Posted By David Brousell, April 27, 2017 at 6:33 AM, in Category: Transformative Technologies
Declaring its most significant software architectural change in the last 20 years, Exact's Macola division, a developer of business software for small- and medium-size companies, last week unveiled a new release of its flagship Macola enterprise resource planning product that emphasizes greater usability, including its use on tablet computers.
The new release of Macola, designated 10.5, was unveiled at the company’s Macola Evolve 2017 customer and business partner conference in New Orleans, whose theme was “On the Move.” In a keynote, Derek Ochs, director of development, said the new release shifts the Macola product architecturally from a closed system that runs on-premise on a single device to an open approach that “assumes flexible deployment.”
Using what he termed “progressive design principles,” including showing users only what they need to see in a screen, Ochs said many of the usability changes in the new software release were inspired by Exact Macola users.
“We’re molding the software around how someone does their job,” Ochs said. “A lot of the input on the new screens came from users.”
How an item is treated in the Macola software, for example, will change dramatically in 10.5. In prior versions of the software, an item had 16 related screens, Ochs said. Now, a new Item Snapshot Screen, described as a “one-stop shop” that allows users to learn everything about an item, will reduce complexity. The company also introduced functional enhancements to the software, including type-ahead search, infinite scrolling, and sort-able table columns. And icon usage has been reduced in favor of basic text. Macola 10.5 will be available in May.
In addition to the changes with Macola 10.5, Exact said it recently created Macola Labs to explore technologies created through company “hackathons” that may be suitable for future use. One such technology was what Ochs called Macola Chat Bot, which uses human language processing to enable a chat function in an application. A facial recognition system to enable a user to log-in to Macola was also mentioned.
Initial customer reaction to the software enhancements appeared to be positive. For example, Adrian V. Alday, chief financial officer at InterFlex Group, a $200 million manufacturer of flexible packaging for the food industry based in Wilkesboro, NC, said he thought the usability enhancements would help user training on the system. He also praised how much more intuitive the system now seems.
Alday said that InterFlex’s 10% growth rate is pushing the company toward greater standardization of its business processes. In line with this, he said the company would be implementing Exact's customer relationship management system, the first such system for InterFlex. He also said InterFlex is “kicking the tires” of deploying its ERP system in the cloud, and may entertain a hybrid model to do so.
The changes to the Macola ERP product come against a backdrop of business transformation at Exact itself that began about four years ago when Alison Forsythe, an executive who had been at General Electric and Computer Associates, was brought in as managing director.
What Forsythe discovered, despite Exact's storied history as one of the founders of the business software market, was a company in need of a re-boot. Founded in 1971 in Marion, Ohio, Macola’s first ERP product was called Progression, and is still in use today by about 30% of Exact's 5,000-company user base in the Americas region. The company’s ES product, introduced in 1999, currently represents about 40% of the base, and Macola 10, introduced in June of 2014, is in 30% of sites.
In 2001, Exact Holding NV, in Delft, the Netherlands, acquired Macola which, at that time, had about 7,000 customers, according to press reports. In 2014, after an internal management upheaval, Exact was bought by a group of investors led by Apax Partners, which resulted in its de-listing from the Euronext stock exchange. In 2013, the last year in which financial data was made public, Exact had revenues of E213.2 million. Today, Exact, which also markets the JobBOSS and MAX software products, has 350,000 customers and 1700 employees in 14 countries.
During these last several years, Forsythe has been making significant changes at Exact's Macola division. She and her team have worked hard to lower the company’s customer attrition rate, which was 16% at the time of her arrival. The company’s has also overhauled its software development methodology, as exemplified in the new 10.5 release, and has shifted its go-to-market strategy to channel partners. Forsythe said that channel partners represented about 20% of sales when she joined the company and is now at 60%. Her goal is to get to 80%.
In addition to these changes, Exact is now “discussing,” Forsythe said in an interview, the adoption of a vertical market strategy. Once this is done, she said, Exact will refine its partner strategy. An important goal, Forsythe said, is to make Exact more appealing to larger companies in the mid-market. Currently, the company’s sweet spot is 50- to 500-employee companies.
And Forsythe believes this appeal is already taking root as a result of the company’s product-first strategy. She is particularly encouraged by economic and regulatory policy changes being discussed in Washington which she believes will spur growth. “Our economy is on the move,” she told conference attendees in a keynote. “We are all primed for a return to manufacturing glory.”
The combination of a growing economy and the effect of the changes she is making at Exact girds Forsythe’s confidence that the company is on the right track. “This has been an opportunity to bring the Macola product back to life,” Forsythe said of her last four years at the helm. “In the 1980s, Macola was the number one ERP product in America. My vision is to re-engage as a top three provider in the mid-market.”
Written by David Brousell
Global Vice President, General Manager and Editorial Director of the Manufacturing Leadership Council