-scope solutions with virtually any functional scope (not necessarily in the BI space). Of course there is a world of difference between SAP’s 12-week (84 days) and UNIT4’s 3-day deployment. SAP is focused on broader footprint solutions and likely will not be marketing them at an unpluggable $10/month. To be fair, RDS solutions fill some significant functional gaps for their customers, such as warehousing or demand planning. (SAP also has a straightforward mobility and BI app store called eShop via its Sybase division.)

While the upcoming app store solutions by SYSPRO and UNIT4 Business Analytic Apps offer some nice, easy à la carte possibilities, SAP RDS could be regarded as more substantial. But they are consumed in different ways and intended to serve different purposes.

I concur with Cindy Jutras in her Grape Escape 2012 report that the way we buy and consume products is changing as fast as the technology that has infiltrated our lives. We demand instant and direct access to products and we expect the companies selling us these products to evolve and adapt to our demands. The aforementioned vendors are jumping on this bandwagon, albeit with different approaches and at varying paces, but consumer-like apps are inevitably coming to an ERP store near you.

TEC References and Recommended Reading

QAD Explore 2012: Only Good Things Can Come from Talking to the Customer. June 2012.
Assessing’s Early Years. May 2012.
SYSPRO—Taking a Quantum Leap or Simply Becoming Smarter? January 2012.
One Offering to Watch Unfold in 2012: UNIT4 Business Analytics Apps. January 2012.
Grape Escape 2010: Of Cloud & Angels, Fun & Games, and “In Vino Veritas” – Part 4. August 5, 2010.


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