AI and ERP: A Perfect Match

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As a small business owner who has had to move practically all of my services to an online platform during this pandemic, I am meeting my clients almost exclusively online for personal training sessions, but I still have products that are available for purchase on my online store. For example, I’ve designed several t-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with my logo, and I also rep some trusted products for outside companies—if they are ordered via my platform, I receive a cut of the sale from the represented company and pass on a savings discount to the client. As the lockdown has kept most people at home for longer than usual throughout their days, I’ve noticed an uptick in these sales—in a way, buying directly from the company that’s encouraging my clients to live their healthiest lives keeps them connected to our shared vision. I also field sales, sessions, and nutritional consultations via our phone services. Thankfully, I’ve partnered with a company that provides an Enterprise Resource Planning system to streamline each of these processes. 

Change, Change, Change

In the midst of this pandemic, I now know firsthand what a large transformational ERP implementation can do for a small business. I’ll give you my perspective, but the actual work required fluctuates massively depending on the size of the implementation and the type of business a company engages in.

So, let’s look at a typical flow as an example when placing orders.

The software maker has decided on the best process flow when a customer places an order. If you open the box and just install it, the orders that they have provided might flow like this:

  1. Customer calls order desk
  1. Order desk places the order
  1. Order approved by the credit
  1. DC picks, packs, and ships the order
  1. The customer receives goods and bill
  1. Customer pays and the account is updated

The above is simple, and a perfectly good way to run the business. However, the systems manager might speak to the business owner and ask them how they like to process orders. The business can come back with:

  1. Customer calls a sales rep
  1. Sales rep takes down the order
  1. Sales rep calls order desk
  1. The order desk creates order, sends it to the sales rep for confirmation.
  1. The sales rep confirms, and the order is placed.
  1. Order approved by the credit
  1. The distribution center (or DC) picks, packs and ships the order
  1. Customer receives bill
  1. Customer pays and an account is updated

So, the consultant notices that steps 2-5 are different from how the software works. Now they have work to do. They need to get specifics on this and get these questions answered:

Does the process need to run this way (it seems inefficient,) or can it be changed?

If the process indeed has to be performed this way, how do they set up the system to do that?

Holding Fast, then Moving Past

From personal experience (I hope I can be forgiven, at the time I didn’t know any better), the business will start by holding fast to these requirements and will insist that the software be configured to meet the existing requirements. My ERP systems partner started at that point. However, as time went on, the ERP systems provider built credibility with me, and I took more of their input—especially when I better understood the implications of Advanced Analytics.

Deciphering the Data WIth AI

With machine learning (a subset of Artificial Intelligence, or AI), your ERP systems provider can pull tailored data that provides detailed insights and analytics about the metrics that I can then decide are important. For example, that technology provided me with an in-depth look at the buying behaviors of a certain demographic of customers. I learned who bought what, and when, and I was able to tailor my offerings for “optimization.” I found out that women within a certain age-group were buying my sweatshirts the most: so, I tailored some product offerings just for that demographic. And I sold even more. If you run an online store, the metrics you pull could pertain to how long a customer spent on a particular product page.

Optimization: “Have a Nice Day!”

With the right technology, you could use this information to create a tripwire at checkout, or even send an email reminding customers of the product they desire. Your advanced analytics give you the power to create the services and products that drive your business. It’s one thing to be able to pull data from a system: it’s game-changing to be able to analyze it effectively.

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