Seeing as the NBA playoffs are in full-swing, I figured now would be a great time to compare two areas I devote a significant amount of my daily attention to: basketball and technology. Specifically, I will dive into how the evolution of traditional ERP systems is analogous to the evolution of NBA basketball. There are a few fronts in which I will be drawing comparisons between these two seemingly unrelated topics.

Prior to the introduction of modern ERP systems, these technological platforms were primarily focused on a select number of core business processes without necessarily taking into account other key processes that the business may conduct. For example, a distributor may have had an MRP system implemented in order to manage their inventory levels, but this system would not have been capable of handling any CRM functions. However, as technology has advanced, businesses have had the ability to expand the functionality of their ERP systems through the integration of external applications or internal customizations. This has given businesses the freedom to devote the majority of their time and resources on their core business processes while still successfully handling those areas, such as CRM, that may be deemed secondary. This freedom has given businesses the opportunity of scaling and expanding their core competencies in ways that would not have been possible with the traditional systems.

 I find this akin to the way that the game of basketball has evolved in the NBA over the last few decades. Basketball in the 1980s was very focused on an isolation style of basketball which put a significant portion of the team’s success on the superstar’s shoulders. As time went by (thanks to some rule changes and a general increase in player skill-level), the game evolved. The game is still driven by superstars but there is an emphatic focus on surrounding them with versatile role players. This allows teams to design their gameplans in a way that highlights their superstars’ strengths while ‘integrating’ the role players’ strengths to make up for any weaknesses that star may have. One of the best examples from this year in the NBA is Giannis Antetokounmpo and the league-best Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis is a subpar shooter from distance but is the best finisher near the rim in the NBA and also an excellent distributor. The front office and coaches have designed a system that surrounds Giannis with elite shooters so he can play to his strengths. Since all of his teammates can shoot, no one needs to stand close to the hoop, which allows Giannis to feast at the rim or pass it out to one of his team members. I believe this is similar to the way the evolution of ERP systems has allowed for business to focus on their core competencies while integrating other applications or internal customizations to cover the weaknesses.

Furthermore, the style of play in the NBA also used to be heavily focused on X’s and O’s, which gave players more rigid roles and less flexibility. Some of the more successful teams like the Warriors have abandoned this style for a more free-flowing offense that allows players to adapt on the fly. This is analogous to the evolution of ERP systems. Technological advancements have provided businesses with customization tools that allow them to transform their ERP system, and thus effectively also their business, whenever they please. Traditional systems with more discrete capabilities would not have afforded businesses this flexibility.

One more parallel I would like to draw has to do with the recent transition from on-premise ERP systems to those that are cloud-based. The on-premise systems typically involved a rigorous implementation specifically designed for that business. This in turn left the businesses with a long-term solution, whether they liked it or not. Contrarily, cloud-based solutions typically are on a subscription basis which gives companies more liberty to move on to a new system if things are not going as planned. I believe this is similar to how free agency and player mobility has changed in the NBA over the years. Superstars tended to stay on one or two teams for the majority of their careers. Now, players favor signing short term contracts so that they have the agency to move to a different team if their present situation is not the right fit.

However unrelated the topics are at face-value, there are a number of similarities between the evolution of ERP systems and the NBA.