Mobile, cloud, social: is it spreadsheet hell all over again?

Profile picture for user Helen Sutton By Helen Sutton January 19, 2015
The rise of mobile, cloud and social risks a new proliferation of unmanaged data. UNIT4's Helen Sutton foresees a 'post-modern' ERP coming to the rescue

© Argus -
Mobile, cloud and social technology have changed our lives forever, at home and at work. We have a seamless, easy and convenient digital life out of the office with smartphones, cloud storage and social media. The ease of use of apps like Dropbox and devices like iPhones has also led to widespread adoption in the workplace. They’re convenient for the individual so why not?

Despite the many advantages, this creates many problems for business, now and in the future. Analysts and vendors have already highlighted the complexity of managing BYOD, losing procurement economies of scale, compliance, security, and failing to connect with millennial employees. The problem comes with managing and ensuring visibility into the unstructured part of the enterprise in today’s digital world.

If we’re not careful we will see an invasive proliferation of these technologies in the enterprise bringing with them silos of data – a lot like spreadsheets throughout the nineties and noughties. The proliferation of spreadsheets led to unreliable and out-of-date data – the boardroom’s nightmare – how could they make informed decisions? That’s why companies have spent billions of dollars and thousands of man years trying to eradicate this complex problem.

It’s still a huge headache but what’s more concerning is that it’s happening again, with the unstructured data created by employees using consumer-focused social, mobile and cloud in the workplace. Analytics silos are being created on top and we face the same problems caused by spreadsheets.

Getting control

Recently I sat in a round-table discussion with other directors and we were discussing the value and challenges of the latest enterprise technology. We all agreed that the biggest challenge is “getting control” because right now there isn’t any. Data is being stored in consumer-based apps but its value cannot be realized by the wider enterprise.

To solve this vendors need to provide a platform that offers the convenience of cloud, mobile and social but managed in such a way that there is a single source of analytics truth everyone can work from. By design, ERP acts as the engine room of the modern enterprise, a hub where stakeholders can access and input relevant information. We know that ERP is great at managing the structured data – generated from orders, invoices, time-sheets and so on – residing in databases.

In the new digital world we see two sorts of ad hoc data being created and used:

  1. Structured data residing in Excel sheets and on all sorts of devices.
  2. Unstructured data via social collaboration and big data coming from the world inside or outside the enterprise.

Going forward, ERP is the natural platform for managing this data headache. The evolution that is happening today sees leading-edge ERP closing the gap between systems of record and systems of engagement.

Post-modern ERP

Imagine if the status of critical projects was not only measured by what is in the status reports, but also by the sentiment of the communication between the different team members. Imagine a time when ERP can compare knowledge of my previous habits and preferences while traveling, matched against what’s on offer at the location I’m travelling to, captured in my smart phone. We’ll start to see pre-populated travel expense forms, saving employees lots of time which they can put to better use.

ERP will evolve from managing just the structured aspects of an enterprise to also providing true visibility into the unstructured elements of the new digital world. This is where post-modern ERP is going. Employees will walk into their office and interact with ERP in the way they want to work, experiencing the functionality they need via a highly intuitive interface, on a device of their choosing.

ERP will be the system that engages employees and encourages them to use the enterprise application, ensuring a halt to the loss of data to silos. As a result the enterprise, in the cloud, will have immediate access to more intuitive information that is captured through mobile and social. Analytics will then have the opportunity to deliver real value. Businesses will have a better understanding of customers and operations, happier staff and greater efficiency.

There is absolutely no reason why this should not become reality. ERP design is already moving towards this future – one where users can collaborate with social, take the enterprise everywhere with mobile, and then store it all on one cloud platform so that everyone can take advantage of analytics.

Image credit: © Argus -