ERP is becoming collaborative

PeopleSoft, one of the largest ERP software vendors is famous for inventing new terms for old processes. The latest initiative is the Collaborative Enterprise and it is actually a suitable and descriptive phrase to replace ERP.

PeopleSoft 8 was announced last year with the tag line “No code on the client”.

Just as PeopleSoft was among the first to move to client/server architecture they are now among the first to move to the Web and browser-based technology for all of their applications. As a result, the integration of systems that we’ve been trying to achieve for the past 30 years seems to finally be within reach.

A collaborative enterprise is certainly more descriptive than an ERP. PeopleSoft describes PeopleSoft 8 in terms of applications collaborating with each other to produce the information that businesses and governments need to do their business. The collaborative part of the version means that data is accessible from any source, including a competitor’s application. The ones most often touted are archrivals Oracle and SAP financials. It’s not quite the principle of “If you can’t beat them, join them,” it’s more like “We don’t have to beat them, we’ll just use them.”

This is probably a smart move given the fact that companies who have implemented large, complex and invariably expensive enterprise applications do not want to keep going back to the drawing board. As one CIO said when asked about the possibility of changing from one ERP vendor to another, “Not in my lifetime!”

The PeopleSoft Collaborative Enterprise may not yet be all things to all businesses, and invariably, like all new approaches to software, there will be bugs. The bugs in the software can be fixed. It’s the bugs in the organization that will be a challenge.

You see, the collaborative enterprise in real life does not always collaborate. If you don’t believe me, talk to the sales department about the finance department bean counters. The universal disdain of branch organizations for corporate headquarters comes to mind.

Perhaps a useful approach would be to use the collaborative system as a lever to move the organization into a more collaborative model. The other side of that argument is that it doesn’t matter because if you can sort through the information and deliver it using the tools (read applications) correctly, everyone in the business will have what they need to do their jobs. The implication of course, is that department X will have even less to do with department Y.

The reality is that in a collaborative model, communications between departments can be significantly improved. Instead of ignoring other departments, information of value to another department can be passed along.

Going two steps further, it also means that communications with suppliers and customers can also be greatly improved. Used properly, better links to and between employees, customers and suppliers provide a competitive advantage. PeopleSoft uses their recently announced CRM for PeopleSoft 8 as an example where the call centre can not only record problems and improve quality, but can be used to trigger sales activity where add-on equipment or services could improve the customer’s satisfaction with the product.

It’s a form of business intelligence gathering that leads to some interesting speculation. In fact, if you want to take a few steps into the future, it’s the sort of activity that could apply nicely to a municipality or city trying to address the issues of their citizens. Public works, infrastructure problems and public health can be much more related than they are now. One hesitates to include Revenue Canada in the equation, but anything might be possible.

Alas, it’s not easy to bring about, and it’s not cheap; at least not yet. The difficulty comes from having systems that collaborate, but people who do not.

Nevertheless, if your organization can see a vision of a collaborative enterprise in its generic form, achieving collaborative systems may be less of a challenge. There may even be an opportunity to use collaborative systems as a lever to change the business world.

Horner is a partner at Sierra Systems Group Inc. in Vancouver. He can be reached at