ERP solutions are central applications in the company that link all crucial business processes in a unified IT system. This enables the planning of resource utilization such as personnel, financial resources, inventory, plant utilization, etc., and the management of processes such as the processing of offers, orders, purchases, invoices, and production. Furthermore, additional functions can be integrated such as quality or document management or production data acquisition.
What AI does in ERP systems
Given the high importance of ERP for companies, it makes sense to enrich ERP software with AI functionality. After all, as in other processes, there are many routine processes in resource planning and control that can be automated using smart functions. The 74 companies, mostly from industry and commerce, which the Fraunhofer Institute for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems IAIS surveyed in 2020 on the benefits of AI functionality in the ERP system, see the greatest opportunity in workload reduction and improved data quality, avoidance of errors, and increased efficiency.
What AI can be used for in ERP solutions.
Specifically, AI functionality is suitable for a variety of use cases:
- In sales, AI is increasingly becoming a competitive factor. Smart functions can be used, for example, for product recommendations, for monitoring the buying behavior of customers and its changes, for determining the probability of returns, for price optimization and dynamization, or for price forecasting.
- In customer service, AI classifies incoming requests and assigns them to the most suitable employees. AI-supported self-service help desks support the team. AI-supported text analysis enables automated responses to customer inquiries, for example, via e-mail. When it comes to routine questions, chatbots relieve the team with automatically generated answers.
- In manufacturing, AI enables forecasts based on historical data for adjusting production to seasonal fluctuations. Sensor data from equipment and components are evaluated by AI in terms of the optimal maintenance time. AI-based image recognition detects faulty parts long before they are further processed or delivered to customers.
- In the warehouse, AI in ERP systems uses data on order receipts and goods withdrawals to monitor and automate the adjustment of inventory levels. Factors such as inventory costs or price developments can be taken into account. The data can be used to develop a procurement strategy with optimal order quantities and the best order timing.
- In purchasing, intelligent text recognition creates the basis for correct document allocation. AI helps with the identification and evaluation of suppliers; it supports master data management and automatically analyzes data according to different criteria. Payment receipts are assigned and recorded, and automated reminders are created if necessary.
- In financial management, AI supports the verification of invoices and relieves employees by automating repetitive accounting processes. It also allows the analysis of financial data from various perspectives.
The role of AI in document management
ERP requires data, primarily information from documents. Documents are managed, i.e., stored, provided, and archived, by a database-supported document management system (DMS). It can be part of an ERP solution or used as a standalone DMS and connected to the ERP system. However, before documents can be stored, they must be digitized by scanning and prepared for machine processing: human intelligence assigns descriptive elements to the documents before storage that provide information about their content.
AI-supported document management performs these processes of classification, categorization, and indexing faster and more accurately than humans. This reduces the personnel effort for a repetitive and error-prone task in the company and ensures that content is more easily findable. With the help of AI, more information can be extracted from the documents than was previously possible and economically feasible from a manual effort. These additional pieces of information make it possible to optimize processes such as comparing documents or sending automated notifications for deadlines and expiration dates. Above all, they are the basis for analyses that lead to new insights and, ultimately, can even open up new business fields.
Document management is one of the key functions in a company, as planning and control cannot be carried out without information from documents. The use of AI in document management relieves employees of routine work and opens up optimization potential and new decision-making options in ERP by making new information accessible.