Strengths and Weaknesses of Mobile ERP

Whether by using inexpensive video productions to deliver cost-effective training, or allowing customers to order samples over the web, if there is an intelligent way for companies to make money with new technology, they will figure out how to. Similar to the way businesses experimented with the new innovation called the World Wide Web for a long time before finding ways to make money, so are businesses exploring ways to use the ever increasing sophistication of smart phones as an extension of their ERP systems. On an intuitive level, the concept of mobile ERP has some compelling benefits, and some concerning risks.

The biggest single benefit of mobile ERP is the ubiquitous natures of cell phones; more than ninety percent of all Americans already have cell phones, so there is no massive IT infrastructure investment cost. Another benefit is that cell phone applications must be simpler, due to memory and screen space limitations, which means more thought is given to what is truly important. Simpler applications coupled with the “use it anywhere” nature of cell phones start overcoming some of the traditional complaints of field sales people, who contend that interacting with a personal computer or laptop – for lead management, for instance - takes them away from the field, and interferes with selling. And obviously, if a business or industry operates in an environment in which minute to minute data affects daily decisions, then mobile ERP allows decision-makers the flexibility to stay informed without being captive to a computer.

Mobile Risk

On the risk side of the equation, app management will be a major headache if IT functions approach the subject with traditional paradigms. The first management challenge is that everyone has a different cell phone, which means trying to standardize an app platform may make things easier for IT, but will almost ensure that the initiative itself fails or falls short of expectations. The second management challenge is managing the maintenance and updates of the applications, whether they are custom written or purchased.

Security is another risk. Cell phones can be stolen or lost, and confidential information subsequently put at risk. Cell phones are also susceptible to malware and viruses just as any other computing platform is.

Lastly, there should be concerns about work/life balance. If an organization provides the technological possibility of performing value added work 24/7 through mobile ERP interaction, is doing so necessarily in everyone’s best interests? How much time each day should someone spend working? Is it a good thing for an employee to be checking his mobile device routinely outside of business hours?

In ten years, hindsight will have made the benefits of mobile ERP obvious in retrospect. However at this point, there are as many questions as answers. There is a distinct possibility that information overload – the point at which there is so much data available in real time that random variation and true problems are indistinguishable – could do more harm than help. One thing is certain however: businesses will figure this out.

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Phil Marshall

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Phil Marshall