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Why ERP mobility requires enterprises to be proactive

Historically, enterprise resource planning systems were designed to stay firmly -- and securely -- put. That's why you'll need to address multiple challenges to achieve mobile ERP.

In today's economy, companies are under ever-increasing pressure to ensure that their employees are more productive. Implementing mobile technology, including mobile ERP systems, allows organizations to benefit from improved worker productivity and better customer relationships. In addition, ERP mobility enables businesses to offer better customer service and to be more competitive. But, despite those benefits, there are some challenges preventing enterprises from giving workers widespread access to their ERP systems via their mobile devices.

In addition to concerns about the security and performance of mobile ERP apps, the top concern among enterprises is really user adoption, according Bogdan Nica, director of product management and services at Knoa Software, a provider of user experience management software in New York.

"User adoption can really derail a project," he said. "Everything else has a technical solution, but for adoption, there is a complex set of problems where you have to engage with users directly. Our top message to our customers is to involve their users in their mobile strategy, [in part] by engaging them in the design process for the new mobile apps ... and seeing what users actually need."

The reality is a different story.

Vendors lumber toward ERP mobility

ERP systems typically lag behind the innovation curve in terms of user experience, said David Rowe, SVP and chief marketing officer at Rimini Street, an independent provider of enterprise ERP software support services in Las Vegas.

ERP vendors have little expertise in mobile, and they are simply taking the same antiquated ERP functionality and refactoring it into mobile devices, which doesn't come close to meeting user expectations, Rowe said.

While vendors are investing in ERP mobility, they are typically projecting the same complex screens and workflows onto smaller form factors, according to Rowe. This approach, however, fails to meet the user expectations for a mobile experience, leaving users overwhelmed, and resulting in limited usage and adoption and the destruction of the return on investment.

"Users expect simple, intuitive, high-performance apps that leverage the native capabilities of the device," Rowe said. "What's required for rapid user adoption and high customer satisfaction is a singular, consistent mobile experience, shielding users from the underlying complexities of individual applications."

Additionally, the lack of uniformity in the user interface may cause many customers poor mobility experiences with their ERP vendors. Many large enterprises run hundreds or even thousands of applications, both off-the-shelf and custom-built, which adds to the complexity, resulting in long and costly development cycles, according to Rowe.

The biggest challenge, at the end of the day, may be changing the mindset of the organization, which has to learn how to innovate more quickly by not solely relying on the incumbent ERP vendor.
David RoweSVP and chief marketing officer, Rimini Street

Another challenge in doing mobile ERP is balancing employee demand for specific devices and apps with the need to keep network data safe and secure, said Jim Carroll, SVP Operations at Tangoe, a provider of expense management software for mobile ERP systems in Austin, Texas.

Employees want to engage with enterprise applications through the same medium they use to access consumer applications in their personal lives, Carroll said. There has been a growing expectation that enterprises offer experiences similar to those of consumer-based services.

"But the enterprise focus will be on, where can it best access, leverage and control innovation to deliver differentiated value to their customers at the lowest cost and data usage? Managing, protecting and sharing it securely because access to the data by authenticated devices and employees is what drives the value in the first place," Carroll said.

Customization, strategy challenges of ERP mobility

When it comes to internal app development, it all depends on which platforms companies are on, said Seth Lippincott, an analyst at Boston-based Nucleus Research.

"If you're working with a platform that has the development capabilities for you to build your own applications, there are going to be potential limits to the usability or the functionality based on the sophistication of your developers or your users, if you don't have a developer in house," Lippincott said. That's still a challenge if companies have platforms that offer cloud development services for business users.

"[Most] ERP systems are pretty open with their APIs [application programming interfaces], so that if you have anything homegrown or if you're trying to integrate systems, they do a pretty good job, especially in the mobile space," Lippincott said.

The relatively slow uptake of mobile solutions for companies using large ERP systems, such as SAP, is largely due to a lack of mobile strategy, said Vishal Awasthi, chief technology officer at Dolphin Enterprise Solutions, an SAP partner in Morgan Hill, Calif.

With native apps that are installed on users' devices, organizations must be able to support multiple devices across a large user group, from C-level execs to warehouse managers, while providing near real-time information securely from ERP systems, Awasthi said.

While there are many benefits that come with native apps, such as offline processing, not all organizations have all the elements in place to launch these projects, and they cannot justify the total cost of ownership of rolling out mobile solutions, Awasthi said.

Additionally, integrating systems with the mobile ERP app will always be challenging as long as companies operate in hybrid environments, said Soumya Chatterjee, head of Oracle Solutions for Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), in Kolkata, India.

As an example, Chatterjee pointed to one of TCS's customers, resort and travel company Vail Resorts Management Company in Broomfield, Colorado.

Vail Resorts had been using PeopleSoft on premises to run its human capital management processes, and the data was distributed across multiple systems. Most of the compensation processes were manual, using Excel spreadsheets, and data accuracy was a challenge. The company was also using the cloud-based SAP SuccessFactors for its performance ratings.

However, the disparate systems prevented the company from easily tracking its compensation processes. TCS worked with Vail Resorts to transform those processes with a hybrid cloud system. TCS combined Vail Resorts' on-premises PeopleSoft HR software with Oracle Cloud human capital management (HCM) software, Chatterjee said.

As part of the project, TCS utilized the mobility feature of Oracle's HCM Cloud, allowing Vail Resorts' employees to use their smartphones, tablets and computers to log in to a mobile application to view details of their bonuses, perks, salary and deductions.

However, the biggest challenge, at the end of the day, may be changing the mindset of the organization, which has to learn how to innovate more quickly by not solely relying on the incumbent ERP vendor, Rowe said.

"Sometimes, companies simply don't know their options, and may sit on their hands hoping for the ERP vendor to come out with a solution they can use," he said. "The big problem facing most organizations is revealed by Gartner showing that 89 percent of IT budgets are devoted to keeping the lights on, with only 11 percent left over for innovative projects like mobility, social and cloud."

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