The future of ERP: How automation is redefining work

By Andy Brockhoff, President of APAC at Unit4

The COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably accelerated digital transformation worldwide. Technology is more ingrained in our daily lives than ever before, and we’re spending even more time in front of screens thanks to the shift towards working from home. As the world starts to reopen, businesses cannot lose sight of the progress they’ve already made and continue improving their business processes at the same rate they were forced to during the pandemic.

The desire for continual improvements to efficiency has given rise to what Gartner refers to as “hyperautomation,” in which businesses strive to automate as many business processes as possible to obtain the maximum value. These are typically mundane tasks that don’t create any additional value for the business, but must be completed regardless.

However, automation isn’t something that can be solved by throwing technology at the problem. Even with the influx of digital investments, having too much technology can be a problem if employees don’t know how to use it. Human-centric businesses, in particular, need to prioritize user-friendly technology to empower non-tech employees to integrate their own data for automation. Above all, employees want software that will help them do their job faster and more efficiently. That’s where software like enterprise resource planning (ERP) comes in.

ERP has come a long way

ERP software, at its core, is a platform that makes it easier for people to do their jobs by reducing the amount of manual processes involved in their day-to-day tasks. ERP is often the silent hero that sits within the IT stack to facilitate functions like accounting, supply chain management, partner procurement, payroll, project management and more. It’s about much more than just moving and allocating resources, any business that focuses on people needs ERP software if they want to keep up with the competition post-pandemic.

In years gone by, ERPs were mostly considered monolithic and highly complex software that could take years to implement, making them considered too much effort for their worth by smaller organizations. These platforms needed to be hosted on-premises, and needed to be reconfigured every few years when they became outdated. Since then, ERP has come a long way thanks to innovations like machine learning that allows businesses to automate more of their operations, making it a necessity for businesses rather than an additional hassle.

Automation is the future

During the dot-com boom, organisations took the stance that the mundane tasks we can now automate should instead be removed altogether rather than automated, which led to downsizing financial departments, only to rehire those same employees when automation didn’t pan out as expected. This has led to the common misconception that automation leads to replacing people when, in fact, it allows people to work to their full potential. 

According to McKinsey, 60 percent of back-office and administration tasks will be automated in the future, while less than five per cent of jobs will be replaced. Businesses need automation to keep up with constantly changing market dynamics, but more importantly now, changes in employee behaviour.

Employees are reevaluating what aspects of their jobs are necessary and what can be automated to give themselves back the time and effort they need to focus on what they were actually hired to do. For example, businesses can program machine learning to automatically process invoice data removing the need for human oversight, saving time and increasing accuracy.

Integration leads to smarter business

Every business generates data, whether it’s related to customers, employees or partners. Businesses can only use this data to create value once it’s been processed and analysed. This is a timely and expensive process, and could result in inaccurate forecasts without automating that process. By automating data, organisations can use data to drive and inform business decisions to deliver better results across the entire organisation, not just the specific functions within the ERP platform.

In order to make data automation work for a business, it needs to integrate every data source and enterprise application within the business to the ERP platform. Consultants previously had to be brought in and connect these sources and applications together writing custom code, but this method of integration is a thing of the past. 

Even non-tech users can now use low-code/no-code platforms within a modern ERP platform. These platforms are designed to enable all employees, even those with little to no programming experience, to integrate their own data sts and systems with drag and drop tools or UIs similar to those found in consumer products to make connections.

Businesses need every leg-up they can as the world returns to “the new normal,” which is why every business benefits from automation. With more systems and processes becoming automated, leaders can’t afford to bog themselves and their staff down with extra tasks that don’t offer any additional value. Organisations who leave their employees to languish in performing repetitive and mundane tasks will find themselves not only struggling to retain these staff, but will be significantly disadvantaged compared to their competitors.

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