There’s a large number of available software solutions on the market for a wide range of processes. Whatever your business is, there’s likely already a software solution out there that meets the specific demands of your industry. One solution that companies of all sizes tend to purchase is ERP software. ERP stands for enterprise resource planning. But what exactly does this term mean, and how do ERP systems work? We’re glad you asked. Read on to learn more about what exactly ERP entails, basic features of the software, installation and implementation, featuring insights from industry leaders.
What Exactly Does Enterprise Resource Planning Mean?
You should think of enterprise resource planning software as a tool that maintains a database of information related to business processes anywhere from human resources to customer relationship management. It’s a lot cooler than just a database though — many ERP solutions allow for the automation and integration of business processes, therefore reducing the amount of manual labor that your team has to perform.
Lisa Anderson, Founder and President of LMA Consulting Group, adds to our last point: “In addition to your comments about using a centralized database to reduce manual labor and simplify workflows, I think it is important to note that having a centralized database and process enables consistency of business processes, and more importantly, reliable levels of service to customers”.
For example, an ERP supply chain solution might receive a customer order and then automatically send that information to the distribution center that is most efficiently positioned to complete the order in a timely manner. If you’ve ever noticed that the return address on packages that you receive from the same vendor isn’t always the same, you have likely seen the result of this technology firsthand. Depending on the ERP solution that you select, your software may be able to look at inventory levels, shipment times and other factors to decide which distribution center would be most productive and cost-effective in completing an order.
In general, ERP uses a centralized database for various business processes to reduce manual labor and to simplify existing business workflows. ERP systems typically contain dashboards where users can look at real-time data collected from all across the business to measure productivity and profitability.
Without ERP software, data is siloed by department and can be difficult to access across a company. By using an ERP, data from multiple departments can be easily shared and visualized across an organization. This wealth of information and simplification can assist in the development of business goals and reduce the amount of time that your employees spend on tasks that could be automated.
Anderson emphasizes: “I think it is important to understand how ERP systems work in that a key benefit of an ERP system is the concept of a single source of information or truth. A compelling reason clients upgrade to an ERP system is to not have to work with multiple disparate sets of data; instead, it unites everyone on a single source.”
What Are Some of the Features Included in the Software?
One of ERP’s main selling points is the wide variety of features that are available across software solutions. However, some of these tools are only available in a handful of software options, whereas others are featured basically across the board. Because the main premise of an ERP system is how these various modules interact with one another to generate actionable insights and perform business functions, it’s important to check and see whether an ERP vendor includes the basic and specialized features that you need to help streamline your business operations.
Check out our list of the 6 main ERP components for more information on these key features.
In addition to features that are commonly included with ERP systems “out of the box”, there are many add-ons or modules that can be implemented based on your business needs. Some vendors have shifted entirely to a modular system, meaning you never have to choose a solution with “core” capabilities you don’t need. The modularity of ERP software is a major trend in the ERP industry and allows users to configure solutions that assist in day-to-day operations for their specific business. Anderson raises another point: “. . .the advantage of this modularity and configurability is that it allows smaller companies to step into ERP slowly, yet most ERP systems are scalable to grow with their business.”Some commonly requested configurable modules include:
The accounting module can help you reduce the amount of time that your accountants spend on tedious tasks such as manually inputting receipt information from expense reports. With an automated and integrated accounting system, you can perform actions such as automatically sending invoices to clients with outstanding balances. With this example, the integrated solution would pull from customer history to automatically fetch contact information and amount owed before sending an invoice to the client. This module is especially helpful as well because it may look at actual operating cost to determine profitability and forecast potential revenue growth.
A human resources module can help you keep track of candidate applications, employee PTO and bonus allocation among other tasks. A good example of how this tool would integrate with other modules is that you could automatically reimburse employees for extra PTO leftover at the end of the year by integrating this system with your accounting program. This function would work by automatically looking at leftover PTO days for employees across the company, calculating how much is owed and then using employee bank account information to submit payment.
ERP software is incredibly helpful to manufacturing and distribution companies. These tools are multi-faceted and can help streamline many aspects of the manufacturing process. For example, a tool within this suite might be able to determine the reordering point of materials needed for the production of goods. This could be measured based on factors such as how popular the item is, the amount of the resource currently available on hand and projected time it would take for the material to ship. Therefore, if you are projected to run out of lumber on Thursday and it typically takes three days to arrive, your materials would be automatically reordered on Monday.
Shelly Gore, CEO and Cofounder of A Bigger View, offers her insight on a manufacturing ERP tool that she’s noticed has been highly requested this year:
“As a specialist in ERP for Manufacturing, I have seen a rapid increase in demand for Remote Monitoring to keep workers productive while maintaining social distancing. To this end, an ideal ERP system enables mobile technologies such as scanners and tablets to report inventory receipts, movements and consumption, as well as the production of finished goods in real-time from the production floor. All other departments, such as sales, purchasing and planning can now sell, buy and plan with confidence in the most current data.”
CRM tools are great for boosting a customer’s relationship with your company and ensuring that their experience is flawless. Customer relationship management can analyze customer browsing and purchasing history to send them targeted ads for products that they may be interested in. It can also keep customers “in the know” as to the shipment status of their order. Think about the Domino’s Pizza screen that shows exactly where your meal is at in the baking process. Buyers appreciate updates on the status of their purchases, as it indicates legitimacy and customer care.
Automated inventory tracking is a commonly requested ERP module. This tool can predict when an item will go out of stock and automatically reorder products based on this estimation. It may also provide recommendations as to which inventory items to place next to one another based on customer purchasing habits in order to streamline the distribution process.
How is ERP Software Deployed?
ERP software can be obtained either through on-premise installation or as a cloud-based solution. Some ERP vendors offer both installation methods, or even a hybrid deployment, but many vendors are beginning to move their software to a cloud-based system only. Depending on your company’s specific needs, you will likely have a preference for one obtainment method over the other.
For on-premise installation, the software is installed directly onto the servers your business owns and maintains. One of the main benefits of on-premise installation is that the software is available with or without an internet connection. On the other hand, cloud-based software is often more cost-effective upfront because of reduced installation costs. On-premise installation costs can be about 25 percent of the cost of the software.
A downfall of receiving ERP software via the cloud is that it can not be accessed without an internet connection. There is also less control over security than if you have the software installed on-site. However, the accessibility and price point of a cloud-based model is often the positive tipping point for some companies.
Gore makes an argument for cloud deployment:
“An ideal cloud ERP solution only requires an internet connection and a web browser. This not only increases an organization’s effectiveness by enabling employees to work remote, it also facilitates remote support of their system.”
Gore goes on to explain a large benefit of cloud deployment, “Companies can hire the best consultants from anywhere in the world to support their operations, which can in turn be anywhere. My team currently supports corporations in 24 U.S. states and 3 international countries. Our team is, in turn, distributed over nine states and two countries. In the past, with on-premise solutions, this was impossible.”
What is ERP Integration and How Does It Work?
It’s highly likely that your company already uses some software in its day-to-day operations, whether it be QuickBooks for accounting or Salesforce for CRM. ERP integration allows you to apply your current software to your new ERP solution so that the features can work together holistically.
When you are looking at ERP integration opportunities, you should take note of whether potential ERP vendors say that their product is customizable or configurable. It can be a pain to remember this key difference along with all of the other needs you’ll have to bring up to potential vendors, but the difference between the meaning of these two words in the software realm can make or break a potential solution option.
A customizable software solution can be amended using code to add on specific capabilities and features. This is a more labor-intensive process than implementing requirements for a configurable solution, which meets requirements without using code by using tools that exist in the application. Therefore, depending on the IT and development resources that are available at your company, you may prefer a configurable solution over a customizable one or vice versa.
One of the reasons that ERP integrations can fail is due to a lack of planning in regards to factors such as need for customization, incorrect budget setting and absence of an IT resource allocation strategy. The chance of a successful integration can be improved by creating goals and using foresight when analyzing solution options. For example, a good question to ask yourself might be “Can I afford the base ERP software plus the specific features that I need?” If the answer is no, you might start looking at lower cost options or push back your timeframe for ERP implementation.
What Types of Companies Use ERP Programs?
Small businesses and mega-corporations alike use ERP software to streamline their workflows. Enterprise resource solutions are also used across various industries. Some of the industries where small and large businesses commonly use ERP software include:
- Aerospace and Defense
If you don’t see your industry listed above, that doesn’t mean other companies in your industry aren’t already using ERP solutions. Depending on the ERP vendor, software can be customized or configured based on the specific needs of your industry. For example, many pharmaceutical companies that use ERP are able to keep track of legal regulations through their ERP system, which allows them to then update their workflow accordingly.
Depending on which industry you are in, there may be specific ERP solutions developed with your needs in mind. For example, distribution software and manufacturing software fall under the ERP suite. The benefit of using these specific solutions for distribution or manufacturing businesses would be that using this specialized software results in less need for customization or configuration to get the software up and running.
ERP software is a versatile, widely-implemented solution that many companies use to facilitate business processes. Because of the range of customization and configuration options available, you can tailor solutions to your specific needs and to the existing software that you already use. By automating sometimes challenging and often tedious workflows, ERP solutions aim to make your day-to-day workflow a little easier.
Do you have any other questions about how ERP systems work? Let us know in the comments below!