Salesforce Evolves Communities From Forums To E-Commerce

Today Salesforce launched the ability to embed a Buy Button into sites built upon their Community Cloud platform. Click here for press release. This new feature will bring the power of commerce to the world of social: enabling brands to leverage the activity that takes place in social channels and convert it into financial transactions. The following is Constellation Research’s reaction to the news, co-authored by Principal Analysts Alan Lepofsky and Guy Courtin.

Below you can see an example, in this case labeled Cart, which allows community members to add an item for purchase.

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Shopping Meets Social

From the press release: “The new e-commerce capabilities enable communities of customers to discover, research, discuss and buy products in a single location while introducing a new sales channel for companies.”

Alan’s POV: This is significant because it enables companies to blend together 1) their community forums; where current and future customers can ask questions, post reviews and share feedback with 2) their e-commerce platform for purchasing. Today many companies separate these two functions, relying heavily on popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for customer engagement, then shifting those customers to another location for purchasing transactions.  The integration of community (social) and commerce (shopping) will allow for a much more seamless, hence more desirable customer experience.

Guy’s POV: Retail and CPG have long been aware of the growing power and influence social channels have on their brands and products. One only had to look as far as Twitter to see how brands such as @BestBuy or @USAir are acutely aware of any possible issue voiced by their customers. This announcement is looking to take advantage of the positive that comes of out social media – converting sales. Retail and CPG are also both acutely aware that their best sales people are existing customers. Enabling transactions to take place in these forums builds on the aspect of community influence.

Commerce Without Coding

From the press release: “With new e-commerce Lightning Components from Salesforce partners like CloudCraze, Demandware and Bigcommerce, companies will be able to seamlessly incorporate e-commerce into their communities. Lightning Components are reusable building blocks that enable companies to quickly add rich new capabilities into their communities without programming.”

Alan’s POV: While the idea of making it easy for “citizen developers” (line of business workers who are not trained coders) to simply drag and drop components into applications sounds appealing, organizations need to be weary, as there is more to application development than just writing lines of code. Successful applications rely on compelling user interfaces (the look) and user experiences (the interactions). Commerce is a complicated process, involving complex workflows between inventory, purchasing and shipping.  These things require professionals with training and experience. That said, there is nothing wrong with Salesforce making it easier for professional developers to add these new e-commerce functions to their applications. The addition of the Buy Button and other components from their business partner eco-system, help make the Salesforce1 a compelling platform.

Complexity Of Supply Chain Meets Ease Of One Click Commerce

From the press release: “Community Cloud customers are already deploying custom e-commerce solutions, demonstrating the power of combining transactions with communities.”

Guy’s POV: The addition of a transaction function to the communities is not as simple as adding some code to a web site. The supply chain aspects of order management, fulfillment and payment are all aspects of the supply chain that have to be in sync for the promise of a “buy” button to come to fruition. This is no simple task; many e-Commerce players have failed at this step. It will be an interesting play for the software giant if it can integrate some of the efforts it is making with Salesforce retail as well as the partnerships it announced to truly take this to then next level. As the examples given for this new offering revolve around digital assets, the challenge of moving physical goods is much more complex.

Summary: From Forums To E-Commerce

The announcement hold much promise when it comes to the integration of retail and communities. The addition of e-commerce provides Salesforce an edge over many rival social community platforms. However there remains much to be seen as to how Salesforce can fulfill some of the promises, especially when it comes to moving physical goods. What will they build themselves, what will customers need to build and what gaps will be filled by business partners and 3rd party vendors? Constellation supports this first step in integrating shopping and social and recommends customers speak with Salesforce to see if it will work with their specific e-commerce systems and suppliers. This is a space to watch, hopefully with more details and examples being presented at Dreamforce.

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Filed under Current Events, Online Community, Retail, Supply Chain

Infor acquires GT Nexus – bolsters their supply chain offerings.

The following blog post was jointly written with Ray Wang – click here for bio.

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On August 11th, 2015, Infor announced the $675M acquisition of GT Nexus, a private supply chain and procurement network solution vendor.  GTNexus brings $150M in cloud revenue, 28,000 companies on their network, 100,000 users across 66 countries, and $100B of goods each year on the procurement network. Constellation believes this will have long term consequences for both client bases. The largest impact might be in the continued transformation of Infor into a true cloud solution powerhouse. Constellation sees three main takeaways:

 

  1. Manufacturing is no longer an island in the digital economy. Both companies have a strong presence within manufacturing. GT Nexus completes the network economy by including a procurement network and supply chain orchestration.

 

Point of view (POV): Network economies require three things: content (Product) , network (distribution), and arms dealing (software).  Infor brings a huge base of manufacturers and retailers (products) while GT Nexus brings the procurement (network).  The combined clouds (arms dealer) bring technologies to the manufacturers to enable direct to customer and go from product ideation to commerce.

 

  1. Platform play opens up additional total addressable markets. GT Nexus has made major efforts to grow their platform – to become the network of networks.  The platform provides Infor with an untapped market opportunity.

 

(POV): GT Nexus has demonstrated the power of the platform via success stories such as Caterpillar who has leveraged the solution to better manage their network of products. Via the cloud based platform, Caterpillar is not only able to manage this vast range of products but is also able to pull insights from the large amount of data that is being created from the platform. Truly taking the community information and adapting new business use cases. This platform development will open up new opportunities for Infor customers.

Especially when it comes to verticals such as retail where Infor has been working hard to reworking in some cases developing an entire new suite of offerings. the knowledge and experience that GT Nexus brings to the equation will accelerate these efforts. Which could mean that Infor lwill be able to integrate this cloud based platform into their current offerings. The networks that Infor will add, such as the one exemplified by Caterpillar, will bring a tremendous asset to a company that is looking to become “the world’s first industry cloud company.”

 

  1. Combined force can become major player for retail. As stated during Infor’s analyst day in March of this year, the company was building “everything from scratch”  for retail.

 

(POV): With the addition of GT Nexus to the fold, where ever those efforts where they will only get a tremendous boost from what GT Nexus already has in the fold. Working with the likes of Patagonia, Brooks Brothers and Deckers (makers of such brands as UGG and Teva), GT Nexus has addressed a wide array of retailer issues. From better supplier relations to cross channel order management, the GT Nexus platform has been tackling major issues facing retailers. This focus on the retail supply chain is an important piece of the Infor puzzle. This is an area that Infor has expressed a strong desire to become a major player in, with this news it might just achieve that goal.

The Bottom Line: Network Economies Democratize The Disruption Of Digital Businesses

Mergers are nothing new in the world of enterprise software and customers should not be surprised.. GT Nexus was one of the few large supply chain and procurement vendors that could be an acquisition target. Others vendors such as Manhattan Associates, Logility and Kinaxis remain strong tragets for mergers and acquisition in supply chain.  On the procurement side, hot startup Coupa is giving SAP Ariba a run for the money.  The result, it makes sense for large players such as Infor to turn their eyes to such a move and iit fulfills a need that cannot be allowed to wait for development to satisfy.

Recommendations: Rationalize Your Vendors In The Cloud Post Merger

For Infor customers this should prove to be highly beneficial. GT Nexus will add a host of new offerings that Infor customers should be able to take advantage of immediately. Infor customer’s in manufacturing or retail should determine what parts of GT Nexus they can immediately address for supply chain orchestration and procurement network issues. For GT Nexus clients, things should be business as usual. However, be aware that supply chain and procurement networks are not the only priority for Infor. On the contrary, Infor has been more successful in ERP and HCM. Customers should ensure that they are clear as to how they will fit in the new organization and what efforts will be made to ensure that their solutions continue to command the attention it warrants.  As many customers overlap, they should evaluate how the merger streamlines existing contracts and improve the ability to create network economies.

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Filed under Cloud, Current Events, Manufacturing, Retail, Supply Chain, Technology

Apply for a SuperNova Award – Recognizing leaders in digital business

Every year the Constellation SuperNova Awards recognize eight individuals for their leadership in digital business. Nominate yourself or someone you know by August 7, 2015.

The SuperNova Awards honor leaders that demonstrate excellence in the application and adoption of new and emerging technologies.
In its fifth year, the Constellation SuperNova Awards will recognize eight individuals who demonstrate true leadership in digital business through their application and adoption of new and emerging technologies. We’re searching for leaders and teams who have innovatively applied disruptive technolgies to their business models as a means of adapting to the rapidly-changing digital business environment. Special emphasis will be given to projects that seek to redefine how the enterprise uses technology on a large scale.

We’re searching for the boldest, most transformative technology projects out there. Apply for a SuperNova Award by filling out the application here:
https://www.constellationr.com/node/3137/apply

SuperNova Award Categories
• Consumerization of IT & The New C-Suite – The Enterprise embraces consumer tech, and perfects it.
•  Data to Decisions – Using data to make informed business decisions.
•  Digital Marketing Transformation – Put away that megaphone. Marketing in the digital age requires a new approach.
•  Future of Work – The processes and technologies addressing the rapidly shifting work paradigm.
•  Matrix Commerce – Commerce responds to changing realities from the supply chain to the storefront.
•  Next Generation Customer Experience – Customers in the digital age demand seamless service throughout all lifecycle stages and across all channels.
•  Safety and Privacy – Not ‘security’. Safety and Privacy is the art and science of the art and science of protecting information assets, including your most important assets: your people.
•  Technology Optimization & Innovation – Innovative methods to balance innovation and budget requirements.

5 reasons to apply for a SuperNova Award:

• Exposure to the SuperNova Award judges, comprised of the top influencers in enterprise technology
• Case study highlighting the achievements of the winners written by Constellation analysts
• Complimentary admission to the SuperNova Award Gala Dinner and Constellation’s Connected Enterprise for all finalists
(November 4-6, 2015) lodging and travel not included
• One year unlimited access to Constellation’s research library
• Winners featured on Constellation’s blog and weekly newsletter

Learn more about the SuperNova Awards.

What to expect when applying for a SuperNova Award. Tips and sample application.

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Filed under Current Events

Plex manufacturing makes happy customers – which leads to healthy growth

I recently attended PowerPlex, Plex Systems’ annual user conference, the largest in their history with over 1000 attendees. It was hosted in the biosphere that is the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville Tennessee; I think I have finally figured out how to navigate the vast property (anyone who has been there knows that the place is absolutely massive, over a beer I am happy to share a funny experience…it involves different shades of green and trying to enter the wrong room).

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Show me some numbers!

Enough about my issues with hotel lay outs, what was not confusing from my time spent in Nashville was the positive energy that was running throughout the event. The high level of enthusiasm as well as the positive attitude flowed through the event – Plex truly is living up to their goal of making their customers “happy ERP customers.”

Some highlights from the event:

  • It is all about being the best manufacturer possible – Plex’s community of customers is truly touching a large part of the global economy. From main stage, CEO Jason Blessing, highlighted some impressive numbers of what Plex solutions are powering throughout their installed base:
    • 6m items are being produced weekly.
    • 41m quality checks are taking place per year.
    • $25b worth of customer revenue generated annually.
    • 945b pounds of materials handled on an annual basis.

Some impressive numbers indeed. The lesson to be drawn from these figures is that, as manufacturing remains a vital driver for the economy, Plex continues to play an important role in making this happen. Bottom line as Jerry Foster, VP of Research and Development, said, “Our job is to ensure manufacturers can manufacture more efficiently every day.” It was clear from main stage as well my hallway conversations that Plex remains true to this mantra. They are completely laser focused on how they can partner with their customers to be the best manufacturers possible.

  • The core is solid, but now it is time to improve the edges – The core functionality for Plex is humming along, while Plex certainly is not resting on their laurels, there was discussion around the work Plex has been embarking on with complimentary aspects of their solution. One such area was an emphasis on a new and friendlier user interface, calling it Plex UX. This is not a minor challenge for a company like Plex and the customers they are servicing. Unlike other software providers, the Plex software is truly being leveraged from shop floor to top floor. Plex UX has to be adaptive to a shop floor, which contains many environmental challenges, as well as users who maybe interacting with the software while wearing gloves or other manufacturing gear. At the same time a head of manufacturing, CFO or COO needs to interact with the same software in an office environment. Not a simple design challenge. Look for this to be rolled out in Q4 of this year. The interface is also only as useful as the data and insights that are available, that is where their Plex Insight comes into play. This offering empowers Plex customers to extract the right data from their systems, truly giving a full understanding of data that is being processed. A third new offering is Plex Connect, a platform to connect the vast expanse of data generating parts of the Plex environment. This is most exciting, to this author, when it comes to tying the data being produced from IoT enabled parts of the manufacturing and supply chains. Potentially a real game changer for Plex. In addition to these new offerings, Plex spoke at length of their partnerships with Workday, Demandcaster and Salesforce. Highlighting their focus on bringing together enhanced cloud based offerings to their customer base.
  • Lets get serious about some toys – Apple watch, Google glass, wired clothing, GoGlove and wristband technologies from the likes of Myo and Nymi were all highlighted as areas of continuing focus for Plex. Good. At Constellation Research we are constantly challenging our customers to think about and to be willing to explore areas of digital disruption that can and are impacting their industries. Plex’s continue efforts to explore how they can leverage new technologies and more importantly how they can work with their customers to utilize these new offerings will continue to pay dividends. Plex’s work in the wearables space is of particular interest. For example, they discussed working with clients on connected vests to make the shop floor safer. Environments where heavy machinery, such as forklifts, are constantly in motion, being able to have safety measures such as IoT enabled vests, which can alert drivers of workers on the floor – preventing accidents. The opportunity for Plex is to take some of these learning and offerings and push into areas they currently do not have a presence – think warehousing and even yard management. As IoT, wearables and even drones become more prevalent on shop floors, look for Plex to continue to explore how to make sure these allow companies to manufacture more efficiently.

As I wrote a few months ago after attending the Plex analyst day, the company continues to push towards some lofty heights. Based on the financials the executive team shared with us this growth is being reflected in the numbers, especially impressive is their average annual revenue per customer, which is trending upwards. It is clear that Jason and the executive team are also putting more wood behind the arrow as they are targeting another 100% increase in quota carrying sales executives by end of year. It was also evident in the customer stories from the likes of Accuride, Sanders Fine Chocolates, Fisher & Co, American Axle and Floracraft to name a few.

Of course the road ahead is not without challenges. The company is pushing up stream into larger accounts, which will start putting them head to head with a new batch of formidable competitors. There is also global expansion. While their solutions are being used in over 20 countries, at some point Plex will need to target and close business with manufacturers that are not headquartered in the United States. While they argue there remains plenty of business in the domestic market, for Plex to truly achieve some of the goals they have they will have to target some global geographies.

A good challenge for Jason and his team, one that will determine how far Plex can go. As long as they focus on making “happy ERP customers,” Plex will continue to have success.

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Filed under Manufacturing, Supply Chain

Capgemini continues the journey to becoming the innovation company

Two weeks ago I was on the road again…I know I know…. what a surprise! I can’t complain since I was home, Paris France, where Capgemini was hosting their summer analyst day at their fabulous training center (see picture). While the setting at Les Fontaine captured the tradition and history of France, the discussions with Capgemini were dominated by the theme around innovation and looking forward. How Capgemini is working with leading firms across a variety of industries to infuse innovation into their every day DNA.

Not a bad place for a 2 day meeting.

Not a bad place for a 2 day meeting.

Capgemini is correct in focusing on how the digital revolution we are undergoing, will have a wide and deep impact on industries. While there were a number of examples from all the businesses they work with, the ones that caught my attention were, no surprise, around supply chain.

  • Capgemini and large European retailer discussed their thinking around an important customer centric project. At the base of this project is the need to implement a large and comprehensive CRM system. Speaking with an executive from the retailer, it was evident that they recognize the importance to create a 360-degree view of their customers. The goal being to nurture the customer experience, constantly and continually. The notion of a sequential relationship – customer has a need, customer seeks solution, customer buys product and transaction is consummated – is no longer how the retail/consumer relationship works. The retailer has identified the need to be much savvier when it comes to their consumers’ data. As they work through the technological needs, it was clear in my discussions that they are exploring new and powerful ways of leveraging the information they expect to extract from their CRM solution to better service their customers, which is really about providing an enhanced retailing experience.
  • Speaking with some of the Capgemini executives it was clear that they regard supply chain improvements as holding great opportunity. The thinking focuses on how digital is disrupting the entire supply chain, and the opportunity to target the parts that are “hidden” from the general public. Of course this is music to my ears. A wonderful example of this in action is the work Capgemini is doing with Nokia and their world class supply chain. The Finnish telecom giant has looked to Capgemini to overhaul their production and sourcing processes – to harmonize the supply chain. The work is not simply about buying a new software solution, but rather about identifying the business processes that must change and some that need to be adopted. Not a small task. But the work Capgemini is accomplishing at this level with Nokia could and should lead to more transformative projects within their supply chain – leveraging the digital transformation for future business cases.
  • The Internet of Things (IoT) and the impact it has with manufacturing. Digital manufacturing within such areas as the automotive industry was highlighted as well. Speaking with the Capgemini heads of the automotive sector, the discussion revolved around the base line use cases many companies are using IoT for: asset management, predictive maintenance and field enablement. However in my discussions around this topic we began to explore the possibility of new use cases emerging from IoT. Around greater customer experience, enhanced store utilization and new business models between manufacturer and customer. Some of which may never see the light or day, but Capgemini is clearly thinking about disruptive this technology will truly become. More importantly, Capgemini is partnering with their customer base about how to take advantage of IoT.

Following up from my meetings with Capgemini this March in Chicago, the digital disruptive theme continues to be a vital theme to what Capgemini is executing on with their customers. Their ability to continue to help their customers innovate around digital, will determine how successful Capgemini is in becoming a leading services firm in this space. Companies, from all industries, will need these types of partners as their industries become transformed and disrupted by digital changes.

We are all witness to the transformation every day – for example while in Paris with Capgemini we were subject to a strike by an traditional business, taxi drivers, against a digital disruptor Uber. We are all seeing and thinking about how each industry will be impacted by this change, companies like Capgemini are working on a valuable services partner to help navigate the journey.

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Filed under Current Events, IOT, Supply Chain

Lifesciences IoT opportunity – will privacy issues slow it down?

This week I met with an executive from Biogen. We spent time discussing their business, the usual areas where covered: how they were dealing with the patent cliff, their diversification of offerings, how they were working internationally to name a few. But the one area that really got my juices flowing was when we touched upon how IoT impacts the pharmaceutical space. From my discussion it appears that there are two interesting plays for IoT in pharmaceuticals.

  • The first is in their supply chain. From manufacturing, to storage and distribution, IoT holds great promise. No surprise as we see a large majority of manufacturers across a large spectrum, leaning on IoT to provide data that leads to greater efficiencies within their supply chains. For heavily regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals, the promise IoT holds out with regards to greater visibility as well as enhanced track and trace addresses a key issue these companies must address. Unlike a clothing manufacturer where a defect lot can lead to lost sales or a public relations night mare (think Lululemon’s recall with transparent yoga pants) if a pharmaceutical company has a defective batch of products the potential results are much more serious. They could have dangerous even fatal consequences for the end user. For the manufacturer or distributor they are under threat of heavy fines and even arrest. Not what either the end consumer of the manufacturer wants. Pharmaceutical companies, if they aren’t already, should be looking at IoT solutions that can allow them to secure the handling of their products. For example leveraging sensors that can monitor how product is handled through the transportation nodes: was it maintained at the proper temperature or was the container properly handled: Sensors could also be leveraged to ensure that there was no tampering with the product. Of course sensors can also be used in the manufacturing process to measure and optimize the factory process.
  • The second potential usage of IoT is with the product itself. Now this is where there is the potential for some great insights and good, but also raises a potential red flag. Companies like Merck are already talking about and exploring the development of “digestables.” That is right, IoT enabled drugs or devices that consumers would eat. The hope is that the data that we can extract from these products revolves around how the drugs interact with our bodies, how are they truly interacting and simply if they are being taken properly (read as doctors tell us to!). From a medical devices perspective we already see companies like Boston Scientific who make pace makers that are IoT enabled. Anyone who is a fan of the HBO show, Homeland, knows the potential risk that poses! Much of this is only being tested in the labs or thought about in development meetings, but it does bring up the question about privacy. An enormity that might hold back IoT is how is the data going to be handled and protected? There are already rumblings around simple data that our iPhones or Fitbits collect about how many steps we took today, our heart rates or how many calories we burned. What happens when there are devices that are throwing off data about the health of our intestines, how often we go to the bathroom or if we are showing early signs of diabetes? Richie Etwaru has a wonderful model for IoT where as the IoT enabled product gets physically closer to a person’s heart, the greater the possible issues, especially around privacy. Digestables might be just a few inches away from the heart…from the inside.

Pharmaceutical companies should absolutely be exploring how to leverage IoT. When it comes to managing their supply chain, they are a prime industry to unlock the greater visibility and monitoring of the processes within the supply chain. The real issue is when pharmaceuticals start to productize IoT what will the privacy ramifications be? They better start thinking and preparing for this issue today.

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Filed under IoT, Supply Chain

GT Nexus crossing the bridge to greener pastures

Last week I spent part of it in a much warmer and sunnier location – Hollywood Florida – attending the GT Nexus show: Bridges 2015. The event format was, no surprise, the usual roster of executives and customer stories paraded out on main stage as well as more intimate break out sessions.

On main stage GT Nexus CEO Sean Feeney kicked off the event with an overview of where GT Nexus is and where it is heading. With over $156b worth of goods passing through the GT Nexus systems and over 100k active users, GT Nexus has a clear foundation for continued success in the supply chain world. Mr. Feeney also highlighted the following areas of focus moving forward:

  • GT Nexus transportation management will remain a core offering, one that the company will continue to build on. Good to hear since this is really their bread and butter, and should continue to be their foundation.
  • The Internet of Things (IoT) will become an important play for GT Nexus as the data surrounding their clients products and goods only continues to grow, GT Nexus will be working to drive deeper into the insights this information can offer. Clearly with the explosion of sensors and the data they are throwing off, it makes strategic sense for GT Nexus to put together a strategic offering around this space.
  • Growing mobility ties into the added data GT Nexus will be looking to leverage, since all the data does not mean much if the insights cannot be gained as well as shared wherever and whenever the business dictates.
  • Greater supply chain intelligence. This is GT Nexus’ #1 focus for R&D. Think of this as the platform that will allow clients and partners to move up the ladder to the ultimate goal of becoming more prescriptive rather than simply descriptive.
  • AppXpress, GT Nexus offering a PaaS for their customers and partners to develop applications on their backbone. Clients such as Patagonia and Adidas have already been leveraging this for a year. Look for more clients and partners to take advantage of this offering.

These directions for GT Nexus are natural continuations of their existing business initiatives, but what was an interesting undertone for the firm is their continual work around their platform play. An interesting statement from main stage, and one that I would argue is the most important that came from Sean Feeney was around the amount of data that GT Nexus has passing through their solutions. With continual focus and improvement on this data the greater the results that can be derived from these supply chains.

This notion of becoming the platform to empower their customers with greater visibility is key to the future growth for GT Nexus. Companies such as Deckers, Patagonia and Caterpillar all provided varied uses cases for how they are leveraging the GT Nexus platform, visibility first and then the use cases that emerged. Greater efficiency with supplier relationships, streamlining global movement of inventory and being more efficient with the ability to track & trace product were highlighted via customer discussions. Use cases that might not have the “wow” factor, but use cases that lead to real results and measurable ROI.

What do all these use cases have in common? GT Nexus is the platform being leveraged to provide the necessary data and insights for these companies to implement new use cases. Can GT Nexus continue to build on this platform? There is not reason to believe that with a continued focus and commitment that GT Nexus’ platform play will lead to greater opportunities. It could lead to much greener pastures.

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Filed under Current Events, IoT, Retail, Supply Chain