Workday: End of ERP of Just Well-Timed Hype?

By: Ann All

Just about every major software application suffers from a period of widespread user dissatisfaction. Heck, the phenomenon is so common that Gartner even has a name for it: the trough of disillusionment (one of five stages in its “hype cycle").

In theory, the two stages following the trough of disillusionment are the slope of enlightenment and plateau of productivity. But do all apps advance to these stages, or do some remain mired in the trough?

While lots of companies use ERP, plenty of them strugglewith its cost and complexity, notes ZDNet blogger Dennis Howlett. ERP took a hard hit recently, in an MIT Sloan Management Review article cited by Howlett.

The article’s author, Cynthia Rettig, describes “massive programs, with millions of lines of code, thousands of installation options and countless interrelated pieces." These systems “introduced new levels of complexity, often without eliminating the older systems (known as ‘legacy’ systems) they were designed to replace."

In fact, we blogged recently about a guy who suggested that a whiteboard, markers, eraser, Webcam and copy of Quickbooks make a perfectly acceptable substitute for an ERP system for SMBs — and some larger businesses, as well.

ERP implementations are so complicated and expensive, Rettig points out, that simply completing one is seen as a success without any corroborating productivity gains.

She writes:

It seems that ERPs, which had looked like the true path to revolutionary business process reengineering, introduced so many complex, difficult technical and business issues that just making it to the finish line with one’s shirt on was considered a win.

In the midst of all of this disillusionment comes software that some folks are touting as “the end of ERP." Though Nick Carr qualifies that statement with a question mark, he does position the forthcoming product introduction as “the Shootout at Enterprise Gulch."

Its creator is Dave Duffield, who as the founder of PeopleSoft was one of the original architects of ERP. Duffield’s new company, Workday, is introducing a lineup of software-as-a-software applications that it believes can unseat ERP — if not in companies already using ERP, in those about to adopt it for the first time.

Workday’s target market, reports Computerworld, is midmarket companies with 1,000 to 5,000 employees and revenues of $200 million to $1 billion. Some 25 percent of such companies are looking to implement ERP in the next year, says AMI-Partners.

Workday customers already using the human resources software the company introduced last year include SaaS darlings Salesforce.com and RightNow Technologies. Earlier this week, Workday rolled out beta versions of the financial and supply chain apps that, in theory, could replace ERP.

Somewhat radically, Workday abandons the traditional relational database management model for an object management system. It utilizes the Web 2.0 concept of tagging to help users search for and link their ERP data, Computerworld adds.

At least one developer, blogging in Knowledge Forward, likes the object-oriented approach. Building on some of the points made by Rettig in her MIT Sloan Management Review article, he notes that “it is difficult for designers working with a RDBMS-enabled system to think of new ways to synthesize and connect data that are not supported in their RDBMS model."

Even if Workday isn’t a success, blogs Carr, it at least shows “the outlines of the post-ERP era of enterprise computing." Carr notes that ERP heavy SAP is reportedly adopting a Web-based approach similar to Workday in a revamp of its software.

Throwing a little cold water on this idea in the Manticore blog, a South African blogger says that unlike developers, CFOs and other executives aren’t going to be impressed by this “ain’t it cool" technology. And Duffield’s marquee name alone won’t be enough to ensure Workday is a success, he saysFree Web Content, noting that a number of high-tech hotshots have failed to repeat their original successes.

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