Cindy Jutras: ERP meets the desktop

In the front and back offices of manufacturing companies, it's hard to imagine life without desktop productivity tools. Word processing programs, spreadsheets, and email are used by 95 percent of those dubbed “information workers.” The majority of these tools are delivered to the desktop by Microsoft.
By Cindy Jutras October 1, 2007

In the front and back offices of manufacturing companies, it’s hard to imagine life without desktop productivity tools. Word processing programs, spreadsheets, and email are used by 95 percent of those dubbed “information workers.” The majority of these tools are delivered to the desktop by Microsoft.

In a recent Aberdeen study on the convergence of enterprise applications with the desktop, Microsoft Office products were used in 82 percent to 99 percent of the cases. The only other vendor’s product used by more than 5 percent of our survey participants was IBM Lotus Notes.

This market dominance by Microsoft—and the growing interest in the convergence of enterprise applications with desktop tools—spawned a flurry of partnership activity between the desktop giant and numerous enterprise application vendors:

  • SAP led the way with joint development of its cobranded Duet product, an approach that takes data from SAP and presents it in Office applications like Outlook.

  • Epicor’s Information Worker product, released about a year ago, took a similar approach.

  • Sage and IFS used a more Excel-centric approach, presenting data in such a way that users don’t have to export data to Excel—they have the advantage of a familiar look and feel without ever leaving the application.

  • Exact developed its own Web-based collaboration platform, e-Synergy, but also has a Microsoft add-in, so users can save items from any Microsoft Office application directly into e-Synergy.

What’s the point? From the end user’s perspective it’s all about improving personal productivity, with the hope that this will translate to corporate productivity, which means profitable growth without an exorbitant investment in new staff. From the ERP vendor’s point of view, it’s about turning more workers into ERP users.

The key to wider adoption of enterprise applications throughout the organization is to make them easily accessible, intuitive to navigate, and perhaps even transparent to users who may not know they are touching applications such as ERP. One approach is to provide access through the familiar interface of a desktop application such as the Microsoft Office suite. This essentially turns the enterprise application into a natural extension to the desktop, reducing the user learning curve and simplifying access to enterprise information.

Not surprisingly, ERP is the enterprise application that enables the most opportunity for productivity improvement through integration with desktop tools. Data drives decisions. Since ERP forms the basic system of record for most operational and financial transactions, it is easy to see why the data stored in these systems is of most interest. Extracting data from ERP to create Microsoft Office Word documents and Excel spreadsheets is an attractive vehicle for many information workers looking to analyze and share data. Unfortunately it is not as easy to prevent data from being manipulated in these documents and then propagated throughout the organization, therefore risking bad decisions based on inaccurate or incomplete data.

The extraction of data is a baby step in the convergence of enterprise applications with desktop tools, and here the goals of the end users and the ERP vendors converge, providing easy access and easy analysis in a familiar setting while keeping users captive within ERP.

Author Information
Cindy Jutras, who oversees research and client development related to manufacturing at Boston-based AberdeenGroup, has more than 30 years worth of ERP and supply chain-related experience. Cindy, a former director for a prominent enterprise vendor, has authored numerous white papers as well as a book titled ERP Optimization.