The End of the Enterprise App

EscHow well is your organization supported by its existing enterprise apps?  Do your ERP and CRM systems fully support the dynamic nature of the business, enabling processes to be changed as and when the business requires?  Or is it far more the case that your organization has had to change its processes in order to fit in with what the application can do?

I’ve seen this time and time again.  A given organization finds it has a problem.  IT researches into what solutions are available and finds that there are, at best, solutions embedded in enterprise applications which solve 80% of the problem.  Eventually, it is agreed that one of these will have to do, the application is procured, tested, implemented, and finally run.  This could be a year or more after the problem was first raised by the business — the “solution” is already out of date and constrains the business, rather than enabling it.

However, we now have cloud computing.  Some see “cloud” as the same as “hosting” — just move the ERP or CRM application into the “cloud” and everything will be fine.  Actually, without good network planning and engineering to cover availability and end-to-end systems response, just do this and the situation could be a lot worse than it was before.

No, cloud — when exploited well — should be a lot more than this.  True cloud offers discrete sets of functionality that can be integrated as required.  For example, take the manner in which many applications have typically worked in the past: each starts out as a highly targeted system, then the functionality increases (“bloatware”) until there is a high degree of crossover between the functionality of multiple applications.  Information is duplicated in different data stores, and this can lead to errors — for example, one customer record in a CRM system being for “Mr. A.B. Person, 123 High St, Somewhere”, and the other being for “Alan Person, 123 High Street, S’Where”.  Computers find it difficult to see that these are actually the same, and chaos can ensue.

Cloud can break these problems down.  A single data set, or at the very least, a master data-management approach around the data, can be implemented.  Discrete functions — such as a function to deal with stock availability, another for item ordering, and one for delivery — can be wrapped around this, with each function being targeted at a specific issue.  By pulling together functions as required, a “composite application” can be created that is remarkably dynamic.  By swapping out functions as required, the business is back in charge — it can change its processes to meet the demands of the market and IT can reflect these needs in almost real time.

IT staff have to change their mindset — the IT department has to know where these functions can be sourced, at what price, and with what capabilities.  It has to understand how these functions can be integrated into the composite application rapidly and effectively, and it must create and manage a full audit trail of what has happened along the process itself.

The IT team must also ensure that the right network capabilities are in place, using multiple connections to the outside world to deal with any connectivity failures, and employing performance monitoring tools and network acceleration technologies to ensure that the end-user experience is as good as many IT users have become accustomed to receiving as consumers. Support for mobility and BYOD is crucial.

Cloud computing is the biggest change in how IT can be provisioned, enabling IT and the business to work together effectively. But it needs a joined-up approach, not just at the technology level, but between the business and IT itself.  Grab the opportunity — plan at a functional level, and start supporting the process needs of the business.

Image credit: charlesdyer (flickr) – CC-BY-SA