We are firmly entrenched in the “Age of the customer”, where systems, strategies and products are based more on the needs of people who use them and less than ever before on those of the companies that produce them.
With the millennial generation defining the archetypal customer and driving this trend towards customer centricity, ERP systems, like so many other technologies, have followed suit, giving rise to consumerised ERP. Developing and incorporating consumerised ERP is a complex endeavour not without its challenges, but both the challenges and benefits are changing the way we view and use ERP.
ERP solutions are traditionally under-utilised, but a more user-centric approach to their design can make them more relevant and useful to organisations, spurring greater adoption and value. For organisations to maximise the value of their ERP system, they need to ensure that its inherent rich functionality can be consumed in new ways, by a new generation of users. ERP systems need to stay relevant. To ensure they do, organisations need to keep pace not only with changing use requirements, but with the subsequent updates and enhancements to the technology offered by ERP manufacturers. For this purpose and for their attractiveness to millennials, Cloud based consumerised ERP solutions that incorporate rich features, high speed and processing power, efficiency and regular upgrades on the back end, with easy omni-channel access and usability on the front end make the most sense.
Today, ERP services are accessed across a variety of devices and through multiple channels, so organisations need to strive for a harmonious and consistent user experience across all of them. User experience needs to be considered at three levels: the User Interface (UI), the actual application and database, and the platform on which they are delivered. While the UI is important, even the most well designed and intuitive interface will be ineffective and unattractive without the support of fast, responsive underlying ERP applications.
Ground-breaking advancements in the area of in-memory computing unleashes the speed required for great user experiences at the front-end. Powerful processing capability at the core of the ERP solution also opens the doors for rich data analytics, cognitive computing, and artificial intelligence. These trends will take us into a new paradigm for ERP software - one where services are personalised to each user, where machines can easily communicate and transact with one another, and the promise of digital transformation can become a reality.
As ERP becomes more consumerised, extending to globally distributed workforces and integrating with supply chains and customers, the challenge for Chief Security Officers to maintain security and data integrity becomes far more intricate. It is imperative that organisations implement the proper security and governance policies to ensure the protection of themselves, their users and their customers, as well as to regulate their operations in a fluid environment.
The basics of who has access to data when, what for and how, as well as where the data resides, are unlikely to change significantly as ERP services become consumerised. However, with more pervasive access, more users, and more data being created, the focus on data governance needs to become a lot sharper. The repercussions of ill-conceived governance policies can be devastating for an organisation, often resulting in crippling financial consequences.
With the shift to the Cloud, and the regular updates that it brings, organisations need to also consider more carefully the governance of how new software releases are brought into the organisation’s technology estate. ERP systems require more adaptability and agility, making the need for proper change management processes and policies even more important than it’s ever been.
The future of ERP will involve a ‘digital core’ created by the ERP manufacturer, on top of which different IT providers will build tailored applications to suit specific business requirements. We could refer to this as a platform strategy for ERP manufacturers, the development of ecosystems (powered by a Cloud-based, in-memory core) within which others can build their own applications. Manufacturers will need to craft their own governance policies around who can build, and what can be built on top of this core, to ensure that end-customers get optimal experiences.
The shift to consumerised ERP is certainly bringing about a host of challenges, not least of which is the need for organisations to enable easy adaptability in response to the metamorphosing needs of the customer. That said, the opportunities that this shift is bringing about in terms of offering next generation ERP services to the market, possibly before the market even knows they want them, is both promising and exciting.
Gavin Holme is the Business Head at Wipro Limited, Africa.