Acumatica: Mapping ERP to SMB Customers

acumaticaI had the opportunity to talk with Jon Roskill, Acumatica CEO, at the company’s September 7 analyst event. We talked about Acumatica’s solution, customers, and the newly released Acumatica 6.0. Here’s a summary and video excerpts from our conversation. 

Laurie: Hi Jon, thanks for speaking with me today. Before we get into what’s new with Acumatica 6.0, can you start by giving us some background as Acumatica?

Jon: Sure, Acumatica develops and sells business applications to mid-market companies. Typically, companies that are about a $10 million revenue number, going up to…we have customers now that are in the billions. The company was formed in 2008, by a set of folks who were really ERP veterans from the ’90s, by some of the founders of Solomon saw the cloud transition happening. They said, “Wow, this cloud platform is real, and we should build an ERP product for the mid-market for that platform.” And that’s how Acumatica started.

How Is Acumatica Different Than Other ERP Vendors?

Laurie:   As you know, there are a number of companies competing for business in that space. What differentiates Acumatica from the pack?

Jon: A few things. One is we had the advantage of coming to market a bit later than many. We were founded in 2008, the year the iPhone shipped, and the year HTML5 was ratified as an internet standard. So we’re built on modern cloud technologies. But, 2008, that’s not yesterday either. It takes about five years to build a very robust platform. So, we have the right combination of new technology, and we have thousands of customers using it. It’s proven and tested. The second thing is our licensing policy’s very different from most ERP vendors, who are trying to milk as much money as they can on a user model basis.

Laurie:  With per user, per month pricing?

Jon: Exactly. Our philosophy is that ERP is the system of record for the company, and that it’s very important that people in the company who should get access to that information should be able to get that access when it’s needed–without this having to drive a decision of when the business should have to pay for another license or not. So, we basically slot customers into small, medium, or large configurations. From then they get unlimited access, both for employees but also sometimes more importantly is their partners.

Laurie:  What about their customers?

John: Yes. We service a lot of businesses that are in ecommerce distribution, wholesale warehouse-type operations, and they have customers or partners interfacing through some sort of portal, and you don’t want to have to pay a license for those customers, who may place an order once a month. And the third differentiator is mobile. Our mobile solution is really unique in that it’s extremely rich, available on iOS and Android, and we truly differentiate versus any of our competitors.

Laurie: In what respect?

Jon: It’s included. What most of the competitors do is they give you a fixed application. They’ll give you an expense app, or a time reporting app. What Acumatica does, we’ll give you a set of applications out of the box, but because we deliver through a channel–this is another thing we should talk about some point, is our partner channel–because we deliver through a channel, our partners can add value and customize so that time and reporting application is unique to your company, and not a generic.

Laurie: What kind of uptake are you seeing on the mobile capabilities in your customer base? .

Jon: Very strong. Especially lately this year, pretty much everybody is doing something with mobile. Some vendors will tell you that because they have a browser-based solution, that means they’re mobile, but it really isn’t. If you look at the typical accounting screen, it’s very complicated. So, you don’t want to take this really complicated screen and look at it on a little phone screen. You want to have simplified screens, tailored to the device, that work with your workflow.

At this point, all of our customers are using our expense app. So if you’re having dinner with a customer, you just snap picture of the receipt, and automatically file the expense report from your phone. So you don’t have a stack of them on your desk at the end of the month, which I certainly used to have.

Laurie: That brings up another question. ERP, enterprise resource management, and business application management–these labels can cover many different functions. What are the key functions that the Acumatica handles?

Mapping Functionality to Customer Stages

Jon: The starting point is financials. In fact, 20% of our customers are coming from QuickBooks. They’ve outgrown QuickBooks, and need to figure out something else. If they’re in QuickBooks Online, they’re already in the cloud, so it’s a very easy migration to an Acumatica solution. It’s typically driven by something such as having to process multi-currency transactions, because they’re getting paid in other currencies. Or they open another office as a different subsidiary. So, it starts with the financials, I call called that “tracking the business”. You go into Acumatica, and you can see what’s going on with the money.

The second phase is that customers may start using Acumatica for things like CRM and distribution. You’ve got your customers in your system, and you want to help drive renewals or service opportunities for your business. Acumatica distribution capabilities help you track inventory, shipments, and more. At this point you’re truly operating your business on top of Acumatica.

The third stage is when customers become very thoughtful about their business processes and workflows. You know, there are too many companies out there that I see where they make the business fit the software, and that’s just wrong. The software should fit the business. So, you want to think about how should your business operate, what processes do you really want to get good at. At this point, Acumatica has a workflow engine that lets you encode these processes into Acumatica.

Laurie: A company’s unique workflow?

Jon: Your unique processes, right. Our partners help our customer do that, so at that point you have a custom business solution with Acumatica, probably in the price range of $75,000 to $200,000.

Laurie: So what’s new with Acumatica 6.0? Are you announcing a new vertical focus?

What’s New In Acumatica 6.0

Jon: Our customers fall into some major verticals. Professional services, manufacturing, ecommerce, and retail solutions, and distribution or wholesale distribution are the top ones for us. We announced in February that we had acquired M5 Solutions, a service management company, and we’re integrating that with Acumatica–and it’s been selling like crazy. Q2 was awesome, awesome results for the company, partially driven by how much that new service module that we’ve been attaching.

Laurie: In addition to the fact that companies like to have things their way, what else have you heard from customers that influences product development?

Jon: Our CRM product is a good example of that. Often customers buy ERP from one vendor and CRM from another. Then you need to bring the two together and synchronize them, and you wind up with two separate customer formats. The fact that Acumatica sells both an ERP and a CRM is an advantage for half of our customers, 50% use our CRM, and they love it. There’s one version of the truth all the time, and that’s a place where…

Laurie: And what’s new in Acumatica 6.0 in terms of Office 365 integration?

Jon: In the 5.0 release, we introduced Office 365 integration, and integrated Office 365 contacts and tasks and calendar with Acumatica CRM. But we know that many users don’t spend their life in the accounting system, they actually live in things like Outlook as well. I certainly do. You probably do as well. So in 6.0, we’re launching a new Acumatica Outlook add-in. So, when you’re working inside Outlook, you’ll have the context of all of your Acumatica contacts there. So, if you’re looking at an email from Laurie McCabe and Laurie McCabe has an outstanding invoice for$200,000, it will pop up and show me that. Or if, for instance, a regular service update needs to be done, that will show up. So, it’s the sort of thing you would have in your system automatically. So, when you’re talking or emailing with someone, you see it in context.

Laurie: It sounds like Acumatica 6 has some great updates, and thanks for sharing some high-level background as well.

 

Thinking About Going Global? Read This Book First

book-cover-2016-3This past week, I had the opportunity to talk to Steve Creskoff, a lawyer and a leading expert on international trade. And Steve has just published a new book called “What You Need to Know to Go Global: A Guide to International Transactions.” The best part about this is he’s written it specifically for small and medium businesses that want to explore their options in the international market.

Laurie: Steve, I’m excited to talk to you, because in our SMB Group surveys and the research we do, we see that only a small percentage of U.S. SMBs do business outside of the United States. So, first of all, why do you think this is?

Steve: Well, this is just what the case is today, and it’s unfortunate because small and medium businesses are very competitive internationally. They need to think more about their position in global markets. The statistics tell us that, in terms of trade and goods, only about 23% of U.S. GDP is in trade and goods, and about the same for trade and services, and this is very low. The lowest for any developed economy. So, our small businesses often are not aware of the international opportunities for them.

Laurie: That is very similar to what our data says. But I didn’t realize that the U.S. is the lowest.

Steve:  For a developed economy, we’re by far the lowest.

Laurie: So why should more small and medium businesses think about doing business beyond U.S. borders?

Steve: Well, first, let me talk about services. Our economy is about 80% services, and a lot of those services are tradeable, and we’re extremely competitive internationally with our services businesses. We export more services than any other country in the world by far and we have a very favorable surplus in trade and services, so this is important. The politicians don’t talk about that, but this is an area of international trade where we’ve been very successful. And then, of course, about 94 to 95 percent of world population is outside the U.S., so there are all sorts of opportunities for small businesses, whether it’s services providers or if they have a tangible product. So, there are great opportunities that should not be ignored.

Laurie: What are the risks to ignoring the potential?

Steve: First, what you don’t know can hurt you. If you’re not aware of how your product is situated internationally, an international competitor can come into the U.S. market and eat your lunch, so to speak. So, you have to be aware of… You have to evaluate your product or service for the international market and for the global economy, no matter how small you are. For instance, I’m a very small service provider, but most of my work is international, and that’s the case with a lot of businesses that I know.

Laurie: Yes, but many business owners don’t see a ready opportunity to extend their business overseas. Do you have a couple of examples you could share of creative ways that SMBs have gone into new markets.

stephen-profile-square-244Steve: Well, first of all, it’s like domestic business. It’s all about people. It’s about meeting people, developing a personal relationship, and telling them about your product or service. You can do this at international trade shows. You can do this through visits, as you do, of course, for domestic clients. And, of course, there are government resources, which are valuable. The U.S. Commerce Department and Small Business Administration have excellent resources. And last but maybe most important are the new internet platforms that have been developed that open up all sorts of potential for international business. Probably it’s an exception about my point about meeting the people, because now you can actually put up your goods or services on an Internet platform and start engaging with prospects in new countries through that.

Laurie: Right. The Internet definitely makes the world smaller. Do you have a favorite business story about a particular business that did something innovative in terms of going to market in another country?

Steve: Well, I’m legal counsel to the Trade Association of Fencing Manufacturers, and one of the members makes equipment to manufacture fencing. They’ve sold in more than 60 countries around the world. They’re located in Southern California. It’s a small business, and it’s not a new technology, but the services component is very important because they send people to their customers to train them on how to use the equipment, and that’s been very significant. So, there are many, many examples of small businesses that have been extremely successful.

Laurie: And you can differentiate yourself with customer service.

Steve: Yes. We think in terms of products and services being separate, but they’re not really. Maybe you’re selling a tangible product, but the services might be critical to that product. Conversely, you may be selling a service, but there may be certain tangible products that support that service

Laurie:  So, once a business owner says, “Hmm, I think I do have an opportunity to compete in this market. I can differentiate on either innovation, my product, or service, or whatever,” some of the key financial or regulatory or other kinds of considerations that a business really needs to understand to be successful?

Steve: It’s not really rocket science. There’s a great deal of uniformity around the world in terms of the regulations that apply to international trade and goods and services now, whether it’s a World Trade Organization agreement or a different type of international agreement. Because our businesses are so successful in the area of technology, export controls is one issue I would identify. Not that many goods and services are subject to export controls, but anything that is a so-called dual use item that might have a military application, the commerce department is responsible for that regulation here in the U.S. But businesses can very quickly find out whether there may be an issue or not. Only about 10% of exports are subject to export controls. As far as import controls and taxation and so forth, there are a lot of advisers that can be helpful, whether they’re freight forwarders, customs brokers, trade consultants. And, of course, the commerce department and the small business administration also provide advice. And my book–I’ll be shameless and promote my book!–has a great deal of detail and provides an overview of these various regulations so that a business can have an idea of when they should be talking to a consultant or a lawyer and when they’re probably okay.

Laurie: Absolutely. This has really been interesting, and starts to lessen some of intimidation about expanding a business internationally. But we’ve only just touched on just the tip of the iceberg. As you said, business owners that want to learn more can find a wealth of information about key considerations in your book, “What You Need to Know to Go Global,” which is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, both in paperback, and for Kindle and other ebook formats.

Steve: Thanks. Businesses can also check out my website. And I’m happy to say that the World Trade Organization in Geneva has taken an interest in my book, so my official book launch is going to be September 28th in Geneva. I’m very happy that they like the book and they’re going to be joining me in promoting it. The book isn’t t intimidating in terms of a lot of technical detail, and you can skip chapters if you’re not particularly interested in a given area. It’s like a travel manual. You read the parts that are of interest to you and relevant to your business and you can skip the other parts. So, I hope that many of your listeners will take a look at my book and start exploring their options.

Laurie: Thanks again, Steve, and best wishes for the book launch.

 

 

Using Sales Management Solutions to Boost Sales Productivity and Customer Satisfaction

SMB Group research consistently shows SMBs view attracting new customers, growing revenues, maintaining profitability, improving cash flow and improving customer experience and retention as their top business goals (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Top SMB Business Goals

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With that in mind, I was interested in talking with Karen McCandless, market researcher at GetApp, a sales management software comparison and reviews site, on her latest study. The study shows that a majority of B2B sales professionals lack  confidence in their sales strategy. Karen, can you tell me a little about the study, and what you found?

Karen: For our study, we surveyed 250 B2B sales professionals in North America. We found that 67% think that their small business selling strategy needs improvement to help them generate leads. Digging deeper, it seems that they are more concerned about the quality of leads than the quantity of them.

Laurie: Yes, we hear the same thing. For lack of a better term, SMBs often take a shotgun approach that may bring in lots of leads, but fails to bring in quality leads that are a good fit for the business.

Karen: Exactly. In fact, we spoke with Salesforce’s Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist, Tiffani Bova, for our study, and she explained that the biggest opportunity to improve lead performance was to, “incorporate personalization and intelligence into [the] sales process.” This missing element is backed up by our data as well: Just 10% of sales reps believe that their B2B customers are looking for any kind of personalized service when purchasing. These facts help paint a picture as to why that two-thirds of sales professionals think their sales strategy needs help.

If salespeople rarely think their customers want personalized service during the sales process, it leads to B2B customers focusing more on factors like ‘price’ when it comes to purchasing (which 64% of our customer sample cites as the most important purchase factor), forcing salespeople to fight over price.

Laurie: Sure, and the race to the bottom is one most SMBs can’t win against large companies. So, your survey also looked at how SMBs can use sales management software to help them to compete more effectively. What did you learn here?

Effect of sales software on revenue_GetApp 2016Karen: We found that 66% of SMB sales professionals currently use sales management software, while a third still doing things manually. Not surprisingly, among those using these solutions, 86% have seen an increase in revenue, and 93% reported a boost in productivity.

Laurie: We see very similar results in our studies. Technology is increasingly part of the business fabric, and SMBs that invest in technology to automate business processes can get a great return on their investment.

Karen: It can really help automate manual, time-consuming tasks, freeing reps up to focus more time on areas such as prospecting, nurturing and closing deals. These solutions also give sales reps more information about their leads and prospects so they can make better decisions. Together, this can help improve the sales process.

Laurie: Were there any other key findings from this study?

Karen: Yes. We heard very positive things on the value of sales training: 92% of respondents said that the additional training they have received has increased their selling abilities. We also found that sales people view one-to-one coaching, delivered on an ongoing basis, as the best type of sales training.

Subject matter is also important, such as equipping sales professionals with the right software training to help them to harness the soft skills they have developed. In addition, we found only 15% of salespeople use social media to generate leads and better engage potential B2B clients (compared to 27% for both phone and in person).

Laurie: Yes, this is a critical area that sales people need help with, because online reviews, ratings and social media increasingly shape buying decisions. But even though technology solutions offer great benefits, SMBs are often confused and challenged when it comes to deploying new tech solutions. In fact, in our 2015 SMB Group Routes to Market Study, respondents ranked “implementing new technology solutions” and “figuring out which technology solutions can best help my business” among their top three technology challenges. Your thoughts on this?

Karen: Well, if you’re a small business looking to implement a sales management or CRM for the first time, you need to take several considerations into account. This includes factors such as deployment speed, cost, training needs, features, integration with other software you are already using, can it grow with your business, and mobile capabilities. Cloud-based sales management software can help here, as having the software hosted generally means quicker setup (with less downtime), predictable cost with less to pay up front, the ability to add and remove users easily, simplified IT management, and more updates more often. Plus most cloud-based systems these days are intuitive and have mobile capabilities, which makes adoption easier.

Laurie: Yes, all of the above. In fact, we find ease of use often trumps price when SMBs are making software decisions, so its no wonder that cloud based CRM is becoming the norm. And while the PC isn’t dead, people are doing more work on mobile devices. In our 2016 SMB Collaboration, Communication & Mobility Study, 67% of SMBs said that mobile solutions are changing how they communicate and collaborate. Any final insights?

Effect of sales software on customer satisfaction_GetApp 2016Karen: In addition to the increases in revenues and productivity, we found 78% of salespeople have seen an increase in customer satisfaction after adopting CRM solutions, which I think underscores the fact that these solutions free up salespeople to focus on creating a selling process that caters to the customer, thus allowing small business to have a leg up and compete with the big fish.

Laurie: Absolutely agree with that, Karen, and thanks for sharing these findings and your perspectives with me.

Trends in SMB Collaboration, Communication, and Mobility: What’s Your Strategy?

Almost every employee in every company collaborates and communicates every day. In the past, most businesses relied primarily on email, phone systems and sticky notes to do this, but today’s technology provides us digital solutions that enable us to work anytime, anywhere.

Stream-based messaging and collaboration tools, cloud file sharing, conferencing, smartphones, tables and laptops can help employees and contractors collaborate to get work done more quickly and easily. Companies that use these solutions to automate and streamline collaboration can not only improve productivity, but also give employees more flexibility in terms of how, when, and where people they want to work. As baby boomers retire, these businesses will also be more in tune with and better able to attract and retain millennials as they enter their prime working years.

How are small and medium businesses (SMBs) thinking about and adapting to create a smarter, more agile workforce? At SMB Group, we recently surveyed 730 SMB decision-makers via our 2016 Small and Medium Business Communication, Collaboration & Mobility Study to find out. In our July 26 webinar, sponsored by Citrix, I’ll discuss survey findings that show that while SMBs are progressing well in some areas, there are some that they may not be paying enough attention to.

  • A majority of SMBs say they have a collaborative culture, and are getting productivity value from collaboration and communication solutions. 61% of SMBs agree/strongly agree that their company encourages and rewards collaboration; 70% agree/strongly agree that their communication and collaboration solutions help improve productivity. By incenting employees to work together, and providing them with solutions to empower them to do so more effectively, SMBs can boost productivity, job satisfaction, business outcomes and the bottom line.
  • SMBs are embracing cloud collaboration and communication solutions. A majority of SMBs already supplement staples such as email, on-premises file sharing servers and phone systems with newer, cloud-based tools for file sharing, instant messaging, and web and audio conferencing to aid collaboration. Furthermore, SMB plans to use more of these tools, and newer solutions, including video conferencing and stream-based messaging and collaboration tools, over the next 12 months. However, with so many solutions in the market, many SMBs have a hard time figuring out which ones will work best for the business. In addition, it’s easy for employees to use “unsanctioned” collaboration solutions, which can create support problems and security risks.
  • SMBs may not be making the connection between employee metrics and growth. SMBs are most likely to cite attracting new customers (51%), growing revenue (49%) and maximizing profitability (38%) as their top three business goals (Figure 1). In contrast, attracting and retaining quality employees (28%), improving productivity (19%), and creating a millennial friendly work environment (8%) are much lower down on the list. Yet empowered, productive and satisfied employees are generally a pre-requisite to creating happy customers and growing the business. SMBs can gain a competitive edge by realizing that strong employee metrics are intertwined with sustainable business growth and profitability.
  • SMBs are slow to embrace telecommuting. All SMBs surveyed have some employees that work from home on a regular basis, but telecommuting is not the norm among SMBs, with 59% indicating that 1%-10% of employees work from home regularly, and just 14% saying that more than half of their employees do so. On the bright side, 18% expect the percentage of telecommuters to rise over then next year, and 45% say that their company wants to make it easier for employees to work from home. Of course, not every job lends itself to telecommuting. But, to synch up with changing worker expectations—especially among millennials, who place a premium on flexibility—SMBs need to create a work at home strategy that aligns with both business and employee requirements.
  • More work is getting done on mobile devices, but SMBs face mobile management challenges. 67% of SMBs say that mobile solutions are changing how they communicate and collaborate. While the PC isn’t dead, people are doing more work on mobile devices, especially when it comes to collaboration and social media. For instance, for collaboration apps, 37% say that they’ve decreased their use of traditional PCs and laptops—and 6% say they no longer use PCs at all for collaboration! This swing is due in part to the convenience and portability of mobile devices over traditional desktops and even many laptops, and to increasing preferences for mobile interfaces. However, SMBs face several challenges to taking full advantage of mobile, including effectively securing and managing mobile devices and apps, especially when it comes to supporting bring your own device (BYOD) programs. Since the growing preference for mobile shows no signs of abating, SMBs must update mobile strategy, devices (including laptops), services, apps and policies to create a productive yet secure and manageable mobile work environment.

Figure 1: Top SMB Business Goals Slide1

These are just a few of the findings from the study. Please join our webinar, sponsored by Citrix, where I’ll examine these and other findings about the changing collaboration and communication landscape, and discuss the key pillars to create a strategy to improve communication, collaboration and productivity for your business.

IoT: Where Innovation, Pragmatism and Collaboration Meet

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a hot topic in technology. IoT, which connects objects to the Internet, will radically change how businesses, governments, and individuals interact with the physical world. Consequently, developers are seizing on the opportunity to capitalize on the almost $6 trillion that Business Intelligence estimates will be spent on IoT solutions over the next five years.

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Dell and Intel’s “Connect Wha Matters” IoT Contest awards dinner was held Searsucker in Austin, TX.

With so much development in the pipeline, what will success look like in the IoT market? Dell and Intel recently sponsored the “Connect What Matters” Internet of Things Contest, which sought out innovative industrial IoT solutions that incorporate Dell’s Edge Gateway. In my first post about the contest, I discussed V5 Systems’ Portable IoT Security System, which took top honors for its solution, which fuses edge and hybrid cloud analytics capabilities into a pre-integrated, compact and solar-powered wireless outdoor security system. This second post takes a broader look at the awards event, traits that many of the Gold and Sliver award winners share, and my perspectives on IoT and Dell’s approach in this area.

And The Winners Are…

The title of the contest, “Connect What Matters,” gets at the heart of why IoT is sparking so much interest. IoT marries technology–from the data center to endpoint sensors, from the cloud to analytics, from wireless to wired networks–to objects in the physical world to address pressing industrial challenges in unique and effective ways.

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Congratulations to the 16 winners of the Dell and Intel “Connect What Matters” IoT contest!

Contest winners brought IoT excitement to life with creative, pragmatic solutions. The five Gold contest winners, selected from more than 970 contest entries, included solutions that span across many industries, from farms to factory floors:

  • Eigen Innovations has built a video analytics solution for the factory floor. The solution uses thermal imaging cameras and PLC/sensor data captured through Dell Edge Gateways to help manufacturers integrate factory floor big data, machine learning, and human intelligence to improve process control and quality monitoring directly on the factory line.
  • Iamus combined IoT platform and facilities management expertise to build a unique smart street lamp solution for a smart city project. The solution enables cities to visualize, monitor, manage and optimize their environments to improve quality of life and reduce environmental impact and energy costs.
  • n.io developed a solution to transform manual, subjective farming operations into highly instrumented, automated precision agriculture systems. The solution helps agricultural companies increase crop yields and optimize delivery of resources, such as water.
  • RiptideIO created a packaged software-as-a-service (SaaS) IoT solution for small retailers to make store equipment smart. RiptideIO monitors and captures data on air conditioning, lighting, locks and other systems, stores it in the cloud, and alerts retailers if there’s a problem. The solution diagnoses the problems so service technicians know what parts to bring to fix the equipment.
  • Software AG has built a predictive maintenance solution that brings in-memory edge analytics to collected machine data for real-time predictive maintenance. Software AG’s solution enables both real-time condition monitoring and dynamic remaining useful life prediction. Key capabilities include data filtering, aggregation, threshold monitoring, Bollinger band calculation, baseline threshold calculations, gradient trend discovery and missing data notifications.

The 10 Silver winners include AZLOGICA, Blue Pillar, Calibr8 Systems Inc, Daliworks, ELM Fieldsight, Independent Automation, Onstream, PixController, Inc., PV Hardware and We Monitor Concrete. These companies further underscored just how enormous the IoT opportunity is. For example, solutions ranged from PixController, which aims to plug leaky systems in the gas industry with optical methane emissions detection, to ELM Fieldsight, which has partnered with Dynoptix to create a connected health system to monitor human body temperature and heart rate.

Where Innovation, Pragmatism and Collaboration Meet

Dell’s IoT contest winners are combining innovation and pragmatic industry expertise to solve real world problems. These companies are helping businesses and government replace manual data collection and subjective judgments with automated data collection and analysis and objective measurements, helping them to operate more efficiently and effectively. This translates into good news for both vendors and their customers.

Industrial IoT solutions must solve very complex and often specific problems, making collaboration another key success factor. No one vendor can possibly supply all of the technology, operational and industry expertise required to successfully bring an industrial IoT solution to market.

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I had the opportunity to network and meet with many of the winners as well as members of the Dell IoT team.

Partners I spoke to at the event emphasized the value of working with Dell’s IoT Partner Program, citing Dell’s Edge Gateway, deep technology expertise, strong brand and go-to-market support as critical to their initiatives. They were also excited about Dell and Intel’s partnership to build re-usable building blocks that promises to make it easier and faster for them to develop and scale IoT applications. For more info on Dell’s IoT Partner Program, see Dell’s IoT Strategy and Partner Programs: Part One and Dell’s IoT Strategy and Partner Programs: Part Two.

In addition, IoT winners spent a considerable amount of time at the awards ceremony learning about each other’s offerings, and exploring how to partner with each other to extend their solutions for additional industries and uses, and to enhance their solutions with additional capabilities.

Delivering Fast, Measurable Value

Unlike some technology areas where the value proposition is fuzzy and the return on investment can be difficult to measure, by their very nature, IoT solutions offer a built-in value proposition for customers. Dell’s IoT contest Gold winners easily paint the picture of how their solutions provide clear, measurable value, as described above.

And so do the Silver winners. For example, Blue Pillar Systems’ has more than 7,000,000 Energy “behind the meter” that control electricity in hospitals, data centers and other facilities, providing real-time control and visibility to make critical infrastructure safer and more efficient. Meanwhile, We Monitor Concrete can help concrete companies, builders and contractors monitor and manage concrete mixers to ensure that concrete is the right temperature and strength when delivered to a construction site.

Perspective

canstockphoto23533086The IoT revolution has only just begun, and Dell’s Connect What Matters contest also marked the one-year anniversary of Dell’s IoT Division. Dell’s IoT award winners are living proof that even at this early stage, IoT is quickly moving from hype to reality.

The diverse applications demonstrated provided abundant proof of how industrial IoT (IIoT) can deliver strong, evident value across industries and use cases. As important, although winners’ IoT solutions required a lot of technology and industry expertise to build, their customers don’t need to be technology experts to quickly deploy and get benefit from their solutions.

In addition, winners also validated Dell’s IoT approach and Edge Gateway Series, which takes care of some of the heavy technology lifting, and frees partners up to focus more of their energy on building unique and valuable solutions tailored to the needs to different industries and uses. Based on the innovation and value showcased in the first “Connect What Matters” contest, I expect that Dell’s IoT strategy and partner programs will yield an even more abundant crop of strong IoT solutions in its second year.

This post was sponsored by Dell.

The Right IoT Stuff: V5 Systems Wins Dell’s IoT Contest

The Internet of Things (IoT) has come a long way since 1982, when researchers at Carnegie Mellon University modified a Coke machine to create the first internet-connected appliance, which could report on inventory and whether drinks were cold.

Today, cloud, analytics, wireless and other technologies have advanced to the point where IoT can provide a simple, effective way to communicate with and through machines to get things done more easily, and to make better decisions. IoT, which connects physical world objects to the Internet to sense, control, interact and report on activities, is growing at an exponential pace. IDC and Intel project that the number of IoT objects will grow from 2 billion objects in 2006 to a projected 200 billion by 2020, equating to about 26 smart objects for every person in the world. And while consumer devices get the lion’s share of attention, industry represents the greatest opportunity for IoT to help companies track inventory, manage operations, improve efficiency, save money and protect people and property.

So it’s not surprising that according to CB Insights, corporate investors (e.g. corporations and their venture arms) have funneled $3.2B into the IoT space over the past six years, and that in 2015, they nearly doubled their 2014 IoT investments.

V5 Systems: From 12 Volt Batteries to State-of-the-Art Outdoor Security Systems

Amidst so many IoT startups, what makes one rise to the top? Dell has just announced the winner of its “Connect What Matters” Internet of Things Contest, in which it sought out innovative IoT solutions for businesses that incorporate Dell’s Edge Gateway. More than 970 contest registrations from 93 countries with 16 winners from 9 different countries claiming prizes worth more than $600,000.

Dell awarded the top, Platinum honor to V5 Systems for its V5 Portable IoT Security System, which fuses edge and hybrid cloud analytics capabilities into a pre-integrated, compact and solar-powered wireless outdoor security system.

Mazin Bedwan

Mazin Bedwan, V5 Systems President & COO

As with most great stories, V5 has an interesting beginning. I had a chance to interview President and COO Mazin Bedwan, about the company’s roots and solution. Mazin had previously been CEO of Pacific Stereo in the Bay Area, which was the largest 12 Volt automotive electronics retailer in North America. A few years ago, Steve Yung (then an ex-Cisco executive, now Chairman and CEO of V5 Systems) came to Pacific Stereo looking for a four-camera security system for his Volvo SUV. He wanted it to run–regardless of whether his car was running or not. Mazin tried to sell him a $200 car alarm, but then learned why Steve wanted an always-on camera system. Steve lived in a nice neighborhood that was experiencing rolling blackouts, making it easier for criminals to break into cars and homes. He wanted a car-mounted security system to watch his house from his driveway, as he was intent on catching the bad guys.

A few weeks later, Mazin and his brother Eddie delivered the camera system to Steve, who decided it was commercially marketable after it recorded video that led to the arrest of a home intruder/burglar. They named the company after V5, the region of the brain responsible for motion detection.

Bringing the Right Stuff to Dell’s IoT Contest

PSU Solution

V5 Systems V5 Portable IoT Security System

V5 Systems’ V5 Portable IoT Security system solves a big and pressing problem. Until V5 brought this solution to market, outdoor security vendors would cobble together solutions with off-the-shelf parts. Because power isn’t readily available in many outdoor locations, vendors would fill up trailers with 12-volt batteries and or diesel generators to back up solar panels, power cameras and motion sensors, and then tow the solution around.

Mazin emphasized that V5 chose innovation over integration to create an alternative to this cumbersome approach. Numerous patents and trade secrets attest to V5’s mission to deliver IoT value through innovation on many fronts.

Superbowl Deployment

V5 Portable Security Unit Deployment at Super Bowl 50

For instance, V5’s Portable IoT Security System:

  • Overcomes the power supply challenge. V5 has been granted 6 patents for its solar-powered smart power system, which enables it to run continuously outdoors. This negates the need for multiple batteries and generators, and the space they take up.V5 Systems has developed their own proprietary power and power management system. This means businesses can deploy the device to create a security zone in places without power–such as on a mountain top or in a forest–and get real-time alerts sent to their IoS or Android devices. 
  • Makes installation and transport easy. Businesses can install and start using the device, in under an hour. V5 pre-integrated computing, power, communications, storage and sensor capabilities in what amounts to a micro-data center. Because no trenching is required, users can circumvent lengthy permitting processes. And, at less than 20 inches long, it’s a snap to take the device down and redeploy in another location, such as changing security vantage points at festivals, concerts and other events.
  • Features bullet-resistant solar panels. Solar panels are a real pain point for law enforcement, because people can shoot and break them. V5’s proprietary bullet-resistant solar panel provides customers with an additional level of reliability, and gives V5 strong differentiation versus competitors.
  • Improves analytics accuracy. V5’s analytics library increases the accuracy of the data sent from the device. For instance, motion sensors at airports can be triggered by turbulence from planes, but V5’s analytics library provides more granular identification. For instance, at San Jose Airport, V5 has achieved 98% accuracy in detecting actual people or vehicles versus motion from jet turbulence.
  • Not only sees, but also hears. Unfortunately, campus violence has become all too common. Prior to deploying V5’s multi-sensory solution, San Jose State University lacked the capability to deploy a multi-sensory security solution for Spartan Stadium and one of its dorms. Now, the university has deployed V5’s Portable IoT Security System with cameras as visual sensors and microphones as acoustic sensors, to monitor dorms and Spartan Stadium from vantage points outside the facilities. The multi-sensory capabilities enable them to detect gunshots with 95% accuracy distinguishing gunshots from other loud sounds, and also to triangulate where the shots are coming from.
  • Will soon be able to detect chemicals. Methane, ammonia, chlorine and other gases are hazardous to breathe. With enough volume, these gases can also cause explosions, as on a Los Angeles city block in 2016, and in a cow barn in 2014 in Rasdorf, Germany. V5 will add chemical sensors in Q4 of this year.

Scaling With Dell

V5’s system is relevant and replicable across many industries. But V5 initially targeted law enforcement agencies. According to Mazin, they figured if they could succeed with skeptical cops, they’d succeed anywhere. Law Enforcement represents 10% of V5’s addressable market but accounts for 90% of its credibility. This strategy has worked, with endorsements from early law enforcement customers helping V5 open the door to sell to airports, universities, transportation, oil and gas, agricultural and other industries.

However, V5 needed help to effectively scale its solution, sales and service capabilities. Through its partnership with Dell, which began in 2015, Dell Services sells a unique V5 SKU. The SKU includes V5’s portable security unit, sensors, enclosure, power system, communications, storage and Dell’s Edge Gateway. Dell Services also provides 24/7 first-line tech support for the system, and access to Dell Financial Services.

Dell Unit

Dell Edge Gateway

 

V5 has also standardized on Dell servers.Dell’s Edge Gateway serves as the “industrial IoT brain” for the system, connecting to V5 devices. The Gateway Edge aggregates and analyzes the input, and sends it on to users’ Android or IoS devices. Because the Edge Gateway is designed for harsh conditions (from temperatures ranging from -30°C to 70°C), has a low-energy, fanless design, wall and DIN-rail mounts and it can sit within the V5 device. As a result, it sends only meaningful data to the cloud or control center, reducing data overload and bandwidth requirements.

Summary and Perspective

IoT is more than a technology buzzword. It is literally changing the very definition of computing. With IoT, devices and objects of all shapes and sizes can communicate directly, and as Mazin noted, “we’ve created a system that fits in your hands, has all the capabilities of a data center and can be deployed in any outdoor environment.”

IoT companies such as V5 and others highlight the enormous potential to IoT to do many things more easily, cost-effectively and intelligently than was possible in the past. IoT challenges–including privacy, security and skills–still need to be addressed, but the increasing digitization of the physical world make the sky is the limit for IoT innovation.

Mazin, Steve and Eddie seized this opportunity, creating a new business and business model based on the Industrial IoT. They serve as a great example of how IoT is redefining and reshaping how businesses get things done, and the elements needed to turn an idea into a reality.

This post was sponsored by Dell.

 

SAP’s Digital Transformation Story For SMBs

“Digital transformation” is one of the top trending buzzwords in technology today. But what does digital transformation mean? In broad terms, many define it as using digital technology to enable innovation and new, often disruptive, business models. However, technology vendors put different spins on digital transformation, depending on how their solutions fit in to the puzzle.

Most small and medium business (SMB) decision-makers view technology as a key to improving business processes and outcomes (Figure 1). But at the same time,SMBs rank “figuring out which technology solutions can help my business” as one of their top three technology challenges. Although SMBs have bought into the concept of using technology to improve and transform their businesses, many struggle to when it comes to putting a strategy in place to achieve these goals.

Figure 1: SMB Technology Attitudes and ChallengesSlide1

So I was interested to hear how SAP is framing the digital transformation story for its SAP Business One partners at SAP’s Business One Americas Innovation Summit in April. Although the ERP giant is best know for its large enterprise solutions, Business One, with over 50,000 customers worldwide, is SAP’s flagship business management solution for SMBs.

SAP’s 50,000 Foot View of Digital Transformation

In his opening keynote, Jonathan Becher, Chief Digital Officer at SAP, addressed the growing reality that today, companies need to disrupt or be disrupted. Unlike the industrial revolution, which allowed for a more linear approach to change, the digital era requires exponential change. Becher described digital transformation as consisting of three fundamental shifts:

  1. New customer experiences, such as in the music industry, which has evolved from vinyl records, tapes and CDs to iTunes and then Spotify and other streaming services;
  2. New business models, again using the example of the music industry, and its evolution from analog to digital buying and streaming;
  3. New value creation, as in the case of Airbnb, which has used technology to create a new way for people to list, find, and rent lodging.

While human creativity provides the spark, technology is the fuel that enables businesses to change their business processes and make the vision a reality.

Figure 2: Digital Business Requires Different ProcessesScreen Shot 2016-05-24 at 9.21.49 PM

HANA: SAP’s Innovation Foundation for Business One

In 2014, Business One became SAP’s first business management solution for SMBs running on SAP’s HANA computing platform. Positioning Business One SQL Server edition as the past, Luis Murguia, SAP’s Senior Vice President and General Manager for Business One, positioned SAP Business One HANA as the “foundation for innovation.” With Business One HANA, SMBs can analyze massive amounts of structured and unstructured information within seconds instead of days, and use predictive analytics to gain new insights into data and optimize business decision-making.

SAP has also modernized Business One with new cloud deployment services from within the SAP cloud. The cloud option is key to SAP Business One HANA growth in the Microsoft-centric SMB market, as it negates the need for the SMBs to understand deploy and manage a new database.

I asked partners at the event, including ECS, Vision 33, Boyum and AchieveIT Solutions, for their views on why customers choose Business One HANA. They noted the solution’s enterprise search capability, which allows users to quickly search for key information. Instead of stepping through tedious pull down menus to find information, such as how many units of an item are in stock, what’s sold and what’s been reordered, users can do a quick search. Another favorite is the ability to create interactive, Excel-like spreadsheets that are connected to the HANA database and refresh in seconds, enabling users to quickly slice and dice data, and make decisions based on real-time information. Partners also said customers see Business One HANA’s user-customizable dashboards and predictive analytics capabilities as top benefits.

Murguia described some real-world examples of how SMBs are using Business One HANA to transform their businesses. For instance, he discussed how a Medistance, an Omron medical equipment distributor in East Europe, changed the game against larger competitors by developing a remote managed care service. Medistance, which had been selling the devices, created a remote managed care service to monitor users’ blood pressure and glucose levels. It now gives away the devices to subscribers to its $15 per month service, which provides alarm notifications and services to evaluate risks and treatment recommendations.

SAP Business One Partners: Key to Moving from Steady to Exponential Growth

Overall, SAP has been steadily growing Business One’s footprint. Sales are up 17% year-over-year, and in 2016, Business One has been adding an average of twenty new customers a day. More important, Business One HANA revenues are also rising. According to SAP, 180 of the 1,000 new Business One customers last quarter chose HANA. However, while SAP is making good progress in wooing new Business One customers to HANA, key challenges remain when it comes to catalyzing exponential growth.

As Murguia noted, Business One partners are essential to accelerating this type of growth. But although some partners have seized on the opportunity Business One HANA provides to sell the digital transformation story, others are sticking with what they know—which is the Microsoft SQL Server version of Business One.

To persuade partners to make this transition, Murguia exhorted them realign their resources and thinking from opportunistic to having a clear vertical and geographic focus. With industry expertise, partners can provide SMBs with guidance for industry-centric innovation, using HANA, cloud, analytics, and mobility as the fuel for change. He underscored the need for partners to make this shift by noting that:

  • SAP introduced a new mobile app for sales professionals, which will only run on Business One HANA.
  • Only Business One HANA supports multi-currency.
  • SAP is providing incentives to sell Business One HANA.
  • 95% of new customers use Business One with an industry add-on, and 200 top Business One ISV partners have migrated over 600 vertical apps to HANA.
  • Millennial decision-makers will demand the type of Internet-like experience that Business One HANA provides.

Upping Business One’s Go-To-Market Game

SAP is investing in industry-specific marketing programs for consumer packaged goods (CPG), industrial machinery and components, professional services, retail, wholesale and distribution. It is also recruiting non-traditional partners with industry expertise, and providing more support from SAP inside sales to help partners build their pipelines. In addition, SAP has extended its University Alliance program beyond four-year institutions to partner is with community colleges to use Business One HANA in the classroom to encourage more trained millenials into the partner fold.

The vendor is also doubling down on content by making it easier for partners to find and use relevant case studies and to personalize their own success stories. SAP will help partners create more mobile-friendly, bite-size content for its Business One Repository, which currently has over 2700 testimonials. SAP is also “humanizing communication” with local advertising with its “Business One around the world” theme which features local landmarks, and a push to expand social media engagement beyond current Business One customers to a broader swath of businesses in it’s targeted vertical markets.

Perspective

The digital transformation imperative is clear. Businesses can actively embrace new possibilities and set themselves apart in their markets, or ignore it and risk being stream rolled under.

SAP Business One has a good story and positive proof points in terms of helping SMBs navigate this transformation. In fact, partners told me that once they are in a deal, win rates are over fifty percent.

However, getting into consideration (outside of some European countries and Latin America, where SAP Business One is a recognized SMB brand) is still a struggle. In many geographies, SMBs often discount SAP as a big business brand that’s not for them.

Furthermore, SMBs have many choices when it comes to ERP. While SAP Business One HANA is much less complex than its large enterprise ERP solution, Business One is arguably more complex and takes longer to deploy than several other choices. Some businesses are willing to accept complexity in return for a high degree of customization capabilities, but many will balk at the upfront learning and implementation curve,

To meet its exponential growth goals, SAP needs not only to deliver on the marketing programs discussed above, but must also:

  • Develop more compelling “high air cover” brand awareness. SAP needs a much more compelling, omnichannel brand campaign to increase the odds that Business One gets invited to the SMB table.
  • Do a better job of “connecting the dots.” How exactly does SAP Business One HANA help SMBs transform and achieve success in the digital era? Why is It more effective than other solutions? SAP must paint a more detailed picture and provide more industry-specific metrics to drive the story home.
  • Clear up the cloud story. Business One cloud options are still difficult to sort through. My understanding is that services from the SAP cloud are available in North America, but not in other countries. Some of the European partners I spoke with have their own hosting centers, and say that because of customization requirements and data privacy laws in Europe, multi-tenant cloud isn’t a viable option. If SAP really wants to use the cloud to fuel HANA adoption, it needs to have a much more straightforward cloud story or risks having pure cloud competitors undermine it in deals where cloud is the customer’s preference.
  • Put the SAP SMB puzzle pieces together. SAP needs to pull together Business One, Business By Design, Concur, Ariba, SAP Anywhere and other SMB-related SAP solutions into a more holistic, understandable SMB strategy.

SAP has come a long way in transforming the Business One solution for the digital era. However, only time will tell if it can go the distance with additional steps necessary for solution transformation, partner development and marketing reinvention.