The advent of mobile devices is gaining significant momentum in the consumer space, as evidenced by statistics showing that shoppers are using iPhones, tablets, and other mobile devices to conduct their holiday shopping at a rapid accelerating pace. However, the business world is also beginning to show some signs of early adoption of mobile capabilities in their evaluation, selection, and implementation of enterprise software systems.

For example, a recent study by ERP vendor IFS reveals that 13-percent of executives identify mobile functionality as the most important feature in selecting enterprise software for their organizations, while another 68-percent feel that it is just as important as other features. The study of executives from nearly 300 North American manufacturing organizations underscores the significance that mobile functionality is playing in modern ERP systems.


And it’s not just the manufacturing sector leading the charge toward adopting mobile capabilities; the retail industry is also leveraging iPads and other mobile tablets to replace cash registers. An article in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week reveals that approximately half of the retailers are considering replacing traditional cash registers with mobile devices, while another 6-percent have already adopted mobile point of sale (POS) systems. Nordstrom’s is one major retailer that is in the process of rolling out iPod Touches to serve as the chain’s POS sale system.

Since businesses in general are clearly still in the early phases of adopting mobile technologies, it begs the question of whether it is the right fit for all organizations. As with any new (or existing) wave of enterprise technology, it all depends on the needs of your organization. For example, just as security is a concern with cloud computing, it is also a concern with mobile technologies.

So how is an executive to make sense of what is or isn’t right for your organization when it comes to mobile ERP? Here are a few things to consider when weighing the options:

Potential Business Benefits and Return on Investment. What potential benefits will contribute to the return on investment you might expect from adopting mobile enterprise software? For example, Nordstrom estimates that each iPod Touch it uses costs just 20-percent of what is required to support a traditional POS system. Our manufacturing clients cite increased productivity, improved visibility to inventory and work in progress, and more transparency on the manufacturing floor as benefits of adopting mobile technology. Our utilities, energy, and telecommunications clients cited increased efficiency of routing mobile work crews and scheduling their service orders, as well as better tracking assets and maintenance in the field. So the key is to look at your specific needs, business processes, and pain points to identify the potential business benefits that your organization may realize from mobile ERP.

Security of the Data. On the flip side, many CIOs worry about the security of data, including transactions and customer and product information. Since mobile capabilities will inevitably store and transact information related to your inventory, bills of materials, and customers, it can be a bit disturbing to expose this information to the wireless world. However, as is the case with any risk, this potential downside can be mitigated with the right strategy. Encryption of data, tight security profiles, and closely-monitored asset tracking of devices are all strategies that can be used to diffuse the potential security risks.

Rapidly Changing Technology. When rolling out gadgets as highly adopted by consumers as iPads or iPhones, you are inevitably subjecting your organization to the rapidly changing world of consumer technology. Unlike ERP systems used by a relatively small number of organizations and business users, consumer technologies change and require upgrades at a much more rapid pace. In addition, the mobile software itself needs to not only provide a look and feel that consumers are used to, but it also needs to be updated regularly and integrated seamlessly with back-office operations, which can be difficult to navigate. For this reason, mobile ERP is often a better fit for organizations with more sophisticated IT support staff.

These are a just a few variables to consider when evaluating potential mobile ERP solutions. As with any enterprise software investment, you will want to ensure that the costs are justified via tangible and measurable business benefits that provide a decent return on the investment. At the same time, you want to ensure that you are aware of the risks and tradeoffs and have a plan to mitigate those risks should you decide to move forward.

Learn more about the new advances and hot trends in ERP systems at Thursday’s interactive webinar, Top Ten Predictions for ERP in 2012 (10 a.m. MT).


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