Shattering the Complexity Myth with a New Vision of ERP Software

Alan Salton, President, abas USA
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Alan Salton, President, abas USA

Running a business is complicated, so your ERP software inevitably will be complex and hard to use too, right? Not so fast. The old assumption that ERP by its very nature is large, complex and unwieldy, is being replaced with a new vision, one in which a collection of targeted mobile apps and role-based functionality greatly simplifies the user’s experience.

This new vision is based on a fundamental principle that most of your users interact largely with your ERP system in order to do one of a small handful of critical tasks. The future ERP makes those critical tasks super easy, streamlined and device agnostic, and provides the user with only the data and functionality they need in order to complete that specific task.

This is a paradigm shift in the architecture and operating principle of ERP. Imagine taking a stick of dynamite and exploding your ERP systems into small independent, functional pieces: a sales app here, an inventory app there, field service outside the plant, job time collection on the shop floor and a replenishment app at your dealer’s facility. Each app operates either in a connected or disconnected mode, each with the ability to query, store and create data.

This isn’t just another re-conjuring of web applications, but something fundamentally different. In its most common form, web applications are built on three tiers: the presentation layer, the application layer and the database layer. In this configuration, the web browser serves as the presentation tier, the middle tier holds the application logic, and a database is the third tier, primarily composed of data storage. The web browser sends requests to the middle tier, which services them by making queries and updates against the database and generates a user interface. In the new vision, the app is just that, a connected yet self-contained application limited to the context of the user and work being performed with its own presentation layer, application logic and storage.

“The future ERP makes critical tasks super easy, streamlined and device agnostic, and provides the user with only the data and functionality they need in order to complete that specific task”

In this new vision, an app isn’t just limited to phones and tablets, but equally imbedded in a machine, product or a vehicle. The ability to gather real time intelligence from delivered products would allow manufacturers to dynamically change the product mix at an existing facility to match demand. As an example, a printer manufacturer could read in real time which colors of ink are being used most often in their machines to reschedule production and procurement, to ensure inventory availability before the consumer ever shows up at their local office supply store to purchase an ink refill. Vending machines equipped with internet connectivity would communicate with their home base ERP systems, driving forecasting and production, optimizing supply chains, reducing inventory and eliminating obsolete inventory.

Let’s look at the example of counting inventory in a typical 80,000 square foot warehouse. In old school ERP, the employee tasked with counting inventory accesses a desktop ERP system from the computer at their desk, navigating through countless folders, data, and unneeded features in order to find the list of products. They might print the list, then head to the warehouse to jot down the counts. Data inaccuracies are common because of the time lag and the manual process.

Contrast that to the process of using a task-specific mobile app. The employee takes their ERP-integrated bar code reader or even their iPhone out to the warehouse and records the inventory counts in real time with just a few clicks. Robust middleware immediately syncs the data to the server, making it available to all users. The closer the transaction happens in space and time to the real inventory, the better, faster and cheaper the data is.

In case of service management, we can visualize a remote production site where a field service technician is working on a reported maintenance issue. Equipped with a mobile device, a personal camera and a VoIP connection, the technician is able to communicate with service experts at headquarters via their ERP system to analyze the issue and determine a solution. This service data is collected, analyzed and provided to the quality management group to suggestion changes in the design and manufacturing processes. Further, the data provided will help create service suggestion to prevent future field failures.

Limiting the access and scope of each app means that each one is simple to learn, reducing the need for training, and limiting risks to data integrity and security that comes when employees have access to more than they need. And if you have a set of 10 or so apps that cover the most common 80-90 percent of all ERP user interactions – viewing, entering and reporting on data in apps like sales, CRM, shop floor, time cards, service, etc. – a previously “unwieldy” ERP system suddenly seems a lot easier to tackle.

The financial and technical advantages for ERP customers are clear. Employees only need licenses for the apps they’ll actually use, rather than a seat for the full software package. The model also means easier, device-based deployments and upgrades for the majority of your users.

Even with this shift, there’s still a place in the future state of ERP for a robust web-based or desktop application for power users to perform tasks such as report writing or financial calculations. But by pulling key functionality into the devices best suited for the task, the home-base ERP application needs to serve fewer purposes and can therefore also be streamlined.

So bring on the complications of running your business. The future ERP system is ready to make it seem simpler than ever.

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