Unit4 releases connector mesh as it sinks deeper into Microsoft's 'grizzly bear' hug

Vertical differentiation helps users see the wood from the trees

Unit4, the ERP vendor born out of public-sector specialist Agresso, has launched a cloud service that promises out-of-the-box integration with popular application software and third-party data sources.

The multi-tenant cloud service sits on Unit4's ERPx cloud platform, which in turn is hosted in Azure and aimed at mid-market organisations. Industry Mesh offers pre-built data flows between applications, data sources, and the industry ecosystem, according to Unit4.

This reduces the cost and increases the speed of integration at the same time as improving the data users can get into applications, Unit4 claimed. A company with 1,000 employees might lose $1.2m because of productivity lost through poor integration between ERP and ancillary systems, it added.

Pre-built integration for Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics CRM is intended to help in the cost of sales and support billing for finance users, for example. Others include connectors for Oanda for the importing and updating of exchange rates, Dun & Bradstreet for customer credit ratings, Data.gov for US government watch list checking, and Slack and Microsoft Teams for collaboration.

Unit4 also provides an Extension Kit toolset to create the connectors and flows used in the Industry Mesh. Customers can use it to create their own connectors and data flows using the low-code/no-code approach, the vendor said, while partners can also build their own connectors and offer them to customers.

Holger Mueller, principal analyst and veep at Constellation Research, told The Register: "The mesh is all about lowering cost and time for integration. It is a good move as integration work delays go-live and with that delays benefits from the software."

Unit4 has developed a ties with Microsoft. Its SaaS is only available on Azure, while it has also developed tight integration with Teams, Outlook, and Office. However, Microsoft has its own ERP in Dynamics, and money has been pouring into the market for partners to deploy and support the portfolio as the big four consultants look to position "digital transformation" services around Microsoft's cloud, collaboration, and application products.

Mueller said this was not necessarily a problem for Unit4 as its application software was positioned differently and in some ways ahead of Microsoft's. "The relationship works well for Unit4 as most of their customers are on Azure as well using Office products and more. It was the right decision at the time, seven or six years back, and Unit4 is ahead of Dynamics on many things. The fact Microsoft runs the IaaS doesn't matter that much."

Speaking on a conference call, Unit4 CEO Mike Ettling said: "I use the analogy of a relationship with Microsoft is like cuddling a grizzly bear: it can be incredibly comfortable and warm, but it can also be very dangerous. The key thing is that when you look at Azure, it is a great platform that has served us very well because we have been able to deploy in many, many countries, which is important with residency becoming more and more prevalent a topic.

"Microsoft has a very aggressive triple-play model but one of their prime focuses is building capacity on Azure, so they are very supportive of Unit4. Yes, we sometimes come up against Dynamics in a competitive situation, but the moment we can push it to a more vertical solution and include more middle office functionality, then we have our differentiation."

Unit4 also used its X4U conference to announce the purchase of San Francisco-based Compright, which provides a compensation solution to be folded into the ERPx suite.

"The acquisition is notable in its own right but also plays to the bigger picture Unit4 is painting about the need for the right technology to create the right environment for both individuals and organisations," said Angela Eager, research director at TechMarketView. ®

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