Petr Klapka is the director of the Czech company Vision software. What are his joys and worries? We talked about the future and the past of corporate information systems and what approach to take so that people in the company use the software correctly.
M.Sc. Petr Klapka has been the director of Vision software s.r.o. since 2000. He is also one of the owners of the company. In addition to a significant contribution to product development, including the creation of a programming team, he advocated the introduction of project management of all activities in the company as well as the implementation of all company agendas within the information system. His work is the organizational structure of the company, the distribution of competences and the definition of the roles of employees, the methodology of implementation, and he also has a large share in the marketing of the company.
How has the approach of companies to information systems changed in the almost three decades that you have been in the field? Is using ERP a matter of course for them?
Over the past thirty years, the use of information systems has transformed from running only accounting on a single PC to today’s extensive ERP systems, often operated hybridly (Cloud combined with own infrastructure) and connected to a whole range of third-party applications. Today, we hardly ever meet new customers with a company that runs one independent accounting and one independent warehouse records. That’s not even possible. Lawmakers are quite resourceful, so today every entrepreneur is covered with a huge number of tasks. To handle all duties effectively, software is a must at some level.
But a much bigger challenge is the automation of internal processes so that any preparation of orders, implementation and dispatch takes place with a minimum of errors and a minimum of manual work. The fact is that some processes are so well developed in companies today that compared to the beginning of the millennium, it is almost science fiction. Nevertheless, we encounter the fact that in companies some sub-agendas are conducted in a double manner and that people are displeased with the possibilities of the systems. We enjoy figuring out how to change and improve it. However, the approach of companies is still diverse and almost 100% influenced by the approach of management. Fortunately, younger generations are entering the management of companies. These people grew up with the Internet, a smart phone and couldn’t do without a laptop at school. They usually know what they want.
The only problem is perhaps that they perceive some requirements in a simplistic way. It’s hard to blame them, because if you look at anyone’s marketing materials, everything is easy, automatic, instant and almost free. The reality is diametrically different. But that can be dealt with. A reasonable person takes advice and is able to discuss his requirements. Either way, the use of ERP is practically self-evident today even in the field of companies with a smaller number of employees. Let’s say with lower tens of employees.
If people are to use the system correctly, management must lead by example
Company management often complains about people’s reluctance to work with the system. Do you have a recipe for breaking it?
The most chatter are people for whom the system sets some rules and they start to be seen, or people who are – as I would say diplomatically – “less capable”. This can be handled quite well. The less able can be helped with some type of education, and those who want to be invisible shouldn’t really be there at all. But there is no magic wand that solves everything. It’s about management, it has to create such conditions so that people don’t chatter. But this does not mean that the employee should sit with his feet on the table and eat roasted partridges in order to feel good. It is definitely completely wrong when the director himself runs around the company and, without routinely working with the system himself, makes it clear that the system in use is bad. It can hardly be expected that the employee will brag about what he did when he fails the first time, when it is better to put it down to “the program” somehow. The director says so too.
No, I have two pieces of advice. First, management must lead by example. Second; experience says that in those companies where there is an “adjacent” who enjoys developing the system and “pushes” it among the users to a healthy degree, there is also a significantly higher level of system usage. This is also related to less user resistance. The worst are situations where the ERP system is implemented at a certain time and under certain conditions, and management expects that from that moment there is no need to intervene in anything. In a company, as time goes on, due to many factors (fluctuation of people, loss of knowledge, changes in the environment, changes in conditions, new needs), the system withers. The result is a permanent reduction in utility value and at the same time increasing user annoyance.
What do you think is the future of ERP systems? What trends do you follow?
The future seems to belong to “artificial intelligence” (AI). Some of the world’s big players are already trying certain procedures, but so far they are focusing on places where there is a large amount of data and writing any decision-making algorithms is very difficult to analyze and process. It will take a long time and it will go step by step. However, various signs are already appearing and it is good to watch them.
For example, there are already several solutions on the market that can, for example, read a “paper invoice” (delivery note, order, …whatever) and convert the document into a “data structure”. Some of these systems use AI for text recognition that can be linked to ERP and save some routine human work. To be honest, I have one mental problem with this usage. One company enters an invoice into its system and then converts it into an image, which it prints and sends to another company, where the image is complicatedly converted back into data form. It would be much easier to use some “standardized data format” and simply exchange data. But that’s the trouble of growing up.
Artificial intelligence will play an increasingly important role in ERP in the future
Where do you think artificial intelligence will best be applied, if we stay with the needs of businesses?
I see the use of AI in those areas where it is very difficult to apply any sophisticated analysis. For example, try to predict how winter jackets will be sold this year, when, in addition to historically known data, parameters such as “weather”, “fashion trends”, “purchasing power”, “energy prices” and who knows what else come into play. Sure, everything can be described algorithmically, but you may not be able to provide relevant and sufficiently accurate data for that. Machine learning will be able to do this for you.
An even better example is “capacity planning in manufacturing”. Anyone who has ever encountered this problem knows that it is a very complicated discipline. There are an enormous number of inputs to consider in order to plan something. Artificial intelligence could be able to learn from achievements. Or, you will just need to record the circumstances, plus how it turned out, and the AI will be able to learn from the results how you plan to build it to be as realistic as possible.
Voice assistants could also be a good use in the future. It has a number of pitfalls so far, but I can pretty well imagine the assistant communicating with me, alerting me to certain recent “events” and me using the assistant to respond. It actually frees me from having to sit down at my PC and figure out what’s going on. But I believe that this way of working is not yet for this generation.
I think that before the massive use of AI in ERP, there will still be a phase of “active behavior” of ERP systems. It could be described in the way that the ERP system can continuously monitor certain parameters (for example, the impending shortage of a certain stock) and can alert the responsible managers to these aspects in a timely manner. It could be said that it is almost a matter of course, technically not complicated at all, but surprisingly, it is not quite commonly used among users.
How is your system different? What is its main benefit?
Our system is very open. It can serve a really large range of users across fields and companies of different sizes. The system reflects more than thirty years of know-how. We have already completely reworked many sites several times, and I dare say that the user receives a really great potential in the form of our system. We offer advanced functionalities that are usually available in ERP systems of a significantly more expensive category. I think that the degree of integration of the support modules is a big asset. Our customer gets a really wide assortment of business tasks under one roof, and to top it all off, the system allows the creation of proprietary widgets for job positions in which a person has not had much contact with the system. Imagine, for example, something as banal as the distribution of directives, regulations and the like with the typical need to obtain proof that the person in question has read the given document. Every worker’s mobile phone is the ideal tool for these tasks. I would find a lot of other benefits, but there is absolutely no room for that here. Interested parties can also view our website www.vision.cz or contact our sales department directly.
This year your company is celebrating its 30th anniversary, what would you like for it?
I wish her good luck and health. But more seriously, I would definitely like more young blood in the company. Currently, the entire IT field is very diverse. When we founded the company, there was no internet, no WIFI, no mobile phones, and computer networks were the privilege of only really big companies. The highlight of the application was the calculation of production or the calculation of invoice balances on a monthly basis. Today, you can see for yourself where IT has penetrated everywhere and where programmers or other specialists are needed everywhere. Today, ERP encompasses all business processes and connects to an immense number of third-party products. I would like the company to continue to manage to navigate this mess and continue to manage to prepare solutions that really help.
What is the greatest joy and, conversely, the worst nightmare of the head of an IT company nowadays?
I’ve been working in this role for a few Fridays now and I’m trying to approach things with a bit of a cool head. My parents used to tell me that no porridge is eaten as hot as it is cooked. This is very true and I therefore take nightmares a little with a grain of salt. But of course there are a lot of things that can complicate your life significantly. Obviously, each of your colleagues is a specialized expert and it takes quite a long time to replace them when something happens. But I rather turn to the joys and if I can, I would like to recommend it to everyone around me.
And what is the best thing about my job? No day is the same as the other. Every customer comes with some new requirement. Sometimes these are really complicated tasks, and when you finally manage to think of everything and implement it, you experience an amazing satisfaction. When the customer then tells you that they can no longer imagine their future operation without your solution, you simply look forward to work again the next day. It sounds a bit “cliché” and I can’t say it any other way because I’m not a writer, but that’s how it really works and I think everyone who creates something experiences it in their profession.
What do you do in your spare time?
I try to be active in a balanced way. It’s kind of my “terminus technicus”. I like a variety of things, so I can relax in the mountains, at the sea, on a bike, or even in the garden. But I have to keep everything reasonably balanced. I don’t need super expensive hotels and the most famous attractions. It’s more important for me to be with the people I like.
Text: MgA. Petra Batók, photo: Pavol Bigos