How to use ERP software as a platform to master rapid business change
By now, we’re all pretty familiar with new business models brought about by a dynamically shifting, sharing economy. Nowadays, a tech event can’t open without hackneyed sound bites such as “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles; or Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content.”
The truth is that virtually every industry you can name is being disrupted by new ideas enabled by the latest technology.
So, how are your systems supposed to keep pace? Traditionally, ERP software vendors have built new functionality and features atop aging platforms – essentially adding code to stand-alone “back office” software. Well, this strategy is losing the race.
With app-based businesses like Uber now dominating the landscape, the challenge is to connect traditional ERP to a vast array of applications running on the cloud and to create flexible ways of accessing the information in the system through mobile devices.
Fortunately, there is a solution and it’s already a reality for the most forward-looking ERP providers: ERP as a platform – aka, Enterprise Resource Platform. This new ERP isn’t bound by any preconceived idea. It exists to enable developers, and more importantly, non tech-savvy users, to tailor the software to meet their needs. So yes, it’s the perfect tool to help your business navigate (and flourish) in a constantly changing enterprise environment.
Here are a few building blocks that make up the Enterprise Resource Platform and they can help you master the challenges of new business models rather than be driven by them.
Today, competitive dynamics and the pace of change are so quick that most companies don’t know what their business model will be in the next 2-3 years. Sound familiar? What this means is that business management solutions, including ERP software, must be flexible and allow for business agility in order to meet an organization’s current and future needs. Why? Because a business that’s not agile, or is inhibited by their business management software, will become irrelevant – and fast.
Ideally, users and admins should be able to handle their own ERP systems, minimizing the dependency on third party vendors. This is best illustrated in ERP with a strong Business Process Management (BPM) application, a tool which enables automated workflows that quickly adapt to changes in the business.
These tools also include a graphical, “drag & drop” User Interface (UI) to allow users to adapt forms and reports in minutes to support the new workflows. Ideally, a modern ERP platform can offer a broader range of flexibility enablers, such as mobile application generators, so that users can build mobile apps with a few easy clicks – without the need for programming skills. Increasingly, this capability is a must, not just a “nice to have”.
With the rise of public WiFi and the ‘bring your own device’ culture, mobility is becoming increasingly popular within businesses. It’s no longer surprising to see people working from laptops, taking conference calls on-the-go, or emailing from their mobiles. In a survey of 500 senior business decision-makers, we found that while 95% believed mobility increased productivity, over a third did not have the proper technology to fulfill its potential, and 43% could not perform business-critical functions on a mobile application.
While traditional ERP products were designed for desktops, modern ERP is conveniently designed for laptops, smartphones and tablets, so that business management is no longer confined to the office. As teams become more distributed, core business processes need to be simple to do from remote locations as well.
Applications for a mobile sales force, field technicians, proof of delivery and other sales and service-oriented roles must be part of your modern ERP solution. Mobile ERP apps manage your business on-the-go, where, for example, field service reps can perform and report from the field. Mobile apps also allow company management to have full transparency and control – almost entirely without even touching a computer.
Finally, one of the most important elements of a viable Enterprise Resource Platform is openness. System openness refers to the degree of accessibility to view, use and modify computer code in a shared environment. Openness allows for hyper-connected ERP with a new level of interoperability between the core business processes, external data, IoT devices, and third party applications. It creates new opportunities for more direct integration of the physical world into computer-based systems, resulting in improved efficiency, accuracy and revenues.
But to be truly open, an Enterprise Resource Platform must include standard Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) as well as dedicated web SDKs. It’s the convenient API layer that enables developers to integrate the ERP on both the database and application level with any third party or self-developed app. A REST API in an ERP system, for example, enables rapid integration to external applications.
With APIs, any web developer can, for example, integrate your website and your CRM module. This means that your leads are automatically updated and when integrated with your e-commerce website, any new orders via the site automatically create the order in the ERP. As part of the sales process, your e-commerce website will immediately show updated inventory and pricing information.
It’s APIs that literally “open” the doors to real connectivity. For starters, openness through REST APIs enables seamless connection to an infinite number of sensors and connected devices allowing businesses to take full advantage of the IoT. For example, Automotive ERP software can be used for fleet management, where the ERP system tracks each vehicle in the fleet, generating reports on mileage, gas consumption, location and even current velocity.
Similarly, if your company is using ERP for manufacturing (e.g. producing glass bottles), APIs can connect to sensors on the production floor to measure the exact weight and volume of each drop of liquid glass into the mold. In real-time, the system delivers this data to the ERP backend, which immediately updates the inventory balance on the production floor and enables accurate material cost calculations.
In its entirety, the Enterprise Resource Platform delivers the missing answers to questions that have been asked in the ERP eco-system for decades. For companies who want to master the changes to their business models, being armed with business management software that will evolve as they evolve is on the critical path to success.
So, why not get started? Your business is being disrupted now – so be prepared.
Dan Aldridge is a credited ERP Software Evangelist, LION on LinkedIn. He is also ranked as one of the 50 Top ERP Influencers You Need To Follow On Twitter. Read more of Dan’s posts: Want to increase your ERP’s ROI?, The Channel Partner in the ERP World, How to Turn Your ERP into a Party, Tips for Epic ERP and Confessions of an ERP Consultant.