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Unit4 CEO Mike Ettling: enterprise customers won’t pay extra for AI

Mike Ettling, chief executive, Unit4, spoke to Computer Weekly at the Unleash HR conference in Paris about ERP trends, and how he is positioning the firm he started running this year

According to Unit4’s chief executive officer Mike Ettling, business applications customers will not pay extra for the more advanced technologies so heavily touted in recent years, usually under a special name.

Ettling, who was president at SAP Success Factors, spoke to Computer Weekly at the recent Unleash HR software conference in Paris.

“What I find the most intriguing about business-to-business software is that if you take the top five buzzwords – AI [artificial intelligence], machine learning, chatbots, predictive analytics, blockchain – customers expect all that for free,” he said. “They expect software to be smart, engaging, and predictive, and so there is no monetisation model.

“You see people trying to build a price list around people experience or AI just as you did five years ago when the new user experiences came out. People just expect using business software to be like using Google or Amazon, for example.

“You can’t sell a machine learning module on an ERP [enterprise resource planning], you just have to have it. The model of coming up with some cool West Coast innovation and putting on the price list is over.

“I’m very much of the school that you deliver the functionality,” he added, rather than bestow a fancy name such as SAP Leonardo or Salesforce Einstein.      

Ettling took the helm as the CEO at Unit4, which is known to specialise in ERP for professional services firms and universities, in April 2019. “I got SuccessFactors to a point where it made sense to leave, and then had an 18-month period of gardening leave,” he added.

He decided to take the role at Unit4 because it is a people and process-focused enterprise software firm in the mid-market, away from manufacturing or the supply chain. Ettling “didn’t want to take a role where the job was to fix products”, but rather to transform the company to be effective as a cloud player.

“We have one of the best ERP architectures in the market, born in the cloud, multi-tenant, wrapped in a proper microservices architecture,” he said. “Most of the mid-market don’t have that. Even the majors, like SAP with S/4 Hana, Oracle Fusion, IFS – all of them are single-tenant hosted.”

Ettling said his goal is to take an on-premise company that does cloud to one that “looks and smells like a cloud company” – that is to say, one that really focuses on customer success.

“In a cloud world, you don’t want single-tenant customisations,” he said. “You want a single code line running all of your clients. It just increases the pace of innovation.”

What Unit4 calls its “people experience platform” is built on Microsoft Azure, of which Ettling said they have had a very deep understanding from their original cloud strategy, which pre-dates him joining the company, and was evident when Jose Duarté and Stephan Sieber held the CEO role.

At Unleash World 2019, the supplier announced human capital management [HCM] functionality into its Prevero corporate performance management tool that automates data analysis to support the people and planning process.

Matthias Thurner, chief product officer at Unit4, said: “Through our people experience suite of solutions, we’re building capabilities that utilise data and intelligence from core ERP to support people throughout the organisation.

“The ability to automate data analysis around the people that drive success for services organisations is critical. The new capabilities in Unit4 Prevero will benefit both finance and project leads as they capitalise on the talent that drives service success,” said Thurner.

The company also announced a global partnership with San Francisco-based SmartRecruiters.

The partnership sees Unit4 bundle SmartRecruiters’ software with its own ERP and HCM software to provide “source-to-hire and talent management capabilities for service organisations, where people matter most”.

“We are very excited to be partnering with SmartRecruiters and what we believe to be the best talent acquisition suite on the market,” said Ettling. 

“This brings two like-minded companies closer, adds cloud-native and specialist talent acquisition to our portfolio and builds on complementary market presence in North America and Europe. Finding the right people and talent is central to the success of any services organisation.’’

SmartRecruiters founder and CEO Jerome Ternynck said: “In people-centred organisations, talent is the most important asset and the journey starts with recruiting great talent. We are excited to see how the combination of our talent acquisition solutions with Unit4’s ERP and HCM suite will help businesses find and nurture talent.”

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