Unit4 flexes its cloud muscles
“A great steak but no sizzle”. That, according to Unit4’s newly appointed CEO Mike Ettling, was his assessment of the business when he was weighing up the job offer. In other words, Unit4 has “great products, but very little marketing”.
That seems set to change: this year’s Unit4 Connect event definitely had more ‘sizzle’: more keynotes, more focus on use cases, a bigger, grander venue. Very soon Unit4’s leadership team will add a chief marketing officer to its ranks, Ettling told AccountingWEB.
Clearly, the company was keen to buck its reputation as an understated, albeit accomplished, ERP vendor. The immediate aim is the mid-market, according to Ettling. More specifically, mid-market services businesses (or people businesses in Unit4 parlance).
“Most mid-market ERPs focus on manufacturing. The giants have tried to focus on the mid-market but they’ve not made a success of it. So as I see it, we don’t have much competition in Europe. In the US there’s NetSuite but it’s quite a generic software.”
The big press is towards the cloud. Unit4 has unveiled a fixed-price cloud migration package. There are four migration packages available:
Small – fixed price of €15k and commitment to complete in 20 working days.
Medium – fixed price of €35k and commitment to complete in 40 working days.
Large – fixed price of €75k and commitment to complete in 75 working days.
Enterprise – a tailored price based on the assessment.
Despite his clear enthusiasm for speeding up Unit4’s cloud business, Ettling was careful not to characterise the cloud migration commitment as “a stick” used to “beat people into joining the cloud”.
“You can still be on-premise and leverage these systems,” he said. “We’ll move at the pace of the market. Ultimately, we want customers to pay less for the implementation and more for the software.”
A bot called Wanda
The star of Unit4 Connect wasn’t even in attendance -- at least not physically. Wanda, Unit4’s virtual assistant, was first previewed at the software house’s 2017 event but after two years of tinkering the bot is being lined up as the centrepiece of the ERP vendor’s user interface.
Attendees at Unit4 Connect were able to use Wanda as their own assistant. Operating through Skype, it was possible to ask it for times and event information. In one nifty demonstration, the bot was used as an interface to check Prevero (Unit4’s FP&A tool) data.
Through interaction with Wanda, users can quickly glance at actuals, turn the figures into an email and send it on. You can just ‘talk’ with Prevero via Wanda and find out what you want to know.
Wanda will be available in Prevero in Q3 2019. For users of Unit4 Business World, Wanda is already available. “There will still be power users,” said Thomas Staven, a product strategist at Unit4, “but if we automate as much as possible, Wanda could be the only UI that you use in the future.”
But there’s one catch: the bot, for now, is far from seamless. There were times -- both during stage demonstrations and as the event assistant -- where the bot didn’t understand a question, indicating that Wanda isn’t quite fully formed as a true virtual assistant.
Wanda, as Staven put it, “has flows” and they’re complete and impressive. But the bot does seem to struggle with semantic understanding. There is every indication, though, that Unit4 is working on it and users have nothing to lose. Wanda is now free for customers and users will be contacted by their account manager to sort out implementation soon, Staven said.
Be fruitful and multiply
There’s been a lot of talk in the accounting space about platforms. Unit4 has joined the club, but Matthias Thurner shies away from the descriptor, preferring to call the software “a foundation”.
All the talk about apps, localisations, functional modules and integrations is there, but Unit4 will not be running a marketplace a la NetSuite. Instead, the company will opt for an “embrace and encapsulate model,” said Unit4’s deputy CTO Claus Jepsen.
“We’ve created another layer around the software, a standardised data model,” he said. Notably, customers and partners can develop apps and sell them on any marketplace, and Unit4 won’t be responsible for running this bespoke functionality anymore.