Trip Report - JDA's Focus User Conference 2016
OK, I am relatively freshly back from three days in Nashville at Focus 2016, JDA Software's annual user conference.
It was a good three days, with some ups and downs as is the case with any conference, but all told a positive experience as usual. Thousands of you have viewed my day 1 and day 2 video reviews, which are made available again at the links here: JDA Focus Day 1, Day 2.
"Not surprisingly, mobile solutions are getting much of the attention, as well as the "user experience" overall, as perhaps best exemplified by the new Retail.Me application."
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This was the second Focus event under now CEO Bal Dail. Dail had been chairman of the board of JDA, having been part of JDA's now private equity owners New Mountain Capital, but took over as interim CEO in May 2014 after the somewhat surprising move to let long-time CEO Hamish Brewer go just a couple of weeks after that year's Focus. As I predicted at the time, Bail became permanent CEO a few months later.
Dail's largest impacts on JDA have in my opinion come in two areas. First, bringing a more customer-centric culture to JDA, which certainly did not always come across to customers as accessible and responsive in the years before 2014. Dail made organization, staff, metric and other changes - including a regular "Voice of the Customer" survey - and established a new role of Chief Customer Officer (Todd Johnson), among other changes.
JDA has its own metrics indicating all this has made a difference. I will support that with anecdotal evidence, based on my pretty strong ability to get people chit-chatting about this and other issues at such events, where here most indicated working with JDA has become better as a result of these changes.
Second, while it's hard to be in the supply chain software business and not focus on innovation, I think under Dail the imperative for innovation has ratcheted up a couple of notches, most notably with the effort and output of its relatively new JDA Labs, but from an overall company focus as well. Let's be honest, the only way JDA and others like it can successfully compete with major ERP providers is by innovating faster and better, short and long term. It's that simple.
The conference theme was around the "Seamless Supply Chain." That is interesting in the sense that "seamless" was a term in widespread usage some 15 years ago ("seamless integration") but not so much recently, it seems to me. Attendees only received a partial sense of what the seamless supply chain really means to JDA, beyond that we need to make all this Omnichannel stuff work flawlessly in the eyes of the customer. I want to know more.
The other sense of it for JDA is the notion of integrating planning and execution, and extending traditional supply chain processes to bigger "super processes," if you will, in a more true end-to-end fashion. This thus eliminates the "seams" that exist when processes spans are smaller. Of course from a JDA perspective, that means a bigger collection of applications supporting the more expansive process to be automated/optimized.
The most prominent example of this is what JDA refers to as "intelligent fulfillment," a super process supported by a technology stack that extends from demand planning and DRP all the way through Warehouse and Labor Management. More on this in a moment.
So a major theme of the last two Focus conferences was in fact the organization of JDA solutions into five of these broad (and prescriptive) solutions suites, of which intelligent fulfillment was one. There was no mention of this framework at this year's event - and it is hard to find on the web site. So my observation, supported by some discrete discussions with JDA managers, is that this construct from a go-to-market perspective has lost a bit of juice, outside of intelligent fulfillment.
That doesn't matter all that much, except that these five suites were going to largely determine which of JDA's 100-plus applications would receive real attention and focus, and I was told those five suites would include some 35 or so of these solutions, with the rest sort of sunsetted over time. Like its customers, I think JDA is having some challenges with SKU rationalization and that the 100-plus aren't going away any time soon, which is good news for the companies that are running them.
After Dail's keynote, now Chief Revenue Officer Razat Gaurav focused largely on where JDA was heading in terms of product, noting that the company needs to disrupt itself to continue to drive innovation, a role the Labs are playing.
Not surprisingly, mobile solutions are getting much of the attention, as well as the "user experience" overall, as perhaps best exemplified by the new Retail.Me application. This was first unveiled the National Retail Federation show in January but is now going on full release to market I believe next week.
Retail.Me is an assortment and financial planning tool, but built from the ground up for the web and mobile. It has a very modern and cool user interface, far removed from the spreadsheet-like look and feel of most planning applications. Part of the goal frankly (not only a JDA but at other vendors as well) is to appeal to millennials who now experience the world through their smart phones. This will all simply have a dramatic impact on how software is built and how users consume it.
Gaurav previewed some other solutions developed in the same mold. That included a coming "store logistics" application developed in partnership with Intel, which brings to the table Intel's retail gateway product that can provide item-level RFID data, video analytics and more, while JDA provides inventory and retail workforce management capabilities. So, video or RFID identifies there is a stockout on the shelf, triggering JDA to create a replenishment task for a store associate and monitoring whether it is completed in a timely fashion. I have been talking about "in-store logistics" for 20 years, so I am glad to see this solution.
Relatedly, the major announcement at the show (it may not be brand new news but it was the first I have heard of it) was JDA's selection of Google Cloud Platform for its new generation of Cloud-based solutions built from the get-go for Cloud, and thus able to take advantage of the many tools Google offers.
JDA began strongly pushing Cloud deployment at Focus 2013, but to date that has really been about a hosted deployment model, not true "Cloud" applications in the current sense of the term.
So, it is important to understand the segmentation going forward in JDA's solution portfolio. One group of applications will see functional enhancements over time, but will not be re-architected for the Google Cloud. Another group of current applications (Demand, Fulfill, TMS, others) will be re-architected for the Cloud over time (a large effort). Third will be a series of new to the world Cloud-based applications, such as Retail.Me, and this is clearly where JDA is headed.
It will use its Flex SOA-based integration framework to connect the new to the old, if you will, in its installed base and new deployments of the traditional solutions.
Almost out of space, but some very quick additional notes: I would say the former RedPrairie solutions, notably WMS, have finally been fully integrated into JDA, not from a technology perspective but rather from an internal JDA culture perspective. See the comments on JDA WMS from a more product perspective from my good friend Mark Fralick, who should know, right here.
There was a very powerful keynote from Manny Ohonme, founder of Samaritan's Feet, an organization dedicated to serving the some 2.2 billion people across the globe, including a huge number of children, who have no shoes. Can you imagine? Ohonme was born in Nigeria but eventually made it to the US on a basketball scholarship against all odds, and in fact spent some time working for both RedPrairie and JDA. I learned from him not only the scale of the shoeless problem, but that due to the soil in many parts of African, the lack of shoes can lead to foot disease that not only devastates the feet themselves but which can ultimately cause death. Great organization to support - Samaritan's Feet has delivered some 6.6 million shoes to the poor across the world. Please send a check, as I did.
It was a good three days in Nashville for me. I would have liked to see a bit more "vision" about where all this is headed on the mainstage, but that's just how my brain is wired. JDA is building a lot of good stuff, but what will leaders really be doing with all of this in five years? I would also have liked to hear more about where JDA is at with its interesting Flowcasting solution. There is customer interest for sure, but it got just one quick mention in the Monday general session.
Next week, I will back with highlights of the breakout sessions I attended, which include five winners out of seven - not too bad.
Any reaction to this trip report on JDA's 2016 user conference? Were you there? What were your thoughts? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.