Innovating for a new generation

March 27th, 2012, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

by Massimo Capoccia, Infor

The author looks at how a new generation of business software is helping to boost manufacturers’ speed and performance, and engage the workforces of tomorrow.

Manufacturers have taken innovative measures to strip out costs, boost productivity and ensure they are in the best possible shape to ride the waves generated by the recession. Testament to their resilience is the fact that they continue to help drive economic recovery and demonstrate growth against turbulent economic conditions.

However, when it comes to the enterprise software they typically use, innovation is somewhat lacking. Often the software is outdated, slow, lacks integration, and has required significant modifications over the years to fit the needs of their specific industry. Worse still, it is cumbersome and ugly for employees to use.

Conversely, consumer software has undergone phenomenal transformation in the last few years, with Apple, Facebook, Twitter, and Google all leading the way. These consumer brands have essentially set the standard for how we expect to interact with technology – both at home and at work. So why does this gulf continue to exist, if not widen, between business and consumer computing?

There are many reasons for the absence of an equivalent technology revolution in the business software industry. Many manufacturers have invested large sums in their enterprise software, and in a climate of reduced spending are nderstandably reluctant to rip out and replace systems.

Expensive and complex point-to-point integration projects to bridge different applications using middleware have exacerbated this issue, as upgrading any application within this environment can often cause these links to break, and ultimately undermine the solution. An overall lack of budget means that, more often than not, organisations have simply settled for “good enough” rather than optimal when it comes to their business software.

Fig. 1: The new face of business software.

But the biggest reason for a lack of genuinely joined-up enterprise computing is that, for the most part, a viable alternative simply hasn’t been available.

Accelerated by a need to address the downfalls in enterprise software and speed up processes to enable greater agility and performance, a new generation of social-media inspired software is now available. This new breed of software is designed to challenge the status quo of 20+ years of enterprise technology whilst meeting the challenge of addressing the heightened expectations of a new generation of 20-something year old (Millenial) workforces who are now entering the manufacturing industry.

And while this new generation of business software has looks which are unparalleled (see Fig. 1), a far cry from the clunky, ugly screens associated with most enterprise resource planning (ERP), crucially it is much more than a pretty (inter) face.

Data can be accessed throughout the business, but most importantly, the software can typically be configured so that only relevant, personalised information is proactively pushed out to the user. This means key business information is presented within the context of the user and their function within the business, to help them make better decisions. This means no more hunting around and accessing multiple applications to get answers to simple, everyday issues.

It might sound too good to be true, but this unprecedented level of software cohesion has been made possible through using unique lightweight middleware, which connects and integrates applications (in most cases, irrespective of software vendor or deployment method) by transferring standard business documents between applications instead of using point-to-point data integration. Crucially, records of these documents are stored in a repository (business vault), which allows the flow of all information, not only across applications, but also from relevant social media streams. This provides the necessary in-context business intelligence which can then be accessed through desktops, laptops, mobiles and tablets.

Unlike traditional middleware, which can take months, if not years to install, only then to constrain the company using it, this lightweight middleware typically takes about ten minutes to deploy: three minutes to install, three to configure, and three to provision.

And that’s not all. To enhance the availability of contextual information, a Twitter-style application allows users to follow key data points that are vital to their roles – e.g., a sales person might choose to request that they be alerted/tweeted any time a transaction concerning their top customer occurs –whether the information relates to a change to a planned production run; movement of inventory; a delivery shipment or invoice generation. Information can then be acted upon, facilitating quicker, more informed decision making.

If the manufacturing sector is intent on continuing to grow, seemingly against the odds, it must continually look at new ways in which it can innovate, boost productivity, make quicker, better decisions and leave no stone unturned when it comes to optimising performance.

Old fashioned ERP is fast becoming a barrier to this end, as disparate, outdated systems conspire against efforts to view all information, easily and contextually, in one place.

The new generation of enterprise software offers a means of driving higher levels of productivity in manufacturers whilst generating heightened levels of satisfaction for existing users in conducting complex daily routines.

This new style of software also performs a longer term benefit by helping to engage the new generation of users as the Generation Y and Millennials enter the workforce, equipped with an effortless understanding of using Apple, Facebook, Twitter, and Google technologies without any user manual or training. Today’s manufacturers will need to embrace this new generation of business software today, or else risk losing out on the best talent and productivity gains of tomorrow.

Contact Massimo Capoccia, Infor, massimo.capoccia@infor.com  

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