ERP Vision 2020
The ERP space has been innovating at quite a fast pace recently. Although double entry accounting has remained the same for hundreds of years, ERP has been incorporating new technologies like mad including social media, mobility, web based, CRM and many others. This blog posting is to try to paint a picture of what the system might look like to a Corporate ERP user in the year 2020. At this point all these technologies should be incorporated and become completely seamless. Of course many new technologies will be developed between now and 2020 that we won’t have imagined, this is more looking at the mature versions of what we have today, but perhaps in a bit of a raw state.
2020 is only nine years away. Projecting out to 2020 is the same as projecting to 2010 from 2001. A lot of the big things in 2010 were around in 2001, they just weren’t developed enough for broad usage. 2001 was experiencing an Internet bubble that burst and many of the things being developed took until 2010 to mature (which was longer than most of the bubble companies could survive). Today we seem to be in an Internet bubble again. It could be that all the ideas from this bubble will take until 2020 to really come to fruition which again might be longer than many of the current companies can survive.
By 2020 the nature of corporate IT will have changed dramatically. IT will be much more about managing contracts with service providers and much less about maintaining hardware and software. Maintaining a data center with all the physical requirements like power, air conditioning and backup is very expensive and it makes a lot of sense to centralize this and exploit economies of scale. Upgrading software installed locally is an expensive and time consuming process. Doing this for dozens of applications can be quite daunting. Most applications will be cloud based and companies will use them on a service type basis based on usage rather than purchasing software outright. Software providers will be responsible for the maintenance of the software and performing upgrades in a manner that is transparent to their users.
For actual users of ERP and CRM software, they will be able to access it from anywhere, whether at home, on the road, on a plane or even in the office. The software will be far easier to use, will run on any device (phone, pad, computer, etc.), will offer active help based on usage patterns and knowledge of common problems other users encounter. Provide instant sophisticated analytics and dashboards. Information will be more accurate and more readily available anyway in an easily consumable form. People will be far better supported in their decision making by having the right data always easily accessible. ERP and CRM software will keep them apprised of what other people in their organization are up to and allow all sorts of social interactions as they perform their work. As fuel costs continue to rise and environmental concerns take a more central stage, having the flexibility for people to work where ever they are will become more and more crucial.
By 2020 we will have a much greater proliferation of devices for all sorts of specialized purposes. The one thing in common they will have will be the ability to run Web applications. This means modern ERP and CRM software will run directly on these devises as seen as they are invented.
Connections to the Internet will be seamless and universal. Today we are struggling with this, but by 2020 the infrastructure should all be in place to deliver the Internet in this manner.
We’ve seen huge improvements in usability for Web based applications. Applications like Facebook could have never taken off and reached 500 million users if each user needed to be trained and coached in how to use the application. We are seeing that usability going into single user finance and book keeping programs today. Small business applications are getting easier and easier to use. By 2020 we should see these usability improvements permeating mid-market ERP, CRM and HR applications.
Programs will continue to gather usage data, for Web based applications this is easier since no sort of “call home” feature is required. Web applications can gather very detailed analytics on how people are using the program. This data can then be used to either provide active help when people get stuck as well as to feed back into the development organization to help make future versions of the program even easier to use. It shows which features are used and which ones aren’t used, so developers can concentrate on improving the parts of the program that are used the most and where the improvements will benefit the most people.
By 2020 all mid-market ERP, CRM and HR systems will have sophisticated Web Services APIs. These will be based on future versions of RESTful Web Services like SData. These interfaces will make it very easy to interface to these programs as well as to link them together in custom ways. Programs running in one cloud will be easily able to interact with programs running in another cloud (or even on-premise).
Since most screens will be accessed by URLs, it will be simple to “stitch together” the screens of multiple applications to create very powerful integrated composite applications.
Applications will link and interact with many different Web applications whether free (like Google Maps or Twitter) or commercial (like Sage Exchange). This tight seamless integration and aggregation of services will greatly help productivity and improve decision making.
With common Web Service based APIs, it will be possible to build Workflow engines that orchestrate the activities in a number of these applications. Custom workflows will be constructed that cross the boundaries from ERP to CRM to HR. These workflows can even cross to other standard Web based services like Maps, Documents or any service with a Web Service interface. The power of combining Workflow with Connect Services will be immense.
Most companies won’t operate their own data centers. It will just be too expensive compared to the various cloud based alternatives. It will be easy to provision more resources and economies of scale will make it very affordable. Companies will just need to ensure their data is backed up and protected sufficiently for their needs, but this will be more a matter of contract management.
With all this data moving to the cloud, techniques will become available to anonymize and share this corporate data. You will get a discount if your corporate data can be added to giant data warehouses where advanced Business Intelligence tools can sift this data and provide useful and accurate data on industry trends.
Virtualization – Legacy Apps
Virtualization technology will continue to improve allowing legacy business applications to live in the cloud and benefit from the economies of scale there. Like all the mainframe COBOL applications that are still alive and working for large corporations worldwide, so too will all the current Windows applications. Rather than be maintained separately in each company that uses it, these will become centralized in specialized data centers that can efficiently virtualize these. Then maintain disaster recovery, backup and maintenance of the software and hardware. Each virtualized instance will maintain the environment and customizations for that particular client. Today, doing this is quite expensive, but once memory and disk management in virtualized environments becomes more efficient then the costs should come down. This then pushes the challenges of software maintenance and upgrade back onto the Software vendors.
Business Intelligence will be one area where we will make huge strides. We will see a convergence of search type tools like Google Search with advanced analytical tools based on Data Warehousing that provide very sophisticated slice and dice type applications. Today many BI applications are too complex to work with. You can do amazing data analysis with tools like Mathematica, but right now these tend to be too complicated to fully understand and utilize. Overtime all the sophisticated Mathematics will move into the background and you will be able to ask simple questions like you do into Google search today. But instead of just returning a ranked list of web pages, the algorithms that go into the results will be much more sophisticated and the results might be presented as charts, graphs and spreadsheets.
There is already so much data on the Web that we have a hard time mining it. As we move forwards, as storage gets cheaper and cheaper the amount of available data will continue to increase exponentially. We simply won’t have time to go through it, or search it out by hand. We will become more and more reliant on automated agents that can go out and find the data we need and present it in a meaningful way. We seem to rely currently on “analyst estimates”, but as we go forwards we should start to be able to replace these with real data that is far more accurate.
ERP and CRM applications will incorporate more and more ideas from the current social media sites like Facebook or LinkedIn. You will be able to see what people are up to in your company. You will have far less of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing in companies. People will be able to comment and contribute to many decisions allowing better decision making, better consensus and better buy-in.
Today Social Media is very consumer oriented. But many of the companies in the current Internet bubble are trying to solve Social Media for corporations. By 2020 we should see a leading “Corporate Social Media” application emerge that provides true productivity and use for the corporation.
Hopefully this article stirs some thought on discussion on where we want to move the Sage ERP, CRM and HR products over the coming nine years. Some of the ideas in this article are already in play. Some are just markers on potential future product roadmaps. It will be interesting to see how things evolve over the coming years. As the ancient Chinese curse goes: may we live in interesting times.