Once strictly chained to the office desktop, enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is now increasingly becoming a device-centric mobile technology, especially if its users have their way. This was the finding of a recent global study of over 1,500 business professionals by Redshift on behalf of Epicor Software, 97% of its respondents said that ERP would be improved in the future if it was more accessible out of the office. This article outlines why and how one of the deepest and most complex of business software systems is transforming into a highly mobile and flexible solution.
Most organizations originally deployed ERP software to centralize key processes such as manufacturing, supply chain, customer service, HR and finance. The focus was on pulling these processes together as the pulse of the organization.
While ERP has been generally successful in this aim it has also been criticized for its complexity and sluggish implementations. This is perhaps a natural side effect of the fact it is managing critical and complex processes, pulls high volumes of data together and often requires organisational change. ERP was something used by specialist ‘owners’ of processes and key departments, rather than a transactional tool that touched the work of everyone in the business.
Many ERP deployments were made prior to the mobile revolution. But as we have seen, the user and their choice of device, has now become the center of businesses. Rather than people adhering to procedures dictated by enterprise systems, workers are increasingly defining how those procedures should be implemented and accessed. This is based on their choice of smart device and the information they need to access to do their jobs more effectively. Moreover, the demand for greater agility and leanness, as well as opportunities for competitive advantage, has turned the focus of ERP from being a repository and core processor into being a rich source of information for everyone. Ipso facto—if people have elements of that information packaged and presented in the right way, at their fingertips, they will be able to make more informed decisions and complete tasks with greater speed and accuracy.
What Users Want
To date that’s been the theory at least; although when Epicor research asked business professionals in organizations using ERP, they confirmed that the software was already becoming less and less chained to the office desk with more desire to use it at home, whilst travelling and via smartphones or tablets.
Indeed, the fastest rising methods of accessing ERP data are smartphones and currently 25% are able to do so, with a further 43% wanting to. Similarly, ERP on tablets is possible for 21% but desired by another 38%. Encouragingly for the UK, out of the 10 countries surveyed it came second in the use of tablets and smartphones for ERP access. This was just behind China in the lead, but well ahead of Germany, for example. Home access was particularly high in the UK at 54%, compared to a 40% global average and a low of 30% in Germany. This trend may be a result of the UK’s new flexible working rules coming into force.
What Organizations Need
While ERP users are clearly demanding greater mobility, those responsible for ERP systems are also seeing great value in the software heading this way as revealed in the August 2014 report by Aberdeen Group–Mobile ERP: Taking ERP RoI into your own hands. Based on responses from 200 organizations, the report showed that those with mobile ERP in place are twice as likely to have real-time visibility into the status of all processes in the organization. More specifically, they’re 138% more likely to have a fully integrated view of customer information and also saw a 17% improvement in the cycle time of key business processes in the last 12 months. ERP mobility is reducing process-lag and therefore, accelerating an organization’s ability to respond, which can only be to its advantage. In fact, organizations that Aberdeen coins as ‘Best in Class’ (the top performing 20% based on delivery, profit, time to decision and processes), are 2.4 times more likely to have mobile ERP access. Driven by growth expectations and cost management mandates, the leaders are now adopting mobile ERP, where others will follow.
Aberdeen’s overall conclusion is compelling—making ERP mobile has a direct impact on its return on investment (RoI), something that has eluded organizations for many years. This RoI is based on a number of factors, including reduced inventory and operational costs, maximizing on-time in full deliveries and ensuring internal schedule compliance.
However, there also appears to be an imbalance between who has access to mobile ERP—this could indicate that its full potential is yet to be realized, even by those companies recognized in Aberdeen’s ‘Best in Class’. Presently, 60% of organizations allow management to access ERP on mobile, but only 20% allow access for maintenance workers. This suggests a high level of use for management information and insight to support decisions, but less so in terms of collecting data on the ‘shop floor’ and influencing the efficacy of day to day processes. So, still some work to be done before mobile ERP reaches its full potential.
How to Go Mobile ERP
Of course it’s one thing to desire ERP mobility but it’s another thing entirely to actually achieve it. Taking a behemoth enterprise software system on to smart device screens and wearable technology even, could be the proverbial needle in a haystack. One critical finding from Aberdeen’s report is that mobile ERP success cannot be achieved by simply dumping an ERP system into a mobile format. The mobile element is not about replicating the entire software but building function and role-specific ‘extensions’ that pull the right information, processes, alerts, and workflows out of the core system for the people that need them.
In doing so, it’s important to first review and highlight the functions and roles that could benefit from mobile ERP. Where are the business’ process weak points, perhaps? Who has limited access to ERP through the traditional desktop due to their job—such as field engineers or sales people? Where is data being lost because it is not being inputted in an immediate fashion? Who could benefit from a simpler and more intuitive interface with ERP, due to limited IT skills? Who is engaging with customers and needs up to the minute information? These are just some of the questions and considerations that help to pinpoint where mobile ERP access is most needed.
The other key consideration is of course the presentation of data or the way in which ERP works on mobile, smart and wearable devices. Applications must consider what can feasibly be displayed and how functions should work, the conditions in which they will be used, as well as taking device capabilities—such as voice activation, online and offline access, push notifications and video/image recording—into account when building or choosing mobile interfaces.
ERP has been helping business to improve their core processes for over 25 years but it’s clearly time that the software ‘left the building’ and became more mobile, readily available on personal devices of the users’ choice. All the indicators from recent research suggest that mobile ERP will be critical to improved business performance and success in the future.