How will enterprise software serve you in the future?

Profile picture for user Ryan Gloeckler By Ryan Gloeckler July 20, 2016
To deliver modern enterprise software ERP vendors are teaming with cloud platforms, writes Ryan Gloeckler, who explains how Unit4 works with Microsoft Azure

Business team hands joining jigsaw pieces in cloudy blue sky © hin255 -
(© hin255 -
ERP software is experiencing a revolution.  It starts at the foundation and runs up through its entire structure.  As a result, today’s CFOs and CIOs will play a critical new role in how their organizations operate and strategize.  Key to understanding the revolution is knowing who is leading it and how. This will help your company make the right decisions and thrive in a period of extreme and rapid change.

Don’t look back

ERP has turned around.  Yesterday’s software looked backwards.  It focused on crunching last month’s numbers and producing a picture of the past.  Today’s ERP looks forward.  It not only tracks more information than previously imaginable, but it analyzes that information better and faster.  It improves real-time decision-making, aids complex tasks like project planning, and informs long-range business strategies.  It helps tell the future.

The change is driven by powerful new technologies that support ERP applications.

  • Advances in social, mobile tech and user interface design have changed how information enters the system. Much more data is collected, and that data is instantly available for real-time, in-context use.
  • Advances in analytics such as machine learning and artificial intelligence are changing the way data is treated. Patterns and solutions once hidden by the limits of human comprehension can now be uncovered by the latest software and innovative algorithms.
  • Advances in cloud technology are more influential than ever. The cloud is more than an efficient way to manage applications.  Today it is integral to achieving technological superiority.  When platforms and applications are on the cloud, they get upgraded quickly, easily, seamlessly and often.  The result is consistently up-to the-minute, cutting-edge software.

It starts at the foundation

Powerful applications are built on powerful platforms.  These platforms provide an application’s underlying structure. Unlike the static application development platforms of the past, today’s Platform as a Service (PaaS) providers give software vendors a way to quickly and easily incorporate the latest innovations, futuristic tools such as artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Because the underlying platform is constantly evolving, a vendor who builds their software on one of these platforms can constantly add new capabilities as soon as the PaaS provider switches them on.

As an example of what this can mean for a modern ERP vendor, let’s examine what Microsoft brings with Azure, its platform for building and managing applications and services.  As a cloud platform, Azure offers elastic scalability to support growth, with frequent updates to built-in resources and services, and inherent interconnectivity between the various components provided. As a PaaS, it gives vendors the tools to lead digital transformation through the ability to build and deploy a wide variety of innovative technologies into their applications, such as analytics, event stream analysis and complex event processing.

Beyond all of this, a software vendor that uses Azure as its cloud platform can also connect directly into Office 365, which Microsoft has transformed from a productivity tool to a developer platform. This brings the ability to harvest data found in email, calendar, and social interchanges, creating new opportunities to reveal insights, improve processes, and differentiate through innovation.

In Unit4’s case, this has inspired the development of new ways to interact with the users of ERP. One example is our digital assistant called Wanda, which reduces the traditional ERP user interface to something more like natural conversation that can take place in any context. The digital assistant makes mundane, low-value tasks as simple as it can – such as filling in time sheets, making purchases, and creating travel requests based on itineraries and appointments found inside Office 365 calendar and Outlook email. It’s powered by bots that integrate applications so users can converse with Wanda in natural language on Skype, Slack, WeChat, or any other chat application they use. This type of innovation is a big advance on what has traditionally been thought of as the next frontier in enterprise software.

What’s on second?

When PaaS providers actively form partnerships like these with ERP software vendors, it’s a significant development in the market. This kind of teamwork helps to accelerate the speed and success of the ERP revolution. While the cloud platform creates the foundation and tools, it is the software vendor that will use them to create better applications.

Vendors with proven expertise in specific fields of business can tailor innovation to those industries. ERP for services, for example, is something totally different than ERP for manufacturing. Service industries by their nature are project-oriented and, therefore, extremely complex and fluid. Issues like resource utilization, project management, and time and expenses vary from field to field. In order to deliver the best service possible to their clients, people-centric organizations require specific ERP capabilities to be effective.

Social, mobile, analytics and cloud are having a major impact on enterprise software and leading cloud platform companies are delivering new cognitive capabilities that enable ERP systems to be more intelligent, changing the way people work with these systems. In people-centric industries the user experience is delivered through the service, not a product. People are the differentiating factor. As such, it’s likely this approach to ERP will impact people-centric industries the most. Only vendors with a thorough knowledge of an industry can effectively harness these new, powerful tools to maximum advantage.

The revolution starts here

The ERP revolution is here, and cloud platforms are providing the framework for reinventing what ERP can do. By harnessing modern ERP that utilizes new technology in innovative ways, enterprises can start to benefit from game-changing advantages. In people-led service organizations, those range from defining insight-led project plans that maximize utilization, minimize pressure on resources but ensure project success, to delivering specialist and differentiated customer service.

Enterprises that choose to join the revolution early have the opportunity to harness innovative ways of working that will propel their business ahead of the competition.