Automation through Bots

You can define a bot as “a software application that runs automated tasks over the Internet. Typically, bots perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human alone.” Bots automate routine tasks in software applications you likely use every day.

Search engines deliver functionality we rely upon every day. Search engines use bots to crawl the web and create indexes – simple and structurally repetitive tasks ideally suited for bots. By using bots, search engines get more data, get it faster, and have fewer errors than would have been possible if humans did all of the work.

Social media sites use lots of different bots to enhance communications and networking. The next time you share an article via social media, a bot will grab the title, the first line of the story, and a related image, and share it with your friends. If you had to grab these pieces of information separately (and had my keyboard skills), you’d think twice about sharing. But with bots automating the task, it becomes fast, easy, and error-free.

Last year, for the first time ever, bots outnumbered people on the web. More Internet tasks are being completed by bots than by people. If you’re looking to increase productivity – getting more done with the same number of people – bots seem like a successful strategy. So why not apply bots to the enterprise applications that run your business?

End-to-end automation can handle more data volumes faster and with fewer errors than people-driven processes. A payroll process that starts with approved time transactions should be able to use bots to aggregate pay, apply deductions and garnishments, compute taxes and withholdings, and allocate expenses according to rules defined by the organization. People are tasked with reviewing and approving the results, then the bots handle the distribution of funds and paperwork, including the filing of taxes, communication with benefit providers, and more. Each of the tasks performed by a bot is both simple and structurally repetitive – better performed by a bot than by people. People can then focus on tasks better performed by people than bots.

At HarrisData, we’ve developed AppsInHD as our enterprise platform of the future with a strong focus on end-to-end automation through bots. In all of our enterprise applications – HRIS, CRM, and ERP – productivity will soar as bots take on more of the workload.

Posted in AppsInHD, Automation | Leave a comment

I, Unicorn

I have spectacular new technology. Should I become a unicorn?

First, I should figure out what becoming a “unicorn” involves. To the VCs, a unicorn refers to any tech startup company that reaches a $1 billion dollar market value. To become one apparently means spending $1.27 for each $1.00 in revenue, the path that unicorn Workday took. This trend isn’t isolated to Workday, and it isn’t new. To become a unicorn apparently means you get to spend a small fortune marketing your product in search of the magic revenue hockey stick your angel investor, venture capitalist, and/or investment bankers seek. As long as business looks good (and by business, I don’t mean the traditional definitions like profitability or cash flow), your masters can (and will) flip your company to the new ownership after a brief and frenetic run.

Noting that the presentation of unicorns is as real as the face of a model on a magazine cover, software entrepreneur D H Hansson (creator of Ruby on Rails) instead tried to start something useful. His vision is of a software company that serves customers instead of capturing them, strives to compete in the marketplace instead of dominating it, and has a vision to put a dent in the universe instead of trying to own the whole thing (though he expresses himself with a bit more colorful language). So he built some cool technology and created a startup technology firm – one with the kind of staying power that comes from loyal customers, reasonable profits, and positive cash flow.

After reading Mr. Hannson’s take, I took a long look into the mirror to see whether I thought HarrisData should become a unicorn. We’ve got a new product line in AppsinHD™ that meets all of the criteria for the kind of disruptive technology that fuels the ambitions of unicorns. A few million (or billion) in advertising funding and we’d be buying our way up the revenue hockey stick. But, unlike other startups, we’ve been serving our customers for over 40 years, and already understand the value of long term relationships with customers, partners, and employees. We owe it to them to not squander the opportunity on short-term lottery that is the current state of startup funding.

Thankfully, my reflection showed no horn growing from the center of my forehead.

Posted in AppsInHD, Cloud computing, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How to Triple Your Productivity without Hiring Additional Staff and Similar Claims

Improved productivity is a given of marketing claims in technology. The marketers rarely make clear what the basis is for the claimed improvement. Saying you are three times as productive calculating taxes with a computer than with a pencil is a true claim – but not a relevant claim to someone investing in a new software application to replace the current application. To get a big productivity improvement, the process needs to change, comparable to moving from manual calculation to computers and software in the first instance.

productivity graph

A quick review of productivity growth shows real productivity gains in the 90s, but little gain since. How did IT contribute in these time frames?

Growth Contribution of Computer Software

1959-73 1973-90 1990-95 1995-98
0.03 0.07 0.15 0.19

Federal Reserve, Table 3

The 70s and 80s were known as the “Computer Productivity Paradox.” In the 80s, first time automation (such as MRP) was widely adopted via departmental systems. Green screen applications optimized data entry for rapid calculation. Online entry / correction replaced pure batch entry, edit, process, and report cycles. Departmental stovepipe systems required re-keying of data from other departments to function. Despite the exploding investment in IT, this remained a labor intensive process and a brake on productivity growth.

The 70s and 80s also were known for the rise of Japan, Inc. where the US hemorrhaged manufacturing jobs as uncompetitive with the quality and cost of the Japanese. Exemplified by Taiichi Ohno and the Kanban system, this represented a change in the way a manufacturing plant and supply chain were organized. The traditional approach could not compete. Thus business leaders in the US needed radical change to what they were doing.

“Only in the late 1990s, after a major investment technology boom, were there enough information technology inputs to have a substantial impact on growth and labor productivity at the aggregate level” – NY Fed

In the 90s, tight integration across functional areas (ERP) made it so information was only typed once on the friendlier graphical (GUI) screens. Productivity grew faster as information passed instantly from department to department without re-keying. In the second half of the 90s deployment and productivity accelerated further as the Y2K scramble to handle the rollover to year “00” led to every system being replaced or modified with the newer integrated ERP.

The 90s also featured a massive reorganization of US business whether “reengineering,” “just-in-time,” or “lean”… the way US firms were managed changed dramatically. The technology boom coincided with radical change to how business operated leading to a jump in productivity. As late 90s new Y2K compliant systems came into production implementing tight integration over lean supply chains. The productivity surge carried through to 2004.

“Productivity has been in a low growth regime since late 2004” NY Fed

Productivity stalled since. (The exception in 2009 is described as “cyclical and transitory in nature” by the Fed). Innovation continued – smart phones and tablets provide even friendlier browser and mobile interfaces. Investment has intensified, especially in the “cloud.” Why then a reprise of the Computer Productivity Paradox? The applications are still the same underneath, supporting the same business processes and work flows. Restoring productivity requires change beyond the cosmetic effects of mobile user interfaces or cloud data centers of the past decade.

Change since 2004 is faster for consumers than industry with consumers adopting new Internet of Things gadgets. The consumer world is a democratic ecosystem of interconnection with self-registration on one side and approval / acceptance on the other. For example a consumer searches the web and clicks on a product to purchase, send the contents of the shopping cart to the vendor. The vendor responds with an order complete with pricing, and asks for payment information. The consumer responds with a credit card or payment service. An email confirmation is sent. The result is a secure transaction where all connections are created in real time based on shared information.

This contrasts the tightly integrated world of SOAP protocols on the industrial internet. Under SOAP a requestor sends a command on a tight connection. Each connection must be engineered and tested for proper formatting and syntax prior to connection. This is a very different baseline from the consumer example above where Web Services technology enables the loose connection for exchanging information until the transaction is complete.

As the Internet of Things expands from consumer gadgets to industrial equipment, the assumption changes to one where all devices are connected (loosely). Automation requires connectivity for productivity to expand to the ecosystem and past the supply chain. Less rigid but broader connection suits this environment (too many things coming too quickly for tight integration – but the data must flow). Back office work changes dramatically – data entry and keying is replaced by data flow from the Internet of Things and end consumers alike. Software bots can handle the gathering and processing of this data. People handle the remainder: quality assurance of the data as it flows through the organization – correcting issues as alerted one at a time, analyzing and drilling into the data sets, then approving and communicating the results. The organization increases productivity by changing work from keying centric to managing centric.

Want a productivity boost? You need to change what you are doing and use technology which supports that change. Embrace the Internet of Things as a reason to change. Deploy modern IT which eliminates keying as the featured activity and embraces loose connectivity. Restructure by assuring the quality of the data flowing through your organization. The needed software can be found here: AppsInHD.

Posted in AppsInHD, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Comments Off on How to Triple Your Productivity without Hiring Additional Staff and Similar Claims

The Future is Now

A couple years ago the future of enterprise software could be described as bookmark, link and search. Today more attributes of the future are clear – and more important: available. Let’s explore the vision and the product which delivers it.

The vision begins with the user as a consumer, willing to do normal internet consumer activities like searching for data or a form, following links on a page to get to the underlying details, and bookmarking useful pages for return visits. This vision is one of user self-service – completely detached from traditional engineered keystrokes and defined work flows of traditional ERP systems. The challenge for programmers is to allow users freedom to do their jobs, not the old challenge for users to work around static computer programs to do their jobs in a dynamic world. Today that vision extends beyond consumer inspired web navigation with alerts and notifications to include the ability to drill down into real time dynamic data, plus total control and security of your application data.

The growing Internet of Things (IOT) provides additional challenges to any enterprise application vision. What do you do when the user is a Thing rather than a person? Things send certain kinds of data: status, location, and increasingly automation and actionable data. These arrive as discrete events in real time, not as a pre-bundled batch. They may either process normally behind the scenes (with a notification to a human as desired), or present an issue (requiring an alert for human intervention). The conversation will be based in Web Services protocols (instead of an inflexible SOAP spec or traditional user interface) to allow rapid addition of new Things to the enterprise. Thus an extended vision gives equality to Things as users.

To deliver on this updated vision, the underlying ERP application must be built in a different way from the traditional system optimization of client server approaches. In the past, the user organized work to minimize demands on the hardware. Today the focus is on the user, not on the back end system. The resource to be optimized is the user’s time. This means a new elastic approach to the system behind the cloud is required. Provide resources to the user as needed, let the flow of work drive the system. Deploy a web services architecture that is as nimble as the web, with loosely coupled application services conversing through web APIs across private or public networks with complete elasticity. This requires rebuilding the applications using web standards (Json, Jquery, RESTful APIs) to deploy business capabilities. Expected cloud benefits such as capacity on demand and the ability to customize deployments via simple mashups are easily delivered.

The HarrisData AppsInHD Payroll delivers this vision. The enterprise user is free to do her job by dealing with issues naturally, as they arise. She is no longer chained to the keyboard entering and editing data for processing. Time cards may be created by Things (in this case timeclocks). The system highlights potential problems and creates alerts for the user (perhaps someone is sick and has no time card). Alerts may be addressed one at a time, the batch processing cycle no longer constrains and controls work flows. The user then drills into summary data comparing this pay period to the prior to ensure the system found all the issues. Meanwhile, an array of service and automation bots securely manage work in the background while providing her with rapid responses. The payroll is completed to the human rhythm and pace of the work.

Thus time changes and improves on the vision, while the AppsInHD approach allows HarrisData to deliver products that meet the test of the future today.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Future is Now

You Can’t See What’s Behind the Cloud

Cloud: 3. a dim or obscure area in something otherwise clear or transparent.

The entire information technology industry is moving to the cloud. What, if anything, have they done differently once they arrived? It can be hard to tell whether vendors do the same old thing or something new in the cloud. You can’t see what they are doing behind the cloud – the cloud obscures all behind the user interface, and that fact makes it a magical and happy place for vendors.

Vendors, enterprise transaction system vendors (e.g, ERP, HRIS, CRM) in particular, see huge risks and opportunities in moving to the cloud. Each vendor makes its own choices in how to avoid risks and reap opportunities. Each must decide how to respond to the difference between cloud infrastructure and the familiar on premises infrastructure then adapt their applications. The biggest changes are from branded infrastructure stacks frequently designed for client-server computing to the commodity managed services which run the consumer web. While it is possible to run a traditional on premises branded stack behind the cloud, it is desirable to run a web-centric commodity stack such as LAMP and adapt the internal application architecture to the web’s more freewheeling ways. The application could then be delivered on premises as well where appropriate, without the user paying brand premiums for raw processing power.

Does the cloud take the known problems of on premises deployment and obscure them? Or is better technology used to reduce or eliminate the problems? HarrisData lifts the curtain on AppsInHD design considerations so you can find out.

HarrisData is a provider of on premises ERP software for over 40 years. The first step to delivering a cloud option was to define what a cloud ERP should be. The cloud ERP should resemble successful products of the web – with a tablet ready interface navigated through bookmarks, links and searches. Any function in the ERP should readily mashup with anything else on the web including new possibilities from the Internet of Things. The enterprise customer should be able to adapt or modify the cloud ERP. All enterprise data should be secure and separate from others. The customer is free to focus on their business while HarrisData ensures the technology will not intrude upon or limit them.

Next define an application architecture to enable the capabilities of the vision. The temptation to wallpaper our traditional application (stick a mobile app in front of it) and hide it behind the cloud is great. It is a fast path to get the marketing cachet of cloud without spending too much on research and development. In effect this approach moves the complexity and cost of an on premises application behind the cloud. The result remains too rigid to take advantage of everything else the cloud has to offer.

Instead, HarrisData created a web services architecture that is as nimble as the web, with loosely coupled application services conversing through web APIs across private or public networks with complete elasticity. This requires rebuilding the applications using web standards (Json, Jquery, RESTful APIs) to deploy business capabilities. Expected cloud benefits such as capacity on demand and the ability to customize deployments via simple mashups are easily delivered.

Then select technology that best supports the vision, while retaining the ability to continue using the technology customers have in place today. HarrisData chose the LAMP stack, an open source infrastructure which runs on both Intel and IBM Power hardware (including a Turbo-LAMP version optimized for IBM Power). This choice frees HarrisData and its customers from vendor lock in while extending the value of current investments in IBM Power based servers. It is also the most common infrastructure on the web.

Behind the cloud, HarrisData reinvented the infrastructure of its ERP applications. It was not the most traveled path to the cloud, but it does offer the greatest value to our customers.

Posted in AppsInHD, Cloud computing, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Comments Off on You Can’t See What’s Behind the Cloud

Cloud Vendors Spend Too Much on Sales and Marketing

Look anywhere, and it seems the cloud is the answer you were looking for. How much of this is real, how much venture capital hype? Phil Wainewright interviewed Zoho CEO Sridhar Vembu and found evidence to support the hype part.

I believe we are in a bubble, for sure. We are in a bubble and this bubble is in many ways even bigger than the dot-com bubble in 2000.

Vembu believes cloud vendors are spending too much on marketing to achieve the high growth demanded by venture capital investors, and shortchanging customers by doing so.

If you look at the way they’re expanding, they’re spending $5, $6, $8, perhaps $10 on sales and marketing for every dollar they are spending on R&D.

While true for some, it is not necessarily true for all cloud vendors. [First a quick observation. Spending on R&D may translate into better product and more capability delivered to customers, but this is not always the case. Computer Associates CEO Charles Wang claimed that when a project ran behind schedule, the answer was to reduce staff. Effective and expensive R&D are not synonymous. -ed.]

Consider Workday, a very successful cloud vendor featuring high growth and well respected product. A scan of Workday’s latest (March 25) 10-K reveals R&D spending growing faster than Sales and Marketing spending. Workday spends twice as much on R&D as on Sales. Yet Workday still operates at a loss.

Workday Results

2015 2014 2013
Total Revenue 788 469 277
Total Expense 1003 622 391
Expense/Revenue 1.27 1.32 1.41

Clearly Workday spends too much on something to maintain it’s high growth rate, spending $1.27 per dollar of revenue. While the trend is toward parity, at nearly $1 billion in sales Workday is well past the point of making it up in volume. They contribute to the bubble by continuing to buy market share rather than focus on profits for their investors. Workday spends too much on Sales and Marketing.

HarrisData is far removed from the Silicon Valley hustle. We appreciate a high growth hockey stick graph as much as any firm. However we choose to achieve that growth the traditional way — by growing profits at the same time. This requires a simple discipline: spend less than one dollar for each dollar of revenue. Indeed, two hockey sticks (one for revenue, one for profit) are better than one.

Posted in Cloud computing, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Comments Off on Cloud Vendors Spend Too Much on Sales and Marketing

Cloud Inside

I’ve just written a Go Faster plan that will allow HarrisData to re-engineer our entire enterprise application portfolio – including HRIS, ERP, and CRM applications – into next-generation web applications in a matter of months

Why risk a complete re-engineering of what already works? Not so long ago, PC World named the original Sony Walkman (with the cassette tapes) as the greatest gadget of the previous 50 years. Yet Steve Jobs and Apple created the iPod (#2 on the same list) about 20 years later to replace what already worked. A comparison of the two shows both how similar they were, and how different in terms of scale and flexibility. The Walkman offered a theoretically unlimited song catalog (by switching cassettes that held about 36 songs each), had replaceable batteries, and played Beatles music from the beginning.  But even without the phone or the apps, the iPod offered the ability to store and play thousands of songs in a smaller, lighter device  – revolutionizing portable music. With virtually limitless access to Internet-based music catalogs (for a fee), these portable devices and their peers have transformed the entire music industry in a little over a decade.

Enterprise applications are due for a dramatic increase in scale and flexibility as well. They need to leverage the power of the Internet technologies that run the world’s biggest web sites in order to manage the massive amount of enterprise data that needs to be captured and mined to improve business performance. However, faced with the prospect of re-engineering their entire software stack and replacing millions of lines of java and/or C code, many vendors are unwilling to take the next daring step. To take that step, its time to put the cloud inside the application.

What does it mean to put the cloud inside the application? It means that enterprise applications need to be built to leverage what works on the cloud from the inside out. Vendors that are trying to keep up with the web are scrambling to add SOAP and REST APIs to their existing products. They believe that the massive, tightly integrated applications they developed 20 years ago need only be connected to the world of the web to gain the (marketing) advantages of being ‘on the web.’ The approach is not unlike the efforts to use ‘screen-scrapers’ to make applications look like Windows applications over a decade ago. This saves them from having to re-examine and re-write millions of lines of java and/or C code, but prevents them from taking the big step forward. Breaking the enterprise application into independent web services and loosely coupling them through resource identifiers enables the next generation of enterprise applications to scale and grow in ways unimaginable to the prior generation – in the same way the iPod seemed magical to those who owned a Walkman, even though it accomplished fundamentally the same task.

AppsInHD™ delivers this kind of loosely-coupled set of enterprise web services that are woven into applications by the resources that are defined to them.  AppsInHD fundamentally uses REST and its emphasis on resources (“pieces of information”) to create a network of services which work together. The AppsInHD network is defined in a way that allows new resources to participate in the network of services simply by defining the resource and any unique behaviors. To develop new applications, we design the resources (“pieces of information”) unique to the application and any actions unique to the resource, and deploy the application through AppsInHD. The Go Faster plan now focuses the work on application design, with coding, documentation, and testing phases focused and minimized to the unique facets of the resources in the target application. Watch carefully and see how fast HarrisData rolls out applications based on AppsInHD. 

Posted in AppsInHD, Cloud computing | Comments Off on Cloud Inside

Go Faster

I’ve written a lot of strategic product and marketing plans over the last 30 years, and I just wrote both the most challenging and most enjoyable yet. It’s a simple piece called ‘Go Faster’. After a successful rollout of our first application based on the new AppsInHD enterprise application software platform (HR/Payroll), I had meeting after meeting with excited customers, partners, and investors asking me how we can get all HarrisData enterprise applications – including ERP and CRM applications – delivered on the AppsInHD platform as soon as possible. We had an aggressive plan to do so, but aggressive was not good enough. We had to go faster.

Any software executive will tell you that having customers, partners, and investors looking for ways to help you get your products to market faster is a great sign that you’ve done something right. At the risk of being overly bullish, I think AppsInHD represents the coolest thing to hit enterprise application software since SAP introduced a Windows front-end back in the early 1990s. [You may or may not believe me, but you can check it out here, or contact me and learn first hand what I’m talking about.] However, the paper isn’t about our marketing strategy, it’s about changing the way we build stuff so we can go faster.

The Go Faster plan isn’t a one page blog – its a comprehensive plan that looks at lots of initiatives that can help us deliver our software faster. It’s not a development methodology like Agile or Extreme either – there are plenty of those around, and we (like most everybody) use our own blend of the best elements of many formal methodologies. It is based on leveraging the underlying architecture of AppsInHD – which is fundamentally a mashup of enterprise web services – to create more functionality without more code.

The bottom line: the ‘Go Faster’ plan relies on a few key elements:
– Creating applications as a mashup of enterprise web services, leveraging the power of web technology to achieve scale and performance objectives.
– Working with web services that are application agnostic – that require no code changes when new applications are delivered – to improve reliability and speed core enhancements to all applications simultaneously.
– Working with an Application Browser – a user experience which manages all applications consistently, and which does not know what application is being used until the application tells it.
– Focusing application design, testing, and documentation on the trifecta of information flows: Entities – information resources that track information, Actions – information transformations that can be initiated for an Entity, and Use Cases – specific examples of Actions working against Entities to solve business problems.

With the foundation in place from delivering the first application, our development team can transform designs into reliable enterprise applications with blazing speed. Consequently, the Go Faster plan focuses almost entirely on the design process, and on re-thinking how enterprise Entities relate to one another and what Actions they must support in order to deliver the functionality required.

In my next post, we’ll look at the design strategies that emerged from the Go Faster plan in more detail, and show how application agnostic web services can make application design more efficient and more effective.

Posted in AppsInHD, Cloud computing, PHP | 1 Comment

Mashup Enterprise Services

Nostalgic for a late 60s console entertainment center complete with an integrated turntable, tube amp, radio, TV, and stereo speakers? Consoles were big pieces of furniture, the focal point of the room on which we would watch shows or listen to tunes. Over time we shifted our watching and listening from over the air and vinyl to cassette tape deck, CD player, VCR, cable, DVD, Blu Ray, HD TV, Flat Screen TV, Internet / wifi. To continue using the console with all these new devices, we could hire an electrical engineer (helped by a carpenter) and integrate each new piece. Updating an integrated system was too technical and too expensive, the consoles disappeared from our homes. We purchased component stereos and plugged in or replaced technologies as they became available.

The technologies in a modern entertainment center are loosely coupled components. Components may be added or removed by plugging them in (or using bluetooth wireless), no fuss or engineering required. This is similar to the way web pages are built in HTML. It is easy to add a weather applet to a page. Many designers combine applets on a web page to create a mashup – something completely new out of existing pieces.

It is time to take a mashup approach to ERP systems. A modern ERP architecture based on enterprise services can make it happen. The use of mashups in the user interface is common for HTML based applications. What is new is the architecture behind the API where the ERP transactions take place. This is where the enterprise services live. Traditional ERP systems integrate services within code, much like the console stereo. A vast ecosystem of system integrators get various pieces of integrated technologies to work with each other in order for the ERP to do its job. A modern ERP system should use loosely coupled enterprise services – getting pieces to work in new and interesting ways using a mashup process with little engineering required.

What does a mashup behind the API look like? Behind the API is a collection of independent services that operate like mini web sites. A mashup allows a request to carry just enough information through the network of services to respond to the request. Each enterprise service knows what it can do with the things of the enterprise application (employees, sales orders, paychecks, items), based on available metadata. Each service is integrated with the other services through commodity HTTP requests using REST – a protocol centered on management of information about things. The things provide the integration between services using ‘loose coupling.’ Additional services can be connected quickly and easily as needed, just like adding the weather to your home page.

Loose coupling is the answer in a rapidly changing world. In home entertainment the shows and tunes are the data, the components are the services that can be plugged in or discarded as needed. Old ERP systems are integrated systems like the console entertainment center. Modern Application Architecture takes advantage of loose coupling like the component stereo to keep your ERP competitive.

Posted in Cloud computing, PHP, Uncategorized | Tagged | Comments Off on Mashup Enterprise Services

New Release Adoption Rates The Key Metric in Software

Getting the installed base to upgrade is becoming a survival imperative, as customers left on older versions compare what they have to what’s available from the cloud and find it wanting.

The ERP industry is finally taking the new release adoption rate seriously. This is attributed to pressure from cloud based competition and a too long product enhancement cycle compared to the cloud. The author claims cloud enhancement is continuous while on premises ERP follows a 3 year cycle. The key to retaining customers is not merely delivering value to them, but getting the customers to use the value of the enhancements to improve their operations. If the customer is not aware of or does not adopt new releases and features, the will find a vendor that delivers value to them. Losses in the customer base are fatal to software vendors, recurring maintenance revenues drive profits.

This is not news at HarrisData – we identified the adoption challenge 20 years ago. By 2000 we achieved an 80% new release adoption rate and have maintained new release adoption at or above that level since. It is not a trivial challenge. Customers must have incentives (usually improved functions and new technologies) that outweigh the costs and potential turmoil of an ERP upgrade. The incentives are easy, software companies routinely enhance products (a 15 month cycle here) and can tune enhancements to maximize value for customers by simply listening to the customers instead of being distracted by analysts. However an ERP firm’s customer care efforts should not stop at the CRM boundary. The bigger and more permanent actions must address the costs of an upgrade. This is more an engineering than marketing challenge.

The marketing parts are easy to understand, yet require backbone to put in place. At HarrisData we developed our Omni-License with the idea of new release adoption foremost in our minds. The Omni-License combines the initial license fee and five years of maintenance in one package. This makes it easier to for customers to obtain a long term lease and moderate payments when acquiring our ERP products. More is included. [This is the marketing part of the solution – there is always more. –ed] Source code, fixes, help line, and new releases are all included in the Omni-License. Source code gives the customer independence from the ERP vendor in customizing the product. Competition for these implementation services lowers the costs. The services vendor selected is licensed to a development copy of the product, has access to source code, and as the customer’s agent has access to the help line – all at no additional fee. HarrisData uses this access to help the customer and services vendor complete implementation tasks on time and on budget. The lack of fees allows us to be an honest broker between them, as well as to focus on the big picture and live date. New customers will have the opportunity to upgrade to new releases a couple times during the initial 5 years of the Omni-License. We work with the customer and their service vendor to ensure success in these upgrades.

HarrisData achieves an 80% new release adoption rate annually since 2000.

Even more is included. [surprised? –ed] This is the part that requires backbone. At the end of the 5 year Omni-License period, the customer has the option to extend the license or to convert to an AS IS basis (with no fee). We believe that over five years we will demonstrate to the customer that HarrisData continues to deliver increased business benefits that far outweigh related costs. We believe this so strongly we bet our profits on it. Our customers agree and opt to extend.

HarrisData achieves over 95% maintenance renewal annually since 1995.

When an ERP company bases profit on the success of each customer, the changes go much deeper than marketing. Customer Care efforts become a driver for customer success instead of billing. The support people focus on customer value received. The User Conference and the Lunch and Learn webinars focus on helping customers improve their use of the ERP software. Outbound support calls proactively look for ways to help customers, frequently ending in one or two hour mini training sessions on functions or processes important to the customer. The CRM incident handling functions provide insight into areas where customers struggle with implementations, upgrades, or even daily use of the ERP. What we learn from the Customer Care programs feeds the product enhancement process.

Many software companies use vendor comparison spreadsheets to prioritize enhancements. The idea is to check as many feature boxes as possible. At HarrisData the priority goes to enhancements which provide the greatest total value to our customer base. The list of functions missing or needing improvement come from the CRM along with estimates of the value of the enhancement and customer cost of modifying current function to fill the gap. The CRM also provides a count of how many customers would benefit from each enhancement. Enhancements with the greatest total value to customers get the highest priorities. High priority enhancements might include structural changes to lower the cost of creating and upgrading modifications as well as new and improved features. Our goal is to lower the amount customers spend on technical services to operate and upgrade the ERP. Over 20 years we made substantial progress in reducing service costs.

HarrisData receives 95% of its revenues from licenses and maintenance since 2000.

An ERP industry focus on new release adoption rates is long overdue. Achieving high adoption rates requires substantial rethinking of software company operations and enhancement priorities. The end result is stronger profits for ERP vendors, better ERP software in the marketplace, and much greater value realized by customers of ERP software.

Posted in Software Support, Uncategorized | Comments Off on New Release Adoption Rates The Key Metric in Software