Next year, it will be 20 years since I first started working in the field of SAP.

As I reflect on what has changed from the perspectives of a User and a Consultant, I find great similarities in the family of ERP and CRM solutions that I have seen. This includes cloud based offerings like Salesforce.

The similarity lies in the fact that all these solutions have a set of screens / forms with fields that accept user entered values. Based on the combination of field values and keystrokes, the underlying predefined workflow logic kicks in and subsequent screens are displayed. What these systems provide is a level of basic automation by defaulting of master and configuration data and a consistent way of carrying out a process, whether it is registering a lead, opportunity or creating a new Sales Order.

Over 20 years, I have seen the SAP solution undergoing a lot of changes from a technical viewpoint. The technical stack has transitioned to Web application Server, browser access, mobile and now Cloud. In reality, nothing much has changed for the User who still has to key in values in the screen / form and press keys to move from screen to screen. Admittedly, the devices used for access has transitioned from PC to laptop to mobiles and tablet to watches.

Even today, the level of process automation is fairly basic. Taking the example of a sales order process, (unless there has been complex development or configuration effort for background product proposals), the system defaults customer master data, but prompts the user to enter product details even if the customer has been doing business for years and you have access to buying behaviour.

We are going to see a change to this in the next few years. We are now moving into an era of Data-Driven Solutions. For many years solutions had a prefix of “e” to make them “electronic”, now all solutions will have the prefix of “i” to make them “intelligent”.