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Business application suppliers: What do we want?

Looking ahead to the next decade

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Workshop As we near the end of another decade it is an appropriate time to look at the way in which IT supplier relationships are changing and what current and potential customers are likely to be pushing for over the coming 10 years. The fundamental impact application packages such as ERP and CRM have on a business makes this question particularly pertinent in relation to such solutions.

It would be nice to say that the main requirement looking forward is for suppliers to generally move the ‘state-of-the-art’ on, but as we have seen in recent polls, some are still yet to deliver against current expectations in areas such as architecture, standards support, tooling, documentation, and so on. Constraints on investment as a result of the downturn might explain part of this, but in other cases there may still be a cultural impediment as some cling to the old days when customers ‘got what they were given’ and highly proprietary software was the norm.

Whatever the cause of the gap, for a number of suppliers, the first job to be done in the next decade is to get some of the basics right for dealing with the open, dynamic and highly integrated world in which applications packages now need to operate.

To be fair though, the feedback we have received indicates that some package suppliers have done a reasonable job of keeping up with broader IT industry developments and the changing requirements of their customers. If you have a supplier that is clearly behind the curve and showing no indications of catching up, it might therefore be worth considering a change.

While switching can be painful and disruptive, the ongoing cost and risk represented by old-fashioned packages - not to mention the constraints they place on business from a value and flexibility perspective - means it might be worth biting the bullet sooner rather than later.

The only word of caution here is to make sure that it really is the application at fault, and not the way it has been implemented. It is perfectly possible, for example, that it’s those ten-year-old customisations and extensions that are holding you back, rather than the software per se. Indeed, counterintuitive though it might seem, some organisations have found that re-implementing the same package, but taking full advantage of the latest business functionality, ‘soft configuration’ capability and open interfaces can make a lot of the issues disappear and put the organisation on a much better footing for the future.

As one CIO put it in relation to an ERP re-implementation, “We realised we were spending a fortune maintaining bespoke code built over a decade ago to work around package limitations that no longer existed. When we re-examined the underlying package, it was clear that most of those same requirements can be met today with standard functionality simply configured to work as we need it through software switches and rules based process flow.”

The lesson here is to realise that both mainstream packages, and the criteria by which you probably want to assess them, are very different today compared to the 90s and early 00s when a lot of the existing ERP and CRM implementations were originally conceived. But beyond architecture and basic business process functionality, what else is likely to matter over the coming decade?

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