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Unit4 2021 Predictions: Automation's Critical Role in Driving Efficiency

vmblog 2021 prediction series 

Industry executives and experts share their predictions for 2021.  Read them in this 13th annual series exclusive.

Automation's Critical Role in Driving Efficiency

By Claus Jepsen, Chief Technology Officer, Unit4

Last year in this space, we predicted that "the humanity of the enterprise will be at center stage." The pandemic certainly brought people front and center in ways nobody could have foreseen. COVID-19 also accelerated digital transformation, and that will have implications for core enterprise systems in 2021. 

Both IDC and Gartner say that enterprise resource planning (ERP) is going to change dramatically in the coming years. IDC suggests that modular, intelligent task apps will be integral to how applications are delivered. They will be loosely coupled, opening up a whole new range of opportunities to use robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI) or automation.

Earlier this year, Gartner talked about the composable enterprise, and in its 2021 predictions, it groups intelligent composable business under the set of trends that will be "location independent." Both sets of analysts are onto something. In that spirit, here are four trends we'll be watching in the coming year.

1.  Focus task apps affirm that truth lies in the core, but action happens at the edge: We expect far more dynamic, responsive applications, which will move us along a path to where enterprise software becomes more pervasive and yet invisible. To get there, the work has to start now. 

In our own journey to a fully cloud-based, modular ERP platform, the key thing we've learned is that the "truth" lies inside the core of your enterprise systems, but the action happens at the edge. Crucially, those edge applications only need to know what's relevant to complete a particular task - what we're calling focus task apps.

2.  Distributed computing will help functionality move from the center to the edge: Traditionally, your ERP suite and database have ruled your enterprise environment. In the age of composable, modular, intelligent apps, that is no longer the case. Yes, you should continue to house your transactional data in a central location, but you should aim to break down monolithic ERP systems and use distributed computing to move functionality to the edge where users are working. This will speed up performance and make the users more effective. 

If you use the model correctly, your users will not have to interact constantly with the central transactional database. Instead, it will intelligently and automatically push relevant information to users, when they need it, in the environment they prefer. The challenge is ensuring that each of the individual distributed environments can operate completely on their own, and this requires an event-driven architecture to ensure you synchronize the edge apps with the core.

3.  Core automation will play a critical role in transaction fidelity and data security: Ultimately, the success of your enterprise application environment depends on the data in your core transaction system. This means you've got to build algorithms to track whether the transactions are completed so you can enable reconciliation across all the entities within your distributed computing environment and everything gets recorded in the General Ledger (GL). 

It's important to consider that your underlying architecture has a messaging system that confirms when data is moving into the GL, and you need to ensure the messages come in the right order. If you're operating a distributed computing model with everything essentially becoming edge applications surrounding the core, that could mean a lot of messaging, which adds complexity.

That means you have to make sure to limit the volume of processing at the edge, which you can do using a central master data system or a centralized machine learning application. This will enable your core to do the learning at the center and more efficiently push out requests to the edge when absolutely necessary.

4.  Robotic process automation will become intrinsic to your environment: As we move to this more modular approach with edge applications operating around the core automation, it will become increasingly important to reduce complexity and drive efficiency. For example, automation can be invaluable for core financial systems such as order-to-cash and procure-to-pay, as automation can be used for fraud detection and defending against anomalies. 

This means you need to be thinking about robotic process automation (RPA), not as an afterthought or an add-on, but integrated into your core ERP system. As pervasive ERP systems become more mainstream, it will be critical to have integrated RPA, so the sooner you start now, the further ahead you will be.

These are some of the developments we expect to see in 2021 as enterprise resource planning technology continues to evolve. One through-line in these trends is movement from the center to the edge of the ERP system, where users are working. Companies that adopt technology that centers users and creates a better employee experience will continue to have an edge in 2021 and the years to come.


About the Author

Claus Jepsen, CTO at Unit4

Claus Jepsen 

Claus Jepsen is a technology expert who has been fascinated by the micro-computer revolution ever since he received a Tandy TRS model 1 at the age of 14. Since then, Claus has spent the last few decades developing and architecting software solutions, most recently at Unit4, where he is leading the ERP vendor's focus on enabling the post-modern enterprise. At Unit4, Claus is building cloud-based, super-scalable solutions and bringing innovative technologies such as AI, chatbots, and predictive analytics to ERP. Claus is a strong believer that having access to vast amounts of data allows us to construct better, non-invasive and pervasive solutions to improve our experiences, relieve us from tedious chores, and allow us focus on what we as individuals really love doing.
Published Monday, December 07, 2020 7:40 AM by David Marshall
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