Over the past 21 years, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) has grown from being a neat idea that could make business administration easier, to a widely implemented system that has transformed the processes and outcomes of business across the world.
Broadly speaking, an ERP system comprises a suite of applications and other business management software, that combine to allow a business to manage and integrate all of its data and administrative functions. This allows businesses to track and view all of their operations in real time and to manage their relationships with external stakeholders. Increasingly, ERP also gives businesses access to real time data analysis that can be extremely useful in business planning and collaboration with other agencies. Initially taken up with alacrity by large corporations, ERP is now commonplace in enterprises of all types and sizes.
However, in our increasingly digital world, nothing stands still for long. So what are the emerging trends in ERP, and how are these likely to affect its use in the coming year?
Many businesses are now experiencing a marked increase in the proportion of their revenue gained via mobile applications, and it seems likely that mobile will continue to grow in 2014. Just as customers are increasingly mobile, and at home with mobile technology, so are employees. Many now work remotely and/or from more than one location, and access business data using a range of technology, including tablets and smartphones. A key challenge for ERP providers is going to be making data accessible in this way.
Cloud ERP is another emerging trend. Much of the fear that businesses may previously have felt about putting their precious data into ‘the cloud’ seems to have passed, perhaps because so many consumer applications now work this way, it is becoming commonplace. Cloud based applications have benefits for provider and user alike, and are likely to increase this year.
Another recent shift has been in a move away from the purchase of highly customised ERP packages, in favour of the purchasing business re-designing its own processes to make best use of the system chosen. This saves the enterprise money (customisation costs) and in many cases it ends up with systems far more efficient than were previously the case. In short, a move away from customisation is bringing down costs and increasing efficiency: a win/win situation that is likely to gain momentum. Interestingly, buyers of ERP now seem to be spending much more time on research prior to purchase, to make sure that they get exactly the system they need without having to customise. Suppliers should perhaps take note.
Finally we have a ‘trend’ that may not be trendy at all. In the last year or so there has been much discussion about the role of social media in ERP and whether it could add value if integrated into ERP systems. Despite rather a lot of hype and heated debate, a clear role for social media in ERP still has to emerge. While there is time yet, it could be that 2014 is remembered as the year that social media was largely dropped from the ERP ‘must do’ list.