From economic instability to wary customer engagement, now is the time to build the foundations of a sustainable and capable business. But how? The markets are wobbling, doors are closing and the future is unknown.

Brendan Barry from Siris Cloud Solutions (www.siris.co.za) explains why now is the right time to invest in Cloud ERP

 It’s Noah’s Ark

 Right now, every organisation around the world is in the same boat. Decision makers and business leaders are looking at the news, the markets and the economic slowdown with the same concerns. The reality is that the stagnating economy and political instability have already fractured the landscape over the past few years. What lies ahead is more of the same plus the volatility of the COVID-19 virus which makes the steps that your organisation has to take over the next few months absolutely critical to thrive beyond this storm.

Let’s face it – the virus and its impact are a complete unknown. Many companies have been completely unprepared for the havoc that COVID-19 has wrought – fire, acts of God or flooding are planned for, but nobody imagined a pandemic that isolated human beings and baffled businesses, and which most likely will change the world for ever.

Organisations need to look at what can be done now to ensure that their boat is solid, leak-proof and bolstered by the best technology. They also need to waterproof their people – the leaks come in when people don’t have access to remote working tools that allow them to work from anywhere. People need tools that provide them with remote communication and collaboration, and systems which allow them to manage and control their businesses from a distance. To achieve this Noah’s Ark of a company that’s capable of sailing any kind of sea, the company needs to take several steps towards a disruption-proof future.

The first is to accept that investment into more efficient business systems and processes is essential. Yes, especially now. Legacy systems, outdated processes, complex applications – these can impact on productivity and on client engagement and when clients are not sure where, when and how to engage, the companies that connect with them on the right levels are the ones they will stick to.

Cloud platforms and applications are designed to leverage the scale and flexibility of cloud infrastructure to streamline processes, systems, data management and budgets. They also provide the business with two key qualities that are required to thrive in interesting times – adaptability and agility.

According to Forrester, adaptive organisations grow ‘three times faster than the rest of the market’ as they’ve redesigned every aspect of the business using cloud technology to remove silos, reshape legacy ERP systems and to exceed customer expectations. The research giant also raises one very salient point – courage is required.

In the current climate, it takes courage for the CIO and CEO to spend when other organisations are clutching the purse strings. However, investment into a reliable, robust and intelligent ERP platform has proven results in cutting costs and handing over critical business insights.

There are tangible cost benefits to cloud investment

It’s easy to say that the latest cloud solution or ERP platform will save your business money, but does it really? The answer is yes, but there is the initial upfront cost and the need to approach the move from legacy system to cloud ERP very strategically. ERP systems are the bastions of process and data and it’s understandable that many companies are reluctant to yank out the reams of data and stuff them into the cloud. It’s complex, it’s lengthy and it requires forethought.

It will also fundamentally change how your organisation manages its security, access to information, business processes and its ongoing costs and budgets.

As your company hauls the data and processes out of the dusty vaults that have held them for decades, it will also be removing its reliance on hardware, operational costs, and the human capital expenses that walk alongside the need to scale. Scale is a significant sell point for cloud-based ERP platforms – scale is instant and on-budget versus the complexities and costs that come with scaling up any on-prem ERP solution.

That said, an ERP investment is only as good as the strategy and partnerships that accompany it. ERP is a big thing to purchase and, while it can be scaled and implemented according to business size, it will still cost the company to install. This makes it incredibly important to work with partners that have experience and that are as interested, if not more interested, than you are in making it work effectively.

Why invest now?

ERP platforms can help your company grow by providing the tools and intelligent insights required to change how you do business. By adopting business scenarios and best practices built into modern cloud-based ERP systems, you can transform how you manage your internal processes. You may have no control over the factors that are currently impacting the business externally, but these ERP tools give you absolute control over the efficiencies that can revolutionise your company.

Think, for a moment, about one of the biggest pain points that you currently have in your organisation – real time information that spans your entire business. With cloud-based ERP solutions, it’s immediate and utterly relevant, and it can help you make informed decisions in a shifting environment. It’s like the war – now may be the time for general austerity, but when do you change your methodologies to prepare for the future beyond this period?

Right now, the challenges presented by the virus are all-consuming but there will come a time when we arrive at our new normal. Your business will need insights that are critical for the survival and growth of the organisation in a changed landscape.

Transparency and visibility are crucial survival skills

 ERP platforms give you visibility. It’s that simple. The capabilities of the cloud-based ERP platform across data and analytics offer you down to the second updates. You gain clarity around where your business is standing, what’s selling, what isn’t and how your patterns of data and consumption are changing. This allows you to adapt your business and procurement strategies to make course corrections throughout difficult times – not just those that are taking place today, but the ones that will inevitably come in the future. In addition to SAP Business ByDesign, SAP Analytics Cloud provides the organisation with myriad tools that can be scaled up or down to suit budget and business and that allow for granular insights into the business and improved decision making.

Hand sanitiser is an excellent example of how organisations can leverage technology to become increasingly adaptive and agile. Sales of hand sanitiser shot up by 255% in the UK in February alone, according to Kantar, while demand for other items dropped completely. To fully understand the impact of this trend and to prepare for consumer demand, hand sanitiser companies would need to understand the impact of switching production to hand sanitiser, prioritising it over other products. For other companies, the insights could provide them with information they can use to assess how they can use the hand sanitiser situation to their own advantage, such as changing production on one product for another, or promoting their own alternatives to sold-out hand sanitiser. In the medical field, insights powered by the data would support the increased manufacture of respirators or other essential medical items such as masks and gloves to ensure supply in the future.

The slowdown is a time for a new way of thinking

 The slowdown that your company may experience in day-to-day operations can be used to relook processes and systems to improve efficiencies. Instead of sitting around and waiting for the world to start turning once again, the time can be used to consider, plan and even implement a Cloud ERP platform. ERP isn’t plug and play – it does require time and input from key individuals throughout the organisation and, right now, you have time. Also, to note, Cloud ERP enables a rapid implementation, which can be done remotely, and supported remotely.

ERP is a survival tool but it is also a tool that can make your business thrive. Legacy systems are rarely capable of keeping up with an ever-evolving technology landscape. They can’t do mobile, they battle with real-time reporting, and they can’t crunch insights at relevant speeds. Your business needs access to business tools, stock levels, finance, and applications but it also wants those insights to be mobile ready. SAP Business ByDesign puts the business into your pocket. You can run your business from your home or the beach, Johannesburg or London. You can manage your stock, authorisations, portfolio, people and processes from a screen the size of your hand. It’s a competitive differentiator that can make all the difference between survive and thrive in a world that’s self-isolating and quarantining. And for when the business world is back up and running – global, mobile access to your business will always be a competitive advantage.

It’s time to tick the right boxes for business development

Yes, times are rough and tough. You want to weather the storm and every other cliché that accompanies the pandemic and its fall-out. But I argue that you also want to use the time to reshape your business and make it even more robust and future-proof. You want tools and technologies that will help you to do things differently and that help you to climb aboard the chaos and ride it.

In Africa, the challenging landscape isn’t going to disappear in 21 days. We still have power supply deficiencies, political instability, legacy challenges and complicated conversations. Now is the time to make an investment that will put your company on the path to continuous innovation, mobile accessibility, insights-driven decision making, and to build foundations that pivot. Now is the time to make courageous decisions that embed flexibility, growth and sustainability into the business.