by Aaron Lazenby, August 2014
When people talk about innovation, they often imagine big ideas, breakthrough technologies, or brand-new ways of doing business. But Lyle Ekdahl, senior vice president and general manager, Oracle’s JD Edwards product family, has a different definition.
“Innovation can be incremental. It can be about putting existing technologies together in unique ways or adding new improvements,” he says. “That’s what we focus on, because our customers want a continuous flow of new capabilities that they can use to innovate in their own businesses.”
Oracle’s JD Edwards customers are not interested in “technology for technology’s sake,” says Ekdahl. Instead, they want their enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to help them do their work better.
“At the end of the day, they don’t want to just collect mountains of data. They want that data to be useful so it can help them make better decisions,” he says. “They want a richer platform for collaboration. And, as they move away from linear processes, they want more agility and creativity to address their network and what’s going on in their markets.”
Most tier 1 ERP systems were not designed to keep pace with the way people do business today, he says, but Oracle’s JD Edwards solutions do because of a strong commitment to incremental innovation and the JD Edwards team’s focus on customers.
Here, Ekdahl talks to Profit about creative ways that customers are using JD Edwards solutions to both save money and drive their businesses forward, how his team stays ahead of coming trends, and the new product developments he is most excited about right now.
Customer s with installed ERP foundations can now co mbine transactional infor mation with these new platfor ms to do some pretty amazing things.
Profit: How are customers responding to the mostrecent enhancements in JD Edwards solutions?
Ekdahl: The phenomenal rate at which our customers are adopting JD Edwards EnterpriseOne One View Reporting proves they are looking for more visualization of ERP data and better ways of seeing transactional and operational data to help them make strong decisions. It’s a real-time solution, so end users and individual contributors can slice and dice live information, creating their own reports in the course of their working day.
We are also hearing from customers who are excited about the level of new functionality that we’ve delivered, using in-memory technology to compress business processes and really do away with batch processing. This helps them by creating more time for better business decisions.
And there’s more coming: we worked with our database team on the Oracle Database 12c launch, and we’ve seen incredible performance improvements running JD Edwards solutions through the new Oracle Database In-Memory option, with performance improved upwards of a thousand times. This will be a huge benefit for customers.
Profit: You meet with a lot of customers. What are you hearing about some of the unique ways they are using Oracle’s JD Edwards products?
Ekdahl: One of our customers actually used JD Edwards as a platform for gamification. They wanted their employees to file expense reports properly, so instead of putting in place rigid, stultifying processes, they decided to give people badges, points, and awards and create a leaderboard.
When we helped them roll these elements out in our expense reporting module, they saw a quantum change in the number of expense reports submitted correctly and submitted on time, as well as a reduction in rogue buying. It was phenomenally successful, and now they’re looking at additional ways to roll gamification into other areas of their ERP system.
Also, Oracle’s acquisitions have created some unique opportunities. For example, think about the Oracle Eloqua Marketing Cloud Service and Oracle RightNow Cloud Service offerings. Customers with installed ERP foundations can now combine transactional information with these new platforms to do some pretty amazing things.
For example, one of our wine-producing customers is using Oracle RightNow Cloud Service to better understand how its products are being received in the market. Then, the company’s executives are taking that information and plugging it back into the JD Edwards systems, which helps drive certain work activities to build a better bottle of wine.
Profit: How do you keep up with what customers want—or need?
Ekdahl: We work to get out in front of trends and be leaders as opposed to just following along, dragging our feet. To succeed at this, we’ve combined a small group of supersmart architectural technologists with market strategists to create an advanced research and development team. I have them scanning the horizon for what’s coming to market.
They also spend a lot of time looking at Oracle’s products, including Oracle’s latest acquisitions, to see how we can apply new technologies to JD Edwards products and the ERP space. For example, the foundation for JD Edwards EnterpriseOne One View Reporting is Oracle Business Intelligence Publisher, and a lot of the user interface for the JD Edwards solution came from the Oracle Applications User Experience group and by leveraging existing page templates.
Then, we take these ideas to our customers and talk to them about specific enhancements we are considering making with ERP. We also ask them how these enhancements could potentially impact their organizations. We really encourage our customers to engage with us and tell us what they need in terms of deep vertical functionality.
We also encourage our customers to utilize our new UI and utilize the new mobile applications, and we’ll deliver more for their business.
Profit: Speaking of mobile, how are JD Edwards solutions responding to massive mobile adoption in the workplace?
Ekdahl: We’ve got a lot of customers wanting to use smartphones and tablets. Various industries are leading the pack: for example, we’re seeing tremendous interest in the engineering and construction space. We have a customer with 400 employees using iPad devices, from their executives to individual contributors out in the field.
So our strategy is to extend the desktop onto these devices. We’re building applications that are very point-specific to what our customers are trying to accomplish out in the field. And moving forward, we’re developing products with an increasingly mobile-first attitude.
This means we are thinking about what new capabilities are available to ERP now that we have these mobile platforms. How can we enable those platforms to help our customers to do business more effectively?
Profit: What other technology trends are you watching closely?
Ekdahl: What’s really exciting as we look forward is the Internet of Things. What does the ability to tap into various devices, machinery, equipment, beacons, and sensors have to do with ERP? Think of those things as transaction engines. We have a lot of customers that are in asset-intensive industries.
Innovation can be incremental. It can be about putting existing technologies together in unique ways or adding new improvements. That’s what we focus on, because our customers want a continuous flow of new capabilities.
For example, we have several customers that are growers and processors of food. And they’re looking at ways of using sensors to keep their inventory fresh instead of sitting and spoiling on a shipping dock.
We have one customer in the seed business that told us they lose 10 percent of their seed every year because humidity makes their product unusable. If they were to put sensors on that inventory, they could collect the data that could help them figure out the best way to do their picking, packing, and shipping.
Working in concert with JD Edwards solutions, they figure they can reduce their inventory operations by at least 50 percent, if not more. That’s huge, true bottom-line savings to the business that comes with combining traditional ERP with new technology.
Profit: Looking forward a bit further, what else are you seeing on the horizon?
Ekdahl: As I said earlier, we’re working on big data, as it relates to in-memory. We know our customers need to be able to visualize that big data no matter where it’s coming from, including from sensors, wearables, and other instances of the Internet of Things.
Of course, JD Edwards solutions need to interoperate within the cloud. Right now, executive leadership is deciding how they want to move to cloud—public, private, hybrid, all those things are options—and we have to make sure that JD Edwards solutions are flexible enough, and that they are easy to deploy and maintain for whatever cloud paradigm the business ultimately chooses to go with.
Really, in the end, what we are seeing is massive business cultural change. Instead of large corporations pushing automation through to make people more standard and make them do their work in a specific way, now we have this notion of consumerization. This is really more of a bottoms-up, crowdsourced way of viewing the world, where individuals each have a particular way that they’re more effective in how they want to use technology.
It doesn’t matter whether our customers are in a manufacturing, distribution, asset-intensive, consumer packaged goods, or professional services business: they’re all looking for the same things. They want to use mobile more effectively. They don’t want to play catch-up on the Internet of Things. They want to improve enterprise collaboration. And they want to tie these technologies back into their ERP to help them be more flexible and more agile, and really transform their
Aaron Lazenby is editor in chief of Profit.