IT came into the world as a batch processing system; one of the earliest applications of computers lay in number crunching, and was a big boon to accountants who wanted bigger and faster calculators with some memory. It went over to payroll processing, batch processing, printing and communicating. Computers promised to make lives of the end users easier, to ensure senior management got to know whats happening in the company, to trace any goof ups…in short, enterprise applications were meant to automate things by repetitive processing.

It took some time for the concept to percolate through, and initially I found public sector banks ending up with agitated customers because of the delays caused by ‘computerization’. I have even seen fears of job losses because of this concept. But as any disruptive innovation matures, there is larger acceptance and people tend to get used to it, and thus perceive the benefits.

So the keyword was automation, since things happened automatically. Applications in various platforms were developed as and when required, and it appeared to solve all problems. Until ERP came into picture, all problems could be solved my using tools that made things simpler.

My experiences with the present client gave taught me something new: that the users expect the new ‘software’ to make things ‘automatic’ so that they would have to do less work. They are awfully unaware of the fact that the basic essence of an ERP system is integration and not automation. Unfortunately, the top management has done a poor job of percolating this message (do they understand it themselves?). And so the demands of having more automatic systems creep up. The Indian client has somehow got the message that things can be automated by what is known as custom development, and so more and more developments are demanded that will ensure they work in their comfort zones. Change management is imminent, but the expectations should be right.

SAP ERP does not do a great job in automating processes, but it is wonderful in integration. It will take some time before automation becomes a key focus area for an ERP product.

Automation is possible, provided the organization is mature enough to handle it with candor. And that takes years of understanding of their own business, working in ERP systems, integrating with each other and good people. But when the focus is to have maximum possible output with minimum amount of money, the result is an unabated quest for more developments, more configurations, more and more…We Indians want more car per car, quality be damned!

When I asked some of my client team members the expansion of SAP, they though Automation was the middle name in SAP!

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