Giving a Business Process Management Edge to Enterprise Resource Planning




Giving a BPM Edge to Its ERP Product Lines

Once the proof of concept that Exact e-Synergy could be a business process management (BPM) enabler had been made, Exact realized that the technology could also provide an edge to its enterprise resource planning (ERP) product lines. It hopes that Exact Globe 2000 and Macola ES will give user enterprises a greater reach that extends beyond a selected few power users traditionally situated within financial or manufacturing departments. The successful and quick integration of e-Synergy with the Macola back-office solution to create Macola ES was impressive, delivering more information to desktops across the enterprise, and better managing customer service.

For background information on Exact Software see Exact Software Continues with Its Share of Judicious Acquisitions. For a discussion of e-Synergy and BPM see A Single Software Solution That Enables Business Process Management.

Part four of the Exact Software Continues with Its Share of Judicious Acquisitions series. This series will resume January 16.

Traditional enterprise systems typically touch only about a quarter (at best) of an organization, while bundled tools offered by e-Synergy could virtually reach every employee, bringing all employees into the process and tying them more closely to the company's business goals. Though traditional ERP systems cater to the core processes of service- and manufacturing-oriented organizations, there has long been a gap of workplace processes within an organization that yearns for some serious streamlining. For example, IT supported process optimization used to organize internal meetings, including note taking and minute distribution, and managing ensuing tasks has not been tackled. Managing processes for the internal orders of indirect goods and staples or managing and reconciling staff vacation plans, etc. are also areas that can benefit from streamlining. These processes have been neglected because they are not recognized as revenue generators. They are, however, cost generating processes can accumulate to a substantial total cost each year, and are therefore worth addressing.

This is Part Four of a multipart note. This series will explore Exact's strategic groups and global aspirations; and its BPM strategy and products. The series will resume January 19 with Exact's acquisition of Vanguard, and conclude January 20 with user recommendations.

Macola ES

Macola ES may differentiate itself from most peer ERP products through its native "closed loop" workflow management capabilities, which prevent events and tasks from "falling through the cracks". In other words, while most traditional ERP solutions are task-driven, Macola ES is process-driven, and adds structure to processes that are typically handled inconsistently or manually. The software lets users define business rules, processes, and exceptions as an integral part of their distribution, manufacturing, and other operational activities.

To that end, the embedded Exact Event Manager engine is not a mere alert producing application. It lets users define both the event and the outcome (action). Prescribed actions that are not taken within defined guidelines are escalated, so crucial tasks are neither left undone nor unattended. For example, e-mails will no longer drift into "cyber heaven" where they will be left unattended.

Some worthwhile examples of how Macola ES defines business rules include alerting the buyer when goods do not arrive on time from the supplier, and escalating alerts to the vice president of purchasing if the proper corrective action is not taken by the buyer. Macola ES manages exceptions, for example, by generating a workflow task/step to sales personnel when a particular customer stops buying, or alerting a customer service representative, via a workflow task, when credit is rejected on an order, which can allow an alternative payment method such as cash on delivery (COD) or prepayment to be arranged. This real time exception reporting eliminates the need to generate costly and time-consuming batch paper reports that are created after the fact.

The ease of creating workflows and mapping core business processes may distinguish Macola ES from its peer small and medium business (SMB) ERP products. Sure, many traditional ERP solutions will tout some BPM capabilities, but after scratching the surface, one will typically find the workflow to be a mere document routing application, where the components of content management, process execution, and connectivity are lacking. While secure role-based portals, single sign-on, event management, document management, and BPM features are now becoming a "matter of course" for tier one ERP solutions, most smaller ERP providers have yet to introduce these into their software suites, particularly in an integrated and closed-loop manner.

By automating these tasks, e-Synergy represents a broad suite of products, which may still only be a figment of its direct competitors' imagination. Rather than being a typical enterprise application that "crunches" transactions using a relational database, e-Synergy goes a bit further to support longstanding processes within and outside an enterprise that involve synchronized collaboration and document management. Therefore, the suite may indicate an emergence of a new category of software that tackles enterprise relationship management, groupware/workplace collaboration management, and so on. Some leading analysts place this type of collection in the nascent smart enterprise suite (SES) category (see Mid-market Getting the Taste of Some Emerging Technologies).

This is because extensible markup language (XML) and other, related Internet standards have given a semi-structure to the traditionally unstructured data environment, making it more agreeable to IT support. Nowadays, document management and enterprise content management (ECM) systems can store and retrieve unstructured data (see Enterprise Content Management: It Is More Than Just Web Content Management). Other technologies that should be credited for the emergence of similar enterprise systems include portals, search engines, and categorization systems that allow users to access any given information. Integrated report generators allow users to view and report any data from structured and unstructured data source.

For a discussion of the cautions and caveats associated with the emerging BPM market, see Business Process Management: A Crash Course on What It Entails and Why to Use It.

Exact e-Synergy and Exact Globe Combined for Business Unified

Exact has been focusing its research and development (R&D) efforts on its ERP product portfolio and e-business product set (i.e., e-Synergy). These tend to use the same architecture and databases, and integrate back- and front-office solutions. The new versions of the acquired product lines have been based on the same Microsoft-centric architecture. But, the two globally strategic products, Exact Globe and Exact e-Synergy, are tightly integrated on multiple levels. Both products share a single common data model called One-X, and run on the same database, thereby providing two user interfaces (UI) to the same data. However, a possible downside is that they may not have the same look-and-feel. Exact Globe and e-Synergy also share the same core business logic. A single Microsoft Common Object Model (COM)-based framework is used to store and implement business logic in both Exact e-Synergy and Exact Globe.

They also support the XML export and import of data, based on a common, published XML schema used for integration in distributed environments or with external applications. For backwards compatibility, legacy comma separated values (CSV) import flat files are still supported, but Exact's strategic direction will more forward with XML. Finally, an Internet-based installation technology ensures that both Exact Globe and Exact e-Synergy can be installed and updated basically anywhere and at any time via the Internet.

Furthermore, Exact believes that the real opportunities and technological challenges are in connectivity and reporting, since its products and services are offered in several target markets all over the globe. The reporting needs in today's ERP world have completely changed from being only accounting-based to being management by exception. To that end, the One-X concept of the Exact products holds information for knowledge based indicators, such as key performance indicators (KPI) and balanced scorecards. Due to its ease of use and familiarity, today's reporting is dominated by Microsoft Excel, but Crystal Reports is the standard in enterprise reporting. Consequently, Exact pledges to continue to deliver easy-to-use tools for getting users' valuable information into Microsoft Excel and creating customized Crystal Reports.

To suit the specific needs of these target groups, Exact has developed SDK (Software Development Kit) to connect third party applications, devices, and acquired leading, local ERP brands to Exact Globe and Exact e-Synergy. By improving connectivity, the vendor wants to leverage existing investments and provide a path forward in technology. Not only does SDK create a connection between Exact products and the products of other suppliers, but it also provides a means to use a wide range of mobile devices.

Additionally, Exact SDK, the connectivity platform completely based on industry standard Web services and XML, offers the opportunity for IT developers to meet the functional requirements set by their customers, as well as the standard functionality offered by Exact. In other words, the SDK allows users to extend e-Synergy beyond its core functionality to meet specific customer and prospective business demands. Given that expanding businesses unavoidably find themselves creating specialized and highly customized business processes to meet the shifting demands of the marketplace.

Thus, with the recently released SDK Database Editor and e-Synergy Editor, users have the ability to modify two layers of the e-Synergy architecture, including the UI and the database. The result is in the development of new functionality and industry-specific solutions without re-investing in IT solutions.

This was developed in response to Exact's business partners and customers demand for a flexible solution that meet their specific business needs. To that end, SDK complements e-Synergy's extensive configurability by allowing users to customize and integrate a broader spectrum of applications. At the same time, they can keep their total cost of ownership (TCO) low and future product upgrades can be handled easily. Additional features available with SDK include the ability to generate new tables and add fields to existing ones; configure business- and industry-related attachments and add-ons; generate links and connections to information portals and web sites; and extend and enhance elements of code for custom reports.

Priced at $1,000 (USD) per named user, with 10 percent annual maintenance and 10 percent annual support costs, e-Synergy is priced comparably to other licensed enterprise applications. The big difference is that the vendor delivers regular feature updates through maintenance, thus it is situated in a middle ground between traditional perpetual-licensing and more the modern subscription, software as a service (SaaS) models (see Trends in Delivery and Pricing Models for Enterprise Applications: Pricing Options).

Exact Software has placed the product in long term development. There have been no major version releases in the past three years, but any customer on a maintenance subscription contract has access to the new functions that have been introduced at regular intervals during that time. The latest build (version 340) was introduced in early 2005, and its improvements were not as large-scale as the major, annual releases of other ERP products, or even as major as the more frequent quarterly releases found with hosted applications such as Salesforce.com. The e-Synergy revisions generally have been more digestible when it comes to getting users up to speed.

Exact periodically sends enhancement survey campaigns to its existing e-Synergy users. The top three requirement needs from the recent one were 1) the ability to check for duplicates when adding customers, accounts, etc., 2) a simplified way to create multiple workflows, and 3) pop-up reminders for calendar items. In addition to these, the next build will feature the ability for multiple logins for customer portals; security checks (hiding) of accounts; the use of v-cards (electronic business cards) for employees and contacts; the ability to freeze comments upon request; increased options for extensible style sheets (XSS); and more compliance for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Part 11, the US Sarbanes Oxley Act (SOX), the International Standards Organization (ISO), and material safety data sheet (MSDS) requirements.

Exact Pledges for the Future

Exact believes that the key to success for packaged business solutions in the mid-market is to provide technology leadership that connects separate information sources. In this respect, Exact pledges to further integrate its Exact Globe and Exact e-Synergy product functionality and allow these products to connect to other third party business applications and mobile devices. Exact is also admittedly researching and testing the most suitable technological platforms to support its product strategy like Microsoft .NET, Oracle database, and application service provider (ASP) and hosting concepts.

In 2004 and 2005 Exact e-Synergy was fueling license revenue growth, demonstrating that Exact's vision to improve the performance of organizations by allowing access to one information system for all their employees, partners, and entire value chain, is materializing. For instance, North American sales for the e-Synergy product nearly doubled in 2004—which was only its second active year in the market. That growth may likely continue, since Exact has some story to tell, and is investing marketing dollars in appropriately selected media outlets, and other appropriate channels.

All Products Being Enhanced for Now

In addition to the ongoing enhancements for e-Synergy mentioned in A Single Software Solution That Enables Business Process Management, Exact launched its manufacturing and project management functionality for Exact Globe 2003 in the first half of 2004. The product has been further developed to conform to additional country legislations and to use more languages. Its goal is to be the only global mid-market player that offers one globally available product, sufficing local legislations and common business practices. But, for the foreseeable future, one should not worry about whether its other local brands will see enhancements. Two thousand and five has been a year of many significant new product releases, including JobBOSS Versions 8.1 and 8.2, Alliance/MFG Version 6.6, new Exact EDI cross-product solution, etc. With the combination of its solid balance sheet ratios and inventive products, the vendor feels confident that it will, pursue, develop, and achieve its strategic goals of both organic and acquisition growth.

This concludes Part Four of a multipart note. This series will explore Exact's strategic groups and global aspirations; and its BPM strategy and products. The series will resume January 19 with Exact's acquisition of Vanguard, and conclude January 20 with user recommendations.

 
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