ERP users should avoid the IT fashion show

Technology churn is creating fashion slaves of us all. By jumping on the latest IT bandwagon companies are now repeating the same...

Technology churn is creating fashion slaves of us all. By jumping on the latest IT bandwagon companies are now repeating the same mistakes of the past.

In the 1990s, businesses spent billions on enterprise resource planning (ERP) but now find that these closed, green screen systems cannot output information in a format demanded by the new Web-based delivery channels. The knee-jerk reaction has been to spend billions replacing ERP with large-scale customer relationship management (CRM) solutions which have not fulfilled on their promise.

Pundits are now referring to these costly mistakes as "ERP2." If you want to avoid being caught up in just another sequel to an earlier IT disaster it is worth taking a long, cool look at how you can ride out the CRM hype. The advice now is that you should continue to use your ERP systems but still develop a successful e-business by implementing a cost-effective, pragmatic document management solution.

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that with the right document management tool an ERP system will have at least another five years of useful working life, probably a lot more. Analysts at Gartner Group predict that companies that continue to fund ERP initiatives and adapt them to e-business needs will be growing at least twice as fast as their competitors by 2004.

ERP supports the vital business processes by holding valuable business intelligence, information and data for invoice production, orders, contracts, images, drawings and more. But ERP was not designed for creating presentable electronic documents for the extended e-business communities of employees, partners and customers requiring 24x7 access to business information.

Document management bridges the gap between legacy systems and Web-based front-end information delivery. It is an essential element in the e-business equation: ERP + document management = CRM.

E-business is all about communication, and in business communication and presentation is everything. If a critical document, such as a report or a proposal, is not available at the right time, in the right format, business is disrupted and a deal worth thousands can be lost.

Document management provides the means to customise information cheaply and easily, without the need for costly programming expertise or expensive pre-printed stationery. Changing the company logo, for example, would usually involve a massive logistical task, but with document management the task can be completed within half an hour. CRM can't do that.

If you scale that up to the countless day-to-day changes a business makes to its output - you have a powerful tool. Raw data from legacy systems can be completely transformed. For example, local authorities are using document management tools to convert traditional green screen output, such as council tax bills, to include advertising from local businesses.

A high degree of personalisation is possible as content can be transformed or manipulated in flexible ways. You can also use document management to improve workflow, enhancing productivity by enabling the automatic sorting, distribution and collation of documents.

It is vital to choose a document management solution that is XML-enabled so that flat files can be transformed into high-quality customised output. This will enhance customer relationships and offer valuable marketing opportunities. XML provides the standard to achieve open document presentation across all devices and applications. It allows much faster and more efficient flow of business output across the extended enterprise to the global marketplace.

The advice now is not to go for a big bang approach, avoid the kind of massive process re-engineering of the ERP era and adapt your existing systems to your current and future needs.

According to analysts at KPMG, the implementation of a document management system increased customer satisfaction from a score of 68 to 90 and achieved an 8% rise in repeat business. With document management you have a modular, scalable solution to develop innovative solutions to meet all your e-business needs but still harnessing the valuable data held in ERP systems.

For many organisations, the wholesale replacement of their legacy systems is simply not an option. The answer is not to replace ERP but to use document management as a cost-effective and practical alternative.

Keith Bloodworth is chief executive officer of FormScape

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