Follow the money. In any organisation, business, public or private or even not-for-profit, almost everything comes down to tracking the money. Administration is always related in some way to accounting. The raw materials, goods, equipment, services, person-hours or the calculated values of things all have to be recorded. We manage almost all activities and things in terms of amounts and value.
All organisations today require applications that will control and record everything from basic financial accounting to sales and stock administration, suppliers and supply chain, specific expenditures from overheads to salaries to petty cash. Incoming orders and payments, deliveries and stock movement are at least as important. In service industries, time and timing is crucial, from data delivery in nanoseconds to person-hours and their value.
The systems that join everything up are generically known as Enterprise Resource Planning [ERP] and go back to the earliest days of computing. For decades it has included financial software. ERP is a slightly old-fashioned term but still with us because we have not yet come up with an alternative name for all-embracing corporate and enterprise software. Customer Relationship Management [CRM], the darling of the marketing people for over two decades now, is essentially a first cousin of ERP.
The objective of all ERP is to be an integrated set of business management and administration applications that covers all activities in the organisation. Since the last century it has spanned mobile software to add anywhere, anytime access to the ERP systems and the data they hold. Mobile apps are joined up to services and data from central resources (the organisation itself or third party cloud services) and enable information sharing and collaboration. It’s not all that different from what we used to call ‘client/server’, but much more flexible and sophisticated—and mobile.
That is why ERP, CRM and all associated software uses the entire corporate IT stack. Collectively, it is the most demanding challenge to all digital resources, from data storage and servers to networks, desktops and laptops, mobile devices of all kinds, data centres and clouds private and public. Parts of it require immense processing power for competitive enterprises. At the same time, much of the ERP load is banal—routine tasks that do not require state-of-the-art resources. But the competitive edges—and industry standards of performance—do.
In the IT business we talk a lot about digital transformation. That phrase is a combination of marketing speak and an easy term for the next stages in our computer systems evolution. But guess what’s at the heart of that transformation? Often confused with ever-smarter hardware and platforms, in real and practical terms it’s the central software systems that are being digitally transformed by ubiquitous connectivity, analytics and the early stages of AI [Artificial Intelligence]. Today ERP systems and their specialist siblings and cousins are in the front rank of digital disruption—dealing with it and causing it.
It’s that old ERP again, singing new tunes and still holding centre stage. The venerable grande dame is surrounded by a chorus line of juvenile apps busily gyrating and looking for selfie attention. She is the formidable force that is holding the show together. We need a new name or acronym for the venerable ERP. But whatever she is called, she remains the quiet Queen of Applications.