ERP Manufacturing Insights

Cloud, SaaS and a Global Pandemic

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Manufacturing Covid face masks

This article was written by ERP Advisory Board member, Cindy Jutras

Cloud, SaaS and a Global Pandemic

Over the past year, manufacturers have faced extraordinary challenges as the world was plunged into an unprecedented crisis caused by a global pandemic. Even as we see efforts to recover, everyone was affected, though not necessarily in the same way. Some industries (think hospitality) were completely shut down while others (think software and professional services) could close offices and remain at least somewhat productive. Manufacturing lies at both ends of the spectrum. Obviously, you can’t make industrial or consumer products from home – at least not at scale. But those producing, delivering, and servicing essential products somehow needed to ramp up while still running safely. Others needed to pivot quickly from non-essential to essential production. Cloud computing in general and software as a service (SaaS) have eased the burden for some, while others struggle (still) amidst lockdowns and other restrictions.

Of course, no software can fully address the crisis of needing to completely shut down production. But even those businesses still had cash to collect and customers to support. As administrative and support personnel were locked out of their offices, cloud and SaaS deployments allowed employees to start working from home immediately. And as many manufacturers have had to pivot their businesses, faster innovation, made possible through SaaS delivery and deployment, has added a level of agility that was never possible with older, outdated on-premise solutions.

For anyone who still questioned the value of the cloud, SaaS, and digital transformation at the beginning of 2020, there should be no doubt this is the direction in which you must head. Cloud computing and advanced technology that supports connectivity, collaboration, automation, and agility step out of the realm of nice to have” and become table stakes. If you are still hanging on to legacy Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions, there is now a real case to be made for replacing them. Here we take a look at the role of cloud and SaaS moving forward.

Cloud and SaaS Prove to Be Invaluable

I’ve been extolling the virtues of cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS) for many years now, but in spite of all the hype associated with cloud and SaaS, I still see evidence that many don’t fully understand the difference between the two or the benefits they can bring. And yes, there is a difference.

Cloud VS Saas

Cloud refers to access to computing, software, storage of data over a network (generally the Internet.) You may purchase a license for the software and install it on your own computers or those owned and managed by another company, but your access is through the Internet and, therefore through the cloud,” whether private or public.

SaaS is exactly what is implied by what the acronym stands for: Software as a Service. Software is delivered only as a service. It is not delivered on a CD or other media to be loaded on your own (or another’s) computer. It is accessed over the Internet and is generally paid for on a subscription basis.

Using these definitions, we can confidently say all SaaS is cloud computing, but not all cloud computing is SaaS. 

Covid with Productivity Graph
COVID effects on Manufacuturing and Productivity 2020

Exploring the Benefits of Cloud

Let’s start with the obvious benefit. Whether you run a solution on your own premises or in a private or public cloud, the ability to access anytime, from anywhere is a significant advantage, and the cloud (i.e., web-enablement) opens the door for the kind of connectivity you need as workers work from home. The ability to connect is critical, but how you connect is equally important. This issue surfaced when suddenly office workers became remote, work-from-home workers.

Using SaaS solutions, workers were able to start working from home almost immediately, taking their laptops and mobile devices or just sitting down at their home computers and having full and immediate access to the same data and systems they had in their offices. Those that were still using on-premise applications had a much different experience. It likely took several days of frantic work and unplanned technology purchases to support remote workers. Even where these solutions were web-enabled, the number of VPN connections needed to support all (some newly) remote users could double or triple quickly. And they couldn’t simply open corporate network support to unsecured machines, so newly remote workers needed to be outfitted with (new) company equipment.

And then there’s the issue of security, bandwidth, and network performance. Those companies that provide commercial service hosting software have much more elasticity when it comes to ramping up (or down) as the need for remote access suddenly changes. These companies do this for a living and often commit contractually to guaranteeing a certain level of uptime and performance. Their reputations (and continued business) are dependent on this and provide a secure environment. Few manufacturers, particularly those that are small to medium size, can provide the same level of assured security and performance.

While the world will eventually recover from this global pandemic, few (if any) believe all office workers will return to an office full time. While nobody can accurately predict what the new normal will be, you can bet that the ease of connectivity SaaS brings will (and should) factor into any investment decision around enterprise applications. Investing in SaaS solutions is an investment in future-proofing your business.

This is only one of the ways SaaS solutions future-proof your business, however. With a SaaS solution, the cost and effort of upgrades are significantly reduced. The SaaS solution provider does the heavy lifting, which also leads to more innovation.

SaaS solution providers can deliver more innovation through more frequent and robust upgrades, particularly those maintaining a single line of code through multi-tenant solutions. But investigate this thoroughly because just because they can doesn’t mean they do. Also, carefully investigate how easily you can personalize, tailor, configure and yes, even customize your SaaS Solution.

Summary and Recommendations

Manufacturers across the globe face many different challenges as the world tries to emerge from a global pandemic. Depending on where you live, the worst may be over. Or not. And even as we see signs of recovery, there is a high likelihood that things will never go back to exactly the way they were before. These factors combined reinforce the one common theme that confronts us all: uncertainty. 

One thing is certain, though. As the communication and interaction around the world continue down the path of becoming more digital and more virtual, cloud computing and advanced technology that supports connectivity, collaboration, automation, and agility step out of the realm of nice to have” and become table stakes. Those manufacturers operating on SaaS solutions are better able to support workers remotely. If you are still struggling to connect newly remote workers if you don’t have the agility to support whatever the new normal way of operating becomes, you might be thinking implementing a new ERP solution is the last thing you want to tackle right now. I would argue strenuously against that premise. 

If you are running a legacy solution based on old, outdated technology, you have a problem that is not going away all by itself. The COVID-19 global pandemic has brought more change and uncertainty to (already) disruptive times and an added level of urgency to fix that problem. Fortunately, today modular, cloud-based Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems can provide the level of scalability and adaptability needed to navigate this rapidly changing landscape.

This article was written by ERP Advisory Board member, Cindy Jutras

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