The past two years — with its pandemic, supply chain bottlenecks, and workforce disruptions — have ripped the bandages off the cobbled-together enterprise systems that have long been powering organizational finances, production, and human resources applications. In the rush to digital during this period, many managers realized they simply weren’t ready for the organizational changes that need to go with it — and met many surprises.

That’s the word from Paul Farrell, vice president of industry product management for Oracle NetSuite, who says that many best practices painstakingly learned, developed, and hardwired into company platforms prior to the year 2020 need to be, or already have been, thrown out the window. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Farrell, who states that the challenge is “technology is outpacing our best practices. With the pace of technology, there are new things that people don’t even know.”

Consider how, in the rush to digital, companies suddenly had new customers — from around the globe — they simply weren’t ready to handle. For example, he points out, one eco-packing company he works with suddenly saw demand go through the roof when Covid set in. The challenge, he relates, “they didn’t have unlimited capacity, so they had to change their whole business model to support their existing customers first. This need to change business models accelerated massively over the past two years.”

To be better prepared for surprises, many companies are opting for continuous planning that can change strategies or tactical moves on a moment’s notice — versus the quarterly, or even annual, planning that was standard practice, especially with ERP systems. “If you’re a manufacturer or a professional services company, you want to understand what’s coming down the pike, and use intelligent predictive solutions,” Farrell says. “You want to know what’s happening, today — not last quarter.”

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Another instance in which technology is outpacing business processes and delivering surprises stems from the “servitization” of the manufacturing sector, transitioning from product producers into service provider. However, being a service provider requires a whole new way of looking at the customer relationships. There is opportunity to monitor product health and performance via connected sensors, and either provide software updates or alert maintenance teams to come out for repairs. “This means selling directly to consumers,” says Farrell. “There’s a bevy of destruction going on. A lot of manufacturers aren’t used to that. They’re not used to the way that information rolls out. How do they make sure that the customer has a consistent experience, regardless of the channel they use? How do we make sure products and services are available? Is the process the same?”

Many companies aren’t ready to answer these questions, he adds. “It’s one thing to be able to sell something, it’s another thing if whether you can build for it, integrate data and analytics, recognize revenue, and deliver a customer experience. Again, this accelerated massively.”

Another issue in which technology is outpacing business processes and delivering surprises comes from attempting to manage a global, highly distributed workforce. Enterprise systems need to adapt and grow with these changes, especially as corporate workforces evolve to accommodate nontraditional workforces that not only incorporate remote employees, but also part-time, contingent, and contract workers from across boundaries, Farrell says. The result of this rise in cross-border operations fueled by virtual work means an extremely diverse workforce beyond the scope of many traditional systems. “You’re seeing people leave to work in another country, since they can basically do everything virtually now. It adds a lot of complexity financially and operationally if you don’t have the right systems. Operationally, you want to see everyone as the same type of entity. This needs to be automated. It’s amazing how many systems don’t work this way.”

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