Bernard Ford, CEO, One Channel.

Bernard Ford, CEO, One Channel.

It's the cornerstone of modern enterprises and fast becoming the foundation for data-driven companies. Over the decades, ERP applications have changed in many ways, yet all that pales to what it's experiencing today.

It's a thought that intrigues Bernard Ford, CEO of One Channel: "ERP is not cast in stone. It evolves, often tremendously, and in that wake, it helps define how businesses function and what they can do. So, to me, it makes sense to get behind new, post-modern ERP that leverages the multi-cloud world. That's the future of business technology."

But, what is that future? Seven years is a long time, but we can extrapolate that future from current and emerging trends. ERP is becoming both the home and fulcrum for data in companies. It is also more customer-facing, with a high relevance to user interactions. Tomorrow's ERP will ebb and flow with user requirements, instead of users following its lead. And it will be contactless, a world with voice commands and intuitive, AI-derived interfaces.

Next level of ERP

The future of ERP is emerging incrementally, but let's start with the name itself. The word 'ERP' will likely disappear.

"As we all know, ERP stands for enterprise resource planning," Ford explained. "It really doesn't describe the many roles an ERP already plays in today's businesses. It also suggests a singular, monolithic system, instead of the new breed ERP that is very modular and often comprises many different integrated services."

Alongside ERP's gap between its name and functions, the technology is also shifting from being inward-looking to outward-facing, customer-centric activities. Whereas traditional ERP tended to give a snapshot of the business, usually through a financial prism, new ERP puts the emphasis on the coalface, on customers and users.

It may be as simple as self-service features on a Web site, connected to the ERP, or AI tracking customers across multiple channels. But 'customer' doesn't just designate those who buy from companies. Internal staff are technically customers of the ERP as well. This leads us to the changing interfaces of the ERP world.

Unlike the dry, exclusionist ERP of the past, new ERPs try to meet users' requirements in intuitive ways. For example, voice commands are becoming more common, so users can simply talk to the ERP interfaces. Likewise, chatbots are leading new ways for external customers to interact with business services.

Dose of dynamism

Post-modern ERP lets different parts of the company tailor their interfaces and interactions to suit their workflows. Such customisation would spell the slow death of an ERP that, once bespoke, becomes a legacy trap. But, post-modern ERP doesn't have this drawback: "Because this ERP operates in a 100% service-based, multi-cloud model, it is easy to adapt. The underlying platform isn't affected by customisation. Micro-services make it easy to add additional capabilities without disrupting the core system. This is only going to become more powerful. We will start seeing highly dynamic ERP experiences, tailored to specific departments and even users."

Part of that dynamism will be powered by AI. Since ERP is becoming the home to data, it is also an appealing place to develop different types of artificial intelligence. The cloud platform foundation makes it natural and intuitive to introduce such new technologies. AI, in turn, can create more intuitive engagements with internal and external customers. Interfaces may literally change depending on who they interact with, based on the AI's knowledge of that user and their requirements.

Indeed, ERP will self-adapt. We will be able to ask ERP systems questions and give them orders without reaching for a keyboard. Through chatbots, we might assign them tasks and, if they are integrated with other business services, truly blend operations. We could ask for a report on a customer, harvesting details across different channels and delivered to an e-mail address; AI will handle the rest.

Now, take this further, says Ford: "Annual and quarterly reports might very likely disappear. Why spend days compiling a report when you can get real-time information from the ERP? You might literally tell the ERP: 'Give me a breakdown of our sales between last week and this week' and it will do that. Once a business's data flows are integrated with the ERP and managed by AI, you can start having real-time feedback. Eventually talking to your ERP to get a view of the business will be like talking to your phone assistant to get the weather report."

In summary, seven years from now, we can anticipate cloud-native ERP systems that are dynamic, integrating the rest of the business into a central platform, and using AI to create relevant experiences to whoever is using it. It won't be an application as much as a way for humans to be omnipresent in their companies.

"Companies will care less about the ERP itself. They will focus on the services it can deliver or improve, and how seamless their engagement with business information will be."