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Expanding the footprint of enterprise apps

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The essential guide to IT transformation

Workshop Many organisations originally invested in ERP and CRM suites to deal with specific problems they were focused on at the time. Whether it was automating or fixing certain processes, or simply replacing existing obsolete systems, the job at hand was clear, and bad things happened if the immediate objectives weren’t met.

Sure, the software could often do much more, but who in their right mind would get distracted when the deadline for ‘go live’ was fixed in stone to fit in with an accounting period changeover, a critical reorganisation, or some compelling regulatory event – particularly when careers were made or broken by the success or failure of such projects.

Wind the clock forward, and the limited scope of those original implementation projects of yesteryear means a lot of packaged applications in place today represent under-utilised assets.

Firstly and most obviously, there is all that functionality embedded within applications that was not enabled during initial implementation but could be activated to deliver incremental value. Whether it is whole new areas of processing, or more horizontal functionality such as reporting and analysis, it is not uncommon for organisations to be paying for capability which could be of benefit but isn't actually being exploited.

Reviewing the scope of packages in use within your organisation and comparing this with the functional scope of the actual installation could open up opportunities to drive out further return on investment.

Beyond unused functionality, there is then the question of the application footprint. Many of the benefits of enterprise applications are dependent on allowing key participants in business processes to interact with the system directly.

Such direct access reduces the need for off-line paper chases and person-to-person communication, which in turn minimises administrative costs, process execution delays, and the occurrence of human error. Yet the limited scope of initial implementations means that many involved in operational activity are still not hooked into systems.

How many employees in your organisation, for example, still receive instructions on paper, fill out forms with information that someone else will ‘process’ later, or rely on phone calls with dispatchers, or other colleagues with direct systems access to get their jobs done? And when other people are in the loop, shuffling pieces of paper, entering data, or conveying instructions back and forth, are they really adding value to the whole process or are they just ‘people buffers’?

The reality is that if you look across many businesses, you will see examples of the inefficiencies we are referring to here in every department and function, from sales and marketing, through manufacturing and logistics, to customer service and support. And it’s not just within the organisation that paper chases and other forms of wasteful off-line activity are evident; a lot of interaction with customers, partners and suppliers is equally clunky, time-consuming and resource squandering.

To be fair, however, there have been some practical constraints that have stood in the way of broader access. The way in which software licensing works has often been an impediment, particularly with casual or occasional users, who, unlike their core transaction processing colleagues, are not using the system frequently enough to justify a full licence fee. Providing access to professional workers to enter timesheet or expense information, for example, or to middle managers to deal with basic reviews and approvals, has often been cost prohibitive.

In addition to licensing constraints, there have then been practical issues to extending access such as having to deploy proprietary software onto users’ desktops, and train them to navigate through sometimes complex and unfriendly user interfaces and menu structures.

The good news is that the work of software vendors, and indeed industry developments in general, means many of the traditional barriers to broader access have been lowered, or even removed. More flexible role-based or web-based licensing has gone a long way towards dealing with the commercial blocker, and being able to surface application functionality within a familiar portal or desktop office environment has helped to overcome training and motivation issues with casual and occasional users.

Advances in communications have helped too. The widespread availability of broadband, together with secure remote access techniques, has made home working a very practical option. This is one less thing to worry about for organisations having to deal with flexible working regulation, but also allows businesses to tap into otherwise inaccessible talent groups who have difficulty coping with normal 9-to-5 office based working.

If we add modern mobile communications and devices into the mix, flexible working with direct access to systems is now possible across large parts of the workforce; a good win/win for both the business and the employee.

But what's your experience of all this? Is access to core business systems still very restricted in your organisation? If so, why, and how are software vendors and other suppliers helping or hindering? Or maybe you have ‘been there, done that’, and have successfully enabled non-traditional user access, home working, mobile working, and so on, in which case do you have any tips or tricks to pass on to the rest of us?

Please give us your thoughts in the comments below.

Freeform Dynamics Ltd

Build a business case: developing custom apps

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