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The path to ERP in the Cloud - The stairway to heaven

IT Heaven, the Cloud is now touted as the ultimate state of IT nirvana. You know you want to go there; everyone wants in those pearly gates.  Heaven, after all, is the reward for an IT career well managed.

But not everyone is ready for the Cloud and the Cloud is not ready for everyone. Getting into Heaven is risky and expensive, then there is giving up all your earthly possessions. Oh yes, all of your hardware, software and custom development with your years of investment and hard work has all got to go for the promise of a better afterlife, or does it? I believe in the promise of Cloud I really do, but I also think there is a place for traditional on-premise (or hosted) systems as we plot our course to nirvana.

It is hard to believe in just 20 short years how much our core ERP systems have aged. ERP systems once the shining star of integrated transaction processing spanning the enterprise uniting business processes are now considered middle aged legacy systems. But just because your ERP is a little grey around the temples does not mean there is not a lot of value still to be extracted from it. We can’t fight the tide of our aging ERP systems but we can help them age gracefully as we wait for the promise of Cloud platforms and apps to mature. 

There are four things we can do to get the most out of our aging legacy systems and ease the transition to the great beyond:

1.    Appreciate your legacy ERP systems for their functionality and make use of the mass amount of data they collect

SaaS best of breed applications are a hallmark of the Cloud, but true integration between Cloud applications is still developing. As far as core transaction engines go it’s still hard to beat an integrated ERP system. The old boy has spent twenty years making connections, and knows every business process in your enterprise. It was a bear to put in place, but it has finally matured and for the most part it just works.

The problem is that getting data out and presenting it in usable form is not your ERP systems’ strong suit. Legacy ERP systems in general lack the data warehousing capabilities, analytic processing and presentation tools to make use of all that good data.  So to help out your ERP, surround it with some of those bright young analytics systems. The data is there for the taking it just needs to be extracted, organized and presented using modern data analytics tools. 

 

2.    Put your legacy system on a diet and maybe give it a face lift.

 

Over the years our core legacy systems often have become bloated and the once modern interface is now an interface only a mother could love.

Start by inventorying your system’s functions. Eliminate functions no longer used and rank the rest in terms of functionality, ease of use and maintenance requirements. Next, target low functioning high maintenance processes for replacement. Your core Finance and HR systems may be working great, requiring very little maintenance while your procurement functionality may no longer meet your organization’s needs. Consider keeping the good and replacing the bad. Take a step toward the Cloud. It is getting easier to interface best of breed cloud applications with core legacy functionality. Take a step not a leap.   

Ugh, that ugly aging Legacy interface, a source of endless complaint. It has to go but again let’s not throw the baby (or middle ager) out with the bath water when just an update will do. With the maturation a host of new interface development tools, a new face can be put on your old transactions. It’s all about user experience these days and new UI development tools are the answer to modernizing your legacy systems user experience.        

3.    Outsource legacy support  

Hosting and support for ERP systems once a premium service is now a competitively priced commodity. IT resources should be focused on evaluating and implementing the future, not supporting the past. Considering outsourcing your legacy operations and support so you can refocus your own IT staff on harnessing the future.

4.    Have a strategic application migration plan

Neil Young said it’s better to burnout than fade away. When it comes to IT I don’t agree with ol’ Neil. We don’t want to burn out or fade away.  In the IT world I would argue it is better to phase out than to throw away. We have invested time money and human capital in our legacy ERP systems and for better or worse our workforce is trained on them and comfortable using them.

Repeat step 2.  Take a measured, thoughtful approach to legacy ERP system replacement. Develop a 5 year strategic plan and execute it in a thoughtful and measured way. Remember the Big Bang implementation approach that was popular when our legacy ERP systems were implemented?  How did that work out for you? Maybe you have forgotten the pain.

Is the Cloud IT Heaven? I guess we will find out but getting there is not as hard as a getting a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, not even close. This time you can buy your way into Heaven. Listen to the sales pitch, pick you poison and open your check book every month for the rest of your career. Whether your Cloud is Heaven or Hell will depend on how you get there, so don’t be in a rush. We have been good. We are all going to get to Heaven.

Steve Smith is a Partner at LSI consulting and the EVP of LSI’s Application Managed Services, focused on SAP Application Support and Lifecycle Management.

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