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Why Gartner Is Wrong In Its ERP Prediction Print E-mail

In a study published late January, popular IT research and advisory firm Garter has claimed that the days of businesses relying on highly customized on-premise ERP systems may be coming to an end. The report says that by 2016, any such highly customized ERP system may start being referred to as legacy systems; the underlying point being made is that businesses will realize the problems with the existing system and will hence move towards a future which is a combination of cloud and on-premise solutions. Gartner calls this the “postmodern ERP”.

The Gartner report makes a valid point about the evolution of the ERP system. The present day on-premise ERP solutions are not cost effective by any means. For one, the licensing fee paid to the ERP manufacturers like Oracle or SAP is just one part of the overall expenditure. Besides this, enterprises need to tweak their Oracle JD Edwards or SAP Business One to suit their businesses’ unique needs. Add to this, the continuous cost of customizations every time after a software upgrade, and you realize how much of a money sink the ERP implementation process is.

However, where I disagree with ERP is the timeline set for this migration. While Gartner does concede that these systems may not go away anytime soon, their prediction that such on-premise systems may be considered ‘legacy’ as early as 2016 is not realistic. For the record, the report defines legacy as “any system that is not sufficiently flexible to meet changing business needs”.

So what are the changing business needs that will render the existing ERP systems obsolete? One of the most vital developments in the ERP over the past decade is the evolution of the cloud based applications. Today, we have cloud ERP systems that are deemed to be as competitive as traditional systems and that cost way less compared to a traditional in-house system. As someone who personally advocates the benefits of cloud ERP, this is positive news. However, it is very unlikely for the traditional ERP system to be called ‘legacy’ in just a year or two from now.

This is because large enterprises who use on-premise ERP solutions are not doing this out of choice, but because of technical compulsions. Gartner’s point about the high level of customization required on traditional ERP systems is also the reason why enterprises will continue to stay with these systems. A migration to the cloud requires two investments - One, a massive level of investment in customizing the entire application system to competently replace the on-premise system. And two, an investment into training the employees of the organization into adopting the new cloud based system.

Businesses that have their sights on the long term goals are very likely to sink in these two expenditures to sustain their competitve edge. However, that is only possible if the cloud system is capable of sufficiently replacing the traditional systems. A study conducted by the Netherlands based Tilburg university last year concluded that cloud ERP systems still come significant customization and integration limitations that is seen as a drawback. In addition to this, the cloud systems continue to face challenges with respect to subscription expenses, performance risks, compliance risks and more importantly the perceived loss of IT competence.

Given these concerns, it is still too early to see a turnaround in the usage patterns of ERP systems among the large enterprises. However, what will serve as a catalyst in this evolution is the process of software upgrades. Companies like Oracle regularly pull the plug on customer support for older versions of their software. Very recently, the company officially ended their support for JD Edwards World versions A7.3 and A8.1. As the newer versions of the software move towards a hybrid platform of ERP, you will see a natural drift in the way enterprises adopt cloud technology too.

Having said that, support for premise-only ERP systems is not likely to end any time in the next 2-3 years. Given this, it is unlikely for businesses to actively migrate to a cloud system well knowing the concerns with these solutions. Bottomline of the argument is that traditional on-premise ERP systems are here to stay in the mainstream for at least the next 3-4 years. It is going to be a while before we can start calling them “legacy”. 

 
The Challenge of 21st Century Data Access Print E-mail
Product Management of a software product is not an easy job, and every year it gets more challenging. No application is an island anymore, and Product Managers (PM) must be cognizant of adjacencies, inbound relationships, and integration. In today’s data-driven world, the emergence of numerous and varied data sources only exacerbates the issue; as more data sources continue to emerge, companies are pressured to constantly upgrade and adapt their products to ensure support for an ever broadening ecosystem.
 
Data Sources Abound
If you’re not in the data business, names like Hadoop, Cassandra, and MongoDB probably mean nothing to you, but for PMs they are just a few of the many available data platforms for which customers now demand secure, reliable connectivity. Think back to the “database wars” of the 1990s. There were more than 15 different database types out there competing for business, creating so many options that determining how to house and access data became a battle of uncertainty. Eventually, the market consolidated into a smaller set of large database vendors, but today those wars are back again. We live in a new world of abundance, from data applications to data platforms, and figuring out how to effectively connect to these myriad sources is a pain point for vendors. Expansive data options help ensure users are armed with the information needed to make more informed decisions, but without effective connectivity technology, that data fails to deliver on the promise it holds.
 
Data Connectivity
Discussions around Big Data these days usually include a re-cap of pain points, such as how to store the data and glean meaningful value from huge data sets. A less talked about - yet equally important - aspect of Big Data success is connectivity. Choosing the right data connectivity solution can do wonders to expedite new product rollouts and alleviate the stress associated with expanding support for the myriad new platforms popping up in today’s market. When considering data connectivity solutions, PMs should look for tools that accelerate processing power and make it easier to transform data into actionable insights.
 
All new innovative, disruptive industry shifts (and Big Data is certainly one of those) promise new opportunities and competitive advantage. But the reality is that Big Data is a journey for an organization and there are fundamental challenges at many stops along the way. For PMs, there are four primary areas that require particular attention:
 
Technology Selection: there are many choices out there -- NewSQL, NoSQL, Hadoop, and other alternatives. It is unlikely that any single option will solve all your data problems, so you must carefully choose the right one for the job. This is especially important with respect to the qualities of service each solution provides in terms of security, auditing, failover, and so forth.
 
Market Consolidation: Like the Database wars of the 1990s, the Big Data space will inevitably consolidate over time to a smaller set of guerilla vendors. For an organization, that means risk and disruption as they proceed through this cycle, possibly having to abandon initial selections as they migrate to winners later.
 
Skills Gap: Big Data is a new technology, which means there is a shortage of experts who can administer, manage, and leverage this beast. These technologies are still maturing and have a long way to go to match the kind of expertise that is easily found in the relational database world.
 
Standards and Integration: Organizations have been conditioned to expect their relational databases to work with anything – their BI tools and dashboards, integration into their data warehouses, and embedded in their applications. The same isn’t true yet with Big Data. For example, connecting a BI tool to NoSQL database can be one of the hardest easy things they need to accomplish, but critical to achieving value from their Big Data initiative.
 
No doubt, today’s PM’s are faced with an exceedingly wide array of challenges relating to data connectivity and the myriad new databases that seem to be popping up almost daily. But, PM’s are also equipped with next-generation technology that enables them to improve connectivity to a wide array of sources and better serve their customers. Data connectivity will be an interesting space to watch in the months and years to come. As sources continue to multiply and technology continues to develop, the role of the PM will also change. So, buckle up and enjoy the ride.
 
Dion Picco is Manager, Product Management at Progress DataDirect.

 
Data Security Management for SMBs Print E-mail


Data security management continues to be a top business challenge for CIOs, CTOs, and Senior IT professionals in small, medium, and large businesses across all industries. In fact, according to a recent survey by Gartner of more than 2,000 CIOs, data security remains a top ten CIO concern just as it has for the last decade.  

Additionally, CIOs see some emerging technologies as fundamentally disrupting their business operations when looking forward over the next decade. These technologies include mobile, big data and analytics, social media, and public cloud to mention a few. The underlying data security management threat remains a significant challenge to IT professionals as each of these emerging technologies is deployed within their organization. The data security issues surrounding these technologies typically are most disruptive when they are deployed in combination within a SMB technology operating plan that is often challenged for competing IT resources.

So how can IT staff craft effective data security management policies in a SMB? Traditional data security management initiatives focus first on minimizing digital security threats. The most popular threats today include Malware, Botnets, BYOD, Cloud and Mobile Security. A comprehensive security policy will however include a plan for securing an organization’s non-digital assets as well at the digital ones. Think for example about your organization’s use of paper and the sensitive data contained in all those paper documents circulated throughout your organization.

What role should IT professionals play to protect sensitive corporate information printed within paper based documents? The information technology group in smaller companies and the CIO or CISO in larger companies must take the lead in providing company wide data security of both digital and non-digital assets. This implies that IT professionals take ownership of securing non-digital assets and provide mechanisms for employees to routinely shred sensitive paper based documents that are no longer active. The paper based assets should be viewed as an extension of the underlying digital data from which they were generated. When sensitive data is handled securely in this manner organizations achieve cradle to grave secure access to this data and minimize their liabilities associated with the data.

Properly securing these non-digital assets is critical to your organizations long term success. There are many news reports of negative press or leaked sensitive corporate information originating from a nosy garbage dumpster diving investigator or competitor. Many times searching through an organization’s trash is perfectly legal. Legality is based on the local laws and whether the trash that is thrown out and then picked up by collection trucks resides on public property.

It is difficult to believe but an individuals’ trash is not always protected by privacy laws. According to a 1998 Supreme Court ruling, Americans do not have a right to privacy when it comes to their personal trash. Once paper has been discarded it becomes part of the public domain. In addition, the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 made it a federal offense to steal trade information but it does not protect companies that fail to take reasonable steps to protect their information.

So what are considered “reasonable steps” that IT professionals should take in the securing of corporate information?

Organizations should hold onto paper documents only as long as they believe they are needed to produce, support, or maintain an organization’s products and services. The documents should also be retained as long as the law requires. At the point of document destruction employees should follow corporate policies for disposal. This is especially true in heavily regulated industries such as health care, financial services, and legal industries.

Every company’s IT department should have policies in place which dictate how long different types of documents should be kept available for recall. Some companies will digitize paper based documents, store them in a retrieval system, and then shred the original. These digital retrieval systems do safely secure the information contained in these documents. Unfortunately, this is a luxury that is beyond the budgets of many SMBs.

The biggest challenge for securing paper documents is to set up retention policies for documents the employees need to handle and access in order to perform their jobs. A second challenge is the execution of the proper disposal instructions as soon as the retention period has expired.

Shred it, do not just toss it should be an important part of your overall data security management policy. When either customer information or employee information is ready for the trash, it should be properly shredded if it contains information your organization does not want made public.

Documents that contain names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, savings account balances, credit card numbers, stated individuals’ health conditions, or other personal information should always be shredded.

Also shred trash bound documents that could potentially help your organization’s competition. Items such as customer lists, sensitive pricing information, strategic planning documents, and trade secrets should be shredded, not tossed into the recycle bin.

Be especially diligent when dealing with information from consumer reports. The Fair Credit Reporting Act protects credit reports and credit scores as well as reports relating to employment background, check writing history, insurance claims, residential or tenant history, or medical history. Anyone who handles this type of information must follow strict disposal guidelines that may reasonably include burning, pulverizing, or shredding the paper documents so that the information cannot be read or reconstructed.

There are many options for shredding documents. There are cross cut shredders in the $60-$2500 price range. Alternatively there are outsourced shredding services that will pick up locked bins of sensitive documents, shred them onsite for a fee based on quantity. They will then cart away the shredded paper and provide a certificate of destruction.

Next Generation In House Document Shredding

As the IT professional in a SMB you will most likely wish to shred sensitive papers in house in order to contain costs. You want to look for a feature rich shredder that is simple for you and your organization to use. Ideally, the shredder should have superior auto feed technology built in so you do not have to sit there and hand feed the documents. The shredder should accommodate crumpled paper, double sided color printed paper, glossy paper, multiple sheets folder over, paper clips, staples, junk mail and DVDs. It should also be very quiet and secure with lock draw technology.

One shredder that works well is the AutoMax 500C Shredder from Fellowes. It can quietly and securely continuously shred 500 sheets of paper into 5/32” x 1-1/2” cross-cut particles. This provides a security level of P-4, high enough to safeguard most companies in most industries.
Recent investments in the development of new document shredding technology now makes the shredding process faster and more secure than ever before. Previously, organizations had to dedicate valuable employee resources to hand feeding documents into a single sheet shredder.

For example, the Fellowes organization has introduced document "load, lock and walk away" shredding capabilities to their AutoMax product line of large volume, auto-feed commercial shredders. These enhancements make the internal disposal of large quantities of confidential information a much easier task to accomplish. Organizations currently sending documents off-site for shredding or just tossing sensitive documents in the trash should take a look at the potential cost savings and security benefits of shredding documents in house with a shredder such as the AutoMax 500C.

 

 
Is An ERP-CRM Integration The Best Model For Future Print E-mail

What will enterprise resource planning look like in 2016? According to a study published by Gartner, the traditional ERP systems will be pushed to legacy status by then. In an article published on the Wall Street Journal, Bill Allison, a principal at Deloitte Consulting that the business demands in five years time would require back-end systems to deploy “advanced intelligence” systems that will shift the concept of ERP from being a process oriented system to one that is driven by highly automated systems that can be predictive, autonomous and prescriptive.

Both these reports independently predict the demise of ERP as we know it now. And that’s understandable. The Enterprise Resource Planning system is riddled with outdated technology that is not capable of adapting to the dynamic nature of businesses today. Consider a scenario where your business is acquired or there is a routine realignment of divisions under various departments. In fact, you could take a much more simpler instance where you need to add new users to the ERP system. These are sometimes complex tasks in a traditional on-premise ERP system. Addition of new features, fixing bugs with patches are all issues that require at least a partial shutdown of the ERP system when the technology back-end is updated.

In comparison, cloud based ERP systems are extremly dynamic and can process the issues above through a much more seamless and effortless process. For the instance described above, cloud ERP providers like NetSuite or even one of NetSuite’s partners can remotely update their servers to new technology while the interface continues to be accessible by the customers. This agility of the SaaS systems is one of the prime drivers of its adoption and the reason behind Gartner predicting the near demise of traditional ERP by 2016.

But is the agility and dynamism provided by cloud ERP solutions enough to sustain the changing demands of the future? According to China Martens, an analyst with Forrester Research, hosting the ERP on cloud simply solves the issues with respect to the inefficiencies of the delivery mechanism. As for business demands, companies today seek a model where they can view all information about the customer in one place. This includes details such as sales, marketing and customer service that are available on CRM along with other details like the customer financial accounts, supply chain details and warehouse inventory data of the customer. This information is available on the ERP systems.

ERP and CRM systems are basically technologies built to solve particular issues with handling business data. With an increasing dynamism in business processes today, the future demands a technology that integrates the data offered by CRM and ERP in one place. An ERP-CRM integration is not an option but could very well be a necessity.

An integrated ERP-CRM system is already becoming mainstream in a number of industries. InFocus, a digital projector manufacturing company that was one of the earliest businesses to integrate ERP and CRM systems had reported savings of close to $3.5 million in IT expenses post the integration. Tour de Force, a leading cloud CRM manufacturer has reported that ERP integration has helped their clients improve their sales efficiency along with an increased ability to identify sales opportunity and a drop in database maintenance time.

This market is ripe for disruption from players who can provide ERP-CRM integration off the shelf. It will be interesting to see how this adoption rate increases with an increasing shift towards cloud based ERP solutions.

 
Eliminating Sensitive Paper Trails Print E-mail

C-Suite executives and especially CIOs across all industries are always looking over their shoulders when it comes to battling security issues within their organizations. Educating CIOs on reducing or eliminating sensitive paper trails within their organization is a worthwhile cost cutting and security enhancing proposition. Knowing when to shred paper documents is nearly as important as knowing which paper trails to eliminate. 

As the volumes of corporate data continue to grow, the challenges in properly securing that data grow in unison. According to a recent IBM report,  the exponential growth of data increases the pressure on scarce and competing IT resources. The typical enterprise experiences 42 percent annual increase in data volume. Very few CIOs have reliable procedures or practices for disposing of older data so that new information accumulates on top of generations of stale data.

As electronic data along with printed paper trail volumes continues to grow, there are more opportunities for disposal related data breaches to occur. The possibility of a data breach should always be at the top of the list of CIO concerns.

Before you can eliminate those sensitive paper trails you need to determine which types of documents can be legally shredded. One possible way to accomplish this is through classification of your organizations documents. Attempt to separate documents into three different categories:

1. Original documents that your organization is required to keep for some legal reason.

2. Documents you wish to retain for some reason but are not legally required to retain.

3. Paper that seems to serve no real purpose to the organization and holds no perceived value. Your organization can definitely live without this paper.

It's the first two categories of sensitive paper that are most difficult to eliminate from the paper trails of the organization. As a result we tend to believe that it is wise to hold onto that paper forever. That really is not the appropriate solution as paper storage space and associated costs will continue to grow out of control over time.

Selective and targeted document imagining is one solution many organization implement. Offsite document storage is another approach to the same problem. With both solutions we can minimize digital conversion costs as well as the long term paper storage costs by developing a sound paper shredding policy. When you shred documents you filter the noise and save on long term digital and paper storage fees. The investment made in securely shredding paper documents pays a ROI year after year.

Knowing this CIOs should develop a long term corporate paper and document shredding policy within their organizations while also understanding there is no one common shredding solution that will suffice across all industries. CIOs should begin to develop a company shredding policy first by consulting both legal and tax professionals. They are knowledgeable in the regulatory requirements that the company must adhere to, and can determine appropriate retention periods for its records. Sometimes the decision to retain an original document is not based on the content of a document but rather on the requirement for an original non-imaged set of signatures.

Increasingly, the trend across industries is towards greater acceptance of an imaged version of paper documents. They are legally accepted as the record copy in lieu of the paper copy. There are instances though where only the paper copy will constitute the official record. In the absence of a hand signed signature, what constitutes a legal record?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) clearly defines which documents are considered actual records and which are not. ISO 15489 specifically defines a record as "information created, received, and maintained as evidence by an organization or person in the transaction of business, or in the pursuance of legal obligations, regardless of media."
So organizations need to consult attorneys and tax professionals to make the final determination as to which papers are official records and which are not. The answers will vary by industry simply because regulations vary by industry. Here are a few general guidelines to consider when developing your organizations’ document retention policies.

There are often both professional and ethical rules regarding document retention. As an example consider lawyers. They are typically required to maintain original files for at least five years. There may be different requirements within your specific industry.

Maintaining important documents in digital format may be sufficient and enable you to shred the paper copy but this decision should be made in consultation with a lawyer that can research the requirements for your industry. For example, patient medical records in some states need to be kept active for from a period of five years (Medicaid records), six years(HIPPA compliant patient records ), to as long as ten years for some types of medical documents created by doctors during the course of patient treatments.

According to Legalmatch.com , it is important to learn the statute of limitations for breach of contract as well as for malpractice in the state in which you work or practice. For breach of contract actions, these time periods vary widely between the states and can range from 3 to 15 years. So your retention policy should make sure you keep all important documents for at least that long. Important documents in this case are those that have original signatures or any documents for which you would want originals to protect yourself against any claims.

We previously discussed how the daily trash generated by most businesses contains information that may cause potential harm to the organization if it finds its way into the hands of a competitor. This is especially true if it contains the details of current activities such as project plans, marketing materials, sales strategies, or discarded daily records including phone messages, memos, misprinted forms, drafts of bids, and random drafts of correspondence.

All businesses suffer potential exposure due to the need to discard these incidental business records. The only means of minimizing this exposure is to make sure such information is securely collected and destroyed by shredding when appropriate.

To shred or not to shred, that is the key question. Hopefully you have answered it by now and developed a state compliant document retention policy. If you decide to shred papers and important documents onsite what features should you look for in a business office shredder?

Next Generation In House Document Shredding

As the IT professional in a SMB you will most likely wish to shred sensitive papers in house in order to contain costs. You want to look for a feature rich shredder that is simple for you and your organization to use. Ideally, the shredder should have superior auto feed technology built in so you do not have to sit there and hand feed the documents. The shredder should accommodate crumpled paper, double sided color printed paper, glossy paper, multiple sheets folder over, paper clips, staples, junk mail and DVDs. It should also be very quiet and secure with lock draw technology.

One shredder that works well is the AutoMax 500C Shredder from Fellowes . It can quietly and securely continuously shred 500 sheets of paper into 5/32” x 1-1/2” cross-cut particles. This provides a security level of P-4, high enough to safeguard most companies in most industries.
Recent investments in the development of new document shredding technology now makes the shredding process faster and more secure than ever before. Previously, organizations had to dedicate valuable employee resources to hand feeding documents into a single sheet shredder.

For example, the Fellowes organization has introduced document "load, lock and walk away" shredding capabilities to their AutoMax product line of large volume, auto-feed commercial shredders. These enhancements make the internal disposal of large quantities of confidential information a much easier task to accomplish. CIOs currently sending documents off-site for shredding should take a look at the potential cost savings and security benefits of shredding documents in house with a shredder such as the AutoMax 500C.

 
 
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