Here’s a new term you can throw around at your next cocktail party. People will be so impressed, they will probably start calling you “Doctor” or at least ask you just how many degrees you actually have. I know, it sounds like something that needs a find-a-cure walk-a-thon or perhaps something that should be addressed by the presidential candidates in a debate.
Pervasive Interoperability is really nothing quite that ominous or controversial.
The “interoperability” part refers to the native or relative compatibility level of one application versus another. It would also include the relative similarity of two apps in terms of look and feel.
Let’s simplify that a bit.
Relative compatibility refers to the ability of the application to plug into your existing technology stack and interact with the other applications already in use there. This means that the new app should not require the building of a lot of customized interfaces to work with your existing apps. The look and feel part simply means the user will not feel like a complete stranger to the new app because it will employ familiar screen designs, menu layouts and command names.
Think in terms of driving cars. If you learn to drive a Ford, chances are you are going to be able to settle into Jaguar or a BMW without too much of a learning curve. Cars all have steering wheels, brakes, seat belts and so forth. Sure, some utilize a clutch and stick shifter and other have an automatic transmission. But the interoperability of any two cars would be pretty high.
To magnify that point, the process of driving to Grandma’s house would be pretty much the same if you were driving an Edsel, a Pearse Arrow or a Ford Fusion.
Additionally, interoperability means that the skills you use to operate one thing are almost fully portable to a second thing. If you learn to tie your left shoe, guess what, you can likely handle tying your right shoe as well. The learning transfers from one shoe to the other.
So why is that important in the world ERP?
It’s important because regardless of how much we like to think of ourselves as being eager to learn new things, we really still prefer the familiarity of our known world. It’s important because learning new things complicates the implementation of new processes, applications, strategies and ideas.
Learning new things is good, it helps us grow and it enables our ability to react to the challenges of change. But, learning requires time and effort so there is always some push back because we also like the comfort of the familiar world.
When you are talking about how people do their jobs, how they use their existing desktop or software apps to get things done, you are not going to find bunches of them ready to jump into a new product with unbridled glee. They will be suspicious, they will complain and they will even try to avoid the change and go back to the way things were.
People are simply resistant to change.
Even things that you would consider to be obvious, no-brainer-type changes will meet with resistance. People complained about moving from character-based, menu-driven, green-screen systems to icon-driven, mouse-enabled graphical applications. It was not an easy sell.
I knew a couple of finance guys, who would have speed challenges between Excel and Lotus 123. They would race (a la John Henry versus the steam hammer) to see who could create a corporate balance sheet faster.
There is also the aspect of time and money.
The power of Pervasive Interoperability is not found within the individual, but in the group. It’s not the power of one person’s productivity increasing; it’s the cumulative effect of hundreds. This is a considerable advantage when you are implementing enterprise-wide solutions like ERP.
You have a workforce that almost certainly uses Word, Excel or PowerPoint. Ask any of them if their knowledge of one of those systems helped facilitate skill in the other? The answer will almost always be yes. Why is that?
All you have to do is look at Word, Excel or PowerPoint and the first thing you’ll notice is they all look remarkably alike. The menus are located and formatted in the same place and fashion. The commands beneath each menu item are similar between apps. The icons representing specific functions are identical. You feel at home as soon as you open the app.
Once you learn Word, adding Excel is much less difficult and adding PowerPoint to the mix is nearly effortless.
On the compatibility side of things, you can pick data up out of Excel and drop it into a Word document with ease. PowerPoint supports the use of Excel and Word data within your presentation with copy/paste commands. The simplicity of this effort belies the complexity of the underlying code that supports this interaction.
That same advantage should be enjoyed in the implementation of a new ERP platform. Sure ERP is much more involved than a word processing package when you look at the scope of the entire offering. But, for the individual user, the transition is greatly simplified.
When you magnify that individual advantage over your entire user base the time and effort saved is more than significant. If means getting productive in days versus months.
The same is true with the movement of data between apps and processes. The free flow of data across multiple systems means you don’t spend money writing and supporting application interfaces that must be rewritten every time someone issues a software update.
So, when the time comes and you are looking at the impact of bringing a new ERP system online within your organization remember Pervasive Interoperability. All of those users dreading the hours of learning something new and the mistakes and the unforeseen system compatibility issues are not something that have to bedevil your transition to a new system.
You should be able to leverage as much of your existing skill and process investment as possible. Look for systems that exploit what you already have.
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