The Mobile Executive's Connection to ERP: Making it the Path Well-Travelled

The Mobile Executive's Connection to ERP: Making it the Path Well-Travelled

Enjoy this 2nd blog by our new guest contributor in 2014, Cindy Jutras, a widely recognized expert in analyzing the impact of enterprise applications on business performance. With over35 years of corporate experience and specific expertise in manufacturing, supply chain, customer service and business performance management, Cindy has spent the past 8 years benchmarking the performance of software solutions in the context of the business benefits of technology. In 2011 Cindy founded Mint Jutras LLC (, specializing in analyzing and communicating the business value enterprise applications bring to the enterprise.  

While data collected in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) has always been important to executive level decision-making, in the past very few executives ever put their hands directly on ERP. Instead they relied on subordinates or super users to collect data and investigate, delaying decisions and sometimes even distorting the view from above. Why? Because the perception (and often the reality) was that ERP was complex and hard to use. Executives simply didn't have the time or inclination to "figure it all out." And yet today the pace of business has accelerated to the point where any delay in decision-making can be fatal.

This was bad enough when the typical executive's day was spent in a plush office, sitting behind a desk. But those days are long gone. Whether on the road or spending time with the family, executives need to be "always on," connected by mobile devices. Forget the laptop that requires a WiFi connection and VPN access. Today executives rely more and more on smart phones and tablets that simply require a signal to their mobile carrier. The resultant intrusion into their personal lives has made them less patient in waiting for analysis and answers.

Yet, in spite of this impatience, the ability to access ERP from a mobile device is still down at the bottom of the list of selection criteria for an ERP solution. Each participant in our 2013 and 2014 ERP Solution Studies was asked to rank the importance of 13 different selection criteria on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is "Not a Consideration" and 5 is a "Must Have/Most Important." The ability to access ERP data and functions from a mobile device ranked 12 out of 13 in both studies and the relative importance actually went down year over year.

Recognizing that many seek answers through "Business Intelligence (BI)", we asked participants to prioritize features of BI solutions as well. In doing so, we discovered a "disconnect." Only 21% of manufacturers ranked mobile access to ERP as a "must have," yet at the same time, 38% indicated that mobile access to a BI solution was a "must have."  And 32% wanted access to BI from their chosen device (BYOD).  The disconnect arises when we realize most data from which they are likely to derive that intelligence resides in ERP.

A BI solution might provide the analytics necessary to spot a problem, but without being able to drill into the detail, of the transactions, it is very hard to take action. While many are not making the connection, to win the "waiting game" they need to be directly connected to the source of the information for decision-making. Whether they want it or not, whether they know it or not, they need immediate and direct access to ERP and these mobile devices may just serve as the catalyst and the game-changer.

And that change is underway. The Mint Jutras 2013 ERP Solution Study first showed executive access to ERP on the rise and that trend continued this year.

More and more executives are directly connected to ERP, with the percentage of companies saying all have access and regularly use ERP increasing from 47% to 57% year over year. And yet we see little progress in putting dashboards from ERP on mobile devices or sending alerts or giving these executives the ability to take action directly from these devices.

And to make matters worse, we uncovered another disconnect. In a separate question we asked what participants were actually doing with mobile devices, and how often they were doing it.

While the vast majority use these devices for mobile communication (email, text, chat and phone), the percentage drops off dramatically when it comes to accessing enterprise data. Yet 76% say they receive alerts based on enterprise data either often (35%) or occasionally (41%). This indicates they have the ability to receive these alerts, yet according to Figure 2 only 18% get alerts from ERP (9% can take action and 9% cannot).

Does this mean the data is wrong? No, Mint Jutras suspects this means that the vast majority of the alerts referenced in Table 2 are delivered via email as a result of some manual intervention.

This implies we need more than just a mobile device in the hands of executives to change the game, we also need to change the way they have traditionally interfaced and interacted with ERP or we won't overcome the perception of ERP as complex and hard to use.  Consumer apps on mobile devices ("there's an app for that") have raised the bar in terms of defining "easy to use" and "intuitive." Executives will simply not tolerate an enterprise application they can't intuitively navigate or complexities that prevent them from answering questions in spite of the fact that many of the questions themselves are quite complex.

ERP vendors have slowly and steadily been making this connection possible by enabling access through a variety of mobile devices.  Some (not all) are being careful to preserve the native look and feel of those devices. With "bring your own device" (BYOD) rapidly invading the business world, users expect to interact with enterprise data using the same user interface features that attracted them to the device to begin with. Yes, vendors have been making the user interface more intuitive, but the effort can't stop there; it needs to transform the complete user experience. Execs not only need to be able to intuitively navigate, they need to understand what they are looking at. Data is not enough; they need answers.

ERP solution providers need to help decision-makers connect the dots. If you are a decision-maker involved in evaluating ERP solutions, remember much of the data critical to decision-making resides in ERP. Secondly the ERP vendors need to make it easier to get at that data. Does it matter whether the path to the data is through functions already embedded within ERP or through new functions (mobile apps?) that might be layered on top of or sitting astride ERP? Not really. What is most important is that an executive with a question or a problem can easily see a path to an answer. But the trail cannot meander or be cloaked in mystery and darkness; it needs to be direct, well marked and well lit. Armed with the proper tools, the mobile executive will make the connection between ERP and decision-making and will finally see the light.

Read the first blog in Cindy's series, "Will Manufacturing Lead the Cloud Transformation"?

ERP, Mobile ERP, Business Advice, Cindy Jutras, erp dashboards, erp for executives, ERP Trends, Mint Jutras