Our innovation commitment in the new services economy

Posted by  Stephan Sieber

Businesses globally are focused on driving more revenue from delivering services to capitalise on the shift to a subscription-based economy. Cloud computing and the prevalence of mobile and digital technologies have accelerated the shift towards the services economy, effectively giving every company the opportunity to differentiate their offerings. As well as changing the software buyer’s mind-set to one focused on customer experience and satisfaction, as customer retention and recurring revenue become critical to successful business, service-focused organizations are looking at how they can evolve their underlying business architecture to better support their people and service delivery.

Early 2016, our Chairman, Leo Apotheker, well known for his enterprise technology leadership, wrote an insightful blog post in which he said that the winners of the coming revolution “will empower their workers to be more productive in the truest sense of the word—liberated to contribute to the organization’s larger mission. The multiple services sector—parts of society that are intrinsically people-centric—will be the most promising places to look for improvements in productivity… I am convinced that the work of the future will migrate toward the tasks humans are uniquely skilled at, with automation taking over tasks that are rules-based, predictable and of lower value.”

Re-imagining enterprise software to better serve people

More than two years ago, Unit4 and Microsoft came together to build self-driving business applications. Unit4’s vision, supported by Microsoft, is to leverage the disruptive capabilities of Azure to completely reimagine enterprise software. Self-driving business applications learn from the past and actively make use of the data and knowledge that is captured in them to provide context-sensitive support for mission-critical tasks. The real value of self-driving exists in the business applications that serve people using the reams of data we collect every day, not in the back office infrastructure. By adding products and services around the edges of their traditional products our customers can benefit from a complete experience.

Microsoft’s ability to leverage and democratize complex technology combined with our expertise in designing and deploying solutions for people-centric industries, such as higher education, professional services, government and not-for-profit, helps people create more value for themselves and their organizations in the digital economy. The convergence of conversational user experiences with augmented solutions that self-learn will fundamentally change how enterprise software serves people.

We are making good progress. We have delivered a bot architecture and have been building self-driving business applications based on what our customers tell us they want and need to be successful. Some specific self-driving scenarios we are building and delivering through our bot framework today include:

  • Time Assistant – Automatically generates timesheets based on multiple data streams and GPS and beacon location data to track time. Incorporates data from your calendar as well as people and project planning tools and learns from recent project and travel trends.
  • Purchasing Assistant – For finding products & suppliers, generating requisitions and managing approvals. Unit4’s digital assistant proactively monitors Goods Receipts, and automatically checks if goods are received on time before the invoice is processed.
  • Travel Assistant – Generates travel requests and manages approvals based on travel patterns and preferences. Proactively alerts to relevant travel policies based on location and extends travel requests, searching for flights and hotels, providing cost estimates, and connecting to travel providers in real time. Bookings can also be made through the travel assistant. Expense claims are auto-populated using receipt recognition technology and knowledge of itinerary.
  • Approval Assistant – Notifies and reminds managers to approve tasks and flags important tasks where deadlines are imminent.  Intelligently adds appointments to calendars with task reminders so deadlines are adhered to.
  • Absence Assistant -  intelligently helping managers to ensure people in their team and department take the vacation they are entitled to by suggesting the best times to do so looking at other people’s leave and commitments.

In addition, we are building a series of industry and sector specific applications delivering self-driving technology to customers. We will help project managers combine an analysis of historical data with predictive analytics to gain valuable insight on which projects to bid for (and which not). Public servants will improve fraud detection on bill payments with advanced pattern recognition and machine learning. Not-for Profit workers will have the ability to match campaigns to donation patterns and target donors more effectively. Universities will improve student success rates by spotting those ‘at risk’ early in the process by applying pattern recognition to various processes etc...

Unit4’s approach empowers people to better engage and create impact, while automating low-value repetitive tasks. We leverage advanced digital technologies from Azure such as the Cortana Intelligence Suite, Machine Learning, Cognitive Services and the Bot Framework to deliver differentiated ERP, industry-focused and best-in-class applications including Unit4 Business World On!, Unit4 Student Management, Unit4 Professional Services Automation (PSA) Suite, and more.

New business realities allow us to put people at the forefront of everything we do. That’s why we are committed to working as closely with our customers as part of our industry innovation focus – including initiatives like Industry Advisory Councils; Early Access Program (inviting customers to engage with us during development); Scoping of future solution candidates for development together with customers, etc.

Unit4 prides itself on being an innovation-driven company, creating industry leading products, delivering the best user experience, offering deep industry capabilities, and delivering the lowest Total Cost of Ownership. This is why we invest time in initiatives like our Crazy Lab Days. We achieve our innovation objectives by:

  • Prioritizing product portfolio investment according to customer demand.
  • Prioritizing our investments following market-centric product roadmaps.
  • Centralizing our development efforts for all global products. In order to serve our customers best, we design our products to work together and add value to each other.

Meeting services economy expectations

Today, we aim to deliver innovation in real-time in small doses, right at the time when our customers need it most. Customers are asking more and more for alignment of their cash-out streams and the value they get from the technology they use. We’re seeing data driven business models, where customers no longer pay for software functionality but rather for the insight and the result created through the use of the software, evolving and defining a whole new set of differentiations and customer opportunities.

Essentially, we commit to providing our customers with two things:

  1. A deep and thorough understanding of their business and critical success factors.
  2. The ability to deploy technology in innovative ways so they can seize their opportunities or protect themselves from threats that they might be facing.

As the market around us has changed and customers’ expectations have changed, business models are changing, requiring a fundamental rethink of customer offerings. Our technology offering defines which business functions at the customer site are impacted and how. Our service offering defines how fast we can help customers to improve their results and how we continue to improve and innovate together with them in the future.

In a service economy, we understand the importance of ensuring existing customers, as well as new customers, can benefit from new innovations in product and services. For example, we deliver standardized offerings in reusable but still customizable components that can be combined flexibly and granularly (Microservice Architecture) and therefore allow our customers to accelerate time to value, but also allow them to optimize the value they derive from our technology.

Our product strategy

Our product strategy is therefore designed around five areas which our customers require to run their business:

  1. A fully-fledged and integrated ERP solution, complemented by
  2. Best-in-class applications for specific processes or regions, all in combination with
  3. deep industry functionality that creates sustainable market differentiation
  4. underpinned by a strong platform enabling our offerings to work together based on one user experience, one integration framework as well as one foundation providing the capabilities driving the digital revolution and the new services economy.
  5. Most importantly, we do not only provide the technology, but work with our customers to make sure they can consume and benefit from our technology in the best possible way. We provide lifecycle support from deployment to implementation and ensure continued value improvement as an integral part of our offering.

All of this means we deliver tangible business results for our customers and support their competitive advantage and the unique customer experience they provide to their customers.

Stephan Sieber

Stephan Sieber

Stephan was appointed CEO of Unit4 in 2016, responsible for leading the development and execution of the company's long term strategy. He joined Unit4 in 2014 as EVP Strategy and Operations and became responsible for global sales operations in 2015. Stephan previously worked for SAP where he held multiple leadership positions over more than 10 years including Managing Director of SAP Switzerland and Chief Operating Officer of the region DACH (Germany, Switzerland and Austria). He was also a member of the management team of SAP Germany. He completed an Advanced Management Program at INSEAD in 2002 and an MBA with the University of Toronto in 2007.