ERP IT Trends

IT Trends 2024: Security, AI, and Hybrid ERP

Larry Dube

What trends are shaping IT strategy in 2024?

In our experience supporting ERP software (and the hardware it runs on) for a variety of manufacturing and distribution organizations, many businesses are looking to elevate the capabilities of their business-critical technology while retaining as much flexibility as possible.

Some common strategic focuses in 2024 include:

  • A greater emphasis on application-level security features like field-level security.
  • Exploratory AI projects to help build knowledge and foundational capabilities in this emerging field without upending existing systems.
  • The proliferation of hybrid cloud deployments for organizations that have historically depended on on-premise hardware.

We explore each of these trends in greater depth below.

Trend One: A Greater Focus on Application-Level Security

The cybersecurity landscape is always evolving, and 2024 will be no different. The proliferation of IoT networks, cloud services, and AI deepfakes means new threat vectors, and organizations will be working hard to keep up with new protections and best practices.

While the full gamut of cybersecurity trends in 2024 is too broad to cover in this blog, we wanted to focus on a critical aspect of cybersecurity that we have recently seen become a greater point of emphasis for many clients–application-level security.

Traditionally, most businesses have been concerned primarily with network security, ensuring that only legitimate actors can access company networks. But once an individual has access to a given network, protections are often comparatively limited. Added security capabilities can help both:

  • Provide an added layer of protection, keeping sensitive information and business-critical applications safe if an attacker manages to penetrate the network.
  • Protect against insider attacks, a threat featured in many reports on emerging cybersecurity risks.

ERP software is a prototypical example of the sort of business-critical application that can benefit from additional protections. A systematic application threat assessment can be a great option for evaluating vulnerabilities and identifying where your organization could most benefit from additional cybersecurity measures. In the case of an ERP running on IBM i using a DB2 database, this process should include the following steps:

  1. Analyze how the ERP is constructed and how authority is structured. 
  2. Evaluate the database layer to see if sensitive ERP data is protected via column/field-level security.
  3. Catalog how external applications (ie. reporting tools, spreadsheet software, ODBC, etc.) access data from the ERP and whether these access points are protected.
  4. Identify APIs or other interfaces bringing data into the ERP to ensure they do not have unwarranted access to sensitive data.

Field-level security, which secures fields at the database level, is a great example of a flexible option for protecting sensitive data without the need to re-engineer every application that calls data from the ERP (or manage a complex user access scheme). We take a deeper look at the importance of field-level security in our article here..

Trend Two: More IT Shops Dip Their Toes into the AI Waters

For the past year, headlines have been dominated by new AI tools, and there is little doubt AI is quickly becoming integrated with day-to-day operations in certain organizations and industries. 

In our experience, however, IT groups for manufacturing and distribution companies have only begun to dip their toes into the water of AI, if at all. Survey data shows, for example, that relatively few IBM i shops have begun experimenting with generative AI. 

For now, AI is winning over more headlines than IT departments. Most businesses will need to move carefully due to the uncertainty and risk surrounding AI-based tools. But over the next year, we expect to see this trend begin to shift as organizations recognize potential value in targeted AI applications including:

  • Machine learning for data analysis, task automation, and process optimization.
  • Predictive maintenance. 
  • AI-based touchpoints for employees, customers, and/or prospective customers.

As organizations begin to consider potential AI applications, we think it’s important to remember that implementing AI tools does not require redesigning your IT systems from the ground up. We recommend starting by identifying relatively simple, repetitive tasks that waste time for human personnel and could readily be automated. Standalone automation solutions need not be designed specifically for IBM i–even a simple document or invoice processing tool can potentially save hundreds of hours per year while reducing the risk of human error. 

Finding some focused but ROI-generating AI pilot projects is a great first step for developing an organizational culture and IT skillset that is ready to adopt AI tools more broadly across the organization. Ultimately, employees should learn that AI tools can take on the most onerous tasks, allowing humans to focus on the work where they can provide the greatest value.

Trend Three: More Businesses Recognize the Flexible Benefits of a Hybrid ERP Approach

The scalability and flexibility of the cloud are understood by just about every IT organization today, and there are more flexible options than ever for bringing IBM i to popular cloud computing platforms.

Many businesses, however still need to prioritize the security and control that come with an on-premise system. For others, existing capital investments in on-premise hardware are still driving excellent ROI, and moving to the cloud simply doesn’t make sense. In either case, a hybrid cloud implementation can offer a “best of both worlds” alternative, a fact that more and more businesses are recognizing in 2024. 

“Hybrid cloud” refers to an approach where ERP software is kept on-premise and integrated with point-based cloud solutions to meet specific business needs. A hybrid cloud strategy can offer a perfect fit when legacy ERP software is still fulfilling core business requirements but the organization could benefit from enhancements with new functionality, or integration with other cloud-based applications.

Which cloud ERP strategy is right for your organization? We take a deeper look at the pros and cons of SaaS, PaaS, and Hybrid ERP strategies in our article here.

Looking Forward: Adaptable Innovation

The past several years have been defined by continuous change and disruptions for many businesses, from the COVID crisis to a global knot of supply chain issues that have taken years to unravel. In the wake of these unpredictable disruptions, more and more businesses seek to make technology investments that provide new capabilities while protecting operational flexibility and limiting risk. All of the trends discussed above are related to this priority:

  • The right application security features can help reduce the risk of internal attacks without requiring a complex scheme of permissions that must be re-architected whenever the ERP is modified.
  • Experimental AI projects can help build foundational knowledge and unlock new efficiencies without requiring massive investments in unproven, rapidly evolving technologies.
  • Hybrid cloud strategies allow organizations to continue generating ROI from their on-premise hardware while unlocking many of the benefits of cloud-based ERP software

While no one can be sure what new business challenges 2024 will bring, our team looks forward to helping our clients adapt and thrive.

If you have any questions or concerns about how your organization can adapt to new IT challenges in 2024, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team.

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