Mobile ERP Offers Flexibility to SMBs

While not every function is available on mobile ERP, the software is enabling access to schedules, order entry, reporting, analytics, and more from outside the office walls. By Carolyn Heinze

Picture this: You're the CEO of an SMB and your travel schedule precludes working at the office. But as CEO, you need to stay on top of what's going on there.

Or how about this: You have a top-performing employee who faces an excruciating daily commute. The person has started hinting at taking a job with a firm with a telecommuting policy.

Then there's this: You're in sales at a custom manufacturing company. You're at a client's site, and the company president wants to know when you can fabricate and deliver his product. And he wants to know now.

These are just a few scenarios that Brian Sommer has encountered in his work at TechVentive Inc., his marketing and sales consultancy, and Vital Analysis, his related research firm, both in Batavia, Ill. Mobile ERP, he says, is starting to enable businesses to give their people access to the concrete data-manufacturing schedules, order entry and tracking, reporting and analytics-that was once only accessible at the office.

Not all functions are available on mobile ERP, however, and they may never be. Nick Castellina, senior research analyst, business planning and execution, at research firm Aberdeen Group Inc., refers to this as a rollout, rather than a big bang; vendors are looking at what job functions to add to their mobile ERP offerings on a case-by-case basis. "It doesn't make sense to just provide the full ERP suite on a mobile device because there are some things that just aren't essential, and don't benefit from that mobile access," he says.

Sommer notes that because some of the major ERP vendors were slow to make the shift to the cloud, they are now being forced to play catch-up. He also makes the argument for multitenancy, which simplifies updates and ensures consistency across the multiuser experience, such as the solutions offered by NetSuite Inc., Kenandy Inc., and Rootstock Software, with the latter two running on the Force.com cloud platform. He points to SAP AG's multitenant, cloud-based ERP solution, Business ByDesign, as well as Oracle's shift to the cloud using its Fusion Middleware platform. "It gives them more built-in integration and the ability to operate in different environments," he says.

As users show no sign of becoming less mobile, pretty much everyone is working to migrate products to the cloud. What channel partners should be asking, Sommer says, is this: What are they doing to support the analytics? How quickly are they rendering their product lines multitenant? And how are they going to decrease the cost of application software? "Those are going to be the big factors in this market."