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When we released SAP R/3 in the early 1990s, it heralded the widespread adoption of ERP systems and coincided with a rise in general productivity across sectors. ERP served as a multiplier for the investments made throughout a company, from production facilities to business process engineering. For many companies, SAP R/3 provided visibility across corporate functions that was previously unimaginable. ERP systems gave companies insight into activities and processes that spanned the enterprise, breaking down silos and serving up a single source of truth. Furthermore, companies could deploy best practices to automate and standardize manual processes.

/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/278418_low_jpg_srgb_1014113.jpgTwenty years later though, businesses have changed and, for the vast majority of businesses, the benefits of ERP systems based on legacy databases have largely been realized. To unlock a new wave of productivity, it’s time to consider a next-generation ERP system built to take advantage of in-memory computing. Consider the following areas of missed opportunity:

You wait for reports. Twenty years ago, the ability to generate a complete inventory report at the push of a button was pretty impressive. The fact that you might have to wait a few days or even a week for the batch job to finish running didn’t matter – the whole process was still faster and less resource intensive than the manual inventory reporting of yore. As technology improved and processing power increased, many companies shortened the reporting window. Push the button by 5pm, and have your report by 8am the next day. Today though, business happens 24/7; you cannot wait for yesterday’s reports to finish.

Your decisions are based on internal, historic data. The sales report that was ready for you at 8am this morning when you walked into the office doesn’t give you enough information to remain competitive. You load old sales and production figures into a spreadsheet today in order to determine tomorrow’s production plan. In the meantime, your competitors have already leveraged marketing insights from social media, the weather forecast, and ten other data sources, allowing them to intelligently predict and simulate various outcomes. They have confidence in their decisions and stand ready to profitably fulfill demand the moment customers walk through the door.

You have to switch between multiple siloed applications while completing your job. To actually do work, you have one application window open. To know what to do, you have a second or sometimes even a third window open. Hopefully, your entire span of control exists within the same window in each application. Otherwise, you end the day with a proliferation of windows and well-worn alt (or command) and tab keys. Were you pairing the right windows and looking at the correct metric before enacting a transaction? Were the systems you were using synchronized? I sure hope so!

You have to work from your desk. Don’t worry though, you hear laptops are coming soon! Business doesn’t just happen between the hours of 8am and 5pm, and it certainly isn’t always neatly contained in the four walls of your organization. It probably happens while you’re on the subway, at the airport, at a client site, on an oil rig, walking the shop floor, or any number of places away from your desk. Sometimes, a laptop can bridge the gap, sometimes not. Wouldn’t it make more sense to switch apps on your smartphone and quickly glide through important tasks when you have time in your schedule, even if you’re not at your desk?

You spent months in training learning how to use the tools of your job. Let’s go back 20 years again. The productivity gain of ERP was substantial enough that a month or two of user training could be easily justified. It was that big of a leap. There were no comparisons – no apps, no smartphones, no broadband at home. As technologies have advanced, so too have our expectations of interacting with them. Why is your business software more difficult to use than any one of the 15 apps you downloaded last week? Wait, you do have business apps, right?

Breaking through the productivity plateau will define the next generation of winners and losers. The competition is fierce and fast-paced. As more and more industries become data- or software-driven, it’s becoming easier and easier for competitive threats to rapidly proliferate. How long will it take for one of those small start-ups, or your historic rival, to gather enough momentum and become the new industry standard? Now isn’t the time to wait around and find out. Instead, take advantage of the opportunities for value creation the digital economy offers and consider, for example, the impact it could have on your supply chain.

Edited to fix typos.

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