by Aaron Lazenby
The pace of business is always accelerating, making supply chain visibility more important than ever.
That’s why when Lyle Ekdahl, senior vice president and general manager of Oracle’s JD Edwards product family, thinks about what customers want in an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, he thinks about streamlining Oracle’s offerings.
Here, Ekdahl talks to Profit about how Oracle’s JD Edwards solutions help customers keep up with current technology trends, and what they can expect to see in the next 12 months.
Profit: What do businesses have to do to succeed in today’s environment?
Ekdahl: The first step is to recognize the huge changes in technology and the innovations that are possible when applying those technologies to the new problems and opportunities created by the changes that have gone on, more broadly, with the global economy.
Successful executives have a bimodal mindset: They know they need to have some structure and that they need to execute, especially on some of the traditional pieces of business. But at the same time, they embrace some form of holacracy, where authority and decision-making is distributed throughout the organization. This leads to more-innovative thinking.
Today’s top leaders place a premium on innovation and embrace new technologies. On the whole, Oracle’s JD Edwards customer and partner base has this innovative spirit, even in traditionally conservative industries such as construction or mining. I am just so excited about the solutions the ecosystem has delivered to the market by applying recent advances in the JD Edwards platform: the ability to build your own app, create your own user experience, or mash those things up to create streamlined business capabilities for end users.
Finally, successful executives are concerned with more than the capture of data. They also consume and sometimes publish information. The old models of data capture—clipboards and paper, and human to computer keyboard entry—have become obsolete. They should let machines be the digitizers of information and they should empower humans to do what humans do well, which is to take information, process it, and make decisions.
Profit: How does Oracle’s JD Edwards team design ERP solutions for these rapidly changing business needs?
Ekdahl: Certainly some of what businesses need translates across the board. For companies to be highly successful, they need to make sure they have an ERP solution that’s holistic and addresses all three layers of the business: the commoditized portion, the industry layer, and the real value beneath that—what I call each business’s individual secret sauce. We’re not trying to be everything to everybody. We are a successful vendor because we address issues beyond the general commoditized business process. We focus on a set of industries and get to know and deliver on the deep line-of-business and industry requirements. We also provide a platform for our customers and partners to leverage and extend the industry layer to create their secret sauce.
One other thing we definitely know: an ERP solution has to be device independent. There’s a known set of devices today, but there will be new ones tomorrow. That’s why we make sure our customers are able to build solutions that can be delivered on whatever device their employees want to use. And we want those employees to be able to see graphical representations of the data, so they can quickly assess it and understand what that information ultimately is telling them. There are secrets locked in all that data, but those secrets can be revealed by the use of good data visualization.
Profit: How is the cloud changing Oracle’s JD Edwards products?
At the end of the day, we want to have a profound impact on the business, something that is truly measurable and creates breakthrough return.”
Ekdahl: The cloud has become pretty pervasive, and Oracle’s on the forefront of that. We want to strengthen the number of choices our customers and partners have so they can create and execute their own cloud strategies, whether they’re moving to a private cloud, public cloud, or hybrid. And we want to make sure JD Edwards solutions can interoperate with Oracle products that will launch down the road, such as a mobile cloud service or cloud integration service.
Another thing: the cloud has helped customers stop thinking about enterprise upgrades as a once-every-10-years job and instead think of them as something that’s constantly current. Our strategy is to continue to automate and simplify JD Edwards solutions, to take out human interaction except where it adds value. By doing this, and offering our customers tools to tailor their software as well as tools to point out object collisions, we think we can reduce the effort it takes to upgrade by another 70 to 80 percent. Customers don’t have to upgrade every day, but they could potentially complete an upgrade in less than 20 days.
Profit: How do you keep your own team focused on innovation?
Ekdahl: For one, we have JDE Labs, and I give my team fairly broad license to go out and explore. That doesn’t mean it’s all going to work its way into the product; a lot is going to get left on the cutting-room floor. But it’s different than the old approach to product management, which was more like going to customers and saying, “What do you want?”
Now, our process is more about really understanding the transformational technologies that are out there and how they can address tomorrow’s opportunities. We come up with a solid hypothesis and then bring that to a set of customers specifically within an industry or within an area of focus. We quickly iterate to get to the right solution, moving from early adopters within the labs to a focus group or user consortium. At the end of the day, we want to have a profound impact on the business, something that is truly measurable and creates breakthrough return.
Profit: Looking back at the last year, what were your biggest accomplishments?
Ekdahl: We certainly went through a massive change to become a much more agile organization, remaking our organization from the top down and bottom up. We scrambled a bunch of seats, went through a lot of change, and a lot of change management—the same things that our customers do when they deploy our software. We got through it and frankly learned a lot about ourselves, our products, and our customers.
Today, we’re in a much better position than we were two years ago in terms of what we can deliver to the market, and how quickly our customers adopt our new solutions.
We’re now delivering products that make it easier for people to interface with Oracle’s JD Edwards solutions—all the back-end business functionality, security, and data. That’s just going to blow the lid off what’s possible in the world of ERP.
For example, we extended desktop applications to mobile, but we now are using a mobile-first paradigm. Using this paradigm, we were able to bring a massive amount of product to market —and we changed both how people interacted with the system and how JD Edwards solutions interface with other systems.
Profit: What can customers expect next?
Ekdahl: Our Internet of Things strategy will come to fruition in this coming year. There will be a platform tool that will help in the collection, sorting, and storing of data that comes from devices and sensors, and it ought to be able to interoperate with Oracle’s larger Internet of Things platform strategy.
This solution will also include some smart automation. If you’re dealing with an oil platform, for example, and have a pump that is falling out of tolerance in terms of vibration or heat, that can be sensed. And if you reach a certain threshold, the system will create a work order and alert you that you need a technician ASAP.
Something else to expect this year: over the last several years, we’ve delivered a lot of capabilities for customers to personalize their software, and now we’re going to take a lot of those pieces—such as the Composite Application Framework feature or the JD Edwards EnterpriseOne One View reports—and form them into industry packages.
Beyond that, what I am most interested in is how we are going to deliver more of this machine-to-machine interaction that removes the mundane activities associated with back-office and ERP. At the same time, we want to empower users with data visualizations and big data tools. That way they can really tap into the knowledge that exists inside their JD Edwards ERP solutions today.
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