Autonomous ERP – the Terminator in the room
Autonomous systems are always just over the horizon, teetering on the periphery of sci-fi. How long before we are letting the machines have a go? How long before Skynet has control of our lives, and do we want it?
Looking at Tesla, after 1.2 billion miles on Autopilot, you could argue we’ve made our first steps, and ERP is making some moves toward the door too.
With ERP systems opening up their internals more and more via APIs I think we are not far away from seeing company-wide ecosystems with tendrils across the whole business. Ok, perhaps tendrils bring to mind horror stories or the terminator movies too close, but if your marketing, production, logistics and sales system all reacted instantaneously to a newspaper article then would it be an improvement?
“Hello Dave, I see a high probability that a British Bake Off program tonight will cause sales of organic flour to spike in the home counties. I can reorganise our production schedule to cope. Please say No if you wish to ignore my counsel.”
The main issue I see isn’t that the systems are not powerful enough or are unable to handle all the inputs.
The problem is trust.
In the world of automation in cars there are 5 levels:
- Level 1 being what a lot of cars have now. From the controlling the brakes in a skid via your ABS systems, and up to bracketed situations like the automatic parallel parking.
- Level 2 is what Tesla has in its AutoPilot
- Levels 3 and 4 go further into automating lane changes, hazard avoidance and all those other open-road situations which we do in our everyday commute or road-trip.
Critically, even at the higher levels of 3 and 4 we still expect a responsive human to put down their phone, stop their conversation, look at the road, take it all in and make a decision… in 0.2 seconds.
I found a great article in Wired where Jim McBride, the autonomous vehicles expert at Ford, said "We're not going to ask the driver to instantaneously intervene—that's not a fair proposition,".
“Excuse me Dave but there seems to be a tractor in the road, I don’t know what to do. Over to you”.
There are many proponents of the idea that we should skip 3 and 4 entirely and put all our efforts into Level 5: Cope With Everything. With a data-driven world we will be able to poll all the previous car/tractor interactions for these specific road conditions, talk immediately to the tractor’s autonomous controller and work out the best response.
But Level 5 must be the goal for ERP too, right?
The world of Change and Release Management (yes, I’m aware, not a snappy title) is already seeing automation in Agile and DevOps methodologies. These analysers watch our systems and work out the best time for putting changes live and advise that risky changes are kept back for safe slots.
At the moment they are only at Level 1, with a few situations at Level 2 or possibly 3. So here is a question:
How fast should we go to the higher levels?
What is your current level of trust in ERP automation? Let me clarify this one - if you run order rescheduling, how often do you just tick Yes at the 50-page proposal? If “Always”, why not just have it “always run autonomously rescheduling” with absolute power?
If you still want to have some control of your fast-moving business, what sort of handover are you going to need? Sure, 0.2 seconds is unrealistic, but if you, the expert user needs to mull it over for a few days will your competitor already be there?
What are the indicators of trust and confidence which would make it safe? Is there an Undo, reverse or Back-Out option for that critical change?
Here at Basis Technologies we are trying our hardest to make our corner more autonomous. There are features built in to take away those decisions which are either regularly missed, ignored, time-consuming or too complex.
Code-checks before release approval, testing impact, approval management, all have a level 2 autonomy which ensures the tasks are done automatically. Analysis to see the secondary or tertiary impacts from this change, something which would ordinarily take hours or days is done in seconds and a recommendation given. The control is still handed back to the user at critical checkpoints but autonomy is key to making DevOps for SAP a reality.
All this gives reassurance and once earned, trust.
Many more phases and improvements will continue to appear over the next few years, you can be sure I’ll be keeping a close eye on autonomy in ERP. But let me know what you think are going to be the next leaps forward towards the ERP singularity.
Do we trust our IT to Arnie?