ERP systems were once the digital equivalents of bespoke tailored suits with a lot of features and functions, many of them of questionable value and therefore rarely being used.
Just as the Savile Row suit contains side tabs, hidden pockets, a monogram and fancy lining, in ERP, custom-workflows and tools custom-coded for clients have long proliferated says Erik Bontekoe, director ERP practice EMEA at Unit4.
That model may once have reassured customers who thought their business needs were somehow unique, yet they sucked time out of deployments and piled on costs even as they made fortunes for vendors, consulting companies and system integrators.
The happy news is that modern ERPs can still be personalised but with far less interaction and bespoke work. In the new generation of modern cloud-based ERP, companies can finally shed the weight of the bulky ERP systems that they have been carrying on their backs for decades and pursue something far more elegant and adaptable.
Traditional ERP saw software vendors and associates doing their best to fit the needs of each and every organisation but “new” ERP delivers readymade models for vertical industries readymade and with best practices built in. That’s not to say they’re not able to be edited and amended but today you rarely see the sorts of open-heart surgery that was once the norm in ERP.
Addiction to customisation has gone away at progressive organisations and smart customers elect to modify workflows via low-code/no-code tools, adding extra fields where needed and taking advantage of role-based workspaces to provide a personalised central anchor-desk for key data.
Customisations in the modern sense are largely about extending systems, for example automating electronic signatures via a DocuSign API. It’s the so-called ‘API Economy’, where assets can easily be exposed and ingested via open programmer interfaces, and the simplicity and openness of cloud mean that we enjoy a light-touch, elegant means of joining systems, tools and data.
Here come the business super users
Integrations, workflows and customer-defined fields are the three issues at play today and the challenge has moved from being a software-centric, technical lens to a new focus on business issues and opportunities. The new ERP stars are not programmers but the business function super-users who can make best use of the wealth of value and ability to reinvent that are now at their fingertips.
They are the ideas people who help to create processes that are fast and don’t leave users to deal with the grunt work of shelling in and out of applications or wading through multiple screens and complex menus. We might even argue that IT has been trumped by business users who have deep domain knowledge and understanding of their business processes and workflows. They are the ones that understand that power that has been granted to them but probably have never written a line of code in their lives.
That change in emphasis also affects vendors like us. Software companies once stacked up feature sets that grew with every release. They built checklists to win marketing fights with rivals and justify upgrade fees. But now the focus is on creating systems that are intuitive and work like digital friends and colleagues to assist users, making them highly productive and enabled to change systems for the better. The new mantra has become Engage-Onboard-Test-Deploy-Expand.
Focus on customer success
As for professional services, the necessary evil of disassembling systems and rewriting chunks of code has gone away and now the new world of services is about creating creative new ways to ensure customer success. Consultants can act as trusted advisors rather than glue-gun-wielding mechanics. They are selected on their ability to innovate, business knowledge and improve systems based on business need.
This then is the future of ERP: creating the next waves of extension flows and bot interactions so that users are really in self-service mode. Their applications are intuitive, adaptive and can easily be queried. Routine tasks are dispensed with and the bot does the work that once chewed up hours from the day.
Systems know what we want based on Machine Learning and help us to perform tasks “auto-magically”, as my colleague Dmitri Krakovsky has written. Just as with the first time you used the iPhone, the applications have a way of intuitively understanding what you want to do, based on interactions and past activities.
The interaction between ERP vendor has changed too and has become less techie and more business-like. Rather than starting conversations about cloud ERP with talk of features, functions or fears over lost customisations and what is happening to the customer’s prized proprietary code, we need to drill down to understand the real business need. And then meeting or surpassing expectations of how to get there…
The author is Erik Bontekoe, director ERP practice EMEA at Unit4.
About the author
Erik has a long track record in professional services in both consultancy and leadership roles. He has worked with a variety of customers throughout the process of selection to implementation of successful go-lives projects, as well as supporting the on-going optimisation of their software.
Erik has gained in-depth experience through the transition from on-premise to cloud-based software, as well as the transition from the fully customised customer driven design of enterprise software solutions to a best practice model-based approach to implementation. The focus for Erik’s team is always on speed to value helping Unit4’s customers to adopt its software in the shortest time possible, so that they can start realising the benefits it brings as soon as possible.
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