Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) has come a long way since theory about Material Requirements Planning was first published in the 1950s. Today most companies use big ERP systems from the likes of SAP and Oracle and some have even extended the reach of their ERP systems to field workers with mobile apps.
Note: Have a look at the infographic at the foot of this article outlining the history of ERP.
According to Kobus van der Merwe, an industrial engineer at Ardea with 35 years of experience in working with ERPs, resource planning systems haven’t evolved a great deal since 1981.
“Accounting and inventory management are clearly defined and controlled, but ERPs still don’t function very well beyond the factory floor.”
And the problem with this is that modern business doesn’t just happen in one centralized location anymore.
ERPs don’t adapt well to specific business needs and they don’t service employees in the field or on the shop floor very well. Bridging the gap between these mobile components of modern business and the large static systems that underpin them has become a challenge solved with costly and slow manual processes that become increasingly unsustainable as companies, and processes, scale. And that’s where enterprise mobility comes in.
Mobile ERP extensions are allowing companies to do and see things they’ve always wished they could
Mobile solutions give employees access to certain subsets of information from an ERP system at the right time — anywhere they go. And this ultimately helps them serve customers better. It also gives managers greater visibility and control.
According to Conrad Hofmeyr, COO and EVP of enterprise app provider JourneyApps, in a few years mobile apps will be a basic component of any enterprise with a mobile workforce.
“Mobile ERP extensions are allowing companies to do and see things they’ve always wished they could — from being able to monitor stock better to building their full sales process into a mobile device. They are essential in driving the visibility that is letting businesses trim waste and speed up and automate processes.”
According to Hofmeyr, mobile ERP extensions have become essential to business competitiveness.
“They give employees access to data faster, which make businesses more agile and innovative.”
Solving the problem of access to data is, however, only one part of the problem — data also has to be up to date. And according to Van der Merwe, the logistics of delivering information on a mobile device is a major operation in the background, “even though an app looks simple to use”, and this is the most important part of extending existing ERP systems.
“ERPs can have all the data and order it, but to communicate that data with other real-time data to the employee in the field or factory where he needs to make decisions, is where the exciting part comes in,” says van der Merwe.
Collecting information from employees in the field in real-time is important. And gathering data via a mobile app and delivering it to your ERP system in real time, effectively makes your existing ERP system smarter with more data.
But more data isn’t all that matters: data quality is essential. Mobile apps can be designed to catch bad data — using validation to stop bad data before it makes its way into your system — or to ensure you get all the data you’re looking for before a mobile form is submitted.
ERP systems are experts in ERP problem solving, not in mobility, van der Merwe explains. And they are very hard to customise, or adapt, once they’re in place. But mobile app providers are changing that by designing apps that integrate with leading ERP systems and can adapt fast.
Essentially, custom apps are adding a new layer of flexibility to existing ERP implementations. And this is helping businesses all over the world adapt faster and more cost-effectively without replacing their existing systems.
When it comes to mobility, the ability to customise is extremely important, because it is only once you start using an app in the field, that different requirements are revealed.
“The day you put an app in someone’s hand is actually the start of your project,” says van der Merwe.
Custom apps, in this sense, allow a company to extend an ERP system down a specific workflow, but also ensure that once the ideas and feasibility for new mobile extensions of workflows come through, that those future extensions can happen faster, easier, and more affordably.
Essentially, custom apps allow a company to gear up for a future of mobility… by simply ‘going mobile’. And making it easier to innovate tomorrow, with today’s innovation, is the kind of agility that separates the good companies from the great ones.