An article by Dinesh Malani, originally featured on Digitate here.
With new buzz words like Industry 4.0, Business 4.0, etc. industries are witnessing new trends across IT operations and business operations globally. Some of them include adopting and expediting automation and embracing cloud operations.
ERP is no different as many vendors have emerged, offering automation in ERP operations. ERP is a small market in terms of key players. Though there are many players in it, the majority of the market has been cornered by SAP. Hence, whenever we refer to ERP in this article, we are referring to SAP ERP.
While many industries are moving towards automation in their IT Operations, automation in ERP operations appears to be stagnant. Moving towards automation in ERP is a good industry move as it will help organizations achieve digital transformation and improve productivity. This in-turn helps focus on the core areas of strength, but it is imperative to ponder, why is automation struggling to pick up the pace?
Some potential challenges have been identified which could be causing the slow adoption rate. They are:
- Many ERP implementations in fairly large organizations have been running for over 10 years.
- The corresponding IT infrastructure, which is substantial, has been evolving over this period.
- SAP itself has been evolving/upgrading/introducing newer products – R/3, ECC, S4 HANA, etc.
- Some organizations have bespoke business processes for specific areas.
- Varied industry SAP best practices.
Every ERP operation can be divided into two parts – technical and functional.
- Technical – includes system administration (BASIS as per SAP terminology), user and role management, SAP Solution manager operations, etc.
- Functional – includes configuration, master data creation, end-user operations, etc.
While many attempts are being made to automate technical operations, there are not many players in this domain. On the other hand, there is a lot of information available in terms of APIs, tools, etc. on public domains vis-à-vis system details.
Moreover, from a customization point of view, there is little customization being done in the customer ERP environment in terms of technical space, compared to the significant customization embedded in the functional areas of any ERP implementation. Therefore, combining the availability of APIs and tools along with customization, the possibility of automation gets compromised in both technical and functional areas.
This also hampers the applicability of out-of-the-box use cases for any ERP customer, especially in the functional space. SAP GUI (thick client) could be another reason for delayed adoption since the user needs automation’s help or intelligence on the fly while he is working.
This requires an agent to be deployed on the desktop or app server which would continuously monitor the actions of the user and guide him or her appropriately in case of any issue/error. While deploying an agent, customers are in-doubt over it hampering their overall ERP performance and the relevant certifications of the deployed tool. Furthermore, to analyze the issue or execute the service request, one would need to connect with the ERP system and get the relevant data.
Some ways to connect and get data from any ERP system include:
- SAP provided Java Connector (JCo)
- SAP published web services
Compliance officers in customer organizations can be fussy about being compliant when executing automation. Partial GRC implementation is another reason contributing to creating confusion in the minds of business owners about violating certain controls on opting for automation.
Another big-ticket item is the fear of directly updating the ERP production system by the automation tool. Though sufficient care is being taken by the product owners, any update exercise in ERP happens only with proper authorization, yet, the traditional mindset decelerates the pace. Some excuses also include following SAP standard practices and avoiding customization/automation.
Present levels of automation from internal teams and various small vendors are yet another resistance to bringing one-stop automation. Moreover, there is the psychological barrier of end users and business owners to avoid automation and follow the tradition, coupled with the hidden motive of support teams to continue the trend of resolving the tickets manually. Considering all of the above challenges, it is tough for product vendors to convince businesses and bring value with quality and better user experience.
Our platform, ignioTM, has tackled these challenges head-on with our product ignio AI.ERPOps which provides significant levels of automation using extensibility and adaptability. The strength of ignio lies in the core platform, coupled with its other products – ignio™ AIOps, ignio™ AI.WorkloadManagement, ignio™ AI.Digital Workspace and ignio™ AI.Cognitive Procurement offers an integrated solution that will further enhance the automation capabilities and possibilities in the world of ERP.