Bringing sexy back to ERP

Profile picture for user Fred Studer By Fred Studer June 30, 2015
Reborn in the cloud as a mechanism for change and disruption, ERP can be sexy again by helping transform businesses, writes NetSuite's Fred Studer

Dollar bills on gray silk sheets © Guzel Studio -
It’s time to bring sexy back to ERP.

What, you say all that ERP stuff — general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, billing, invoicing — all of that was never sexy to begin with?

I disagree. I’d suggest that there was a time when ERP was sexy. It was once truly transformative, a technology that did the unthinkable, bringing a company’s data together under one roof, providing game-changing insights into operations, customers and partners. But it got sideways and stalled. It didn’t stop being sexy because people stopped investing in ERP. On the contrary, one could argue the overinvestment in ERP — the bloated projects, cost overruns, implementation failures and armies of consultants — sapped it of its sexiness. It can be sexy again and it’s happening.

Many technological advances go through a lifecycle with change and transformation. Some survive, some don’t. Apple is perhaps the most obvious example. It went through its ups and downs, revolutionizing personal computing, fading, bringing it back with the iMac and then, of course, the iPod, iPhone and iPad, which truly changed the company and the market. In each iteration, the uses expand — from a single-use music device to one that’s not only a computer, but lets you listen to your music on it, receive navigation, take photos, etc.

Similarly, if you look at the history of ERP from its MRP origins, it’s one of constant expansion, bringing and tightly integrating more and more stand-alone business processes under a single suite umbrella — if done well, that’s very attractive to users since they have one compelling unified underpinning to running their business.

This new, sexy ERP is different

ERP is undergoing its own transformation and modernization. Born in the cloud, for the cloud, the new ERP is completely different from traditional ERP. It was meant to be fast, agile, adaptable. ERP has again become a mechanism for change and disruption, not an anchor holding a company back, stifling innovation. It takes fresh, innovative thinkers and some of the best engineers in the world to make that happen, but ERP is sexy again.

Indeed, it’s time for people to take another look at ERP. For so many, the ERP failures and of the past have left them gun shy. Their ERP system was a pain to get up and running. It’s working and they don’t want another headache. They’re happy to leave it alone, forgo any upgrades and leave it at that. In fact, some businesses are so fed up with ERP that they’re turning to third party support vendors to manage support for versions their original vendor doesn’t support anymore. That may work for some businesses but I wouldn’t bet for many. The pace of change in business today is just too fast, too disruptive.

This new, sexy ERP is different. It’s about enabling reinvention and transformation, empowering users, business leaders, even partners and customers with insight and agility.

You can see it in the UI as well with HTML5, mobile-first design. Apple helped create that and now ERP is taking up the mantle. Indeed, modern ERP systems are turning the idea of building a system built for employees and departments on its head. Forward-thinking organizations are building around the customer experience.

Customization is no longer a dirty word either. With modern, cloud-based ERP you can go ahead and change fields, tweak business processes and build integrations knowing that they will carry forward with each upgrade automatically. Moreover, it’s only getting easier to integrate with other cloud services. As NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson has said, “we’re at the end of the beginning of the cloud.” We’ve begun to see an openness between cloud vendors and a commitment to the end customer with partnerships and shared goals.

Telling the story

Fred Studer, CMO, NetSuite with cloud background
Fred Studer, NetSuite

We just need to spend a little more time telling the story of the new ERP. It’s companies that are disrupting their markets with ERP as an enabler that are truly exciting. That extends to marketing in particular. Marketers in software and ERP today have an opportunity to take a very innovative approach to marketing.

When most companies market, it’s basically going under the assumption that they're making something sound better than it is. And that's why customers have really become fatigued of marketing fluff. They really don't believe it.

For too long, ERP vendors have focused on lengthy evaluations and extended purchasing cycles, ROI and functional comparisons. That has its place (ERP is a big investment after all), but now is the time to start talking about the real value customers are getting from ERP.  We have over 24,000 organizations that use NetSuite, and being able to go and ask them what they're able to do and the impact that they're getting — we can have that true, authentic, relevant story be our marketing. That’s exciting, invigorating and yes, sexy.

We’re starting to see it in the stories coming out around the Internet of Things and wearables, companies like FitBit and GoPro, using ERP to help empower their transformation into new areas like apps and services. It’s inspirational. They’re helping to tell our story for us. I just love the innovation and the re-pivoting of these great companies.

This is how companies change the game. This is how disrupters disrupt. This is how companies do better, faster, cheaper.  It takes the right ERP to do all of these things. And so when you talk about bringing sexy back to something, it's got to be different, and it's got to be fresh, and it's got to look amazing.

Image credit: Dollar bills on gray silk sheets © Guzel Studio -; headshot by NetSuite.