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The New ERP and CRM Platforms for Digital Business

Premise: As the Cloud Computing market expands, companies are looking for ways to leverage multiple cloud platforms to build new and evolving applications. Building a strategy to leverage multiple cloud platforms requires a focus on two critical platforms: a CI/CD (Continuous Integration / Continuous Delivery) platform and a Cloud Native Applications platform. 

As more companies begin to understand why they need to transform their business in the 21st century digital economy, they begin to look at how to go about that transition. In the past, the differentiated formula for many companies was illustrated below (Figure 1). Physical products would be engineered and built in a physical factory. To coordinate the logistics around the products, companies invested in large, complex ERP platforms. These ERP platforms would not only define the workflows for the business, but the agility of the business was often dictated by the agility which the ERP system could coordinate between the various input and output variables (e.g. capital, materials, labor, etc.)

As products went to market, companies invested in sophisticated CRM platforms to track engagement with customers and partners. The CRM system not only helped to track leads and sales, but often served as the feedback mechanism from the marketplace back to the product teams that owned the physical products.


Figure 1: Pre-Digital Business Platforms – ERP, Factories and CRM Platforms (Source: Wikibon, 2015)


While ERP and CRM platforms are still critical to many businesses, they are no longer driving differentiation for the business as in the past. At Oracle Open World [starting at 20:45] , Jim Fowler (Chief Information Officer, GE) discussed how he views the differentiated nature of legacy platforms vs digital platforms as he helps transform GE in the Industrial Internet economy.

Digital Platforms for the Next Level of Business 

As the digital transformation happens at Enterprise companies, there is a parallel emerging to the ERP and CRM systems of the past. The framework for success is still somewhat the same, but the source of inputs is changing and the way companies interact with customers is changing as well (Figure 2).

Continuous Integration / Continuous Delivery

Instead of raw materials, the new inputs are software. The system that manages these new inputs is the Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) platform. Not only must these CI/CD platforms be able to coordinate inputs from multiple groups (e.g. multiple applications, multiple projects, multiple groups within a company), but they also have to be able to create outputs that can run on multiple clouds. Just as the ERP systems of the past were organized by workflows, today’s CI/CD systems create pipelines of software code and testing in order to drive the speed of product delivery.


Figure 2: Digital Business Platforms – CI/CD, Cloud, and Cloud Native Platform (Source: Wikibon, 2015)  


As more and more of a business’s products evolve with software, the cloud becomes the 21st-century bits factory. These can be public IaaS cloud platforms (e.g. AWS, Azure, Google, Oracle, Rackspace, Virtustream, etc.) or private cloud platforms (e.g. VMware, OpenStack, CloudStack, etc.). They must be scalable and resident in countries where the companies do business. The CI/CD platforms must be able to deploy software to various cloud platforms, including evolving Cloud Native Application platforms.

There are many options in the marketplace for CI/CD systems, including open-source (Jenkins), SaaS (CloudBees, CircleCI, SkyTapTravisCI) and on-premises (Automic, CliqrElectric Cloud, IBM’s Urbancode, VMware CodeStreamXebia Labs) consumption models. These platforms integrate with software repositories such as GitHub, or image registries such DockerHub.

While many implementations are built on Jenkins, additional options are beginning to emerge, such as NetFlix’s open-source CI/CD implementation called “Spinnaker“.


Cloud Native Applications Platforms

Figure 3: How CI/CD platforms interact with Cloud Native platforms, across clouds (Source: Wikibon, 2015)
Figure 3: How CI/CD platforms interact with Cloud Native platforms, across clouds (Source: Wikibon, 2015)


The parallel to the CRM platform is the Cloud Native Applications platform. Wikibon has recently explored many of these platforms, as well the evolving organization dynamics as companies deploy the new applications. Just as CRM platforms provide insight into customer engagement, today’s Cloud Native Application platforms have unprecedented insight into the digital interactions of an application. Data collected by these applications can provide insight to engineers, product managers, marketing teams and sales about the behavioral patterns of users. As highlighted by many companies at the recent DevOps Enterprise Summit, these applications are evolving to become the business differentiators for companies in their digital transformation process.

Action Item: For businesses that are evolving their digitization strategies for 2015-2025, it is increasingly important to have the proper platforms to not only create internal change, but also create competitive business advantages. CIOs must actively be investigating the CI/CD and Cloud Native Application platforms that best align to their maturity model and corporate culture. 

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