Even though ERP clearly stands for Enterprise Resources Planning, most of the companies tend to get a little too carried away with the primary aim of their ERP system. And when we say carried away… we mean it.
It's not rare to find implementations of softwares that are so intricate and complicated that they subtract time and other resources from the company instead of adding them by favouring simple flows of information and execution.
Therefore, allow us to start off by telling you straight away what an excellent ERP system should do.
This set of features represents a very comprehensive and straight-forward answer to real company needs. Anything else that's not included here represents an add-on that's usually sold as essential and mindblowing but whose necessity is always extremely questionable.
Core functionalities included in the list above will expand the ROI of your investment and will make it evident from the very beginning: each and every core function will start working immediately by setting up smooth flows and procedures that will save you time and, ultimately, money.
The core is the big deal, any extra is not vital and it should not be treated like it were: anything can sound fancy in the mouth of a good sales representative, but try and remember that any add-on that's not strictly necessary will end up consuming resources instead of leveraging them.
Moreover, there's asbolutely no logic in purchasing the full set of extras when you haven't even tried and tested the core.
So with this in mind, let's dive a little bit deeper in each section mentioned above.
At least the 90% of company business models are structured around the same set of processes, with slight variations from one other. Each company, in fact, needs a process for:
With any eventually due adjustment (i.e. if you're company does not produce, you will then skip the manufacturing and production process), this set of processes is the one to look for.
According to the golden principle of saving resources and using them where they are needed, it's essential that you and your employees can easily navigate to one process to the next and backwards without spending too much time clicking away and opening a billion software windows.
Processes and steps should be structured to follow a logical order in order to allow you, for example, to easily geneate a production order right from inside the order conformation window, in just a few clicks.
Another scenario is the following: let's say that you receive a phone call from a customer that needs information on the status of a pending order: in this case, the customer will tell you their order confirmation number, you go and retrieve it in your system and from there you need to be able to quickly navigate further in order to reach information on production stage, delivery note, invoicing stage and so on, depening on the actual status of the order.
Being able to easily retrieve information is therefore essential and having a structure that follows the logical order of your company processes certainly is a great time saver.
Inside a company, anyone is busy.
From the receptionist up to the CEO, anyone has their own set of things to think about and their own set of things to perform every day. The outcome of all this busyness is the so called Current Big Picture:
a clear representation of the results your company is producing through all the activities it engages with.
Keeiping an eye on the Current Big Picture is very useful and it's the easiest way to stay aware of the overall company performance.
A set of analytical tools should be included in your ERP so that you can easily recall relevant information such as:
And so on, depending on the kind of information you find most essential for your company.
You don't need to require extra sophistication from this set of analytical tools, but they must be comprehensive enough to provide you with any relevant report.
Further sophistication can always be implemented by exporting the analyses in Excel format and customising from there.
ERP exists to recreate in a PC the company system in its entirety, improving it and making it faster, precise, reliable and traceable.
A good ERP should therefore allow automation on some tasks that tend to take place on a daily basis and should allow a decrease of manual data entering, saving time and resources that can be better allocated.
Automatically collecting the needed information in just a couple of clicks and placing it exactly where it should be placed inside a document is an example of reducing manual data entry, just as custom templates that get personalised accondingly to a specific records query are an example of automation.
Collecting data from the ERP database is almost always not enough: those data needs to be formatted to fit documents that are printable and shareable with colleagues, customers, suppliers and other possible stakeholders.
These documents are called reports.
The analytical ones are usually available in two forms: a simple view and a full-on detailed view. The full-on detailed view provides an open book of information to anyone who can take a look at it, so it's usually reserved to managers and decision makers.
Alongside the possibility of printing the reports, there should be the chance to export them in various formats, especially in PDF and XLSX (Excel-based file format).
Exporting in Excel is more useful than words can say, because it allows you to perform customized analyses on the data you export and the value of this possibility is immense: you can elaborate specific graphics, you can add data from other sources and you can effect the most customized control you can think of.
Reports need to be specifically tailored to suit the company's needs and way too often standard reports offered by default are not so compliant.
Most software houses usually pack the program with general printables, which are almost always acceptable and can be used by everyone.
However, a good level of customization is recommended because the mandatory information to be displayed or not be displayed vary a lot from one company to another one. Let alone the layout of the information, which you may need to be very different from the standard prints.
Having reports that really fit your company is not at all company vanity, it's efficiency and reliability, because the documents you print from your ERP will navigate through your company and will impact on the work of every function involved.
Try and look for an ERP that includes the possibility for you to change layout, to re-arrange column schemes and to pick and place any information that's relevant to you.
Little tip: an ERP is based on a database structure, so basically with the right query any sort of information can be retrieved. Don't let anyone sell you other theories.
This is rather explanatory, but it's worth it to note that a seemless integration with Microsoft Office will make a lot of tasks easier, especially when it comes to bulk documents, such as invoices, and the possibility of sending them as e-mail attachments to specific addressees in Outlook, with just a couple of clicks.
An integration with Excel will also produce the chance of exporting and further elaborating any analysis you execute inside the ERP, which is certainly very useful as discussed in the previous sections. At the same time, it will allow to import various kind of data based on Excel files into the database of the ERP, guaranteeing full compatibility and a smooth and easy operation.
Choosing an ERP among the many options available on the market can seem quite an intimidating and time-consuming task but it definitely becomes easier when you focus on core needs and avoid any distracting extras.
Following the guidelines expressed in this articles and making sure your next ERP does include the features listed will make your choice rather effortless.
Let's review the key concepts covered today:
Which one of these features looks more compelling to you? If you have any question, as always you can drop us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can comment here below. We look forward to reading about your ERP of choice!
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