Unit4’s Self-Driving ERP Gets a Digital Assistant

Don’t you envy those top-level executives with personal assistants who seem to sense and deliver on the bosses’ every demand, even before the bosses have figured out what they need? You see them on TV and in movies all the time. Unfortunately for the vast majority of us in the business world today, the trend is in the exact opposite direction. Even prior to the emergence of the digital economy, electronic communication changed everything. Back in the day, many of us (old enough to remember) first relied on secretaries and then administrative assistants, telephones and paper. Today we rely on emails, texts, instant messages, along with specialized apps for things like purchase requisitions, travel and expenses and personnel administration and management. This makes us administratively self-sufficient – all in the name of productivity and efficiency. Sure it’s faster. Sure, we’re better connected. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Or fun.

It also doesn’t necessarily relieve us of the burden of mundane tasks. Yes, we have elevated employees to become more “knowledge workers,” and we eliminated a lot of menial jobs, but we haven’t entirely eliminated all the grunt work. We’ve just distributed it more democratically across the organization. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could eliminate more of it?

That’s exactly what Unit4 has in mind in developing what it calls its “self-driving ERP.” I introduced the concept to my readers back in June 2015 with a blog post: What is Unit4’s “Self-Driving” ERP? Unit4’s latest announcements, coinciding with its customer conference in Amsterdam last week, showed the company is making headway in fulfilling its “promise of self-driving business solutions which free people from repetitive tasks and allow them to focus on high value activities.” In fact that is a direct quote from its press release on Unit4 Business World On! – the biggest release ever of its business suite for services industries.

Unit4 Business World On! is built on Unit4’s People Platform Premium Edition, which is the technology foundation for Unit4 applications, enabling self-driving capabilities based on predictive, event-centric and pattern recognition technologies. It is available as a true multi-tenant SaaS solution, but can also be delivered and deployed on-premise without sacrificing the mobile-access capabilities. Unit4 has put a lot of work into the user experience, but you need more than a visually appealing user interface to be “self-driving.” And I am a firm believer that the best user interface is often no user interface at all. (Refer back to my previous blog post to get a better handle of what makes it “self-driving.”)

But what really caught my eye this time around was the press release on its Digital Assistant. I was kind of hoping for someone (or even something) to shadow me (even if it is virtually), anticipating my every need. But if you look closely you see this is a “Digital Assistant for business software” not an assistant to industry analysts or presidents of small companies. Business software needs an assistant more than I do?!?

Actually yes. As I noted last June, enterprise applications like ERP are meant to capture transactional data (which happens to be the basis of a lot of our decision-making) and streamline and automate business processes. Yet while ERP was originally meant to make our business lives easier, it hasn’t always delivered on that promise. It’s gotten a lot better over time, but we still need to be expert navigators. We often have to fill some gaps. Sometimes we play the role of the (human) glue that holds everything together. If Unit4’s Digital Assistant can help the business software do all that for us, then sign me up!

The Digital Assistant is scheduled for general availability in 2017. In the meantime the glimpses I have had of Unit4’s “self-driving” capabilities are impressive.

Now, if only it could make a great cup of coffee!

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