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The evolution and development of ERP technology

from  October 15, 2019 | 6 min read

Once, enterprise resource planning (ERP) was mainly an on-premises solution designed for manufacturers. These days, it’s a cloud-based tool designed to set people free. As we explore the evolution of ERP, we ask: what can people-centered ERP do for your organization? 

As a service-based organization, you know you’re only as productive as your people. So if you can find ways to help people become more engaged – doing away with low-value tasks and helping them focus on what really matters – you’re closer to meeting your goals.   

So it might at first seem surprising that the answer to this challenge can be found in ERP – a solution originally designed to track and automate processes in manufacturing, so widgets could be produced as efficiently as they could.  

But as our white paper, The Unit4 People Platform: Delivering on the Digital Revolution, shows, it may have been product-led organizations who drove the design of ERP – but service businesses are helping drive its evolution. 

People, we know, aren’t widgets. So, what if you could access an evolving ERP solution that’s focused on the needs of your consultants or managers? What if you could help people to cut out the tasks that waste their time, and help them to deliver intelligent insights instead?  

That’s what people-centered ERP is all about. And it’s why the development of ERP is so exciting for professional services, public-sector bodies, educational organizations and not-for-profits. 

The evolution of ERP: from on-premises to “cloud for people” 

When ERP was an on-premises-only solution, it did the job reliably, and made business processes more efficient. These in-house ERP systems were highly personalized, but expensive to run, update and replace.  

With the arrival of cloud services, businesses saw the benefits of “cloud for business”, in terms of process savings and efficiencies. Now it was possible to access ERP data more cost-effectively, as part of a managed service – reducing IT risk, and making it easier to share information across multiple sites.   

But “cloud for people” takes things a step further. Innovative businesses recognize how cloud ERP focuses on the needs of people – so they seek services that help realize the potential of the cloud, by improving the way they collaborate, use data, and engage with each other, while working anywhere.  

“Cloud for people” ERP seeks to address this need – and is designed to equip people-based organizations for the challenges of the modern world. 

For more on the evolution of ERP from on-premises to the cloud, please see our infographic on the topic – and our Constellation Research paper: Unit4 Pushes ERP Platform to the Next Level

Development of ERP: toward consumer-grade microservices

Not so long ago, the technology you saw in a business far outstripped anything you could get at home. But in the 21st Century, that began to change. Instead, consumers became used to app-based microservices hosted on accessible platforms – that is, the operating systems they carried in their pockets.  

Soon the question became impossible to ignore: “Why can’t I get the same digital experience at work that I can easily get on my phone?” 

ERP experiences and evolution of technology 

With the evolution of ERP, though, people can start to do that. With a people-centered ERP system, an employee can, for example, access a timesheet as part of a self-service ‘microservice’ inspired by consumer-grade tech; quickly send a smart invoice; or even use an app specifically designed to meet a unique need. 

An ERP with a microservices architecture like this is a step forward for ERP. Essentially, it means ERP is not a monolith, but a loosely collected group of services which workers need, every day of the working week. Of course, people in different roles will need different microservices, but to make these as effective as possible it’s important to understand the needs of people, first.   

And because it’s people-focused, a modern ERP is also able to allow partners and users to create specialized solutions that help them. See, for example, the Unit4 Extension Kit for technical info on how this can work in practice. 

ERP future trends: the role of machine learning

Here’s another question to consider: what if it was possible to create people-focused microservices which intelligently adapt to how they’re used – saving even more time for the people who need them most? 

One of the ways it’s possible to do this is through the use of instant apps, powered by machine learning. These lightweight services, which can evolve to meet the needs of specific users, are one of the most exciting ERP future trends.  

For example, if you work in accounts, you could use ‘smart invoicing’, which includes predictive info based on machine learning; or pre-populate frequently used timesheets and reports. 

This may sound like it only saves a small amount of time, but repeat that step 100 or 500 times in a week, and you not only become more efficient, but you can help people focus on tasks which require more insight and engagement.  

And it means that ERP evolution and growth may be closely intertwined – just as ERP experiences and evolution of technology go hand in hand. 

Doing this, of course, requires innovative use of data. An advanced ERP is able to use data, contextually and relevantly, to help put the user at the heart of the solution – and this will only develop as machine learning and AI improve.  

ERP evolution and growth of remote working 

Finally, it’s impossible to conclude a piece on people-centered technology written in 2020 without noting that the way we work is still evolving – so the development of ERP is by no means over. Like all technologies, it must continue to evolve to meet the demands of its users. 

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen a forced shift toward remote working – and an accompanying demand for services that could meet people’s business needs when they’re away from the business site.  

Of course, this only served to accelerate a change which was already happening, but it may well be that workers will demand more flexibility than they had before.  

So, when you choose an ERP provider, you need one who is committed not only to the evolution of ERP – but to meeting the demands of 21st Century work. 

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Claus Jepsen

Unit4 Chief Product and Technology Officer

I’ve been fascinated by technology since age 14: from my first Tandy TRS Model 1, through to developing cloud-based, super-scalable solutions and bringing innovative technologies such as AI, chatbots, and predictive analytics to ERP. We really can now have better, non-invasive and pervasive solutions — to improve People Experience and help us focus on what we truly love.

My spare time is spent with family and friends. I can often be found road biking to stay in shape, and I love experiencing different cultures through traveling.