The blurring line between front- and back-office applications is leading business software suppliers to deliver complete software suites in an effort to support business processes that traverse departmental boundaries.
Speaking to a select group of reporters on the sidelines of Oracle OpenWorld 2018, Oracle co-CEO Mark Hurd claimed that his firm, for one, has been building applications that are not only the best in what they do, but they also work together in a suite.
That means providing a common user interface and the ability to support business workflows, with data being moved from one application to another easily – key capabilities that will drive the dominance of software suites in the marketplace over time, said Hurd.
“In previous generation apps, it was hard to move data from one app to another,” he said, noting that newer applications will also incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning tools to help enterprises automate mundane tasks.
Noting that the markets for front-office and back-office applications are worth about $40bn and $80bn respectively, Hurd said offering complete software suites has been a key strategy for Oracle.
Hurd, however, conceded that the largest companies today still operate in silos and decisions about front- and back-office applications are still being made by different groups of people within an organisation.
Larger companies are also more likely to have back-office teams working separately from those that support front-office functions like sales and marketing, he added. “But as you move further down the market, you’ll more likely find a holistic decision,” he told Computer Weekly, noting that smaller and mid-sized firms will have an easier time implementing a common software suite for front- and back-office needs.
Oracle isn’t the only supplier foreseeing the growth of software suites that meld front and back-office functions. SAP, the other major supplier of business applications, has been touting tighter integration between its enterprise resource planning (ERP) and front-office software.
At the SAP Sapphire conference earlier this year, the German software firm signalled its intention to be an even bigger force in the market with C/4 Hana, a cloud-based customer relationship management software designed to offer a single view of a customer through tighter integration with SAP’s ERP portfolio.
In an interview with Computer Weekly, Scott Russell, president of SAP Asia-Pacific and Japan, noted that more organisations now expect technology suppliers to help them fulfil and enhance their customers’ experience. “They also expect them to be able to automate their processes. I don’t think they expect companies such as SAP to say you need to go here for front office and there for HR.”
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“They want an end-to-end solution based on their processes. So, whether it’s hire-to-retire, audit-to-cash or procure-to-pay, you’ve got all these end-to-end processes that involve a consistent fuel of data.”
The trend towards complete and integrated software suites could well be driven by market forces. At Alibaba Cloud’s recent conference in Hangzhou, Alibaba co-founder and executive chairman Jack Ma called for manufacturers – which he said would soon face the same disruptive forces that gripped the retail industry – to work more closely with retailers to better understand consumer needs.
Ma said this was crucial with the soon-to-be blurred lines between retail and manufacturing, with latter expected to be fulfilled by robots as manufacturing processes become more standardised. “Machines can make the products, but they cannot yet deliver the retail experience that people can,” he said.