Read a few recent blog posts and research notes from this space and you will likely notice a theme:
Following your own Business-Driven Roadmap is a big deal.
The latest research note, The Business-Driven Roadmap Imperative, explains it in the context of how CIOs can respond to the expectations of their CEO and/or board about turning investments in technology into more productivity, innovation, and support for new product introductions. IT is increasingly expected to make a bigger contribution to the business than just supporting back- end corporate processes. Additional Business-Driven Roadmap thinking is framed by issues like the effective use of cloud computing or looming deadlines like SAP's planned end of mainstream maintenance support for Business Suite 7 and ECC 6.
The underlying point is that IT leaders need not be shackled by vendor-dictated technology roadmaps, which tend to lead to all the things those vendors hope to peddle. The decision to upgrade or not, embrace new products (or "next generation" versions) or not should depend on whether they fit into business priorities.
This may seem obvious, but it's not necessarily easy. Vendors who play an important role in a corporate IT infrastructure are loudly proclaiming that the only way for their customers to avoid falling behind is to follow their every move. They may even have the marketing muscle and sales audacity to go over the heads of IT leadership and alarm top management by inferring the company is being put at risk because of the deviation from their vendor-preferred roadmap.
If the new or next-generation products deliver capabilities that a business badly needs, that's different. Just take time to ask these two question first:
- Is the capability being delivered really best-in-class?
- Is it even well-integrated?
ERP Systems and Business-Driven Roadmaps
While the Business-Driven Roadmap concept could be applied to many elements of an IT infrastructure, it's particularly relevant to ERP systems. Enterprise Resource Planning was originally conceived as an all-encompassing platform for bringing together and tightly integrating the most important corporate data and systems; however, like many battle plans, it never seemed to survive "first contact with the enemy." The "single source of truth" goal remains elusive and much of the innovation seen coming from the cloud today is about making diverse systems work well together, rather than depending on one, monolithic system.
Understanding everything ERP vendors are saying about the need to adapt to new demands on IT and new possibilities opened up by the cloud, AI, machine learning, blockchain, and other innovations is still important. In fact, an earlier take on your Business-Driven Roadmap was a paper titled, The World of Enterprise Applications is Changing - Is It Time to Reroute Your ERP Roadmap?
Big changes are coming, and some are already here (albeit, unevenly distributed). ERP vendors are reacting to those changes, but are they really pioneering the effective use of new technologies? Are they really providing the fastest and most cost-effective way of tapping into the innovations with the greatest potential for businesses?
Again, regardless of the answer, the questions need to be asked.
Vendor-driven for Vendor-benefit?
Often what is seen is that, instead of helping enterprises get ahead faster, following an ERP vendor's roadmap can result in unproductive activity. In the process of applying upgrades and patches, IT organizations get bogged down in the mechanics of testing and rolling out new software (and fixing broken integrations and customizations) rather than making progress toward business goals. It is this opportunity cost that is risked.
Consider also the option of moving to the vendor's Software-as-a-Service platform, often presented as a 'cure-all' for simplifying IT operations. Where clients are seen adopting SaaS ERP, though, it's often as a pilot project or a solution for a subsidiary or overseas business unit without the resources to field its own enterprise systems. The SaaS model of delivering software is sufficiently different in that it will likely take years for these products to mature and to achieve functional parity with established ERP systems. By the time that maturity comes, it could well be delivered by new cloud native entrants into the ERP market rather than today's industry giants.
Independent Support Service as an on-ramp to a Business-Driven Roadmap
One of the goals as a third-party support provider for ERP systems is to provide clients with greater flexibility, in addition to more cost-effective and responsive support than they would get through an ERP vendor's maintenance contract. Key to such a move is the understanding that they will not be frozen in place if they forgo vendor support and access to upgrades.
In fact, many clients accelerate productive use of their ERP platform when they have a reliable support partner helping them undertake global rollouts or implement features they have already paid for but never had the bandwidth to implement. They embrace best-in-class cloud products to extend the capabilities of their ERP, achieving better results in the process.
You have options. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
The Business-Driven Roadmap Imperative
For more detail, read The Business-Driven Roadmap Imperative: How IT Can Unshackle Itself From a Vendor-Dictated Model
Pat Phelan, VP, Market Research
Pat Phelan is VP of Market Research at Rimini Street. Prior to Rimini Street, she spent 18 years at Gartner providing CIOs and IT leaders with research and advice on strategies for managing the ERP/business application life cycle.