Unit4 has announced Industry Mesh. It is a multi-tenant cloud service designed to improve the integration between ERP and other applications. It is targeted at mid-market organisations that need to integrate multiple SaaS applications with their ERP. The challenge many face is having to write many of the integrations themselves.
Dmitri Krakovsky, Chief Product Officer at Unit4, said: “Despite recent advances in technology, organizations are spending too much time building and maintaining integrations across disconnected systems.
“These efforts overwhelm teams and distract them from delivering impact, costing money, creating data errors and frustrating people. By providing and maintaining a bundle of lightweight data flows to both internal and external apps and data sources, we make them more efficient, more collaborative and more productive.”
The first version of Industry Mesh will ship with several integrations, including Salesforce, Slack, Microsoft Outlook and D&B.
What is Unit4 Industry Mesh?
It is a series of pre-built integrations designed to smooth the data flows between applications and data sources. Unit4 will also maintain these integrations. This is just as important as creating the applications in the first place.
The ongoing maintenance cost of maintaining integrations as applications change versions out of sync with each other can be substantial. It forces many organisations to delay upgrades until all applications are ready to be updated so that they only have to write code once.
Further reducing the cost for customers is that Unit4 is shipping Industry Mesh as a cloud service. It means that customers can get and deploy integrations quickly.
Unit4 research estimates that for a typical customer with 1,000 employees, the productivity impact of optimized integration between ERP and ancillary systems equates to up to $1.2M/ €1.0m per year.
What integrations with Industry Mesh ship with?
Industry Mesh is scheduled for shipping in January 2022 and will be included in the ERPx cloud platform. According to the Unit4 press release, it will include integrations with:
- Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics CRM to capture cost of sales and support billing for finance users while providing invoice and reminder data for account executives
- Oanda for import and update of exchange rates
- Dun & Bradstreet for customer credit ratings
- Data.gov for U.S. government watch list checking
- Slack and Microsoft Teams for collaboration
- Microsoft Outlook integration that brings absences, training and employee assignments automatically into user calendars
- Many other integrations including tax filing, e-invoicing, banking, document management and credit card transactions
What else do we know about Integration Mesh?
Enterprise Times spoke with Krakovsky about Integration Mesh and what it means to customers.
Krakovsky believes that all too often, customers are left to get on with it by vendors. Some will provide integration to the larger applications that customers are using but little beyond that. The arrival of APIs has improved the situation, but the work is still left to customers, consultants, or partners. The result is that a lot of time and expense is incurred integrating products to get a working solution for the business.
Enterprise Times asked what Unit4 was doing to change this. Krakovsky replied: “We went and talked to our customers. The common thing we heard was, ‘It’s just a huge problem. It’s expensive to implement those connectors, a big chunk of implementation costs.
“The question is, what do you do about it? Our big observation was that as we rearchitected our suite, a lot of our focus was on breaking things up. Exposing them through the API and building the integration orchestration layer to connect them with very different economics. Make them a lot cheaper without writing code, sort of a no-code solution.
“What we decided to do with mesh is a few things. One, create turnkey integrations that we may take, as API’s change, data schemas change, transformations of data from one system to another change, we essentially productize it, we take responsibility, we maintain it, we maintain the content, we maintain trust information, we retain mapping, we maintain the connectivity. We will deliver it as a service, essentially, like any other product functionality.”
How will Unit4 choose the integrations?
Look around at some platforms, and there are hundreds of integrations. It is not unreasonable that Unit4 customers will have a long list of things they use. Enterprise Times asked Krakovsky what Unit4 was planning.
He replied: “You can’t do it across everything. There are millions of different systems. We need to have some prioritisation framework in mind. The way we’re approaching it is with an industry lens. Initially, we took a subset of professional services. Business and IT services are the first model, and we’ll look at all the systems they use. What CRM, BI tools, project management, collaboration tools, and so on.
“In each category is there’s some distribution, four, five, six, etc. We’re not going to cover all of them, but we’re going to cover the most popular ones in each category. Then we’ll look at how they use it in this industry. People say, ‘we integrate with Salesforce’. The way you integrate with Salesforce for professional services or nonprofit or public sector is very different. You care about different data. Data visibility differs in terms of what you want to know and what you want to transfer.
“So we take this industry-centric view, and we rethink the integration depending on what vertical you’re in. We fine-tune packages for that.”
What will it cost?
Cloud has a mixed reputation when it comes to costings. On one side, it has crushed the cost of compute. On the other, moving data in and out of the cloud, even around different cloud apps, can be expensive over time. How will Unit4 charge for this?
Krakovsky sees this as a chance to change the model. He wants to make this a feature that Unit4 is responsible for. Importantly, as with any feature, there will be no additional costs beyond the initial subscription to the mesh.
But what will the cost of the subscription be? Will a customer buy based on the type of integration? Krakovsky said: “We are still nailing down the business model. What we think is there’s a free package that everybody gets. Then there’s a paid package where you get the whole thing, and it’s a percentage of charge on your subscription. You get all the connectors, including all the future ones that we will ever build.”
It’s certainly an interesting approach, and it will be interesting to see how many customers Unit4 can convert to the full package. Much, potentially, will depend on what it offers and how often it updates that package with new connectors. Industry sectors might also have different take-up rates based on what packages they see as important.
Security will be key to many customers
Cybersecurity is a challenge for all vendors. Poorly written APIs can often expose data and provide unauthorised access to systems. What is Unit4 going to do about that? Is it taking full responsibility for the APIs around mesh?
Krakovsky agreed that this was an issue with all APIs. He also said Unit4 would take responsibility for all the testing of the APIs. He commented: “The creation of API’s does increase the attack surface. How do we ensure that the malicious actors don’t come to the surface and get access to something, even if we didn’t have mesh at all?
“The answer is we go through security tests to make sure that doesn’t happen. We do pen testing, code analysis, and different things to make sure that nothing’s exposed. The big rethink and redo of ERPx, which is our cloud product, was about exposing much more to the API’s and rethinking the fundamental model of how the API is exposed. What’s the granularity of API’s? What’s the security access? All those kinds of things.”
Enterprise Times: What does this mean?
The problem with enterprise software is rarely the cost of acquisition. It is the integration with other systems. Most large systems are rarely bought and installed by customers alone. Vendors and their consulting partners make many times more money on implementation, configuration, and installation than on the software. Those costs are ongoing and can often be an inhibitor to upgrading software.
This is where cloud platforms have improved life for many IT departments. Cloud vendors take responsibility for the product and the upgrades. But that still leaves customers struggling with the issue of integrating with the other software they use. Over the last few years, the industry has pushed APIs as the solution. What they’ve ignored is that APIs still require code to be written for systems to be connected.
What Unit4 is aiming to do is lift that last section off customers with Integration Mesh. It won’t be a big bang, and it is likely to take a few years until they have all the most commonly used integrations covered. However, if it reduces the cost and time required to integrate products, that’s a win. What needs to be seen is the actual subscription pricing, and that won’t come until January.