Last month Achim Beckmann from In Mind Cloud Germany was invited for an expert talk by Marco Kahler from Valantic PIM. Valantic PIM is a leading PIM (Product Information Management) consultancy. Please find the interview below:
Hello Achim, I am excited to welcome you to the Valantic EXPERT_TALK. You are Managing Director at In Mind Cloud Global GmbH; can you briefly introduce yourself and In Mind Cloud?
Hello Marco, thank you very much for the invitation! It is great to be here.
My name is Achim Beckmann, and I have been with In Mind Cloud since January 2022. Before that, I worked in the SAP environment for 18 years. I started with Java and ABAP Development. Then I developed and designed interfaces with the help of various middleware technologies. That got me a few engagements as lead architect and technical project manager. After SAP announced the acquisition of Hybris, I ran the SAP Commerce practice at two SAP consulting firms. I feel as though I am rather good at describing the relationships between technologies in a simple manner and I've always had the good fortune to be involved in new technologies and technology trends over the past 10 years.
Briefly about the In Mind Cloud: We turned 10 last year and are software providers of a digital sales platform from the cloud that is tailored to the special requirements of selling complex products. We can seamlessly support sales from the management of sales opportunities through the creation of offers with configurable products to the order. A self-service customer portal with equipment and spare parts lists or purchase registration is also part of the solution. These components can be used individually, but preferably together.
Thanks for the detailed explanation, so you have moved into the world of configuration software solutions with In Mind Cloud. Of course, as so often in the software world, there is an abbreviation here too – CPQ. In my perception, there are different providers with different motivations. How do you see the market? What is In Mind Cloud's motivation?
I see very concrete trends on the market. CPQ stands for Configure, Price and Quote. For example, market research firm Forrester defines CPQ as follows:
"An integrated suite of software applications that enhance sales productivity across channels by automating or guiding the processes of product configuration, pricing, and quoting in order to deliver the right product recommendations at the right prices to each buyer."
The first current trend is specialization.
There are CPQ providers that are moving away from configuration in the context of sales support and towards the product lifecycle. Of course, this makes a lot of sense if you want to approach CPQ from a product development perspective and see it as a complement to the Product Lifecycle Management system, or PLM for short.
There are some solutions in Forrester that focus more on individual sub-areas of the CPQ process. However, they often lose focus on the overall process.
We at In Mind Cloud specialize in the seamless end-to-end process from sales lead to the configured offer and then on to the spare parts business for sales support for the manufacturing industry in medium-sized companies.
A second trend is consolidation.
This is currently clearly visible on the market. Established providers such as CAMOS, VSX and Tacton are going through mergers and acquisitions. This shows me that the CPQ processes are now more actively in demand from industrial companies and that the IT providers are thus preparing for the increasing demand with process depth through takeovers.
The third trend is towards the cloud.
We know from prospect and customer appointments that cloud solutions are also increasingly in demand and accepted in the CPQ area.
We at In Mind Cloud started 10 years ago with our CPQ directly in the cloud and have a lot of experience and knowledge here. For example, in the last few months we have converted our platform to a hyperscale architecture in order to be able to offer our customers more flexibility and performance.
In addition, a few years ago we started to expand our platform with a manufacturing purposed CRM and many commerce functions in addition to the central CPQ functions. We have found that not only do our customers' sales staff have to configure, but that every channel possible that touches the end customer must also be set up to configure as well to support a unified customer experience. Therefore, with our standard product, we can now process simple and complex configurations, requests for configured products for interested parties, customers, and partners, as well as orders for spare parts centrally via our platform.
A fourth trend is the interaction of CPQ with CRM, e-commerce, and ERP systems.
In the report " Configure, Price, Quote Solutions Landscape, Q1 2023 ", Forrester recently attested that we are the leader in CPQ out of thirty-seven analyzed CPQ solutions. Here we cover most of the functional areas that are considered necessary in a direct comparison. With our e-commerce and CRM functionality, we can integrate seamlessly into existing CRM systems from SAP, Salesforce and Microsoft and thus support a seamless process in sales - but we can also use them centrally on our platform.
We at In Mind Cloud have coined the term Digital Sales Platform, which stands for the interaction of e-commerce, CPQ and CRM on a central platform with deep SAP ERP integration.
The fifth and final trend is standardization in the manufacturing industry.
In the last 10 years we have witnessed how our customers are increasingly standardizing their products. In the past, every machine produced was unique, but now standardized assemblies and components are increasingly being used. The advantages for design, quotation preparation and production are obvious. Nevertheless, end customers have a great need for customization. Two processes play a dominant role here: Configure to Order (CtO) and Engineer to Order (EtO).
At In Mind Cloud, we support both processes. In this way, we can configure a standardized product via CtO and then add the necessary customer-specific requirements via EtO processes with seamless SAP ERP integration.
Very exciting! Thank you for your detailed reply. Can you tell me something about the distinction between In Mind Cloud and SAP?
SAP itself also has a CPQ and a Commerce component available in the market. However, we have found several times in the recent past that these solutions lack the functional depth for the manufacturing industry. At In Mind Cloud, we specialize in the medium-sized manufacturing industry, including Engineer to Order (EtO), and have very deep functionalities here. SAP primarily addresses the very large enterprises. At first glance, it may appear that we are competitors, but to be honest we are addressing different customer segments. Another point that should be mentioned as a distinction and for In Mind Cloud is our platform approach: We offer a self-service portal or commerce and CPQ on a central platform. This means we don't have to set up any interfaces between the solutions. Anyone who uses our Digital Sales Platform to its full extent only integrates it once into the SAP ERP. The processes then run quickly and smoothly on our platform without system breaks and interfaces.
In your trends you also talk about related solutions such as a CRM etc., I don’t want to miss PIM here. What role does PIM or Master Data Management (MDM) play in your context?
That is a very good question! At the beginning I explained that we have evolved from a CPQ manufacturer to a digital sales platform provider. This means that we come into contact with product data and print outs at various points in our end-to-end processes. Let's look at two examples here:
- A B2B self-service portal with spare parts identification: Here we offer our mechanical engineering focused customers the opportunity to significantly simplify the identification of spare parts based on 2D and 3D models. Before customers order spare parts, they want to be well informed and, above all, make sure that they are getting the exact right product, for their machine or assembly. Finally, there may be machine downtime that needs to be remedied as quickly as possible and with as little loss of time as possible. Product data and media such as repair instructions, videos, images, etc. are incorporated here. Ideally, these are prepared in a structured way in a PIM system, then consumed by our platform, thus helping the customer to identify the right product.
- Guided Selling: To support the sales staff in pre-configuration and selection of the right offer components, our solution guides them through the different variants. Texts, images, and other product data from the PIM are used here.
- The offer generation: The core function of our Digital Sales Platform is our CPQ solution. Here, offers are created, products are configured, prices are calculated and finally the offer document is generated for the customer. It is becoming increasingly clear here that the requirements for offer documents are increasing. A simple offer document with technical features is no longer sufficient. The offers are the business card of the offering company to the outside world. Therefore, the documents should be rich in information with high design requirements at the same time. In addition to sales and configuration data, product data such as images, marketing texts, etc. are used here, which in turn are sensibly maintained in the PIM system. Since PIM systems can usually also be used for print exports.
One last question, where do you see the CPQ market in 5 years, what are the innovation drivers?
I currently see a great many different CPQ solutions on the market, some of which are heavily verticalized. Here the market has already begun to consolidate. I think the list of providers will become clearer here. Furthermore, I assume that there will be an increasing demand for standardized special solutions with in-depth industry expertise but broad process support and that the trend will move even further away from individual development projects. Standardization is the cornerstone for update capability, integration into peripheral systems and participation in innovations by the software manufacturer.
With regard to the innovation drivers, I see three topics:
- In the area of configuration, including the downstream processes, performance is always a major issue. Furthermore, a trend can be seen that manufacturers of on-premise CPQ’s are now also getting onboard the cloud train. I am firmly convinced that in 5 years we will no longer be talking about on-premise solutions, but that only high-performance solutions from the cloud will be required.
- The current ChatGPT hype shows that artificial intelligence is on the rise. Of course, around our digital sales platform, we have also asked ourselves in which areas AI provides added value and what meaningful support could look like here?
- If I look at the life cycle of a machine, then a machine symbolically must be visible in the context of a sales configuration. We've been talking about the digital twin and "product use as a service" for years. These are topics that, in my view, all belong together, for which we have already laid a very good foundation with our digital sales platform.
Thank you for the interview!