What Exact should do with the flagship product

This is an extensive response to Ten things Exact should do with the flagship product by Barry van der Meij

First some background. I was one of the early innovators and engineers of Exact Synergy (of Baco at that time). It was pre Internet bubble and technology was primitive but hip and cool. We created a product that structured business processes and provided transparency on the performance of your business. That was then, today it's a different world, I left Exact, technology has advanced enormously, a wave of consumerization in IT has taken place and users have become much more IT savvy and demanding. What hasn't changed is the need for efficient and structured business process, but the way we work has changed and puts new perspectives on those business processes. Running a business requires deeper expertise and has become a much more collaborative effort than before, not only within your business but also outside your business.

I usually don't comment on Exact products and services, because those products and services are a proud part of my professional live and I don't want to bring them into any discredit. However here I can only partially agree with Barry's suggestions, because it's a typical more of everything will make it better list. I believe we are at an inflection point in the industry where it's not about more features, but about the emotional value of the features. Like Steve Jobs once said: It's not about the mega pixels of the camera, it's about taking good pictures!

In the introduction I already mentioned that today's users are more demanding and expect a fluent and smooth experience. I absolutely agree with Barry that Exact needs to pick-up speed in this area. The preview was launched when I was still Exact and I'm sorry to hear that this hasn't become the standard yet. I also agree that many tasks, like document and work flow management need to become a lot easier to do. However lets not forget that a lot of the complexity has been introduced based on feedback from customers as Barry is serving. The key challenge for business software today is to balance feature richness versus usability. As long as the purchase process is feature driven instead of user driven it's very difficult break this pattern.

I also mentioned that I find Barry's suggestions in the category: more of everything will make it a better product. I don't agree with this approach, it might be on the very short term, but it's not sustainable over a long period of time. Looking at the product life cycle I would opt for a completely different and more radical approach, because the future of business solutions for the SMB (Exact's target market) is in cloud with easy to start, easy to use, low cost, no customer lock in solutions. Saying this I also realize this is not the most preferable option for Exact partners like Barry's employer Nobel, but change is the name of the game here. What would I do?

  1. Take the current product and strip 40% of the least used features, including many of the personalization and customization features.
  2. Bring the product to the cloud as a multi-tenant single instance Software as a Service offering.
  3. Authentication based existing identities (e.g. Google Account, Windows Live ID, OpenID)
  4. Expose all functionality with a consumer web REST API with OAuth authentication. This API will allow the eco-system to integrate other products, build extensions and even create customer niche specific user interfaces.
  5. Have a two layered offering based on the platform (with OEM licensing for partners) and the product.
  6. Build a market place around the platform where Exact can distribute the eco-system solutions
  7. Integrate with Exact Online.


Now back to Barry's points

  1. User Experience, this should already have been done.
  2. Document and 3. Work flow management are for the most part of 1. User Experience. The rest is about building extensions based on the API.
  3. Work flow management has a bit of a challenge in the 4 steps, but the bigger challenge is that work flow is about status change based on rules. It's not a carrier of information, but that is how it's currently used in many situations.
  4. Flexibility, can only be achieved with a proper easy to use and flexible API.
  5. Reporting, The integrations with companies like Qlikview, Business Objects, etc. is something where the eco-system should jumping and offer the integrations via the marketplace
  6. Social CRM and...
  7. Social Interaction, this starts with authentication and separation between business and personal identities. The product and only become truly social if the product is open enough to interact with existing social platforms, because for building your own there is not enough scale.
  8. Marketing, integrate with anything you want based on the API!
  9. Cloud, the only cloud is a public multi-tenant cloud. Anything else is just a temporary solution
  10. Successor for Exact Globe, that is why Exact Synergy and Exact Online need to merge into one Software as a Service platform exposed with a common API serving multiple products.


Just to remind you: I've no insights into the road map of Exact and this is my personal view on the matter. I believe we are at an inflection point in the industry that requires to take a step back, before it can move forward again.

If you agree or don't agree or like or dislike, let me know in the comments below. If you believe some of my ideas can help your business, feel free to contact me.

6 comments

Hi Aad,

Thanks for the feedback on the article, and I mostly agree on the approach as you mentioned. My vision on "more of the same" is not completely as I mend it. The message was more: "the same but smarter",

Regarding your feedback I agree on most of it, but that would require a complete new approach to the market (and eco-system), Exact has always shipped standard products and more or less tolerated their development partners. Seeing it different would raise the question if the eco-system is able to adapt. Do you think they can? I certainly don't so new partner would have to step up.

My humble opinion is that your vision as well as mine can and must co-exist. Microsoft still ships on premise licenses as well as their services by using Office365. 

New companies focused on the consumerization of IT are growing at a blistering pace, adopting product strategy Aad has illustrated here. www.docusign.com/ http://www.box.net/ www.socialtext.com/ to name a few.

Barry, 

I can't really comment on the capabilities of Exact. I do believe they are dynamic enough to change, but it can very well be so they have a different viewpoint and thus a different strategy.

The co-existence of a on premise and cloud strategy is only a temporary solution. It takes time to build scale in the cloud and during this period you need to continue driving revenue. You however can't compare with Microsoft because they serve a different target market. The large enterprises are less likely to adopt the cloud for business apps (except for the real commodities) and thus rely on Microsoft to supply on premise apps. Exact serves the SMB that sees IT as a hassle and the cloud is a way to provide convenience. As soon as the right SaaS solutions are available the migration to the cloud will take place at a very high speed. 

My suggestion for Exact Synergy would be to actually live up to the name "Synergy", i.e. focus on how all different parts of a company (and any partners beyond that) can work together efficiently on the important business goals (with a focus on finance). Though in recent years "best-of-breed" solutions have gained most attention, I still believe there's a point to be made for integrated enerprise solutions, especially if they tie directly into the financial results on all levels.

Of course this means a full SaaS solution for Exact Synergy, with an external API, but the most important part is that all users and partners feel at home in the system, and management can still get real-time financial information from all levels of the company. Meaning, for example, that sales people don't need to deal with general ledger accounts, but still their results and costs directly tie into the financial and HR systems. Or that employees can communicate in quasi-real-time with their HR people, which often is preferrable over formal workflow procdures. Or that all finance people and department directors can work together on their budget in Google Docs, and the end result becomes the structured budget in Exact Synergy.

Paul Ploeger

I agree with you Sebastian, there is a huge demand for integrated enterprise solutions, and it should be SaaS. What i would change about Synergy;

Focus on small companies. They deal with the same processes, they also have lots of information that needs to be stored structurally, plus the financial administration. Since they don't always have an office, or for example only 4 desk for 8 people, the need to store and share information is great. If synergy can fuel their cooperation, they will see the benefit and want to pay for this.

My company isn't big but we work together with many people in a flexible project teams. It would be great to manage everything in Synergy and allow my teammembers to be a part of that.

And last but not least i would change licensing. Make a free entry level version (like dropbox) Make it cheaper, don't focus so much on the number of users but more on the size of the database. When your business is going good, data is growing and it is OK to pay a bit extra. (or allow ads) In the beginning don't limit people to be a part of your social-corporate network. (free publicity!)

Clive Boulton

Like Paul's free version.

Build huge adoption. Convert from free to paid.

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