The dawn of the Age of Invisible ERP?

Like around 50% of the UK population, I resolved this New Year to get a lot more exercise and fresh air. A key part of my approach has been to get up early in the morning and fast-walk 5-8km in the dark on the rural rounds around the village before breakfast. It’s been invigorating but, after a near miss with a tractor the other day, I decided to invest in a head torch. After all, being squished by an agricultural vehicle isn’t going to help me win the office Fitbit challenge!

Like many time-pressed people, my approach to choosing the head torch that would hopefully save my metaphorical bacon was to quickly Google ‘best head torch 2018 uk’ and then paste the result into the Amazon app and press ‘Buy now with 1-Click’. This tried and trusted shopping method duly delivered me a lovely, powerful head torch that, upon reading the packaging, turned out to be Bluetooth-enabled and able to integrate with an app on my phone. Wait! What? A torch that talks to your phone? How can this be? Will the tidal wave of integration that is sweeping across our lives ever stop?

No. I don’t think it will. Well, not until everything is integrated with everything else anyway.

As I tramped up and down the dark lanes of North Lincolnshire this week, my fancy new head torch got me thinking about the opportunities that integration really offers and, perhaps more importantly, the way we are going about it in the world of business applications. There are huge and obvious benefits to automating the transfer of supply chain data, improving product traceability, assuring quality and complying with a host of current and planned regulatory matters. Because of this, ERP vendors are lining up to offer ever-longer value chains to and who could blame them; the more of the ‘functionality pie’ they control, the more they can charge for their software.

However, in my opinion, the march towards even more monolithic ERP, this time being driven by a desire to reach ever further up and down the supply chain, might not be the best way for us to use our newfound interconnectedness. After all, we know that some business systems have great functionality but perhaps a cluttered or complex user interface, while others might be open and easy to use but perhaps lack some of the secure architecture demanded by the largest companies. Trade-offs abound and ERP vendor-driven integration will do little more than bind us to one set of compromises or another.

Close to the point where I was nearly flattened by many tonnes of sugar beet, I realised that, in modern integration approaches, we actually have a golden opportunity to do the exact opposite. To deconstruct ERP! Imagine, rather than buying an ERP package, you could buy some best-in-class ERP business logic from one place and a great database management system from somewhere else. Add a flexible mobility and process execution platform that lets users transact exactly as they wish and your preferred BI tool and you’ve built an enterprise application that has all the qualities you need and none of the bugbears. I’m not talking about bespoke software development here, but rather a world where platforms interact well enough that you can assemble your dream ERP from best-of-breed building blocks without the need to write a single line of code.

It gets better of course! Now that your ERP logic is abstracted from the user experience, you could upgrade the ERP part of the system without many of your users even knowing! Given the heartache and hassle that many companies impose on their staff during business applications projects, this might be the best gift a workforce could receive. I think we are already close to this point technically and, when It happens, the age of Invisible ERP will truly have dawned.

Of course, I could be wrong, so I’ll slip away now and ask my head torch, see what it thinks!

Andy Bell – write to me here

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