Change Is Coming to ERP
The first theme that emerged is that the future of ERP looks different. Technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), augmented reality (AR), and others will become just as important as transaction-based systems like ERP.
The massive data collected from IoT devices both on manufacturing floors and from smart assets and devices will need to work to leverage ERP data and vice versa. Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, painted the picture by noting that “ERP will be a spoke rather than a hub for business process integration and improvement.”
We will also continue to see line-of-business (LOB) applications take over functions such as customer relationship management (CRM), human resources (HR), warehouse management (WM), spend management, and electronic commerce—and perhaps do them better than ERP systems.
Sue Welch, CEO of Bamboo Rose, described a future where “multi-enterprise platforms will emerge as major networks that are interconnected and drive community growth.”
Jim Shepherd, VP of Corporate Strategy at Plex, shared a similar sentiment: “I think buyers will begin to move to smaller, more agile, cloud-based solutions that are designed for a specific environment and are much faster and easier to deploy.
Underlying this first theme is the need for all systems (not just ERP) to be open and able to connect with other systems seamlessly via application programming interfaces (APIs).
Rory Granros, Founder and President at Oak Barrel Software, provided this wide perspective: “The biggest issue for users of all enterprise systems, including ERP, is change management. Most companies have two or more disparate systems, high integration costs, external partner users, and mountains of redundant data. I predict that companies are going to look beyond ERP to gain a new way to make sense of all this data not only to achieve better process management, but to also better meet changing safety regulations and certifications in areas like the food, beverage, and healthcare industries. This homogenized data management capability will be a technology game-changer, particularly when you consider the ramifications of now adding AI and ML on top of this better, cleaner data mix.”
User Experience Will Be Paramount
Another theme that can’t be overlooked is that usability will separate the future winners from losers, especially for the next generation of ERP users. All aspects of systems must be easy to use and work anywhere on any device. Usability must go way beyond a device’s screen. A user should be able to interact via voice and AR in the coming always-on world of 5G networking.
Likewise, intelligent bots should make it easy to perform simple tasks without ever going into a traditional interface. And the screen-based, user interfaces that remain will continue to give way to more approachable, consumer grade screens. As Judith Rothrock, President of JRocket Marketing, put it, “ERP will follow the consumer trend of providing instant, smart access to relevant data.”
AI and Data Harnessing Will Explode
The last core theme that emerged in the experts’ predictions was around AI, ML, and harnessing all the data available to organizations. As TEC’s Principal Analyst, PJ Jakovljevic, said, “AI, AI, and more AI in 2019.”
The IoT will generate data to monitor everything from the manufacturing floor to the daily data points generated by all manner of smart, connected devices. AI and ML will be leveraged to help people make better decisions, improve processes, and uncover new insights.
A few of the experts point out that robotic process automation (RPA) will start to gain more traction and can take over from people to manage more complex processes such as financial postings or manufacturing schedule runs. These data applications will begin to deliver meaningful results across a wide range of industries.
A word of caution emerged with some frequency: AI tools are still in their infancy, and there will be significant hurdles to cross along with quite a few failed AI projects during these early stages.
Along with these high-concept predictions were some more basic ERP market projections. Louis Columbus, Principal at IQMS, noted that with all the changes taking place, integration issues will continue to be paramount, “whether across legacy, on-premise ERP systems installed decades ago, or with cloud platforms just purchased.”
Mitch Lieberman, industry analyst and founder of Conversational X, wrote “Tier 2 players are really going to give the big boys a run for their money,” perhaps most effectively by staying in their lane and focusing on specific verticals and micro-verticals.
Others are predicting more buyouts led by SAP and Oracle to stay relevant across industries and verticals.
Finally, no trend discussion would be complete without a mention of blockchain. However, only a few respondents included a blockchain prediction in their response. This confirms what we saw in our question on significant trends, where blockchain is not at the top of its hype cycle. Those who did mention blockchain pointed to real-world applications being developed for use with ERP systems. The first area where it could be used is to track products moving across the supply chain, and the other potential use is in finance departments, to maintain ledger transactions.