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This is how small businesses can punch well above their weight

IOT and ERP is a powerful combination that gives African SMEs the agility to enter large supply chains and compete head-on with the big guys, says Deirdre Fryer, Product Manager for Africa at SYSPRO Africa.

Deirdre Fryer, Product Manager for Africa at SYSPRO Africa.

Deirdre Fryer, Product Manager for Africa at SYSPRO Africa.

Stop for just a minute and take a look at your office printer. It may not be particularly exciting – like any other printer, it likely tracks the amount of paper you are using and alerts you when your cartridges are low. But what if that printer could be linked to your ERP system? What if it could tell you when it needs to be serviced, and provide you with accurate information around its lifespan so that you would know exactly when it's beginning to cost more money than its worth?

And your printer is just one everyday item with IOT capabilities. Imagine the possibilities of being able to feed information from an entire network of assets into the ERP.

We all want to be more agile

As we already know a good ERP system essentially allows you to take all your vital data across business units and divisions, and integrate it seamlessly to view real-time information and make better informed business decisions. So naturally if you were able to feed the wealth of unstructured data from all of the smart devices in your business, and integrate that information with the existing structured data in your ERP, you could leverage it to provide extremely valuable insights, says says Deirdre Fryer, Product Manager for Africa at SYSPRO Africa.

Whether you want to up your game in customer service, forecasting or inventory management, integrating the IOT into your ERP can help you make infinitely better business decisions. You'll also be able to gain these insights more quickly, allowing you to rapidly adapt to changing consumer and business requirements, and extend your business model accordingly. The end result? Far greater flexibility that enables you to compete in large supply chains with much bigger players.

So what's holding us back?

While it's fair to say we are starting to see local businesses begin to harness the power of IOT in their ERP solutions, many companies are still constrained by the complexities involved in integrating all of their systems. And, of course, another big part of the reason why many businesses are holding off on IOT, is the concern around security. Because the very nature of the IOT entails the collection of personal information, a breach in IOT security could quite literally put people at serious risk.

Hacking has also become a great deal more prevalent in recent years and when it comes to IOT specifically, it means you suddenly need to secure devices which previously you didn't have to worry about because they were in isolation. Your protocols and security need to be a lot stronger so that your business isn't put in a position where hackers can access your entire network via an IOT connection.

Start with a simple question

So how can you overcome these challenges and start leveraging IOT in your ERP?

It's essential that you start by asking yourself what your objectives are. You need to know what your return on investment will be and what benefits you can expect. Perhaps most importantly, ask yourself what kind of insights you are hoping to achieve, and whether you are likely to develop those insights based on the IOT strategy you plan to put in place.

Ultimately you need to then base your entire strategy around those insights you want to achieve. Your ERP software also forms an important part of your ability to leverage IOT. As such you'll want to make sure that your ERP system has an integration layer and protocols that enable the sharing of information and communication between solutions and devices. It's also important that you partner with an ERP solutions provider which recognises IOT as a natural evolution of its strategy. There's little doubt that IOT is the future when it comes to the way businesses communicate and connect their information.

The right systems can remove the complexity

This is exactly why SYSPRO is currently developing its platform to make it easier for companies to connect their ERP systems with IOT devices. Ultimately, we want to remove the complexity involved in this process, and make it simpler and less expensive for businesses to achieve their IOT goals. Indeed, as ERP platforms evolve and make it simpler to connect various systems across the business, we will likely see a significant pickup in the number of local companies merging IOT and ERP over the next two to three years. And for good reason.

The internet of things is already all around us - perhaps even more so than we might think - and by tapping into this incredible source of data, companies can fast forward their business intelligence, enabling them to punch high above their weight. So stop thinking of your printer as just a printer and start asking how IOT can benefit your business. A world of invaluable insight awaits.

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