In a Service Economy People Matter. How Helpful Are Your Enterprise Systems?
With some of the incorporations of machine learning and articificial intelligence, ERP resources are becoming more intutive than ever.
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Today’s ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) has evolved beyond recognition from its pre-millennium ancestor, so why does it continue to have an image problem, asks Unit4’s deputy CTO, Claus Jepsen. Even its full name is misleading and doesn't shed much light on what ERP is or what it is capable of today.
ERP systems transform, integrate and scale businesses better today than they ever have. It’s the only system that tackles all the processes that are essential to running a business and eliminates those that aren’t. And cloud has made ERP solutions more affordable, and easier to implement and manage.
A Digital Frankenstein
For people in services organizations in the early Noughties, trying to use ERP was like dealing with a digital Frankenstein’s monster — part grumpy accountant, part town planning officer, part strict school principal. There was little choice in how they could do things and they needed to skill up massively to find their way around its vastly complex system. If this Old ERP could have spoken to them, it would have said, “Do it this way or not at all.”
What’s more, with its complex coding and complicated user interface, this digital Frankenstein’s monster needed an army of technical super-users to understand, use and manage it. (Unfortunately, this is a specific type of person whose brain works a certain way; it rendered many, such as the creative thinkers coveted in business today, utterly powerless.)
These complexities created a constant challenge for ERP vendors and their customers. Because vendors were bound by the capabilities of unwieldy systems, the conversation around implementing ERP was about training: how can we teach users to operate and get value from this complicated, inflexible piece of technology?
ERP just didn’t feel like it was designed to help people. People were never the center of its world. And it certainly wasn’t interested in the employees, the ambitions of organizations and their customers.
In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, driven by disruptive competition, an exponentially increasing rate of change and heightened customer expectations, this is hardly a blueprint for success.
A New Conversation
What’s really changed the game for ERP is developments in AI and machine learning that are now enriching it beyond recognition. Yet ERP still has an image problem. It’s time that changed.
What we need to consider is that in the Everything as a Service (XaaS) world, start-ups and organizations on digital transformation journeys are not restrained by ERP anymore. Let’s consider what has changed.
Today’s ERP is like those rare individuals who make you feel like the only person in the room. They ask helpful questions about your aspirations, listen patiently to your answers, and remember them. They efficiently and politely ensure the conversation is centered on you and subtly direct the discussion so that it helps you.
You can interact with today’s ERP in a way that suits you. No advanced knowledge is needed beyond human-to-human communication skills. It’s easy to understand, use and manage (and it’s a pleasure to interact with). You are the center of its world. It is designed to help you. It is genuinely interested in you, and your customers. And when it speaks to you it says, “How can I help you?”
A Different Focus Enabled by Different Capabilities
In the real world, and in functional terms, this translates to ERP being conversational, and forward-looking so not only does it report historical transactions, but also enables organizations to better analyze their data in real-time, create insights about how they should move forward, and then act with confidence. It has expanded to manage front-office functions, too. The conversation is no longer about teaching customers — or employees — how to use the technology, because, with artificial intelligence (AI), natural language and proactive digital assistants, there is little need.
By harnessing the power of modern platforms with microservices-based architecture, for example, loosely-coupled ERP allows people-centered organizations — almost regardless of size — to adopt emerging technologies, remain agile and future-proofed, while not being tied to a single provider.
Low/no-code development makes it locally configurable by non-tech-savvy staff. AI-powered automation and a truly consumer-grade user experience create space for people to do the meaningful, creative work (which machines cannot do) so they can make a noticeable difference to customers.
This direction of travel, where AI uses data to intelligently custom-fit information for individuals, will add value to employees, their businesses and their "customers," whether they’re commercial clients, students, aid beneficiaries, or citizens.
Modern ERP Experience Will Help Your People Transform Your Service Business
New digital and cloud technologies are driving business model changes around the world. As customer demand for simple online subscription services and rapid value grows, organizations are modernizing operational and business models to create greater efficiencies and to engage customers, employees, and business partners in new ways.
To do that successfully, business systems must add value to the work we do. To play with an Oscar Wilde quote, we could say, “Old ERP knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.” (It could track costs and give figures, but never tell you the real-time value of anything.) Today’s ERP comes with contextual thinking and machine learning that provides value beyond figures.
So, for example, rather than having to start from scratch building a project plan, it can proactively build an optimal project based on millions of data points from previous project successes, failures, and, of course, your own objectives. And providing information based on your role and your business behaviors.
We are moving almost completely away from teaching customers how to use sprawling, awkward ERP and more towards making people more productive, creative and innovative by reducing, or eliminating, zero-value-added tasks.
Much like Amazon Echo, people within services organizations only need to ask their ERP for what they need. And they shouldn’t be surprised if their new ERP points out new opportunities or alerts them to red flags they had yet to imagine or could never have dreamed of.
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