30-year Evolution of ERP

Written by: Dave Cole

ERP in the 90’s

I first learnt the term ERP in the mid 90’s when the company I was with implemented SAP. ERP meant a lot of different things to different people, for the customer it often meant a massive investment with an anticipated lengthy implementation. For the consulting companies, it meant a lucrative revenue stream and for consultants in the 90’s it often meant an exciting career opportunity and a global passport.

Before we even went live, our internal project team probably turned over twice.

As a consultant, I remember some of the earlier implementation projects I was engaged with. Often only a chapter or 2 ahead of my client counterparts in the training manual, we worked through the prescribed corporate implementation methodology and delivered project after project leaving a trail of disillusioned end-users in our wake. Is this sounding familiar?

We were so focused on understanding the “As-Is” and implementing the “To-Be” that allowed us to cross of the BPML (Business Process Master List if that brings back memories) that we sadly didn’t pay enough attention to the end-users themselves. We thought master data rather than business objects and we preached and trained “Transactions” as opposed to “Processes”. User training often consisted of massive documents laboriously compiled with endless screenshots of menus, transactions, buttons and screens. Training was delivered by walking users through these manuals.

We got around any process challenges by hiding behind User Exits as legitimate excuses for introducing thousands of lines of custom code. The tacit belief was that SAP was the answer to everything and that all parts of every process needed to be managed in SAP. We “shoehorned” processes into SAP by using functionality intended for completely different things, we built elaborate solutions based on “Z-Objects” and sadly tried to dazzle the customer with bits of obscure configuration they didn’t really need.

Yes we’ve come a long way in the last 20 years but it’s amazing that there still seems to be pockets of affinity with some of the philosophies of the 90’s.

There are many terms we’ve come across such as “SAP First”, “Wall-to-Wall SAP” and my favourite, “SAP Only”. However, we are seeing a strong emergence of “Best of Breed” strategies. We’re seeing a proliferation of specialist enterprise applications with varying degrees of integration with the core SAP product. SAP themselves, with the acquisitions of solutions such as Ariba, Concur and SuccessFactors and SAP driven 3rd party solutions such as OpenText, provides ERP integration from flat file to tight web service integration.

ERP in the Modern Era

Today’s users compared with users in the 90’s are expected to seamlessly navigate between these applications many times on any given day. Whilst this seems straight-forward, this context shifting does create a level of user frustration. This is exacerbated in that most of these applications now provide various forms of mobile apps and simple things like task approval requires managers to manually search across multiple application inboxes for assigned tasks.

  1. Isn’t it high time we focused more on the user experience?
  2. Isn’t it time we solved the frustration of accessing and managing task inboxes across multiple systems?
  3. Isn’t it time we gave users consistent experiences at their desks or on the road?

Simple solutions that deliver business processes to users by seamlessly incorporating SAP ERP and non-SAP data with documents and even allow for both internal and external access. Effective decision making tools that aggregate workflow tasks across all applications, providing the approving manager with rich business data and documentation in a mobile-ready intuitive way, are available today.

In my opinion, the most effective IT projects are those that deliver tangible business value with highly effective user experiences and demonstrated innovation, like task approval with OneList Approvals.

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