Predicting the future is always dicey, but in the case of ERP we can do it fairly accurately. The reason is that the future, or at least the beginnings of it is already here. There are trends in place that are only going to become more dominant as time goes on and by looking at those trends today, we can see the future of ERP tomorrow.
The overriding trend is toward simplicity. ERP systems are getting easier to use and easier to install. There are excellent reasons for this.
The first reason is customer demand. Nearly everyone agrees that today’s ERP systems are too complex and require too much training. There’s a constant demand for ease of use from customers and the vendors are scrambling to respond.
Although vendors are adding new features, such as business analytics, to make their ERP systems more powerful, they are also striving mightily to simplify them.
Simplicity has become a key strategy for ERP vendors and they’re turning to it in search of a competitive advantage.
ERP has become so successful that today’s market, even at the small and medium enterprise level, is largely a replacement market. To differentiate themselves vendors are looking at things like ease of use.
This isn’t easy, especially when you combine it with the demand for increasingly powerful systems. Software engineers are struggling to combine the two by designing ever smarter systems that can mask the complexity behind a facade of ease of use.
Modularity is another trend which supports simplicity in ERP. By splitting the functions of the ERP system into modules, users can pick and choose which functions they want in their ERP system.
Perhaps more importantly, modularity simplifies ERP from the user’s standpoint. The dividing line between functions is clearly marked in a modular system. Customers also have the option to mix and match modules from different vendors to build a best-of-breed solution.
(Well that’s the theory anyway. Integrating modules from different vendors is still very much a work in progress.)
One of the reasons for the trend to cloud-based ERP is the advantages of simplicity. Cloud based SaaS (Software as a Service) ERP systems are generally faster and easier to install. In exchange for giving up some flexibility, users gain benefits in speed of implementation and ease of use.
The other great trend is toward increasing standardization of ERP systems. While ERP systems have always had the same core functions, the methods of accomplishing these tasks have tended to be very different.
What is happening is that vendors are settling on the same ways of doing things, which makes the systems easier to learn and use.
This is a trend in software in general. Software like word processors and spreadsheets have already largely converged on standard ways of doing things. Thus, if you know one spreadsheet, say, you pretty much know how to use any spreadsheet. This common approach is a big aid for users and it will be a big help to users of ERP software as well.
These new systems and approaches won’t solve all the problems with ERP. Implementation in particular will remain difficult because much of the complexity there comes from reengineering the business’s process. That isn’t likely to go away and it will still require a lot of time and effort.