Towards An ERP That Levels The Playing Field

Business management and ERP have undergone huge technological, social and economic shifts. The explosion of cloud computing, mobility of business users, big data demands and microscopic focus on cost cutting are changing the pace and direction of every company’s IT strategy.

Five years ago cloud computing was more expensive than on-premise, analytical data was difficult to curate and the benchmark in usability, especially on mobile devices, was set extremely low. Today’s advances in these areas create massive opportunities for large and small businesses to take advantage of the best tools, infrastructure and user interfaces modern technology has to offer.

Previously, reliable business management systems often resulted from massively complex and expensive ERP systems supported through in-house or custom developed “front-line worker” tools. Mobile technology and the impact of big data has not only leveled the playing field, but shifted the balance of power to the cloud. Companies such as Amazon and Google have led the way in reducing cost of and building confidence in the cloud, to such an extent that those arguments in favor of running in-house vs. cloud no longer apply.

Economies of scale aren’t just in the virtualization of hardware or pooling of data center resources either. Professionals today embrace all forms of technology, on-line and social media networks, bringing the cloud to the forefront of people’s minds. Perceptions are molded by these large cloud purveyors that have proven how reliable services can be built affordably.

They have shaped user confidence, set a high bar for security, and built systems that no longer have a prohibitive entry price. Users can, and do, expect a native experience with applications that deliver on-demand information, wherever they are.

This has created globalized business structures increasingly shaped around staff familiar with user friendly consumer-centric mobile apps, blurred geographic boundaries and accentuated social trends, all of which become important elements of today’s business management strategy. Business leaders are increasingly comfortable outsourcing key functions of their business because they are reliable, more popular and cheaper than anything they can develop, implement and maintain in-house.

This inflection point has dramatically shifted the focus of business. From the small enterprise to the multinational, our reliance on technology has created both opportunity and threat in the delivery of end-to-end business management solutions.

The current market

True on-demand management software will revolutionize the way business is conducted. Simply to scale in a now globalized business climate demands collaboration of each management function that captures trends, demographics and business data tuned to the specific nuances of each industry.

Here, traditional ERP companies (like SAP or Oracle) and point solutions (such as Yammer, Salesforce CRM, or Quickbooks) offer opposite poles of functionality. Whereas classic ERP provides a powerful single database structure and one version of the truth for deep-pocketed big businesses, they are too costly to implement for anyone but the largest of companies.

Conversely, point solutions add value to only one or two functions, requiring a patchwork of interfaces and data transfers, rekeying and comparing, as growing businesses wrestle with more and more inter-connected point solutions.

Between the giants in ERP and the freemium point solution providers, there is a gap in the market for cloud-based business management tools containing industry specific best practices and templates. However, a one-stop-shop solution only holds true if it delivers across the board — function, role, department, industry.

These are the challenges for all would-be suppliers: 1) to integrate ERP with industry-specific software components while maintaining best-of-breed pricing; 2) to optimize for so many uniquely aligned end user experiences, information needs and industries.

Granularity and usability

Yet skepticism in the market reigns. While much is made of combining “end-to-end” and “best of breed,” rarely do systems provide optimized granularity and usability at the same time. There is often a trade-off somewhere – a clunky user interface, unreliability or lack of functionality, for example.

In this regard end-to-end is a tough sell because there is a lack of confidence that any system can deliver multi-vertical/multi-tenant ERP, business management, reporting, collaboration, chat and docs with industry-centric features and best practices tailored to each role.

To do so for globalized businesses with a tech savvy workforce takes a consistent user experience, scalable architecture, built-in mobility and low cost implementation and support. This combination will revolutionize the economics of business management tools going forward.

The pace at which business is now conducted through all manner of interactions, transactions and devices means that the best-of-breed systems we love and trust today must evolve to remain viable tools of businesses in the future. Conversely, yesterday’s ERP systems are simply not geared up to support today’s business demands. User experience, mobility and low cost are all key, so that modern tools can engage small to medium sized businesses at price points that are no longer prohibitive.

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Richard Minney is co-founder of iBE.net, a developer of business management software for SMEs. He has nearly 20 years of ERP experience as a developer, consultant and project manager. Previously he was executive VP for Product Innovation at HCL-Axon, responsible for the company's successful ERP add-on solutions business. Before that, he was co-founder of Feanix, a $20m SAP systems integrator with clients like Sikorsky Aircraft and Pratt & Whitney. He spent nine years at U.K.-based Druid Group plc, building SAP’s first industry add-on solution for aerospace and defense. He began his career at Ford and Rolls-Royce. He has a Masters in computer integrated manufacturing from Cranfield University, and a MA in engineering from Cambridge University.

  • Vaclav

    Hi, This is a rather good article. A proliferation of one-suits-all systems as a result of low cost software is already visible.