by Thomas Wailgum

My Trip in the ERP Hot Tub Time Machine

Apr 02, 2010
Enterprise Applications

No matter the decade, in the ERP universe the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I decided to jump in my in-laws hot tub recently and magically transport myself back to the mid 1980s, just like in the movie “Hot Tub Time Machine.” (Indulge me.)

The four fellas in the comedic romp go back with a desire to change the past in order to alter their less-than-desirable current states. My mission: To check out the enterprise software landscape back when Duran Duran, leg warmers, Miami Vice and “Gag me with a spoon” ruled the day. What will my voyage back 25 years find? Here we go….

…It’s a little bit hazy. But wait…What?

The systems that companies are using in the ’80s look a lot like today’s?! The names haven’t changed that much. They’re using software from SAP (the “R/” product line), J.D. Edwards, Baan and Lawson. IBM is right in the mix, naturally, with its AS/400. And then there’s the New Kid On The Block: PeopleSoft HR software, developed by a young Dave Duffield.

Oh, all of this is actually called “MRP II,” but it’s soon to be transformed into “ERP” by Gartner coinage. OK, Gotcha. But the apps are still doing finance stuff, right? Yeah. And, of course, the manufacturing and supply chain? Right.

Wow. The IT departments have huge mainframes chugging along behind the scenes. Oracle is in the mix with its relational database management software and nascent business apps. (Larry Ellison sure doesn’t look at cool as he does now. Where’s the beard and tailored suits? At least he’s not wearing parachute pants.)

These companies are relying heavily on pricey implementation consultants and software analysts to help purchasing decisions. (Hey, there’s Vinnie Mirchandani, working as a young Price Waterhouse consultant implementing Big ERP, sensing something is not right with ERP software economics.)

The costs of these big installs are sky high, and the rollouts are risky (lots of failure, it seems)—much to the chagrin of CEOs and CFOs. Business-IT Alignment: A scourge. And these licensing terms and maintenance and support fees sound awfully familiar, too.

Everything, it seems, is bigger: the server boxes, the “mobile” computers, the hair.

Says me: “Hey, anybody ever heard of Y2K? No? Well, ERP vendors, get ready to make some serious cash in about 10 years.” (Couldn’t help myself.)

OK, 1980s, “see ya, wouldn’t want to be ya”…

Twenty-five years later so much has changed, hasn’t it?

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