Technology shifts periodically occur that change the rules of the game. In the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) market we are experiencing a revolution as four major technology trends – social collaboration, mobile computing, analytics and cloud technologies – converge to transform business applications. ERP is moving from being purely transaction processing engine to becoming a people-centric application for organisation-wide collaboration – what we call ‘Systems of Engagement’.

ERP has earned itself a bad reputation over the years as representing systems that are designed for the enterprise rather than for the users. What I want to address in this article is the potential of the ‘ERP of Things’ – a phrase we have coined to describe the next generation of ERP. Already advanced in its development, it is designed to empower, connect and inspire people and ‘things’ in a way they never thought possible. It makes sense when you think about it – ERP is the only enterprise system that could lay claim to this.

What we need to imagine is a time when we never need to make a choice without having the data to make informed, smart decisions. We’ll have confidence and we won’t make mistakes. The world will become more efficient thanks to the ‘Internet of Things’, where devices and machines communicate via wireless internet connections to each other and to us.

Imagine a world where heart monitors can adjust themselves according to the patient’s needs, where doctors can prescribe medicines quickly and accurately with reference to a complete view of a patient’s health. Stores, vending machines and even our own household fridges will never run out of our favourite foods as they can place an order immediately an item is used. The possibilities are endless and exciting.

Even governments see the potential and are investing heavily to get a piece of the action. UK Prime Minister David Cameron recently announced an increase in investment in ‘internet of things’ technology (bringing the total being made available to £73 million), stating at CeBIT in Germany:

“I see the internet of things as a huge transformative development – a way of boosting productivity, of keeping us healthier, making transport more efficient, reducing energy needs, tackling climate change,” he said.

The Chinese government has previously also announced considerable investment in this area. Gartner predicts there will be nearly 26 billion devices connected to the internet of things by 2020 and some predictions are almost double that. To capitalise on intelligent devices and the machines that deliver and make the information useful, systems will be required to collect and analyse the huge volumes of data.

In the enterprise this will be the role of ERP – the ‘ERP of things’ – which will connect devices, systems and people to become useful to the organisation. ERP will be the core of all decision making, connecting the thoughts of people, machines, devices and ‘things’.

ERP has recently begun the transformation to a system of engagement, one that connects people using social tools that encourage collaboration, a system that harnesses the power of the network to work smarter and create new solutions. It’s about the connection between the people, the processes, and the objects in that process – the customer, the project, the invoice, the order, the product.

The ERP experience will become so closely aligned with the applications people use at home every day that it will change the way people work, and how they are embedded in the overall organisation and related processes to get their work done. It will give a sense of their position, and will add purpose and naturally connect the dots – they’ll learn to love their ERP!

It’s the only enterprise system designed to collect and analyse data from disparate systems to aid intelligent decision-making. It’s a natural extension of a system that has proven itself critical in business as a system of record and now is able to exploit the power of social, mobile, analytic and cloud technologies to become a system of engagement. As more systems are integrated with the core systems of organisations, ERP is already on its way to being the ERP of things.

The ERP of things will provide a strong foundation for accurate, relevant and in-context information. Thanks to the solution architecture it will know who and what people are connected to and from there what rules to apply to utilise this data intelligently. The system architecture will guarantee that the data model, process model and reporting/analytics model are always in sync with the latest business change in the company and can adapt quickly – and even predict the change in some cases.

Through analytics, people will receive intelligent data as and when they need to know it. Through gamification people will be connected to the company’s goals and they will be rewarded when they contribute to those. It will engage users in solving problems in a way that’s fun and gives them a sense of their impact on the organisation.

The ERP of things will provide an organisation with the confidence that it ‘knows everything’, making it easier to automate processes. The ‘ERP of Things’ will deliver huge leaps in organisational efficiency – and it’s already starting to happen. These systems are being developed now and will deliver in the next five years.


Anwen Robinson

Anwen Robinson is MD of UNIT4 Business Software in the UK and Ireland. Anwen graduated with an honours degree in Mechanical Engineering and embarked on a successful career as a qualified lecturer before entering the commercial world. She spent 10 years working in senior sales roles within Syntech, later acquired by Misys, and helped to establish the company as a leading supplier of project costing and billing solutions. In July 2009 Anwen became Managing Director for the UK and Ireland with the intention of making UNIT4 the UK’s foremost business software company, providing solutions that transform the delivery of public services and comprehensively supporting commercial organisations in their ability to adapt and prosper in rapidly changing environments.