One of my favourite films from the past is Minority Report, mainly because of the technology shown in these films, and not least because of the leading actor! It amazes me to think that Minority Report is already 11 years old. It seemed so far into the future at the time and yet today we are already seeing evidence of the technology used in Minority Report. Some of the technology and futuristic user interfaces have become realized and the way they have come into use is a good example of the term ‘consumerization of technology’.Wikipedia describes Consumerization as:
“the growing tendency for new information technology to emerge first in the consumer market and then spread into business and government organisations. The emergence of consumer markets as the primary driver of information technology innovation is seen as a major IT industry shift…”.
Not only is the consumerization of technology having a considerable impact on the way we all operate in our personal lives (the Internet, social media, mobile), it is also having an impact on how businesses operate. It is therefore critical that any business software, such as ERP, as well as the businesses that are implementing these systems, understand how these new technology developments can work for them and how they can be effectively integrated into day-to-day business operations.
Consumerization of ERP for manufacturing and distribution environments
There are a number of areas of consumerization that are particularly relevant to the ERP market:
- The user interface (UI) has become more touch-oriented across a wide range of devices, and because touch requires larger icons, the graphics and image aspect of the UI is also changing. The growing requirement for the UI to be personalized by the user (without programming) means that people increasingly want to personalise the UI of standard applications to meet their specific requirements.
- Mobility – the growth of mobile platforms continues at an incredible rate, and with it the need to access information and communicate (via email and other platforms) whilst on-the-go. In the area of sales and distribution, one of our customers is already adopting the new technology – using their trucks as mobile warehouses because a significant percentage of their sales are coming from ad hoc sales on the road. In this case using SYSPRO’s mobile platform, Espresso, enables our customers to create, view and print invoices via a mobile device.
- Collaboration tools, e.g. ‘GoToMeeting,’ are enabling increased connectivity and communication across borders, truly enabling the idea of the ‘global village.’ Just yesterday I attended an on-line conference from side of the arena at the stables where my daughter rides, using both my laptop and cell phone. This enabled me to watch my daughter try out a new horse, but still attend my on-line conference.
- The increasing value of an enterprise App store – an online site, like iTunes, where all the applications for a business can be located and downloaded to any authorised users’ device. Mobile Business Intelligence (BI) apps will enable tools such as KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to be more broadly applied to all users and operators, not just executives.
- Geolocation, the capability to identify the precise geographic location of an object using GPS, will allow people to use a GPS-enabled device in a warehouse to make locating specific inventory items easier to pick; this will also impact on activities like stock taking.
- Then there is remote visibility, where a production manager may have a full view of the state of manufacturing operations even when offsite.
- QR (Quick Response) codes: customers might be able to use QR codes to scan and track how objects they are purchasing have passed through the supply chain.
- The impact of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) – we all know one of the biggest impacts has come from the mobile explosion, and with people bringing their own devices to work, companies are now having to deal with the BYOD wave. Gartner reaffirms what we know in this space, it predicts that “by 2017, half of employers will require employees to supply their own device for work purposes.”
Some tips for companies to manage IT consumerization trends
BYOD simply cannot be ignored; it is happening and is here to stay. When people choose their own devices they are more likely to be comfortable using mobile applications. Companies therefore need to do three things:
- Make sure that they have policies in place to manage the replacement of devices and licensing of mobile apps in the context of the organizations specific IT and operating environments.
- With the multiplicity of models, devices and form factors, businesses need to ensure that the mobile apps they license and deploy are device- and platform-independent.
- Evaluate the possible scenarios and develop a policy for BYOD to encourage staff to make use of enterprise apps on their own devices, and to avoid any unwanted surprises or situations for your organisation.
- Remember BYOD is not all BAD (Bring Any Device) – an organization needs to be discerning about which models, devices, operating system and versions of OS they will allow staff to use, as keeping up with all required applications and software can be costly and cause unnecessary pressure on administrators.
When using mobile apps in your business:
- Make sure your mobile apps will manage data integrity and security.
- For the licensing of your mobile apps, license the user rather than the device. This allows employees to swop and migrate to new devices, but also allows companies to automatically switch off a licence when an employee leaves the company.
Looking Forward to the Future
I believe there will still be a place for desktop PCs in the future for operations like accounting. However in the manufacturing environment, where the factory floor has been a no-go zone for PCs, I believe that we will see increased usage of mobile devices leveraging Bluetooth and wireless capabilities, and throughout the distribution process. I also think that technology will be used more widely in the security and goods control processes. Part of this is the proliferation of identification standards, whether it is through personal identification via biometrics, or through identification of the actual products via Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technologies.
And perhaps we should be looking even further beyond the technology shown in the Minority Report – I know SYSPRO is!