Macola peers into a geeky (and flexible) crystal ball

Macola also made the first public announcement of its new Macola Labs, tasked with coming up with innovative new techy twists that can be applied to the software.

Derek Ochs, Director of Software Development at Exact, Macola division

NEW ORLEANS – The news highlight of the Macola Evolve event here this week has been Exact, Macola division’s release of the 10.5 version of its Macola ERP software. While the company considers 10.5 to be a very important release because of its enhancements around usability and the customer experience, the company also acknowledged these changes are the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and laid out the roadmap that they say will completely reshape the Macola offering. Macola also formally announced the Macola Labs, a research-centred component designed to bring more geeky goodness into the software.

“The changes to our interface in 10.5 are a radical departure,” said Derek Ochs, Director of Software Development at Exact, Macola division. “We are starting the transformation to a completely new Macola product.”

After Ochs demonstrated the changes to the interface, with their premium on simplicity, and explained the design principles behind them, he then gave the conference attendees a sneak peek at the Macola road map. He did however give the caveat, that just as the revamped software emphasizes flexibility, the roadmap could well demonstrate that same flexibility as well, and things might pop up unexpectedly and ahead of schedule.

While 10.5 was all about enhancing the use experience around order entry, the next few releases will mainly be about – order entry

“We will keep on building up order entry until we get it the exact way that you want it,” Ochs told the customer audience. 10.5.1 will continue to enhance order entry, improve learning interface, and get into the second phase of web services – with the first phase completely grandfathered for people who have already adopted it. Ochs cited consistent naming and good documentation as the priorities on the web services front.

The 10.6 release will cover Order Entry Phase 2, as well as some billing and inventory adjustment components.

“10.7 will be the last phase of order entry, as well as more exotic things like blanket entries, RAM screens, and screen configuration, which will let you get rid of things you don’t care about,” Ochs said.

More distant releases will include a UI plug-in system, both back end, and widget-driven, and multi-site ERP, for larger customers, The Accounts Receivables Accounts Payable and Purchase Orders will all be modernized as well.

The road map also makes provision for more frequent releases in addition to the two major ones every year.

“It’s all these minor releases between the two big ones that we find significant,” said Jeff Mayer, Vice president of The Mayer Group, a Macola partner based in suburban Philadelphia.

Mayer sees the more frequent releases as part of a general improvement in speed in resolving issues.

“They have become quicker in adapting to bug fixes,” he said. “We had an issue with an Avalara integration in a unique scenario, and they addressed it in a couple of days. Historically, this kind of thing took longer.”

The addition of multi-site capability to the roadmap is also a very big deal, said Nola Hofman, President of Calgary-headquartered Macola partner Harvest Ventures.

“This isn’t just something that’s significant for larger customers,” she said. “Many companies today have multiple plants, so multi-site ERP is going to be a great addition.

Exact also chose the Evolve event to formally unveil Macola Labs, which is not so much an organizational capability as it is encouragement of a design philosophy around innovation and the development of cutting edge technology.

“The idea is to drive innovation on our team,” Ochs said. “We want to create exercises for our developers so they think outside the box.” Hackathons have been a seminal part of this, as have what Ochs termed ‘fun projects,’ where a designer is given 24 hours to come up with something cool.

A facial recognition application, which company managing director Alison Forsythe demonstrated onstage during her opening keynote, is one consequence of the Labs, likely to work its way into Macola.

“This is cool because it can provide the capability for one general log-in,” Jeff Mayer said.

Ochs demonstrated another of the product team’s new ideas, the Macola Chat Bot.

“This kind of thing wouldn’t be used by someone who checked inventory status all day, but it’s ideal for a manager who doesn’t do this kind of thing a lot, because they can use it to get information without having to understand the system,” Ochs said.

Chuck Wise, President of Taunton MA-based Macola partner Copious Solutions, pointed out additional benefits to Macola from the Labs concept.

“I think this feeds beautifully into the whole idea of the importance of having fun in the workplace,” he said. “People are more productive if they have fun. This is a good way to inspire the team, because they will be more productive by doing these techy fun things that excite them.”