By Greg Lush
The point of value extraction from enterprise software has changed over the years. One of my earliest memories was in the mid-1990s with a fantastic software application that was designed to digitally collaborate across locations, on and offline. For many of you reading this I imagine you are thinking; who cares about the ability to shuffle between on and offline? During the late 90s in the United States, we all worked with a very slow, and immature internet, just short of having to feed it quarters in order to keep it running (time-based reference to the dimes we carried to feed pay phones). Of course, the ability to seamlessly transition between on and offline was hyper-critical, a process mastered by Lotus Notes (Notes) and their revolutionary "replication" tools. I was working for an Oil and Gas company in Texas and we leveraged Notes like many in the day, everything ran through this platform. Heck, Notes was the only digital tool that we used to communicate with one another, it was a collaborator dream environment. Then, a dark cloud of change rolled in towards the end of the decade, Notes introduced electronic mail to their product, this was the beginning of the end. Email, our first example of a transactional system, and arguably the single most inefficient digital tool ever inflicted upon an organization.
During this time in our computing history it was not uncommon to have only one computer in the office. The accounting person was the first to receive digital technology, often working off a dumb terminal connected to a server located in the broom closet. Time marched on and software manufacturers seized the moment by offering monolithic solutions often referred to as ERP systems. At the core was accounting, manufacturing, supply chain, payroll, etc. Also included, most of the time as third-class citizens, would be some elementary form of file management and email. Notes was well positioned in many organizations and at the time showed no interest in traditional ERP, so everyone seemed to get along, working side by side. However, the water began to get a bit murky as the ERP software manufacturers attempted to capture all of the organization’s licenses. A strong push for several years saw organizations attempt to deploy ERP-based collaboration tools, often these attempts producing lackluster results. Organizations were beginning to accept defeat and become satisfied with an accounting system, email, and some form of file storage (typically handled on local or networked servers). Our first decade of the new millennium had nearly destroyed the collaborative movement, so brilliantly executed by Ray Ozzie and the team at Lotus Notes. The second example of a transactional system, with the monolithic ERP system, had unfortunately set the stage for stunted digital growth. Service oriented architectures (SOA) helped lead the way to integrating products to one another. Although the ERP software manufacturers were holding on tight to their exclusive systems, we were starting to see our first move towards the possibility of leveraging best in class solutions. At the same time, the internet and SaaS providers were busting onto the digital landscape, challenging the enterprise to reconsider their approaches and commitments to these monolithic ERP systems. A long overdue movement was on the horizon, but the biggest question remained: Would the enterprise be able to accept these positive changes? Certainly, a level of comfort had been established leading towards the complacency by many to keep things "as-is.” Unfortunately, for those suspended in yesteryear, the value of their digital investments has peaked, isolated to a small percentage of functionality in transactional systems, including accounting, service management, manufacturing systems, and email. Ironically, the promise of the holistic ERP system is still alive and well; however, it looks totally different, now encapsulated in inclusive cloud platforms. To take advantage of the shifting sands and fully embrace the promise of ERP, you must change your perspective. Start by separating transactional systems from digital collateral systems. The simplest way to achieve the balance between what belongs inside of transactional system versus what should reside outside is to understand the primary purpose of your enterprise applications. This sounds simple enough, however, we often allow non-software variables impact our decision process. For instance, let's say that you are the person responsible for collections. You are comfortable working inside of the accounting system yet understand that to be effective at your job you need to access and reference more than just a plain text field connected to the accounting AP record. Collections is all about understanding all of the related data, access to conversations and journals, even insight from your deal pipeline. Yet, you are left to make the best of it, attempting to flex the accounting system to provide collaborative content required to decrease the current 48-to-54-day average day sales outstanding metrics. The first step is to establish and communicate the primary purpose of your enterprise applications. Be as objective as possible and summarize these objectives in three bullets or less. Next, with your newly found objective assessment of the digital tools at your disposal, start to map where information may cross over between these applications. Often, accompanying information is workflow, how will you take advantage of triggers and actions to and from these tools? This is where the effort required will vary significantly between those of you with legacy systems and those fortunate enough to have modern, cloud-based digital tools. Armed with your data relationships and workflow, you are ready to lay out a deliberate plan forward which leverages the power of both the transactional systems and your digital collateral systems. It is only when you see each part as their own unique value that you will be able to put them together and create a symphony for your digital enterprise.