How an Enterprise Architect Shapes the Future of ERP by Leveraging Emerging Technologies
Everybody is talking about emerging and disruptive technologies, but what are those, what is their potential in business process and ERP context – and how to approach them in an organisation? Which trends will be shaping the future of ERP? What are the enterprise architecture skills relevant in the future? We talked to Vikram Rawal of Roche in his role as an ERP Enterprise Architect focusing on emerging technologies, to find out his perspective on those questions.
SAP: Vikram, how do you see your mission as an ERP Enterprise Architect focusing on emerging technologies? Why should a company think of creating such a role?
Vikram Rawal: Our mission is to constantly explore and enable emerging technology adoption to support Roche’s long-term business strategies.
In the current VUCA* world, it is important for any organisation to be resilient and continue to adapt to new business environments and technology trends. Technologies are evolving and impacting enterprises like never before. Enterprises with a dedicated focus on identifying and implementing the right emerging technologies have a competitive advantage, allowing them to accelerate innovation and improve business efficiency.
The key challenge for companies is to ensure that the right trends are identified, that go beyond buzz words and truly support business objectives. To overcome this challenge, we have established the ERP Emerging Technology Framework. We continuously explore technology trends to bring together an inside-out perspective (business-driven: what are the business capabilities required and how technologies can support) with an outside-in perspective (which technologies are available on the market and what business opportunities they provide). It is one of the key components of our overall ERP Enterprise Architecture function that was established a few years back to support business with ERP Transformation to be agile and align strategy to new circumstances.
SAP: What was your journey to this role?
Vikram Rawal: My journey so far with this role is quite exciting and fruitful, as I am able to make an impact on the lives of patients. I have 15+ years of IT experience in various domains: architecture, team leadership, project management, innovation management and application development. And one thing that was always common throughout my career is that I am passionate about exploring something new, keep learning, strategic thinking and making an impact. That’s also the most exciting part of this job as I get opportunities to work on cutting edge technologies, innovative business use cases, guiding the organisation in a strategic direction, and most importantly – ‘Doing now what patients need next’.
SAP: To make it more tangible for our readers, how can one imagine your daily activities? Which topics and questions are on your agenda as an enterprise architect?
Vikram Rawal: The set of topics we handle is very diverse, some of them I have already mentioned:
- Working with stakeholders to identify the innovation business capabilities where emerging technologies can be helpful and provide expertise on possible capabilities and architecture.
- Analyze platforms and technologies to create assets, such as position papers or best practice recommendations, and support other teams to select the right platform for their business objectives.
- Working with IT teams to build proof of concepts (PoC) for new technologies and use cases.
- Collect stakeholder input and PoC feedback to update key assets such as ERP Emerging Technology Framework.
There are many other aspects that complement the list above, such as business case development, technology scouting or constantly keeping yourself up to date with research reports or praxis webinars. On top of it, a lot of energy flies into stakeholder management, bringing teams onto same page and aligning different approaches.
SAP: Who in your organisation do you work most closely with in your role?
Vikram Rawal: Everyone. With business leads we discuss key objectives and use cases, what platform or technology can support them, assess solutions, provide guidelines, and help them to define architecture. With ERP and functional consultants, we explore which solutions provide necessary capabilities and how the application landscape could look like, and when needed, dive deeper with technical developers. Partner and collaborate with other internal architecture groups to reuse and ensure a consistent technology strategy. We also work with the internal Innovation Lab, working with startups and exploring new avenues.
SAP: Your role sounds very diverse and has many facets. We have observed a similar pattern with digital innovation managers. What are important skills and characteristics an enterprise architect focusing on emerging technologies should have, what differentiates this role?
Vikram Rawal: Indeed, ‘hard skills’ such as expertise in enterprise architecture, business case development or emerging technologies themselves are important. But it’s critical to have a strategic mindset and attitude while staying close to the ground. Often enterprise architecture is perceived as a separate entity where you go for a review, like a checkpoint. On the contrary, enterprise architecture needs to be embedded into the organisation and as an extended arm provide support to business domains, rather than be in a silo.
This is why one needs to be a coach, a moderator between heavily changing technologies and the reality. You need to adapt a business partner thinking and become a trusted advisor, helping business in new investments and inspiring leadership teams. Speaking about leadership, stakeholder management is also a crucial aspect of the job. And most importantly, you need to keep up a lifelong learning attitude, have an authentic curiosity to expand skills and adapt to a changing technological landscape.
SAP: There are multiple industry, technology, business trends that impact the process and architecture landscape. How do you stay on top of those trends and ensure that your company is leveraging the latest developments?
Vikram Rawal: Indeed, it’s a dynamic environment and you have to be agile and be at the top of your game. As a foundation, our internal innovation & emerging technology framework helps here. It serves as a kind of checklist and description of steps to follow to identify the latest technologies in a proactive business value driven approach. Of course, you need to read a lot, attend webinars and events, connect to academia, connect to external as well as internal partners to learn from each other. It is also valuable to look at what other industries are doing.
SAP: Can you share some best practices on how to structure such knowledge and plans, which business objectives could be supported by which technology? How to identify, what is relevant for your business? As an example, we know that many companies have a ‘garage’ approach, creating prototypes with various new technologies.
Vikram Rawal: The internal emerging technology framework I have mentioned, including technology radar, helps us to keep track of key emerging trends potentially relevant to us. Basically, this is a backlog of technologies based on technology maturity and use cases based on business capabilities. For new topics coming up we organize awareness sessions, inviting business representatives or IT business partners, gathering their feedback. Afterwards we analyze it to decide on whether, for example, a PoC with a new technology in this business domain should be planned. Some of those PoCs are technology-driven, to prove how mature a certain technology is, but most are business-driven, to prove that this technology is the right tool for a certain business objective.
SAP: In many aspects you are taking new routes and approaches. Do you also create industry standards based on your work?
Vikram Rawal: Indeed, we are doing that in many areas, to share learnings and bring the industry forward. For instance, our colleagues are part of the pharma industry blockchain consortium in Europe and in North America. Another example could be the area of clinical trial supply management, where together with SAP we are working on a large co-innovation initiative to shape the future of clinical supplies operations.
SAP: As you have mentioned emerging technologies and trends a few times already: what are the top trends that will impact ERP in the next few years the most?
Vikram Rawal: In my humble opinion, various ERP trends can be grouped into three key categories.
First, intelligent technologies such as artificial intelligence / machine learning, internet of things, blockchain. They need to be embedded into ERP by default, making it intelligent for data-driven insights and enabling process automation. We need to step away from perceiving ERP as a system of record for core processes. There are so many exciting possibilities that, for instance, IoT sensor data can enable real-time business decisions.
Second, composable enterprise and composable ERP. ERP approach is shifting from Build-to-Last to Build-to-Change and moving away from a monolithic suite of ERP applications to a more loosely coupled environment, highly configurable, API-led, event-driven, interoperable, and flexible to adapt to future business demands.
Finally, cloud adoption for ERP. We are already seeing a preference for SaaS applications for satellite ERP applications like CRM, SRM, etc. Organisations increasingly want to rely on standardised business processes and industry best practices – and cloud solutions offer flexibility and faster innovation opportunities.
Of course, you need balance. It’s good to have a core with fit-to-standard where you do not need to reinvent the wheel. At the same time, you need to create competitive advantage and consider business needs.
SAP: We have also made experiences that especially when an enterprise has such a diverse portfolio of business initiatives, composability is key to be able to support different innovation cycles.
Vikram Rawal: Indeed, composable enterprise and composable architecture enables options, allows rearranging and reorienting as needed depending on external or internal factors like a shift in customer values or sudden change in supply chain or materials. It is extremely important to enable real-time adaptability and resilience in the face of uncertainties.
SAP: Among other activities, your team is leading the development of composable ERP guidelines. Could you share more on why you are doing this and how you are tackling this huge topic? How can a company adopt composable principles?
Vikram Rawal: ERP is definitely one of the core IT enablers for any organisation. We are currently running one of the biggest ERP transformation programs in the healthcare industry and our vision is to Create the digital backbone for Roche’s contribution to people’s health. The “Build-to-Last” to “Build-to-Change” shift is happening on multiple levels and in multiple aspects:
First, mindset change: training/reskilling people, keeping composability at the core when designing new solutions.
Second, strategy: We have created our ERP Architecture Framework, principles, guardrails and best practices, keeping composability at the core. Aligning ERP capabilities with composable business capabilities that can help to quickly enable/change new business scenarios. But also technological and data management strategies have to be aligned to ensure sharing of data, products and technologies across domains.
Finally, technology: having the right platform and right practices. An application portfolio should seamlessly span a variety of applications, suites and clouds and leverage principles such as ‘API first’ and event-driven architecture for seamless integration.
SAP: Imagine it’s 2030. How do you think the role of an Enterprise Architect might look like then?
Vikram Rawal: Definitely requirements towards skillset and ways of working will continue to evolve, still I believe foundational might still remain the same i.e. enabling and guiding the enterprise to define and achieve its business objectives. There are certain mindset shifts and trends already taking place:
- From “technology theorist” to “business partner”: trusted advisor to C-level executives, supporting business in creation of new revenue streams, services, customer experience and investment decisions.
- From “gatekeeper” to “enabler and coach”: from Architecture Review Boards to embedding enterprise architecture as a function.
- From “system advocate” to “engineer”: while being visionary, remaining connected to the ground.
SAP: Thank you so much for your valuable insights and sharing your thoughts, looking forward to seeing your predictions come true.
Looking forward to discovering more about digital innovation and technologies? For all of our readers who are interested in enterprise architect career path, emerging technologies, and the future of ERP – follow our digital innovation blog.
Vikram Rawal is the ERP Enterprise Architect focusing on ERP, Emerging Technologies, User Experience and Agile Architecture at F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG (Basel, Switzerland).
Maria Fay, Principal Innovation Architect at SAP.
Per-Henrik Addicks, Chief Development Architect at SAP.
Rene de Daniel, Principal Architect at SAP.
* VUCA: Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity