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People-centric ERP: how to give your employees back the ability to work on what they really need to work on

One of the most interesting things all Unit4’s customers have in common is that they’re people centric. They don’t depend on mechanical processes or outputs, but on the expertise and knowledge of the people they employ.

This means traditional ERPs – built for industrial process and resource management – have never fully met their needs. The challenges faced by people focused businesses are unique, and are becoming so counterproductive that they require radical solutions to solve. According to a 2018 workfront study:

  • In most companies, people only spend around 40% of their time on their “primary tasks” – the jobs they’re actually employed to do.
  • 58% of people in these organizations feel so swamped with menial work that they feel doesn’t add value – and which actually prevents them from adding value.

At Unit4, we see it as our purpose to create an ERP that stops people wasting so much of their time on paperwork, data management, and keeping their computer systems happy.

Somewhat paradoxically, this means approaching ERP in a way that removes ERP as we know it from the day-to-day experience of the end user. And even more paradoxically, this means creating an ERP platform so pervasive within an enterprise that it’s almost invisible.

So wait – how do you make an ERP that doesn’t look like ERP?

Traditional ERP has always been based on fixed processes, resource types, and rather inflexible criteria. And this is partly out of necessity. Until very recently, more advanced and flexible technology either didn’t exist, or would have been prohibitively expensive to run on premise.

But widespread cloud technology, the phenomenon of “hyper scaling”, and the resulting rise of the “everything as a service” (XaaS) model of products, we’re presented with a unique opportunity to leverage more flexible, intelligent technological principles to create ERP systems that are adaptable to the needs of the end user.

At the heart of this change away from monolithic systems that constrain the actions of the people using them towards a more responsive model of service lie three big principles: automation, customization, microservices, and AI and machine learning.

Automation: moving from manual processing to exception handling

Many of the administrative tasks handled by businesses are entirely routine – and while they might be vital to the “lights on” operations of a company, they add no value in and of themselves.

Creating simple rulesets to automate these kind of actions takes much of the burden of admin off people at every level of the company. Giving them the freedom they need to perform value-added work, and shifting the role of administration away from firefighting and towards exception handling.

Customization

Solutions developed around “core services” that have flexibility as a feature from the start present companies with the ability to pick and choose what they want from an ERP as a live, iterative process. Rather than going out to tender with a long laundry list of features, customers can approach vendors with their major strategic priorities and use core functionalities as a starting point.

With the rapid proliferation of low- and no-code solutions for software platforms, companies don’t even need to employ armies of consultants or technical specialists to make use of customizability in their solutions. End users themselves will be able to modify their tools as they see fit, switching functionalities off and on as their jobs require it.

Microservices

The idea of microservices is intimately tied to customization. Microservices extend the functionality of the traditional ERP “megasuite” way beyond what would previously have been possible. Helping to inspire change within the organization by allowing us to stop forcing users to come to the ERP suite, and instead embedding the ERP suite in the day-to-day workflows of the end user.

This makes for a much more fluid and pleasant user experience – one where people feel less like they’re jumping through hoops to satisfy the needs of the machine, and more like they’re sticking to the work they need to do in order to add value.

AI and machine learning

These new technologies are having two transformative effects on the way we create new technology. For our purposes, they’re the keys to automation – providing the ‘decision-making’ basis for automated workflows, as well as constantly improving, trainable models for dealing with novel situations.

In the second place, they’re enabling software to handle bigger and more complex data sources almost completely autonomously. Creating exciting possibilities not just for the way that our ERP systems can handle the data inputs of your people, but also the ways that user experience adapts and improves to their needs.

How can Unit4 ERP help your organization to create a better people experience?

To learn more about just how we’re making use of the principles I’ve outlined above to create better solutions for you and your people, click below to watch the webinar Using Adaptive, Automated, and People-Focused ERPs for Digital Success featuring Forrester Research, in which our guest speaker, Principal Analyst Sam Higgins, and I discuss these issues and many others with a view to explaining the current state of the ERP universe for people-focused organizations, and what kind of developments we’ll be seeing in the near future.

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claus jepsen

Claus Jepsen

Chief 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.