Bernard Ford. Photo: Supplied

JOHANNESBURG – ERPs are 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.

But what will ERPs look like in 2025? Forget the old, stoic and immovable ERP, future ERPs will be dynamic, smart and follow the user.

ERPs are not cast in stone. They evolve, often tremendously, and in that wake, they help define how businesses function and what they can do. So to me, it makes sense to get behind new postmodern ERPs that leverage 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 ERPs 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.

The next level of ERP

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

As we all know, ERP stands for Enterprise Resource Planning. 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 ERPs that are very modular and often comprise out of 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 ERPs tended to give a snapshot of the business, usually through a financial prism, new ERPs put the emphasis on the coalface, on customers and users.

It may be as simple as self-service features on a website, 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.

A dose of dynamism

Post-modern ERPs let 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 postmodern ERPs don’t have this drawback:

Because these ERPs operate in a 100% service-based, multi-cloud model, they are easy to adapt. The underlying platform isn’t affected by customisation. Microservices 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 home and develops 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, ERPs will self-adapt. We will be able to ask them 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 email address - AI will handle the rest.

Now, take this further, 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’ 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 ERPs 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.

Bernard Ford is chief executive at One Channel.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Media.

BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE