Top 10 business applications stories of 2021


The spectre of Covid-19 continued to haunt the world of business applications in 2021 as it had done in 2020.

But against that grim backcloth, enterprise software suppliers and users were and are plotting out a nimbler future, with more loosely coupled ERP systems, more flexible business process management and improvement, and a renewed focus on customers as they have gravitated to digital channels. Meanwhile, the much-hyped category of artificial intelligence has yet to prove its value in enterprise software.

As ever, the two giants of business applications command attention: SAP and Oracle.

This has been Christian Klein’s second full year as SAP’s CEO. The main theme of his tenure this year has been Rise with SAP, launched with much fanfare in January 2021.

At the virtual Sapphire 2021 conference in June, Klein was trumpeting the supplier’s procurement network, Ariba, as the core of a revamped global engine for promoting sustainable economic growth.

Indeed, the climate emergency has been another spectre haunting enterprise software, and Microsoft and Salesforce have also had much to say on the topic, as well as SAP.

Oracle’s main focus, as in previous recent years, has been on its own cloud message. In one of his quarterly catch-ups with Computer Weekly, Steve Miranda, executive vice-president of Oracle Applications product development, highlighted several customer wins against SAP for its cloud applications suite. Here are Computer Weekly’s top 10 business applications stories of 2021:

1. Modern ERP breaks the chains

Modern ERP systems mean user organisations need no longer be stuck with hefty upgrades at times convenient to suppliers.

Many organisations are still running enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems that were first rolled out many years ago, put off making any major changes by memories of a complex and expensive installation.

But modern ERP systems have changed all that. Firms no longer need to select an ERP system and then be stuck doing hefty upgrades at times convenient to the supplier – but not necessarily to the customer – or paying for large amounts of software that they are not even using.

This shift means there is more thirst to switch to a modern platform. According to software analysis firm TEC, as of March this year, 50% of companies are soon acquiring, upgrading or planning to update ERP systems.

2. AI projects yield little business value so far

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been red-hot in recent years, but it is generating precious little business value so far.

Although growing numbers of organisations are working with AI software in some shape or form, very few are generating significant financial benefits when rolling it out in a serious way, according to new research.

A study conducted by the MIT Sloan Management Review and management consulting firm the Boston Consulting Group revealed that as many as 57% of the 3,000 managers, executives and academics questioned were currently either piloting or deploying the technology. A further 59% had devised an AI strategy and 70% believed they understood how the software could generate business value.

Despite this situation, the report, Expanding AI’s impact with organisational learning, indicated that just one in 10 organisations were deriving significant financial value from the technology.

3. How software can help clean up emission-intensive industries

The potential to reduce emissions by making heavy industries and commercial buildings more efficient using software is immense.

Non-residential buildings generate 6.6% of greenhouse gases emissions – equivalent to aviation, shipping and cement-making combined, according to the World Resources Institute, a US environmental research organisation.

For a typical office or educational building, equipment such as computers used by those working there will take up about 40% of its energy requirements.

Chemical and petrochemical industrial processes generate as much as 11.6% of greenhouse gases through energy requirements (3.6%), direct by-products of their processes (2.2%) and “fugitive emissions”, including often-accidental leaks (3.9%). As with buildings, specialist software can help to cut these emissions by improving the efficiency of processes and making accidents less common.

4. Mining for intelligence: Why business process intelligence makes for agility

Business process improvement is a never-ending quest for betterment that can be lit up by a new generation of process mining software.

The unpredictability of the past couple of years has confirmed and shaken enterprise digital transformation priorities and raised questions about how businesses think about agility and future resiliency.

What may have seemed like a good idea in 2019 could be inconsequential today, but how do businesses really get to grips with what is and isn’t working, especially with so many external factors impacting decision-making and business performance? How can organisations use business data more intelligently to boost decision-making accuracy?

For many businesses, the answer lies within the processes themselves.

5. How companies are rethinking digital customer experience in wake of pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed much digital rhetoric as hollow, as companies are now rethinking the digital customer experience, leveraging instant messaging and other tools.

Customer service is getting worse. Many organisations failed to offer customers a positive experience during the height of the pandemic and are showing little sign of improvement as we begin taking our first steps back to normality.

According to the UK Institute of Customer Service, complaints are at the highest level since 2009. People are losing patience with Covid being given as an excuse for poor service, and the pandemic is exposing a lack of proper investment in the customer experience.

6. Oracle’s Miranda advances customer wins against SAP for cloud applications suite

Steve Miranda, executive vice-president of applications development for Oracle globally, showcased three US customer wins against SAP at the supplier’s quarterly Oracle Live event in July 2021.

Oracle promoted customer wins against SAP in the latest quarterly release cycle of its cloud-based Fusion applications suite at that time.

Steve Miranda, executive vice-president of applications development at Oracle, interviewed three SAP customers who have made the switch.

North American railcar pooling company TTX, food and drinks company Mondelez International, and US supermarket retailer The Kroger Company have opted for Oracle cloud applications over their historical investment in SAP.

7. Sapphire 2021: Klein vaunts rebooted Ariba business network as sustainability driver

At the virtual Sapphire 2021 conference, SAP CEO Christian Klein trumpeted the supplier’s procurement network, Ariba, as the core of a revamped global engine for promoting sustainable economic growth.

In his keynote at his second Sapphire as CEO of SAP, Christian Klein hailed what he described as the advent of the “world’s largest business network”.

At the core of the avowedly “new” network is SAP’s Ariba procurement network, together with its Logistics Business Network and its Asset Intelligence Network.

More than 5.5 million organisations will benefit from being members of this connected community, according to SAP.

8. Interview: Chano Fernandez, co-CEO of Workday – a European co-helming a Californian enterprise

Chano Fernandez, co-CEO of Workday, explained how the company’s storied and humane employee culture needs constant tending, and looked forward to a post-Covid acceleration.

Fernandez is a rarity. It is rare, that is to say, to find a European chief executive of an IT company. The industry is dominated by the US, and California at that, and its founders and senior leadership teams tend to be American.

Workday itself is a Californian company, headquartered in Pleasanton, but Fernandez is Spanish, a graduate of the University of Salamanca, and based between London and Madrid.

He has 25 years’ experience in the industry, and has been with Workday for almost eight years – since August 2020 as its co-CEO, alongside co-founder Aneel Bhusri. He had a formative stint at McKinsey in the mid-1990s and has had a career in enterprise software that includes stints at SAP and Infor.

In this in-depth interview, he gives his perspective on the company’s unusual co-CEO model – requiring “friendship, trust and low ego – if possible, no ego” – and a company culture that is, he says, arguably more civilised than the Silicon Valley norm.

9. NetSuite CEO Goldberg: Growth companies nimble for post-Covid normality

Evan Goldberg, executive vice-president of Oracle NetSuite, reflected on the post-Covid-19 pandemic economy through the prism of the Oracle-owned SaaS company.

He discerns a post-pandemic future of business growth through the prism of his company’s customer base, which tends towards high-growth, often internet-based, entities.

In an interview with Computer Weekly, he reflected on what has made 2021 different from 2020. “The companies that are nimble, that are taking advantage of the new normal, in terms of back-office operations, and being more nimble about supply chains, will prosper,” he said.

10. Clara Shih, CEO, Salesforce Service Cloud on the shape of post-pandemic service work

Salesforce Service Cloud CEO Clara Shih has returned to the supplier after a period as a founder CEO and sees the future of contact centre and field service with relatively fresh eyes.

She is relatively new to the contact centre market and field service, but a returning alumna of Salesforce. She founded Hearsay Systems, a client engagement platform used by advisers, bankers and insurance agents in financial services, in 2009, after three years as head of product management and marketing for the Salesforce AppExchange.

She is also the author of Facebook era: tapping social networks to build better products, reach new audiences, sell more stuff. She studied computer science and economics at Stanford University and wrote a Masters thesis at the University of Oxford about early social networking, while based at the Oxford Internet Institute.



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