Unit4’s products fit smack-dab in the ERP domain I cover: services industries. Its products are designed around people-centric businesses like public sector, professional services, education, not for profits, and real estate. In fact, the first two segments I just mentioned account for more than one-third of its installed base of 30,000 customers. That said, if you live outside of Europe, you may have never heard of Unit4 because nearly 85% of its revenues are derived there.
Like many other long standing ERP vendors, Unit4 has a large number of heritage users that remain on-premise in the midst of trends pointing to a more cloudy future. Recently, it made its applications available on the public cloud, private cloud, or on-premise along with the ability to quickly shift between them as needed. Since then, it’s the majority of its new business revenue has shifted to the cloud and users are able to have it “their way.”
For those in “the know”, a key area of strength for Unit4 has always been the ability of its flagship Agresso ERP to be be be quickly and flexibly configured to reflect the needs of business users without the unnatural acts often required of some other ERP systems.
This past month Unit4 ratcheted up its momentum by announcing that it was enhancing, renaming and rebranding its entire portfolio as part of a major new marketing campaign. Combined with the recent naming of Scott Kamieneski as new North American Managing Director it also hinted (without confirming) that the North American hinterland–its planted only marginal resources there in the past–might fit nicely in Unit4’s cross-hairs for the new campaign. But you didn’t hear it from me..
Anyway, back to the announcements themselves. The big-deal is the introduction of a new single strategic application/UX platform (the “People Platform”) together with the renaming its two primary solutions:
- Unit4 Business World Milestone 5 (formerly Agresso)
- Unit4 Financials, Version 13 (formerly CODA)
One can only be relieved and thankful for the overdue overhaul. The move itself shows that Unit4 is finally finding its marketing mojo under new CEO Jose Duarte (formerly of SAP). Despite success and good solutions, Unit4 has had a run on shifting product names and marketing messages over the last decade. This streamlines things nicely and centers its strategic platform on the one single asset most important to all its customers: People.
So what exactly is this “People Platform”? In a nutshell it’s the technological foundation for Unit4 applications (see http://your-rules.unit4.com/#people-platform). What does it do? It delivers “smart context” and enhances the overall user experience and level of personalization associated with the above applications. It does it immediately for Unit4 Business World Milestone 5. Unit4 Financials Version 13 has begun to take advantage of it and has plans to quickly adopt all platform features.
Maybe a little background would help: Unit4’s Elastic Foundation includes a customer’s business and data model and the interrelationships between them that feed Unit4’s various reporting and analytic capabilities. The cool thing about it is that both of them can be quickly changed “on the fly” by users without touching any underlying source code. Hence, as a firm’s organizational structure or priorities change—say it merges with or acquires another company—the software is able to quickly adapt and accommodate it. These changes can be made at the user-level (for example, in a role specific way), across an organization, or, across the whole company. It’s achieved by introducing a common foundation across all modules, reports and workflows that automatically adapts to changing data structures. Quick changes can be made in one place and automatically ripple through the entire ERP system without manual intervention.
So building on that, what does the new People Platform bring to the table? Beyond some immediate tactical advantages like the ability of Unit4 Financials to pick up neat functionality like Flexifields that were once reserved only for Unit4 Business World (Agresso), it adds specific new “smart context” and personalization enhancements. What’s that? Unit4 defines it as “blending social, mobile and visualization tools with in-memory data analytics and predictive capabilities in order to drive a user experience that’s both relevant and simple at all times.”
Beyond providing improved capabilities that take advantage of social for team collaboration in situations such as budgeting, appraisals (performance management), payroll, and procurement, the coolest, most intriguing aspect of this announcement for me was the introduction of in-memory data analysis and predictive (pattern-matching) capabilities that when used in combination with social and mobile technology and data about people drives some very cool light-up scenarios like these:
- A system that automatically analyzes internal or external social feeds and customer behavior for certain patterns or levels of sentiment that then can alert the right users based on the insight gleaned and present underlying data within the context of a user’s role in the organization.
- Based on certain conditions (identified patterns, for example) automatically changing the look and feel of a data entry or querying screen or the type of visualization that might be presented to a user.
- Automatically pre-populating expense reports based on characteristics of past entries.
- Offering on-line assistance based on the way a user might be interacting with the system at a given time.
.. and on. The possibilities are endless.
By harnessing contextual exchanges and delivering improved insights enabling users to skip over the vast reams of irrelevant information they are inundated with daily, Unit4 hopes the People Platform will drive a more engaging and meaningful workplace experience.
But does it differentiate Unit4 competitively? After all while bundling this stuff together into a single platform and branding concept is a cool idea, many competitors are working on or doing the same thing, albeit under various schemes and variations on the theme. The answer is that the potential is certainly there. Why?
- It’s available today with Unit4 Business World Milestone 5. Users can begin leveraging it right now.
- It’s centralized on a single people-centric platform delivering a user experience tuned specifically for those operating in services industries. The ability to focus on industry-specific scenarios to a higher degree than other ERPs that, for example, primarily focus on products, could differentiate it.
- The People Platform is potentially “super-charged” because of Unit4’s underlying elastic foundation. Unit4, for example, could argue that adding social, mobile, context-relevant awareness and predictive analytics by themselves without an underlying architecture that enables business change limits user opportunities.
While it’s easy to write-off this announcement as re-branding hype, with a smattering of new functionality thrown in to spice things up, there are some potential gems here if Unit4 is able to aggressively leverage them to open new doors and take their customers to new levels. In any case, the announcement when put in the context of other recent moves shows that we are now looking at an edgier, more calculating and aggressive Unit4—and that’s good for the market!
There are two versions of Unit4’s People Platform with the Foundation release already available, but the Enterprise Edition will be forthcoming in the near future. In order to reap the rewards associated with the People Platform, Unit4 will encourage current customers to upgrade to Unit4 Business World Milestone 5, which is positioned as their go forward product for years to come.
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