The first computers were mere adding machines. From the humble abacus of ancient China to Blaise Pascal’s first calculator to the first computer designed by Charles Babbage, their primary goal was to eliminate drudgery and manual labor. These machines were spectacularly successful in their task, and as years went by their capacity and speed doubled, then tripled, then increased a thousandfold and a million-fold. A single smartphone is arguably more powerful than all of the computers used to power America’s space program in the 1960s put together.
If NASA’s computers were so low-powered back then, how did Neil Armstrong manage to take that first step onto the lunar soil that day in 1969? Simple. The computers were merely the tools—the real driving force was the intelligence, bravery, and ambition of the men and women of the U.S. space program. The ingenious solutions to the Apollo 13 disaster, for example, would have been completely beyond even our present-day computers.
Intelligence, not pure computing power, has always been the missing piece.
In the enterprise business software world, things have developed similarly. Pretty much all of the software created up to the 2000s has been mostly about crunching numbers, automating processes, and accumulating data. And like the early calculators, it has been spectacularly successful in doing this job.
However, we are reaching an inflection point in our history, where the amount of data rushing into our databases has far exceeded the ability of the human brain to analyze, gain insights, and perform actions based on it. Vast advances have been gained in the area of artificial intelligence (AI) and Big Data, but too often these remain in experimental silos where their application has a limited scope and is separate from the day-to-day running of businesses.
Enterprise systems are no longer expected just to remove the drudgery from the lives of back-office workers; they are now expected to help make decisions and almost think for themselves: Don’t just show me the data; tell me what you make of it, and if needed, do the actions for me without me having to tell you what to do.
In a way, it is analogous to having a child. With three daughters, I have been on the parenting journey for some time now. When our kids were toddlers, everything they did was magical—the facts that they could walk, run, and eat by themselves were amazing.
But now, as my eldest starts her first year of university, I am always pleasantly surprised by reminders of how fast they have grown up—for example, when she showed me the economics paper she wrote, when my middle daughter baked an amazing cake for the family, and when my ten-year-old stood up in front of her school and delivered a very clever speech during debating.
My kids have transitioned from doing simple tasks to doing complex things that require thought, creativity, and experience, and they are now exceeding my expectations. Similarly, our systems need to grow up, and we need to expect more of them. ERP vendors that have been the collectors, processors, and guardians of your data all these years are the logical choice to lead the way on creating the intelligent enterprise—however, too many of them are stumbling.
It seems that just because they have been great at collecting data does not mean that they know how to make the data useful.
Many ERP users have resorted to obtaining special software to extract data to a separate location and manipulate it. The result is often disjointed, as users cannot make the decision when and where they transact, and the system that is trying to make sense of your data is only intermittently connected to the system that holds your data.
For an optimal outcome, you need a single platform that can not only acquire and store your data but can analyze and collate it on the fly. You need more than a collator of data; you need integrated engines for predictive analytics, machine learning, and the Internet of Things to make sense of your data and gain information from the front lines of your operations. Only then will your system develop from a toddler learning to walk to deliver the higher-level decisions and insights you need.
What will this mean to you?
This will deliver three things:
- Visibility so you can better see what’s going on in the business
- Focus, as with the understanding of the patterns in the data, you will be able to simulate outcomes to make better decisions
- Agility to respond to market forces faster
All three will enable you to better serve your customers and engage with both with your employees and suppliers.
It is time for a more grown-up system. Stop babysitting your legacy system and trying to make sense of your data as a separate activity from your operations. Hopefully, you will be pleasantly surprised with the results—just as I will undoubtedly be when my daughter graduates university in a few short years.
My wife has already warned me not to make a scene when our daughter walks across the stage at her graduation, as I’ve been known for my emotional outbursts. But nobody can stop you from celebrating as your intelligent enterprise system take your business to the next level.
For more insight on digital transformation, see How Data Fuels The Intelligent Enterprise.