OPINION: The modern ERP

JOHANNESBURG – In the business world, there’s nothing like the ERP. Unlike word processors and other technologies, ERPs didn’t arrive to simplify certain tasks. 

Instead, they emerged and evolved to create more opportunities in a business. Over time, as companies grew in complexity, so did ERPs. If you ask people today what an ERP does, you’ll get many different answers.

Hence the reluctance to change ERPs. You might as well ask a captain to replace the boat’s hull while it’s still in the water. Yet the case for adopting a new post-modern ERP is, frankly, infallible.

Simply consider which of the following services your business would want to engage: artificial intelligence, big data analytics, omni channel services, customer insight, automated processes, cross-departmental integration, smart contracts, blockchain verification, discrete reporting, real-time views, telematics …

A lot of people don’t realise that many modern technologies simply don’t work with older ERP systems. Even if you can get them to work, they are limited and expensive to maintain. For many years vendors have been shoehorning more functions into ERPs, bolting on features, but that strategy was going to run out of steam.

This finally happened in the post-modern ERP era. If you want the new business features, you need to invest in the new platforms. Yet as mentioned, this is a big ask for companies. It’s the very definition of between a rock and a hard place. Are there ways to transition ERPs with the least amount of disruption?

Outdated

It is important to move away from the monolithic thinking that defines past ERPs. The very word – Enterprise Resource Planning – has become outdated. Today’s ERPs serve many different roles across a business. Post-modern ERPs are much better equipped to meet these divergent needs in individual fashions.

You don’t need to replace an ERP in one big bang. Instead, you should catalogue the various business processes. Then, using a new ERP platform, you can start introducing changes and handovers between the old and new ways of doing things.

You can address demands based on the processes, not the scope of the application platform. But most businesses do it the other way: they get a system and push the processes to fall in line. With post-modern ERPs processes lead the change.

Many large companies don’t have just one ERP. They likely have several, the result of departmental silos and acquiring other businesses. Yet often ERP conversations tend to focus on the singular as if there is just one massive ERP that needs to be addressed. Naturally, tackling a major business system means major risk. But not if a company looks for the easy wins first.

ERP landscapes

Companies tend to have very fractured ERP landscapes. The platforms that post-modern ERPs use are very modular, plus they can integrate into older systems to keep things coherent and transparent.

So instead of going after the big game, look for those smaller splinter ERPs that can be rolled over with less risk. These can also act as POCs and agents for change management. Over the long term, you can consolidate everything into a single platform that successfully serves all demands.

Nobody who has received accolades for their job ever thanked an ERP. That is not how we measure success: actions and outcomes are what matter, of which the ERP is just a channel through which strategy is executed. People don’t resist changes to ERPs because they love the ERP.

They resist because they fear their ability to plan and deliver will be hampered. Yet at the same time, they are chomping at the bit for new ways to serve customers and improve business. So educate them on what they stand to gain.

Who wouldn’t like on-demand reporting, fashioned to their context, or a dashboard they can tweak and drill-down at their leisure, right on their phone? Maybe people want chatbots to help automate customer enquiries or they want integration with a CRM that follows customers across various channels.

Others are dying to know what AI can tell them about their data. And everyone wants these features without massive upfront investments. These are things postmodern ERPs deliver, yet many business people don’t realise that. Once they do, they become the biggest supporters for change. If you want to change an ERP, you need people to realise that the change won’t disrupt them. It will improve them.

Replacing an ERP is never going to be painless. These systems are too intrinsic and rooted in a business to go without a fight. But with the right view and attitude, they can be phased out, replaced with highly flexible and modern ERP platforms.

Bernard Ford is chief executive of One Channel.

BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE

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