Chris Miller ‘State of the Nation'
There’s a change afoot in our industry, a change set to revolutionise how - and where - we use key business software tools.
Business systems are made up of 3 main components: data collection, data processing and analysis (including reporting). But the world of data collection is about to go through a massive change - the ability to enter data from different devices. With this change, the stranglehold of the PC as the ‘business tool of choice’ is increasingly under threat. Microsoft went some way to readdressing the situation when they brought out Windows-based Tablets. But the world continues to embrace the Apple/Samsung Tablet phenomenon that i’s unlocking a potential that up until now, has remained totally untapped.
Because the organisations that develop software have to wait for hardware capability to mature, software vendors generally lag a couple of years behind hardware vendors - and then there’s that additional time lag while they create rugged systems to deliver on those platforms. Now, with HTML5, we’re seeing a fundamental change in how we address that situation. For the first time, data entry - and access to a database for lookup - has become practical within a web-based solution, and that’s opened up territory for a whole range of new systems.
So what do we really mean by web-based? In its simplest terms, all data entry is done through a web browser (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.) and these browsers are available and operate almost the same way on multiple different devices and operating systems. Whether you’ve got a Windows Laptop, an Android Smartphone, an iPad or an Apple Mac, you’ll now be able to use the same systems, whereas up until recently, most business software has required specific devices to run it and specific operating systems to drive it – particularly in the mobile world.
This is a complete paradigm shift in the way that data entry and interaction with systems is taking place. Looking at Endeavour’s range of Business Software solutions: Microsoft Dynamics are now totally committed to a web-based delivery, Greentree have announced their strategy and revealed some of their new web-based capability - and our Sage products are starting to move in the same direction. On the Business Intelligence side, our BI tools have been available on a web platform, deliverable through Tablets and, to a lesser extent through Smartphones for a little while now.
What does this mean for the person using the products? For someone sitting in the office all day, maybe not a lot: but for people who are not desk bound, we now have the ability to serve them up information as easily as if they were still at their desk. Wherever they are - and whether they’re a salesperson, an executive, working in human relations, or even someone managing expenses - people will have immediate access to the latest information and, the ability to interact with the office system, all without complex architecture or complicated sign-in systems. So, if you’re on the way to visit a customer and need to see their last 5 sales orders or the status of their project before you arrive – you can now do so with ease.
As with any significant change, there are challenges. We’ve struggled with issues of data security for years, so are we really ready to make information available outside the four walls of our office? What if a device gets stolen? Increasingly, these security issues are being addressed and satisfactorily managed - and the underlying architecture of the web interface already has high levels of security, developed over many years. When it comes to the risk-reward of making this information available, we believe the reward is just too high to ignore the capability.
And there in lies the crux: can you afford not to embrace this new technology? As a business, are you risking more by staying behind? At Endeavour, this is a question we deal with every day, and we believe that it really is a case of ‘be left behind at your peril.’ Does this just all sound like a new way to sell systems? Is it a development that only pretends to add value to business? I think not! What we are seeing is the evolution of customer demands - and technology’s answer to those demands.
Looking further, what difference is this going to make, apart from ensuring your workforce is more efficient, has greater access to information, and the ability to collect data at the source? Well, it’s much more than that. Now we’re talking about opening the doors for more discreet interaction with our customers, suppliers and partners. The ability to create new ways to interact with all of these parties is the next wave of business efficiency - and that’s just one consideration. This change is going to open up so many other avenues.
Don’t Cloud The Issue!
So does this also mean that Cloud is the answer? Possibly yes, possibly no. Cloud and web-based software are two very different considerations. Cloud deployment is more about management of infrastructure, and about where the cost and administration lie rather than the actual delivery of software. If I want to outsource my IT department, then Cloud has great appeal. If the on-going cost of my equipment (and management of that equipment) is equal to, or higher than a cloud offering - then a cloud offering makes sense. But none of this has any direct effect on web deployment of software.
Remember The Fundamentals
At the heart of this paradigm shift, is the desire for business to get the most out of Tablets, Smartphones and other web capable devices. Where might this all lead? Well, with a million articles about the ‘Internet of things’, I’m sure we’ll see interaction with systems from many different devices in the future. These are exciting times for our industry, but we mustn’t forget that we’re still all about data collection, data processing and data analysis. The fundamentals of rugged, powerful, sustainable solutions remain the same. The need to ensure that business is well serviced by a set of well-integrated, well-designed business functions is still paramount. The delivery mechanisms are changing, but the underlying functionality is still most important.
Be wary of quick-fix solutions delivered by web technology and through a Cloud that doesn’t integrate with your business. Think, for example, of an accounts payable invoice scanning and approval system that’s run outside of your main business system: it might look attractive and solve one small part of your business challenges, but it might also break all the rules of data processing. You still need to make sure that any ‘fix’ is part of a cohesive and fully integrated business solution.
There’s definitely a change in the wind - and if you don’t embrace it you might see your competitors making business productivity gains that you wish you’d made. This is certainly not a case of change for change’s sake: this is the future.