Dutch ERP vendor Unit4 today announced its “biggest release ever”, the catchily named Unit4 Business World On! Tom Herbert takes a look at the details.
José Duarte, CEO of enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendor Unit4, kicked off the company’s Connect conference in Amsterdam this week by admitting the company had previously suffered from a lack of brand recognition from spreading itself too thinly across markets.
However, he’s determined to change all that, first with a rebranding project undertaken last year, followed by a shift towards the service sector. By concentrating in knowledge-based sectors Unit4 is looking to differentiate itself in the crowded enterprise software market by boosting employee productivity with “self-driving” applications.
Biggest release ever
To ram the point home, Duarte unveiled what he called Unit4’s biggest release ever, with a distinctively branded cloud ERP suite called Unit4 Business World On! The suite will be made available to customers on 2 May 2016 and is billed as the first ERP system to be fully accessible via a mobile app.
The philosophy behind the Unit4 Business World On! was to “free” employees from repetitive tasks so they can focus on higher value activities, Duarte explained.
Some of the productivity improvements will come from automating administrative processes such as timesheets, expenses and procurement. “In service industries this is of the utmost importance because people are the raw materials,” he said.
“Getting the best out of people is essential. At the moment technology is more of a time killer than a liberator, and Unit4 want to give that time back to the user.”
Software developers have been making such promises for many years, but Duarte feels technologies such as intelligent machine learning are ready to deliver the goods.
Cloud ‘at your speed’
Duarte confirmed Unit4’s “cloud first” approach to new releases at the conference. But he added that the deverloper is pursuing a hybrid, “cloud at your speed” environment where customers continue to have an on-premise option and can move to the cloud at their pace.
“Even the most conservative organisations will eventually move to the cloud,” admitted Unit4’s CMO Ivo Totev. “Pressures on budgets will force them to make saving and economies, but what type of cloud they move to is not defined.”
To provide a glimpse of its future plans, Unit4 previewed a prototype “digital assistant” at the conference. Powered by Microsoft’s AzureML, the application forms part of Unit4’s new “self-driving software” line-up and uses pattern recognition to understand and predict the user’s behaviour, then performs certain activities by itself. Within the Unit4 applications, these tasks are likely to include categorising invoices according to risk, pre-populating expense reports and timesheets and providing discount proposals based on customer risk profiles.
Unit4’s digital assistant is slated to be available for its People Platform Premium Edition users in 2017, and is notable for the lack of a native user interface (UI). Unit4’s global head of presales Thomas Staven demonstrated it using Skype for Business, but customers who use platforms such as Slack.com, Yammer, Facebook or Twitter can also deploy the assistant via these applications. The user interacts with the digital assistant through normal “natural” language rather than filling in a pre-defined form or set of columns.
Like its main product line, Unit4 is going through a significant transition, which is a common experience for suppliers of client/server accounting systems in recent years. But will the new look and philosophy attract customers, and are accountants ready for such “self-driving” software? The debate starts here…
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