Unit4 has announced the latest release of its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution (previously Unit4 Business World). The update includes improvements to collaboration based project planning, new extensions by partners delivered through the Unit4 extension kit and industry accelerators for implementation.
Matthias Thurner, Chief Product Officer at Unit4, commented: “We believe the future of ERP should be more about ‘expert’ than general ‘enterprise’ functionality, which is why we believe our dynamic people-centric approach to ERP will be integral to our customers’ sustained competitive advantage.
“This release underscores our long-term commitment to deliver a feature-rich, people-focused ERP supported by a suite of People Experience solutions and a robust ecosystem. With Extension Kit our customers can rapidly improve engagement with their customers by building out functionality that will demonstrate they are more responsive to their needs. Ultimately, we believe customers will increasingly demand agile, microservices-led systems such as the Unit4 People Platform, built for specific industry needs rather than adopting a monolithic, generalist ERP suite.”
Enterprise Times spoke to Thurner about the release.
Core functionality improvements
There are a few significant updates in this release, with a large number of more minor updates. Thurner expanded on what Unit4 noted in the press release; these extend the people experience vision that Unit4 has.
Global Project Resource Planning and Management
Unit4 is enabling organisations to create projects that span multiple entities within their organisation. It is simplifying the management of complex multinational projects where billing and work are delivered by different entities in the group. The solution cuts out many of the administrative tasks that were historically required.
Thurner explained the feature in more detail saying: “In the past if you wanted to set up a project, this was something which was related to a specific entity. When you wanted to set up a project that was going across a number of different entities, you had additional work because you had to create these projects. If you want to plan resources in another entity, that was also done in the other project.
“Now, it is possible to set up global projects, where several entities can be selected. You can define a project that has to be handled by these entities together. Every change that you make in the project attributes, for example, is automatically synchronised into all of these entities. When you’re planning the project, you can collaboratively do this looking at the resources of the different entities and planning them into the same project. When it comes to the charging, and one of the entities is billing the customer at the end. In the past, you had to create intercompany charges relating to this manually. Now, this is also very comfortable. The intercompany charges to the entity that is doing the billing are prepared.”
The new functionality also allows for different legal requirements in different countries. It supports global projects with the creation of projects, resourcing, intercompany timesheets, and finally reporting, planning and forecasting. A single project view means programme managers have a much clearer picture of the progress of the project and any issues.
This release continues to improve the people’s experience vision that Unit4 has for its product. Thurner commented: “There have also been a number of functional enhancements in other parts. Like time and expenses and the Field Service Management module, which at the end will help to realise this vision that when you use our ERP product, it’s not the feeling that you have to do something which is utterly bureaucratic and doesn’t really help you. You get the feeling that it is helping you to do the things that you want to achieve in a better, faster and more effective way. That’s what we’re aiming at, that’s definitely something where we also spent a lot of work on in 7.6.”
These improvements include a simplifying the process for expenses entry—great flexibility for users when entering timesheets. The field service mobile solution has a smoother feedback mechanism and better processing of service orders. There is also additional functionality in the mobile application for field engineers. There are also improvements to the user experience in several other modules including payroll, requisition, logistics and digital assistance.
Unit4 first launched its low code extension kit in Spring 2018. In Summer 2019 it released the first extension capabilities built using the suite. It is now announcing several partners developed capabilities including:
- Course Calendar Integration: This confirms attendance using Unit4’s digital assistant, Wanda, and automatically schedules the meeting in Outlook.
- Signalling Completed Workflow: When a workflow has been completed, it will automatically update the requestor via Unit4’s digital assistant, Wanda, upon completion.
- ERP Timesheet Sync: Any time logged in Jira is automatically added to timesheets in Unit4 ERP.
- Automatic Credit Check Upon Entering Purchase Orders: When a purchase order is created, a credit check is performed. The result is published via Unit4’s digital assistant, Wanda.
Partners already creating extensions include Embridge Consulting, ITK Solutions, Arribatec, Cap Gemini and Ace Solutions. Faye O’Connell, Product Development Director at Embridge Consulting said: “Unit4’s Extension Kit presents a fantastic opportunity to seamlessly integrate with external and legacy applications while removing the need for out-of-date data exchange approaches like file transfers. Our plans at Embridge Consulting are to support customers in the configuration of flows that will leverage the capabilities of the Extension Kits and deliver optimized end-to-end business processes.”
Enterprise Times asked Thurner whether Unit4 has a marketplace for these extensions? He answered: “Not yet, but that’s the next step. Now, we see good adoption of the extension kit. The next step is to have the marketplace available so that partners, customers and ourselves can share interesting extensions and give others the possibility to either use them if they’re for free or to buy them.”
Out-of-the-box industry models
Unit4 has also developed implementation accelerators for specific people-centric industries. These include best practices and pre-built processes, some underpinned by AI and Machine learning that reduces time to value for any implementation. Industry models are not confined to ERP, Unit4 also has them for its FP&A solution as well as its student administration solution (SAS). For ERP, it has developed packages for professional services organisations, the public sector and nonprofits. Thurner revealed that it is also working on one for higher education.
Thurner explained how Unit4 leverages industry models. He commented:
“The industry models are a great thing for our customers and us. We’re following the approach when we start to explain to the customer what they will get and what our offering looks like. We explain everything using the industry model. We’re also demoing the industry model so that they can really see what they will get. We also use the industry models to agree on the defined scope.
“The first time you log on to the system, you already have the industry model deployed. You are logging on to a complete pre-configuration that fits your type of business. The training is done based on the industry model. There are still some options that you can choose from and some little specific things that you want to configure. The whole process from sales to go live is very much based on the industry models.“
Some customers have already deployed Unit4 ERP using the existing models. These include:
- Warchild (nonprofit),
- Missouri Botanical Gardens (public sector),
- the city of Alkmaar (public sector),
- Helmond Municipality (public sector), and
- ‘La République En Marche!’ (LaREM).
Enterprise Times: What does this mean
At first glance, this seems like a minor update. However, Unit4 has built some significant features that companies can leverage when they upgrade. The intercompany project management tools will significantly improve the life of project managers, resource management and finance teams. especially those working in larger multi-entity organisations. Industry models will assist Unit4 during the sales process by helping companies better understand. They will also reduce the time to value for those companies once they have selected Unit4. Will Unit4 add more models or will they let some partners deliver micro-vertical models on top?
Ray Wang, Principal Analyst, Constellation Research, commented: “Amidst the post-pandemic, we’ve learned the importance of remote work. We’ve accelerated the need for the cloud and digital channels by five years in five weeks to enable collaboration and sustain engagement. Services and project orientation must be built at design, and those technology partners that can provide these requirements will deliver not only what customers want, but what they need to move forward with agility, resiliency, and success.”
The Unit4 strategic, people-first strategy seems even smarter now. Its approach to an open microservices architecture on the cloud enables them to evolve quickly to the growing demands that organisations face.