Into the (not so wild) Blue Yonder - JDA Software's new identity kicks in

Chris Middleton Profile picture for user cmiddleton February 20, 2020
An aspirational name change completes a four year corporate re-invention.

JDA Girish Rishi CEO

Supply chain and retail management provider JDA Software is relaunching as Blue Yonder, taking on the name of the artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data science outfit that it acquired back in 2018.

The move completes a comprehensive, four-year re-invention of the company under the leadership of CEO Girish Rishi, who has pushed this once traditional supply chain software specialist into becoming an intelligent cloud platform infused by sector-specific AI and ML capabilities. He has also shifted it from a direct sales model into being a more partner-focused enterprise.

The original Blue Yonder was founded by ex-CERN data scientist Dr Michael Feindt in 2008. Over the following decade, Feindt began using his expertise in analysing petabytes of data about the dawn of the universe to help retailers fend off the threat of Amazon in a low-margin, high-competition space.

The thinking was that reusable software components can make a big difference to retailers that are faced with a data science behemoth like Amazon, whose mass and gravitational pull are warping and disrupting the very fabric of their businesses.

In retrospect, JDA’s acquisition of the German startup now appears to have been a 'Big Bang' moment for all concerned, allowing client companies of every size to square up against what Rishi calls the ‘Three As’: Amazon, plus Aldi and Alibaba. The subsequent launch of the Luminate product line sought to help customers make informed predictions about the future – instead of reacting passively to the peaks and troughs of demand.

But is the new Blue Yonder making safe bets on the future, or simply reacting to a fast-changing world? Was it always the CEO’s intention to keep the brand he acquired?And if so, why wait two years to relaunch the company?

According to Rishi, the decision came in a lightbulb moment last May, when he found himself thinking aloud at a board meeting about using the Blue Yonder brand. Not everything in business is predictable, it seems: 

The reaction in the room from both the board of directors and our management team was very positive. I didn't expect that kind of response. So it was not the thesis two years ago.

But clearly JDA’s acquisition of Blue Yonder must have planted the idea in his mind. So what was the thinking behind this latest move? Rishi explains:

It really starts with our strategy and substance. The journey we started two years ago had to align with market realities, it had to align with our customers in manufacturing, retail, and logistics who are all undergoing digital transformation.

It required us to go down below ground level to the foundations, and change how we envisage market opportunities and listen to customers. How we get our portfolio as a platform with reams and reams of data, how we analyse it, and how we apply artificial intelligence and machine learning,

It's also about building a developer base and ecosystem. And this is one of our values: how we collaborate amongst each other, how we challenge each other.

For Rishi, it seems, these ideas were tied up in the concept ‘Blue Yonder’ and were not being conveyed by the more solid – and perhaps grounded – ‘JDA Software’. But is there a risk that the move will confuse longstanding customers of either brand? Rishi argues: 

We concluded that we had outgrown the JDA name, and that our brand should convey our strategy and our strategy should convey the brand – Blue Yonder. There's an element, I suppose, of ‘blue sky thinking’, but it’s grounded in reality, right? It wasn't just a vision, it wasn't just an aspiration.

It's what we have delivered with Luminate in our portfolio and customer experiences. So it wasn't just me waking up one day and saying, ‘Let's do blue sky thinking and give a name to it’. It was very much grounded in our execution.

Over the two years since JDA and Blue Yonder came together, our customers and ecosystem partners have already seen us on that journey. But it’s an unending journey, to keep building a brand. The brand is our strategy, so it's a multi-year, unending effort to continue ensuring that our brand is resonating with the marketplace.

The future 

So now that Blue Yonder has set a new tone for the company – or given a name to a culture change and product refresh that was already in progress – what comes next in terms of substance? Rishi says: 

The branding is not going to prompt us to to do anything substantially different than what we've been doing recently against our strategy. We’re seeing the Luminate portfolio start to reverberate globally, with customers adopting it and implementing it.

Our associate strength has gone up. We now have 1,000 more associates [employees] than we did two years ago. We have established internally a unified Customer Success function. In the past we had silos. This has substantially elevated both the customer and the user experience, and has been a meaningful step forward.

The other thing is that 2019 was the biggest year in our company’s history: SaaS bookings grew 51%, SaaS revenue grew 82%, SaaS annual recurring revenue grew 83%. Our SaaS backlog is approaching $700 million today.

As JDA, Blue Yonder also made a big bet on London a year ago, and since then political events have redefined Britain’s relationship with the planet – well, minus some significant details, such as any trade deals, regulatory specifics, and so on. Has the UK business environment changed for Blue Yonder in this brave new world of blue passports? RIshi says: 

London has evolved into a very strategic hub for us to have innovation sessions with our customers. I'm not implying any political biases here, but we haven't seen any change, any dampening of the economic environment. [The recent clarity on Brexit] has really helped our customers and partners to move forward, after there was a bit of a holding pattern. So we are seeing it as a fantastic development now that the clarity is there.

My take

Words that could apply to the company’s present situation. So welcome, then, Blue Yonder, and farewell to JDA Software.

While the ‘new’ name may have associations that are aspirational for some – and perhaps vague and hard to pin down for others – in a sense the brand reflects current realities: a world of blue sky thinking, the hope of continued expansion into the future – and certainly one no longer grounded in the certainties of the past. That’s the environment that Blue Yonder’s customers find themselves in too, which is why they are turning to predictive software to help them make sense of it.

Meanwhile, Girish Rishi should be commended for a four-year reinvention of his company. Not many CEOs have the opportunity to write themselves so firmly into a strategy that is having measurable results. 

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