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A lot of companies are struggling with the existing footprint of large enterprise systems. But according to Eric Helmer, chief technology officer (CTO) at third-party support provider Rimini Street, enterprise resource planning (ERP) is evolving. Businesses no longer buy vertically integrated monolithic enterprise systems.
“We’re seeing the evolution of the ERP now becoming a combination of these core traditional monolithic ERPs with the extension of additional technologies that are all glued together in a common fabric of data orchestration,” he says.
Helmer positions enterprise software from the likes of Oracle and SAP as pieces of an enterprise software ecosystem. Packaged applications need to run alongside other systems that collectively come together, forming a new definition of ERP.
There is often an assumption that standardising on a sole enterprise software provider simplifies supplier management, as there is one point of contact when something fails. But Simon Lytton, vice-president of information technology and applications at global construction firm BrandSafway, points out that silos exist within these large software providers, which can lead to disjointed technical support.
“Finding the right partners and making sure those partners can work across the organisations is so important. This not only needs to occur in the partner’s own organisation, but also with other IT providers a company works with.
“I need my hosting company to talk to my AMS [application management services] provider and my support provider,” said Lytton. “I want everything to come back to me. I think it is essential that we find partners that will help us to foster this type of relationship.”
Preparing for third-party support
There are a number of steps organisations looking to take third-party support need to take before they can begin to move away from their existing enterprise software provider’s maintenance contract. For a start, companies can expect to have their software licences audited.
Simon Lytton, vice-president of information technology and applications at global construction firm BrandSafway, was confident it had purchased the correct number of Oracle licences.
But when IT managers leave a company, it is easy to fall into a situation where a particular licence contract is not fully accounted for, which gives the software auditor from the provider a way to dig deeper to discover if any software is unlicensed.
Lytton does not believe any software company would deliberately try to damage its relationship with a customer. Since moving off Oracle support and onto Rimini Street, BrandSafway has acquired more Oracle licences and, long term, it may eventually migrate to the Oracle cloud.
Emmanuelle Hose, regional general manager for EMEA at Rimini Street, said when customers decide to come on board, they usually want to download all the updates from their enterprise software provider that they are entitled to use.
“Patches and other things they are entitled to are put into what we call an archive,” she said. “[But] the funny thing is that while most customers want to do that, it’s extremely rare that we ever touch the archive. It’s really not needed to solve the problem.”
In Hose’s experience, many enterprise functional patches simply involve configuration changes or some kind of executable script that automates the configuration change and are often not applied. She said Rimini Street engineers can make the configuration changes manually, which is unlikely to break the ERP system.
“This is some of the most robust software ever written, and the rare time it breaks is typically because you change the code or you change the configuration to a condition that has never been tested before,” she said.
BrandSafway has been a Rimini Street customer since 2014, when the company was looking for continued support for its payroll system but what it wanted to do couldn’t be provided by Oracle support. The company wanted to stay on its existing version of Oracle to run its UK payroll system according to the latest tax and regulatory requirements.
“Oracle couldn’t do that,” said Lytton. “We were very open with their executives and we made it clear why we were moving on.”
The company started using Rimini Street for application support, then to support tax and regulations, and then moved on to application management services. BrandSafway also looked into Rimini’s browser proxy service, which is designed to support one or more browsers that are incompatible with the HTML messaging being sent by ERP systems.
Prolonging the life of enterprise apps
When asked whether running older software limits his ambitions for technology modernisation, Lytton said: “I actually feel more confident. The reason is that our Oracle environment works.”
This, he says, allows the team to focus on the projects they want to implement, such as a time work scheduling system, without having to worry about the back-end system.
“We’re still on Oracle 11i, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do the modern things like web services,” said Lytton. “We’ve been working with Rimini and our hosting partner to help us implement web services.”
As Lytton points out, general ledgers have not really changed for many years. “What is important is that customers can get their invoices, see their shipping documentation and look at different aspects of their business. We’ve got the foundation and it’s solid. Now we add around it, and that’s what my team is focused on – building valuable services using RPA [robotic process automation] and pulling through the data that matters.”
Rimini Street’s Helmer added: “Forward-looking companies are realising that back-office ERP platforms – the debits and credits, paying people and closing books – are mandatory and mission-critical. But let’s not mistake these for strategic [technology]. What these systems are doing is working just fine, but it’s not innovative and it’s not differentiating your company.”
For Helmer, RPA – as used by BrandSafway – or machine learning are differentiators. “I’m hearing a lot about investing in cyber security and investing in the customer experience,” he said. “These are the things that are designed to increase revenue, take market share from your competitors or significantly reduce cost.
“What’s wrong with staying nine years on a platform? Software does not wear out. Hardware might wear out. Software can run forever.”
According to Helmer, if CIOs consider software as an asset, they should aim to prolong the life of their enterprise applications. Rather than upgrading to keep pace with the releases from enterprise software providers, he said: “You can now invest in other things instead of unnecessary upgrades.”