Why the cloud is the future of ERP

Today I saw a website – http://fusiontap.oracle.com , and realized that my 2 tech related worlds – professional and otherwise have begun to collide. I am an ERP consultant/developer for Oracle PeopleSoft, and a hardcore tech lover (started with my love affair with my BlackBerry – now covers iOS (iPod touch 4G), Android (Samsung galaxy S2), QNX/BBOS (Playbook) and Windows 8 and Nokias).

In the last few years accessing work data has been slowly evolving. Earlier the only mobility for a software was configuring emails that were triggered by, or triggered, some events/reports etc. For example you could send an email with an attachment to trigger some process, or a process could run and trigger an email that would contain an attachment of the report.

Then came in PeopleSoft what we call the PIA era. PIA effectively is Pure Internet Architecture – where the software is hosted on a server, and the thin client (meaning that minimal or no propriety installation is required on the client machine) accesses that server , using a browser. For all those who are familiar with the technology please skip the next paragraph.

So here in this paragraph, I’ll try and explain why is PIA and thin client and necessarily the cloud such a big deal. Say for example you need to search the web – what do you do? You open your browser, goto a search engine (eg. Bing, Yahoo, Google etc. ), type in what you’re looking for, and press the search button – and Bam! Your page is flooded with results. Where do those results come from? – are they processed on your computer? – does your computer actually go through those websites shown, and arrange them on your screen? – well, the answer is No. And that my friends, is the power of the cloud. Microsoft/Google have big big servers (much bigger than the average desktop CPU) that do the dirty work, arrange all the results on a page, and then serve that page to us (like a dish – hence the name server – but don’t go asking me why isn’t it called a butler – I don’t really know). So, in short – the cloud allows us to connect to the main servers that process all the data, whereas we can access all that data on our browser. It doesn’t matter what computer or what model you have (an i7 or a macbook or a Pentium 2) – the results would be the same and consistent – because they are processed on the same server.

This my friends, is the Cloud.

Now while the earlier software could run on the servers, and you could access them through either the remote desktop or the browser -you still needed a computer to properly render the data. The browsers of the mobile devices (read smartphone and tablets) were incapable of rendering properly something that would normally be seen on an 13″ screen or larger. I mean, you could get the job done, but it’s the same as asking whether you’d really like to watch Scarlett Johansonn kick the bad guys as the Black Widow on a 3.5″ screen, or would you prefer it on a larger one?

So, then came the idea of appification of pre-existing software. Now this fancy word simply means that you have the functionality written (that’s what’s fetching the stuff in the browser you see), all you do is create a simple new UI to access that data more easily and elegantly. Also, because Mobile devices are usually a single user device – you could stay signed in and jump straight to work without the irritating authentication. In a matter of speaking, Mr. Jobs not only revolutionized the consumer market, but his idea has the potential to revolutionize the entire enterprise market -it’s the biggest factor affecting Companies since Push Mail by RIM.

And companies are understanding that. Let me give you a few numbers :

My laptop takes around 50 seconds to boot up, and another 25-30 seconds to be actually usable. That is pretty good considering devices from 5 years ago. Then it takes another 15-20 seconds to connect to my network, and add to it some 5 seconds to open the browser. Click on the favourites bar, sign in and you have consumed another 10 seconds atleast.

All in all this entire exercise took some 95 secs. Now on a tablet, or a mobile, you’d tap the app and it would take some 20 seconds – sign in and all. I am assuming all you have to do is press the power button on the laptop, and it is ready for use already.

This time difference not so important when it comes to actual numbers – but it does affect the psyche of the person who has to go through the entire process – and like Einstein said – sometimes one second can seem like an eternity – this is one of those cases. Add to that that these devices are more portable, and in some cases, like the Nexus 7 and the PlayBook, they would fit your jacket pocket.

Coming back to the cloud, if we for the moment forget the enterprise software, we see that today most of the internet is accessed by mobiles and tablets. Facebook is more accessed by mobiles than any other device, and I guess the same holds true for twitter and anything thing else that has been successfully migrated to a mobile platform. It is so convenient that a few offerings like NgPay are available only on mobiles.

This shows that given a choice people would prefer accessing data on their mobiles. Yes, Laptops still might be the best for content posting purposes (unless they are pictures and short sentences), but for content access, mobiles are almost in a league of their own.

Today, with the rise in BYOD, and relatively large screen devices (4″ -5″), even enterprises want to allow their job to be done on the go. They want their employees to minimize the work on the Computers, especially for CRM and HCM (ERP) functions. They want to be able to raise tickets or apply for leave from their mobiles, and want that to be integrated into their calendars. And this, to a certain extent is why Cloud based companies are surging ahead – SalesForce.com and Amazon Web Services were no where on the map 3 years ago, and today they are defining the next revolution. I had written a whitepaper on Appification of the PeopleSoft PIA Portal, but that idea last november was shot down by people in my firm. I am glad that today Oracle is understanding the importance of this, and by showcasing fusiontap, it has made it clear that computers are going to be limited in the future.

This transition to Mobile devices would hurt a few and benefit some. It would hurt the legacy Windows Market, because people after a few years would not need a laptop/computer for CRM/HCM functions. But it would benefit all the mobile OS markets that the developers are interested in working on – and that includes Windows 8, iOS, Android and BB10. BB10 is developed for this, it channelizes work and play in two separate ecosystems within the same device. I have not seen any other device offer the functionality that RIM does – for example, you cannot copy from a mail in your work ecosystem to paste it in the personal ecosystem. Hell! Even Windows can’t do that. And that’s a fully grown OS. BB10 is the dream of CTOs in terms of their functionality, only if they had more apps. iOS on the other hand, is a mature OS, and Enterprises now are beginning to plunge into them, and that’s great for all the iOS device owners. Windows can never be written off, and as far as android is concerned, I love the customizability, but I am not too sure how secure the device and data is.

This is an inflection point in the Industry, that would not only define which company takes the largest share, but also the work process, the turnaround times, and even the skill sets required to get you your next job. Perhaps tomorrow you might get a job because you are great with Apple Devices – who knows.

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