While ERP software — the digital central nervous system of a company — already enables businesses to collect and analyze data from every department, CFOs are discovering that mobilizing ERP systems is making their companies even smarter and faster. Essentially, a mobilized ERP enables a company to add many more ‘sensors’ to its central nervous system — smartphones, tablets, laptops and more. And when data from all of those sensors are fed into the company’s ERP system, the result is deeper and more informed insights into how a company is faring at any moment.
No wonder some businesses are scrambling to give employees mobile access to their ERP systems. “Enterprise mobile apps are no longer a ‘nice-to-have,’” says Dave Shirk, president, products and marketing, Kony, which released a number of mobile ERP apps earlier this year. “It has now become a strategic imperative for businesses to effectively compete in this new mobile era.”
Dean Christianson, CTO at ERP software-maker Distribution One, agrees: “Our customers keep finding great opportunities for mobile solutions, so we’ve made it a priority.”
While every company’s mobilization of ERP will yield somewhat different benefits, CFOs can look forward to many commonly shared advances once a system is up-and-running:
Real-time data for all, everywhere. Once an ERP system is fully mobilized, company data are always in the hands of everyone who needs it — rather than those who just happen to be sitting in front of a computer.
“We’ve heard from lots of CFOs that they like that even if they are traveling, they can still log in and keep the business running smoothly using the mobile access,” says Peter Olson, director, corporate communications for Intacct, an ERP developer. “In the past, for example, activities requiring their approval would stack up until they were back in the office. Now they can monitor and approve items on the go and can also leverage the mobile dashboards to track overall business metrics.”
Frank Scavo, president of Strativa, a management consulting firm, says that advantage extends to people who are feeding the system with data. “ERP and CRM systems live and die by the quality and timeliness of the data that go into them,” he says. “But salespeople are famous for working around corporate systems. By mobilizing system access you are taking away one more excuse for them not to rely upon the system.”
First-hand access to analytics. For years, CFOs and other executives have relied on tech-savvy subordinates to produce reports from the company ERP system. The reason: “The perception — and often the reality — was that ERP [systems] were complex and hard to use,” says Cindy Jutras, president of Mint Jutras, a consulting firm. “Executives simply didn¹t have the time or inclination to ‘figure it all out.’” But with mobile ERP, CFOs can call-up reports that have been specifically designed to make sense to them, at a moment’s notice.
Anytime check of key performance indicators. Sometimes inspiration does not arrive between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. With a tablet in hand, a CFO in an “Aha!” moment can get instant access to the data he or she needs to transform a momentary hunch into a money maker.
Faster closes on deals. With a mobile link to the company’s ERP system, contract signings can often be accomplished much more easily if the salesperson can hand a client a tablet to sign — rather than waiting for paperwork to wind its way through the system. In addition, a salesperson can easily alter the details of a contract with a few keystrokes on a tablet, rather than waiting for those changes to materialize on paper.
Complete customer knowledge. Even the greenest of salespeople can walk into the offices of an established client with the reassurance that a full, personalized profile of that client can be called up on a tablet or smartphone. “For example, if the customer wants to place a new order, the system can tell me that this customer is past-due on his last order, and that might be a good time to bring that to the customer’s attention,” says Strativa’s Scavo.
Inventory, specs, and prices from the field. As CFOs know all too well, all these details can often change in a flash. But with a tablet or smartphone in hand, a salesperson or other dealmaker can always do a deal with a client knowing they both have the very latest info on what’s available.
“One of our recent clients is a winery that has recently started national distribution,” says Strativa’s Scavo. “When salespeople are visiting retail outlets, they need to be able to check inventory levels and pricing at the distributor while roaming the aisles of the retailer. This also allows them to inform the buyer of any promotions that are available for products the retailer is not carrying at the moment.”
Access to the latest marketing creative. In the days of paper-only, salespeople and others often had to wait endlessly for the local, neighborhood printer to deliver the latest company creative. But with mobilized ERP, the marketing department can input the latest marketing creative into the system at 10 a.m. and have it available a second later to a sales rep or other deal maker who happens to be across the country — or across the world.
Alerts. Sudden changes at a company regularly scuttle done deals. With mobile ERP, anything that can affect a sale or negotiation can pop up as an instant alert on a staffer’s smartphone or other mobile device. A worker can even get an alert from the shop floor, as scribbles-on-paper from forklift operators go by the wayside as a method for monitoring inventory and similar details. Entering inventory data from a mobile device onboard a forklift, for example, allows changes on the shop floor to be reflected in a company ERP system instantly.
Savings with BYOD. Given that many employees prefer using their own mobile devices at work, companies can save significant money relying on employee mobile devices to beef-up the ERP system — rather than investing in all that mobile hardware themselves.
Implementing a mobile ERP strategy, of course, requires is not as easy as flicking a switch. Tablets and smartphones have less processing power and their ERP apps less functionality, which may be off-putting at first to some users. Furthermore, some workers may be in locations with spotty interconnectivity, resulting in interruptions in tasks. And mobile device form factors allow for some ERP functionality but not the total package that comes with a desktop client. In short, mobile ERP takes some getting used to.
Still, vendors and their clients are undeterred. Says Rick Costanzo, an EVP at SAP: “We recognized the transformative power of mobile devices and apps years ago, and have worked alongside our customers to create technologies and solutions to help them securely and easily mobilize their enterprises.”
Joe Dysart is a writer and Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan.