Change your view: Enterprise vendors want users to embrace ERP as a strategic tool
Most manufacturers rely on ERP systems to process major transactions. Now enterprise vendors want users to change the way they think about ERP—a strategy that was evident in the product announcements coming from the fall user conferences of three midmarket ERP vendors: IFS, Infor, and Epicor.
Most manufacturers rely on ERP systems to process major transactions—taking orders, tracking inventory, recording payments, and more. Now ERP vendors want users to embrace their systems as strategic tools that serve up information to aid in decision-making that will improve business performance.
Convincing users to change the way they think about ERP was evident in the product announcements coming from the fall user conferences of three midmarket ERP vendors. New Web-oriented user interfaces, role-based portals, and tight links to widely used desktop applications such as Microsoft Excel are key components of what these vendors are referring to as next-generation ERP suites.
The three user events kicked off in Chicago the week of October 5, where IFS offered attendees to its North American user conference a demonstration of its new Aurora user interface, which the company says sailed through alpha testing this past summer.
IFS CTO Dan Matthews says the Aurora interface "brings the usability of enterprise software to the next level, emulating the look, feel, and simplicity of consumer applications.” The interface is now available as an add-on to the current edition of the IFS ERP suite, IFS Applications 7.5. It’s expected to be the default interface in the next version of IFS Applications.
“The new navigation possibilities are amazing,” Senior CAD Engineer Derek Johnstone of IFS customer Wolfson Microelectronics says of the Aurora interface. “It’s easy to go back and forward in the application. The collaboration functions eliminate many of the manual steps currently necessary to communicate between colleagues. Now I’ll be able to carry out all the stages in a single application. With a couple of clicks I can select information and send it to a colleague extremely quickly and easily.”
Allowing users to execute complete business processes within a single application is one of the major goals Infor hopes to accomplish with the release of MyDay, a Web 2.0 interface unveiled at the Infor user conference the week of October 12.
“Infor MyDay is a new type of interface that lets users look at information in a way that is relevant to their specific roles,” says Christina McKeon, Infor’s director of product marketing for performance management solutions.
Infor hopes users will establish MyDay as the default home page on their desktop PCs, bringing them immediately to the Infor application suite when they log on to begin their work day.
“A plant manager can log in and get a list of alerts about issues that might delay the manufacturing process that day,” McKeon says. “They can click an alert to get more details, and then immediately move the appropriate applications to resolve the situation.”
The MyDay interface is expected to be generally available in January 2009. McKeon says interfaces for 16 roles—“including several that are core to manufacturing, such as production planner, purchasing manager, and warehouse manager”—should be available at that time.
In keeping with its stated philosophy of moving a series of recently acquired applications to a single technology platform, Infor is making the first-release MyDay interface available to users of four of its product suites: SyteLine, Adage, Visual, and LN.
McKeon says Infor is relying on its Open SOA (service-oriented architecture) platform to link MyDay to these various application suites. Infor introduced Open SOA at its 2007 user conference and declared it would be the platform for connecting all new Infor functionality to existing products moving forward.
In addition to the MyDay interface, Infor is developing software components that perform various business functions, and can be linked to any of its existing applications through the Open SOA platform. In January 2009, 19 business components are expected to be available.
“This is our strategy for not forcing you to move to a new software platform,” Infor CEO Jim Schaper said in his keynote address to users at the conference. “It’s working for you and for us.”
Epicor also has an SOA underpinning the latest version of its ERP suite—Epicor 9—which it unveiled at its user conference the week of October 19.
Epicor CEO Tom Kelly calls out these key features of Epicor 9:
• Enhanced business intelligence and performance management functionality;
• A flexible, scaleable architecture; and
• The ability to access the system anytime, anywhere—including on mobile devices.
“Epicor 9 is designed for the way people work today,” Kelly says. “Our strategy is to provide both new and existing customers with unprecedented flexibility and choice. It’s about delivering business without barriers.”
Annual Salary Survey
After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.
The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.