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What are the most promising innovations in ERP technology?

An expert outlines recent innovations in ERP technology and their practical applications for manufacturers.

ERP technology seemed settled for a long time, but cloud, mobile and big data analytics have shaken up the market...

again. What are some of the more promising innovations in ERP?

The reinvention of ERP has been a decade-long journey to migrate traditional mega systems to new platforms. While ERP vendors were working on critical technical issues that end users rarely think about -- such as platform tools -- the world was exploding with a new generation of innovative technology. Many of these technology innovations emerged from startups or best-of-breed applications. But as market acceptance of these innovations has grown, ERP vendors have taken note and are adopting these technologies into their offerings -- or they buy the companies that developed them. Here are a few areas that are experiencing interest and growth.

Social collaboration. ERP systems are adding enterprise social networking either as an add-on or as a native capability in their solutions. Collaboration is important in certain industries and use cases such as architecture, construction, education, product design, procurement and collaborative demand planning.

Internet of Things (IoT). IoT is not a new concept. But the use cases are growing, enabled by mobility, GPS, radio frequency identification (RFID), sensor technology, e-inks and other new materials. Examples of use cases include monitoring and controlling energy consumption in buildings, remotely monitoring work sites such as mining and construction areas for safety and security, and optimizing transportation and service management by tracking assets on the move using smart vehicles or smart asset management technology.  

Geospatial context awareness. Monitoring location data about people and things has moved beyond simple GPS technology to include real-time data about the environment such as weather, traffic and geopolitical conditions. This provides the context in which equipment, people or processes are operating and can reveal new areas that need improvement. Advanced geospatial applications go beyond static maps and can provide dynamic, live geospatial data.

Complex event processing (CEP). Built on top of source data that can be financial, geospatial or streaming control data from equipment, CEP identifies compounding events and reveals consistent cause-and-effect patterns. CEP is a growing area of advanced analytics. ERP systems that have rich analytics packages offer these capabilities. Initially used in financial services and investment firms, CEP is now finding a home in other sectors.

Digital manufacturing. A new cluster of technologies enables design and manufacturing with 3-D printing. Use cases such as prototyping or model design, as well as building one-off custom parts are of interest to manufacturers. Product lifecycle management (PLM) software has long had 3-D design models, digital twins and so on. Many ERP systems also include design to manufacturing modules, PLM/CAD, as well as 3-D visualization technology.

RFID. RFID's ability to move beyond the limitation of barcodes (which require line of sight) has proved valuable in a variety of business applications. RFID is used for asset tracking, inventory management, electronic kanban, access control and labor management, as well as a variety of security and control applications.  In this security-conscious decade, RFID and the applications that use it will continue to grow.

Wearables.While it may seem like a concept straight out of science fiction, traditional manufacturing is finding a home for wearable technology. Wearables are useful for processes that require hands-free operation, as well as the ability to record and analyze operational data. For example, users can assemble products while wearing Google Glass, which scans to assure the right parts are selected and provides assembly instructions. Another example is field service repair or inspection functions, where users need data from systems to inform them while they are completing tasks with their hands.

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