Anjani Kumar, Chief Information Officer, Safexpress
ERP (Enterprise Resource planning) has been the core software application for most companies for last 15-20 years. Over the time, there has been a lot of consolidation as well as transformation in how ERP applications work but unfortunately there has not been a new single ERP package which could challenge the way ERP works today. Major question in many of our minds is whether the ERP app is in-line with increased user expectation? Is the ERP app in sync with latest digital initiatives? Are ERP apps tightly integrated with either legacy apps or latest SMAC or IoT apps?
No prize for guessing the answer as 'NO'. Many organizations struggled through integration of legacy app with the ERP apps. Some were able to sail through it by customization. With the advent of Social media and Mobility, users are much more digitally educated and their expectations are much higher. They expect that they should be able to work with ERP on mobile devices with fantastic user experience as they could with Facebook or their banking app. Sometime back, I was in a hub and saw a manager going back and forth between hub floor and office for various information as he could not get the information from ERP by going to his computer. I realized that, and with my MD's concurrence, I created an app for them. Now they are able to do many things from warehouse floors and don't need to go to office for most of the enquiries. However, I got several questions from hub managers – "Why can't we do everything from the tab that we can do on ERP?" Many companies have tried to do it by just giving a bigger tab and have employees access the ERP through browser, but unfortunately that doesn't work. Due to size of display and expectation on mobile device being higher, one needs to design much more user friendly screens for any app.
The people who have used ERP have seen the screen captures and send it to others through email, messengers and other medium. The question is; why can't we do all the collaboration right through ERP application? Integration with enterprise collaboration suite is still lagging in modern day ERP.
We have seen different users making different decisions for the similar thing in ERP. When there is right data, why can't ERPs add an analytics engine inside the app which actually gives a recommendation to the user on what should be done and exception can always be built as it is easier to handle exception in isolation than generic things in isolation. In our case, hub managers have to take decisions on whether to let connecting trucks leave from Ambala to Chennai, while some trucks are still bringing material from adjoining hubs which need to eventually go to Chennai. In ERP we have all the data and GPS gives us real time feed about truck location, so, just with integration and simple analytics engine, recommendation can be given to hub manager through ERP and hence percolating uniform decision process across the company. Of course, hub managers have the freedom to use exception when there is necessity but that is visible to all stakeholders.
I discussed about GPS integration above. IoT is catching up bigtime across the industry but most ERPs are not equipped to deal with such integration. Until devices are communicating to ERP, IoT will work in isolation and real benefits of implementing such initiatives can never be achieved.
These days, any technology discussion isn't complete without cloud and ERP apps are still implementing the same. Ideally, ERP apps should have configurable modules for workload distribution between traditional data centers as well as cloud which will provide true elasticity. Almost each business has their peak periods like logistics have Diwali, New Year and GOSF (Google Online Shopping Facility)
Just to summarize, we know that ERP apps are holding back the companies. But we also know that a big bang approach of an entire ERP system will take too long and would be so disruptive to the business functions. So, businesses have a tough choice and they have to choose among features, user expectation and stability. ERP app providers will have to take steps to slowly enable these features either as configurable module or just add as a catalyst layer which will integrate ERP to SMAC & IoT apps. Of course, it is not easy and will need a lot of efforts from providers and inputs from industry. Almost each screen has to be designed for mobility devices and that should be a responsive design (adjust according to the size of the device). I hope that major providers like SAP and Oracle are working on these or who knows Uber and Airbnb (disrupters) of ERP are already in the creation.